Category: Manchester


I’m still snowed under with work. But at least I’ll be handsomely paid for doing it. At least I hope I will. I’m working at home for the next two days. Well that’s the theory at least. Some people love working at home, they don’t have the commute and can organise their own time. I’m not so good at it. I find lots of other things that need my attention before I start on the work. I set myself a doable target and then find myself miserable because I only reach it late in the evening and I wonder where the rest of the day went?

Today started off well and I’d got up early and achieved a lot by 8. But I had to go to the docs for a check-up and to give some blood for some routine tests. Nothing to worry about but after my nasty little op they are just keeping an eye on me. This broke the day and by the time I’d treated myself to a coffee and filled the car up with some petrol I knew the day was lost.

So I took my work into Manchester on the tram and headed to my quiet place in Central Library. It’s in its summer lull period at the moment; the schools and universities have finished their examinations and the great reading room at the core of the building was almost deserted. I kicked off my shoes, set out my stuff and just got on with it.

image

I promised myself a cold beer and some music at the Manchester Jazz Festival, currently in full swing across the city but with its festival hub in Albert Square under warm, blue skies, when I’d achieved my goal. Manchester is in festival mode now until the autumn which is how we like it. It will then take a breath before it plunges itself into the Christmas Markets. And another year will have gone…

Well I achieved my target by 1 and headed to the square. Checking the programme of events told me, that if I walked fast, I could get to listen to a concert at St. Ann’s Church on its eponymous square. I wondered how many people would be there on a work day? Me, one man and his dog? Nothing like it. It was packed to the rafters. The vicar, introducing the concert, wondered what the Manchester Jazz Festival had that God didn’t? Presumably a good band by the turnout today. Though, having said that, I have heard some beautiful church music in my time.

image

I couldn’t sit downstairs as it was full but went up into the gallery for the first time ever. It’s a Georgian church, very elegant and simple in its design, fitting the style of Christianity that was popular in those days. None of the candles and incense of a Roman Catholic church, just a simple place to commune with God. The building was even simpler than it is now in Georgian times. It was the Victorians, with the need to ‘improve’ things who added the stained glass windows and other decorations. Originally the rich would sit on the ground floor with the richest of the Mancunian society of the day in their private pews close to the altar and to God. Further back would have been the middle classes. Upstairs, in the gallery where I was, the poor would have sat. As I have said in other posts, this pretty church is now one of the most fashionable in the city and the sought after venue for some of the best weddings. I’m sure the poor would be welcome here but you don’t see many of them at the fashionable weddings.

DSCN4914

DSCN4916

The acoustics are pretty good in here and the jazz was superb. A band called Unfurl were playing. They played an ethereal mixture of jazz but added the rhythms, sounds and instruments and styles of Peru, Africa and the Middle East to it. It was quite beautiful. And it was one of the free concerts that the festival puts on to make it accessible to everyone.

DSCN4915

DSCN4917

Yesterday my, relatively, new iPhone developed a fault. I say a fault; the screen was black and no amount of pressing and recharging the battery would get it to work. After a long conversation with people in Goodnessknowswhereistan, a kind lady booked me a time at the APPLE Store at the Tafford Centre with one of their experts, usually some fresh faced 14 year old. When I got there the 14 year old was a little older than that and had amazing tattoos up his arms and they just appeared above his T shirt neck and probably in all places between. He looks pretty cool now but I wondered what he would look like at 80. He plugged my phone into his Apple Mac, clicked a few things and declared that my phone had had a ‘catastrophic hardware failure’ which kind of stopped me from studying his tattoos. I know little about smart phones but do understand ‘catastrophic.’ I was about to demand what they were going to do about it when he cut me short with he was going to replace my bust phone with a brand new one. He also set it up so I left the store with a working, new phone. 10 out of 10 for customer service!

I then headed down to the Nespresso Store to pick up some coffee capsules for our coffee machine, they were running low. Another place with great customer service. It’s one of my favourite stores in the Trafford Centre. It has a little coffee bar at one end where customers can try a coffee. I got talking to one of the other customers, a lady from South Dakota who is married to a man from Cornwall but they now live in Manchester. Her husband has connections with Australia which reminded another woman at the coffee bar that she was off to Melbourne next week for her brother’s wedding. Then this guy turned up who asked about a particular coffee. I actually was drinking it at that moment so we fell into conversation about it. The barista  made us all a second round of coffees. It was all getting convivial.

These are the coffee capsules I bought. A special selection to mark the golf at the British Open which is being held at Hoylake near Liverpool not that far from Manchester…

image

I’d missed lunch so I went looking for some. The Trafford Centre has no shortage of places to eat, some of them rather good. But by 3 in the afternoon I didn’t want a big meal. Nothing appealed to me. I wandered into Selfridges’ and remembered Yo!Sushi in the food department. I really like this place  with its informal dining. You can order hot food or just help yourself to little plates of food as the circulate on the conveyor belt that passes by the booths and the counter. I was on my own so they sat me at the counter which as fine with me. I wasn’t alone for long as the guy from the Nespresso Store turned up alone and they sat him by me. We compared coffees bought, as guys do in trendy, metrosexual Manchester…

Here’s my Nespresso coffee bag full of capsules, some Beef Teriyaki with Garlic and a glass of chilled Chardonnay…

image

I like watching the food go round on the conveyor belt and picking off some tasty morsel. The booth next to me was empty when I took the picture. But it was soon occupied by a young couple with a cute little guy of about 2 years old. They sat him next to the conveyor belt which he liked. While his parents tucked into their food he licked each of the little domes of the plates of food as they passed by. He didn’t actually lick the food but I was careful which ones I picked off after that. Eventually I lost which ones were licked and not licked so I gave up on lunch. It was funny watching him…

image

image

I ordered this from the kitchen so the kid couldn’t lick it. It’s cucumber and cream cheese wrapped in Nori Seaweed, some sticky rice and then smoked salmon. Delicious! I also had some duck pastries with plum sauce but ate them before taking a picture…

image

These are a kind of soft vanilla cream doughnut with a raspberry coulis…

image

 

Many thanks to the GMP Helicopter and the National Police Air Service at Barton Airport for this wonderful picture of Manchester city centre. When they are not chasing bad people about the city with their eye in the sky, they sometimes take and tweet pictures like this for the pleasure of the law abiding citizenry like myself. Thank you!

Click on the picture to see a larger version. So you know what you are looking at…

Obviously the Hilton Tower is front and centre, still the tallest building in the UK outside of London. To it’s right you can see the striking curve of the train shed of the old Central Station, now the Central Convention Centre. To its right, across the tram line and street you can see the diamond shaped roof of the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester’s symphony hall and home to two of its three symphony orchestras. Above the convention centre you can see the brown, terracotta walls of the Midland Hotel which has just been voted the best hotel in the UK. The rest of the country are about 100 years behind Manchester, we have known that for years. And above that and to the right you can see No. 1 St. Peter’s Square, the new office block facing Central Library which we are all loving now its nearly finished. You can’t actually see the library because its hidden behind the top of the Hilton Tower.

The modern building with the sloping roof to the left of the Hilton Tower is the Great Northern Tower, a much sought after apartment block. Above that you can see the sandstone bulks of the Town Hall (with the tower) on Albert Square with the Town Hall Extension to its right. The trees in front of the town hall mark where Albert Square is. Enjoy…

image

This customised car that drives about in Chorlton in Manchester was once a Landrover before it had all the work done on it. I’ve spotted it a few times when is parks up outside ODDEST Bar on Wilbraham Road. I’d liked to have got a picture of the owner as he’s given himself a makeover as well and fits in nicely with his ride…

image

One of my favourite, and rather overlooked, buildings in Manchester is the Minshull Street Crown Court. Being a Crown Court and therefore standing in for the decision of the Queen in a criminal case; it is one of the city’s most important buildings. Centuries ago, any criminal could ask to be tried by the reigning monarch. This might have worked when the population was small (but I doubt it) but would be impossible today with a population of 62,000,000 and rising, some of whom are not as honest as we would like them to be. So a series of Crown Courts was set up in major towns and cities across the land to take care of the most serious, high profile cases with judges standing in for the Queen. Magistrates Courts take care of any low grade crime that comes their way. Personally I intend to stay out of either.

The biggest Crown Court in the city is the one on Crown Square in the middle of Spinningfields. It’s easy to find as it’s in the middle of the city’s new business district. But Minshull Street Crown Court is tucked away at one end of Canal Street not far from Piccadilly Station. Not being on one of the main streets or squares of the city it tends to be overlooked. Which is a shame as it deserves to be looked at. It’s an impressive Victorian building done in the Venetian Gothic style that is popular in the city. It was designed to impress and overawe. It said, and still says: ‘You are in big trouble here son! This isn’t gong to be a picnic.’ And if the police have built a case strong enough for it to be heard here, unless you’re very lucky, or possibly actually innocent, you are going away for quite a while. And they won’t be putting you up in a villa on one of the Spanish costas.

The doors are impressively solid and give you the impression that you find it hard to get out once you have been brought in…

DSCN4838

DSCN4835

Surrounding these doors are these sculptures that are set at eye level as you arrive for your trial. They fix you with their beady eyes and heighten the feeling of foreboding that any criminal might have. I like them. I called them gargoyles. But an internet bud pointed out that Gargoyles have a purpose like draining water away from a building. She said they were actually Grotesques. She’s probably right. But as they were put by the doors to throw the fear of God into criminals they DID have a job to do and that would make them Gargoyles. Comments? Ideas?

DSCN4840

DSCN4841

DSCN4842

DSCN4839

DSCN4837

DSCN4836

 

Wednesday evening was Cake Club evening at The Post Box Café in Chorlton. But is was more Pudding Club this week. We made Melt in the Middle Chocolate Puddings and an English classic, Summer Pudding.

image

image

image

We started with the Chocolate Pudding. You could make gluten free pudding or one with all the bangs and whistles. I like bangs and whistles so was pleased to find myself in that group.

image

We started by chopping the 70% cocoa solids chocolate and mixing it with butter and caster sugar…

image
The whole lot was melted in a Bain Marie. For those who aren’t acquainted with this; you put the bowl of ingredients over a pan of boiling water but without touching the water. The sugar, butter and chocolate are heated and are mixed together with a wooden spoon. If you let the bowl with the mixture touch the boiling water the chocolate will separate and it will be ruined. First TOP TIP…

image
This is what the chocolate will look like when it’s done. Put it aside to cool a little…

image
The other group’s gluten free version had nothing like the amount of chocolate that ours did…

image

We needed a lot of eggs and egg yolks. This pudding is quite rich. You don’t waste the left over egg whites. They can be frozen for later to make meringues and the like. One of our group does this and said it’s good to write on the container containing the egg whites how many are in there. You will need to know this to make sure your meringues contain the right number of egg whites. This is another of today’s TOP TIPS….

image
Pour the beaten egg mixture into the cooled chocolate mixture. You need to cool the chocolate or the eggs may scramble if it’s too hot. Today’s third TOP TIP…

image
Mixing in a very small amount of plain flour…

image

Pouring the mixture into bowls ready for cooking. They should stand in the fridge for 20 to 25 minutes to cool before cooking in the oven (180C/350C/Gas 4) for 8 to 9 minutes. We have a fan oven at home so I put mine in a slightly cooler oven (170C). Tom’s TOP TIP and kept my eye on it. Mine sat in the fridge, covered in cling film until Friday evening and came out fine…

image
Here they all are ready to take home to cook…

image
Here’s mine after cooking…

image
And here it is ready to eat, firm on the outside but oozing chocolate from the inside with some nice thick cream…

image
Then it was on to the Summer Puddings. Summer Pudding is a classic English summer recipe. It uses up slightly stale white bread and is filled with a mixture of English summer berries and fruits (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants etc.) cooked with some caster sugar until the juices begin to run. I’ve also had an Autumn Pudding which is like Summer Pudding but uses Autumn fruits such as plums, apples, pears, blackberries which is delicious. And I have heard of a Tropical Pudding using tropical fruits but haven’t had it…

image
Cut some of the slightly stale, white bread to fit your bowl…

image
Soak the bread in some of the juices from the slightly cooked fruit (you can use frozen summer berries as well if you like and fancy this pudding at Christmas) and line the bowl. The left over bread can be used in another classic English pudding, Bread and Butter Pudding…

image

Fill the bread in the bowl with some of the juicy berries. At this point you can give it a bit of a kick by adding some Cassis, an alcoholic French, blackcurrant liqueur that is use to flavour champagne to make Kir Royale. More of that later…

image
 Cover your pudding with a circle of the slightly stale bread…

image
At this point I’d remembered I’d forgotten to add the cassis, so I poured a capful over the bread top! Here are both my cling filmed puddings waiting to go home. You ‘cook’ the summer pudding in the fridge. You put a weight, Grandma used to use the 1lb weight from her old fashioned scales, but a heavy tin of vegetables will do, for 24 hours. This compacts everything and the pudding holds together when it comes out of the mould…

image
 Here’s mine looking good with a big dollop of the thick cream…

image
This is the Cassis. Usually it comes from France but Chris had taken delivery of this bottle of Cassis that had been made from blackcurrants grown on the allotment gardens in Chorlton itself. The Cassis had been made locally as well…

image
I was taken by the cheesecake in the chiller at the front of the café . It’s one of Chris’s creations, a baked, Rocky Road Cheesecake. I went in on Saturday for a piece and it was unctuous….

image

Another few pictures from Stockport. I was there last Monday I think. I intended taking pictures of Stockport’s most spectacular architectural feature (in my humble opinion at least) but I got distracted by St. George’s Church and then by Stockport Town Hall, ran out of time and then had to go back to the car. Another trip I think when I have some time off.

In Victorian times each of the industrial towns and cities of the north of England used their wealth trying to outdo each other by building the most spectacular town hall. There are lots of posts containing pictures of Manchester’s magnificent gothic town hall which is one of Manchester’s iconic buildings, nationally and internationally. You may even have been inside it unknowingly. Movies like ‘The Iron Lady’, the biopic of Margaret Thatcher, used Manchester Town Hall to stand in for the interiors of the Houses of Parliament. Both buildings are decorated inside in a similar style. When I saw the film I found it a bit distracting because I could place where the actors were in Manchester Town Hall and I knew it wasn’t the real Houses of Parliament. I had the same uneasy feel when I saw the recent Captain America movie. The street scenes in 1940s New York were actually filmed in a street in the N4. And when the new Frankenstein movie comes out starring Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe, that was filmed partially in Manchester Town hall AND in the N4! I’m going to be very distracted by that one!

Back to Stockport Town Hall. The prosperous town of Stockport went in for an Edwardian Baroque (with classical features) wedding cake of a building in dazzlingly white Portland stone. It’s built on the busy A6 on the edge of the town centre. The A6 would have been busy in Victorian times and the building would have been in a great position. Today it finds itself on one of the busiest roads into the city with traffic rumbling past 24/7. It’s hard to find a place to stand and enjoy this building sadly.

This was the building that I visited a couple of years back when we had a little piece of ivory, a beautifully carved Chinese calling card case. A TV programme, ‘Flog It’, was there looking for things that the public had that they might like to put into auction. We stood there all day waiting to be seen. When we finally got to the front of the queue, they were delighted to see our object and we ended up on TV. Chinese stuff is very collectable and commands good prices and we did very well at auction, it was one of the star finds of the day. Although it was very beautiful, being ivory, I didn’t really like it. Some elephant in the late Victorian period was killed so this object could be made and that’s bad. We could only sell it because it was made before 1947. Any ivory newer than that is illegal in the UK. I have never seen the programme we were on . I avoided it when they told us it was on originally. But it does get repeated, and while I don’t actually get mobbed in the street, people who know me let me know it’s been on.

Here are some pictures. The white stone looks fine against the blue of the sky. Stockport is blessed with weather like this all year (hehehe). It’s still used as the Town Hall of the Stockport Metropolitan Borough, part of Greater Manchester…

DSCN4909

DSCN4912

DSCN4911

DSCN4910

DSCN4908

DSCN4907

DSCN4906

Lloyd Street runs from Deansgate to Princess Street diagonally across the civic heart of Manchester. Part of it runs between the older, Victorian Gothic Town Hall and the 1930s Town Hall Extension. This part has always had a certain dignity about it being a quiet street in a busy city. But what makes it are the two inspired enclosed foot bridges that link the two buildings. They have always put me in mind of the Bridge of Sighs in Venice that link the Doge’s Palace to the prison next door. The bridge in Venice was named so because people who annoyed the Doge, then one of the most important people on the planet, might find themselves being sent across the bridge to the prison, never to see the light of day again, hence the sighs.

Venice has one but Manchester has two of these features. And people crossing from one building to the other in Manchester do tend to come back. This part of Lloyd Street has been having a bit of a makeover as part of the refurbishment of the massive St.Peter’s Square project and very fine it looks too with its new stone road and pavements. It’s a pity they are allowing parking on it though, it does kind of ruin the effect.

I’ve enjoyed the street as it was but the refurbishment has been made quite masterful since they have moved the Cenotaph to its new position by the back entrance to the Gothic Town Hall. Now when you look down Lloyd Street it is perfectly framed by the two buildings and looks wonderful under the foot bridges. It gives the street a superb focal point. It’s an inspired piece of town planning and it works well with your eye being drawn to the restored, blindingly white, Portland stone Cenotaph. The work there hasn’t finished yet but it will be by November in time for Remembrance Day and it’s going to look good. It also draws your eye beyond to the two older buildings beyond it that are part of the trio that go to make up the Manchester Art Gallery. Money well spent here on this project I think.

Some pictures so you can make up your own mind…

Looking back up Lloyd Street towards Albert Square and Deansgate in the distance…

DSCN4884

From Albert Square, under the two bridges towards the new look St. Peter’s Square…

DSCN4880

The Cenotaph perfectly framed by the two Town Hall buildings and one of our ‘Bridge of Sighs’….

DSCN4881

Dazzlingly white and freshly restored, the Cenotaph now draws your eye to the beautiful buildings of the Manchester Art Gallery beyond…

DSCN4882

DSCN4883

Work still going on around the new location of the Cenotaph…

DSCN4885

 

I had a wander down to Victoria Station to have a look at how the new roof was coming on. There seems to be progress with the roof getting larger all the time. The elegant curve of it is developing rather well.

DSCN4873

DSCN4874

DSCN4875

Inside, the station is still partially functioning with trains arriving and leaving as usual. And you can still access the Manchester Arena from inside of it as well. I’m impressed with how they are able to keep it all working with such a massive project going on. The only thing that is affected is the part of the station used as the tram stop. It’s directly under the new roof and they don’t want people standing about while they are hoisting those huge girders into place. The trams are still running through the station though on a single track. Come to think of it I’ve never spotted them hoisting any girders during the day when the trams are running. I think they must be doing that late at night when the tram system is closed. The station is a mess inside and outside as they are beginning the second city crossing as far as Exchange Square  soon. It all looks pretty grim and dark inside but we’re looking forward to seeing it all finished next Spring I think.

DSCN4876

DSCN4877

They are going to start moving the St. Peter’s Square tram station soon as well. It’s going to be a big job with four months when nothing can go through this vital link in the system, cutting the system effectively into two parts. People will have to get off at either Piccadilly Gardens or Deansgate/Castlefield and walk to the other station or catch a bus. Then for 10 months there will only be a single track running through the square which is bound to cause problems, especially at rush hour, as it’s one of the busiest stations on the system.

Just near Victoria Station it looks like another building project is about to start up. It’s on one of Manchester’s oldest ‘zombie’ car parks on the site of the old Exchange Station. It was pulled down in the sixties and it’s taken to now to do something about it. The car park closed a few days ago and people are getting the site ready across the river from the Cathedral…

DSCN4878

DSCN4879

In a couple of years this office development will be here. Just behind it, where you can see the red crane in the above pictures but not on the pictures below, they are already building a new series of residential towers. One will be a monster, tall one. So it all looks exciting for this neglected part of the city centre…

image

image

image

 

Manchester is actually having a summer! The sun has come out, the skies are blue and the temperatures have soared into the 70s and 80s. We appreciate this more than other cities that have a more equable climate. Places like Los Angeles and Barcelona, Sydney and Rome that have a climate and not weather wake up each day and expect it to be warm, dry and sunny. We never take it for granted in Manchester and appreciate it when it arrives. And, after what is usually a cold, grey, wet winter under leaden skies, we really appreciate it when it have a few nice days together. We put on our shorts and sunnies and head out to sit at pavement cafes and drink cold beer, wine and cocktails and pretend we are in some Mediterranean city.

And, by and large, we pull it off. On a sunny day the city centre and favoured suburbs like Chorlton and Didsbury take a good stab at café culture. Unfortunaely, the Victorians who laid out our city weren’t ones for such foreign frivolities. Manchester was a serious city and very serious about making money which meant every square metre of the city centre was given over to commerce. And any drinking and dining that was done, was done decently indoors. There was none of this foreign three hour lunch with a bottle of good wine nonsense, well at least for us lesser mortals.

So Manchester is a city where it’s difficult to sit out, the pavements are narrow and busy. We are changing that. Where the city has been renewed, like in Spinningfields, places to sit out and eat are factored into the design now. And restaurants like to cluster around the open spaces like Albert Square or along Canal Street. The N4 has particular difficulties. It’s one of the oldest parts of the city centre, with narrow streets and even narrower pavements. But where ever there’s a chance the bars and restaurants squeeze a couple of tables out so we can enjoy the sun.

Some of the bars and restaurants have had to be very imaginative with their pavement cafes. Top place for a pavement café would have to be Thomas Street which is trendy, cool and very narrow. Some of the bars in the area have no provision at all. They have got together and have built a pop up beer garden around that little electrical sub station that gets used for street art on the corner of Thomas Street and Tib Street. It’s by the ugly multi storey car park that the N4 would like to see shut of and something more in keeping with the area’s vibe built. The bars take it in turn to run it. There’s music, drinking and food, though how they get the food and the drink to there from the bars remains a mystery to me. I must investigate. It’s pretty cool and very popular with people.

DSCN4864

DSCN4865

DSCN4866

DSCN4867

On the other side of of the ugly carpark on Turner Street is Solita, one of my favourite restaurants in the N4 that makes delicious burgers and serves them with style, good customer service and proper napkins and not with a ‘concept’ and cheap kitchen roll like Almost Famous does. It’s a small and popular restaurant which I hear is opening a sister restaurant in Didsbury. They have absolutely NO space outside to sit and eat in the sun  in comfort but have cleverly acquired the cobbled area in the corner of the car park opposite and have turned it into what looks like a permanent terrace where people can sit out and eat and drink with the food weaving its way through the traffic on Turner Street.

Here is Solita (South Of Little ITAly btw) in the N4…

DSCN4871

And here’s their new terrace…

DSCN4868

DSCN4869

DSCN4870

DSCN4872