Category: Manchester


On Tuesday evening we went into the city to see ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ at the Royal Exchange Theatre. This theatre has gained a reputation for doing something somewhat off the wall for its Christmas treat to the city and ‘Little Shop…’ is in that vein. While the pantomime of ‘Snow White’, with Priscilla Presley as the Evil Queen at the Opera House and with ‘Shrek’ at the Palace packing them in with traditional Christmas fare, the Royal Exchange likes to do something different. But more of that in a later post.

I went in early to do the last of my Christmas shopping. I needed a few bits from the Christmas Markets and knew exactly what I wanted and where it was. I know, I’m so organised it’s irritating. The markets were busy but not over crowded like at the weekends so there was a pleasant buzz but you could see stuff and enjoy being there. They close this weekend which is sad but they have been, yet again, enormously successful both as an event and financially. 350,000 people went to them last weekend. I wasn’t one of them. And they have made the top 10 Christmas markets in the world list alongside cities like Vienna, Munich and Copenhagen. Well done us!

I had a quick wander around Harvey Nichols to pick up the last of my shopping and then had an hour or so before I was meeting friends to go to the theatre. I decided on a wander around Spinningfields. It was busy with people out enjoying the bars and restaurants and the general buzz of the city. The huge tee-pee had returned to The Oast House in Crown Square and there seemed to be some corporate event going on in it. People were sat out under the patio heaters enjoying mulled wine. One corner of the beer garden is covered by a huge tarpaulin marquee in case of inclement weather. It has been known to rain in Manchester after all. The huge support had been decorated by this flight of fibre-optic reindeer that changed colours. Lots of people were having selfies taken with them as a backdrop.

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And, while it is blatantly commercial, I did like the Pringle Christmas tree in Crown Square. They are encouraging you to take a selfie and post it to their website. Behind it is the judicial grandeur of the Crown Courts, the most important court building in the city. The frivolous Christmas tree looked at odds with the backdrop. I imagined some wise, but ancient, out of touch judge asking ‘What is a pringle?’ In his world it will be a golf sweater.

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I then went to have a look at the ice rink in Hardman Square. It’s a very popular part of Manchester’s winter and, viewed from the other side and looking towards the glass, corporate towers of Spinningfields, it looks a little like New York. But looking this way you see a rather sombre, grey, deserted, 1960s office block. It’s surrounded by fences at the moment. It’s going to be demolished in the new year and a huge new skyscraper will be built on the site completing the redevelopment of this part of the city and adding to the ‘Christmas in New York’ feel.

In the top picture you can see the Opera House on the left all lit up as Priscilla Presley and the rest of the cast get ready for the night’s performance. In the distance the Hilton Tower looms…

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Dogs enjoy Christmas as well it seems. Yesterday I went to Betty & Butch, Chorlton’s dog life style store. It was having an event to raise some money for the a charity in the Sale area of the city that looks after abandoned animals. Dogs brought their people to the store so that the dogs could meet with Santa Paws, have a few moments with the great man and pass over their Christmas wish list. They came away with a pre-Christmas present and the money they paid for the privilege was given to the charity. I know they did it last weekend but I’m not sure if its happening next weekend as well. If you want your dog to meet Santa Paws, it will be best to check their website before you go. It was very busy on Saturday with a lot of excited, very well behaved dogs waiting their turn to meet Santa Paws.

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The Launderette is a restaurant on Beech Road in Chorlton. It used to be just that, a place where people could take their laundry to be washed in a machine they could hire for a time. Hard to believe that people who lived around, now, affluent Beech Road, wouldn’t have had their own utility room to do their washing. But Beech Road hasn’t always been as wealthy as it is now and, in the past, even the rich didn’t do their washing at home. Effective machines hadn’t become widely available and the rich would send their washing to a laundry. In Manchester, it was done by Chinese immigrants in the basements of buildings in what is now China Town. Once washing machines became more widespread in the 1950s, the China Town laundries closed and were converted into the restaurants we enjoy. A fate that has overtaken the one on Beech Road as well. Where people used to do their washing, the trendy, Chorlton hipsters now enjoy some fine dining.

I saw this ‘A’ board outside. I couldn’t agree more….

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Thanks again to @NPAS_Barton for this wonderful picture of Salford Quays (above) at night. We’re looking east towards the city centre where all the lights seem to concentrate. At the bottom of the picture you can see the towers of Media City. Two illuminated footbridges cross the Manchester Ship Canal from the Salford bank to the Trafford Bank. On the right bank you can just see the distinctive shape of the Imperial War Museum North and The Lowry is just to the left of the further footbridge. The street lights pick out the shapes of the old docks where the ships used to moor. They are now lined with expensive houses, apartments and offices. In the dark on the right Manchester United’s  Old Trafford stadium is located.

This next picture, in daylight, looks west over Salford Quays. The River Irwell empties into the Manchester Ship Canal here. You can clearly see Manchester United’s stadium on the left. At the bottom is a complicated road junction which I have to negotiate a lot. If you know how it operates it’s fine but it does tend to confuse visitors to the city who are prone to change lane at the last minute when they realise they are going in the wrong direction. Trafford Road crosses the canal and heads to Salford passing the World Trade Centre buildings as it does so. Click both pictures to enlarge them and see more details.

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I had a wander down to the area around Victoria Station to see how things are developing. It’s been a bit of a rundown area for years now, less than 5 minutes walk from Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. The station itself is coming along nicely. All the struts for the new roof have been put in place by Christmas, as promised, and the glazing is going in now. It’s all looking splendid.

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It’s not just the station that’s getting a makeover. The entire area is on the up. I’m stood in the gardens of the Cathedral here and looking across the River Irwell to the Salford bank. Four apartment blocks are rising quickly up against the skyline. They are dramatically going to change the view and improve the rundown Greengate area of the city. Greengate is the medieval centre of Salford. They’d be amazed if they could see what was happening to their little settlement.

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A reminder of what’s going up on the Greengate site…

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Between the apartment blocks and the river they have just begun to build some new office blocks on the plateau that used to house Exchange Station. They are keeping the red sandstone of the railway arches as part of the development.

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Here’s what the offices will look like…

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There’s one site in the area that remains stubbornly undeveloped. It’s right outside the station and makes a terrible first impression to anyone arriving in the city at Victoria. It could be, potentially, wonderful. The site contains a pretty little Victorian building called City Buildings and is the oldest purpose built office building in the city. In its day it was Spinningfields. But it’s fallen on hard times and is empty and propped up by scaffolding. The plans are that it will be converted into the entrance and public rooms of a Hotel Indigo. The bedrooms will be in a circular tower on vacant land behind the City Buildings. This is what it should look like. In fact their website says it will be open in 2015. They’ll have to get their skates on if they are going to meet any date in 2015.

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On the site of where the tower will be is this little run down post office building. It’s been deserted for years and the buddleia has taken hold in a big way. In the rich soil of our garden it doesn’t do well but seems to be thriving growing out of walls of this building. In summer, when it flowers, you can smell honey in the air and it becomes a little nature reserve attracting, on a warm day, butterflies in their hundreds. I’ll be sad to see the butterflies be evicted but I’d like this hotel built. It would be cool to find a corner for the butterflies though. One reason the hotel hasn’t started could be that, with all the work at Victoria and with the building of the new tram line going past the site, there isn’t enough room to fit this building site in at the moment.

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Someone doesn’t agree with the building coming down. This was on the door of the post office.

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Today I want to talk about guys and what they have below the belt. It’s a bit of a new tangent for this blog but, I feel, an important one. And when I say ‘below the belt’ I do mean guys bits, the bits that separate us from the female of the species. I’m connected through the interwebby thingy to another Manchester blogger, Jordan McDowell, who blogs about fashion in the city. He does it well and gets invited to all kinds of swish parties in places like Selfridge’s and Harvey Nicks and gets to drink mid range champagne and eat canapés while models sashay past looking into the middle distance and wondering what the designer was on when he/she came up with the outfit they are showing off. I’ve met him once in the real world when the boot was on the other foot. I was invited to a party for the opening of the Mary Portas store in Kendal’s while Jordan crashed it in the hope of a quick word with the great lady. I’ve spotted him in the distance a couple of times (well actually it was his bright orange school satchel bag) and I saw him at a fashion event in a marquee in St. Anne’s Square once (he was being interviewed about his blogging) as we were on the way to the Royal Exchange Theatre. Jordan’s blog is in the links on the right if you want to check it out. Fashion Rambler…

We also follow each other on TWITTER and last week he tweeted about some unusual products he’d been asked, as a fashion blogger into good male grooming, to try for a company. I clicked on the link and read his post. I thought I knew as much as I need to about male grooming but what he’d been trying out was a new one on me. I tweeted him about it and he sent a reply. My tweets were picked up by the company who produces the male grooming products and they tweeted me. To cut a long story short I ended up being sent a complimentary set of the grooming products for me to try.

Now for the serious bit. Jordan had posted about the products which are aimed below the belt as part of his Movember campaign to raise funds for this cause. For people not au fait with Movember, it’s a campaign to raise awareness of cancers and other health issues that specifically affect men. In November guys grow moustaches and beards and raise funds. Similar things have been in place for female specific cancers for years now and these have led to these cancers declining as women are made aware of how to check for them. Finding a cancer early is always a good way to begin to beat it. Money raised has been ploughed into research into female cancers and new ways of fighting them have been developed. While the cancers haven’t been beaten yet, the chances of survival has been greatly improved. This is great. This guy is supporting the Movember campaign but seems to have taken it to the next level.

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But male cancers seem to be something of a Cinderella with nothing like the money or research being put into them. Movember is working to redress this. There are two main cancers that specifically affect males. The first is testicular cancer which is a cancer that, mainly, affects younger men up to 40 or so. But guys as young as 14 can have it. I remember reading about a young man in the north east of England. He was just 16. He found this lump on one of his testicles and tried to ignore it, he told no one about it. He didn’t know what it was and, because of where it was, he was embarrassed to tell anyone. Eventually he did tell his older brother who took a look and got him straight to the hospital. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The doctors discovered that the cancer had already spread and within a few days of the diagnosis he had died. The cancer had killed him but ignorance and embarrassment had contributed a great deal to the outcome. Testicular cancer is an easy one to deal with if it is caught early and to do that guys have to regularly check their bits for anything unusual or different down there. If you find anything, get it check out. I’d rather be embarrassed than dead.

A second cancer that can affect males is prostrate cancer. This affects older guys. A lot of guys don’t even know they have one. It’s a gland at the top of the willy, inside of course, that produces the liquid that the sperm swim in. As a guy gets older it grows. In some guys it can turn cancerous. It’s a bit of a tough one as the symptoms don’t appear until the cancer is advanced. But there are tests that can be done and, failing that, a doctor’s finger up the butt is all that’s needed to see if anything is amiss. Caught early, this cancer is curable but men leave it too long to get it checked out. I’m keeping my eye on this one. A relative did have it so I’m swimming in a gene pool that could be affected.

The third thing the Movember campaign looks at is male suicide. Men are much more likely to commit suicide than women. The reasons are complex. They bottle things up, we don’t talk, men are more likely to live alone, they have fewer friends than women… It all adds up to a big problem. It’s probably the most difficult problem of the three.

Back to the grooming products. As I said I thought I knew all I needed about male grooming but this range was a new one on me. Male grooming has come on in leaps and bounds in the last half century. We’ve gone from a position where guys might have a weekly bath and splash on a bit of aftershave for a night out to one where guys are quite open about having even their most intimate bits waxed. Here are the products, there are three. I like the simple, no nonsense styling of the packaging that would appeal to guys. They fit nicely into my bathroom.

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This is the first product, Fresh and Dry Balls. Below the Belt Grooming recommends you use this whenever you use an anti-perspirant. I really don’t want to know what the world was like before people used anti-perspirants. Most people use them these days but some are still strangers to them. They tend to stand next to me on the crowded tram into Manchester on hot days in summer. We are used to using them under our arms where tight clothes and sweat glands can cause a bit of a funk to develop. Well tight clothes and sweat glands surround a guy’s groin so I guess it makes sense to use one here as well. This one is specially formulated for the sensitive skin in this area. The product is quickly absorbed into the skin and it felt good. You are left with a film of talcum powder that keeps you dry and fresh. I liked this one.

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The second product is the Waterless Shower. I’m with Jordan on this one. Nothing really beats a real shower with water and soap for a really fresh feeling. It’s a kind of clear gel that you rub into the groin area. It wasn’t sticky or wet and left a nice, cool sensation which lasted for a while. I can imagine it being useful after a long day at the office and you’re out in the evening and no chance of getting home to shower.

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The last product is the Sports Lubricant. Had to wait to try this one out. Any guy who runs, cycles or does a sport that involves a lot of running about will know about chafing. I guess we’re just not designed down there to be so physically active for so long. There’s all kinds of bits down there trying to get along in a limited space and there’s bound to be a degree of rubbing together but in a bad way. You either have to keep everything tightly packed into a jock which can get sticky and funky or you go loose and risk chafing. I went on a longer than usual run to try this out. This product helped all my bits get along with each other much better than usual and there was no chafing. Job done!

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Of course, while you’re down there applying all these products and potions, you might as well have a good check around and see if there’s anything unusual going on. If there is, get it checked out….

Check out Below the Belt Grooming at www.btbgrooming.co.uk

 

 

I’m been so busy at work that I’m quite behind with posting pictures I’ve taken. After my disastrous trip to the Christmas Markets on the first Saturday where it was so packed with people you could barely move, I went again last Tuesday. It was a much more pleasant experience. It was dry and cold and was fine if you wrapped up well. My wool/cashmere coat and my Christmas scarf had another outing.

There were enough people to give the markets a pleasant buzz but you could see what was on offer on the stalls. You cook even linger and choose. Here are some pictures of the market in Albert Square presided over by Father Christmas on his podium in front of the Town Hall.

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Some old pictures of Manchester came my way. This is Piccadilly Gardens in the 1950s with the sunken gardens that were built in the basement of the old Royal Infirmary. The Coronation Fountain is in the centre. Even in black and white it looks pretty. The white building is the Art Deco Rylands Building that is now Debenhams. On the left is the old Lewis’s department store that is now Primark.

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This is Albert Square in the 1960s surrounded by soot encrusted buildings. On the right there is a sliver of the Town Hall. The buildings on the left were torn down in the 1960s and replaced by some modern blocks. This was a shame as I like the look of the older buildings. It would have been cool to have kept them. What were they thinking? The big change is the layout of the square itself. The Albert Memorial and the other statues are on that central spine with traffic swirling around the entire square. Except it does look quiet in the picture. They wouldn’t get many Christmas market stalls in here. Now the paved area covers the area from the Town Hall to where the bus is on the left of the picture.

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This is St. Peter’s Square in the 1970s with the square dominated by the Midland Hotel and Central Library. The world was in colour by then it seems and Manchester has red buses like London. The Cenotaph looks good in the centre of the square. It was only when the tram came through the square and they built the tram stop in the space between the library and the Cenotaph that the layout was ruined. The new square is a great improvement.

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These buildings were on the site of No. 1 St. Peter’s Square. They were pulled down to make way for Elizabeth House (again, what were they thinking?) which was torn down to build No 1 St Peter’s Square, which is a good thing most people think.

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I found this old Victorian map of the area. Top left you see St. Peter’s Church which is where the Cenotaph is in the picture above. The church went ages ago but the crypt, complete with bodies, is still down there apparently. Central Library will be built in the very top left corner. The buildings between the church and George Street are where No 1 St. Peter’s Square has just been built. We must have been a religious lot in those days as there is a church called the Scotch Church in the area. Both churches have long gone. There was also a tiny hotel called the St. Peter’s Hotel, a forerunner of the Midland that would be built on a site just to the left of the map.

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This is the Scotch Church. It looks rather elegant. Another building that we lost. Such a pity.

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‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,

Everywhere you go,

There’s a tree in the grand hotel….’

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In this case the grand hotel is the Midland Hotel on St. Peter’s Square, Manchester. Manchester has many hotels and they are proliferating as our conference and tourist industry grows. We have taller ones like the Hilton. We have ones that have more stars like the Radisson Edwardian and the Lowry. And we have ones that pretend to be grand, like the Palace Hotel, but are glorious fakes, not even in their teens compared with the Midland.

At over a century old, in its Edwardian Baroque building occupying an entire city block overlooking the square, the Midland is the Queen of Manchester hotels. Asking any Mancunian which is the best hotel in the city they will tell you to go to the Midland. You don’t have to stay there to enjoy it. It has two award winning restaurants, one of which has to get a Michelin star soon if there is any justice. The afternoon teas in the Moorish Octagon Room are legendary. The great and the good of the world have stayed here on trips to the city. It’s had a couple of difficult years. Nothing wrong with the hotel. But it has had its stunning view of the neighbouring Central Library ruined by scaffolding and plastic while that building was restored. The library is back in use now and the hotel now looks over the restored square, more than holding its own next to new neighbours like No 1 St. Peter’s Square.

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The lobby always has an impressive Christmas tree so we went in to check it out as we like to at this time of year. I took these pictures. If you look carefully you might spot Tom. Many thanks to the lady who pointed out my dropped glove. I have a habit of losing one each year. I always get a pair on Christmas morning because I will have lost one or both of them before the great day! And these were a nice leather pair that go well with my wool/cashmere coat that had its first outing this winter on a cold, but dry, Manchester day. As we were there we made some enquiries and found we were able to go in that day for afternoon tea. It would have been rude not to.  

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I liked this Mercedes car I saw in Chorlton. I’m not sure how old it is. 70s or 80s I think. It’s obviously loved and is in great condition for a car its age.

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