Category: Manchester


I’d been wearing my favourite jeans when I had my fall 9 weeks ago. I’d bought them from GAP a couple of years back and they were developing nicely. They were good with sports shoes and a sweatshirt but looked equally good with a pair of dress shoes and my wool/cashmere overcoat. Before they put my dislocated ankle back in place they had to cut them off me. I was high on gas and air and I don’t know what pained me more, the manipulation of my joint back into position or the ruining of my jeans. So while I was in St. Ann’s Square I visited the GAP store and replaced them. I fell lucky and there was a sale on with a whopping 40% off!

It also gave me a chance to have a first look around the Christmas Markets. By now I’d usually have visited them on several occasions but this hasn’t been a normal Autumn for me. Here are some random pictures from the market in St. Ann’s Square…

And a few more taken in King Street…

Top of my list of things to do yesterday was to get my haircut. My favourite place, BarberBarber, in Barton Arcade, off  St. Ann’s Square has been off limits for two months. We considered various ways of getting there but being thrown out of a moving (albeit slowly) car outside Barton Arcade on the Deansgate side just wasn’t feasible with a broken ankle. I was taken to a local place where they tidied it up a bit but I’m used to the attention to detail you get at BarberBarber. It’s never a chore to go to BarberBarber, much more an experience. And I love the sense of theatre of the place. The guys dress in a particular way and how they cut hair, shave guys and dress beards attracts the tourists outside who stand and watch and take pictures to show off to the folks back home in Houston, Tokyo, Sydney etc….of this piece of old England that looks as if it’s been here for ever but has, in fact, only been here for a shade over 4 years. Don’t let that put you off  though, if you are in the city, it’s well worth a visit to experience it, but only if you are a guy, it’s a guy only place ladies. And, before, people get all uptight about that, I can show you places in the city that are women only businesses where men are barred from entering as well.

I was pleased to see that Johnny, the owner, was working there today. I was one of the original customers when it first opened. The first time I met him he actually kept the shop open late for me one evening so I could have a haircut. Good customer service there. He’s always dressed in his trademark ‘Johnny’ style and he didn’t disappoint today with the shirt either. He’s a busy guy these days but, if he’s in actually barbering, he tries to make sure he cuts my hair. He always has the prime chair by the window which delights the tourists. We had a good chat (Johnny would call it ‘craic’ he is from Ireland) on a range of subjects from Father Christmas (Johnny isn’t a fan of the one he met on the steam train that runs from Bury up to Ramsbottom) to Brexit (not a fan at all). He’s opening a hairdressing academy in the new year, above this barbershop in Barton Arcade. And he has two new barbershops in the pipeline, a second one (not counting the Tommy Guns ones he bought) in London and a second Manchester one in the upmarket suburb of Hale.

I was watching this lad getting his hair cut. He was going the full ‘Peaky Blinders’ with the close shaven back and sides and the longer, floppy hair on top. He’d certainly pass for an extra in the show. If you haven’t seen Peaky Blinders, find it and watch, it’s a violent, bloodfest joy of a programme. I got talking to the guy next to me who turned out to be his dad. They were down from Ulverston in the Lake District and had come for the weekend to do some shopping, visit the markets and enjoy the vibe of the city. His wife and the lad’s girlfriend were off elsewhere having their hair done. The dad had twins in a buggy. His son was 18 and the babies were three months old. I wondered if this had been planned or was a joyful accident. Dad said at the moment the 18 year old is more of a worry but the two three month olds are causing the most lack of sleep. On the plus side the lad is getting lots of practice in with his new brother and sister for when he has some of his own. I don’t think Johnny had realised that someone had smuggled a female person onto the premises either. And, I ended up looking a bit Peaky Blinders myself. I just need to work on my Cillian Murphy chiselled cheekbones (one of my personal trainers must have an exercise for that) and the ice blue eyed stare.

 

Jimmy, my personal trainer, has sorted out my gym routine so I went in early to try it out. It went well but the part of the cycle really defeated me. I told Jimmy and he said he will scale it back for next time. I hope he remembers.

After the snow yesterday, we’ve had one of those ice cold, blue sky December days. I decided on a bit of an adventure. I drove over to Chorlton to find Eddie at the car workshop to say thank you for rescuing me after the accident. He’s been in Ireland when I’d last called in. It was good to see him and thank him for helping me out. He had been amazed at how calm I was when my foot was obviously so badly hurt. To be honest I couldn’t feel any pain, probably due to the shock and adrenaline pumping through my system.

With the weather being so good, apart from the worrying ice patches here and there, I thought I’d go into the city centre. I needed a good haircut and wanted to visit M&S. I did get the haircut but I got distracted by the Christmas Markets which I haven’t seen of course so far so Marks will have to wait. I thought I’d go as far as St. Ann’s Square but ended up in Albert Square. It was a lovely winter day and the markets were busy enough to be buzzy but not so crowded that they become unpleasant, like they can be at the weekends.

I took this picture that I was pleased with. I liked the Victorian Gothic spires of the Town Hall tower and the Albert Memorial and then the reindeer on the roof of one of the market chalets. All against the cold blue of the sky. I just wish I’d left a little more sky between the memorial and the reindeer. More pictures soon, I’m back!

As I haven’t been out and about properly for nearly two months I’ve not seen how the city has been developing. Driving to Chorlton, there were low clouds and a bit of drizzle which restricted visibility. Later on the clouds lifted and the sun came out. I drove through the huge, complicated roundabout road system near Manchester United’s stadium. Those who know it will realise that, after driving along streets with a restricted view you suddenly get a spectacular vista that stretches from Media City to the city centre.

I had my breath taken away by the view towards the city centre where the two towers (of a total of four planned) of the Owen Street development have made a real impact on the skyline. They’ve really grown while I’ve been stuck at home. One of the ones currently being built will be a few floors below the height of the Hilton Tower and the second one will be Manchester’s new tallest building, at 64 floors, 17 floors taller than the Hilton.

Not my picture. I found it on the Manchester section of Skyscrapercity and they found in on Twitter somewhere. Thanks to both for this stunning picture. It must have been taken on one of those cold, frosty, brilliant blue sky days we had last week when the east of the country was snowbound but we had the sun. The new tallest building is on the right with the Hilton Tower sparkling in the centre.

It could be that normal service is going to be restored on my blog. After a two month (almost) hiatus, I’m out and about again. I have to say I was a bit naughty about it. I said I was going to a local sports store to get some new trainers for when I go to the gym on Monday. My existing ones are a bit tight on the damaged foot so I decided to buy some new ones, half a size up. That done I really needed to get to my opticians on Seymour Grove to pick up some new glasses I’d ordered just before the ankle incident. They had offered to send them but I really wanted to go in so I just carried on driving to Old Trafford. The optician was at their other store but would be back at 1pm so I went into nearby Chorlton, where all my recent travails began. Here’s the place where I slipped on the leaves. No one has cleared them away yet! I didn’t risk it by wandering down there again.

I wanted to see Eddie who either runs, or works in, this little car workshop just by where I had the accident. He, and one of the customers, came to my aid when I slipped, organised the ambulance and kept me calm and comfortable while I was waiting. Unfortunately, Eddie was over in Ireland attending a family funeral so I didn’t get to see him. He’ll be back on Tuesday. But the rest of the guys who worked there knew all about me it seems. I’ll go back again and see him. 

I went to the Post Box Café and treated myself to some of their delicious Eggs Benedict and coffee. By this time home was texting me wondering how long was it going to take me to choose a new pair of trainers. I said it would be a while to get a pair that were both comfortable and supportive of my ankle.

I wandered along Wilbraham Road to Cocoa, the artisan chocolate shop and café where they make the chocolate treats on the premises. I got some to enjoy while we watch the Strictly Come Dancing quarter final this evening. I saw a few things that would be good as Christmas presents as well.

Chorlton is lucky enough to have a range of independent shops including Out Of The Blue, the fishmongers. I loved the way they have painted their window.

A bag I saw at the Chorlton Art Market. It seems the local cats, operating out of the Horse and Jockey pub, are running a cartel in catmint! You don’t mess with the Chorlton Cat Cartel!

Before I headed to the opticians to pick up my new glasses, I treated myself to a glass of Pinot Grigio in ODDEST. A simple pleasure that I’ve not been able to enjoy for over two months. It was very satisfying. The bar was its usual self but they did have some new staff. I was served by a guy who was channelling his inner Tommy Shelby with his Peaky Blinder cap at a jaunty angle. 

I checked my blog. I had a message from someone else in the city who’s just suffered from a broken ankle. It seems we have the same doctor. Her operation was just last Wednesday and she was doing what I did at that time and searching the Internet to see how long it would be until her ankle would be back to normal. Her search had brought her to my blog. I’ve gone from operation to being able to get about, with some restrictions still, in just 7 weeks. I hope she has the same speedy recovery, if not faster. 

I came across this video of the transformation of St Peter’s Square, and the buildings around it, in Manchester from overcrowded, cluttered space to a world class space. IMHO of course….

I couldn’t put it better myself….

Still stuck in the house with a broken ankle so….

It’s will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I’m a great fan of Manchester. I’ve lived here all my life but have had the good fortune to have visited some the great cities of the world, London, Paris, Rome, New York, San Francisco, and very fine they are but nothing quite works for me and feels better than touching down at Manchester Airport or arriving at Piccadilly Station and coming home.

Over the life of this blog I’ve been marking the redevelopment of the city and, what I’ve posted on it, is really the tip of the iceberg of what is actually going on. If I were to follow every development it would be a full time job and I’d need staff to keep up. And the developments in Manchester have happened at a time when the world was in the biggest economic slump since the 1930s. Other cities in the UK may be doing well but Manchester, along with London, seems to have become almost recession proof. The building projects slowed down in the depths of the recession but never stopped. Apart from one year, 2011, the economy grew, sometimes spectacularly, 9.6% in 2013. New businesses are opening and thriving and the population is going up. We seem to have got into a virtuous circle where a thriving economy attracts more business, more wealth and so on. The increasing number of hotels are full and, always an indicator of a sucessful city, people eat out on a Tuesday night in well supported restaurants.

However, not everyone shares my enthusiasm for the developments. Some think the city is going in the wrong direction. There seem to be three arguments against the current spate of development of the city. One, the developments are only aimed at the affluent part of the city that can enjoy them and some people in the city can never afford to eat in the high end restaurants or shop in the likes of Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. Two, the city centre is pushing at its traditional boundaries and is spilling over into the surrounding suburbs, displacing the local population who can never afford to buy into the skyscraper apartment blocks rising around them. Three, Manchester is becoming a city like any other the world over with a style of architecture that would fit in any city from Melbourne to Vancouver via Hong Kong and Saõ Paulo and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Before I address those three points, a little history lesson. As I understand it, in Georgian times, Manchester was a small, well built, prosperous market town. Little of that town remains, a rather grand house on King Street (now the Jack Wills store) and a few houses along St. John Street and a scattering of buildings across the Northern Quarter.

Then the Industrial Revolution happened Manchester found itself at the centre of a region that was perfect for the production of cotton. Within a few decades the city exploded, Georgian Manchester was swept away to make way for Cottonopolis. I wonder if there were people about then bemoaning the destruction of the Georgian town? The population grew and grew and the city spread to swallow the surrounding fields, villages and hamlets. It might have made a lot of money but it wasn’t pretty. Stung by accusations of ‘Philistinism’, the Manchester cotton barons looked around at what they had created and saw that it was not good. There followed a period when the city built many of its most iconic buildings like the Town Hall, the Royal Exchange and the great commercial buildings along the likes of Princess, Whitworth and Oxford Streets. Cultural institutions like the museums and galleries and the Hallé Orchestra were set up. It must have been a building boom like we are experiencing now, if not greater.

It was in this period that the city centre grew to fill its current boundaries, roughly an area between the River Irwell and the railway viaducts that skirt the southern edge of the centre still. By 1914, Manchester was a global city, the population of what is now Greater Manchester making it the 9th largest city on the planet and controlling the world’s lucrative cotton industry. In the summer of 1914 they must have thought it would last for ever.

But it didn’t. Other countries began to produce cotton more cheaply. Slowly at first, the cotton industry began to die, taking with it the engineering industries that supported it. World War II happened and the city suffered badly in raids by the Luftwaffe. After the war the decline of the cotton industry sped up and while German cities rebuilt by restoring what they could of their former glory, British cities went in for the brave new world look with cities carved up to accommodate cars and the brutalism of 1960s architecture. Manchester was not immune.

By the 1980s vast swathes of former industrial land had been abandoned and the population of the city had declined as people moved to more prosperous parts of the country in the search for work. By 1990 the city had lost 500,000 people from its pre World War II height of 2.7million. Politicians in London were talking about the ‘planned decline’ of Manchester and the other northern cities. Chilling phrase.

Manchester was having none of this ‘planned decline’ and over the last thirty years has fought back hard to restore its former position. And it has worked. Building on its strengths, every artisan coffee shop to the new cultural infrastructure has added to Manchester’s attractiveness as a place to live, work and do business. Manchester regularly appears near the top of lists of cities to visit, live in and do business. No longer is Manchester looked at as a place to go to and get out of as fast as you can. We have become a success. And we have the problems of success which, as one of the city fathers pointed out, are a damn sight better to deal with than the problems of failure.

And I think, at this point, it’s probably a good idea to define what Manchester actually is. Is it the sliver of land that runs down the centre of Greater Manchester from, roughly, Prestwich in the north to Manchester Airport in the south with a population of about 520,000? Or is it the ten local authorities, with a shared interest, that make up the continuous urban area that runs from Wigan in the west to the Pennines in the east. From the old cotton towns of Lancashire in the north to the plush Cheshire suburbs in the south, with a population of 2.7 million? I’ve always though the latter and that view has been reinforced recently by the election of a Mayor for Greater Manchester. And people from outside of Greater Manchester regard Manchester as the wider urban area. You live in Leigh/Oldham/Rochdale? Where’s that? Near Manchester? I know about that place! Some areas of Greater Manchester are fiercely independent but there is an acceptance that we will all be more prosperous and be able to make out voice heard in places like Westminster if we all shout together.

But to return to people’s concerns about the direction of development in Manchester. First is that some local people aren’t able to join and enjoy the new developments in the city. They don’t see the shops as places they can go, they don’t eat in the restaurants, they don’t visit the theatres and cultural attractions. Of course it may be that these things don’t appeal to them and are not things that are a part of their culture. That’s fine of course. I’m not into cage fighting and have no desire to be part of that culture but some people enjoy it. The more common reason given is that they are poor and can’t afford to do these things. And certainly, to enjoy some of the things on offer in Manchester you are going to have to flash the cash. But that’s the same of any city anywhere I suspect. It’s actually a very simple and, at the same time, a very difficult problem to solve.

The renaissance of Manchester as a city has attracted new businesses to the city and created new job opportunities. These are not all zero hours jobs with Uber and the like, many are well paid with all the advantages that implies. These jobs are sucking in determined, educated people from Manchester and, increasingly, from other places, coming here to put down roots and make a life. That people from certain parts of the city aren’t able to access these jobs is they lack the education and skills to get them. Not everyone can get out of poverty by being a Premiership footballer or being lucky on the lottery. The way forward is through education for the majority of us. Go to school, learn to read, write and do maths, throw in a smattering of other subjects, work hard at GCSE level, do some A levels, access some higher education, learn a bit about the wider culture of the world, present yourself well at interview and get one of those jobs. Simple.

But, for some, it’s not that simple of course. I’m pretty sure that the amount the government spends on the education of a child in Knutsford is the same as spent on a child in north Manchester. But the outcomes for those children can be radically different. Of course the parents of the Knutsford child could afford to hire a tutor to bump up the grades of their child before GCSE. They might donate some cash to the school for a new computer suite as well. But the main reason a child in Knutsford does well is that the culture of the family matches that of the school. The Knutsford child has from an early age been told, either overtly or subliminally, that they will do well if they work hard. They will have a home full of books, parents will take an interest in their education, homework will be done, there will be trips to museums and galleries, places of historical and geographical interest. They will be talked to and included in conversations about things that we value as a society, the kind of things that lead to being successful in life. They will sample interesting foods in restaurants, they will be taken abroad where they will explore different cultures. They will be told they will be a success, by school and home, and we shouldn’t be surprised if that’s what they become.

Of course there will be homes in north Manchester where that culture exists even if it’s not as well financed as that in Knutsford. And the children in those homes will go on to have successful lives as well. But in some homes in north Manchester the culture runs contrary to that of the schools. Education isn’t really seen as a way of improving yourself even though, if you ask, they will say it is. The parents don’t really believe it because, possibly, it didn’t happen for them. Children from Knutsford and north Manchester are going to rebel of course, with that rebellious period coming, usually, in the vital period up to the vital GCSE stage. But, your Knutsford kid, pushing the boundaries and developing independence, will always have it at the back of his/her mind that education matters. Sadly, too many children in north Manchester don’t have that. Many do worse at GCSE level than their contemporaries in more favoured suburbs and by the time they have matured and realised the opportunity missed they are on the back foot and losing in the race for the good jobs with Mr/Miss/Ms Knutsford.

Quite how you get the kids in north Manchester to wise up I’m not sure. Some say the teachers need to do more. Having teachers in my family, I’m at a loss to see how they can do more. Throwing money at the problem doesn’t seem to work either. I’m sure that the parents of north Manchester kids want them to do well but don’t seem to know how to do it as effectively as the parents in Knutsford (could be Hale, Bowden, Didsbury, Chorlton of course). How we can get inside the culture of an area and change it to one that truly sees education as a way forward and out of poverty and get to a point so they can afford a meal in Iberica, Manchester House,The Ivy etc. I really don’t know. But if the people of less favoured parts of the city are to be included in its success that a lot of us enjoy, someone is going to have to grasp that nettle.

The second point people are concerned about is the expansion of the city centre. I may be wrong but what we have defined as the city centre was cemented in the years running up to World War I. After that event Manchester began a slow decline with the demise of the cotton industry and the city centre stopped expanding with places like the one we now call the Northern Quarter actively going into decline. World War II destroyed parts of the city centre and the further decline of traditional industries left swathes of the city centre abandoned.

With the renaissance of the city the decline has been reversed. Old buildings have been repurposed and the ‘zombie’ car parks have all but disappeared. Spectacular so at Greengate, opposite Manchester Cathedral where it looks like a completely different city from 5 years ago. The developments are a mixture of business and residential with the tallest ones built, going up and planned, being apartment blocks. And apartment blocks for the well heeled people who have the well paid jobs in Spinningfields and Media City. Why aren’t they building things for families and local people they cry? Well, the figures don’t add up. I read somewhere that land values in Manchester now match Manhattan. Build a couple of semi detached on land in Manchester city centre and the prices would make an oligarch blanch. That’s why Manchester now, like New York did, is developing upwards. The people who are buying or renting the apartments want to because they are close to the city centre where the amenities and lifestyle they want is happening so the developers are simply addressing a demand.

Why not family accommodation like you see in city centres in continental European cities? Because we don’t have that tradition. Well off young people enjoy the city centre lifestyle for a few years here but when that first baby appears they’re off the Chorlton and Didsbury for a nicely converted semi, a garden, good schools and a tram station to get them into town when needed. As for building for local people see section on education above. Though I do accept that it would be a good idea to have more integrated communities.

But we do seem to have got to a point where the traditional city centre is, mostly, fully developed and it is bursting it’s constraints. It’s looking for new places to spread. Greengate was mentioned. Across the entire length of Great Ancoats Street into Angel Meadow and the Irk Valley, Ancoats and New Islington, down Oxford Road to meet the universities coming up it, into Hulme along First Street and the massive developments around Owen Street and towards Ordsall. These areas are changing as a result. This is what happens when cities grow and are successful. It is nothing to be afraid of and should be embraced. True, some people will see their area change and people only seem to like change when it’s happening somewhere else and not outside their front door. What we are seeing in Manchester is Human Geography in action turning rundown areas like Ancoats into successful parts of the city.

And for those people afraid of the change I can only see more of the same as the city centre expands. I can see it happening in Ardwick beyond Mayfield, along Upper Brook Street towards the universities, from Ancoats to the Etihad Stadium and along City Road into Pomona Docks where the developing city centre will eventually meet and join up with the expanded Salford Quays. This development of the city is good and infinitely better than the decline we had only thirty years ago.

The third concern is the style of the buildings being put up. Manchester doesn’t have a style or an era that defines the city. We are not spectacularly Georgian like Bath or quaintly medieval like York. The closest we ever got to that was Victorian gothic but the Luftwaffe and 1960s planners did for that. Manchester’s charm lies in its eclectic mix of buildings, you wander about and suddenly come across something totally unexpected. Now into this mix we have now had thrown an awful lot of early 21st century towers and the like. And I do. Especially where the old is in juxtaposition with the new like with the John Rylands Library and the Armani Store building, Central Library facing No 1 St. Peter’s Square and the long Victorian horizontal of the railway buildings along Deansgate ended by the emphatic vertical of the Hilton Tower. All good stuff IMHO.

We are told we are, again, a global city, with aspirations to be a top 30 global city within a couple of decades with all the benefits, and problems I suppose, that might entail. To do this we need to have people come here to invest and see us as a viable alternative to London, Paris and other European cities. These people, with the influence and cash to invest, expect to see certain things. They expect a city that has great amenities which Manchester does. And they expect a city to make a great first impression. It’s like being on a first date or going for an interview. The first minutes really counts. For Manchester that means possible suitors landing at a world class airport and driving into a city with an emphatic skyline that says ‘success’. And that means towers, tall gleaming ones that catch the sun (when we have it) and radiate light at night. They see them in other sucessful cities and expect them to be in Manchester. We do have a world culture now and we shouldn’t be surprised if that stretches to architecture. And, to be honest, in spite of the towers, there is still a lot of old Manchester left. Once that first impression has been made we can then introduce them to our more low key attractions and woo them over so they set up business.

I’ve always been a fan of good architecture and firmly believe that everything that is built, be it a retail shed or a gleaming skyscraper should be built to the highest possible standards. Sadly, not everyone shares my opinion. Where things are not done that way we should not be afraid to say so and get people to change where necessary. We’ve just done that with the Booth Street development where even little me did his part by tweeting and blogging about a very ill conceived scheme. I wasn’t able to change people’s minds over the Central Library blob though.

I think every new scheme needs to be looked at on its merit. People complain there is too much glass and steel in Manchester. Possibly. But I have to say I’m a fan of the corporate perfection of Spinningfields and, judging by the number of people enjoying it, I’m not alone. I love the contrast between that and the dignity of civic Manchester, not far away around Albert and St. Peter’s Squares and the funky, chaos of the Northern Quarter. I take visitors to all three and they leave feeling that have been to three separate cities and love that the city is so diverse. Places like Spinningfields have added to the city’s architectural lexicon, not degraded it. People should remember what the area was like before.

So let’s not be afraid of the new. Keep what is good of the past but let’s not get stuck with the idea that just because something is old it has to be kept. I’ll lie in front of any bulldozer or wrecking ball headed towards Central Library, the Midland Hotel or one of the great cotton warehouses of Cottonopolis. But an unremarkable, brick built building in Piccadilly Basin? Just because it was old? I was more concerned about the future of the thriving sandwich business inside it. Choose you battles. Ancoats Dispensary…yes! Unremarkable buildings of little architectural merit, not so much.

Final point. Manchester has a north south divide. Of the ten boroughs that make up Greater Manchester, the southern ones, Salford, Trafford, Manchester, Stockport and Tameside have a GDP that will not look out of place in the Home Counties. The northern boroughs, Wigan, Bolton, Bury, Oldham and Rochdale have a GDP of about half that of the southern part of the city. Of course there are pockets of poverty in the south and some very affluent areas in the north. But we do have that north/south divide. It does need to be tackled, hopefully with the north of the city being brought up to the levels of the south.

It’s a difficult one. Manchester city centre is always going to attract the big cultural and business concerns and well to do people are going to want to live there where they can enjoy the lifestyle. Not every borough can have an international airport or the BBC setting up shop attracting 1000s of well paid jobs. There’s a limit to the number of world class universities or football clubs one city can have. We need, as a city, to work together to see what we need to do to develop and prosper and how each of the different boroughs can develop to add to the prosperity of the city and its people as a whole. Housing in south Manchester is expensive, in the north less so, what could be done to develop a Chorlton or Didsbury in Rochdale or Oldham? How could we improve communication links so people living in one place could work in another. What can we do to bring brownfield sites into productive use again as places to live and work? How should we develop the tram system? Do we make the best use of brownfield sites along motorways?  The RHS is building a world class garden complex in Worsley, what other attractions do we need to attract people to visit the city and live here?

How can this be achieved? I have no idea or simple fixes. I’m hoping people far more clever and connected than me are working on it.

Lovely picture of fast developing Manchester by Ed Howe, or VDB, of the Skyscrapercity Forum, he is passionate about Manchester and works hard to promote the city. Log on to the site and see what he does. It’s wonderful. Hope he doesn’t mind me using his picture as I can’t get out to take my own for the foreseeable future!

Working on the IndyManBeerCon, they fed us. We were giving tokens and we could swap them for something delicious from the food village. Various street food specialists set up their field kitchens and cooked delicious fresh food to order. You asked for what you wanted and watched it assembled and cooked before your eyes. 

I had a delicious pulled pork burrito one day. I can’t remember the name of the street food vendor sadly, nor can I find it on the IndyMan website. Another day I had some Malaysian food from a kitchen called Nasi Lemak. I’ve had Malaysian food a couple of times now and find I always enjoy it. I had some Vegan Chicken Bites (I imagine it was tofu) covered with three types of sauce with some of those pickled vegetables that you see in Korean cuisine. It was delicious and probably did me a fair amount of good.

I did manage to get these pictures of the pizza I had on the third day from a street kitchen called Honest Crust. They managed to get one of those huge pizza ovens into the festival. The pizza was assembled before you cans you could watch it cook in the oven. I was told to try it and, even though there was a wait, it was more than worth it. I had a sourdough crust pizza with wild mushrooms. It was VERY good.

It wasn’t all beer. In a side room Three Rivers, a Manchester based gin company, had set up a gin parlour. I must find their distillery, they do tours I’ve heard. The three rivers referred to in the name are the Irwell, Medlock and Irk, the rivers that run through the city centre.

On my first evening working at IndyManBeerCon I was working on receiving the guests at the door. A call came through to see if anyone could be spared to work on the increasingly busy bar of the Northern Monk Brewery from Leeds in Yorkshire. When I was in university I had a job working in a pub behind the bar. I got quite good at it and learned how to pull a perfect pint of Guinness with exactly the right proportion of creamy white top to black stout beer below (did you know that Guinness isn’t actually black, it’s a very, very dark red beer). I didn’t perfect the shamrock on the top even though I am of Irish descent.

Northern Monk had an entire tent to themselves beyond the food village. When I arrived it was already busy. I met Billy (grey T in the pictures), one of the craftsmen brewers, who lovingly talked me through the beers and ales on offer and showed me how to pull them. After a few mistakes I got into the groove and all that muscle memory from nights behind the bar in the Friendship Inn came true.

At the beginning of the evening there was a lot of ‘beer tasting’. People swirled the beer in their glasses, inhaled the aroma, swashed it about the various parts of their mouths so they could assess the ‘feel’ and the ‘depth’ of the taste. Appreciative noises were made and comparisons with beers drunk at other times and at other events. All rather like a wine tasting. The difference between the two events was that, while the wine may have been spat out, the beer most definitely wasn’t! 

The beer was sold in one third of a pint measures so three glasses equated to a pint in a normal pub. Problems might have arisen because the beers on offer can be, and were, a lot stronger than the mass produced beers that can be bought anywhere. And people were on a mission to try a lot of them. Only the number of tokens you could afford limited you. I saw no one getting drunk and the security people said it was a good event to do from their perspective because everyone was out to have a good time and were so chilled. 

However, as the evening went on there was less appreciation of the beers and more of the how much can I drink attitude. For example…

Young Lady to me: Give me a glass of your favourite beer and then I’ll have another of your second favourite one!

But my favourite interchange of the evening came courtesy of a young, Australian guy…

Aussie Guy: (possibly having had one more than was good for him) What have you got that’s most like an Aussie lager?

Me: (looking along the beers on offer from Northern Monk and finding nothing remotely like an Aussie lager but spotting Billy not busy for a moment) Billy, this chap wants something that’s most like an Aussie lager. What do you suggest?

Billy: (looking Aussie guy up and down with barely concealed distaste) Well I can offer you some piss in a glass!

Aussie Guy wasn’t put off so I chose him a glass of an India Pale Ale flavoured with Passionfruit.

Me: Try that. In some pubs in Sydney that’s considered a cocktail.