Archive for July, 2017


Work is still ridiculously busy. I can’t believe we still have so much to do. I kind of hit a wall on Friday where nothing was making much sense. Time to step away from the computer screen I thought. So I’ve awarded myself a weekend off. Apart from dealing with a problem for one of the team I’ve done nothing. I’ve done more than I should so they can’t complain. And, having had the weekend free, I’ll feel ready to do some more. The money will come in handy for my little road trip in a couple of weeks time. Really looking forward to that. 

Yesterday we went a few miles north of the city to Astley Park in Chorley to go to the Chorley Garden Festival. I went last year and thought someone, who’s had a difficult week, would enjoy the distraction. On Friday it looked decidedly ‘off’. It was sunny in the morning but a light drizzle began around lunchtime which quickly turned into a monsoon downpour. The builders next door took to the cabins of their vans and eventually gave up. My bud, Andy, at an outdoor music festival at Kendal in the Lake District, texted to complain about the rain and the mud. Always thought that was part of the fun though. Another music festival in Derbyshire was curtailed as the mud actually stopped being fun and became dangerous.

But Saturday dawned clear and sunny and warm so, with umbrellas and water proofs at the ready, we went to Chorley. In fact it stayed dry all day and even became hot later in the afternoon. We had a good time.

The warm, dry weather was perfect for the Chorley Samba Band who brought a bit of Rio Carnival to Chorley. And very good they were at it as well. The drumming was stunning and, if you could drag your attention away from the scantily clad dancing girls who must have been pleased it was warm, you could do worse than watch the young conductor of the drum band who controlled them by drumming and using his fingers and whistle to change the rhythms and the level of drumming. He was fascinating to watch. 

The Samba Band are looking for new recruits. They meet at a pub in Chorley on Fridays and would love for you to come. You can either try the drumming or, if you are very confident and have a supermodel body, you can wear some feathers in your hair and dance. 

They had drawn a large crowd to the courtyard of the house that would have connected the family’s home to the servant quarters in the old days. The house is Jacobean which was English Civil War times in England and we are far enough north here for Scottish raiders to come south. Hence the cannons I suppose. The Scots have always claimed that the Lake District, just north of here, is part of Scotland. That’s as maybe as there are maps that show it as such. But the same maps show England stretching far further north up the east coast than it does today and includes Edinburgh. So they might gain the beautiful Lake District but would lose their capital city. 

We’re supposed to have finished with our really busy time at work last Sunday. There are usually a few odds and ends to tie up and I’m willing to help do some if they cross my palm with enough silver. Plus it’s always good to have the powers that be beholden to me rather than the other way round. But, this morning, I got an email about how much still needs to be done. At first I thought I’d read it wrong but, on closer examination, I hadn’t. I think there’s another two weeks solid work left. If we do something so big, like this, again, we’re going to need more people. The Manchester Jazz Festival starts on Friday and I don’t think we’ve ever run into that. We have plans for the weekend so I hope they realise I won’t be about. On the plus side, all this extra work will be handsomely rewarded I think and, as I am so poor, wandering around in rags and tatters, it will come in handy.

At least my underwear isn’t in rags and tatters. I’m not a fan of online shopping for clothes. I don’t get the whole buy 10 of every item, in different sizes and colours, pay for it, have it sent, try them on, send them back, get the money refunded thing. It’s much easier to go to one of those shop things, look at the quality, choose the right colour, try it on and see if it fits. Of course, we’re quite spoiled for shops in Manchester and we can make a day of it with lunch and so on. I sound like one of those women from ‘Sex and the City.’ Which one I’ll leave up to you to decide.

Back to my underwear. I do buy some of mine online. It’s from a company called ODDBALLS. They operate out of Newcastle. You can find their underwear in some shops but most is sold online. They have cleverly built the business on social media and it’s been spread by word of mouth. They’ve managed to get the country’s rugby clubs involved as they play a game with an odd shaped ball. They started by selling underwear for men called ODDBALLS. They’ve moved into sports wear. They do some women’s underwear and have brought out a range of boy’s underwear called GOOLIES. There are sunglasses for summer and warm, woolly hats called OBBLE HATS for winter. It’s like a club and guys who see each other wearing an OBBLE HAT, nod and acknowledge one another.

It’s not all fun and games and bright coloured pants of course. 10% of the profits of this company are put into a foundation that is used to find cures for male, specific cancers like testicular cancer. Hence the name.

They always come in these brightly, coloured bags.

This is this week’s haul. As you can see they are not exactly subtle. But they are fun. You can have plain ones if you like but I think that’s what M&S are for. I bought 4 pairs so I got a free pair of ODDBALLS sunglasses. I’m also an ODDBALLS ambassador so my pants end up on here and all over TWITTER. All very tasteful done of course. I get 10% off for my trouble.

And it’s always useful to read the back of the packets as they have valuable information about detecting testicular cancer. It’s the most common cancer among young men between 14 and 34. It’s a very curable cancer if caught early enough. Not caught, it can kill. One very young man, about 13, was bought some of them. His dad had some and he wanted some. As soon as he’d grown enough for them to fit they bought him some. He read the back, had a laugh at the pictures but thought he’d have bit of a check. He actually found a lump, told his dad and got it checked. It was cancer but they caught it in time and he’s doing well now. If you have a young guy like him (or any guy) in your life, you could do worse than buy him some of these pants and raise his awareness and, possibly, do him a huge favour. 

I’ve finally finished with my really busy period at work. This morning I’d crossed the last ‘t’ and dotted the last ‘i’ and could say that I was done. I’ve spent over a month glued to a computer screen and have not only done my work but some extra as well. I’ve also had a team to manage. Most have been great but a couple have been ‘interesting’ shall I put it. I could now put my feet up and say ‘I’m done.’ But, in reality, I’ll probably do a bit more next week as I’ve been asked to. It’s always good to have the big bosses beholden to you and not the other way around. And the money will come in useful for a road trip planned in August. I decided some treats were in order.

First I checked Google maps to see how the roads were doing. I needed to go to Chorlton to talk to a guy about a garden project we have in mind. It was all ‘green for go’ so I drove over. I was then planning to catch the tram into the city centre to buy some treats. I bought my ticket on my phone before leaving home but forgot to check the tram app about how the system was running. I got to Chorlton tram station and the system was having ‘communication problems.’ The screens weren’t saying when the next tram was due and, judging, by the huge number of people on the station, it hadn’t been for a while. A couple went past in the other direction and eventually one came for us. It was packed but we got into the city.

I did my treat shopping and had a guilt free mooch about the city and then decided to get the tram back to Chorlton. I’d been in for about four hours so thought they might have got the system up and running again. St. Peter’s Square was packed with people but the trams (one a minute usually at this pivotal station on the system) were no where to be seen. Then two came at the same time for Eccles, then an Altrincham tram and another for Eccles. Finally one arrived for East Didsbury. I got on, it was packed. We went through Deansgate/Castlefield station and then the tram ground to a halt high above the Castlefield Basin. We were there for 4o minutes. It was crowded, hot and the AC couldn’t cope. We moved 10m then stopped again, 10m more and stopped, repeat…repeat…repeat. Eventually we got into Cornbrook. After that it was fine and I got off at Chorlton. I headed to ODDEST for a restorative PG and to write about Engles. I checked the tram app. I’d been lucky to get to Chorlton. They had decided that things were so bad that they would close the entire system down. Bad on a Saturday, it would have been chaos on a working weekday.

Back to the treats. I decided to go to the Lindt store and get some of their delicious chocolate truffles from their pick and mix display. 

Coming out of Lindt, I saw that FOSSIL, across the mall, was having a sale. This is one of the stores in the city where I’m known. They are a friendly bunch here. If you’re in the city and feel like checking them out and treating yourself you can’t go wrong here. I’ve been promising myself to buy a new bag, not to replace my beloved satchel, but to use when I don’t need such a big bag. This one was originally £170 but was in the sale at £110. It was a 20% off day so I got it for £85.

Having saved so much I visited The Whisky Store on St.Ann’s Square. I’m not actually known here but they are nice people who have the time to talk to you. I left the £2,800 bottle on the shelf. I’ve worked hard this summer but it’s way out of my price band. I decided on a blended Loch Fyne whisky and a bottle of Loch Fyne whisky liquer which, the guy told me, is flavoured with Jaffa cakes (a delicious cake/biscuit with orange and chocolate, popular in the UK). I’ll save this one for the colder months and Christmas I think. 

 

Manchester has a new sculpture. Brought to the city by Turner prize nominated artist, Phil Collins (not that one), it’s a statue of Frederick Engels. It’s been a controversial statue to say the least.

Frederick Engles was the son of a wealthy German family who sent him to Manchester in 1842 to work in a cotton thread mill that the family had here. He was a bit of a revolutionary figure who wasn’t happy with the capitalist system that provided his family with their comfortable living. While in the city he befriended Karl Marx. They would meet up in the little reading room at Chetham’s Library where they talked about all things socialist and wrote The Communist Manifesto. This document was taken on board by the Soviet revolutionaries who used it as a basis for their system of government . I’ve always thought it ironic that the world’s first ‘red in tooth and claw’  capitalist city also gave birth to the doctrine of Communism. For a while Communism was a powerful force in the world and, those chats around the library table in Chets (still there if you visit) almost brought the world to the brink of nuclear war on a few occasions in the last century. 

Engles stayed in the city for twenty years. He saw at first hand the appalling conditions that the people working in the mills had to endure to provide the fabulous wealth sloshing about the city in those days. That his stay in the city, as an important figure in history, should be acknowledge is not disputed. It’s the manner in which it has been done that has caused problems. There is the matter of us commemorating a man whose thoughts lead to the death of 100,000,000 people for a start. Hitler, by comparison, saw off a mere 17,000,000.

What Phil Collins (again, not the one you think) has done has gone to some obscure town in the depths of the Ukraine and found an old Soviet era statue of him. During the Communist era, Eastern Europe was bestatued with ‘heroes’ of the Communist ideology. When those countries got freedom from their masters in Moscow, one of the first things they did was to tear them down. They were left to moulder in out of the way places. Mostly concrete, that takes a while. Phil found this one, acquired it, put it on a flat back truck and crossed Europe to Manchester. He filmed the progress as he went, choirs singing to it in the Ukraine, a visit to Berlin and then onto Barmen where he was born.

It was erected in Tony Wilson Place, outside Home, as part of the closing ceremony of the Manchester International Festival last weekend. Manchester has a large Ukrainian population (or people descended from Ukrainians). Many came to Manchester to escape the oppression they experienced in their home country because of the ideology devised by Engels in Manchester all those years ago. That a piece of art that glorifies that oppression has been erected in the city hasn’t gone down well at all.

If you look carefully you can see blue and yellow paint on the statue. That’s part of the history as well. When the Ukraine fought from freedom from Moscow, the statues was daubed in the colours of the Ukrainian flag. And, although it’s gone a bit quiet, relations between Kiev and Moscow are far from cordial.

Interesting that Mr Engels has been put where he can keep an eye on the new offices of the Russian energy giant, Gazprom, nearing completion across the square.

I’m not good with my Russian or the Cyrillic alphabet but I think this says Engels.

One of the biggest football matches in the sporting calendar is the Manchester derby, when Manchester City play Manchester United. It happens twice every season and, occasionally, a third time when the two teams are thrown together in a cup match. It’s always a huge event in the city, millions tune in across the UK and hundreds of millions across the world. 

But tonight there is another ‘derby’ match. Both teams are on tours of the United States and are playing each other in Houston, Texas. Close to football mad, Mexico I imagine it’s going to be a well attended match, especially as two of the world’s most famous rivals will be playing.

City will be in their blue and United will be in their red shirts. Both teams have added a Manchester bee to their shirts to honour the people damaged or killed in the Manchester Arena attack back in May. After the match the shirts will be auctioned off with the money going to the Manchester Arena fund. If you can’t run to buying one of those, you can have a bee added to your existing shirt with the profits going to the fund.

This summer the country is celebrating and commemorating the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK in 1967. Until then men who were found to have had sexual relations with another man could be jailed. And that did happen. Having said that, that was an improvement on the situation that existed before when they could be put to death. This draconian treatment was never applied to women so there was no need to include them in this legislation. Back in 1967 people thought that people were either straight or gay, so there was no mention of bisexual people either. Men who dressed as women were a comedy turn in a Christmas pantomime and the general public had no concept of transgender people. 

Back in 1967 the change in the law covered men over 21. In the last 5o years they have changed it to men over 18 and then to equal treatment with the age of consent being brought into line at 16. We moved onto civil partnerships and then to marriage for gay people. Ironically we now have a situation where a straight couple can’t have a civil partnership while it is open to gay couples along with marriage. Straight people are discriminated against in the UK!

Before 1967 no one was ‘out’. Of course people knew people who were gay but it was not spoken about and all swept under the carpet. 50 years on there are out and proud gay people in every walk of life. I imagine that everyone knows a gay person in their family or circle of friends or at work. Laws protect them from discrimination and people are, generally, accepting of other people’s sexual orientation. And, if they aren’t, they realise that it’s best to keep such thoughts to themselves.

In cities like Manchester there are big LGBT communities that are very much a part of the city’s life. We are a small, crowded country and the tolerant attitudes of places like Manchester, London, Brighton etc. fan out into the surrounding countryside. It’s a good thing. There are positive role models for young gay people aplenty. 

Big companies support LGBT members of their staff and in the community wider. ASDA is one such company. I’ve been a fan of their gnomes for ages. And I love the special edition ones that they do. To mark the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of the gay community that have brought out these Pride Gnomes. They have been snapped up and people are on waiting lists for them. Well done ASDA. I only managed to get to take these pictures by getting into the warehouse to do so. All the supply was sold before they got onto the shop floor. 

I can see the light and the end of the tunnel and I don’t think it’s an oncoming train! By Sunday I will have finished my really, really busy time of the year and can starting looking forward to the bulge in my bank balance. Work sent me an email asking if I’d like some more work. I’ve ignored that email. I’d like next Monday and Tuesday off first and then I’ll think about it. 

I got up early and did my day’s allocation. I managed to do it before the biggest truck yet arrived in our road and started off loading all kinds of building materials for the neighbour’s ‘little’ extension. It was fun to watch as the crane unloading all the stuff.

That done I went into the office to catch up with stuff there. I didn’t want to run into anyone who might pin me down about extra work. So, as it was a warm (27C…Summer is back with a vegence), we had one of our walking/photographing meetings.

We had coffee at the coffee shop and I needed the washroom. I’d never used this one. I was confused by the door. What exactly is one of these?

Here are some of the pink Floribunda roses flowering by the lake.

And these images and words have been put on the windows of the restaurant. 

The office looked pretty cool as well. I like how they have arranged the buildings on either side of the rill running down the centre of the road. It’s a very calm place to work.

Last week Manchester’s councillors had the first full council meeting in the Town Hall after the attack on the Manchester Arena on May 22nd. Top of the agenda, watched by the families of the people most affected by the atrocity, was what to do for Ariana Grande after what she did for the city to raise its spirit and an extraordinary amount of money at the One Love Manchester concert at the Old Trafford cricket stadium. They voted unaminously to make Ms Grande the first every Honoary Citizen of Manchester. And rightly so. Here is my open letter to Ariana, a lady who I didn’t know of at all a few weeks ago but am now very impressed with.

Dear Ariana,

First, please excuse the familiarity. I’m English. There are people I’ve known for decades and we have still not got to a position where I feel comfortable using their Christian name so please forgive me for using yours even though we have never met. It’s a cultural thing.

I hear you are being made the first ever Honorary Citizen of Manchester, this place that I call home. I’ve had the good fortune to visit many of the world’s great cities, Paris, London, New York, Rome, Cairo, Madrid, Barcelona, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Venice and, wonderful those places undoubtedly are, nowhere quite has the feel, to me, of Manchester. I love to travel but I’m always happy when the wheels touch the ground at Manchester Airport.

I’d gone to bed early on the fateful night of 22nd May. I woke up early the following morning, tuned into ‘Today,’ BBC Radio 4’s flagship, morning news programme, and heard Nick Robinson say ‘There’s only one news story dominating the airwaves this morning.’ That’s rarely going to be a good way to start a news programme and to find that my city was at the centre of it all was dreadful. It was a day off and I spent it following the news on radio, TV and Twitter.

Years ago we had a burglary at our house. Losing stuff was one thing. The fact that someone had broken into our safe place, caused damage, been into private parts of our home was far worse. Insurance covered the stuff but the sense of security we lost was the really bad part of it.

On the 23rd I felt as if someone had come into our collective home, Manchester, a place where I feel safe, and had violated it in the worse possible way. As the morning wore on messages began to appear on social media asking us to look out for people. Pictures of fresh faced youngsters from towns and cities across the country, from remote Scottish Islands and from Manchester itself began to circulate. We are not a third world city where people disappear and can’t be found. We are a well organised first world city that was prepared for such an event, as had happened at your concert, and the services swung into action within minutes of the atrocity. And I’m proud of my fellow Mancunians who, while I slept, picked up the slack going out of their way to ferry people home, put stranded people up in hotels and on sofas, make people cups of tea. If any bewildered, scared teenagers were wandering around the city the following morning someone would have taken them in, notified parents and police, and arranged for them to be got home safely. It was apparent that many of the people whose pictures were being circulated were not going to make it home.

I apologise, but before the events of 22nd May, I didn’t know who you were. I’m not in the demographic of your fan base. I’m not a teenage, or younger, girl and I don’t have anyone in my circle who would have made me aware of you by me being their guardian and accompanying them to your concert. But your fanbase is sufficiently large for you to sell out the Manchester Arena so don’t lose any sleep about that please. Manchester Arena tickets can be expensive. Your fans will have been bought them as Christmas and birthday presents months ago. They would have been looking forward to it for an age. People made a weekend of it. Coming down to site see, shop, eat and generally enjoy the vibe of the city.

The first time I saw you was in a picture of you leaving the city, possibly, from Manchester Airport. You looked stunned and devastated, not able to properly comprehend what had happened a few hours earlier. Another picture I saw, of you arriving home in Florida, proved your state of mind hadn’t lifted in the long flight back across the Pond. I tried to think what you were going through. Putting myself in your position (it was something of a jump from my current life to that of a pop princess), I thought that you might be feeling some responsibility. That if I hadn’t been there doing that concert, those people wouldn’t have been there and they would still be alive today. I assure you this isn’t so. You brought music and joy to the city, we thank you for it and you are welcome back anytime. The responsibility for what happened in the Manchester Arena lies solely with the people who organised and implemented the atrocity. You bear no responsibility at all.

If it had happened the night before it would have occurred at Professor Brian Cox’s lecture on physics. I’m proud to live in a city where a professor of physics can fill the arena as well as a world famous musician. If it had happened a few days later, Manchester supergroup, Take That, would have been in your position.

I did see some unkind tweets about you cancelling the rest of your tour and flying home. Well, there were 20,000 people in the arena that night and their first thought was to get home. They wanted to be safe with their families, their friends and be surrounded by their stuff. It’s a natural reaction to a scary event and you were doing exactly the same. It was just that your home was in Florida and not a Manchester suburb. You should not worry about that at all.

Once home you might have decided that that was that. I’ll do more recordings, no more tours and live my life in comfort in my home in Florida. But that, we discovered, was not your style at all. Once you had recovered from the initial shock you decided that you were going to do something about it, especially for the families and fans who has been damaged or died. You, and your people, pulled strings and when you pull strings the likes of Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber are at the end of them. Your original concert was a symbol of what we hold dear. We come together to enjoy music, to be together to enjoy life. An attack on your concert was as good as an attack on theirs and an attempt to stop us from coming together to enjoy music and life. They joined you in support of Manchester and our common values.

At the arena concert you had 20,000 people watching you. Less than two weeks later you were back in Manchester and this time you had brought your mates. 50,000 tickets were sold in minutes. Millions watched it on TV and the Internet. If the attack on the 22nd May was designed to scare us from coming together to enjoy music and friendship, to stop us from singing and dancing, then it failed spectacularly. The concert at Old Trafford was one of the most moving things I have seen. I tried for tickets but had to watch it from the comfort of my sitting room courtesy of the BBC. As well as lifting the spirits of the city, you raised a spectacular amount of money to support the people damaged in the attack and the families of the deceased.

We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. And we were also impressed by the way you came quietly back to the city, and while your people put the finishing touches to the concert at the cricket ground, you visited the damaged people in the hospitals and the families of the people who had died. This cannot have been easy for you. It was done privately, with no fanfare, and I’m sure that the families most affected appreciated it.

Because of your amazing support for our city, which at the start of your tour would have been just another stop, the city has decided to create this entirely new honour. In the future other people may receive it but you will always be remembered as the person who got it first. The people who organised the atrocity are scared of young women like you. They hate the idea that a woman can be confident and determined, that she can organise and inspire people to do things that they thought they couldn’t. And it is because of people like you that they will never win. They may score a Pyrrhic victory, causing mayhem and death at a concert for one evening, but they will never overcome the strength of good people like yourself and others like you.

I’m not sure what happens when you become an Honorary Citizen of Manchester. We will have to look into that for you. I do know that if you get the freedom of the city of London you are allowed to drive geese across London Bridge. If you would like to drive assorted barnyard animals up and down Deansgate for a couple of hours, in the style of Marie Antoinette at Versailles, I’m sure it could be arranged. I do know that if you walk into any bar or pub in the city I’m sure you won’t have to put your hand in your pocket to pay for a drink all evening so high is your standing in Manchester.

So it’s official. You are know one of us. You’ll have to start referring to your mother as ‘Me Mam.’ You have a brother I believe, he is now ‘Our kid.’ You will have to eat chip butties and Eccles Cakes. If they’re not in a butty, your chips will be smothered in gravy or curry sauce. You’ll need a Liam Gallagher Parka and you’ll need to perfect that Oasis/Salford swagger when you walk. You’ll be needing a season ticket for the trams. Pack some glitter for trips to Canal Street and your boyfriend will need to work on his beard for nights out in the hipster Northern Quarter. You’ll need to look effortlessly cool for Chorlton but need something dressy for afternoon tea at the Midland. Something ‘Cheshire Darling’ for Hale and Bowden. But I imagine your natural Florida tan will be the envy of everyone in Alderley Edge.

Thank you again, for what you did for my city while it went through its most difficult time in decades. You are my new best person.

Love,

Tom xxxx

In Exchange Square, outside Selfridges, I was delighted to find that Dutch Cookie Man was in town selling his delicious Dutch biscuits, cakes and cookies. I’m a big fan of the toffee waffles that you can put into the little Blue Delft Cookie tins. They are usually a Christmas treat that we start enjoying in November, when he’s at the Christmas Markets, and make sure we have some to enjoy over Christmas. I’ve given the lovely tins with the cookies as presents for Christmas as well. So it was good to see him here in July. He’s back in September as well. I doubt if the two packets I bought will last till then though. Everytime he makes a sale he rings a bell. 

He has a new design for the tins.

I’m well ahead of what I should do for the next target day on Monday and my team, mostly, are on track. I got up early and did my daily allocation. It’s good to finish early and it means I can concentrate before all the banging and vehicle moving starts on the building project next door. It was sold to us as a little extension but it is huge and the garden looks like a scene from the Battle of the Somme. They assure us that it’ll all be over and done with by mid September. We will see.

So work finished, I’ve been able to come into the city for a bit of a mooch and I don’t need to feel guilty about it as work for the day is all done and dusted. 

The Manchester International Festival is drawing to a close. It’s the final weekend then it’s all packed away until 2019. Sad, but the Manchester Jazz Festival is waiting in the wings, starting at the end of the month. And I won’t be so snowed under with work so I can actually enjoy it. My good bud, Andy, and I are planning an entire day at it with lunch and beer.

In St. Ann’s Square there was another of the MIF music installations happening, Music for a Busy City. It was new music but had a bit of a classical vibe to it, rather than the ethereal, New Age music I’d heard outside Selfridges a few days ago. People were stood about just enjoying it.

I went for a beer on the roof of the pop up bar at the festival hub in Albert Square. It will, sadly, be my last chance to do so until 2019. 

It’s cool to sit among the tree tops and see the architecture on the Town Hall at close hand. The Town Hall, which is Grade 1 listed and one of the most important buildings in the country, behind the magnificent façade, is feeling its age. They are about to start a restoration project to sort out the mess and bring in 21st century technology without changing a thing visually. It’s going to be a seven year project and will cost £350,000,000. And then some I’d imagine. The Houses of Parliament in London which is a similar age, is also going to have a massive restoration. They’re wondering where the government will be housed while it goes on. Answers on a postcard please….