Category: Manchester


As I posted a couple of days ago, it’s the BIG WEEKEND for Manchester Pride, the annual GLBT Festival that has been going on for the last couple of weeks. Most of it is happening in the city centre but there were echoes of it in trendy Chorlton.

I liked the window display of the Betty & Butch Dog Lifestyle Store (the other store in Chorlton run by a dog, Duke) ‘DOGS DON’T DISCRIMINATE’. How true. Dogs give their love unconditionally and don’t judge you on who you choose to love.

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And across the street from Betty & Butch is Chorlton Central Church (Baptist & United Reformed) which seems to be practising what Jesus actually preached about in relation to recognising that the love is more important than who you choose to love.

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It’s always good to find a new (to me) independent business. This one’s in Chorlton (of course) an area where I thought I knew them all as well. I’d finished work about 2 and headed for Chorlton to have a bit of a wander about and see what was going on. I headed up Wilbraham Road looking for the shop that sells Belgian chocolate, but it was closed while the owners have their annual holiday.

Turning back I noticed Tiny’s Tipple, a well set up independent wine store. It is a modern take on the traditional wine store with the front of the shop painted this tasteful grey. The window display contained wines and, intriguingly, dog beds and bowls.

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This is Tiny of Tiny’s Tipple. One of two stores that I know of in Chorlton run by dogs. Tiny wasn’t there today, he likes to start his weekend early especially as it’s holiday weekend. This oil painting catches his likeness very well apparently.

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Some wine stores can be dark and dusty which can be cool. One of my favourite ones is the one up in Clitheroe in a series of damp cellars which has a great selection of wine and a great atmosphere. This one, with the blonde wood shelving, stripped wooden floor, subtle paint job, with the wine arranged by country enticing you to have a browse, is the opposite of that one but still had a great atmosphere. Plus no dust or damp which is a bonus. Each of the wines are labelled to give you an idea of what the wine is like. Light streams in from the street and the counter looked like, to me, a tastefully toned down version, with its grey and blue tiles, of the bar just installed at ODDEST further along the street.

I’m sure the owners of this store will have had a good time choosing the wines to sell. They seemed to be all ones that I hadn’t heard of before so you’re not going to find anything that you might come across at your local ASDA, Sainsbury’s, TESCO etc. This is a store where you can experiment and try wines you have never seen before.

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The front room of the store contains the wines while the back room has a selection of interesting, artisan beers.

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I had a good time inspecting the wines on the shelves.

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As well as wine and beer they do sell some soft drinks. I was drawn to the range of Fentimen’s drinks. They make soft drinks but to traditional recipes and in traditional ways. We particularly like their tonic water which is the only one we use when we are drinking one of the expensive gins we like. And I like their Curiosity Cola and Seville Orange Jigger.

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This was my haul. At the back is a bottle of Italian Pinot Grigio from the Veneto (near Venice) region. It’s one of my favourite grape varieties for making wine. I like the combination of fruit and dryness. The wine of the left is also from Italy. It’s called Mosketto. I’ve never had it before but the label promises me the scent of white flowers with peach and citrus fruit flavours. Without the pop of a champagne, it has a slight fizz to it as well. If you want a bottle you might be out of luck as I got the last one in the store. Maybe more will be on their way.

On the Fentimen’s shelf I spotted one I hadn’t had before. A cherry flavoured cola drink called Cherrytree Cola. Not sure what it will be like but am pretty sure it will be good.

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They have regular wine tastings which sound fun. They are not the kind of tastings where you are ‘taught’ about the wine. It’s more of a social occasion where you can try some wine and enjoy some food made by a company run by one of the guy’s girlfriend (I think that’s what he said, apologies if I got it wrong). It could be something fun to do in the autumn with a view to stocking up on some Christmas wines.

Their website is….

www.tinystipple.co.uk

And the food is provided by….

http://wendyshousesupperclub.co.uk/

She seems to run something that I have heard of but have never experienced. Rather than eating her food in a restaurant, she hosts restaurant evenings in her own home. I’ve heard of this happening in London but had no idea that the concept had moved up to Manchester. Something else fun to try…

 

It was a long busy day at work. I finished about 6 and then had two alternatives. Either I could sit for a hour or so trying to get home on the motorway or I could have some dinner and a glass of wine in a nice bar and drive home later. I decided on the latter option and headed for my favourite Chorlton bar, ODDEST. I was anxious, and a bit concerned, to see how the refurb had gone. It was closed last week while they smartened the place up. I liked the old look, it might have been getting a bit tatty around the edges but it was comfortable and a good place to spend a couple of hours enjoying a drink or two.

I needn’t have worried. They have taken care to keep the ambiance of the old bar as it was while smartening it up. The Moroccan lanterns and the Thai angels are still there. The beautiful mirrors and other artworks are back in place and the furniture, including my favourite armchair, have all been refurbished as well. And the same people who worked and ran it before are back in position so the friendly welcome is still in place.

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The paintwork has been refreshed and the floor has been stripped back to the bare wood which has lightened the room. It looks good. The bar has had its front redone, being covered with the same rectangular tiles as the walls but someone has used all the crayons in the box producing this…

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The terrace bar outside had seen the biggest changes. The old tables and chairs have gone and been replaced by this custom made seating. Even on a cool evening, people were enjoying it seated under the glass veranda and patio warmers. It’s gone a bit cool of late but, hopefully, summer will return soon before autumn sets in…

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I decided on Steak Frites for my dinner…

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I would love to get a chance to take pictures like this. They aren’t mine. Many thanks to the Greater Manchester Police helicopter (or one of them) for these beautiful night time shots of Manchester city centre. I wonder who they were keeping an eye on while they took these? Manchester looks cool and very beautiful at night. Click on the picture to see them in more detail.

This one is looking up Oxford Street to Central Library which looks stunning all lit up. Facing it across St. Peter’s Square is the new office block, No. 1 St. Peter’s Square which is being fitted out ready for occupation. To the right of the library you can see the Town Hall Extension and, beyond it, you can see the tower of the gothic Town Hall on Albert Square with the clock lit up. To the left of the library is the Midland Hotel.

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In the centre of this picture, the triangular building with the purple and blue glass domes is the Corn Exchange. It used to be the Corn and Produce Exchange buying and selling all manner of stuff. When it closed down it was filled with tiny stalls selling all kinds of interesting things. The IRA bomb of 1996 ripped through this building and all the little businesses relocated to what is now the N4, kick-starting the development of that area to what it is today. The Corn Exchange was restored and renamed The Triangle and was given up to high end shopping. Apart from the stores that faced Exchange Square and in spite of its proximity to the Arndale Centre, Selfridge’s and Harvey Nichols, it didn’t take off as a shopping destination. It’s closed down at the moment and is being reconfigured inside as a food and drink destination. And people who know Manchester well, will realise it’s practically impossible to find a restaurant in this city (puts on ironic face). It’s also gone back to being called the Corn Exchange.

In the top right hand corner is the massive (well part of) Arndale Centre with the glass roof over the Winter Gardens. On the right you can see Selfridge’s and the red tower thing marks where Harvey Nichol’s is. Just below the Corn Exchange, Manchester Cathedral is in darkness and to its right of that you can just see the Olde Wellington Inn and Sinclair’s Oyster Bar. To the left of the Corn Exchange is the URBIS building, now the home to the National Football Museum. At the top of the picture is The Printworks with all the lit up roofs. It used to be a place where national newspapers were printed, hence the name. Now it’s one of Manchester’s pleasure palaces full of bars, restaurants and cinemas including the city’s IMAX screen. You can see the neon guitar advertising Manchester’s Hard Rock Café. While working at the Dig The City Garden Festival I learned there are gardens up there among all those lights and they keep bee hives up there as well which produce delicious urban honey. Who’s have thought?

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This picture is looking along Brazennose Street from Deansgate. It’s looking into Albert Square, with the Albert Memorial at its centre, directly at the gothic Town Hall. To its right you can see the Town Hall Extension, Central Library and No. 1 St. Peter’s Square again. The Manchester Art Gallery is just beyond the Town Hall and beyond that we are looking into China Town at the top of the picture. It’s a very recent picture. On the left of the square you can just make out the work being done on the new tram route along Princess Street. And the Town Hall is magnificently lit up in rainbow colours for the GLBT Festival that is on in the city at the moment.

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You know summer is almost over when Manchester Pride appears on the horizon. The annual celebration of LGBT culture in the city is already in full swing with the accompanying cultural festival. But this weekend, which includes the August Bank Holiday Monday, is the BIG WEEKEND, when the city throws on its gaudiest, flashiest frock, its trashiest costume jewellery and its highest heels and party’s. On Saturday afternoon a huge parade makes its way through the city centre through streets lined with 1000s of people and if you weren’t aware that Manchester is one of the world’s top LGBT destinations, you will be then. It’s quite sedate as it makes its way along Deansgate, but, as it gets closer to Canal Street it can get a little raunchy. Those of you easily shocked, might want to claim a spot on Deansgate.  You have been warned! See it before the Lord Mayor takes the salute in Albert Square. After that anything goes. I haven’t seen the parade for years so I might take my camera in, if the weather looks good, and take some pictures. I hope it is. A lot of effort goes into the parade. And it’s a huge boost to the local economy as people come from far and wide and make a weekend of it, packing the bars, restaurants, hotels and spending in the shops. And we have been two whole weeks without a festival haven’t we?

I’m still trying to catch up with all the pictures lying on my computer so here’s a couple I haven’t posted that I took on the walk from the car park to China Town which happens to cross Canal Street. This huge sign has appeared on the side of Vanilla, a bar just off Canal Street for ladies of the Sapphic persuasion…

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Someone wanted to stop people parking on a tiny piece of land behind their business. So they laid these stones out around the edge. They have been given the rainbow flag treatment…

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And some Calendulas that were brightening up a corner of Sackville Park, that I liked…

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This is Charlie Watts. No, not that one; the guy from the Rolling Stones. That one looks very different. All that hell raising and rock star lifestyle has taken its toll. He hasn’t found the fountain of youth and miraculously transformed into the guy below. This Charlie Watts comes from Stockport and he is a talented videographer.

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He’s, like me, fond of the N4. To remind people; the N4 is the area of the city centre north of Piccadilly Gardens and south of Great Ancoats Street. It runs from the edge of the Arndale Centre to Piccadilly Station. It’s a warren of old, narrow streets and was once the centre of the cotton industry and business in the city. Once the cotton industry really boomed, the businesses moved to spectacular cotton mills and offices that looked like Rennaisance palaces in other parts of the city. The area that became the N4 fell into disuse and decay, a situation that was exacerbated when the stores along Oldham Street closed down in the 70s when they decamped to the Arndale Centre.

It might have all been swept away and rebuilt but, fortunately it wasn’t. Gradually, over the last 20 years, the area has morphed into the N4. It’s a heady mix of independent stores, bars, restaurants, hi tech businesses (some that started small, one as a bet, that are now worth hundreds of millions), and increasingly expensive apartments. It’s a cross between New York’s East Village and London’s Soho but with a Manchester twist. It’s a very popular area to hang out and has even spawned its own Manchester tribe, the N4 Hipsters. He in skinny jeans with wonderfully coiffured hair and beard (kept looking good by the favourite BarberBarber in Barton Arcade). She in retro, vintage flowered tea dance dress from Affleck’s Palace but accessorised with something expensive from Selfridge’s or Harvey Nicks (or both!)

It’s become something of a tourist attraction in its own right with people from out of the city (even coming up from London) who want that lifestyle descending on the city to enjoy this area. The locals are desperate for the area to keep its ‘edge’ as it might get a bit too smart and that would ruin the atmosphere and vibe.

It’s hard to explain how this area has happened. The coming together of a particular type of person, a particular type of business looking for a particular vibe that reflects their ethos. Other cities look at the N4 enviously and try to develop their own. But they miss the point, you can’t force it to happen, it just wants to happen of its own accord.

Charlie has done this video that gives you some idea of the atmosphere of this part of the city. You get to see the smart bars and the rough edges with the N4′s beautiful people looking effortlessly cool as they go about their beautiful, charmed lives. I like the attention to detail. At one point a girl crosses the frame drinking an orange soda but it has to be a can of imported Italian San Pellegrino Aranciata….

In his own words….

‘THE QUARTER’ is a feature shot in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. I wanted to shoot something that would try and capture the essence and atmosphere of what this small area within the city centre is all about. Shot over two days this is a tribute to my favourite part of the great city that is Manchester.’

Music by Dawn Golden

Thanks to Charlie Watts for making this wonderful piece of film.

Come to Manchester and enjoy the N4 for yourself…

The Quarter from charlie watts on Vimeo.

Last Wednesday was Tea Breads night at Cake Club. It’s a cross between a fruit bread and cake with dried fruit soaked in tea. They are, done properly, delicious and moist, you can eat them as they are or buttered with afternoon tea. Even though we are in the middle of the summer holidays, there were quite a few people at Cake Club including a new recruit. It’ll be quite busy when it returns with everyone in September.

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This is the basic recipe for Tea Bread. But each person made a different flavoured one by varying the type of tea used to flavour the dried fruit. You can use Earl Grey, mint or any other tea that takes your fancy…

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But I ended up making a new version of a tea bread flavoured with Pimms…

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All the ingredients ready for mixing…

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Mixing the flour and the sugar…

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Add the egg mix and marmalade…image

Add the dried fruit that has been soaking in the cold tea overnight…

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We put a small amount of the tea bread mix in the bottom of these cute little loaf ‘tins’. Because it was a Pimms tea bread we put a layer of mint leaves in…

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At little more of the mixture and then a layer of strawberries and/or raspberries…

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More of the tea bread mix…

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While the tea breads baked, we tried some of Chris’s other cakes. A deeply chocolate sponge, a blueberry caramel muffin cake and, the one I liked best, a rhubarb and apple crumble…

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We all ended up with five mini tea breads to take home…

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But the Pimms ones we had to take home and bake ourselves.. Here’s mine…

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And then we had to decorate it and send pictures back to the Post Box Café..

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We’re having a big family get together tonight. We split the courses between us so no one has the stress of doing a big meal for a large number of people on a Friday evening. We do something similar for Christmas and other events when lots of food has to be prepared. As I was working it fell to me to organise the cheese course which is relatively easy.

I finished work about 2 and then drove into Chorlton as I needed to see someone. I then needed to get to Didsbury. I could have driven but, as I had parked near the tram station I decided to use a bit of the tram system I haven’t used before and used it to travel to the Didsbury Village stop which was close to where I needed to be. I needed to visit one of Didsbury’s iconic independent businesses, The Cheese Hamlet. In spite of being surrounded by large supermarkets that will sell quite decent cheese at reasonable prices, this shop thrives because the people of this favoured suburb choose to support it. The supermarkets might be able to do decent cheese but The Cheese Hamlet always has cheese of a higher quality and you can always find something unusual. It sits in the centre of Didsbury Village where Barlow Moor Road (that starts in Chorlton) and School Lane meet Wilmslow Road.

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Here’s a couple of pictures of the selection of cheeses that they had on sale today. As well as cheese, they sell things that you can eat alongside the cheese and a good selection of cold meats.

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I chose three cheeses, a blue Stilton cheese (the Queen of English cheeses), a soft Brie type cheese made in Berkshire not far from Windsor Castle (so you never know who else might have it on their dining table) and a good, strong Cheddar cheese that actually comes from the Cheddar Gorge in Somerset that has ripened in the cool limestone caves that are found in the area. ‘Cheddar’ is made all over the world and you might think you know what it’s like but, unless you’ve had the real McCoy from Somerset, you haven’t tasted proper Cheddar. I got some chutney, oat biscuits and grapes to go with the cheese.

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Nuovo is a new apartment block on traffic laden Great Ancoats Street where the uber cool N4 meets the up and coming New Islington. It’s just about ready for occupation. It’s been a long time coming. It was started well before the banking crisis but ground to a halt when the **** hit the world’s economic fan. The people behind it weren’t the best. Another apartment block they had managed to build was in such a bad state that it had to have major repairs even as the first people were moving in. And there were stalled projects on the other side of the pond in Buffalo in New York State. And then there was the money they got from the government to finance a movie project that went astray.

Sarah Tower, as it was called in those days, remained a steel skeleton for years. A relative was thinking of buying a couple of apartments in it but something didn’t seem quite right to them, so they pulled out. Good call we realised later as a lot of money might have disappeared never to be seen again. The tower and the lower block next door ended up in safer hands and with some help with public money, the project was one that was restarted again in an attempt to kick start the economy generally.

As I said it is made up of two blocks. There’s the tower which has been tastefully clad in grey with flashes of bright red and yellow. It has pleasing curved corners that echo the Art Deco curves of the old Daily Express building along the street. There seems to be a bit of a revival of Art Deco recently. I’ve seen plans for a new office block planned for next to the Midland Hotel that echoes an Art Deco building in Chicago. It looked quite classy, I hope it gets built. And I do like this tower on Great Ancoats Street. The block next door with the terracotta coloured tiles is part of the same project but doesn’t look to be so different is the execution. It’s a rather dull block with none of the curves. The tower apartments are going to be sold to private individuals but the lower block is being sold to a housing association and the apartments being rented out to people. Interesting that they are keeping the two types apart. I’m not sure what’s happening under the green tarps but it’s another renovation project in this rapidly developing part of town.

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Here’s a picture of the old Daily Express building for comparison.

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While I took pictures I looked down and saw something interesting. This part of the city is in a state of flux but there are still bits of the old shoddy city about. I was stood on one such little street or lane running parallel to Great Ancoats Street to take the pictures when I noticed the edge of the street where it touches the pavement. It is clad in metal. The Victorians put it there to protect the edge of the pavement from those iron wheeled carts that they used to move goods in and out of the buildings. Without the metal the edge of the pavement would have quickly crumbled. Where these edges still are they are listed and treated as humble monuments to the city’s history. That means that when this little rundown corner of the N4 gets redeveloped they have to be preserved either here or incorporated into a new development. You can also see some of the old flagstones used as paving for the pavement and a few of the old cobbles peeping up through the modern asphalt. Both these things are in great demand and could end up gracing the patio of some well appointed houses in one of the plush suburbs.

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Many thanks to the Greater Manchester Police Helicopter for the above picture of the area around Piccadilly Gardens. While they are using it to track bad people as they make their way through the city and keep an eye on big events happening about town, they take a lot of pictures of what’s going on and sometimes they can be stunning like this one. Click the picture to see it in more detail. It all looks rather beautiful with the streets lit up with amber light and the buildings in dark purple. On the right you can see Exchange Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the city, and the Piccadilly Mercure Hotel where I was working a few weeks ago. The blue lit area is the bus and tram exchange. You can just make out the loathed concrete wall and then Piccadilly Gardens itself with the Ferris wheel at the bottom of the picture. The street running up the left of the picture leads to Piccadilly Station just out of the picture.

But, as regular readers will know, not all is well in the gardens. I won’t go into detail of what this area used to look like and the disastrous makeover that was foisted on the gardens at the beginning of this century.

There have been attempts to improve the gardens recently; cleaning Queen Victoria, jet washing the wall, new bins, relaying the grass (again), the building of a children’s playground (nice idea but did it have to be stuck up against Queen Victoria?), but this has just been tinkering around the edge of the problem and throwing good money after bad in my opinion. In April the fountain where the great unwashed of Manchester dance on hot days gave up the ghost and finally stopped working. Part of the fountain died years ago and was never fixed. The jets in the main part of the fountain had taken to shooting at odd angles which kind of spoiled the effect. And just before Christmas they replaced the white lights with coloured lights under the jets which looked trashy. But in April the entire fountain stopped working. No one knows why exactly. It may have something to do with the fact that erected a, goodness how may tonnes, Ferris wheel on top of the mechanism that controls the fountain. Or not. Either way both the fountain and the wheel haven’t moved since April.

The council have now decided to cover the fountain with a flowerbed and the Ferris wheel will turn again. This will at least please the operators who must have lost a shed load of money over the important summer season. This situation will last until next April when they will make a decision about what to do with the fountain.

Personally I think it’s time to grasp the nettle and put Piccadilly Gardens out of its misery. People hate it as it is. Certain councillors think it is successful. They are deluding themselves, it is not successful, it is just busy. No more spending the city’s money trying to make this badly flawed design work. I’ve no idea how much money has been thrown at this space since 2002, when it was reopened, but it must add quite a way towards the cost of a total makeover. What we need is an international competition to redesign the square to provide a world-class space that would really impress visitors to the city. At present it’s one of the first things people see as they arrive and, if I didn’t know what lies beyond it, I might turn around and get right back on the train. The competition idea seems to be working well in St. Peter’s Square, not yet finished, but shaping up really well and I think it’s going to be a great asset to the city.

Will the city council listen? I’m not holding my breath…