Archive for October, 2017


I have a lot of time on my hands these days while I recover from my broken ankle. And there’s only so much day time TV you can watch! I’m a bit more mobile around the house but getting out is still difficult. The calf of my left leg is wasting away through lack of use, it’s going to take some physio to get it back to the standard of my good leg. On the positive side the crutches are doing wonders for my biceps. The guns are looking good!

I’ve started shopping on the Internet to pass the time. An order went into Marks & Spencer’s this afternoon and in the week I sent an order into myoddballs.com for some new underpants. I don’t need any really but they had some new designs. myoddballs.com is a company that produced pants and, increasingly, other stuff for guys. The attraction is that a percentage of their profits go into a foundation that invests into research into male specific cancers. Supported by a lot of the U.K.’s rugby teams (a game played by men with odd shaped balls) they sell mostly online but they do have a mobile store that visits big games around the country. Their pants are fun and comfortable. Here’s this morning’s delivery of pants.

I bought a top that I can wear while I’m stuck at home with my broken ankle and will look good at the gym when I get back to it to build up my damaged leg.

And I got a free OBBLE hat to keep me toasty warm in the coming colder months.

The pants come in these packets with information on the back, and funny facts, about how to check yourself for testicular  cancer. If you’re a guy reading this follow the advice and have a bit of a check. It could save your life. And, with Christmas coming up, maybe the guys in your life might like to find a couple of pairs of fun pants I n their Christmas stocking. They start with oddballs pants for guys from about 12 upwards (testicular cancer can affect guys in their early teens who may not even realise something is wrong) and they have a range for even younger guys called Goolies. 

I had my first trip out yesterday since I got back from hospital after my ankle op. OK, it was back to the hospital for a check up on progress but it was out! Here I am with the cast in the Fracture Clinic at Wythenshawe Hospital. I hoped I could hop out of the car at the door but Wythenshawe is having a building programme and a new A&E dept is going up so I had to cope on my crutches for a 100m or so. Something that I wouldn’t have thought of 3 weeks ago seemed like an expedition to the North Pole! And I’m in shorts in October!

First it was into a treatment room to have the cast removed. I was worried about that. I’d heard stories of the hairs on guy’s legs getting set into the plaster and being ripped out when the plaster comes off. I’m not excessively hairy but there’s enough there to make me wince if they were to be torn out. Fortunately the technology has moved on and there was no pain. I was surprised to find that they had operated on both sides of my ankle. This is what it looked like after the cast was taken off. Once a nurse had cleaned the dried blood it looked very neat. The surgeon, Miss Fox, who did it was pleased with how neat she had made it. I’m pleased she had done it. She exudes confidence and sincerity.

After that it was down to the X-ray department to have it photographed. They fitted me with my moonboot and I was left to make my own way down on crutches. Sounds a bit harsh but, as a guy, I like that they let me do stuff by myself. X-rays are all computerised now of course. Gone are the days when they had to be developed with chemicals and there was a wait. Mine were sent to Miss Fox’s iPad before I’d even left the X-Ray suite and she declared herself happy with the progress when I got back. I tried to see them on screen before I left but it was on the other side of the room. But the X-Ray lady was impressed with the amount of metal in my ankle. Next time I’m going to have a look.

I was brought home by Suneil. I’m starved of human contact at the moment and we got talking. He didn’t have a Manchester accent and I wondered where in the world he’d come from. I suspected Greece. Right direction but add a 1000 miles or so. He was from Kurdistan. When he was 18 he was about to be conscripted into Sadaam Hussein’s army. As a Kurd that wouldn’t have gone well for him. His family decided to put him on a plane and at 19 he found himself in Heathrow Airport, London without a plan and not knowing a person in the UK. He found a policeman. In Iraq he would have got a good kicking so he was worried about approaching a British policeman. He was surprised to be bought a cup of tea, some food and, while he ate that, the police found people who could help him. Suneil has a high regard for British policemen and women. He was put in a taxi and sent to Portsmouth where an organisation exists that helps guys in his position. They helped him claim political asylum because his life was in danger in Iraq. He’s now a British citizen and told me with relish how he’d enjoyed cutting up his old Iraqi passport. He moved up to Manchester and now lives in Warrington to the west of the city. Kurdistan is the part of Iraq that has, mercifully, escaped the worse of the wars that have blighted that part of the world and seems to be thriving. They have even stood up to ISIS. Suneil is a Muslim person but wears his religion lightly, in fact he’s come to the conclusion that religion isn’t one of mankind’s better ideas. He likes a glass of wine and is a great fan of whisky. He loves living in the UK. 

I’m on an, enforced, hiatus from my blog. On the 7th of this month I was heading into the city to get some Euros and buy a couple of last minute things for the Barcelona trip. I parked up near Chorlton tram station. It’s Autumn. Leaves are falling. We get annoyed when the train companies cancel trains due to ‘leaves on the line.’ They now have my sympathy. I was crossing a damp pavement, in new shoes with perfect tread, and my feet went from under me and, before I knew it, I was on the ground.

No pain but looking down my leg and the weird angle my foot was at to it, told me that things weren’t OK. Two guys from a local car workshop heard me shouting and came. They called the ambulance and I was taken off to Wythenshawe Hospital. I’d obviously dislocated my ankle. People complain about our health service but I couldn’t fault it. I was in the resus dept in minutes and being seen to. A young looking doctor said ‘you can say ‘No’ as I’ve never put a dislocated ankle back in place before but I’d appreciate it if you would let me do yours.’ A more qualified doctor was on hand to watch and advise. It’s seems a dislocated ankle is either rare or fun to watch and I gathered quite an audience to see the procedure including the two paramedics who brought me in. I was, by now, high on gas and air. I heard myself say ‘They’ve broken out the good stuff now!’ The young doctor went to work. At first there was no pain, but, as the ankle slipped back into position no amount of gas and air was going to shield me from that. The second doctor found himself firmly gripped and I suspect he may have suffered bruising. I think I may have assaulted a National Health Service employee!

X-Ray revealed two fractures and the following day I had an op. My ankle is full of plates and screws and I’m dragging a huge weight around on the leg. The surgeon declared she was happy. Doctors never say stuff like that unless they really mean it. The anaesthetist gave me the impression that I would be lucky to wake up at all. As it was I woke up in a recovery room with a wall of luridly coloured landscapes and thought that was what heaven, or the other place, looked like.

The next morning they had me up on my feet getting about on crutches. I wasn’t brilliant and they tried me on a Zimmer frame, the kind you see be very old people using, and decided I was having one of them. I blame the drugs. No way was that Zimmer frame coming home with me! I’m 50 years away from that as far as I’m concerned! I got them to come back the next day and convinced them I was a lot better, and cooler, on crutches. 

I got out last Wednesday. I was in a little room with an interesting guy called Duncan. Duncan has an infection in his foot, a bad one. He has no idea where he got it from, the most exotic place he’s been recently is Wales! He’d had an op and they were washing the wound through with a constant drip of antibiotics. He has an office job in Warrington but also helps run a well thought of tattoo parlour in Manchester and is a musician. We were in there together, two guys used to doing stuff for ourselves suddenly having to rely on everyone else for the simplest thing. That’s difficult for a guy. We did a lot of talking and I got to see, those hospitals gowns are totally inadequate, all his tattoos and good much more besides. No doubt he saw more of me than I’d usually show a guy on such a short relationship. But being in a place like that you soon develop an intimacy that might take months or years outside. I escaped first but, hopefully, Duncan, won’t have been far behind me. When we are both back to normal I’m going to one of his concerts. In the meantime here’s some of his music. He does have a great voice.

So I’m home and my world has telescoped to my bedroom and the adjoining bathroom for the moment. Travels are well and truely restricted. And the Barcelona trip had to be postponed of course. Next week I go back to the hospital to have my ankle looked at. I’m hoping this restrictive cast is taken off and they give me a cool Moon Boot thing so I can walk again.

So no travels and no pictures so my blog will be on a hiatus for a while. Cheers for bearing with me.

Working on the IndyManBeerCon, they fed us. We were giving tokens and we could swap them for something delicious from the food village. Various street food specialists set up their field kitchens and cooked delicious fresh food to order. You asked for what you wanted and watched it assembled and cooked before your eyes. 

I had a delicious pulled pork burrito one day. I can’t remember the name of the street food vendor sadly, nor can I find it on the IndyMan website. Another day I had some Malaysian food from a kitchen called Nasi Lemak. I’ve had Malaysian food a couple of times now and find I always enjoy it. I had some Vegan Chicken Bites (I imagine it was tofu) covered with three types of sauce with some of those pickled vegetables that you see in Korean cuisine. It was delicious and probably did me a fair amount of good.

I did manage to get these pictures of the pizza I had on the third day from a street kitchen called Honest Crust. They managed to get one of those huge pizza ovens into the festival. The pizza was assembled before you cans you could watch it cook in the oven. I was told to try it and, even though there was a wait, it was more than worth it. I had a sourdough crust pizza with wild mushrooms. It was VERY good.

It wasn’t all beer. In a side room Three Rivers, a Manchester based gin company, had set up a gin parlour. I must find their distillery, they do tours I’ve heard. The three rivers referred to in the name are the Irwell, Medlock and Irk, the rivers that run through the city centre.

On my first evening working at IndyManBeerCon I was working on receiving the guests at the door. A call came through to see if anyone could be spared to work on the increasingly busy bar of the Northern Monk Brewery from Leeds in Yorkshire. When I was in university I had a job working in a pub behind the bar. I got quite good at it and learned how to pull a perfect pint of Guinness with exactly the right proportion of creamy white top to black stout beer below (did you know that Guinness isn’t actually black, it’s a very, very dark red beer). I didn’t perfect the shamrock on the top even though I am of Irish descent.

Northern Monk had an entire tent to themselves beyond the food village. When I arrived it was already busy. I met Billy (grey T in the pictures), one of the craftsmen brewers, who lovingly talked me through the beers and ales on offer and showed me how to pull them. After a few mistakes I got into the groove and all that muscle memory from nights behind the bar in the Friendship Inn came true.

At the beginning of the evening there was a lot of ‘beer tasting’. People swirled the beer in their glasses, inhaled the aroma, swashed it about the various parts of their mouths so they could assess the ‘feel’ and the ‘depth’ of the taste. Appreciative noises were made and comparisons with beers drunk at other times and at other events. All rather like a wine tasting. The difference between the two events was that, while the wine may have been spat out, the beer most definitely wasn’t! 

The beer was sold in one third of a pint measures so three glasses equated to a pint in a normal pub. Problems might have arisen because the beers on offer can be, and were, a lot stronger than the mass produced beers that can be bought anywhere. And people were on a mission to try a lot of them. Only the number of tokens you could afford limited you. I saw no one getting drunk and the security people said it was a good event to do from their perspective because everyone was out to have a good time and were so chilled. 

However, as the evening went on there was less appreciation of the beers and more of the how much can I drink attitude. For example…

Young Lady to me: Give me a glass of your favourite beer and then I’ll have another of your second favourite one!

But my favourite interchange of the evening came courtesy of a young, Australian guy…

Aussie Guy: (possibly having had one more than was good for him) What have you got that’s most like an Aussie lager?

Me: (looking along the beers on offer from Northern Monk and finding nothing remotely like an Aussie lager but spotting Billy not busy for a moment) Billy, this chap wants something that’s most like an Aussie lager. What do you suggest?

Billy: (looking Aussie guy up and down with barely concealed distaste) Well I can offer you some piss in a glass!

Aussie Guy wasn’t put off so I chose him a glass of an India Pale Ale flavoured with Passionfruit.

Me: Try that. In some pubs in Sydney that’s considered a cocktail. 

 

I was really busy last week working at the IndyManBeerCon, a festival that celebrates the huge number of artisan crafted beers and ales that are now being produced across the UK in small breweries. These beers used to be a tiny proportion of the beer consumed in the UK, the province of diehard aficionados. Now they are mainstream with people from all walks of life taking the trouble to search out these beers.

The IndyManBeerCon started six years ago and was the brainchild of a guy who owns a couple of bars in the Northern Quarter and one in Chorlton. I’m not sure where it started but its present home is the Victoria Baths, a short walk from the Whitworth Gallery on Oxford Road. It probably started out small but, talking to some of the brewers there, it’s now one of the most important beer festivals in the country. Brewers from as far away as Cornwall in the south to Aberdeen in the north of Scotland came to the city to show off their beers. Some brewers, like Cloudwater from Manchester and Northern Monk from Leeds were here for the entire festival. Others came and went so there was always different beers to try.

The three pools had been drained of course and the bars were set up in them, surrounded by wooden tables. There was recorded music in the First Class Male and Second Class Male baths. The Female pool was turned into a club with DJs and live music as well as the bars. A brewery from Buxton set up in the Turkish Baths. Another brewery took over the Pineapple Room (the stained glass windows feature the fruit). Behind the baths was a tented food village where street food sellers set up shop. There was a huge tent with a chilled Ibiza club vibe about it with more bars. And Northern Monk had their own tented bar.

You booked online for a session (an afternoon or evening) or you could have a weekend pass or a pass for the entire festival. You paid for that online. People arrived and brought their tickets on their phones which were scanned in the street outside and you got a wristband for your session. Inside you were given a glass and a map (I helped with that once). You then went to buy some tokens for beer and food using cash or card. Then you were off round the festival swapping your tokens for whatever beer you fancied. It certainly made life easy for the bar staff. I worked on the token exchange once and it was crazy busy. The bars were busy but at least we didn’t have to count change out. And we could talk to people about the beers. I was amazed how I quickly got to a place where I could chat about the beers with authority. TBH I knew next to nothing but throw in phrases like ‘double IPA’ and ‘hoppy ale’ and they seemed to lap it up. 

At then end of each session the people there (1,500 for each) just seem to melt away and the festival was tidied up for the next session. There was security. We had a very scary lady who went round ‘suggesting’ that people would like to go home and forbidding people like me from serving any more beer after a certain time. I certainly didn’t.

The lovely people at HOME, Manchester’s theatre, cinema, art gallery complex on First Street were kind enough to invite me to see two of their new season’s productions a couple of weeks ago. And very fine they were too. Look back a few posts and your will see what I thought about them. This blog, which started as a way of organising a few photos for family and friends, is read by many more people than I ever thought. It has been touted as one of the top ten blogs to read if you want to find out about Manchester. I am humbled by this. Social media is huge, something not lost on HOME, and I suspect that’s why I’ve been invited to review somethings. It’s taking my blog in a new direction and I’m grateful for that. It also makes me go see things I might, otherwise, not go to or completely miss.

However, the blog doesn’t pay the bills and work has got busy again and I’m off to Barcelona for a few days soon (hope it calms a little) so I haven’t been able to find time to see other things just yet. Which is a shame because HOME is having its annual ORBIT festival. A series of theatrical events, a lot handpicked from August’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, have been brought to Manchester to entertain, educate and make us think. I’m not sure if I can find the time to see any so I’m not in a position to review any. So, with their permission, I will use their own words to describe the festival…..

Orbit Festival 2017 brings together innovative new work from theatre makers across the globe who want to explore our place in the world. Many of these shows come straight from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, exploring our relationship with the past, how we remember, the stories we tell ourselves and what it is that makes us who we are.

How do we navigate today’s world, forging and challenging our economic, political and social circumstance? What about our plans for the future and the threats to our ideals and aspirations we hold dear and hope will keep us safe?

Like you, these artists are extraordinary. They have their stories; all they need now is you. They want to talk to you about where we are now, where we’ve been and where we are going.

So join us for a journey through what it means to be human in these unstable times.

HOME is a very different arts space. You, probably, won’t see the latest blockbuster movie or one of the huge West End musicals there. The city is well served with venues that do that. And there’s nothing wrong with those particular pieces. I’m happy to watch WICKED as many times as someone wants to take me.

What is shown at HOME is, of course, entertaining. If it didn’t do that people wouldn’t go. But you will also leave having had an experience you won’t get elsewhere in the city. You will leave enriched by the experience, you will have had food for thought and it will certainly give you something to discuss on the tram home.

When you read through the prospectus for an up and coming season at HOME, maybe everything isn’t instantly recognisable or appealing. The thing to do is to be brave and take a punt on something new and provocative. Just give it a go and broaden your mind and experience.

The ORBIT Festival started on 28th September and runs to 14th October. PLEASE, give yourself a treat and log on to https://homemcr.org/ follow the link to the ORBIT Festival and try something out. I know you will be pleasantly surprised.

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Photo Credit: The Other Richard
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Greg Wohead

The Angel of Purity….not me you will be surprised to hear but a piece of beautiful stained glass in the Turkish Baths area of the Victoria Baths. Here she is…

As I said in my last post I’ve been having fun helping out at a beer festival at the Victoria Baths. It’s been tiring but great fun even though I went through the entire event and didn’t drink a drop! I was way too busy. The Victoria Baths were built in the Victorian era as a public amenity. You could learn to swim in them. Or, because a lot of houses in those days lacked bathrooms, you could actually go and have a bath. There was a sumptuous Turkish Baths suite and rooms where you could ‘enjoy’ water treatments. There was one room with something that looked like a huge Bain Marie. No one could work out what they did in that. But you could melt a lot of chocolate in it without it turning grainy. It opened at the beginning of the last century but closed in the 1980s when the city went into serious decline. People preferred the modern pools and the Victoria Baths was abandoned and was gradually falling down. But it’s a stunning building and is listed.

The BBC did a competition on TV so the nation could choose a building to save. Victoria Baths won and got £6,000,000 which, to be honest has barely touched the sides of what this building needs to have done to it. But it’s now safe, the façade is looking good and some of the interior is looking as good as it did 100 years ago. Work needs to be done still though. And I wonder what happened to the buildings that lost the competition. 

They still occasionally fill one of the pools. There are three. One for First Class Males, one for Second Class Males and one for Females. It was built in different times of course. The pool for the women is the least elaborate which is insulting by our standards but, as a male, I would have really resented going through a door marked ‘Second Class Males.’ So some swimming still happens but, if they want to refurbish the rest of the building they need to raise more money. Having events like the beer festival with thousands of people paying to attend raises a lot more than a bunch of seniors doing aqua aerobics on an afternoon. 

The part of the building frequented by the First Class Males is full of beautiful stained glass, with representations of guys doing manly things like cricket and boxing. The stained glass is less spectacular for the Second Class Males and almost disappears by the time you reach the part where the Females swam. 

There’s a lot of these dark green tiles everywhere. Not to our taste in a modern bathroom, but appropriate for a Victorian public baths.

And the fishes on the mosaic floors may not be as accomplished as the Roman mosaics I saw in Cirencester a few weeks ago but I thought they were charming. I’d have them in my bathroom.