Archive for December, 2017


Hygge (pronounced Hoo-gah) is a Danish concept that has become popular across the world in the last couple of years. It’s an approach to a way of life that the Danes have developed to cope with their cold, dark winter season. It’s spread to other parts of Europe where we ‘enjoy’ long, cold winters. Quite how hygge works in places like the West Indies and other tropical areas I’m not sure. 

Hygge, in Northern Europe, works like this…. You gather your good friends and relatives together on cold winter evenings. You give them nourishing food and drink in houses that are decorated for comfort and warmth. Flickering candles are important. As are pleasant smells. You listen to music and talk. You enjoy the atmosphere and each other’s company. Then you enjoy the moment that you have created. 

An entire industry has grown up around Hygge. I suspect IKEA are behind it somewhere. The word doesn’t have an exact English equivalent but ‘cosy’ is the closest we have to it. In the UK we go for ‘cosy’ big time at this time of year as we are in the middle of the festive celebrations.

We had a ‘Hygge’ experience yesterday afternoon. If you can’t do it at home you can always go out to experience it, preferably in a traditional country pub that has a good kitchen. We headed for the George and Dragon in the biscuit tin lid pretty village of Great Budworth in Cheshire. All the components of Hygge from the overstuffed cushions to the open fire, by way of the ancient oak beams holding up the ceiling and the elaborate candlesticks were there creating a cosy atmosphere. Tables were laden with food and friends and relatives were gathering to enjoy the experience. With Christmas Day and New Year’s Day falling on Monday and bookended by two holiday weekends, plus the British extra holiday of Boxing Day, most people aren’t working on the three remaining days and are having a mid winter break. Many won’t see the office or factory until 2nd January. The George and Dragon were busy and we were relieved to have booked.

With all the rich food over Christmas we decided to go for something simple and had Ham and eggs with thick cut chips with a piccalilli relish and English mustard. We had a bottle of Merlot from Chile. 

I had this delicious Assiette of Mini Desserts described as ‘An indulgent selection of four mini desserts. Chocolate Torte, Raspberry Cheesecake, Apricot Frangipane and a Tart au Citron.’ Four puddings on one plate. Plus ice cream and some fresh fruit! Happy Tom!

The denizens of Didsbury don’t queue in supermarkets for their Christmas provisions. They have staff to do that for them. Either that or it’s delivered courtesy of Waitrose or Marks & Spencer’s. However, they are not above queuing at one of the local independent stores to pick up a few quality treats to nibble on over the festive season. 

We’re all getting together for Christmas lunch and everyone is bringing something or helping with the cooking. I was told to bring something for the cheese course. People have the cheese course at different times in the meal. I believe that in France it comes after the main course but before the dessert. In the UK it comes after the dessert. I’d had enough queuing in supermarkets yesterday so I caught the tram to Didsbury to go to The Cheese Hamlet, probably the best cheese store in the city. 

I got there by 10am and the queue was well on the way to merging with the queue for Evan’s the Fishmongers next door on the corner of Barlow Moor Road and Wilmslow Road. Round the corner on Barlow Moor Road the fishmonger queue was snaking down the street towards the one for Axon’s the butchers. 

It was a good natured queue. Being Didsbury people passed the time reading the Saturday morning edition of The Guardian. 

The little store was packed with people picking up orders (wish I’d thought of that) or choosing Christmas cheese.

The Cheese Hamlet has the best selection of cheeses in Manchester and that’s a big city.

The tall guy, second from the right, served me. There was an awkward moment when I couldn’t find my bank card in my wallet. Thought I was going to have to go back home to retrieve it. Fortunately, it appeared in one of the pockets of my bag.

Outside they had set up another little stall for people who didn’t want to queue. I checked the selection of cheeses outside after I’d got mine. Two were outside as well! But the third wasn’t. 

Queue outside Evan’s the Fishmonger…

Queue outside Axon’s the Butchers…

I bought a good strong, artisan Cheddar (you can buy ‘cheddar’ type cheese all over the world but you have no idea what it really tastes like until you have tried the real McCoy from Somerset), a good Blue Stilton and a rich creamy Brie from France. There are some oatcakes and crackers to serve the cheese on and some special Cheese Hamlet Chutney to serve it with. Port wine is the usual drink to go with cheese. The nice bag came from Sainsbury’s. 

The first of the Spring flowers were on sale for Christmas.

Later on in the morning, I found myself driving behind this van belonging to a local company providing services to the high maintenance doggies that live in south Manchester, ‘All Wagged Out’. You can see what they do for them on the van. But what I liked was the yellow registration plate. I like it when people pay attention to detail.

When I got home I was delighted to find that our tickets for the stadium tour of Strictly Come Dancing had arrived just in time for me to present them as a Christmas present.

 

I’m not feeling too festive at the moment. Am desperately in need of a cup of mulled wine I think. The reason? We popped over to the supermarket to ‘pick up a few things’. Three days before Christmas Day and the focus has moved from frantic present buying to shopping for food. The shops are closed for ONE day but people are buying enough to resist the Siege of Leningrad. Christmas lunch is a normal Sunday roast with added pigs in blankets (little sausages wrapped in bacon for non UK readers), I must have missed the news about the impending zombie apocalypse! 

First, there was parking, the car parks were overflowing. There was even talk about me putting back my medical boot and using my crutches so we could bag a disabled place. We found one eventually, we just happened to be in a place where a lady was leaving as we got there. We picked up our ‘things’ and we were lucky to get what we wanted from the increasingly denuded shelves. Parts looked like one of those stores they used to have in Soviet controlled Eastern Europe. That took us about 10 minutes but we then had to queue for 50 minutes to get out! The lady at the till offered me a chocolate. It was going to take a lot more than that to restore my festive spirit. We discussed gin. 

It was in contrast to last night. December 21st, the longest night of the year, a day that used to be celebrated with feasting to welcome the beginning of the long awaited return of the sun. The early Christians moved Christmas to try and stop us celebrating it. They have only been partially sucessful. 

We went to Dunham Massey Hall, the mansion in the deer park on the edge of the city. A trail had been set up around the gardens decorated with lights and enhanced with Christmas music, both religious and secular. Fountains played in the lake and canals that surround the house. The mansion was bathed in coloured lights that changed colours and patterns. The courtyard was filled with old fashion fairground rides and food stalls where you could buy pulled pork rolls with stuffing and apple sauce and mulled wine. It was all quite enchanting, which is a word that doesn’t get used too much these days. It was  quite wonderful and my photographs really don’t do the experience justice. We walked through tunnels of light. Trees sang for us. Blazing sculptures lit up the lawns. Maybe this little video will capture the experience a little better….

Poor Carol. So busy at this time of year giving concerts here there and everywhere. And on Sunday afternoon there she was again giving a pretty high profile one at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester’s symphony hall. It was my first actual social occasion since my ankle problem. It’s coming on well now. I don’t need the boot or the crutches and I’ve given up the stick that I was using to steady out my walk as well. I’ve been a good boy and do my exercises at home and have been going, religiously, to the gym where I do the routine Jimmy mapped out for me. I can still feel it but, if you saw me about, you wouldn’t know I’d had a problem. I can walk further than I could but, eventually, my ankle says ‘I’ve had enough’ and I have to rest. I can get upstairs but coming down is still problematic. Running isn’t happening at all. I was pleased to be able to keep up with the others walking about Manchester.

We caught the tram to St. Peter’s Square and then it was a short walk to the Midland Hotel. It was another of my goals to see the Midland Hotel Christmas Tree. So….tick!

I wanted a picture of me in my Peaky Blinders cap by the tree. I handed over my iPad and told them what to do. ‘Wait till the yellow square thing focuses and press the white button’. Simple. It didn’t quite work out. 150+ pictures were taken. Here’s a few of the best with me channelling my inner Tommy Shelby with cap, wool/cashmere coat (just like Tommy) and my new scarf. 

We had Kir Royales (champagne mixed with a French blackcurrant liqueur called Cassis). Delicious.

Then it was over to the Bridgewater Hall for the concert. The concert hall is only about two minutes walk from the Midland. Being one of the popular Christmas concerts it was a sell out. 

And we had the full Brigewater Hall experience. The full Hallé Orchestra was out and all three of the Hallé choirs (adult, youth and children’s). We even had the magnificent Bridgewater Hall organ working as well. 

The concert was a mixture of Christmas music, both secular and religious. It was a treat. Some pieces were just the Hallé, some just the choirs a-capella. For some we had the full monty.

Some of the music was familiar some was new to us. The Hallé Youth choir (made up of young people 13-19 with some of the lads having freshly broken voices) sang an American piece by Stephen Martin called ‘The Darkest Midnight in December.’ It was a lovely piece and they sang it quite beautifully. I couldn’t find the Hallé Youth Choir actually singing it but here’s another group singing it to give you an idea.

But the piece that got the biggest round of applause was the Hallé Children’s Choir (8 or so until their voices change I suppose) who did a delightful song called ‘Merry Christmas To Me’ by someone called Andy Beck. It was a delightful song about children demanding stuff for Christmas and not wanting PJs, socks and underwear and the like. They did actions as well. Huge round of applause. Here’s another group doing it but really not with the charm of the Hallé Children’s Choir.

With my recent difficulties, I did think there were going to be lots of things that I like to do at this time of year that I wouldn’t be able to. One was having a run out to the Hollies Farm Shop, deep in Cheshire, to visit the Hollies Christmas Barn. I may have mentioned the Hollies Farm Shop before. It’s sells delicious food of great quality. It’s the sort of place where you can throw a few bits into a basket and not have much change out of £100. I suppose there are people who can get their weekly shop there. And Cheshire is full of them of course. But, for the rest of us, it’s an occasional treat, especially at Christmas. We went down to pick up some Christmas food, the sort that’s in jars and the like, that will keep for a while. Fresh food will have to wait until the weekend. 

At this time of the year they open the Hollies Christmas Barn. It’s full of beautiful, unusual things that make thoughtful gifts. True, like the food, there are at a premium price but people appreciate the effort you go to…

I was delighted to see the Classic Mini outside, decorated up for Christmas with the family tree on the roof…

If you haven’t got your tree or wreath for your door they still have a few left…

And inside I was delighted to see bottles of Peaky Blinders Gin, made in Tommy Shelby’s stamping ground, in Walsall near Birmingham. He makes it in the drama and now you can enjoy it as well. Did I buy any? Well, I wouldn’t want to upset Tommy would I? Not wise!

One of the latest additions to Manchester’s food offering is the Mackie Mayor Market on the very edge of the Northern Quarter where it meets busy Great Ancoats Street. Named after a Victorian grandee, Mayor Mackie, it used to be the produce market where Victorian butchers would come to select their meat to sell in their shops. All that finished decades ago and since then this wonderful building has been allowed to decay and decline.

It’s been taken over by the people who developed the popular food market in Altrincham Market and they have applied their concept to this building. The building has been made perfectly safe but they haven’t over-restored it. They have kept a lot of the sense of history of the building. If I had to name the style it would be ‘tasteful, studied decrepitude.’ It opened while I have been out of sorts and this was the first time I’ve been able to get to see it, meeting up with a couple of workmates for a pre Christmas, out of office, bit of lunch.

What happens is, is you arrive and find a space on one of the long, refectory tables that occupy the centre of the market. Then you go to one of the food concessions that line the walls and order. They bring it to you. The best of the street food Manchester has to offer has been invited to set up shop, with them being chosen so you have a good selection of food to choose from. The communal, refectory tables are great because you end up chatting with complete strangers which is cool. The hipsters of the Northern Quarter have taken to this place like ducks to water.

I had some pizza from Honest Crust. I’d had their pizza at that beer festival I was involved with a few weeks ago just before my accident. From where I was sat I watched them make the dough, put on the toppings and then cooked it in one of the wood fired ovens. Fresh as it gets. I had a glass of wine to go with it from one of the bars.

Here’s the menu…

The rules! Doggies are welcome and so are children. But, if the children get out of hand they WILL be fed to the Mackie Mayor Monsters. You can see them below. I’m a big fan of kids in restaurants but only the well behaved ones. If I’m paying a lot for a meal I don’t want rug rats running riot about me, if I wanted that I’d be going to certain international, chain burger joints, #nevergoingtohappen  On the other hand, I will put up with any amount of doggies…

 

My foot decided it had had enough of the Christmas Markets and Manchester in general. No way was it going to carry me to the new M&S store on Spinningfields and it was time to go home. This had me hobbling back along Lloyd Street to St. Peter’s Square. Normally a 2 minutes walk, Lloyd Street is an easy passage between Deansgate and St. Peter’s Square and fit Tom has never noticed before that it’s built on a slope leading down to the river. I felt every centimetre of the climb this time. It may not have been an assault on the North Col of Everest but it certainly felt like a climb up Snowden. Two years olds passed me with effortless ease. 

Eventually I got to the tram station in St. Peter’s Square and must have just missed the tram to East Didsbury which stops at Chorlton. Being a seasoned tram traveller, I know that if you jump on any tram heading west, you can get off at the next station, Deansgate /Castlefield, and catch the Manchester Airport tram which also stops at Chorlton. ‘Jumping’ isn’t something I can do at the moment. I arrived just as the airport tram was leaving. Sometimes the universe just conspires to thwart you.t

However it did give me time to look around. The Hilton Tower looked wonderful looming over the station into the cold, blue sky…

The Axis Tower has reached the 10th floor on its’ tiny plot between the Rochdale Canal and the tramline. It doesn’t look that tall because the station is way above street level so you can’t see the bottom bit of the tower. Another 18 floors to go…

But the towers that have really grown since I was last here are the Owen Street Towers. They are building the podium with all the services at the moment. The taller of the two towers in the pictures will be almost as tall as the Hilton Tower. The shorter one, in the distance, with eventually be the tallest, breaking 200m and 64 stories to become the new tallest building in the city. Two more towers are going to join them. The entire development has now made a impact on the most blinkered of commuters who assumed it was just another block of apartments. The towers were looking good against the winter sky. By the time the Christmas Markets 2018 roll round they will have reached their full height. And by Christmas 2019 they may be occupied and all lit up…

Having got as far as the Cross Street end of King Street, I was within a mulled wine whiff of the main Christmas Market in Albert Square. It had to be done. First thing I noticed was that the entire market was ringed by a concrete barrier. The Manchester Arena attack, back in May, showed us we were not immune to problems elsewhere in the world. So with that in mind, and the memory of an attack on the Christmas Market in Berlin last Christmas, we have these precautions put into place to keep us safe. Sad but necessary…

Inside the concrete ring it was its’ usual festive self with Father Christmas presiding over it all from his perch outside the Town Hall. It was Monday so it was pleasantly busy but without the weekend crowds. I got talking to a nice couple from Yorkshire who’d come over to shop and enjoy the city…

Singing Moose was back in his place serenading us with carols in German. He swaps from that to English, he’s very good at languages…

I was sad to find that the ladies from Luxenmbourg, from whom I like to buy my first mulled wine of the season, weren’t in their usual place. Maybe they have decided to retire. Here’s this year’s mulled wine mug. As usual, I paid my deposit but took it home as a souvenir…

The bright, winter sun lit up the buildings brilliantly but my phone camera couldn’t cope with it and plunged the paths between the stalls into darkness. But you get the idea…

At this point my foot had had enough exercise and I hobbled back to the tram stop to go home.

While I’ve been laid up the city has been changing with new places opening. I did try to get to the new Marks & Spencer’s store in No.1 Spinningfields but had to give up that idea. It was definitely a bridge too far. It’s not the ankle that aches I’ve discovered, but where the swollen part of my foot rubs against my shoes. I can walk around barefoot in comfort but shoes, especially after a workout at the gym or a longer than normal walk, can be painful. 

I’ve been keeping up with developments through social media and one development that intrigued me was something called the Google Digital Garage that has opened up shop in the old Boots Store on exclusive King Street. Rent of a store on King Street isn’t cheap but Google can afford it I suppose. I had expected it to be selling all kinds of Google goodies but there isn’t a thing on sale.

What it actually is, is a resource set up by Google to support people in the city to grow digital businesses. It runs courses on various topics that you can book into and they are all free. The idea is that Google help grow the next generation of digital businesses. Manchester is really into the digital industry. There are hubs around the universities, the airport, at Media City and in the Northern Quarter where unassuming old Victorian buildings house digital businesses that have been grown in the city that are worth billions. 

When Manchester was Cottonopolis and was a huge, old industry city, making cotton that clothed  the world, the presence of the industry was obvious with cotton mills and grand warehouses across the city’s landscape. Tens of thousands of people worked in the industry and the city was black with the smoke the industry produced. The digital industry is far more low key and subtle but incredibly important to the future of the city, producing jobs and wealth. 

Google have recognised that this is going on in the city and we have to applaud them for doing their bit to support the city. It’s not restricted to companies either. Individuals can go in and I was interested in the ‘writing for social media’ session that was taking place while I was in the garage. The young lady in the reception thought, as I have this blog, I was a good fit for it. This blog is a hobby but, regular readers will know, it has got me into places and doing things I wouldn’t normally have had the chance to do. I don’t intend to set it up as a business (well not at the moment but who knows?) but if it can be developed to open up new opportunities I’m up for that. I’m going in on the 2nd January to start. 

Just near the Google Digital Garage, a nice new store has opened on the corner of King Street and Cross Street. Called Patagonia, it’s an American company that sells rather nice casual clothes. I went in and had a look around and got chatting to a couple of the staff. It’s a new store and they’re on a charm offensive getting their brand known in the city. They were rather sad that they’d had news that the company’s HQ building had been badly damaged in the dreadful fires that have swept through Ventura in California. No one was hurt, vital business information was safe and it was just the physical building that was damaged. This store in Manchester, selling rather nice clothes, will be fine.

 

I’d been wearing my favourite jeans when I had my fall 9 weeks ago. I’d bought them from GAP a couple of years back and they were developing nicely. They were good with sports shoes and a sweatshirt but looked equally good with a pair of dress shoes and my wool/cashmere overcoat. Before they put my dislocated ankle back in place they had to cut them off me. I was high on gas and air and I don’t know what pained me more, the manipulation of my joint back into position or the ruining of my jeans. So while I was in St. Ann’s Square I visited the GAP store and replaced them. I fell lucky and there was a sale on with a whopping 40% off!

It also gave me a chance to have a first look around the Christmas Markets. By now I’d usually have visited them on several occasions but this hasn’t been a normal Autumn for me. Here are some random pictures from the market in St. Ann’s Square…

And a few more taken in King Street…