Latest Entries »

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. 

My second trip to HOME this week at their kind invitation, this time to see a piece by the GECKO Theatre Company called ‘The Wedding.’

With no preconceptions of what to expect, it had to be one of the most extraordinary evenings I’ve spent in a theatre in a long time. It’s an intoxicating mixture of dance, music and theatre. The day after and I am still buzzing trying to order my thoughts about what I had seen.

It begins with some of the performers arriving, almost being born, down a tube onto a cushion of soft toys. They are issued with a wedding dress. My thoughts were that the dress signified a person’s marriage to society. We ‘wed’ society, work for its good, support it, show it loyalty and society, for its part, takes care of and protects us. Over the next eighty minutes the performers explore this flawed relationship through dance, music and theatre. I may be entirely wrong but that was what I brought away from the evening. Other members of the audience may have a completely different take on it. And that’s no bad thing.

What we did share was an admiration of the stamina and dance and acting prowess of the nine members of ensemble. For the eighty minutes of the performance they throw themselves into the work with a relentless physicality. It was only at the end when I was able to count that there were just nine of them. Off stage there must have been changes, as well choreographed as what we saw on stage, to ready the cast for the next part. I really thought there were many more than nine.

Parts are funny, parts are poignant, parts are disturbing. The scene where one of the performers is interviewed by three passive aggressive people in a cramped, tiny box, causing the interviewee to declare he could not breathe induced a similar reaction in me. The performers dig deep for the final part of the piece with a dramatic conclusion creating a percussive rhythm that spread from the stage through the space to the audience. You could physically feel the dance, almost as if we became as part of it.

It was a unique and complex experience. It was exhilarating and enthusiastic. Sadly, only two more days until it moves on. I will certainly keeping an eye out for when they return to the city. 

In a few days I’ll be going to see Ballet Rambert’s iconic dance performance ‘Ghost Dances’. Having seen it many years ago I’m looking forward to revisiting it. I felt that ‘The Wedding’ has the same potential. Wonderful stuff.

Occasionally my blog allows me to do something special, something I wouldn’t normally get the chance to do. Well it’s happened again this week. I’ve been invited to the press nights of two theatrical events at HOME, Manchester’s contemporary theatre/cinema/art space on First Street.

It seems that HOME has been on its holidays this August, primarily up to Edinburgh where it’s had a high old time trawling the Edinburgh Festival and Festival Fringe for some of the tastiest pieces to show off at HOME to a Manchester audience as the Autumn nights draw in. It’s been a two way process though. The piece I was asked to review for the Manchester Fringe Festival, ‘The Marriage of Kim K’, back in July has been very well received up in the Scottish capital this August.

Last night I was asked to review ‘Letters to Morrissey’ a piece of theatre by Glasgow based Gary McNair. As it had been chosen as being one of the best of the shows on the massive Edinburgh Fringe Festival, by people with an eye for these things, I suspected I would enjoy it but didn’t realise just how much I would do.

First, I have to say I’m not a fan of Morrissey, the Manchester born front man of the iconic band, The Smiths. I know that’s almost heresy in this city but there you are. So when, almost at the start of the evening, Gary McNair, invited anyone who didn’t hold the view that Morrissey was the greatest ever musician to live might want to leave, I wondered if I should. I took a chance and stayed.

As it happens Morrissey’s physical involvement in the evening is minimal, he’s spoken about, written to but never puts in an appearance. It’s set in a dull, depressed, small Scottish town thats only claim to fame is that it’s near Scotland’s preeminent suicide spot. The main character of the piece is a guy who we see in the present but also as a 15 year old, a boy who is introverted and unsure of himself. He doesn’t know what he is or what he wants to do. He is confused and has dark thoughts which appear in his school work. This brings him to the notice, not in a good way, of his teachers and he’s referred to the school’s guidance counsellor. The ‘I’m cool with the kids’ counsellor suggests that the boy finds someone to talk to about his problems. The choice isn’t great. There’s his friend, Jan the Lesbian (that’s how she likes to be known) and his best friend, Tony, who has, we learn, infinity more, and deeper, problems than he does. So he turns to writing to Morrissey in the hope that he will come up with the answers to his problems. As he shares his thoughts and worries with the musician who, stubbornly, won’t reply, we learn more about the boy and his relationships. It would spoil the experience if I told you where it all leads to.

Set in the bedroom of the Morrissey obsessed boy, the piece is dryly witty in some parts, sad and touching in others as we learn more about the boy and his relationships with the other characters in the piece, especially with Tony. It is always absorbing. It’s a powerful monologue, Gary McNair switches from one character to another with consummate ease, his characterisations leaving the audience in no doubt where they are in the story. For it is, indeed, a story we are being told. Having said that I did wonder how much, if any, was autobiographical?

The 65 minute length of the piece passed all too quickly. It’s touching and engaging and, for any 15 year old boys struggling to come to terms with what it’s all about, confirms that, for most of us, it does all come right in the end. I qualify with the word ‘most’ of course. It’s at HOME until this coming Saturday 16th and would be a hour (+5 minutes) very well spent. 

No ASDA this weekend so a completely free weekend. We had considered driving up to the north east for the weekend but the weather is bad an no one fancied looking at The Angel of the North/Durham Cathedral/the Tyne bridges/Bambrugh Castle/the Duchess of Northumberland’s poison garden (never cross that lady) in the rain.

So home it was. Saturday broke with terrific rain but dried up enough later for a trip into the city for a few treats to enjoy while watching TV and listening to The Last Night of the Proms tonight. It’s a poignant day today for Manchester. The Manchester Arena is finally reopening after the terrorist attack in May. There is to be a benefit concert with the money going to a fund for a permanent memorial for the 22 people who died. They are still working to repair the foyer area where the attack took place but it will be open to the public. It’s the main connection point between Victoria Station and the Arena so can’t be closed permanently, nor should it be. I usually record events that happen in the city but couldn’t bring myself to go up there and look and take pictures. It seemed disrespectful and the events are all too raw for me. And if I feel like that imagine how the families and friends of the victims must feel. Though I’ve heard they have already been to see the site. I, personally, will let fate take charge and when I next find myself naturally going to an event at the Arena will walk through. 

Moving on….I came across this group of people staring intently at their smart phones outside Barton Arcade . Asked what was going on, they were searching for Pokémon. Apparently, Barton Arcade is a good spot to find rare ones. We are all entitled to our interests but, honestly, some of these people are old enough to know better.

Dutch flags… Dutch Cookie Guy was back in the city, as he’d promised, selling his wares. I love his toffee waffles. I asked for two packs for £6 and he persuaded me to have four for £10. He’s good! I didn’t need much encouragement to be honest. I was a bit disappointed he didn’t have any of the new tins I’d seen in the summer but he promised he’d be back for the Christmas Markets with plenty. Only eight weeks away people! Start panic buying sprouts now!

UK flag…The Great British Cheese Company was selling truckles of cheese. I bought a Tasty Lancashire Cheese (tasty is part of the name of the cheese as well as a description of it) called Lancaster Bomber and a strong Red Leicester Cheese called Red Arrow. 

I had a trip to the Lindt store for some of their delicious truffles and went to Waterstone’s, the book store, or find a book called ‘Viking Britain’ that I’d seen reviewed in the Sunday Times. It sounded a good read and I thought I’d try it out as most of my knowledge about the period comes from reading the Bernard Cornwell ‘Uthred of Bebbenburg’ novels and watching stuff on TV. The guy who wrote it, Thomas Williams, is in charge of the Viking collection at the British Museum so I’m thinking he knows a lot. 

We have a large collection of those black LP records that people used to listen to around the house. They haven’t been played in years but assorted people bought them, some decades ago, and loved them and it seemed churlish to dump them. There was talk of taking them to one of the stores in the N4 that specialises in vinyl and seeing what could be got for them but it never happened. I’m glad.

We stopped playing them because technology moved on and we began to collect CDs with the crystal clear sound. They were virtually indestructible and smaller and more convenient. And then we went on to downloading music. I have to say I’m not a fan. I tend to forget the music that’s on my iPhone. It rarely gets listened to. At some point in the 90s (I think) the player for the vinyl records broke. We were into CDs by then so we didn’t replace it. Then it seemed to be all but impossible to replace the turntable at all. Our vinyl records have sat there, virtually ignored ever since. So sad.

But vinyl is having a revival I’m told. And I’d begun to see turntables appearing in the shops again. I’ve been saying for a while I should get one. Last night was one of the times when I did this. So, I was passing the John Lewis store at Cheadle Royal this afternoon and I thought I’d call in and look. And I saw these turntables in these cool cases.

I did think about the bright orange one…

But went for the blue one instead…

This is what it looked like inside…

When I got it home I set it up. It took all of two minutes as opposed to the ‘download this’….’get this app’….’connect the Internet’….’set up this account’….’choose a password’ palaver you have with modern technology.

Two minutes from opening the box to listening to vintage Kate Bush! It’s the way forward…