Category: Manchester


After being stalled by the recession and, possibly, because of the mismanagement of the banking sector of the Co-Op, the NOMA development around their incredible new HQ on Angel Meadows and their iconic 1960s CIS tower is stirring again. The older, Edwardian Baroque buildings fronting Corporation Street and the streets off it are being restored and repurposed while we are waiting for a classy new apartment tower  as tall as the CIS (tennis courts on the roof…don’t apply to be a ball boy) and new office blocks on the other side of Miller Street.

image

Linking all these developments NOMA is improving the public realm and creating new spaces like Sadler’s Yard. What I like about it is the attention to detail they have gone to with the NOMA logo and the names of the streets inlaid into the curb stones. When it’s all finished this is going to be, once again, a very classy part of town.

image

image

image

image

June 15th 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the IRA bombing of Manchester city centre. A huge bomb, the largest ever exploded in the UK in peace times, was detonated in the heart of the city causing widespread devastation that took 10 years to repair and cost £billions. I have a particular interest in this event as I was one of the 120,000 people caught up in it having gone into the city that fateful Saturday to buy Father’s Day presents. In spite of the scale of the bombing no one died but many were hurt and everyone there was traumatised.

So when the people at HOME discovered that I had been there I was asked to go talk to a theatre company about my experience. I agreed. On the way to HOME I gave some thought to the day to make sure my I had everything in order. The interview started well enough until I got to the point where the bomb actually exploded. It may have been 20 years ago but it still has the power to reduce me to tears. I was surprised at my reaction. I’d thought I’d parcelled it all away but I suppose there are some events that are so traumatic that you never get over them.

The theatre group, ANU Productions, are putting on a production, ‘On Corporation Street’ to mark the event. Corporation Street was where the van containing the explosives was parked. The testimonies of people, like myself, are being used to inform the production. Last night there was a read through of some of the testimonies in the grand setting of the Great Hall in Manchester Town Hall. This is the lobby outside the Great Hall. The building is a Grade 1 listed building of international importance. You can see why in these pictures. It’s a magnificent building in the Victorian Gothic style with a ‘no expense spared’ approach to the detail. I love the mosaic floor covered in Manchester’s iconic bees.

This is inside the Great Hall. It’s used for grand civic functions. Recently it was used for a banquet for the President of China when he was in town. But you can hire it yourself, at a price, for your wedding. The murals, by Ford Madox Brown, depict, somewhat idealistic, scenes from Mancheter’s long history. Although the building looks wonderful, it’s actually getting on a bit and needs a lot of work. The city is considering this and have come up with a sum of £350,000,000 to do the work. Once finished, because everything about this building is listed and can’t be changed, you won’t be able to see where one penny has been spent.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

The Great Hall has been set up for the reading of the testimonies in front of an invited audience. It was sobering stuff. It was interesting to hear other people’s experiences and as the evening proceeded I got a picture of what other people were doing as I dived for cover under the colonnade of a building on Albert Square as huge panes of glass crashed into the streets of the city onto fleeing crowds. 

image

image

image

image

image

The strangest moment of the evening was when one of the actors, Gilget, spoke my words. Hearing my thoughts being spoken by a different person shook me and I nearly lost it again. I got to speak to him afterwards. He’s a nice guy who was interested to meet me as well. 

image

At one point the people I spoke to originally found me and introduced me to a man they were keen for me to talk to. It turned out he was the arts correspondent for the Guardian, one of the UK’s most prestigious newspapers, and I ended up doing an interview for a piece he’s doing for the paper. 

With the construction of the new tram station in Exchange Square finished and the refurbishment and repurposing of the Corn Exchange as a foodie paradise now completed, we have Exchange Square back to enjoy.

At the moment it’s hosting a Spring Market which, with the warm, sunny weather, people were out enjoying.

image

image

image

image

Dutch Plant Guy was back in the city with masses of his plants to put out in our gardens over the summer. His first visit back to the city since the Christmas Markets. Not sure what he does in the winter months. Probably escapes to the West Indies on all the profit he makes in the run up to the festive season.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

 

It was hard work but someone had to do it. I had to go to Tiffanys today. I was picking up my beautiful Sterling Silver Pen. The opening and closing mechanism had jammed so I’d taken it in to be fixed. That was in January. I kind of forgot about it and no one from Tiffanys contacted me about it so I went back a few weeks ago to see where they were up to. It seemed they were waiting for me to tell them to proceed with the repair. Emails had gone astray. I gave permission and waited to hear from them. I even had the card of a lovely, Tiffanys lady who was my point of contact. I forgot about it again until today when I thought I’d go in and see where we were.

My Tiffanys lady was in and I was sat down with coffee while she looked into it. While she was away I had a look at the watches. One with a bright, blue face took my fancy. The lady came back with my pen. It had been fixed and was waiting for me to collect it. Only thing was they hadn’t told me. It worked to my advantage as they refused to accept any sort of payment for the repair. Apart from the email thing you can’t fault Tiffanys service.

We fell into conversation about the watch. Out it came and I tried it on. Apart from the matter of the £3700 price ticket I would have snapped it up. In the pictures it’s the largest of the two watches. The smaller watch (not sure of the price) was out because it has a perfectly clear, crystal back so you can see all the workings inside. I still preferred the second one. My pen is inside its nice new box. 

image

image

image

This is the clock on the side of Tiffany & Co on 5th Avenue in New York City. The guy is Atlas holding up the world with the clock face on. The clock has been scaled down for my watch.h

image

Manchester has its own statue of Atlas, over the rather grand, bronzed doors of Atlas Chambers on King Street. I think ours mores than holds its own compared to the one on 5th Avenue. 

image

image

I’m about to enter one of my really busy times of year. June and July are my two crazy months. Even when not in the office, I’ll be on call seven days a week from early morning to mid evenings. I have my team already and it’s grown in size. I need to get round to talking to them to see what sort of experience they have and who needs support. I kind of collapse into August but feel a whole lot better when it all has a massive, positive effect on my bank account.

I thought I had today and tomorrow free but I’m having to go in to cover for a colleague who has an unexpected hospital appointment tomorrow . He seemed fine when I talked to him last week. We will have to see. 

So I took advantage of the warm, sunny day and went for a wander around Manchester. I took the tram into the city. It’s much easier to do that in Manchester than to drive in and park. And, considering the price of parking, it’s a lot cheaper.

I got off at the Deansgate/Castlefield tram station. It’s next to that tiny site, not much bigger than the plot our house is on, where they are just starting to build the 28 storey Axis Tower. It’s hemmed in between two busy roads and the Rochdale Canal. The finished building will loom and be cantilevered over the canal. While they build it the canal will be tunnelled to keep people using it safe. It’s a busy canal with people using the towpath to get around the city and the water itself used by people enjoying canal boat holidays. Here they are digging out the old foundations of the building that came to a shuddering halt in the 2008 Recession. 

image

image

Looking the other way along the canal are Deansgate Locks. Once part of Manchester’s industrial infrastructure, the railway arches are now a series of bars, restaurants and Manchester’s Comedy Store. It was quiet in the mid morning but this place jumps in the evenings and at the weekends, one big party.

image

I like the combination of old and new in Manchester. At the bottom of Deansgate is the Castlefield Congregational Church (I think that’s its name). It looks rather Italian, like Hallé St. Peter’s across the city centre in Ancoats, and a bit out of place in a Victorian Gothic city like Manchester. It’s no longer used as a church. I heard there is a recording studio in there now. It’s a handsome building that contrasts well with, and stands its ground against, the nearby Hilton Tower. It’s a good contrast. I took my life in my hands to take this picture, standing in the middle of Chester Road listening for double decker buses rumbling up behind me. 

image

image

I’d actually got off at Deansgate/Castkefield to visit the Owen Street development where they are going to build four skyscrapers, two as tall the the Hilton Tower and the fourth considerably taller. Exciting times for the city. They have got to the part of the proceedings where the archaeologists are in there seeing what that can find. It means that building will start soon. The site is very close to the Roman settlement of Mancunium so there is always a chance (a small one) that they could find a Roman villa or amphitheatre. They did find a beautiful altar from a Roman temple near here not so long ago. 

I found this old map of the area. It shows some long gone dye works, possibly part of  Manchester’s mighty cotton industry. Someone has put a red line around the site where the skyscrapers will go. Always interesting to see what was there before and I wonder what the people who lived and worked here at the time of this map would think of what’s about to happen here.

image

And this one is a later map with more dense industrialisation. In the bottom corner there are some of the tiny houses that my grandfather lived in. His street is just off the map at the bottom. 

image

I could see the archaeologists working away but they were too far away to have a chat to and see what they had found.

image

image

 

 

I went looking for some street art. Apparently, Manchester is going to be having a festival of it this month. Nine of the best street artists from around the world are coming to the city to put up work at various sites in the Northern Quarter. I like street art. If it was on the side of Central Library or the Town Hall I wouldn’t like it but, in the N4, it positively adds to the vibe of the area.

Stupid me thought they’d already done the work and spent an afternoon touring various blank walls. It’s actually starting on 21st May and will last nine days. Something to look forward to if I can find them all.

So I had to be content with this piece I found on Paton Street just off Piccadilly.

image

image

image

image

image

And these pieces were in Hare Street on the side of Common Bar on Edge Street in the N4.

image

image

image

image

After visiting Betty & Butch I walked over to the Post Box Café. My friend, Pete, was setting up his garden stall on the terrace. He needed to move his van from Wilbraham Road so I looked after it while he found a place to park it. People came to look at the plants but no one bought anything while I was there. I was looking forward to doing a bit of selling. It did give me a chance to check out what he’d brought with him.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

My St. Anne’s Square garden is still going strong and has been replanted for the summer. These ladies were enjoying some tea and a snack on it. It was nice to see it looking good and being enjoyed.

image

image

I ordered some plants for our garden. I’ll pick them up next Saturday afternoon. I wanted some colour so I’ve asked for some Busy Lizzies and some Osteospermums.

image

After that it was off to find some lunch. I ended up on the sunny terrace outside the Barbakan Delicatessen on Manchester Road. They’d got the BBQ fired up so I had a frankfurter with some of their delicious, three times cooked, potatoes.

image

image

image

Yesterday morning I visited one of my favourite stores in the city, Betty & Butch on Barlow Moor Road in Chorlton. For those who don’t know it, it is Manchester’s dog lifestyle store specialising in all kinds of things that will enhance your dog’s life. And, in spite of the luxurious surroundings (it looks like a cool boutique on somewhere like King  Street), prices compare favourably with the offerings of the chain pet supply stores. I don’t actually have a dog (would love to have one but I’m not in the house enough) but I do buy things from Betty & Butch to give to friends who are lucky enough to have them. I went yesterday as the shop has had a makeover and I was curious to see what had been done.

I hadn’t realised that you could have your purchases delivered. The Betty & Butch delivery van was outside. I liked the number plate…

image

image

image

When I got there, the store was still closed and the windows papered over in readiness for the big reveal…

image

image

Dogs, and their people were beginning to arrive for the opening…

image

Down came the screening paper…

image

image

Angel, who is the talented guy behind the look of the store that makes it so special, told me they were going for a Brooklyn vibe for the store. I’ve not been to Brooklyn so I can’t say how authentic it may be. On my trips to New York I’m very much a Manhattan guy who gets fidgety if I’m more than 30 blocks from Tiffany’s. I did like the makeover a lot. Black walls but the shop has lots of light so it can cope with th colour. The back room is a zesty green, the black might have been too strong here.A new arrangement of counters, lots of apple boxes used for display (I need to do something with the ones I’ve got from last year’s St. Ann’s Square garden). Products displayed in a way that you can appreciate them instead of the ‘pile ’em high’ ethos of certain other places. Although it’s on Barlow Moor Road I always think this store has more of a Beech Road vibe (hence the title) just across Beech Park from here…

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

I’m really pleased that the chandelier is back. Some people had said that the chandelier made the shop look expensive. It had been changed for some strip lighting. I disagree, I think it makes the store look classy and I’m glad it’s back. I know of no other store anywhere, where dogs can shop for their treats and other doggie staples under a chandelier…

image

New fridges for the chilled food…

image

Home baked treats in a glass cabinet…

image

The store soon filled up with dogs and their people, checking out the changes…

image

image

image

I got to meet Phoebe the Pug and her person (Sam?). Phoebe and I got to share a piece of Guiness Cake which we both found moist and delicious. It was made as a traybake and I need the recipe…

image

image

image

There is a laden, healthy chew treat bar. As I’m increasingly vegetarian these days (those I do have lapses) some of the things on sale are not for the faint hearted like me. But dogs will love them and they are made of the finest ingredients. They’re not for me of course. The bottles are specially formulated beer for dogs…

image

image

image

image

Your dog can have a selection of the treats that are then displayed in these classy boxes like choosing a selection chocolates at nearby Cocoa Tree, the chocolatier. Phoebe was taking this selection home…

image

Betty & Butch opened at the height of the last recession. Always a good time to open a business I’m told as if you can survive that you will do really well when the good times come back. Other shops of all types could do worse than learn from how Betty & Butch has carved out a niche in the retail market with a loyal customer base. It’s not just a place to go and get stuff, it’s a pleasure to visit and even, like me, you don’t actually have a dog you can always find something to delight you. People return because of what’s on offer and good customer service in beautiful surroundings, three things that Betty & Butch do so well.

 

The perception that people have of Chorlton in Manchester is that of a pretty comfortably off place. People lucky enough to live here have a good lifestyle. Well off hippies, hipsters, people who work at the university, members of the city’s LGBT community live here and get along making it a vibrant community. It’s not gone unnoticed outside of the city as well, with the upmarket newspapers featuring it in their glossy, Sunday supplements as one of the top places to move to in the UK. Kirsty and Phil have been spotted here. A mere 15 minutes tram ride from the city centre, the Victorian and Edwardian houses lining its tree lined roads are a big draw. Throw into the mix a determination by local businesses to ‘keep it local’ means the area is bustling with independent businesses, some of which I like to frequent. On top of that people in Chorlton have great bars and restaurants within walking distance of their tastefully restored villas. I like to frequent one or two of them as well. And there’s culture, theatre, music, comedy, literature…it goes on.

It’s  an enviable lifestyle and, watching them have lunch on the terraces of the restaurants along Beech Road, it’s easy to think that everyone living there as access to all these things. Sadly, there are some that don’t. You do see homeless people about the village centre, perhaps finding being homeless in Chorlton is less intimidating than in the city centre. And then there are people who aren’t homeless who have, for whatever reason, fallen onto hard times and need a little help from someone.

A new organisation has been set up in Chorlton specifically to address the needs of the local community. This is, I think, a good idea. Some politician in Westminster or even in Manchester Town Hall isn’t going to know how someone is coping in their bedsit in a rundown shared house in a quiet street in Chorlton. But local people will and so can point resources quickly and exactly where they are needed.

image

It’s called Reachout to the Community and, I may be wrong about this bit (apologies) has been instigated by the women who run Ellliott’s Greengrocers in the precinct. They are always so busy with projects I wonder how they find the time to sell the fruit and veg. They had their first public event today to raise some cash for the Reachout project. It was a bag pack in Quality Save and they were outside, unfortunately in a cool, shady spot, collecting items of use to the people who they support.

image

Reachout to the Community is a small organisation that is trying to do some good and help people. I know a lot of people from Manchester read this blog and some of them live in Chorlton. So please give them a hand. Follow them on TWITTER @ReachOut_Com and look out for how and when you can help them. From TWITTER, you can get to see their FACEBOOK page (FACEBOOK is uncharted territory to me, like Game of Thrones) and like it. More information will be there I’m sure.

Some pictures so you can see the movers and shakers of this new organisation. 

image

image

image

image

image

 

I know I’ve posted this type of cherry trees before this season but here are a few pictures of two of my favourite trees in the city. Two pink flowering cherry trees in Beech Park, Chorlton. The flowers don’t last long, three weeks at the most, but they mark a point in the year when spring topples over into summer.

image

image

image

image

image

On Manchester Road in Chorlton, partially hiding the rather ugly 60s shopping precinct, are two, still growing Horse Chestnut trees. These are the ones that have the gigantic, five-lobed leaves and provide us with the shiny seeds, conkers,  that we like to collect to play the game of the same name. Well we did when we were kids. I’m not sure if this game is played anywhere else? I guess you need to have Horse Chestnuts growing near you. In some places the trees are called Candlestick Trees, because of the spikes of white flowers that are in bloom at the moment.

image

image

image

image

image