Archive for January, 2017


In Chinese mythology, the dragon is a symbol of power, strength and good luck for people who are worthy of it. Golden dragons were connected to the Emperor of China, usually as a symbol of his imperial power and strength. 

There has been a Golden Dragon in Manchester this week. I seem to remember that Manchester, with its large Chinese population is a ‘dragon city’, an honorific that is accorded to certain cities outside of China that have done much to promote Chinese culture and links to China. Vancouver and San Francisco are such cities as is Sydney in Australia. 

The Golden Dragon has taken up residence on the ramp that used to link Exchange Station in Greengate on the Salford side of the River Irwell to the Manchester side by the cathedral. The station closed in the 1960s and it was torn down in 1969. Until recently it’s been abandoned land being used as surface car parks. The resurgence of Manchester has caused the property developers to look again at this land and it’s a hive of activity at the moment with skyscraper apartment blocks and office buildings shooting up.

The dragon is in front of 101 Embankment, a new office building, with its curved edges which people are admiring a lot. It’s a bit of a stunner, especially at night when it’s lit up.  The Swinton Assurance Company have taken the entire block. A sister block, 100 Embankment, is planned for next door. Hopefully the economy continues to prosper and it gets built. In the meanwhile enjoy the dragon.

It was a bitterly cold day today. It never got above freezing; we had grey, leaden skies and, at one point, it began to snow. In spite of being well wrapped up the cold got to me. Not something I wanted as I’m still recovering from whatever bug I went down with a couple of weeks ago. I’m mostly over it but I still don’t think I’m 100%. It sounds like the one the Queen had over Christmas and the New Year. I don’t do common bugs. 

After work we decided to go into the city centre and have a look at the goings on for Chinese New Year this weekend. We were going to stay on into the evening but it was so cold we’ve come home early. Passing the Town Hall on Albert Square, we noticed it was surrounded by vans, food wagons and all the paraphernalia of a TV or movie shoot. And so it turned out. This time it was a movie about Winston Churchill. I think the woman I spoke to said it was going to be called ‘Our Darkest Hour.’ It’s probably about the period in World War II when we were stood alone again the forces of Hitler and Nazi Germany and it looked like we would be invaded and overwhelmed. If that had happened we might be living in a very different world to what we are today. Fortunately we prevailed. I hope that doesn’t ruin the end of the movie for you. It comes out just before Christmas this year. What the role of Manchester Town Hall has in it I’m not sure but I imagine it’s standing in for the Houses of Parliament again. Look out for it.

We wandered down to Exchange Square. There is the most wonderful art installation outside Selfridges. There are a number of lanterns based on the wonderful Terracotta Army that was buried along with the first Emperor of China. The art installation was conceived for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and parts of it have been travelling around the world ever since. And this week some of it has turned up in Manchester as part of the Chinese New Year celebrations. I know it’s not the original but it was quite moving to look at. A wonderful connection to something that happened thousands of years ago. People were braving the cold to take pictures and have selfies. 

The real Terracotta Army is on my bucket list. At some point I want to go to China and see it. But, rumour has it, I may not have to travel so far. I’ve heard that a number of the real figures are going to be brought to a museum in Liverpool in 2018. We are watching carefully for ticket sales to be announced and we will be in there.

In the meanwhile here are some of the Terracotta Army Lanterns in Manchester this afternoon.

The Ancoats district of the city has been in the news this week. It’s been named as the hippest district in the UK and the third hippest district in Europe. Across Great Ancoats Street from Ancoats, the N4 came in at 9th and the up and coming, Chorlton wannabe, Salford suburb of Monton got a mention as well.

Ancoats, in the past, was far from hip. It was Manchester’s original industrial suburb. It was here that someone had the idea of bringing together all the cotton weavers under one roof and created the world’s first modern factory. On a site where the magnificent Royal Mills now stand the modern world was begun. Ancoats was a mixture of cotton and heavy engineering. The people who worked in these places lived in appalling conditions in unsanitary houses squeezed between the polluting factories and filthy canals.

As immigrants arrived in the city looking for cheap lodgings they headed for Ancoats. At the end of the 19th century the Italians arrived and built a pretty church, St Peter’s, in the domestic style of a neighbourhood church in the back streets of Rome, Florence, Naples or Venice. The Italians prospered and moved on leaving their little church behind.

The collapse of the cotton and engineering industries left Ancoats in a sorry state. The poorest people in the city living around polluted canals, disused railways and decaying factories. But, as land for deployment in the city centre has dried up and with the neighbouring N4 having reached peak hipster, the movers and shakers have moved across Great Ancoats Street and into Anocoats proper. The cotton warehouses and mills, the more attractive engineering buildings have been repurposed as plush apartments. New builds fill the gaps. New, hi tech businesses have set up attracted by the vibe of the area and the young, educated people moving in. The canals have been cleaned and given over to leisure or you can even live on the water in an old canal boat. The tram system follows the line of one of the old railways. The Italian church has been restored and is now the rehearsal space for the Hallé Orchestra, having been renamed Hallé St Peter’s. 

The first of the new inhabitants had to cross busy Great Ancoats Street to reach the bars and restaurants of the N4. But now, the bars and restaurants have crossed the road and coming looking for them. All along Great Ancoats Street and around Cutting Room Square (overlooked by Hallé St Peter’s) new businesses are opening up. Even on a dull, January afternoon they were doing well full of the hip locals enjoying their area. I wonder what the poor of Victorian Ancoats would make of it all?

Here’s a selection. The Ancoats General Store…

Squid Ink…

Kettlebell…

Second City Coffee…

Mexica…

Rudy’s Neopolitan Pizza…

7 Brothers Beerhouse…

 

The beautiful, elegant Victorian iron work and glass roof of Manchester’s Barton Arcade, a kind of Victorian predecessor of the shopping mall where Victorian ladies could shop without having to experience the Manchester rain, has been enhanced by Chinese lanterns, ready for Chinese New Year. You can also see my favourite barbershop, BarberBarber, busy as usual and open for ‘Gentlemen & Scoundrels.’ And there’s a Barcelona taxicab parked up outside Spanish tapas restaurant, Lunya. How it got from Las Ramblas to Deansgate is a mystery. 

A few more pictures I took yesterday of St Ann’s Square all decorated for Chinese New Year next week…

I like to see old pictures of Manchester and see how it has changed, what we have lost and what has survived from the past. These two pictures appeared on my TWITTER feed and I hope whoever they belong to doesn’t mind me showing them off here.

They are both taken from the roof of the Midland Hotel in the city centre and we’re looking south towards Cheshire somewhere in the distance. The first one was taken in 1981. We’re looking at the old Central Station which was one of the busiest and grandest stations in the city. It closed in 1969. By 1981 it’s in a sorry state of repair with its forecourt being used as a surface car park. This was just minutes walk from the centre of the city in Albert Square and this would have been the view that visitors to the city staying at the Midland would have seen. Beyond the dereliction of the station are rundown inner suburbs. And 1981 wasn’t the worse it could get. In the next decade most of Manchester’s heavy industry left the city leaving huge areas of the city derelict and with the politicians planning a ‘managed decline’ of Manchester and the other former industrial cities of the North and Midlands.

The same view but taken in 2017 and you can see how far the city has come on. Local politicians and people balked at the idea of ‘managed decline’ and fought to restore the city’s fortunes. Here’s a picture that sums up what they achieved. Again, we’re on the roof of the Midland. Central Station is now the main exhibition hall of the Central Conference and Convention area. To the right is the asymmetric apartment block of the Great Northern Tower. The tallest building outside of London, the Hilton Tower, rises up behind the convention centre. On the left is the Bridgewater Hall, home to the Hallé Orchestra, one of Manchester’s three symphony orchestras. Between the Bridgewater and Central you can see the lines bringing the trams in from the southern suburbs.

Come back in 2020 to see this view again. What you can’t see in this picture are two new towers (25 floors and 35 floors) that are just beginning to rise to the left next to the Hilton. And beyond them are four more towers just beginning on Owen Street. One not as tall as the Hilton, two about the same size and the fourth, a massive 200m tower that will leave the Hilton in its shade. 

I’ve not been into Manchester city centre since before Christmas. Well, not entirely true, we did go to the Bridgewater Hall to see The Nutcracker and then had an early dinner at HOME a couple of weeks ago, but that was a quick trip to the very edge of the city centre then it was onto the tram and home again. I’ve also been neglecting this blog. I’ve had a bad case of the man flu that has floored me for the best part of a fortnight, I’ve barely been able to get into work and have spent days in bed just feeling sorry for myself. I’ve very good at that. 

After all the lights and busy of the Christmas Markets I find the city feels a little sad and deflated in January. I love Manchester but, on a cold, grey January day its appeal thins a bit. But I went in today to have a bit of a mooch. Next week is Chinese New Year and it’s the Year of the Rooster. We have the third largest Chinese community in Europe, after London and Paris, so the city does like to mark the event with some style.

Red lanterns are back up in the city’s squares and streets to remind us of the event and add some much needed colour on a raw, January day. These ones were in Albert Square. They look good against the Victorian Gothic of the Town Hall hanging from the trees. Hopefully, next weekend, we can get in and see the dragon dances and enjoy the New Year festivities.

Happy New Year! I know I’m a bit late but have been having some time off everything over the festive season. But am back now.

A few days ago a neighbour knocked at our door brandishing two tickets to see the Tchaikovsky ballet, The Nutcracker, at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. They’d booked the tickets a while ago but our neighbours’ boss wanted him, unexpectedly, up in Edinburgh on the day of the ballet. They were able to book new tickets for another day but the terms and conditions of buying the tickets meant that they couldn’t just swap them and the original ones would just be wasted. Hence him being at our door hoping we had time to go. Some rearrangement of my diary and we could.

The ballet was being performed by the Russian State Ballet of Siberia. They operate out of the city of Krasnoyarsk deep in the centre of Siberia. I’d never heard of the city either. The company is a relatively new one only being created in 1978 by dancers from the illustrious ballet companies in Moscow and St. Petersburg. I have been to only a few ballets so can’t really compare but I must say that it was a very enjoyable afternoon.

The weather is cold and clear in Manchester and we are enjoying ice blue skies. These pictures I took from the bar on the top floor of the Bridgewater Hall, it’s surrounded by some of the best architecture in the city with the Midland Hotel across the street and all the strong geometry of the Central Convention Centre and the modern buildings that surround it.

It’s fun to watch the trams pass by below on the busy stretch of track between St Peter’s Square and Deansgate/Castlefield station.

There was a surprisingly large audience for a Wednesday afternoon. It’s amazing how many people have time to spare on a weekday to go the the ballet. A lot of them were older people. And there were a lot of well to do ‘yummy mummies’ from places like Chorlton and Didsbury and Hale Barns with their well dressed children enjoying one of the last treats of the Christmas season. The ballet is set on Christmas Eve and is a treat to look at.

Some pictures of the inside of the Bridgewater Hall. None of the actual performance as the company doesn’t like its work being unofficially recorded which is fair enough. I was amused by the number of older people surfing the net on their state of the art smart phones. It’s not just the province of the young it seems.

The Nutcracker has a very simple story. It’s Christmas Eve. There’s a party. The daughter of the house is given a Nutcracker doll. She creeps down after the party to see the doll and falls asleep. The doll is transformed into a real soldier and there’s a lot of dancing. And music, a lot of which you will know even if it’s from advertisements on TV. Here’s a little video about the ballet company that will give you some idea of what we saw.