Category: Manchester


I’m behind with all my posts. Work is so busy in the run up to Christmas that I don’t have the time to keep up. Today, Friday, isn’t so bad. I can do some work at home which gives me time to type up this and load pictures. These ones are from last Sunday. I went on a camera safari with the Photography club at the Post Box Café to the Manchester Museum in Manchester University on Oxford Road. I thought that it might be quiet on a Sunday afternoon and we would have lots of space to look for some good pictures. How wrong I was. It was full of the middle classes and their offspring, the parents making sure that their children didn’t fall behind educationally on the two days off at the weekend. Then a choir turned up. They sang rather well but caused congestion in the foyer. And there were kids all over in animals onesies for some reason.

But I got some pictures. We had to treat our digital cameras like an old fashioned camera with film. In those days you had to think really hard about a shot before you took it or waste a part of the film. I had a wander and eventually settled on a huge ammonite fossil in the Geological Gallery. I liked the textures and the maths. Here it is…

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I cheated a bit and took a couple of back up ones…

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I’m fascinated by ammonites. These creatures ruled the roost for hundreds of millions of years. They appeared in the Devonian Period (400,000,000 years ago) and died out in the Cretaceous Period (100,000,000 years ago). That’s about 300,000,000 years. I’m not sure why they died out. Maybe the dinosaurs ate them? This is what the geologists think they looked liked in those ancient seas. I’m not sure how they know the colours though. A bit of artistic licence I suppose. And, of course, they are a distant relation of ours.

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I could have gone for the Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil skeleton. It’s a popular exhibit with everyone especially the kids.

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And I was tempted by the model planets in the Space Gallery.

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I really thought I might go for something in the Egyptian Gallery. I’m fascinated by this culture and civilisation. I’ve enjoyed my trips to the country and love to visit galleries that have collections of Egyptian artefacts. In the Manchester Museum, I particularly like this bowl. It’s about 4,000 years old and made of a highly polished granite. How they did it I’m not sure. You can actually touch this one and, while I stroke the perfectly smoothed sides, I try to think about who made it and who owned it and how it made its way through time from an ancient house near Aswan in Egypt to Manchester, a city that didn’t even exist when this artefact was made.

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This wonderful column carved with hieroglyphs from a block of pink granite is in the museum shop.

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And you could take a little of Ancient Egypt home with you as one of these facsimiles of ancient artefacts.

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And in the Pottery Gallery there were these beautiful pots from ancient civilisations from South America and Africa.

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The choir entertaining the museum visitors.

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Adrift by name and adrift by nature. This sculpture was executed by Irish sculptor, John Cassidy, who was a sculptor of some repute in Victorian and Edwardian Manchester. He donated this sculpture, which represents humanity adrift in a sea of troubles, to the city in 1907. It was supposed to go in a huge new art gallery that was going to fill the space where the old Royal Infirmary was in what is now Piccadilly Gardens. It seems that what to do with that part of the city has been on the agenda for a LONG time.

The art gallery was, sadly, never built and the gardens were created. The statue was put in the centre of them. After the present Queen ascended the throne in 1953, Adrift was moved and replaced with the Coronation Fountain in that year. Adrift ended up on the edge of the gardens on the Portland Street side. The disastrous remodelling of Piccadilly Gardens in 2001/02 saw the fountain shunted off to the rose garden outside Platt Hall (aka Museum of Costume) in Platt Fields Park and Adrift put into storage. The poor fountain still does not work. Does the Queen know this?

In 2010 it reappeared in St. Peter’s Square for all of about five minutes it seemed. I remember talking to the guy putting the finishing touches to it. I thought it had found a suitable permanent home. But within weeks of it being revealed, the hoardings had gone up across the square for its grand refurbishment and it disappeared from view again. I did a post about it on this blog back in August 2010.

It’s just reappeared again as part of the St. Peter’s Square refurbishment. It’s actually on Peter Street on the space between Central Library and the Midland Hotel. And very fine it looks. Hopefully it’s come to a final resting place. Although it’s been wandering the city for over a 100 years now, people were treating it as something new. It looks as if it’s finally getting the appreciation it deserves.

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No. 1 St. Peter’s Square is finished now and tenants are moving in. And splendid it looks as well. There was a big party with coloured lights and lasers a couple of nights ago to celebrate it being finished. And right next to it, I was talking to the demolition team who were putting up scaffolding around the buildings that are being demolished to build No. 2 St. Peter’s Square.

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The police helicopter has been keeping its eye on Manchester’s Christmas as well. With all those extra people in the city they like to see if the crowds are getting out of control anywhere. Which was just about everywhere last Saturday! In this picture we are looking down on Manchester Town Hall which is the triangular building at the centre of the picture. It’s connected across Lloyd Street by the two foot bridges to the Town Hall Extension. Next to that is the unmistakable circular Central Library. You can see the controversial glass link now blocking Library Walk. At the moment nothing seems to be happening there. There’s an inquiry into where the council acted legally in blocking a public right of way without permission. It will be interesting to see what happens as the council have spent £3.5 million on it! Just below the bottom point of the Town Hall triangle you can see an ellipse, this is the site of the re-sited Cenotaph looking splendid on St. Peter’s Square. Above the Town Hall, Albert Square has disappeared under the Christmas Markets. Click the picture to see it in more detail. Thanks to @NPAS_Barton for this wonderful picture.

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I liked this  Christmas mural of penguins on the electrical substation at the bottom of Thomas Street in the N4. I think I’ve seem the picture as Christmas cards somewhere as well…

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I seem to have a slew of Christmas posts to get through as Manchester gets ready for the big event. Manchester, with its markets, does Christmas like no other place in the UK. What started as an attempt to pull people into the city centre after the IRA bomb of 1996 has grown into one of the largest and most visited Christmas Markets in the world.

But today’s Christmas post comes from my favourite Manchester suburb of Chorlton and from one of my favourite stores there, the Betty & Butch dog lifestyle store. I’ve written about this store before. It’s not a pet shop, it doesn’t smell of stale dog biscuits. It’s not a place where you go, get whatever you need for your dog and leave. The goods aren’t piled up in heaps and sold badly. This is a destination shop. It’s a pleasure to visit. The things on sale are the best that the owners can find. OK, they might be a little pricier than other places but the quality of the things on offer is far superior to many others. Everything is stylishly set out and you have the same pleasure you get from browsing as you do in some high end store on New Cathedral or King Streets. I like to visit and I, sadly, don’t have a dog. If I did I’d never be away.

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They have just done the big reveal of their Christmas store and their decorations. Some stores have an ‘here’s what we want to flog you this Christmas and here’s a bit of tinsel’ approach to dressing their store. At Betty & Butch the approach is ‘here’s a wonderful Christmas window and you’d be welcome to come in and browse.’ It has a Sleeping Beauty theme this year. The front of the store is decorated with the white lights reindeer. and fresh pine branches. Inside the ceiling is hung with brown paper parcels wrapped with red ribbon around the chandelier. The Christmas items are carefully shown off, placed just so, so you can see them to their best advantage. The range is extensive and interesting. They have things you just don’t see anywhere else. It’s a great place. If people want their small business to survive and prosper they could do worse than check out how Betty & Butch do it. If more stores on the high streets were run and presented like this one it would go a long way to reviving them.

If there’s a better Christmas display in a small store anywhere else in the city I’d like to know where it is. This one gets GOLD and BEST IN SHOW from me.

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I was pleased to find that the guy who sells wooden ducks was at the Christmas Markets in his usual spot on Brazennose Street, just off Albert Square. Every time I mention this street it reminds me to try and find the origin of its name. It’s such an unusual one. So far I’ve had no luck though. But back to the duck guy. I’d realised it was last Christmas since I’d seen him and his ducks. Sometimes I’d see him at the markets in Piccadilly Gardens, not one of my favourite parts of the city and I try to avoid it. But on the odd occasion I’d been through the area and a market was on, he wasn’t there. Nor had he turned up at any of the markets in the more salubrious areas of the city like St. Ann’s Square which I do frequent a lot.

It’s not good news. After 10 years of selling his ducks he has decided to give it up. He’s opening a model shop in Wrexham in North Wales and this is the last time he will be selling the ducks at any of the markets. I’m sad about this. Regular readers of this blog will know that we have a lot of fun with the ducks we have bought from him, dressing them up for various celebrations that we have. Other people have appreciated them as presents as well. All good things come to an end I suppose.

Some final pictures of the last of the ducks at the Christmas Markets…

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Work is crazy busy at the moment. November is always like this it seems. We seem to be trying to get everything finished before the new year. Saturday was busy. I finished about 2 in the afternoon. At one point I’d decided on a bit of a wander around Chorlton but the Christmas Markets had begun the day before and they were too big a draw for me to resist. I knew I was going to hate going but I couldn’t help myself.

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It wasn’t easy getting there. They were working on the metro line near St. Peter’s Square which effectively cut the system into two parts. Why they had to do this on the busiest weekend of the year so far I don’t know. When I got to the Chorlton tram stop it was closed and they were offering a shuttle bus into the city centre. I decided to drive in. That bit was easy but parking wasn’t. The city centre was busy with people Christmas shopping and they had descended in their thousands to go to the market. Last year 9,000,000 visited the markets. They are that popular. Most of that 9,000,000 must have been there on Saturday.

I arrived in Albert Square and felt full of Christmas spirit but that lasted all of about 40 seconds. The crowds were horrendous. And I’m probably going to upset a lot of people when I say that the people who annoy me most at the Christmas Markets are those parents who insist on bringing their very small children in buggies. They take up a lot of space, they ram them into your legs (I have a red mark on my shin to prove it) and the kids in them must be terrified in those crowds surrounded by all those legs. The weekends are jus too busy for them. Bring them in the week or the evenings when they aren’t as crowded.

We all shuffled about but it was next to impossible to see anything on the stalls. Where people stopped to look at stuff, we all ground to a halt. I left to visit other parts of the markets across the city centre but they were all as bad. I will go back but I’m going in the evenings or during the week so I can have a proper look around. Before I left though I had to just observe one annual ritual and have the first mulled wine of the season. I went and found the ladies from Luxembourg who make delicious mulled wine. They were back…

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Here are this year’s Manchester Christmas Market’s mulled wine cups…

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The first mulled wine of the season…

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The nice thing about working all the hours God sends on Thursdays, and that I am at a certain point in my career,  means that I can finish early on Friday. We have a new recruit to our department and he needed to be briefed and brought up to speed on a project. We (there were three of us) could have done it at the office, where you get lots of interruptions, but it was more pleasant to head over to Chorlton and have some lunch, wrapped up, on the terrace of Barbakan. We then headed over to ODDEST, where laptops could connect to the Internet and the work could be done. And we actually did it along with a Friday attitude adjuster. Our new recruit is really liking working in our little team.

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Between Barbakan and ODDEST we had a wander and walked through Beech Park. The weather in the morning had been dreadful but at lunchtime the clouds parted and the sun came out. It turned into quite a pleasant afternoon. At this time of the year the sun is low in the sky and you get these long shadows across the grass. It looked cool but it does make driving tricky. The sun also brought out the colours in the remaining leaves on the Copper Beech and Cherry trees.

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On Tuesday I went to the second meeting of the new photography club at the Post Box Café in Chorlton. There were some more people there tonight which was good to see. Always nice to meet some new people. They all had big, black cameras with lots of buttons to press and different kinds of lens that could taken off and new ones inserted. Only two of us had a basic ‘point and press’ cameras and I think the other person is expecting a nice new one from Father Christmas in a few weeks time. Then I’ll be the only one with a little camera.

We talked about ‘aperture’ which I understood. It’s the hole that lets in the light and affects the picture you are taking. The flashy big, black cameras had complicated ways of changing the aperture for various conditions. I just press a little button on the top of my camera and the camera does it automatically which suits me. if I had to press a lot of buttons to take a picture of, say a butterfly, the creature will have flown before I got the thing in focus.

We then looked at ‘depth of field’ or ‘field of depth’. I’m not sure which way it goes around. There was lots of talk of ‘F’ numbers and which ones were good with which lenses in different conditions. At this point the conversation got a bit like one of those conversations they have on Star Trek where they are talking about some technology that doesn’t really exist so they invent one for the purpose. Except, of course, everyone else in the room knew what it all meant while it all passed over my head.

The upshot of this ‘depth of field/field of depth’ is that you can focus on something very close to you and everything in the background becomes fuzzy. You see this used in arty pictures sometimes. I can do it by half pressing my picture button till something goes green in the centre of the screen, then moving my camera slightly then fully pressing. So I was able to do what the rest were doing with their cameras.

Here are a few pictures I took. They are not the most interesting pictures but it shows the method we were using. Hopefully I will be able to use this in other pictures I take. We will see.

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We had to write a second piece. We chose a second object from the table and wrote a short piece about why it was important to its owner. In doing so you would be revealing something about the character of the owner. I chose a basic screwdriver. I wasn’t sure what I was going to write as I went back to my work station at the back of the café. So I let my conscious mind describe the screwdriver and waited for my subconscious mind to take over. This is what happened…

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The Screwdriver

It’s a simple screwdriver. The kind that can be picked up cheaply in any DIY store the world over. It’s about twenty five centimetres long. Sturdy black handle, ridged to give a firm, strong hold when in use. The handle is yellow in the valleys between the ridges. A long, strong, silvered, steel shaft protrudes, unmoving, from the handle, sealed in by heat. The end splays out into the shape of a traditional, flat screwdriver head and tapers to a narrow, but blunt, edge just wide enough for it to get an anchorage in the top of a screw. It’s design has changed little over the years. It fits comfortably into a competent hand. It’s strong, reliable, simple and convenient.

It’s important to its owner because it’s a tool of his trade. With it he can work, fix things, make things, sort out problems, make broken things work. People value his expertise with the screwdriver. With it he can sort out their problems and make their lives run smoothly. People without his expertise rely on him, and the screwdriver, to put things right. They are grateful. He does his job well. So they pay him handsomely, grateful that their heat or light has returned, the door is fixed, the fridge chills, the cooker cooks. As a result, he can eat and so can his family. With the screwdriver he is able to put a roof over his family’s head, it clothes them, keeps them safe and warm. This simple, cheap, readily available DIY store tool provides.

I like to come away from these sessions with an idea or two to develop. As well as this piece on the screwdriver, the piece on the coral, there’s a third idea which I’m hoping to develop. I’ve been trying to think of a way into it for a month now and on the way home it sort of fell into place. But it’s going to take a while to get right I think. Watch this space…