First day of December and the first day of Advent and my first day totally free in ages. And this is my first Advent post. As I posted a couple of days ago, I’m doing the #ReverseAdvent with the co op organisation. I have a big smart blue box and now have to fill it with food to give to a deserving cause. Easier said than done.
But I do have connections with an organisation in Chorlton (operates out of a greengrocers) so I went to see them. My box, when full, is going to rufuge for women who have suffered domestic abuse. Quite where it is I have no idea. It’s kept quiet in case any of the women’s partners come looking for it. All I know is that there are 32 of them there. While in the refuge people work with the women to sort out finances, work, accomodation and get the women to a point where they can move on. I’m happy my box is going here. It also helps that I know, roughly, who it is going to so I can tailor my contributions.
So today I put in a store cupboard staple, a tin of tomatoes with herbs, a great base for stews, chilli, pasta sauce. And there’s a bit of a treat with a Chocolate Orange.
The box is a little empty at the moment.
And here’s a festive picture from the Manchester Christmas Markets.
This aerial shot of Manchester came my way. It shows the city centre and some of the inner suburbs that surround it; some not the nicest places in the city to live. It’s an astonishing picture because of the white blocks that ring the city centre. It’s someone’s attempt to show the scale of developments going on in that part of the city at the moment.
At first I thought it was fanciful but I then had a closer look and worked out that most of the developments are actually underway or about to start. The huge number of white blocks at the bottom centre are Middlewood Locks, a huge residential project being financed by the Chinese. Three huge cranes have been erected on the site in the last couple of weeks. Just above that, across the ring road, river and railway are the towers of the Saint John’s Quarter being developed by Allied London. They were the company who delivered Spinningfields. No cranes here yet but the hoardings are up around the site where ground works are about to start. Allied London have a proven record for delivering.
On the right hand side of the picture you can see the towers of the Owen Street development. Groundworks have been done for four of the towers on this site and as I post they are putting up the cranes. We are super excited about this project as they are building the new tallest building in the city here dwarfing the nearby holder of the title, the Hilton Tower. The Owen Street Tower may not hold the title for long as plans for an even taller tower are being considered for another development called Trinity Islands to the right of Middlewood Locks. This is another Allied London project so we are pretty confident that it will happen.
Just above the Owen Street development I can spot all the developments that are happening around First Street including two towers by the Deansgate Castlefield tram station that I’m watching being built as I arrive for work. Above that area is a cluster of blocks that mark the old BBC site on Oxford Road, now called Circle Square. That’s being built as well.
I could go on with the towers being built across the river from the cathedral, around the co op HQ on Angel Square and all the buildings going up along Great Ancoats Street where the NQ meets Ancoats. The scale of construction is breath taking and this picture doesn’t include the building going on on Salford Quays around Media City or by the airport. And there are lots of little projects going on as well. A good time to be in construction in Manchester.
I usually do an online Advent Calendar on my blog in the run up to Christmas. Just a little countdown to the big day. I was at a loss to think of a theme this year. I’d done pieces of Christmas music, Christmas poetry and Christmas food and was resigned to doing a few Christmas photographs but then I spotted something on my Twitter feed.
The Co Op organisation, that has their HQ at Angel Meadow in Manchester, were inviting people to do a Reverse Advent Calendar. The idea is you have a box and on each day of Advent you put an item into it and just before Christmas you organise for it to be delivered to someone or a family that aren’t going to have a great a Christmas as we might wish. Hopefully the contents of the box will help with that.
I’m quite excited to do this. I’ll have to go down to Andy’s store (he works for the Co Op) and put some of their stuff in it. And closer to the big day I could add some fresh fruit and vegetables. The accompanying information suggests toiletries and some festive treats. Then my next job will be to find someone to give it to. To be honest I live in a part of the city where driving a 3 year old car or drinking own label champagne counts as ‘living in poverty.’ But I do have a couple of contacts who have dealings with some of the less fortunate in the city so I’ll go and see them. And if that fails I have found that there are some food banks in operation in Manchester. It’s a sobering thought that in one of the richest cities in Europe that’s having £billions spent on it, some people can’t afford to put food on their tables.
So here’s the kit the Co Op sent me and look out from the beginning of December to see what I put into my #ReverseAdvent. I’ll be tweeting about it as well, along with many other people, under that hashtag. And there’s no reason why you can’t do it yourself. You don’t need a fancy blue Co Op box. Just get an ordinary cardboard box and put a few items in it over December and donate it to a local charity just before the big day. It’ll help someone out and you’ll enjoy your own festivities all the more.
So, I was enjoying my late lunch at ODDEST when a call came in on the work phone. Could I dash into the city centre, find two people, entertain them for a couple of hours and then get them to where they needed to be? Easier said than done last night in Manchester.
On Sunday the first named storm of the winter, Angus, had rattled in from the west off the Atlantic. We thought it had something to do with all that hot air coming out of Mr Trump. They had a bad night on the southern coast of England and London got a bit blowy. But up here in Manchester, apart from the rain, we got off lightly. Angus roared off into the North Sea towards Denmark and Sweden. But he had a sting in his tail in the form of a line of rain belts that trailed behind him. This train stretched across the country from Cornwall to Northumbria and Manchester found itself under it for an entire day.
The rain was phenomenal and by the time of the rush hour the tram system had been cut in half with Cornbrook Station out of action. In the eastern suburbs towards the hills there was flooding and more chaos on the tram system. The trains stopped running to Leeds and Sheffied. And the wealthy denizens of Didsbury and Cheadle were on high flood alert as the River Mersey was threatening to overwhelm the flood defences and were told to prepare to abandon their expensive homes. And had I known it, as I enjoyed my lunch in ODDEST, they were watching the flood defences in Chorlton as well. The buses were packed and the roads were coming to a standstill.
Fortunately, I know that part of town well and was able to wind through the quieter residential streets and got as far as the big ASDA in Hulme. From there I got onto the Mancunian Way (almost at a standstill) and got off at Cambridge Street. I found the entrance to the new carpark at HOME and parked in there. Won’t be doing that again, it was outrageously expensive.
I did find my people and we did attempt a wander around the Christmas Markets as they had wanted but we gave up as the rain was torrential and the smallholders were calling it a day. I got them to have a drink in an old fashioned Manchester pub which they enjoyed and I delivered them to their theatre to see the play they had booked. I hung about a bit after that waiting for the traffic to die down, rescued the Mini from its expensive parking and went home.
Some pictures of the decorations in the Arndale Centre. I like them. We went in to get out if the rain.
I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting this blog the last few days. I’m really busy at work. When I’m not actually in the office I’m working at home so when I do get some Tom time, the last thing I want to do is to pick up my iPad and start again. It’s not been helped by work actually uploading more stuff for me to do without asking. I think I’ve achieved a certain amount and when I log back on there’s more to do. At least it will be reflected in my Christmas bonus. Well I hope it will be.
I got up early this morning with my targets set and by 1 pm I’d reached them! I think I’ve done about 70% of the work I’m supposed to, so am well on course to finish on time by a week on Wednesday. I’m trying to clear Thursday this week so I can slip out. As I’d done well today I decided to slip out (again) for a cheeky glass of Pinot Grigio and some late lunch. I know! On a Monday. I’m on a slippery slope.
I went to one of my favourite informal dining places, ODDEST in Chorlton. To go with the wine I went for some of their ‘small plates’. I had Crispy Pulled Pork Parcels with Soy and Sesame, Spiced Lamb Koftas with Mint Yogurt and Grilled Rosemary and Smoked Garlic Marinated Halloumi Cheese. And some skin on fries to mop up any residual juices. It was delicious.
I was a bit irritated on Friday night to discover that work had downloaded a lot more work to me than I had expected. True, I have to the end of the month to do it but I’d already worked out my daily schedule and to keep to it I’d have to do a bit more almost straight away to keep me on track. So I got up ridiculously early on Saturday morning (6am) and by 11am I’d caught up. Go me! I then fired off an email saying that I expected this extra, unexpected work to be reflected in my Christmas bonus. Always good to do this sort of thing from a position of power I think.
Having caught up I was able to get out and about and do a few things I needed to do in Chorlton and Altrincham. Nothing onerous, just organising a few things for Christmas. I had a bit of a wander around Chorlton to see what was going on and see if there was anything that would be of use over Christmas. On Beech Road I like to check out the ‘A’ boards outside Launderette, the restaurant/café bar that has been put in what used to be a public lauderette. They are always witty. Here’s yesterday’s offering. They didn’t disappoint.
There was a sign on the gate into Beech Park.
I had Beech Park all to myself this morning. The weather wasn’t brilliant and people were busy on the Saturday morning errands. The park still looked lovely as the Copper Beech trees are taking on their autumn colour. It’s a shame there wasn’t some sunshine. That really brings out the colour which looks wonderful against a blue sky.
This sign was on the gate to the children’s playground. Adults seem to want to keep the kids and dogs apart. I bet the kids and dogs would have a great time together.
People complain that the meaning of Christmas has been lost under a tide of commercialism and the true meaning of The season has been lost. I’m not so sure. In Northern Europe we have been celebrating the turn of the year in December for 1000s of years with feasting and parties to keep away evil and look forward to the return of the sun. Christianity took the ancient festival over and tried to change it. What happened was we went to church to do the Christian part and then went home to celebrate the much older part. Many of the traditions we enjoy, the tree, holly, mistletoe, have come from those ancient days. We’ve given gifts as well for a long time. Of course there is a lot of pressure on people to provide the perfect present where ‘perfect’ means expensive. And while it’s lovely to find something beautiful from Tiffany’s under the tree on Christmas Day morning, a well thought out present of much less value will hit the spot. Personally, I have all the stuff I need and much prefer something chosen or made just for me.
Light has always been a part of this time of year. Candles and fire have always been part of Christmas to keep away the cold of the winter and keep at bay the evil things that lurk in the Dark. We still do it in our homes and to light out streets at this time of the year.
And the stores in our big cities like to go to town with the decoration of their buildings. Manchester’s, and one of the world’s oldest department stores, Kendal’s have spectacularly decorated their beautiful Art Deco store on Deansgate. This people, is how you dress a store for Christmas.
Manchester’s oldest music store, Forsyth’s (sells everything from sheet music to grand pianos) further along Deansgate seems to have done a smaller version of Kendal’s their illustrious neighbour further down the street.
And Barton Arcade, just off St. Ann’s Square, looked lovely as always.
And while we are considering the true meaning of Christmas here’s the much anticipated Christmas advert from the John Lewis/Waitrose stores. None of that we’re better/cheaper than everyone else and here’s a pile of stuff we’d like to sell you. Just a wonderful mini saga about what Christmas is really about and introducing Buster the Boxer. It’s a delight, especially the bit in the middle with the wild creatures. Tissues at the ready….
It has been a long day. Thursdays usually are in my world. It got to 5pm and we could have fought our ways home on the crowded rush hour roads and trams. Apparently Manchester has some of the most congested roads in Europe. Parts of the city move at the pace of a horse and cart in bygone times. They keep trying to do things to solve the problem but the situation just seems to get worse. It’s a problem of success we are told. People come to do business and enjoy the city in such numbers and bring their cars and grind the city to a halt.
But tonight we decided to stay on in the city centre and enjoy the Christmas Markets which opened today. I have to say I do enjoy them. Father Christmas, all lit up, was on his perch presiding over the Albert Square Market as usual….
The singing moose was carolling us from his position on the German tavern….
It might have been a Thursday evening but lots of people stayed in the city to enjoy the vibe. There were enough to give the markets a buzzy, busy atmosphere but not enough to make it unpleasantly crowded. Anyone who comes across this post and is thinking of visiting the markets, they will do well to visit on a weekday afternoon or evening. We Mancunians like to go then and enjoy a drink and some food and check out ideas for Christmas presents. We do try to avoid the weekends when visitors arrive by the bus and train load and descend on the markets. You can barely move and whatever festive cheer you have might quickly evaporates as you elbow your way through the throng unable to see much of what you came to see. Just some advice from a man who knows….
Did we have a cup of mulled wine? It would have been rude not to. I always like to have my first at the stall run by two ladies from Luxembourg who always have the same pitch in Albert Square. As usual they were there and their wine was delicious….
Here’s a picture of the wine with my obble hat. We had a lot of rain in the morning but by evening it was cold and clear and perfect for wrapping up in a warm coat and scarf and a woolly hat. Obble hats are made by a company call Oddballs. They also make underwear. They started with men and boys but now make it for women as well. The idea behind the company is that they make money of course but 10% of their profit goes to the Oddballs Foundation, an organisation that raises money to support research into male specific cancers. Something which has touched me this year, not personally but very close. They have grown the company with a canny social media strategy. They encourage guys to take pictures of themselves in their Oddballs underwear and put them on social media. It’s like being a member of a slightly naughty club when you were a kid. The obble hats help you recognise other members of the club. Selfies are taken and posted. The company has got many of the country’s famous rugby players on board and there are pictures of them and their teams in their underwear. It’s a perfect match for Oddballs as rugby players are men who play a game with odd shaped balls. Google ‘oddballs’ and check out their site. Buy some funky underwear and help a bro out. You could help save a guy’s life. I tweeted this picture when I got home….
Tomorrow the Christmas Markets start in Manchester. I am beyond excited! It’s my favourite time of the year in the city and Manchester isn’t exactly short of treats for the rest of the year of course. There will be a ribbon of festive cheer and tinsel through the city centre from Albert Square to Exchange Square. I’m not sure when I can get in to see them. I’m a bit of a traditionalist and they are saying there will be new things to try. I need to make sure that all my favourite stalls are in the correct places and then I’ll see if I approve the new additions. I know the ice rink, usually in Hardman Square (where they are building No 1 Spinningfields) has moved to Cathedral Gardens for the season. And there’s another rink being put in London Road Fire Station which I’m excited about as I’ll be able to get inside the fire station before it’s redeveloped by the people behind Spinningfields. We are excited about what they will do with this stunning, but too long neglected, architectural gem.
These pictures were taken last week on a cold, blue sky day. Father Christmas has been put up on his perch in Albert Square where he will preside over the Christmas Markets. He looks like he’s in a staring competition with Prince Albert who hasn’t blinked for at least 150 years it seems.
Elsewhere in the city centre the markets were taking shape. By now they are all up and ready with the stall holders ready for business. Last year the markets were deservedly in the world’s top ten alongside markets in Europe that had been around for centuries.
There used to be a lawn, along Hardman Boulevard opposite the massive RBS building, in the centre of Spinningfields. It’s been built upon. Some people regret that but it was always the intention to do so. It only became a lawn when the recession hit and the people running Spinningfields didn’t want the bankers in the RBS building looking onto a wasteland.
Recession over, they have been building a new office block on the site. It was called the Cotton Building, a nod to the industry that made Manchester rich originally. For some reason that name was dropped and it’s now, inexplicably, called the XYZ Building. It’s the same design as the Cotton Building though and has all kinds of features that hi-tech companies demand of their office space.
The building is all but finished and these weird things have appeared along the Hardman Boulevard side. They are, I believe, lighting features. There are five of them so far and they look like rather old school bedside lamps made large. What they are, apparently, are huge depictions of the cotton bobbins that were used to wind the cotton on in the old cotton mills of the city. I’m not sure about them. I haven’t made up my mind.