Archive for September, 2017


Before I get to go on my trip to Barcelona in a few days time, I get to help with a beer festival at the Victoria Baths. It starts tomorrow and carries on until Sunday. I was working on it yesterday which was a set up day. Artisan breweries from around the UK, Europe, and even America, are coming to Manchester to show off their products. Cloudwater, the one I discovered last weekend, will be there. Yesterday was a day to do dull, but very necessary, preparations so that the actual event will go well.

I caught the tram into the city in the rush hour. It was packed. The entire carriage was entertained by a very well dressed lady who spent the entire trip telling her friend, by phone, what a total b**ch her sister was being about the sister’s birthday party. It seemed the sister thinks that the birthday party is all about her. TBH I thought that birthday parties were all about the person who was having the birthday. Not in that lady’s world it seems. It was a relief to get off at St. Peter’s Square and not have to hear all the drama anymore. I headed towards the library, she in the direction of the art gallery still complaining about her b**ch sister. If someone’s birthday is like that in their house just imagine what Christmas must be like.

I had some time so went into the Starbucks on Peter Street for a coffee. I like this branch. It’s in a modern building with plate glass walls and you can enjoy all the beautiful architecture of Central Library, the Midland Hotel and St. George’s House (formally the old YMCA building). 

I still had time so I decided to walk to the Victoria Baths. The route takes you through the universities and the hospitals to the Whitworth Art Gallery and then you take a left. The students are back and I was travelling against the flow of the people as they made their ways to whatever early appointments they had. They’ve changed the traffic flow in this part of the city. Cars are now completely banned from the Whitworth Art Gallery as far as the Palace Theatre. Only buses, bikes and people, all segregated along Oxford Road, are allowed and the sense of calm and quiet is wonderful. It’s a vast improvement with the university on both sides of the road joined, safely, for the first time in its history.

It was a warm, sunny morning. I was able to appreciate the architecture of the older buildings and check out all the new building projects on the campus. They are even creating a new park on what was Brunswick Street showing off the original Victorian buildings. Looking forward to seeing that finished.

I worked all day at the Victoria Baths and then headed back to the tram station at St Peter’s Square. I could have walked again but there was a Mobike near the baths so I decided to use it to get back into the city. I’ve been using them for fun so far and this was the first time I’d used one as it was designed to be used. Getting about the city quickly. I also worry about the bikes when they end up somewhere quiet in the city. Some people don’t appreciate the bikes as much as I, and many others, do. So I wanted to leave it in St. Peter’s Square which is a Mobike hub. Here it is in the square.

While I was in the city I wanted to buy some new Vans for my trip to Barcelona. I’d seen a nice pair a few days ago and promised myself that, if they were still available at the end of the month, I’d have them. I jumped on the tram to Exchange Square to get to the Vans store. From the platform I saw my Mobike being picked up and ridden back down Oxford Road to the universities from where I’d brought it. Hopefully it will be fine.

The Vans store was packed. The city stores were having a ‘Student Night.’ They were all offering discounts to the new students. It helps welcome them and gets them to come into city centre and find where places are. I’m not sure how many sales the stores made from the students. Maybe they’d prefer the stores to be full of people like me, with good jobs and good credit who don’t blanche at the price of their third pair in two months. Well one was Converse that I haven’t even worn yet. The girl behind the counter did ask if I was eligible for a student discount which was nice to hear, but neither of us were convinced. I went for a glass of wine.

Here’s my new Vans in all their glory. I’ll be needing a new shirt to match them for Barcelona I think.

 

The universities have reopened after their partial summer closure. Oxford Road is busy again and the city is full of youngsters living away from home for the first time. I’ve crossed yet another Rubicon there, referring to them as ‘youngsters’ as another year is notched up between me being one of them and them. Lectures haven’t begun in earnest yet. It’s Freshers week and the city is full of fresh faced young people seeing what Manchester has got to offer.

I fell into conversation with a group of them outside Marks & Spencer’s. The had the look of a bunch of fresh faced lads who couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing. The Piccadilly Rats had moved along Market Street to a pitch outside the store away from their usual haunt on Piccadilly Gardens. Whatever small provincial town or secluded village the boys had come from didn’t, it seems, have the likes of the Piccadilly Rats. Phones were out recording the event to send home to the folks who were probably considering turning the car round, having just dropped them off, to whisk them back home again. If you look carefully, one of the P.R.s has brought their girlfriend. She’s sat at the back, a vision of loveliness, eating sausage rolls like the world is running out. The lads were fascinated with the nerve of the guy who was shirtless. That’s what happened to you if you spend too much time at university in the college bar I explained.

After my visit to Mayfield Station I remembered I wasn’t far from Pollen Bakery where they sell delicious sourdough breads and Viennoiserie pastries. It was about 12 30 and I expected it to be closed. They do sell out really fast. It’s in an arch underneath the massive viaducts that take the trains out of Piccadilly Station. It’s not a place of beauty and the routes you take under the station are dank and I wouldn’t wander down there late at night. Even on a sunny Saturday afternoon they have an edge to them and people hurry through. Cool, little businesses like Pollen are setting up here but it has a way to go before it joins the Northern Quarter and Piccadilly Basin as places to hang out. 

To my delight, Pollen was still open and had some things left. The bread was thin on the ground but I managed to secure a sourdough baguette, some salted caramel brownies and a couple of their delicious vanilla custard tarts that are so popular in Lisbon in Portugal. 

Pollen is found in an arch at No2 Sheffield St. Walking back towards the busier parts of town, the arch at No13 Sheffield St. was buzzing. I’m usually there early for Pollen and this arch has never been open at that time of day. Investigating, I found it was the Barrel Store Tap Room for the Cloudwater Brewery that brews artisan beers in the city. To say that their beers are good is an understatement. They have been voted the 5th best brewery in the world! 

They make their beers a couple of hundred metres away on the Piccadilly Trading Estate. And they store the barrels of beer they lovingly make at the Barrel Store, here at No13 Sheffield St. On Friday (1600-2100), Saturday (1200-2000) and Sunday (1200-1700) they open the store as a kind of pop up bar, or tap, so people can sample and buy their beers.

I was driving later so I couldn’t have any but the young woman I got talking to poured me a tiny taste of two of them. One, name has gone, smelled of fruit and tasted of an India Pale Ale. The second, called Mormora Sour was a revelation. Utterly delicious, it smelled of freshly brewed coffee and had a delicious fruity aftertaste. I bought some to take home. I noticed that the brewer does tours. I’ll have to book myself on one.

Here’s my haul from Pollen and Soundwater Brewery.

Piccadilly Station is one of the busiest in the country linking Manchester to the big cities across the country (3 leave for London every hour) and coping with a huge number of commuter trains. Millions of people pass through every year. Trains are having a bit of a golden age at the moment. More and more people are using them and huge amounts of money are being spent on the infrastructure. 

The last time the trains were as busy as this was the early 20th century. At that point Piccadilly was so busy that an overspill station was built across Fairfield Street called Mayfield Station. It was opened in 1910, sadly after the great age of the Victorian railway building. It’s a functional building without a glorious roof  like you see across the street in Piccadilly. From 1910 to 1960 is was a passenger station. After 1960 it became a goods station. It closed permanently in 1986 when Manchester was in serious decline and railways were giving way to cars. 

Over the last few decades it has been falling into decrepitude. Various schemes have been put forward to revive the building but none have come to fruition. It does occupy a huge site on the edge of the city centre and the developers are circling again. There was a plan for some London based government offices to move up to the site. The recession saw that off, but it’s been revived again. Occasionally it does get used for an arts use. Manchester International Festival used part of it a couple of years ago. And super club, The Warehouse Project, have used it. 

It’s not a thing of beauty as it is. Even cleaned up it’s not one of the city’s great architectural masterpieces. But it would be a shame to lose the more attractive parts. If the area is going to become a glass version of Whitehall, it would be good to incorporate some of the older buildings on the site. And somewhere round here they plan to create a huge, new station of the High Speed trains that are planned. 

The Star and Garter, next door, is a grand, Victorian pub. It must have been very busy when the station was working. It’s now a music venue for up and coming musicians in the city. It’s under threat of demolition along with the station. We will see. 

Behind the Mayfield Station building this little village of street food vendors has set up in a series of old shipping containers. It’s a cool idea. I’ve seen it happen in London. They are planning one for near the old BBC site on Oxford Road. That area, on Oxford Road with masses of passing footfall from the Universities into the city centre will work. This one felt a little isolated but people were there enjoying it. I liked the doggie bar with vegan treats.

I had a few Saturday jobs to do, nothing arduous or anything so I had a bit of a mooch about. There was a Maker’s Market on Salford Quays and I’m looking for a particular stall holder who makes cool bars to put in your garden shed. I could have checked if he was there but it was more fun to turn up and see if he was there. I do enjoy a good mooch at a nice market. He wasn’t there but that’s no biggie. I have his card.

I decided it was an alternative transport day. The Mini had a day off and I took the tram to the Quays. You get off at Media City and the market, when it’s on, is just across the water by the Lowry Theatres and Art Galleries. We are a very congested city, one of the worse in Europe apparently, though I’m kind of used to it. It’s just the way it is in my world. We’re not as bad as one of those Asian cities like Bangkok or Mumbai but I do know when not to go out and where to avoid. FYI, anywhere near the Trafford Centre is best avoided from now until Christmas. 

We’re not restricted to the trams of course. We have masses of buses but, in my opinion, they just add to the congestion and, in some place, exacerbate it. Mobikes are the latest idea to have hit the city. Thousands of these cool bikes have appeared in the city. You download an app and use it to unlock one. The app tells you where they are. Once you’ve had your ride, you lock the bike and it’s ready for the next person. I’ve had fun on them over the summer. I need to have some more adventures on them. Here’s a whole row of them by the tram station at Media City waiting to be taken on an adventure. 

I’ve not done this yet but I want to. It’s a Waxi. A water taxi service that has started using the city’s canals and rivers as a way of getting around. They have just opened a new route from here at Media City to the centre of the city at Spinningfields. The cool looking, golden roofed building is the latest Alchemist cocktail bar. So you could have one here and then pop into the Alchemist, Spinningfields to have another. We were there last week.

I took the tram into the city centre. Passing through China Town, I saw these Mobikes by the Imperial Arch. They are a Chinese idea and a Chinese company. I wondered if these were trying to get home.

Adding to the Far Eastern vibe of the area were these three Buddist monks in their saffron robes. The building behind the blue tarps is a rather attractive, red brick built, Victorian warehouse. I’m pleased to see that it’s being restored after a disastrous fire a couple of winters back. Sometimes, they just pull them down. I like new buildings but we should save what is good of the past. Two homeless men died in the fire. We think they started a fire to keep warm but it got out of control. A very sad story.

I’ve heard about ‘Game of Thrones’ but have never seen it. In the UK it’s on some obscure satellite TV channel that we don’t have. And it’s not on Netflix either. I could go and buy a pile of CDs but I hate the way they clutter up your life. I could buy it on the Apple Store but it’s too big a show to watch on the iPad and I can’t work out how to connect the iPad to the TV. I’m told there is a way. Ideally it would be on BBC 1 on Saturday night after ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ but there’s little chance of that. I’m hoping that whoever owns the rights will release it to some other, more accessible, channel once the last series is shown. I’ll only be ten years behind then. It’s doubly irritating we can’t see it as it’s made here in the UK, full of actors from the UK. It’s well thought of but you struggle to find people who have actually seen it. It’s not one of our ‘water cooler’ programmes. Of course it could be like ‘Breaking Bad’ which they hid on some subscription channel in the UK and when I finally got to see it, it was now where near as good as people made out.

I’ve not read any of the books it’s based on either. But I spotted this one in ASDA a few weeks ago. ‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’ by ‘Game of Thrones’ author George R.R. Martin. It’s the closest I’ve been to the series.

It’s set in the same, mythical world as ‘Game of Thrones’ but the action takes place a century before the events in the TV series. Apparently the events in the book I’ve read explain certain events in the ‘G o T’ books. Not having seen any of the series I missed all those references. The action takes place in a world of knights that reminded me of Plantagent England or France, 600 years ago but with added dragons. I’m told the TV series has masses of violence and a fair amount of sex. This book is more gentle. There are jousting tournaments with deaths and some fighting and there was some flirting but no rampant sex.

It concerns the adventures of a knight, Ser Duncan the Tall. At the start of the book, he is a hedge knight, the kind of knight that wanders the world eeking out a living by offering his services to any Lord who will hire him. Ser Duncan, who is only 16 at the start of the book, but very big for his age, has only just become a knight. Up until then he was the squire to another, older knight, Ser Arlan of Pennytree, who had rescued him from a life of crime in the slums of King’s Landing, which I believe is the big city in this mythical place. Ser Arlan has just died and we meet Duncan as he is burying his former master. Before he died Ser Arlan knighted his squire. Burial over, Ser Duncan goes out into the world alone to see what happens.

At an inn he meets a young boy, Egg. Egg becomes Ser Duncan’s squire. Unknown to Duncan, Egg is actually Prince Aegon Targaryen, a nine year old member of the ruling family of Westeros, the same family that the character played by Emilia Clarke belongs to in the TV series. They all have distinctive coloured hair and Prince Aegon has shaved his off to travel unnoticed on an adventure with his drunken brother. Hence his name, Egg.

Ser Duncan isn’t the brightest candle in the box but is strong, Egg is a small child but has education and intelligence. They end up travelling together and have adventures having developed a respect and fondness for each other.

I enjoyed this book but feel I was missing a lot of the backstory (even though it’s a prequel to the earlier books and the TV show). At the end of this book the indications are they Dunc and Egg will have further adventures that will lay the foundations for the Game of Thrones story. I’ll look out for them.

It’s been a long time since I read a book with pictures in it but, every so often, one of these charming line drawings appeared.

I’ve been working at home today. I got up really early and began and by noon I’d done everything I’d planned to. First thing was very autumnal with mist but, later in the morning, it burned off and we had a warm, sunny September day. What to do with it? Well, at this time of year we usually go foraging for sloes to make Sloe Gin. And, if I say so myself, we’re rather good at it. 

Last year I learned, too late, about a drink called Bramble Whisky. Basically it’s blackberries, sugar and whisky all shook up. I’d looked at a recipe a couple of weeks ago and it advised picking the blackberries on a warm, sunny day. So off I went foraging among the hedges around the fields near home. 

I was out for about a hour and a half. I learned that there weren’t as many blackberries as I thought and they were quite small. I knew that blackberry bushes have nasty thorns but I didn’t realise that they liked to grow mixed up with stinging nettles! I needed 1Kg but when I got home I’d only found about 250g! I then remembered that we had some blackberries in the freezer. We’d picked them last year in Shropshire where the blackberries are bigger and I don’t remember them coming with nettles. So I had enough to start a batch of Bramble Whisky. Here’s the recipe….

Bramble Whisky

1Kg Blackberries.

325g of white sugar.

370ml of whisky.

Put the blackberries in one of those jars that you can seal (see picture).

Add the sugar and shake the jar so the sugar gets distributed among the blackberries.

Pour the whisky over the fruit and seal it up. Give it a good shake. A note on the whisky. Go for a bottle of supermarket own brand. NEVER, EVER use an expensive single malt for this recipe. There’s a particularly nasty place in hell for people who do this. You have been warned.

For the next few weeks give it a shake when you pass it. It’s a good idea to have it in a cool place.

Eventually all the sugar will dissolve into the whisky. You then have to be patient. Very patient. The batch I set up today will be ready by Christmas. And that’s Christmas 2018!

Just before the Christmas season, strain the liquid through some muslin and put into bottles. It would make a cool, homemade present or enjoy it yourself over the festive season.

I’ve heard that you can do something wonderful with the left over fruit and ice cream. But I won’t be worrying about that just yet.

After my wander around the Maker’s Market on Spinningfields I headed over to my meeting which was being held in the Port Street Beer House in the N4. It was entirely appropriate as I’m going to be helping with an Artisan beer festival in the beautiful Victoria Baths, a veritable water palace, on Hathersage Road just behind the hospitals and university along Oxford Road. Artisan breweries from all over the country will be setting up bars, some actually in the drained pools, and people will come to sample the beers. I’m not sure what my role will be yet but it will be fun. Work doesn’t have to be all a grind and my job does involve interaction with the local communities and if that is done over a glass of Artisan beer, so be it. This beer festival is one of Manchester’s seemingly never ending festivals that fills in the gap between Pride and the Food & Drink Festival and I have no idea how I’ve missed it so far. I will be tweeting and blogging. 

The Port Street Beer House is on the present eastern edge of the N4 where it looks across an area of surface car parks to the apartment blocks spreading through the Piccadilly Canal Basin and towards painfully cool Ancoats across busy Great Ancoats Street. The car parks are disappearing under new apartment blocks along G A Street already and, I imagine, the developers are circling those car parks that remain. I wish I owned one, I’d be sitting on a fortune. 

I didn’t want to go into the Port Street Beer House too early. I heard some live jazz coming from the bar next door through the windows open to let in the afternoon warmth. The bar is called Stage and Radio. The Jazz, which was old school and excellent, was played by these three guys who wouldn’t go amiss in a jazz club in New Orleans. They played their set and as they finished, more music came from downstairs. I’d noticed a young guy with a guitar arrive and disappear behind the bar. He was part of a rock band that was using the basement as a rehearsal space. I listened to the rock coming upstairs and they sounded good. After my meeting, I went back in and another band had taken the Jazz guys spot. If it does live music regularly, I’m going to have to go back. It was cool.

I liked the way the bar was decorated. Bare brick walls are all over the N4 of course. There were mosaics and murals and old school radios and one of those tape machines that chew up music. While vinyl is making a comeback I don’t see anyone rushing to revive this form of music storage.

Apparently, the girl behind the bar informed me, artisan cloudy white Belgian beer served with a slice of Orange is a ‘thing’ in the N4 this summer. I’m glad she told me, I wouldn’t want to make myself look foolish by asking for a stick of celery or the like.

While I’m discussing work, I don’t want to give the impression that my work is one endless round of fun and games, but they are sending me to Barcelona in October for a few days. I will be working but I’m factoring in some time to look around the city. I’ve chosen a hotel in the Eixample district of the city that looks comfortable and is convenient. What sold me on it is it has a roof top terrace with a view of the wonderful Sagrada Familia a few hundred metres away. I can see me up there with a bottle of chilled Cava on a warm Barcelona evening (much further south than Manchester) admiring Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece cathedral. Again, I will be tweeting and blogging. 

Taking the tram back home I rode on the special ’25’ tram that marks the fact that the tram system in Manchester opened, with its first route from Altrincham to Bury, 25 years ago. Now it is all over the city, new routes are being built with more planned. I also saw the BEE TRAM, decorated with 22 bees, one for each person who died in the terrorist attack in May. I’ve seen it innate marshalling yard but it was the first time in the street. I did tear up. And I couldn’t get my phone out fast enough to take a picture. And at Cornbrook I saw the Rainbow Pride tram again.

The Spinningfields Makers Market was on this weekend and it was a special one featuring lots of stalls selling treats and other doggie paraphernalia. I went yesterday to fill some time before a Sunday meeting. It was work related but verging on pleasure so I wasn’t too upset about it. It was sunny and warm, a prefect late summer (Autumn begins on the 21st) day. The market was on the plaza facing Deansgate between the Gothic Victorian John Rylands Library and the cutting edge architecture of the Armani Store building. One of the places in the city where the old and the new come together and do it so well. 


There was a van doing doggie selfies. You could dress your dog up as well if he/she was amenable. There were lots of well behaved doggies out and about, enjoying the market and the city vibe. 

Or you could have a portrait of your doggie while he/she sat for the portrait. There was a queue for this. We do love our doggies in Manchester.

There were lots of stalls that were selling things to make your doggie’s life more comfortable and happy. And I even saw some things for the C-A-T in your life.

And if, sadly like me, you don’t have a doggie to share your life, there were plenty of stalls for you to enjoy as well. 

Getting there. Where? To HOME. We went by the pretty route.

It was a long day yesterday. I’d got into work for 6am so I could get through all my work so I could go to HOME in the evening and have something of a free afternoon. I was done by noon and left for my actual home to get ready. We caught the tram into the city mid afternoon and was delighted to travel on the Rainbow Tram, the one in the special livery that was done for the Pride Festival at the end of August. I’ve seen the Bee Tram with its 22 bees that represent the 22 people who died in the May terrorist attack in the marshalling yards at Trafford Bar but haven’t seen it out and about yet. I like the way the tram system commemorates events in the city, good and, sadly, the bad.

The idea was to have a mooch around the shops but we actually ended up in The Alchemist in Spinningfields drinking cocktails. It’s a tough life I know but someone has to keep these places afloat. I was amazed by the number of people in Manchester who are wealthy enough and have free time on a Thursday afternoon to be drinking cocktails in trendy bars. Wait! I was one of them! I had an Apricot and Pink Grapefruit Martini and the other one is called a Bounty, a white chocolate and coconut concoction that nods at a popular chocolate bar in the UK.

The cocktails here are excellent. Some have to be assembled at your table and your table might be flooded with smoke from dry ice and the like. All very theatrical. 

I noticed this card on the table. It’s about Tim Bacon who was the co-founder and chairman of the Living Ventures Group. They have set up The Alchemist as well as many other popular Manchester bars and restaurants. They run Artisan, Manchester House, Gusto, Australasia, Grand Pacific, The Oast House, The Botanist and others across the city. And some of these ideas have been rolled out across the country to other major cities and affluent, country towns.

Sadly cancer is not a respecter of wealth and success and Tim Bacon succumbed to this disease in April 2016. If you bought these three mini cocktails for £10, £5 would be donated to the Christie Hospital which is having a new, and very expensive, bit of kit, installed. We couldn’t say ‘no’ could we? We shared, from left to right, a Mini Bananagroni, a Mini Negroni and a Bittersweet Symphony, all served in the kind of glassware you used in Chemistry lessons in school. The Bittersweet Symphony contains fairy liquid, not the soap used for washing dishes, but a special ingredient (provided by the fairies presumably) that causes the drink to fizz and bubble. 

After The Alchemist we went looking for an early dinner. First we swung by the Bridgewater Hall to buy some tickets for some Hallé Orchestra concerts later in the Autumn. Am looking forward to those. Then it was on to the Indian Tiffin Room to eat. We’ve heard great things about the food here. It started out as a tiny restaurant in a quiet street behind the shops in Cheadle Village. Its reputation grew by word of mouth and it was fiendishly difficult to get a table. They have opened a much bigger restaurant on First Street in the city centre. Even here it’s wise to book a table. 

We got there quite early but it was already busy. By the time we were served the place was rammed. Not only are there people with free time on a Thursday afternoon to swill back cocktails in The Alchemist, there are plenty who have the time to enjoy the food in the Indian Tiffin Room. We had Vegetarian Samosas to start. They were served with two chutneys, one was tamarind, the other was mint.

And then we had Butter Chicken in its delicious creamy, tomato sauce with Indian bread and Bombay Potatoes. Delicious.