Archive for March, 2017


These pictures aren’t mine. They have been provided for us by a company called Aerial Video TV and very wonderful they are too. I imagine that they are taken by drones. If you need something photographed and live in the north of England (or anywhere else within striking distance of the city), google them and get in contact. I thank them for providing such stunning shots.

These first two are of the Ordsall Chord Bridge which is just being put into place. It’s fast become an iconic structure and something of a landmark as you arrive in the city centre. It looks as if it’s gone rusty but it’s specially treated steel that has been made to look like that. The steel runs from one viaduct to the other across the bridge. It’s a nod to the wrought iron that built Victorian Manchester and looks rather fine. I love the picture looking down on the bridge. In the other one you can see how it crosses the River Irwell and the busy ring road running along side it. The cranes that lifted the bridge into place were two of the strongest in Europe. You can also see the car parks where the Trinity Islands development, with the new tallest building in the city, will be built. More apartments and Manchester’s newest theatre space, The Factory, will be built where the cranes are. It’s a rapidly changing part of the city.

Another spectacular bridge is taking shape to the west of the city. If you want to get out of Liverpool and go south you have three options. One is east along the M62 to Warrington and then south on the M6; always busy and crowded. You can try and cross Liverpool city centre, take one of the tunnels under the River Mersey to Birkenhead, then down The Wirral to Chester and then along the M56 to the M6 south of Warrington. It’s a long congested route. The shortest route is along the M62 to the chemical town of Widnes and cross the narrow bridge to the chemical town of Runcorn and then on to the M56. Shorter, but Widnes and Runcorn, neither town a thing of beauty, are congestion central with Runcorn being particularly bad. It’s the only town I’ve driven in that reduced me to tears of frustration as I saw the place I needed to get to for the third time but couldn’t work out how to get to it.

What they are doing is building a new road from the M62 to the M56 avoiding both Widnes and Rucorn. It involves a spectacular new, mile long, bridge that will cross the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal. It will be a suspension bridge and, from the pictures of the half finished crossing, it looks like a thing of beauty. The power station in the distance is the Fiddler’s Ferry gas powered station to the west of Warrington. I once went on a trip round it. It was fascinating. 

It took me a while to work out where in Manchester this is. It’s looking directly down on the roof of the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester’s symphony hall and home to the world famous Hallé Orchestra. 

And this final picture is of No. 1 Spinningfields. You can see the roof top terrace where they are planting a garden with trees where we will be able, weather allowing, to eat at the restaurant up there. While No. 1 is being built we have lost a lot of Hardman Square at its base. Once the building is finished, the square is going to reappear but as a meadow. On one side a structure will be build to house a Manchester branch of the iconic London restaurant, The Ivy. The London restaurant is a favourite haunt of the rich and the famous. Kylie Minogue announced the Manchester restaurant from the London one. I will have to save all my pennies hard so I can rub shoulders with the great and the good when it opens.

None of these pictures are mine and I thank Twitter and the MEN for providing them. I thought they were worth showing off. This first one, from the Ordsall Chord Twitter feed, is of progress on the missing link between Victoria and Piccadilly Stations across the river and through Castlefield. It will connect the two stations for the first time EVER and will provide extra capacity through the city centre turning the city into a Northern Hub for the railways in the same way as they have linked the London stations. The Ordsall Chord is part of a huge upgrade of the railways in the city. You can see the spectacular, new bridge that crosses the river and the two existing viaducts that are being joined. Above the bridge you can see the Spinningfields business district and the Hilton Tower to the right. On the land between the bridge and Spinningfieds, three skyscrapers will be built as part of the St John’s project, the twin Nickel and Dime towers and the, much taller, half apartment and hotel called, simply, The Tower. Not a brick laid yet but they are selling apartments already, 20 were sold on Saturday alone. The empty ground in the bottom right hand corner is part of the Trinity Islands project where Manchester’s latest tallest building will be built.

Here’s a picture of a steam train leaving Manchester. It ran from Victoria to Edinburgh and was full of people enjoying some old fashioned railway glamour with cocktails, a great lunch with wine and afternoon tea all the way to the Scottish capital. It would have been a pricey trip I imagine. People love steam trains. When one of the iconic engines, like The Flying Scotsman or Mallard, are brought out for a run, people line the route and cheer. Of course we forget how filthy these engines were when the entire system was run by burning coal. We like to see them but there is little appetite for us to go back to those days. The train is running past Spinnningfields. You can see the iconic Civil Justice Centre on the left and, rapidly being finished, No. 1 Spinningfields on the right.

We do have a working stream railway in the city. It’s the East Lancashire line that runs out of Bury to Rawtenstall stopping off at former mill towns like Ramsbottom (the Sunday Times had it down as the home of one the top restaurants in the country). These towns used to be rundown but are now desirable commuter towns for Manchester with people snapping up beautiful stone built cottages for the price of a small apartment in Chorlton or a cat litter tray in Chelsea. People living in these towns have the option of commuting by steam train but they have to compete with the tourists. Here are some tourists on the line at Bury, Bolton Street Station, waiting for the train…

And this morning we learned that we might, well it’s almost certain, have another steam train line in Manchester. A local millionaire (we have quite a few of these in the city, second only to London it seems and we are quite happy about it if they are the sort, like this guy, who want to invest in the city) wants to reopen an old railway line that crosses the Manchester Ship Canal from Irlam to Timperly on the Trafford side of the canal, not far from Altricncham. It closed in 1964. It’s will cost £30,000,000 to reopen and will be bankrolled by the aforementioned millionaire. It will be used as a commuting route and a tourist attraction and I think it will be done as the guy has the will and the deep pockets. He’s already spent £2,000,000 restoring Irlam Station. This is how the viaduct across the canal looks now and what it will look like after restoration. He announced his plans at Irlam Station this morning along with Michael Portillo. Michael Portillo was an MP and cabinet minister in Mrs Thatcher’s government. He’s left politics now and has become something of a national treasure. He’s a railway enthusiast who has done a series of programmes on BBC, travelling along the railways of the U.K., Europe and,most recently, the USA. They are a pleasure to watch.

Today is Mothering Sunday in the UK, the day on which we particularly honour our mothers. It’s always the third Sunday in March. It’s not a religious festival but it’s always close to the Christian Feast of the Annunciation when Mary was visited by an angel who told her she would bear a child. Mary felt something move inside her and she fell pregnant. I couldn’t possibly comment! The Feast of the Annunciation was yesterday and in nine months time it will be Christmas Day. We are on the countdown. I must put on the sprouts!

In the olden days, in the grand houses in England, the young servants were given the afternoon off on Mothering Sunday to visit their mothers. Just the afternoon mind. The grand people in the grand houses would need to have breakfast and have lunch readied before the servants had the afternoon off of course. Walking to their former homes they would pick a bunch of wildflowers for their mothers to go with their homemade cards.

This charming custom has morphed into a multi million £ business becoming a pink Christmas. No wildflowers anymore but an expensive, imported bouquet of flowers, a bought card, chocolates , wine, perfume etc…. The gastro pubs, restaurants and hotels do a roaring trade for Mother’s Day lunch when entire families turn out to be fed.

It’s been my job, the last couple of days, to keep ASDA’s Mother’s Day floral tributes in good order and well stocked up. It’s been hard work I have to say. The supermarkets probably sell more plants and flowers at Christmas but that’s spread over four of five weeks. Valentine’s Day is pretty intense but that’s usually one person (usually the guy) buying one bouquet for his beloved. On Mothering Sunday every child, regardless of age, has to buy a bouquet for his/her mother, also regardless of age. It certainly kept me busy. I did the display on Saturday morning before the store opened and took these pictures before the customers got to them.

We have another flower fest around Easter but not in the scale of this. And then it’s Christmas….

Lesser Celandine is a member of the buttercup family and is one of the UK’s most popular Spring wildflowers. I like its glossy, heart shaped leaves and its bright, waxy, yellow flowers. Apparently it’s found across Europe and into Asia as far as Japan. Gardeners don’t like it as it can, once established, colonise an area crowding out all other plants. Being a member of the buttercup family, all parts are poisonous and farm animals that might eat it can be very ill indeed and could die. It’s not native to North America but has been introduced there for some reason. They are regretting it as it has colonised woodlands across the US and Canada. 

But this little colony on the bank by a road surrounding a local golf course is no danger to passing cows or chickens and won’t be leaping across the road to local gardens either. So I can continue to enjoy it with no worries.

The warm sunshine has tempted some of the hibernating butterflies out. I’ve seen several bright yellow Brimstone butterflies but they aren’t keen in settling to be photographed. This pretty, brown one was though. He/she settled on a celandine flower for a meal of nectar. I didn’t recognise what sort it is but a quick Google search on my iPad revealed it is a Comma butterfly. I think it gets its name from when it closes its wings it looks like a comma punctuation mark. They used to be restricted the the Welsh border area but have spread their habitat to other parts of the country, especially to the north where it is now warm enough for them to cope. Nice to hear a good butterfly story. We do seem to be losing a lot of them.

At some point in the daffodil season I like to have a walk through the St John’s Gardens. It used to be the churchyard of St John’s Church when this part of the city was where the ‘well to do’ lived. Large Georgian houses line St John’s Street, once the homes of prosperous Manchester merchants, they now are full of highly paid doctors and lawyers. It’s a pity we have lost the church, it was a very imposing building but became surplus to requirements why the city grew and the nature of the area changed from residential to offices. The gardens provide a little oasis of calm in a busy city centre. Things grow well here, allegedly because of the generations of Mancunians who have been buried here.

You can certainly believe it when you see the profusion of daffodils growing there are the moment. The gardens are carpeted with them. These pictures were taken yesterday under a blue skied Manchester. I like the contrast between the peace of the daffodils in the gardens, the warm red brick of the old Georgian houses and the glass façade of the Hilton Tower a few hundred metres away on Deansgate. Currently it’s the city’s tallest building but, just beyond it, a new tallest building is beginning to rise on Owen Street with another, even taller, being put in for planning as part of the Trinity Islands development. That one will be about 220m tall. And rumours are swirling around that an even taller one, 75 storeys, is in the planning pipeline. We are living in exciting construction times in Manchester these days.

After what seems like endless grey skies, Spring has arrived with blue skies, cold mornings and warm(ish) afternoons. It was lovely to walk about Manchester yesterday and feel the warmth of the sun and see so much light.

No. 1 Spinningfields is nearing completion, well at least the façade is, and is very blue. I took these pictures against the blue of the sky. It’s rare to see this much blue in Manchester at this time of year. I was particularly pleased with this picture with the Hilton Tower away on Deansgate.

if you look carefully at these two pictures (click to make them bigger) you can just see the trees of the roof top park on top of the building. While it’s primarily an office building, the roof is having a rather nice restaurant opening on it. Can’t wait to have dinner in the roof top park on a skyscraper in Manchester. Meanwhile at ground level there’s going to be a Marks & Spencer’s food hall (among other pleasures), so the offices are going to be bookended by food. 

The facçade is entirely glass and reflects the buildings around it, seemingly to disappear into into its surroundings. It also, I discovered, is one of those buildings that reflects and redirects the heat of the sun. At one point, on the shadowed side of Quay Street, I found myself trapped like an ant under the magnifying glass of a particularly nasty small boy.


I walked through Barton Arcade. I was going to meet someone. My route took me past BarberBarber where I get my hair cut. I’ve posted about it before. It’s a very popular and successful barbershop in one of the prettiest buildings in the city. It looks like it’s been there for decades but it’s only four years old this coming November. It’s a guy only space like old fashioned barber shops used to be. It’s a classy operation though, run by Johnny who came here from Ireland to open it up. He’s a force of nature and easily recognised as he has his own satorial style. Tourists stand outside taking pictures and selfies of the shop and the stylish barbers inside. Johnny expects the highest standards of his barbers in their barbering skills and how they dress. Since the Manchester barbershop opened it’s been joined with shops in Liverpool, Leeds, London and Birmingham. And he’s just bought two more shops in London, one near the City (the beating financial heart of the world) and in trendy Soho in the West End. I’ve been a fan since it opened when Johnny invited me in for a haircut just after he opened the Manchester shop. 

As I was walking past Johnny came out. He lives in Manchester but his business has him all over the country doing things. A few days ago he was doing something at the London Palladium for London Fashion Week. A very prestigeous gig indeed. He spotted me and came over to chat. I like that. He appreciates his regulars and goes out of his way to make you feel special. Doesn’t harm the business either. He asked if I needed a haircut. I was going to meet someone so had to decline. Once on Deansgate I looked at my phone and saw that it was a hour earlier than I thought so I doubled back. I was planning to go in the next few days so why not now when I had time and Johnny was in.

I took my place in the queue and waited my turn. BarberBarber is run in the old fashioned way. You don’t make an appointment you just turn up and wait. Part of the fun is chatting to random people while enjoying a complimentary beer, coffee or Irish whiskey. You also take pot luck with you cuts your hair. I don’t mind that as the barbers are all very good at their jobs. If you aren’t good Johnny wouldn’t have you on the premises. And I’ve never seen a guy leave with a bad haircut. If you want a particular guy to cut your hair you can wait until he’s free but you might wait longer than normal. At busy times you could wait a long time but most guys seem to relish the time spent in a pleasant place, talking to other guys and chilling.

I expected to do that and when a new barber approached me I thought he would be cutting my hair. Other guys in the queue may have been impressed to hear that ‘Johnny will be taking care of you himself this afternoon.’ Not everyone gets that honour I can tell you. Johnny is in the white trousers and the blue/grey pattern shirt.

I had an al fresco lunch today, the first of 2017. While I was doing so, somewhere else in the city the police were raiding an address and have arrested two people in connection with the Westminster attack on Wednesday apparently. That’s all we know at the moment.

However, back to my day. I was in work early today so I could be out by lunchtime. It was clear and cold when I got up as it often is in England in March. But, as the day aged, the sun warmed the city and by mid morning it was quite pleasant. I spotted a couple of convertible cars with their tops down and the first guys of the season were seen in shorts and T shirts. It’s a case of ‘sun’s out, guns out.’ That doesn’t mean it’s very warm, it is March in Manchester after all. But we are a hardy bunch and while people in warmer climes might still be wrapped in winter sweaters we are in shorts and Ts at the earliest opportunity.

I went into the city centre to have a mooch. I wanted a bit of lunch and decided that it was warm enough for the first al fresco lunch of the season. I went to Pret á Manger (great sandwiches and other stuff using organic produce) and bought a picnic to go. That done I went and sat in the sunshine in St. Ann’s Square. It’s a good place to people watch. And you have some beautiful architecture to look at.

We were entertained by this violinist and Manchester was putting on its best face for spring. Why anyone would want to run a car into innocent people on a busy bridge when you you could have a picnic in St Ann’s Square is beyond me.

Because the trees aren’t in leaf yet you get this nice view of the Town Hall tower on Albert Square looming over a corner of the square.

Here’s my picnic. Some cheese, pickle and salad sandwiches, some posh mature cheddar  and red onion crisps, a Pret chocolate mousse and a can of grape and elderflower soda. 

We’ve all been trying to get our heads around what happened in London yesterday. As you will know someone drove a car at speed across Westminster Bridge ploughing through pedestrians on the pavement causing death and damage to the people there. He then rammed the car into the railings, got out and then tried to gain access to the Palace of Westminster. One policeman was stabbed and then another one brought the attacker down with a gun. Both the policeman and the attacker died as did, so far, three people on the bridge. Several people are still seriously ill in hospital. We followed the events on radio and TV through the afternoon and by the time I was ready to leave for home there was a more than usual police presence on the streets of Manchester, 200 miles north of the capital. No doubt that was repeated across the country.

Sadly, this was expected. There have been attacks of this kind across the world and it’s never been ‘if’ but ‘when’ this would happen. As I write this I’m listening to the latest news on the radio. The attacker is from this country as we suspected. Some people are saying we should close our borders and keep people out. How this would help I am at a loss to understand. We are already great at keeping people out. If your papers aren’t in order as you arrive in the UK, if there is anything about you that border control doesn’t like about you, you will soon find yourself on the way back to whence you came.

This attack was perpetrated by a British person. Already here, living alongside of us. In spite of living in one of the most open, tolerant countries on the planet he has chosen to align himself with an idea alien to the values we hold dear in the UK and in other countries around the world. Ideas can not be kept out by stronger physical borders. You can’t send an army to defeat them. As I listen to the radio I hear that the police and security forces are raiding places across the country in an attempt to find out more about this person and his connections. This is all well and good. But to defeat the idea you have to be far cleverer than that.

Bad ideas can only be defeated by good ideas. In a country like the UK we have a lot going for us. We are rich, peaceful, tolerant. We are healthy, we live long, fulfilled lives. We have freedom, we can speak against ideas that we don’t like. We guard our rights and freedoms jealously. Other people, in much less tolerant, more violent parts of the world are threatened by this. They see people in their countries looking at how we live in countries like the UK and fear that they will want the same for themselves. They fear they will lose control over their people. They attack people in their own countries and seek to do the same in cities like London. 

The security forces have said they have thwarted several plots to do similar things in the UK over the last few years. But we are a country of 65,000,000, we can’t watch everyone. It wasn’t done with guns. He used a car and kitchen knives. You can’t ban them.

We will, over the next few days, unravel this plot, learn from it, mend the people who are  damaged and bury and mourn our dead. Then we will get back to normal. The Palace of Westminster is a public building. It’s the heart of our democracy. It’s called the ‘mother of Parliaments’, a template for other parliaments around the world. It will not be turned into an impenetrable fortress the PM has said. Which is right, if we did that these despicable people will have won. We have faced worse than this in out past and will face this.

I thought I’d share this written on a notice board in a London tube station yesterday.

 

 

It’s the Spring equinox today, the sun is directly over the Equator and, here in the UK, we will have 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. From now on the days will lengthen as we head to mid summer’s day. Next weekend the clocks go forward and we will have light evenings as well.

So today is the first day of Spring. BBC Radio 4 have been marking the equinox by inserting poems with a spring theme into their regular programmes. I like that I live in a country where they read poems to us. Can’t see it happening anywhere else. The morning news programme, Today, inserted this classic Spring poem by William Wordworth into all the news about Brexit and Trump. A welcome relief.

Daffodils

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth

Being England, the weather didn’t get the memo about it being Spring and it poured down all morning. But by lunchtime the sun had come out. I persuaded my little team at the office that we needed to get out for a while; we could walk and talk and sort a few things out. And we did that. Honestly! But it did give me a chance to take some pictures of all the daffodils that grow in the park that surrounds our offices. They are at their best at the moment. These aren’t the wild ones that Wordsworth would have seen by the lake near his home in the Lake District. They are modern cultivars that we have developed for our gardens but they still look very fine under the bare trees. In a few weeks the leaves will come out and the daffodils will have faded for another year so it’s important to enjoy them when we can. We had a word with one of the gardeners. There are only three of them but they have a huge area of parkland and gardens to keep in good shape. This they do very well.

Here are some pictures I took while ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ this afternoon.

I also spotted some primroses.