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Another stall that interested me was Fabrikk. Having enjoyed ‘Peaky Blinders’ on TV and seen ‘Beaky Blinder’ the duck in the corporate duck race, I liked the classy flat caps on this stall. Some were the classic ‘Peaky Blinder’ caps favoured by the members of 19th century Birmingham gang made famous in the TV programme. Minus the razor blades hidden in the peak of the cap of course. Hence the name of the gang. Go figure how they got their name. In Manchester we had ‘The Scuttlers’, a similar organisation famous for their sartorial splendour and their viciousness. If you’re going to be a thug be a well dressed one I suppose. This all happened at the same time as the events portrayed in the Leonardo di Caprio film, ‘The Gangs of New York’, so I suppose it must have been an international phenomenon.

Kate, who makes the caps, also had some in the style of the Yorkshire Flat Cap. These were the headgear of choice of the working men and boys of the industrial cities (obviously not the ones blinding people with razor blades) of the North, the guys who worked in the cotton and woollen mills of Manchester and Leeds. They are still popular but have gone upmarket. You often see well to do kids from Cheshire in them these days while the kids in the poorer suburbs favour designer baseball caps. 

Kate also makes bags. I was drawn to the coloured patterns in the fabric first because I thought they were leather. What they were made of was the bark of the Cork Oak that has been treated to make a vegan leather. They had the look and the feel of a very soft leather. Cork Oak used to be used to make corks to seal wine bottles. Almost every wine now has a screw top which has all but killed the cork oak industry. And ruined that little ceremony the wine waiters enjoyed, opening the bottle at the your table with the corkscrew and getting you to try a taste before accepting it. Twisting a screw top just doesn’t cut the mustard. If I can find the right pattern and colour I’d likeliness of these caps to,wear with my cashmere/wool overcoat in the autumn/winter.

So, I’m having an extra day on the Easter weekend, lying in bed eating the last of the hot cross buns and drinking tea when, BAM!, we’re in a general election! Is it me or is there a lot more politics about these days? We seem to have been on a conveyor belt of momentous decisions for the last couple of years. Last week it was Turkey deciding something or other and the President winning by the ‘narrowest of margins.’ Last year when Brexit was decided by the SAME percentages it was being called a ‘decisive decision.’

What will happen seems to have already decided. The present government will win but with a much bigger majority making it easier to negotiate Brexit. It will also mean that the present PM, who got the job by default last summer, will have her own mandate from the people. ‘Mandates from the people’ are very important to politicians. It gives them the right to ignore the people who voted for them legitimately as opposed to ignoring them without the mandate. Or am I cynical? It might also put the Labour Party out of its misery. Their leader, popular with party members, loathed by his own MPs and regarded as a fool by huge swathes of the electorate, he won’t be able to survive a pounding at the ballot box from the electorate at large.

Back to my normal life. I was at the Maker’s Market in Spinningfields checking out what was on offer. I got talking to the guy who was selling all things Manchester City. He’s a big fan of Manchester’s richest and most successful team, playing in blue at the Etihad Stadium. 

It was an interesting talk and I learned something I’d never known before. Back in the 1930s Manchester has THREE football teams. Manchester City was the more successful in those days. Manchester United were struggling. The third team, called Manchester Central, playing at Belle Vue, was doing well and wanted admittance to the football league. This would have been particularly bad for Manchester United who were in the second division. They may have lost supporters. Manchester City and United came together and conspired to keep Manchester Central out. Manchester Central had had two successful seasons but were denied access to the league, twice, after applying. After that they began to fail as a team and were eventually wound up. Manchester could have had three teams. I wonder what colour they would have/did play in? A bit of an investigation is in order I think.

However you mark it, in church or in an overindulgence in chocolate eggs, or just by having a relaxing couple of days with family and friends, have a good Easter. This time last year things were a bit frantic in our home. We have sailed into calmer waters now so I decided to decorate the wooden ducks for the season and fill vases with spring flowers. Enjoy…

While we were waiting for the duck races there was plenty going on to entertain us. On the New Bailey side of the river they had set up a little fun fair with old fashioned rides for the little children. I liked the contrast between the old fashioned rides and the new buildings on Spinningfields and New Bailey.

I thought the daffodils were a bit freaky.

On the Spinningfields side of the river the Maker’s Market has set up an Easter weekend market.

Winston was there selling his bandanas. He’s a bit of a fixture at this particular venue. He has legions of fans who come to see him.

Over the last year or so we have got used to the bright, yellow water taxis, or Waxis, plying the rivers and canals between the city centre to Salford Quays and on to the Trafford Centre. One route starts in Castlefield and goes to Media City and then on to the Trafford Centre. A second route is being started that will eventually go from Victoria Station, along the River Irwell to Spinningfields and then to Media City. Given the grid lock that can happen in Manchester in the rush hour, a sedate ride to work along the canals and rivers is a viable and pleasant alternative. Tourists enjoy the ride as well. Over the summer I’ll take a trip and see what it’s like. It’ll give be a different perspective on the city.

I got chatting to the guys running the system. One of the Waxis was moored on the New Bailey side of the river. I wondered about a third route along the Rochdale Canal from Piccadilly Station to Media City. There must be a constant stream of BBC types,and other media bods, arriving from London and wanting to get to Media City. The route has a dedicated tram route already. They said no. There are too many locks on the section of the canal between the station and Castlefield. If you’re having a drink at one of the bars on Canal Street or Deansgate Locks it’s always fun watching the boats negotiate the locks but it does take an age. Especially when they don’t make it. 

The duck races were supposed to start at the Bridge Street bridge and finish under the Irwell Street bridge passing through Spinningfields and New Bailey. The problem was there was a stiff breeze blowing across the river at right angles so they changed the direction of the race starting at the footbridge and finishing at the start. As they say, ‘in Manchester we do things differently.’

Then another problem happened. The wind blew all the ducks, in both races, into the New Bailey bank where they stubbornly stayed. So the Waxi saved the day, ran up and down the river creating waves that eventually got the ducks moving in the direction of the start, sorry, finish!

Pictures of the Corporate Duck Race with the Waxi trying to move them along…

I was quite pleased that I caught the launch of the main duck race with a golden shower (behave!) of ducks being dropped into the river…

The ducks were reluctant to swim. They all clumped together in the middle of the river having a meeting about how to deal with the race, and then decided to follow their corporate buds into the bank…

Although the duck race is a bit of harmless fun over the Easter weekend, it does have a serious point in raising money for charity. This year the charity was Brainwave, an organisation that helps children who have born with, or suffered, some kind of brain trauma and helps them to become more independent.

The companies that create wealth in Spinnifields and New Bailey sponsor large ducks for a corporate duck race with the money going to the charity. The ducks were on show on the steps of the Bridge Street bridge prior to the race. A great deal of effort goes into dressing them.

My favourite was the Beaky Blinder duck. He’s dressed like a Victorian gang member from Birmingham, made famous by a  rather good TV show called Peaky Blinders. The Birmingham gang got their name from the razor blades they concealed in the peaks of their caps which they would blind their enemies with. I wonder if this duck has one in his cap. He intends to win! Manchester had a similar Victorian gang culture. One of the famous gangs here was called The Scuttlers…

Amy, gone but not forgotten…

Elvis of course…

A certain American president. If this one had come second he would have claimed to have won…

I took a lot of pictures today. So many I can’t think of a simple way to arrange them. So I’ve decided to do them chronologically. Cross Deansgate from Brazennose Street takes you onto the Spinningfields campus. Dominating the plaza between the Armani Store and the John Rylands Library was this huge rubber duck. I’m going to need a considerably larger bath…

It’s the Easter weekend in Manchester. Well it’s the Easter weekend everywhere I suppose. And, as Good Friday is a holiday (in the true sense of the word for once), most of us are off. Monday is a national holiday as well and I’ve managed to get Tuesday off so won’t being back in work until Wednesday. A five day weekend! My future?

I caught the tram into the city centre. It was crowded. They had it on Sunday service on a day that everyone was out and about enjoying the city. It’s nowhere near as warm as last weekend, a much more usual April weekend for us. I needed to get some bits for the Easter weekend. OK, it was more chocolate. 

The Manchester Rubber Duck race was on. It’s become a permanent fixture in the city’s calendar, taking place on the River Irwell between Spinningfields and Manchester’s (well technically it’s Salford’s) new business district at New Bailey. It’s a fun, free event and a nice way to entertain the kids over Easter. It’s in its eight year. 

I decided to check it out. My route took me along Brazennose Street from Albert Square to Deansgate. The street takes you through Lincoln Square with the statue of the American president giving a drab space some dignity. I’ve seen plans to replace a rather gaunt, almost empty, 1960s office block on one side of the square. As well as a new building they will be realigning the square. It needs it. Let’s hope they do a good job on it like the have in St Peter’s Square. In the meanwhile some more of the cast iron planters I saw on New Cathedral Street have appeared here as well. I like them, they have class and the Manchester bees look good.

I’ve found some old photographs of Manchester and thought it would be fun to see how much the city had changed over the years. I’ve slotted a couple of them in some posts recently. Here’s one of Corporation Street in the late 1950s. Some work seems to be being done on the street. We are looking north along along Corporation Street towards where Exchange Square will be. The buildings in the far distance are, mostly, still there but the foreground is virtually unrecognisable today. The wavy canopy is around the building that housed the, then, new Marks & Spencer’s store. All the buildings on the right disappeared in the late 1960s when the massive Arndale Centre was built. Sefton’s was an old Manchester bar that was rebuilt into the Arndale Centre but I don’t suppose it looked much like it did in this picture. Back then people seemed quite indifferent to our heritage.

This is what Corporation Street looks like today. It was the epicentre of the 1996 IRA bomb which was driven into the city centre in a van and parked just on the left. The bomb did massive damage but no one died. Terrorists were honourable in those days I suppose. They told the police to clear people away. Marks & Spencer’s was destroyed being replaced by the building on the left which houses the new M&S and Selfridges today. The Arndale Centre was severely damaged. Some was restored while part of it was rebuilt. Sefton’s disappeared completely. The skybridge links the Arndale to M&S and Selfridges. Corporation Street is now tree lined and has just had a refurb itself with the new tram line running down it. When they were digging it up they found the Edwardian tracks of the tram system they had then. 

The only common thing in both pictures is the red post box. It’s the most famous post box in the city. After the bomb of 1996, it was the only thing that, defiantly, was left standing almost unscratched. And the mail inside was in such a good condition that it could be delivered only a couple of days late.

Here’s Stevenson Square looking very gaunt in very late Victorian times.

Here it is today. It still looks gaunt but is now surrounded by trendy bars, cafés and restaurants and is one of the coolest places in the N4. It still has an edge to it which goes well with the cocktails, designer coffees and Roman pizza slices that we like to enjoy here.

A picture of Piccadilly Gardens in the early 1940s. Queen Victoria is over on the right. You can see the sunken gardens but the street level gardens are full of shelters where people could hide in Nazi air raids. Would they have withstood a direct hit? I think not. Lewis’s department store is in the distance. That was still there until the late 1990s, sadly now gone.

Here is the view now. Queen Victoria is still there but the gardens have changed beyond recognition. They are about to have yet another upgrade as well. The old gardens were loved but what is there today is avoided by many. And they have taken another plunge into decline and infamy this week as they have made the national news due to the number of people using the drug, Spice, in the gardens which turns people into zombies. Over the warm weekend there was almost a queue of police cars and ambulances carting victims of this drug off to hospital while the rest of us have to wind our way across the gardens avoiding the comatose bodies. It’s on the main route into the city centre from Piccadilly Station and isn’t a great first impression. Lewis’s is now cheap and cheerful clothes provider, PRIMARK. 

In the 1930s, there was a range of Victorian cotton warehouses. They were destroyed in the Christmas Blitz of 1940. Once the ruins had been dealt with they used the area for water reservoirs that the fire service could use in any future air raids. You can see the bus station where the tram station is today with the gardens beyond.

After the war the area became a surface car park and in the 1960s the Piccadilly Plaza was built. Here it is today. It’s had a makeover restoring it to what it looked like in the 1960s. Some people hate it but it is a landmark building in the city and I think the skyline would be poorer without it. I did wonder about the concrete patterning on the side of City Tower. It’s a representation of the circuit boards in old transistor radio sets. Back in the 1960s it was cutting edge technology. The reservoirs sit where the tower is today. So much as the city changed here that I couldn’t get anywhere near the point where the old picture was taken from. Apologies.

We’ve had an unseasonably warm weekend in the UK. It got to 25/78 in Cambridge apparently. While not quite as hot as that in Manchester it did top 21/70 in the city tempting guys out in shorts and women in summer frocks for the first time this year. It’s not going to be as warm this week, as we go back to work, but still pleasant.

The warmth has brought out the blousey, pink cherry blossom all over the city. It’s always a pleasure to see this. I feel quite Japanese in my anticipation of this event. I virtually had to queue with the tourists to take pictures of the cherry blossom around the Cathedral. The blossom is at its peak at the moment. It’s a pity it has no perfume. And I don’t think there’s anything in it for the bees either. Still, it looks wonderful.

Here’s a picture of a corner of Manchester Cathedral in 1942. It was bombed badly by the Luftwaffe just before Chrsitmas 1941. The part you can see is in ruins, so was the rest. It was the second most damaged cathedral in the country after Coventry Cathedral and that was levelled in a particularly vicious raid on that city that eradicated the wooden frames medieval city for ever. A great loss apparently. We are lucky that Manchetser Cathedral survived. The problem was its position, within minutes walk of two of the city’s railway stations, Exchange and Victoria. You can see the ruins of Exchange Station across the river from the cathedral.

I tried to take this picture from the same spot. This is as close as I could get to it. Part of the gardens around the cathedral were cut off. They were putting on an Easter Passion Play and there were fences keeping me out. The passion play hasn’t been without controversy. Someone came up with the idea of giving people a ‘Jesus’ experience by offering to crucify them on the cross used in the play. In the end that didn’t happen. In my picture you can see the cathedral totally restored (the war damaged organ has been replaced with a new one and will be officially heard for the first time this Easter weekend) and Exchange Station has been replaced by glass apartments and offices.