Category: Manchester


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.

Oklahoma, not the state or the Rogers & Hammerstein musical, but a shop on High Street in the Northern Quarter of Manchester. It sells all kinds of wonderful but kitsch bits and pieces that you probably don’t need but would like. Lots of bright plastics, ’70s lampshades, ornaments made from recycled materials, old tin toys you thought had been banned for health and safety reasons. It’s great for buying unusual presents for friends or finding funky stuff to decorate your home. 

It occupies the ground floor of an attractive Victorian office/warehouse building. Not one of the grandest buildings in the city but one of those that fills in the spaces between the big architectural set pieces and adds a great deal to the ambiance of the city. This building and business greatly add to the Northern Quarter.

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And if you are looking for an unusual present for a friend (or for yourself) here’s a selection on offer at the moment. And Christmas is a joy.

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I particularly like the chickens that seem to have been made out of old plastic shopping bags…

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And the flamingo corner was cool…

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Looking like a Monet Impressiont painting, these poppies, with rice paper thin petals, looked beautiful in a corner of Hulme Park on the edge of the city centre. We are literally within metres of the roar of the inner ring road but we could be in the middle of Cheshire somewhere. They are one of our most spectacular summer wildflowers.

Poppies are very emotive flowers in the UK. They are the ones we associate with our war dead. They like disturbed soil to germinate and they found the killing fields of Northern France and Belgium perfect at the end of World War I where they covered the battlefields in 1919 after the war finished the previous winter. Blood red, they were adopted as a symbol for fallen heroes.

On July 1st the Queen will be coming to Manchester Cathedral to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme which has particular resonance in this part of the world when 1000s were killed and injured on the first day of the battle from this region, including the Accrington Pals. Accrington, a former mill town north of the city, had nearly a generation of young men wiped out in just one day.

We should consider these things when we vote on the EU referendum on Thursday. Whatever problems the EU may have, one of the things it has helped guarantee is the 70 years of peace we have enjoyed.

Political speech over.

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Red Lion Street….

Red Lion Street is a little street in the Northern Quarter. I’m not sure how it got its name. I assume there might have been a Red Lion Public House on it at one point, now long gone. There are certainly no lions of any colour on it now. It’s just off Church Street which also confuses me as I can’t find any evidence of it ever having had a church on it or that it ever led to one.

Red Lion Street isn’t a thing of beauty. On one side it has an eyesore multi-storey car park thrown up in the 1960s when this part of the city was being eyed up for wholesale destruction. Thank goodness they never managed to get round to doing it. The Northern Quarter is one of Manchester’s most vibrant areas. I’d love to see that car park torn down and something more interesting put in its place. I’ve never worked out how you could get your car into this part of town anyway, the traffic system is so convoluted. I catch the tram these days and walk to it. The other side of Red Lion Street is a piece of wasteland. I’ve no idea what was there in the past, it’s just been a weed patch for as long as I’ve known it.

Bits of wasteland in the Northern Quarter are at a premium of course and it’s  this particular piece that’s attracted the developers who want to build some apartments on it.  This is what it will look like. Lots of glass and red brick to reflect the older buildings around it. You can see the car park as well. Not a thing of beauty.

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It’s a weird shape. While most of the building is on Red Lion Street it also includes a building on parallel Union Street. It looks as if it might have been a substantial house in the distant past. It’s very dilapidated at the moment but they are keeping it and restoring the facade.

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I suspect the back of the building will go though. It looks too far gone to save.

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This is what they plan to do with the Union Street house. Restore the brick, reglaze the windows.

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There has been a bit of controversy about the scheme as some people have objected to the plan because it hides a piece of street art on a close by building. The art work won’t be destroyed, you just won’t be able to see it as clearly as you do now. But it will still be there. We’ll see how that goes.

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However, if I lived in one of the apartments in an, already restored, building on Union Street, I might object to them building something literally a couple of metres form my large window and Juliet balcony. But, if you live in a busy city you have to expect this sort of thing. If you want space and no neighbours, move to Cheshire. 

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If the UK votes to leave the EU next Thursday, Mr Cameron may have to go as well. Who will be PM? The money is on Boris. If the American electorate vote for Donald instead of Hillary in November this could be how Anglo American relations could look by Christmas. Spotted today by Shudehill tram station in Manchester.

On the same day as I got to look around No 1 Spinningfields, I also got to look around 101 Embankment. It’s a new office block that is being completed on the Greengate, Salford, bank of the River Irwell across from Manchester Cathedral. This site used to be where Exchange Station was and many centuries before that it was the old Medieval centre of Salford with tiny cottages and inns. Greengate is one of the old Medieval streets that still exists here. After Exchange Station was demolished the area was turned into surface carparks. It was like that for decades but, as Manchester has found its mojo again, these old sites are being pressed back into use.

101 Embankment is one of a pair of office buildings being built, the other being called 100 Embankment. Five apartment towers are being finished as well and another 130m apartment tower has just been started. Tim, site manager of 101, told me three more will be on the rise by Christmas.

The building is clad in glass but what makes it is the curved corners. It’s a classy build. I like the way that they have used the red sandstone arches of the old station and the cobbles of the old station approach to set off the new build.

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It was good to see No 1 Spinningfields but it was WONDERFUL to look around 101 Embankment. Tim kitted us out in hi-vis jackets, hard hats, gloves and protective goggles and took us into the almost finished building. The tenants are expecting to move in in September. They’re going to have their work cut out to get it all finished.

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This is the massive Greengate Tower apartment complex next door.

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There were some good views to be had. The pictures look stained because they haven’t cleaned the glass yet. Here we’re looking at Manchester Arena and Victoria Station.

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Here you can see the Co Op HQ, CIS Tower, the Hanover Building (under covers), Chethams School of Music, both modern and medieval parts. 100 Embankment will rise on that piece of ground at the bottom of the picture.

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This is looking towards Manchester Cathedral, Harvey Nichols, the dome of the Corn Exchange, the Arndale Tower and City Tower away on Piccadilly Gardens. Look carefully and you can make out Ghostly Tom in hi-vis jacket and hard hat dressed as Bob the Builder.

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This will be the entrance to the carpark level of the finished building.

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This isn’t 101 Embankment it’s the building next door called City Suites. When finished it will be full of swish apartments with hotel style facilities for the tenants to enjoy. Individual apartment range from expensive to eye watering. But that hasn’t stopped certain, young Manchester City players from buying all the apartments on one floor and creating one super apartment. I know who it is but it wouldn’t be right to put his business on here. But he’s VERY prominant and might have needed a French/English dictionary for this summer.

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I enjoy looking at buildings. I like how the styles change from age to age. I don’t have a favourite era as I like certain things about all styles. I’m even coming round to appreciating the 1960s and 1970s. With Victorian buildings I like the attention to detail. Manchester has a wealth of Victorian buildings as it was then that the city reached the height of its wealth and power. There wasn’t one Victiorian style. The Victorians plundered the past and the world to build Manchester. We have palaces from Venice and Florence. We have French chateaux. There are Scottish Baronial Castles. Medieval Gothic Town Halls. Ancient Greek Temples. Buildings with interiors that are a fantasy of a Roman Emperor’s palace. Hotels with Baroque decorations…it goes on.

In the eastern suburb of Ashton (it’s own little town in Victorian times until it was subsumed in the suburban sprawl of 20th century Manchester), where I was on Tuesday, I spotted this delightful detail over the entrance to a Victorian bank, this wonderful lion with a silver key in his mouth. The building is still used as a bank.

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On Tuesday I had the opportunity to have a look around one of Manchester’s new building projects, No 1 Spinningfields. In spite of being called No 1 it’s practically the last piece of the Spinningfields jigsaw to be put into place in Manchester’s prestigious new business district. It’s on the edge of Hardman Square and replaces a 1960s concrete office block called Quay House. With the possible exception of the Civil Justice Centre, it is the largest building on the development being about as tall as the Arndale Tower. It will take about two years to build and we’re about half way through the development. Some tenants have already been acquired for 2017 and the top floor will be a restaurant space with a roof garden planted up with trees.

Here it is as you approach it from Crown Square…

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And before we went in I took some pictures from around the site. It was a bit of a grey day…

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The concrete cores are finished and the steel superstructure is being put into place. The glass cladding will start in August. We weren’t allowed on the actual site but we got close enough to take some pictures.

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In this picture I’m looking down into the underground carpark. We learned that there are a series of car parks under all the buildings of Spinningfields and they are all linked together under the squares and pedestrian avenues which is impressive. Once the building is finished we will get back Hardman Square which is being used as a workspace while the building is going up. It’s where we like to have the ice rink at Christmas and the like.

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Some pictures of Spinningfields from the top of the workers cabins. The XYZ Building (red cranes) will be ready by August this year. It’s fully let apparently as companies are queuing to set up in the city but only if they can have A* accomodation.

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The world has been shaken by yet another senseless act of violence resulting in the deaths of fifty people, this time in Orlando. Although it targeted the LGBT community of Orlando, it has affected LGBT communities around the world, in progressive nations like the UK and in countries where the LGBT community has to hide for fear for their lives. And it was an attack on all of us as it struck at the core of our tolerant societies where people are allowed to be who they are without censure. The reasons for the attack are confused. He claimed to be acting in support for ISIS. But he seems to have been a regular at the club he attacked and he possibly had some problems coming to terms with his sexual orientation being at odds with his religious beliefs. Maybe we will never know. 

Manchester, being one of the cities that is famous for being tolerant of LGBT people, has arranged commemorations in memory of the people who died, showing the city’s solidarity with Orlando. Orlando is a city we know well, millions of us have visited over the years to visit the theme parks. It’s a popular destination for us to escape to for some Florida sun when Manchester is in the depths of winter. On the Town Hall the Union Flag was flown at half mast. As was the England flag,flying in support of our football team in the Euro 2016 championships, was also at half mast.

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At night the Town Hall is lit in rainbow colours. Thanks to the MEN for this picture.

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Canal Street and Sackville Park were the centre of events where LGBT people came together to show their support. Thousands of people turned out.

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Coincidentally, the incumbent Lord Mayor of Manchester, Carl Austin Behan is an openly gay man married to his long term partner, a situation that would not be tolerated in many places. ‘Lord Mayor’ is a ceremonial position in the City of Manchester not to be confused with the Mayor of Manchester who is the leader of Greater Manchester had has real powers and a great deal of money to manage.

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Lord Mayor Austin Behan was Mr Gay UK 2001. In 1997 he’d been thrown out of the Royal Air Force for being gay. Now all the armed forces are open to all and you see them marching in Pride Parades across the country. If I’m ever in a position where I’m under attack from the Taliban or similar, I’d be much more interested in how well the guy next to me can shoot than who he chooses to love. Some pictures of our current Lord Mayor from his Mr Gay UK days.

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Some of these pictures aren’t my own. Many thanks to people who have provided them to illustrate this celebration of Manchester’s support for Orlando and LGBT people around the world who suffer discrimation and worse.