Category: Manchester


It’s been a bit of an interesting few days for me and I’ve not always had the time, or feeling up to, updating this blog. Last Thursday, when I really should have stayed at home in bed, I was invited to an intriguing meeting at a hotel by Piccadilly Station. It seems my blog is getting noticed a lot these days and I’m in demand. Just this morning I’ve been asked to do a guest post on another site. I like this interaction with other people on the internet and if it leads to something in the real world so much the better.

Manchester Airport is getting a new destination. Soon there will be direct flights from Manchester to Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific coast. It’s a long flight, about 12 hours but that’s the same as to Los Angeles so is doable.

Mexico is on my list of places to visit. I have kind of been before. On a trip across the States years ago we were in a Texas town called Del Rio on the Rio Grande which forms part of the border with Mexico. We crossed the border into Cuidad Acuna, on the Mexican side of the river, for dinner. We liked the idea of visiting another country for dinner. I remember eating Mexican food and drinking Tequila in the courtyard of the restaurant while being serenaded by a guitarist while bats dived for insects above our heads. It all seemed very romantic. We crossed again the next day and did the tourist part of the town but I can’t say we got to see the real Mexico. And while visiting friends in Orange County in California, they took us down to Tijuana for a Sunday trip. It was full of Americans doing the same thing. And, with its more lenient drinking laws (I believe 18 is the age like in the UK as opposed to 21 in the USA) it can attract a lot of young Americans wanting to party. Again we didn’t feel we saw a lot of the real Mexico.

But I do want to go. I love history and the Aztec and Mayan cities are definitely on my bucket list. And I love cities so I would like to see Mexico City. While many people in the UK have been to Mexico, few get beyond Cancun, the purpose built resort of the Caribbean coast. Now I like sitting on a beach for about 20 minutes and then I’m up and about looking for diversions. And it’s quite a hike to the Mayan cities from there so I could find Cancun not really to my liking. Then there is Acapulco on the Pacific coast that still has a romance about.

I’d heard about Puerto Vallata. Our California friends have been down there in what they like to call ‘winter.’ It happens in January apparently but they really haven’t got the hang of it in southern California. We have been to Orange in January and it was in the low seventies people! I was splashing about in the Pacific while they looked on in incredulity, wrapped in warm sweaters, while the stupid Brit played in the ocean. They escape to PV to escape the ‘cold’ of California in the winter. We have been trying to lure them over here to Manchester in November, early December to enjoy the Christmas Markets but, having experienced part of a Manchester summer, they are very concerned about what it will be like in November.

Up to now, the problem with Puerto Vallarta has been access. Its just been too difficult to get to and hasn’t had the profile it deserves in the minds of the UK traveller. PV has been a destination for a while but, unlike Cancun that was created out of nothing, the tourism of PV has been grafted onto an existing, thriving town. I liked that the hotels didn’t seem to be the, undoubtedly luxurious, glass palaces of the likes of Cancun, but buildings that fitted into the existing town’s style. North of the town is an unspoilt coast that is gong to be sensitively developed, the Riviera Nayarit. There is a lot of the real Mexico here to be discovered and enjoyed, it’s not a tourist version of Mexico packaged up and shipped in to entertain the tourists. The history goes back to before the Spanish arrived and, inland there are beautiful Spanish colonial towns to visit. It’s great for outdoor pursuits and sports but also a great place to go, apparently to watch whales and birds. It does seem to have something for everyone and it’s good that it’s a place that is now within reach of Manchester. You fly out of Manchester on a wet, cold Thursday and 12 hours later you are sipping and Margarita on a terrace overlooking the Pacific. Sounds like bliss to me…

I’d like to thank Elena and Senors Miravete and Zarkin for inviting me to the presentation. At the moment I don’t have any pictures I can use to show off this place and am hoping Elena can furnish me with some so I can. There as a cool goodie bag, I liked the turtle memory stick and the cool glass bead bracelet. They are made in the area and the colours represent different things for their culture.

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In the absence of any pictures of PV I can use, I thought I’d post some of the venue we were in. It’s called The Place and is an aparthotel, a hotel where you rent an apartment rather than a room. Its built in a huge, brick built railway warehouse next to Piccadilly Station on Ducie Street on the cutting edge of the N4. In Victorian times it was a working building. It’s quite forbidding from the outside with it’s tall walls of simple red brick, it has none of the decoration of the cotton warehouses of Whitworth Street  and the like designed to look like palaces in Vienna, Venice or Florence, Scottish baronial castles or French chateaux on the Loire. Inside great wrought iron columns support the brick ceilings. It has a simple, austere beauty. This was a working building.

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I always assumed that it was a solid block and was pleased to discover that it had an internal courtyard that has been glazed at roof level to produce a well lit atrium in the centre of the building that has been filled with tropical and semi tropical plants. A little bit of PV perhaps? I wondered how real the palm tree was? For years I’d assumed that the ones that line the Trafford Centre were real, Then it occurred to me that they never grew or dropped anything. They are just glorious fakes. I wonder if this one comes from the same nursery?

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When I started this blog it was so that I could organise all my pictures into some coherent fashion instead of them being stuck on the hard drive of a computer forgotten and neglected. Family and friends could look at them and see what I was up to and where I’d been. It kind of morphed into a blog about my home city of Manchester. It never occurred to me that other people might be interested in it. But once it’s out there on the Internet it’s there for all to see. The last time we looked it was heading for 10,000,000 hits!

It’s also go me invited to parties attended by the great and the good of the fashion world in Manchester (it DOES exist people) at one end of the spectrum, and to a night helping to hand out clothes to the homeless and dispossessed of the city at the other end. In both cases they gave me access to worlds I know little about and while one was fun, eating canapés and drinking champagne while rubbing shoulders with the likes of Mary Portas, the other was a sobering experience meeting people who can’t share in the good life that can be had in this city.

Well another experience has come my way. And I’m excited and intrigued as to how it is going to pan out. While I was preparing for my unpleasant Wednesday last week an email arrived among all the spam from https://carclub.easycar.com/. As I was in a bit of a state about Wednesday it might have been ignored if it hadn’t been followed up by another email. If you don’t know about Easy Car Club, this is how it works. In London, owning a car is a mixed blessing. Traffic jams, congestion charges and the rest make it a difficult and expensive business. I know Londoners complain about the Tube and the rest of their public transport but it is actually pretty damn good. You could get about most of London without needing a car. If you have one , for trips out of the city, it could be sat on your drive (or in some outrageously expensive parking space; Radio 4 reported on a garage somewhere being sold for £500,000 this week) for days or weeks on end, costing you money but with you getting no real benefit from it. Other people, who don’t have a car but occasionally need one, have the expense of going through one of the hire companies.

What https://carclub.easycar.com/ does is bring together the two groups. People who have a car doing nothing can rent it out to people who need one. The latter gets a car, the former gets some cash! Brilliant concept. It’s been working in London for a while now and earlier this year it’s been rolled out to the other big cities like Birmingham, Leeds and, of course, Manchester.

To promote the fact that the company has expanded into Manchester and to see how the concept works in the city I have been loaned a car, a silver Vauxhall Vectra. Over the next couple of months I am going to publish it on their site and blog about the car’s and my adventures. Two other bloggers, one near York and the other near Birmingham have also been given a car. It will be a fun thing to do. At least I hope it will be.

This morning a nice guy called Tom drove it up from London. He went through the processes with me and I think I’ve got it all. I drove him back into Manchester for me to get used to the car and for him to pick up the train back to London. I hope he got back in good time. He’ll be coming back to Manchester in June to pick it up. And, Tom, I’ve got the rather nice coffee machine working again so you can have one when you come back north.

If anyone wants to rent a car for a while over the next couple of months, I have one. Let me know. Here’s the car…

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One business has made it across the River Irwell to Greengate Square in the shape of a pop-up coffee shop in a cool little wooden chalet. I followed the ‘A’ boards that were luring people across the river from the McCostbucks coffee stores of the Manchester side…

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The coffee shop is TINY. It looks like one of those cool office buildings that people who are lucky enough to work from home, build at the bottom of the garden so that their commute is just across the lawn and, at the end of the day, they can lock up the office, commute back across the lawn and leave the stress of the working day at the bottom of the garden for the fairies to deal with. It was busy. There were no seats left inside. I was going to have a coffee but the lack of seats and the fact that the anaesthetic side effects from the day before had just kicked in decided me against it. I needed to get somewhere warm and sit down for a while.

I enjoy coffee, especially the independent coffee stores that use really good quality produce for their drinks and cakes. This one looked like the kind of place that people would flock to in the N4 or Chorlton. I like its quirky character. It’s a good idea and it deserves to prosper, serving good coffee in an unusual setting. Once the apartments and offices that are going to be built are up and running it will be a goldmine. In the meanwhile I hope people who read this search it out. It’s just across the river from the Cathedral.

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This little Yorkie was outside waiting for his people to finish their coffee. I tried to pet him but he was a little skittish. Usually these little dogs come bounding over if you show the slightest interest in them. So I let him have his space.

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You can follow Grindsmith Coffee on TWITTER @Grindsmiths. They also have a simple website….

http://www.grindsmith.com/

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These pictures I took on Thursday. I had a little meeting in Manchester and, having had a traumatic day the day before, I decided to get some fresh air and have a bit of a walk. I kind of regretted it at the point when I was furthest from the car but I kept my camera clicking.

It was a grey, cold spring day which never shows the city off at its best but I was attracted by a huge patch of bright yellow overlooking Greengate Square. Greengate Square is a new open space on the site of an old bus station across the river from the Cathedral and the site of the long gone Exchange Station. It’s another attempt to attract the wealth and buzz of the Manchester side of the river to the Salford side. But less than two minutes walk from Selfridge’s and Harvey Nichol’s on Exchange Square, it still looks a forlorn place. It hasn’t registered in the city’s consciousness yet and the best squares in the city are the ones that are on the route from one place to another. St. Ann’s Square links the stores along Deansgate and King Street to those on New Cathedral Street. Albert Square links busy Oxford Street to the retail areas of the city and so on. At the moment there is nothing to get to beyond Greengate Square unless you have parked your car in one of the dodgy looking surface car parks there. But that’s in the process of changing. Two high rise towers of apartment blocks plus a couple of smaller ones are just beginning to be built beyond the square and I heard that the actual plateau that used to house Exchange Station (closed in 1969 but we are JUST getting round to doing something with the area) are being redeveloped as new offices as the city’s economy begins to grow again. Once those are up and running the square will come into its own.

The large patch of yellow was a giant rubber duck. And if this is the rubber duck it begs how big is the bath? What it was doing here was advertising the annual Good Friday Rubber Duck Race that happens on the River Irwell in nearby Spinningfields. It’s a popular event and I’ll be down there to cover it, if only to see what goes wrong this year. Last year we had the cheating where one of the big corporate ducks had been fitted with an engine and it shot down the river like a speed boat. Then we had the year when the wind was so strong that all the ducks went the wrong way up the river because the wind was stronger than the current. And we had the spring that was so dry that the river level was so low that it was barely moving with ducks taking to Whitsuntide to get across the line.

You could have a ‘selfie’ taken with the duck to upload to the race website.

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Further down Deansgate, on the edge of Spinningfields near the Armani Store was this old Route Master red bus, the kind that used to be the work horse of public transport in the big cities in the UK. It was also being used to advertise the Good Friday duck race. These buses have all been retired from service everywhere now, even in London. Though they are still used to ferry tourists around London to give them an authentic London transport experience. If tourists really wanted an authentic London transport experience they need do no more that try and get on a tube train at 8.00am on the Northern/Piccadilly/Victoria (insert own route of choice) line where they can be squeezed onto a packed train full of wet, bad-tempered people and spend the journey squashed up against someone who is a stranger to soap. It’s a bit sad that these wonderful old buses (though I’m told they were cold and uncomfortable) have been reduced to advertising to keep themselves going. But at least they haven’t been scrapped.

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I spotted a couple of cool cars in the city yesterday. First there were these three classic Minis outside the Town Hall on Albert Square. Beribboned, they announced that there must have been a wedding going on in there somewhere. It’s one of the most popular spots in the city for a classy wedding. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen these Minis before in the square and probably have posted about them as well. Doesn’t matter, they looked cool outside the Town Hall lined up like in a scene from ‘The Italian Job.’

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Meanwhile on Cambridge Street there was a Maserati with a beautiful blue paint job. It was parked outside Chorlton Mill. Chorlton Mill is not in Chorlton but on the edge of the city centre where traffic gathers before heading south towards the airport and the southern suburbs. It is part of the ring of red brick, industrial buildings that used to encircle the city centre. A few years ago they were soot-grimed semi ruins. A couple of old cotton mills, an India rubber works owned by DUNLOP and a printing press called Hotspur Press. I’m just about old enough to remember them in that state; as you drove along Cambridge Street they were a dark forbidding canyon of buildings before the road turned right into Whitworth Street and you could see busy Oxford Street and the Palace Theatre in the distance.

In spite of their ruined condition they did have assets, huge windows and vast spaces inside that were easy to convert into expensive, trendy loft style apartments. The soot was scrubbed off the walls revealing their warm, red Manchester brick and the buildings have a great new use.

I assumed the owner of the Maserati lived in or was visiting someone in Chorlton Mill. As I was taking pictures another guy came up to photograph the car as well. We got talking. The Maserati is a frequent visitor here. He drew my attention to the number plate. It seems it belongs to American DJ and music producer, Baauer. He splits his time between Brooklyn in New York and the UK and is frequently in Manchester it seems. Here’s his beautiful car…

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If you are not acquainted with Baauer’s work, you are probably more acquainted than you think. He was the producer of the ‘Harlem Shake’ that was such a hit on YouTube and spawned many different versions of the accompanying dance…

While we were in the Science Museum I decided to take my iPad to meet his great, great, great, great grandfather. We’re not sure exactly how many ‘greats’ it is. The Science Museum contains BABY, the world’s first working computer. It was built at Manchester University in the late 1940s by a team that included Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician whose work shortened the second world war in Europe but who later committed suicide when it was discovered he was gay.

BABY is now in the Science Museum. It’s amazing how technology has come on in the last 70 years comparing this computer to my iPad that is 10,000 times faster than BABY was. It does make you wonder where we will be in another 70 years?

A brief visit to this museum will give you a good idea how Manchester has created the modern world, railways, the factory system, computers… The latest development we are excited about is Graphene, a supposedly wonder substance invented at the university that may revolutionise the world again. We shall see…

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After the trauma of Wednesday, we felt like going out and doing stuff. We decided to use the tram. We got some of those tickets that allow you a day’s access to the tram system for £5. The more you use it the bigger the bargain it is. You can get all over the tram system if you plan your day right. Visitors to the city might want to put this tram bargain on their list of things to do.

At some point in the day we found ourselves in the Science Museum on Liverpool Road. It was my day so when I saw the smoke coming from a chimney I was able to demand we go in and investigate.

The smoke was coming from the chimney of an old steam engine called Planet. It is one of the oldest steam engines in the world being built in 1830 and used to pull carriages of people between Liverpool and Manchester on the first passenger line in the world from the station that now forms part of this museum, Liverpool Road Station. You can see it in one of the pictures unromantically called Station Building 3. It was the Bullet Train of its day, moving people between the two cities at speeds that people had never travelled at before. People came from all over the world to marvel at it and take the idea back to their own countries.

With the Easter break on us, Planet was pressed back into service taking people on little trips through the museum. I liked the pictures where the train is under the Hilton Tower, contrasting the old with the new. If the former hadn’t been invented the second would never have been built.

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Life is wonderful. And tenacious. Wherever it can find a foothold it will thrive, even in the most unlikely places. At the unfashionable end of Deansgate, beyond the Cathedral,  just near the Manchester Arena (I refuse to call it the stupid name that has been foisted on it by its current sponsors) a Victorian stone bridge carries the train lines from Victoria Station. It’s a bit of a dank space with water dripping down the walls in places. And where the water seeps out of a crack between the stones these lichens (I think that’s what they are) are thriving. They are a little bit sinister but strangely beautiful.

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I suppose people from other countries have always lived in Manchester. It was founded by Romans to start with. The cotton industry was begun in the city by Flemish weavers who came here from what is now Belgium to escape persecution. The city as always welcomed people down on their luck. These weavers laid the foundation for the future wealth of the city. In the nineteenth century the city became a host to Irish immigrants looking for work away from the poverty of their homeland and to Jews, escaping from pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe.

After WWII, waves of immigrants came from the West Indies, the Indian sub-continent and Hong Kong looking for work and to help with the rebuilding of the city after the ravages of the war. These ethnic groups have made the city their home and have affected the life of the city setting up businesses and teaching us to enjoy their cuisines. The Chinese in China Town, the Indian and Pakistanis along Wilmslow Road and so on.

Quite what the Afro Caribbean people who came here to work in the 1950s made of the city at the time I’m not sure. They will have left their warm, green, sun drenched islands in the blue Caribbean and will have arrived in a bomb damaged city wreathed in industrial smog, cold, wet and dark. I’d have been on the next boat back! Maybe that’s why their cuisine has taken longer to establish itself in the city’s consciousness.

This is a Jamaican restaurant, Jerk Junction, that does well at the junction of Manchester Road and Upper Chorlton Road where Chorlton becomes Old Trafford. They have a restaurant but, on warm evenings, they fire up the oil drum BBQ outside and people dine al fresco at picnic tables. It does smell appetising. Further along Upper Chorlton Road there is a usually a van selling Jamaican street food. I pass it of a Saturday morning and there is always a queue waiting for the food. If you go after 2 in the afternoon you will be too late. And I did, once, with the help of a mate of Afro Caribbean descent (grandfather was from St. Lucia) make Goat Curry (we used mutton) and rice and peas to his grandmother’s recipe. He said I’d made a pretty good attempt, but of course he might have just been being kind…

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It was nice to be out and about after the travails and trauma of yesterday. But Halton Hospital is a good hospital, I was treated with kindness and respect and they put right what was wrong with me swiftly. I have to rest up for a few days and there’s still some stinging but, generally, I am OK. As I’d had an anaesthetic yesterday I really shouldn’t have been out and about but I caught the tram into the city as I had a meeting I wanted to get to. But more of that later. I was heading to a hotel on Ducie Street where the meeting was when I spotted one of those little signs put on a post on Canal Street that gets you thinking. Here it is…

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