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There was a huge marquee on the lower lawn. It was where amateur gardeners could bring things that they had grown in their own gardens and have them judged. I say ‘amateur’ in that they are not paid for their hard work but they are very professional and very accomplished at what they do. Certain plants seem to have more passionate interest in them than others. 

Roses are one of them. They are not a native of the U.K.. The Romans brought them to these islands to decorate the gardens of their villas, possibly from Asia. They have escaped from the gardens and wild roses are found across the country in woodlands and hedgerows. Over the centuries they have become interwoven in our culture, especially the red rose of Lancashire and white rose of Yorkshire. We have changed them over the centuries, raising different varieties for different forms, shapes, colours and perfume. People devote their lives to producing the perfect rose and like to bring them to shows, such as this, to have it judged. Similar shows will be occurring all over the country at this time of year from small village shows to the huge extravaganzas at places like Chelsea and Tatton. It’s lovely to go to Tatton and Chelsea and see what can be achieved by famous gardeners with £million budgets but I enjoy the charm of local shows. Here’s some of the roses that I liked…

Sweet Peas are another plant that people are passionate about. It grows wild in the countryside but has been changed by gardeners to create hundreds of varieties with myriad colours and a wonderful perfume. It’s especially popular in the north of England where the working men in the factories, with not a lot of money or space, could grow this plant…

Chrysanthemums are another flower that excites plant enthusiasts. They were very popular in the last century but then fell from favour with their gaudy colours and shapes. But they are having a comeback now…

It wouldn’t be a garden show if the Woman’s Institute didn’t have a stand. The Woman’s Institute is a venerable organisation set up in the early twentieth century. It was set up in 1915 to allow women to get involved in food production in World War I. It had a reputation for producing food and pushing Christianity, ‘Jam and Jerusalem’ and was the province of forceful, middle class ladies with agendas. Of late it has changed, though it still won’t admit men. It still does great jam and cakes but has been involved with more serious issues affecting women and their families. Famously, they became involved with a project to raise money for cancer research when the husband of one of the WI ladies in Yorshire died of it. They wanted to raise some money for a bench for the hospice where he died. They hit on the idea of doing a nude calendar. It shocked the more staid members of the WI but the calendar was a huge success. It became a play and a movie that was a huge hit around the world. We are lucky enough to know the writer, Tim Firth. On the original calendar the WI ladies, who were all of a certain age, spared their blushes with strategically placed domestic items. My favourite line from the film was when one lady was having her picture taken with her modesty preserved by two cherry topped buns. One of the other ladies says ‘I think we’re going to need considerably bigger buns!’ Sunflowers also appeared in the pictures and, since, have become associated with the Women’s Institute.

Some more spectacular vegetables grown by amateurs in the own gardens, including some of the biggest leeks I’ve ever seen. All beautifully presented…

More random plants I liked…

I liked young William’s vegetable/fruit dinosaur that won him first prize…

And a flower filled train…

This tank was part of a garden designed to bring the injuries that some of our soldiers have suffered in recent wars to people’s attention…

The county of Lancashire has something of an image problem. It’s seen as the home of big cities like Manchester and Liverpool. That’s true. And it’s seen as a place filled with decaying, old industrial towns with social problems and high unemployment. True, but 30 years out of date. The continuing success of Manchester and, increasingly, Liverpool is giving these old towns a new lease of life. People visit Manchester to enjoy the city vibe and then head north to the Lakes. If they slowed down they would see how beautiful Lancashire can be. Here views across the stunning Ribble valley…  

Below the house in Astley Park, there is an ornamental lake covered in water lilies, sadly not in bloom in late July, and the home to noisy ducks. On an ordinary day there is a permanent path from the house, round the lake to the lower lawns where there were more exhibits to enjoy at the flower show.

To cope with the crowd they put in a temporary pontoon bridge across the lake. A perculiar thing happened as we were crossing it. Back in 2000, they opened a footbridge across the River Thames in London. It connects St. Paul’s Cathedral to the Tate Modern Gallery on the South Bank. It’s rather elegant and cost a fortune. They opened it and, almost immediately, had to close it down. When people cross a bridge we do a strange thing. We unconsciously match our steps to the steps of everyone else on the bridge rather like a platoon of soldiers marching. The steps set up vibrations and the vibrations caused the bridge to sway alarmingly throwing people off their feet. They had to close the bridge for months and add features to stop the movement. Before they reopened it they had platoons of soldiers march across it to see what would happen. It stayed still. Crossing the bridge at Astley Park on Saturday, the same thing began to happen. It felt like being on an unstable boat in bad weather. On the way back we used the other path.

Before we checked out the other marquees we had a drink. There was a pop up theatre surrounded by street food vans. The concept of street food has moved way beyond the big metropolitan areas like London and Manchester and every festival in the smallest of places has vans selling artisan this and small batch that. We wanted a drink. It was a choice between the Presecco Van….

….or it being Pimms-o-clock from the bar made out of a butchered classic Mini…

We went for the Pimms. It’s Pimms mixed with lemonade with ice, cut fruit and cucumber added. It’s a staple of the English summer and drunk by the tanker load at places like Wimbledon…

We listened to this young lady singing. She is a local girl with a good voice. Throughout the festival different, local, amateur acts entertained people. She sang an eclectic mix of songs from the likes of George Michael to Katy Perry. Then she did a little speech. She’d promised a friend she would do something. Her friend had been injured in the attack at the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena a few weeks ago. She said she wanted to sing a song as a tribute to her and the others. One of the victims who died was from Chorley and the youngest victim who died, just 8, was from a small village not far from the town. She did a beautiful rendition of ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ by Oasis. It’s become an anthem for the city this year. Good girl.

The Red Rose flag of Lancashire was flying proudly reminding us where we were. Sorry Yorkshire…

On the lawns, just outside Astley Hall, they had erected the Flower Marquee. Here specialist growers displayed their finest produce in the hope of getting a Gold medal. Silver Gilt wouldn’t be bad. Silver or Bronze they would be disappointed with. An honourable mention would be as bad as an insult. I’ve been through this process myself. The problem is you don’t know exactly what the judges are looking for. Perfection crossed with imagination gets you a Gold I think. Points get knocked off for little slips but, once you have your medal, you can’t find out what let you down. I got a Silver Gilt and blame the slugs for decimating some of my plants. A few days later, in the slug free zone that is St. Ann’s Square, the plants had recovered and I might have got a gold.

Here are some of the displays at Chorley. Some spectacular chrysanthemums…

Acers…

Oriental lilies…

Alliums. I grew some of these for the first time this year. I was impressed with them. So I’ve bought some bulbs to add to our display for next year…

Cacti and succulents….

Random plants…

A spectacular display of vegetables…

Some more close up pictures. The onions were particularly impressive…

Whitehall is one of the most impressive streets in London. It runs from Parilament Square to Trafalgar Square and is lined with grand government offices that were built to run an empire. While we may no longer have an empire we are still an influential country and decisions made in the buildings do have an effect far away from here. Half way down is Horse Guards Parade, beloved of tourists where you can get really close to some of the Queen’s guards on their horses. The Cenotaph, where we remember the dead of wars is here and Downing Street is just off it.

Near the Trafalgar Square end is a building called Trafalgar Studios. It used to be the Whitehall Theatre, one of the West End’s many theatres. When it was the Whitehall Theatre it was famous for a particular form of comedy play. They usually involved some guy going off for a weekend in a country house with his mistress for a bit of illicit hanky panky. Through a series of convoluted plot devices his wife would end up there as well. Wife and mistress had to be kept apart. Eventually they meet and mistress is passed off as the mistress of, say, the local vicar. Cue local vicar’s wife/bishop turning up to discover the vicar in a compromising situation with mistress in underwear. The mistress turns out to be the vicar’s wife’s sister or, indeed, the bishop’s wife. You get the idea. At one point there will be lots of doors being opened and slammed shut revealing people in compromising situations. 

The style of comedy was known as Whitehall Farce. Due to the theatre’s proximity to the centre of government along Whitehall, any scandal in government in the UK is also called a Whitehall Farce. And we have had situations where people have come and gone at speed and situations where politicians have been found in hotels with women not their wives or, indeed, in one of the London parks enjoying the company of a young professional gentleman. All very entertaining for the rest of us but severely embarrassing for them. Personally I don’t care what they get up to in their private lives, unless it’s illegal, so long as they are running the country well. I’m very French like that where a politician’s private life is precisely that. And you just can’t imagine anyone even thinking of doing anything like that in Frau Merkel’s Berlin.

I’ve never seen an episode of The West Wing but imagine that it deals with the doings of the President’s office in the White House in Washington DC. It’s supposed to be good. But life is often stranger than fiction and I doubt if the scriptwriters would have come up with the doings of the present incumbent of the Oval Office.

When Mr Trump said he was standing for office we thought that sounds like a fun idea. When he actually won the Republican nomination we raised our eyebrows. Then he ‘won.’ I put it in inverted commas because Mrs C. actually won more votes. Here that would have meant she would have got the job. But, because they use a system that seems fine to elect a state governor, the guy who came second gets the job!

Well we are where we are. We thought that Trump would be surrounded by people who knew what they were doing and that they would run the country while Trump planted trees and cut ribbons. But it’s been six months of chaos and there’s no end in sight. He announces stuff on TWITTER and it would be all very entertaining if it was some less important country. But it’s the USA and whoever is in charge has a direct effect on every person on the planet. So I will have my say.

With all the comings and goings of people it does sound like a classic Whitehall Farce. And we’re just waiting for the moment when someone opens a door and finds someone with their pants down. Who do you think……

One of my favourite Manchester blogs that I like to follow is ‘The Mancorialist.’ There’s a link to his blog on the right of this post on mine. It’s worth a look. What he does is he wanders around Manchester and takes pictures of people who dress in an interesting and stylish way. In some cities, people all dress the same. In Manchester we don’t follow fashion, we create it it seems. It’s cool to see how people put a look together. He must go up to people, whom he likes how they dress, and asks them for a shot. People seem happy to pose. Here’s a few examples…

Whenever I go into the city I always have one eye on how I dress just incase he comes across me. We’ve had a few near misses where I’ve spotted someone fabulously dressed and he’s come across them further down the street I spotted them on. Or maybe I’m just not good enough to make the cut? Note to self….Must try harder!

He’s started doing pictures of Manchester life as well. Like this one of these workmen sitting outside the 5* Radisson Edwardian Hotel enjoying a can of something while two ladies have afternoon tea (or morning coffee) in the sumptuous interior of the hotel behind them.

But this is my favourite of late. Superman coming out of a phone box ready to do good. As someone on TWITTER pointed out, there must have been some green kryptonite in that last beer he had.

The Chorley Flower Show is held in the grounds of Astley Hall, a handsome Jacobean mansion that is on the edge of the town centre now but, when it was built, was in the countryside some distance from the, then, village of Chorley. The front façade is Jacobean but I think the back is older, it looks Tudor to me. But what do I know?

Behind the hall is a walled garden where fruit and vegetables were grown to supply the house. The walls shelter the garden and create a microclimate that is often warmer than the surrounding countryside. This means the growing season is longer than in the fields outside so more can be grown. And the red brick of the walls tend to store heat from the sun which means that crops like grapes, apricots and peaches can be grown even this far north. The garden has been recently replanted. It’s been a good year for apples as you can see here. The ones in our garden are also doing well.

These raised beds are full of vegetables and herbs.

Big houses owned by rich families would extend the growing season by building a conservatory. The glass would trap heat and there might be, like in this one, a coal fired heating system to heat it. I’m not sure what method they use these days. The rich could enjoy tropical fruits like pineapple.

I always get excited when I see citrus fruits growing. Here is a lemon tree or, as it’s known in our house, a Gin and Tonic tree.

This is a Echium Pininara. There were two spectacular specimens in the garden. They look a bit prehistoric, something a dinosaur might have snacked on. They are natives of the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, hundreds of miles away and considerably warmer than Chorley. They grow well here because of the walled garden microclimate. 

I like Helenium. I like the shape of the flowers and the zingy, high summer colours. I need to get some for our garden.

Flower beds were laid out like this so the flowers could be cut to decorate the house.

These outsized deck chairs are a ‘thing’ this year. Great for selfies. I couldn’t persuade anyone to get in so you can see the size properly though.

Work is still ridiculously busy. I can’t believe we still have so much to do. I kind of hit a wall on Friday where nothing was making much sense. Time to step away from the computer screen I thought. So I’ve awarded myself a weekend off. Apart from dealing with a problem for one of the team I’ve done nothing. I’ve done more than I should so they can’t complain. And, having had the weekend free, I’ll feel ready to do some more. The money will come in handy for my little road trip in a couple of weeks time. Really looking forward to that. 

Yesterday we went a few miles north of the city to Astley Park in Chorley to go to the Chorley Garden Festival. I went last year and thought someone, who’s had a difficult week, would enjoy the distraction. On Friday it looked decidedly ‘off’. It was sunny in the morning but a light drizzle began around lunchtime which quickly turned into a monsoon downpour. The builders next door took to the cabins of their vans and eventually gave up. My bud, Andy, at an outdoor music festival at Kendal in the Lake District, texted to complain about the rain and the mud. Always thought that was part of the fun though. Another music festival in Derbyshire was curtailed as the mud actually stopped being fun and became dangerous.

But Saturday dawned clear and sunny and warm so, with umbrellas and water proofs at the ready, we went to Chorley. In fact it stayed dry all day and even became hot later in the afternoon. We had a good time.

The warm, dry weather was perfect for the Chorley Samba Band who brought a bit of Rio Carnival to Chorley. And very good they were at it as well. The drumming was stunning and, if you could drag your attention away from the scantily clad dancing girls who must have been pleased it was warm, you could do worse than watch the young conductor of the drum band who controlled them by drumming and using his fingers and whistle to change the rhythms and the level of drumming. He was fascinating to watch. 

The Samba Band are looking for new recruits. They meet at a pub in Chorley on Fridays and would love for you to come. You can either try the drumming or, if you are very confident and have a supermodel body, you can wear some feathers in your hair and dance. 

They had drawn a large crowd to the courtyard of the house that would have connected the family’s home to the servant quarters in the old days. The house is Jacobean which was English Civil War times in England and we are far enough north here for Scottish raiders to come south. Hence the cannons I suppose. The Scots have always claimed that the Lake District, just north of here, is part of Scotland. That’s as maybe as there are maps that show it as such. But the same maps show England stretching far further north up the east coast than it does today and includes Edinburgh. So they might gain the beautiful Lake District but would lose their capital city. 

We’re supposed to have finished with our really busy time at work last Sunday. There are usually a few odds and ends to tie up and I’m willing to help do some if they cross my palm with enough silver. Plus it’s always good to have the powers that be beholden to me rather than the other way round. But, this morning, I got an email about how much still needs to be done. At first I thought I’d read it wrong but, on closer examination, I hadn’t. I think there’s another two weeks solid work left. If we do something so big, like this, again, we’re going to need more people. The Manchester Jazz Festival starts on Friday and I don’t think we’ve ever run into that. We have plans for the weekend so I hope they realise I won’t be about. On the plus side, all this extra work will be handsomely rewarded I think and, as I am so poor, wandering around in rags and tatters, it will come in handy.

At least my underwear isn’t in rags and tatters. I’m not a fan of online shopping for clothes. I don’t get the whole buy 10 of every item, in different sizes and colours, pay for it, have it sent, try them on, send them back, get the money refunded thing. It’s much easier to go to one of those shop things, look at the quality, choose the right colour, try it on and see if it fits. Of course, we’re quite spoiled for shops in Manchester and we can make a day of it with lunch and so on. I sound like one of those women from ‘Sex and the City.’ Which one I’ll leave up to you to decide.

Back to my underwear. I do buy some of mine online. It’s from a company called ODDBALLS. They operate out of Newcastle. You can find their underwear in some shops but most is sold online. They have cleverly built the business on social media and it’s been spread by word of mouth. They’ve managed to get the country’s rugby clubs involved as they play a game with an odd shaped ball. They started by selling underwear for men called ODDBALLS. They’ve moved into sports wear. They do some women’s underwear and have brought out a range of boy’s underwear called GOOLIES. There are sunglasses for summer and warm, woolly hats called OBBLE HATS for winter. It’s like a club and guys who see each other wearing an OBBLE HAT, nod and acknowledge one another.

It’s not all fun and games and bright coloured pants of course. 10% of the profits of this company are put into a foundation that is used to find cures for male, specific cancers like testicular cancer. Hence the name.

They always come in these brightly, coloured bags.

This is this week’s haul. As you can see they are not exactly subtle. But they are fun. You can have plain ones if you like but I think that’s what M&S are for. I bought 4 pairs so I got a free pair of ODDBALLS sunglasses. I’m also an ODDBALLS ambassador so my pants end up on here and all over TWITTER. All very tasteful done of course. I get 10% off for my trouble.

And it’s always useful to read the back of the packets as they have valuable information about detecting testicular cancer. It’s the most common cancer among young men between 14 and 34. It’s a very curable cancer if caught early enough. Not caught, it can kill. One very young man, about 13, was bought some of them. His dad had some and he wanted some. As soon as he’d grown enough for them to fit they bought him some. He read the back, had a laugh at the pictures but thought he’d have bit of a check. He actually found a lump, told his dad and got it checked. It was cancer but they caught it in time and he’s doing well now. If you have a young guy like him (or any guy) in your life, you could do worse than buy him some of these pants and raise his awareness and, possibly, do him a huge favour. 

I’ve finally finished with my really busy period at work. This morning I’d crossed the last ‘t’ and dotted the last ‘i’ and could say that I was done. I’ve spent over a month glued to a computer screen and have not only done my work but some extra as well. I’ve also had a team to manage. Most have been great but a couple have been ‘interesting’ shall I put it. I could now put my feet up and say ‘I’m done.’ But, in reality, I’ll probably do a bit more next week as I’ve been asked to. It’s always good to have the big bosses beholden to you and not the other way around. And the money will come in useful for a road trip planned in August. I decided some treats were in order.

First I checked Google maps to see how the roads were doing. I needed to go to Chorlton to talk to a guy about a garden project we have in mind. It was all ‘green for go’ so I drove over. I was then planning to catch the tram into the city centre to buy some treats. I bought my ticket on my phone before leaving home but forgot to check the tram app about how the system was running. I got to Chorlton tram station and the system was having ‘communication problems.’ The screens weren’t saying when the next tram was due and, judging, by the huge number of people on the station, it hadn’t been for a while. A couple went past in the other direction and eventually one came for us. It was packed but we got into the city.

I did my treat shopping and had a guilt free mooch about the city and then decided to get the tram back to Chorlton. I’d been in for about four hours so thought they might have got the system up and running again. St. Peter’s Square was packed with people but the trams (one a minute usually at this pivotal station on the system) were no where to be seen. Then two came at the same time for Eccles, then an Altrincham tram and another for Eccles. Finally one arrived for East Didsbury. I got on, it was packed. We went through Deansgate/Castlefield station and then the tram ground to a halt high above the Castlefield Basin. We were there for 4o minutes. It was crowded, hot and the AC couldn’t cope. We moved 10m then stopped again, 10m more and stopped, repeat…repeat…repeat. Eventually we got into Cornbrook. After that it was fine and I got off at Chorlton. I headed to ODDEST for a restorative PG and to write about Engles. I checked the tram app. I’d been lucky to get to Chorlton. They had decided that things were so bad that they would close the entire system down. Bad on a Saturday, it would have been chaos on a working weekday.

Back to the treats. I decided to go to the Lindt store and get some of their delicious chocolate truffles from their pick and mix display. 

Coming out of Lindt, I saw that FOSSIL, across the mall, was having a sale. This is one of the stores in the city where I’m known. They are a friendly bunch here. If you’re in the city and feel like checking them out and treating yourself you can’t go wrong here. I’ve been promising myself to buy a new bag, not to replace my beloved satchel, but to use when I don’t need such a big bag. This one was originally £170 but was in the sale at £110. It was a 20% off day so I got it for £85.

Having saved so much I visited The Whisky Store on St.Ann’s Square. I’m not actually known here but they are nice people who have the time to talk to you. I left the £2,800 bottle on the shelf. I’ve worked hard this summer but it’s way out of my price band. I decided on a blended Loch Fyne whisky and a bottle of Loch Fyne whisky liquer which, the guy told me, is flavoured with Jaffa cakes (a delicious cake/biscuit with orange and chocolate, popular in the UK). I’ll save this one for the colder months and Christmas I think. 

 

Manchester has a new sculpture. Brought to the city by Turner prize nominated artist, Phil Collins (not that one), it’s a statue of Frederick Engels. It’s been a controversial statue to say the least.

Frederick Engles was the son of a wealthy German family who sent him to Manchester in 1842 to work in a cotton thread mill that the family had here. He was a bit of a revolutionary figure who wasn’t happy with the capitalist system that provided his family with their comfortable living. While in the city he befriended Karl Marx. They would meet up in the little reading room at Chetham’s Library where they talked about all things socialist and wrote The Communist Manifesto. This document was taken on board by the Soviet revolutionaries who used it as a basis for their system of government . I’ve always thought it ironic that the world’s first ‘red in tooth and claw’  capitalist city also gave birth to the doctrine of Communism. For a while Communism was a powerful force in the world and, those chats around the library table in Chets (still there if you visit) almost brought the world to the brink of nuclear war on a few occasions in the last century. 

Engles stayed in the city for twenty years. He saw at first hand the appalling conditions that the people working in the mills had to endure to provide the fabulous wealth sloshing about the city in those days. That his stay in the city, as an important figure in history, should be acknowledge is not disputed. It’s the manner in which it has been done that has caused problems. There is the matter of us commemorating a man whose thoughts lead to the death of 100,000,000 people for a start. Hitler, by comparison, saw off a mere 17,000,000.

What Phil Collins (again, not the one you think) has done has gone to some obscure town in the depths of the Ukraine and found an old Soviet era statue of him. During the Communist era, Eastern Europe was bestatued with ‘heroes’ of the Communist ideology. When those countries got freedom from their masters in Moscow, one of the first things they did was to tear them down. They were left to moulder in out of the way places. Mostly concrete, that takes a while. Phil found this one, acquired it, put it on a flat back truck and crossed Europe to Manchester. He filmed the progress as he went, choirs singing to it in the Ukraine, a visit to Berlin and then onto Barmen where he was born.

It was erected in Tony Wilson Place, outside Home, as part of the closing ceremony of the Manchester International Festival last weekend. Manchester has a large Ukrainian population (or people descended from Ukrainians). Many came to Manchester to escape the oppression they experienced in their home country because of the ideology devised by Engels in Manchester all those years ago. That a piece of art that glorifies that oppression has been erected in the city hasn’t gone down well at all.

If you look carefully you can see blue and yellow paint on the statue. That’s part of the history as well. When the Ukraine fought from freedom from Moscow, the statues was daubed in the colours of the Ukrainian flag. And, although it’s gone a bit quiet, relations between Kiev and Moscow are far from cordial.

Interesting that Mr Engels has been put where he can keep an eye on the new offices of the Russian energy giant, Gazprom, nearing completion across the square.

I’m not good with my Russian or the Cyrillic alphabet but I think this says Engels.