Narcissus

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On a recent visit to Liverpool’s  Walker Art Gallery my eye was drawn to John William Waterhouse’s painting of Echo and Narcissus. The painting shows the mountain nymph, Echo, gazing longingly at Narcissus as he gazes even more longingly at his own reflection in the water. Echo’s love is unrequited by the object of her affections and, feeling rejected and invisible, she fades away until all that remains is her voice. Desperately thirsty, but unwilling to disturb his image on the water’s surface, Narcissus eventually dies from dehydration (though in another version of the myth he drowns). A clump of Narcissi, pale yellow heads leaning forward to peer into the water, springs up on the spot.

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Despite the recent return of early morning ground frost to some of our gardens, spring is established. Things are happening in my little patch.

One of the earliest blooms each year is the dwarf rhododendron which I have kept in the same pot since I rescued it from a skip about five years ago. I was told that it wouldn’t grow much bigger even if planted in the ground so I decided not to disturb it. It flowers only once, and only for a short time, but I look forward every March to that exquisite show that tells me spring has arrived in earnest.

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The early flowering clematis which I planted quite recently seems to have taken root. Although it looks so delicate and fragile right now I hope it will provide a stunning backdrop as it climbs the fence and heralds the arrival of spring at the end of March for many years to come.

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The little old spiraea which every summer I suspect has had its last day in the sun never ceases to amaze and delight me with its spring revival.

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Even those plants which won’t flower until June or July are showing new green shoots on last year’s woody stems.    The potted herbs are flourishing, quickly returning in colour and scent.

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At the beginning of December I planted some daffodil bulbs which I’d bought in the autumn and forgotten about . I thought it was probably too late but hope, as they say, springs eternal. Well, spring they did! Some of them, anyway.

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I’ve noticed that many of those swathes of early daffodils which graced roadside verges and parks have now faded, like the lovely Echo, leaving only lowered browning heads  or leaves which will also die back over the next month or so, though below the ground the bulbs will sleep until their time comes again. I’m happy that my late blooming golden narcissi, a few still unfurling, will still be around a while longer yet to make me smile when I look outside every morning. Like their mythical namesake they have every reason to stand proud and show their faces to the sun.

Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery

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For many of us, Sunday can too easily turn into the day before we go back to work rather than part of our well-deserved weekend. Thoughts can turn to preparing for the week ahead and the list of tasks that await us on Monday and the days that follow. Even if we like our jobs, we can do without the tendrils of toil creeping into our free time. Does this scenario sound familiar to you too? I decided that in 2019 I will reclaim Sundays – grab them back from the looming presence of the working week.

I use public transport which is significantly reduced on Sundays so travel can be difficult, wasteful of time and sometimes more trouble than it’s worth. I’ve set myself a few Sunday Rules to make sure I don’t end up wishing I’d stayed at home instead.

1. Sunday is about relaxation and indulgence rather than adventure

2. Easy one-stage journeys. No connections.

3. No early starts to cram in as much as I can.

Today I took the train to Liverpool to look at some art. The Walker Gallery is in the city’s cultural quarter, a very short walk from Lime Street station. I like to wander round and look at my favourite paintings, sometimes sitting for ages and noticing details which I hadn’t spotted before. Today I went to see a new exhibition.

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I love the art of Glasgow Style, in particular the designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Having visited the Kelvingrove Art Gallery a few months ago I was thrilled to  read that some of those exhibits and others on loan from some private collectors would be shown at the Walker. Admission to the exhibition was ( I thought) expensive at £10, but there were some exquisite items of furniture, ceramics and glassware which I hadn’t seen before. Permission for photography is still pending from two of the contributors, so unfortunately I can’t share any images here. It is hoped that the permissions will be granted before the exhibition ends in August. You can read about my visit to Kelvingrove Gallery here.

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Another important collection is attracting lots of visitors at the Walker: the drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci. I have to confess at this point that I’m not enraptured by these sketches. I saw a similar exhibition in Manchester a decade ago on a much smaller scale, and although they are undoubtedly very detailed and impressive, I wonder if the excitement is perhaps due to the status of the artist rather than the works themselves. As I was on site I decided to take a look. It was difficult to take photographs due to reflections.

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My favourite: The head of Leda, circa 1505

After Da Vinci I went into my favourite room which hosts an eclectic mix by British artists from 1800 to 1950. Here are a few I like best.

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Mother and Child, 1938:  Ceri Richards

This abstract cross between sculpture and painting depicts a gentle kiss between mother and child. I love the simplicity of this construction. A perfect image for Mothering Sunday.

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The Waterloo Dock, Liverpool, 1962: LS Lowry

In this painting the water of the river Mersey is white and difficult to distinguish from the snowy ground. It gives the impression of somewhere much colder, perhaps eastern-Europe of the time.

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The Liver Buildings, Liverpool, 1950: LS Lowry.

Like the Waterloo Dock painting, this looks like a wintry scene. The Liverpool waterfront fades into a soft backdrop to the bolder and disproportionately sized plethora of boats. This is one of my favourite Lowry paintings.

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The Fever Van, 1935. LS Lowry.

The ‘Fever Van’ of the title is  the ambulance which has come for a victim of diphtheria, scarlet fever or one of the other contagious and often fatal diseases prevalent in Salford at the time

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Mrs Mounter, 1916: Harold Gilman

Mrs Mounter was Gilman’s cleaning lady as well as his muse. I love the colour in this painting including the wallpaper panel in the background. I like the ordinariness  of Mrs Mounter’s expressive face.

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The Bathers, 1948: Bernard Meninsky

I’m not familiar with Russian born artist Meninksy’s work apart from this one glorious painting. I love the sheer abandonment with which these women head across the beach to the water’s edge.

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Interior at Paddington, 1950-51: Lucian Freud

The grandson of psychologist Sigmund Freud, Lucian Freud painted this for the Festival of Britain in 1951, a showcase for new British talent. The subject is Freud’s friend, Harry Diamond. He seems to be retreating into the alcove, unsettled by the quite sinister-looking plant. Very Freudian!

After feasting my eyes on works of art I treated my taste buds to a delicious hummus salad wrap and bottle of Dandelion & Burdock in the Walker cafeteria before strolling in the sunshine back to the station. Sunday Rules work for me. Have good week!

 

 

 

Out on the tiles

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Readers of some of my other posts may know that I am very fond of ceramics, in particular the high-glazed pottery tiles synonymous with the Victorian arts and crafts movement. I love the lustrous decadence of the rich intense colours from the period, and  the opulent crackle of the glaze.

Some of the best examples can be found beneath our feet gracing the ticket halls and the platforms of subterranean train stations or even the humble relics of gentlemen’s public conveniences. I have been known to visit places ( not men’s toilets!)  just for the tiles, whilst on other occasions I have made unexpected discoveries, sometimes in unlikely places. Here are three of my favourites in the city of Manchester.

1. The Principal Hotel ( formerly the Palace Hotel). This grade 2 listed building on The corner of Whitworth Street and Oxford Street was built between 1891 and 1895 by the architect Alfred Waterhouse for the Refuge Assurance Company, a very successful insurance business. The outside of the building is nothing extraordinary….

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…but the inside is glorious!

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I love the glamour and the sense of the exotic conjured by the pillars and foliage. The design is of glazed brick and Burmantofts faience, a decorative style of architectural terracotta and glazed pottery which used warm cream, buff, rich orange and rusty tones. The Burmantofts company emerged in Leeds in the late 1850s with Waterhouse being one of their patrons.

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An overseas-based friend and I meet in Manchester once a year when she visits family in the city. Our venue of choice is almost always the Palace where for a couple of hours we can escape the Manchester rain and the hustle and bustle of the world outside and marvel at the sparkling chandeliers’ reflections on the glossy surfaces of the walls around us as we indulge in afternoon tea.

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2. Peveril of the Peak. This iconic Manchester public house has stood near the Bridgewater Hall since the 1820s and is named after the novel of the same title written by Sir Walter Scott (better known as the author of Ivanhoe) in 1823, but set in the 17th century.

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Peveril is brilliant. It’s actually nothing special inside, but wonderfully incongruous in its modern and muted surroundings this Victorian pottery pub is also grade II listed. Some of the outer tiles were added in the 1920s but have remained unaltered since – happily for those of us who like its style.

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3. J&J Shaw Ltd. This is my favourite doorway in Manchester.

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J & J Shaw established the furniture warehouse in 1924. This place is a hidden gem, tucked away close to Oxford Road train station.  I love the colours and the detail and can never resist tracing the shapes of the smooth leaves and fruits when I pass by. Its gorgeous art-deco entrance hints at the possibility of stylish furnishings that customers might have perused once they had stepped through the pottery portal. How exciting! They don’t make doors like they used to, do they?

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Glasgow Style at the Kelvingrove Gallery

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My recent trip to Glasgow  included a visit to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Amongst the exhibitions is one dedicated to Glasgow Style, a celebration of the vibrant and iconic decorative arts and architecture which have become synonymous with the city’s creative past.

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At the end of the 19th century, the Glasgow School of Art had established itself as one of the leading academies of its kind in Europe. The school gained a reputation as a design leader with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose eye for design saw him become a legend of his craft, being instrumental at the forefront of the School‘s success. Glasgow Style was born.

This mural of the man himself, and incorporating his iconic rose design, adorns a wall in the city centre, one of many fabulous murals in Glasgow.

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Charles Rennie Mackintosh trained as an architect but enrolled at the Glasgow School of Art to enhance his skills set. Like many great artists, Mackintosh’s achievements were not fully appreciated until after his death.

He was commissioned to design a series of tea rooms and given full creative freedom over the decor and furnishings, even cutlery. These tearooms became synonymous with Mackintosh to the extent that when one building was demolished, it was decided to painstakingly remove and preserve the interiors beforehand.

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Below are some of the original furnishings and fittings, including tableware which can be seen in the display cabinet. Another original tea room has been reassembled at the new Victoria & Albert Museum in Dundee.

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The Mackintosh design style was not only to be found in public spaces. Some other exquisite examples in private ownership are included in the exhibit.

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It was during his time at the Glasgow School of Art that Mackintosh met his future wife, Margaret Macdonald and her sister, Frances, who married Mackintosh’s friend, James McNair. They were known as the four, all contributing to the Glasgow Style movement.

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The four and their stylish crowd.

Margaret Macdonald collaborated closely with her husband on numerous projects and was a talented artist in her own right. In fact, her husband modestly acknowledged her genius as compared with his own simple “talent”.

The Gesso panel on the wall below is entitled The Wassail and was designed by Margaret Macdonald, and was displayed in the  Ladies’ Luncheon room at one of Miss Cranston’s tea rooms.

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One of my favourite pieces is this stunning Tiyptych, by another female artist, Marion Henderson Wilson. Designed in 1905, these three panels of beaten tin depict a series of Glasgow motifs including intertwined lines of natural growth and the iconic roses. The subject is described as a mediaeval woman, but she looks quite of the moment – the 1905 moment, that is.

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The production of glassware first started up in Glasgow in the 1600s, but the industry grew from the 1850s and was thriving by 1900, supplying the domestic market and churches. The Glasgow rose often featured, as in this splendid panel found in a tenement flat on Florida Avenue.

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Here are some more intricately painted panels which once would have looked stunning in a private house.

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If you like Art Nouveau, these are just some examples of a superb collection at Kelvingrove.

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An autumn day in Glasgow

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The last time I went to Glasgow was on a very hot day in the summer of 1982. I was with my family and we had driven up for the day from the south of Scotland where we holidayed frequently at our caravan. I had spent some pocket money on an album by Visage, one of my favourite groups of the time, and it was so hot that the vinyl record melted in the boot of our car. It’s funny, the things we remember. I don’t recall anything else about that day or any other childhood visits, so yesterday’s long overdue return was like going for the first time…. and this time it definitely wasn’t hot.

One of the best ways to get a flavour of a city when time is short is by boarding a sightseeing bus. Although still quite mild for November, it was a bit nippy on the open top deck. We started our tour at George Square where Christmas decorations had already been installed .

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Statue of Sir Robert Peel, founder of the modern  British police service
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Glasgow is already bedecked with stunning Christmas decorations

The agreeable voice of suave TV historian Neil Oliver provided the recorded commentary as we wound our way around the city.

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The first Duke of Wellington has been in situ outside of the Gallery of Modern Art since 1844 but with a more recent addition to his attire

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Glasgow has some fantastic murals. It would be worth spending a day looking at the city’s outstanding street art (I might well do that!). I love this depiction of the city’s founder, Saint Mungo, on High Street. Represented as a modern man, Mungo tenderly handles the bird that never flew which he is said to have restored to life after having been wrongly blamed for its death. The story of the wild robin tamed by Mungo’s master, Saint Serf, is part of the story of the city’s origins and is included in its motto:

‘Here is the bird that never flew

Here is the tree that never grew

Here is the bell that never rang

Here is the fish that never swam.’

 

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Billy Connolly mural
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Charles Rennie Mackintosh

The tollbooth steeple clock stands at the junction of four main mediaeval streets. It is all that remains of the early 17th century civic building which it had once stood atop.

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I didn’t visit the Purple Cat cafe, but thought it was a great name!

 

Glasgow Green is in the city’s east end. I really wanted to spend some time here exploring the beautiful People’s Palace but in the end we didn’t have time to go back; such a shame as it looked so lovely, but even more reason to visit again!

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We journeyed on alongside the river Clyde, passing the Riverside Museum and Scottish Events Campus

 

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Scottish Events Campus – the armadillo
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Scottish Events Campus – the Hydro

From the riverside location our bus continued towards the west of the city. It was a bright and sunny day and the colours of autumn were glorious.

 

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Alighting in salubrious Kelvingrove, we enjoyed a warming and very tasty lunch near the welcoming coal fire of The 78, a popular vegan bar restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere and an interesting and delicious menu.

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Warmed and reinvigorated, we walked to our main destination, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, stopping at the bridge over the river Kelvin to admire the water below,  the autumnal trees and the bronze-cast sculptures, including this 1926 depiction of Philosophy and Inspiration. I have a feeling that the skull’s eyes are a much more recent addition.

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The grounds of Kelvingrove Gallery are lovely and are a perfect setting for the location of the many exquisite objects within.

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Having come to the end of our mini tour of a marvellous city, off we went to enjoy some awesome Scottish art and art-deco designs which I’ll be sharing with you soon.

 

 

 

Walking the Manchester Curry Mile

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It’s said that variety is the spice of life, and a walk along Manchester’s spiciest street is nothing if not varied.

Rusholme is a district of Manchester just outside the city centre. It is term-time home to a large student population residing in local halls of residence. It’s also a  global village of different communities, mainly from south east Asia.

A hundred years ago, Rusholme was leafy and salubrious, and notable amongst its more illustrious residents were the Pankhursts, champions of women’s suffrage. Now, many of the larger Edwardian and Victorian houses have been turned into student flats.

The area is most famous for its curry mile which attracts fans of international cuisine from all over Manchester and beyond. Actually, the curry mile descriptor  probably needs to be updated, as there are now more eateries selling Arabic, Persian, Kurdish, Turkish and Afghani  food than there are Indian curry establishments.

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It’s a bit run down, and daylight hours don’t show Rusholme at its best; it’s after dark that it comes alive and the bright lights illuminate the street scene with delicious oriental aromas enticing spice lovers through the many welcoming doors.

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World-food stores sell a vast range of unusual ingredients with  lush fruits and vegetables displayed out front.

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The start and end of the curry mile are marked by public parks. I started my walk at Platt Fields at the south end where Manchester Museum of Costume is located. I’ve visited the Museum previously but it is currently closed for cataloguing of exhibits and to deal with a moth problem.

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Platt Fields is used a lot for community events, including festivals which always involve lots of delicious food. The local communities associated with Rusholme are represented in art on the outbuildings.

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Within Platt Fields is the remains of a link to Manchester’s distant past. The Nico ditch is what is left of an ancient earthwork, the purpose of which is not known for certain,  though there are some interesting theories. The section of the Nico ditch which skirts Platt Fields is now listed as a protected ancient monument. It isn’t easy to locate, as much of the signage around the park is weather-beaten and  unclear. I have tried to highlight the ditch below.

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The ditch runs across what was the old border between Manchester and Stockport. It isn’t known when it was constructed; some time during the 600 years or so between the Romans leaving and the Normans arriving, it is thought. Possibly a defensive work to keep out Viking invaders from the Danelaw; possibly, and less dramatically, a simple boundary marker, Nico ditch’s purpose is subject to speculation. There are a lot of ‘maybes’. My favourite Nico folklore narrative tells how it was built in one night by the men of Manchester, each man building a section as tall as himself, to keep out the Norsemen.

Nearby, Platt Fields wildlife feasts on nature’s offerings, concerned only with the present.

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Back on Wilmslow Road again, we find Hardy’s Well.

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Once a popular watering hole, last orders were finally called in 2016 but the pub has become iconic because of the poem of the same name – a celebration of alliteration – which is composed upon its gable wall.

Hardy’s Well is the creation of Lemn Sissay MBE, Chancellor of the University of Manchester and poet of the 2012 London olympics amongst his many accolades. Unfortunately, Lemn has neglected the addition of possessive apostrophes.

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Lemn Sissay was born in Wigan, about 17 miles away and brought up in the care system after his mother, an Ethiopian student, was initially unable to look after him. Lemn has described bitterly in print and in film his early life in care and has recently succeeded in claiming compensation from Wigan Council. As a young adult, Lemn reclaimed his Ethiopian heritage and the name given him at birth. His poetry is internationally renowned but Hardy’s Well is my favourite. Yesterday was National Poetry Day in the UK with the theme being ‘change’. I thought it very apt that Hardy’s Well graces a spot which had seen an incredible amount change over the last century.

The property developers who have bought the building have undertaken to preserve the iconic script but the vandals have already got to work making their own marks.

Negotiating  the crowds gathering to share mouthwatering masalas and tantalising tikkas, I savoured the aromas and admired window displays of Bollywood fashions as I continued along the curry mile.

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Whitworth Park is at the north end of the curry mile near to the University and the city’s main hospitals. Whitworth Gallery is alongside. It’s one of my favourite galleries: modern, unpretentious and always with a thought-provoking exhibition.

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Manchester has become famous for its bees which represent the city’s resilience and industrial heritage. Bee sculptures  can be found all over the city and here are two at the Whitworth.

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I do love a roll of wallpaper with a bold pattern, and I was not disappointed by the examples included in the exhibition, Bodies of Colour: breaking wallpaper stereotypes.

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I wondered who would want a gallows scene on their wall, or even the rather unsettling ‘Sindy’ print from the mid 1970s. The character in the pink outfit and shades would surely keep any child awake at night!

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Thread Bearing Witness, an exhibition by Alice Kettle, celebrates the lives and contributions of female refugees who have come to live in the Manchester area. Their traumas and aspirations are expressed through their contributions to the exhibition.

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I finished my walk along the curry mile with a look around the Whitworth Art Garden where haute cuisine seemed to be the order of the changing day.

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A walk along the Regent’s Canal from Little Venice to Camden

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Several weeks ago when I arranged yesterday’s visit to London, I had expected that the last Saturday in September would be more autumnal. However, a forecast of 17 degrees and dawn to dusk sunshine resulted in a change of plans for the day. Museums and exhibitions can wait for colder days; this was going to be a perfect occasion for a stroll along one of the capital city’s waterways.

Having walked the stretch of the Canal from Regent’s Park to Camden last year, I decided that this time I’d begin at its starting point, Little Venice, where it meets the Grand Union Canal at Paddington Basin.

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The nearest tube station is Warwick Avenue. From there, it’s just a five minute walk to the Basin.

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I had expected there to be more boats around, but then it was only 09:40. Queues had already started to form for the water buses and private hire boats. I considered a cruise aboard Jason, but as embarkation was not for another 45 minutes I decided to walk instead.

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Heading north along the towpath, I soon found to my annoyance that I had to walk back up onto the road which runs parallel to the water. It seems that the permanent boating community whose vessels are moored there are entitled to lock an access gate which essentially turns that stretch of the towpath into their private gardens.

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Whilst I don’t begrudge them the privacy which this offers,  I wish it had been made clear on the various websites I had consulted when planning my walk. At that point I briefly regretted not having waited with the other Argonauts to set sail with Jason

My diversion took me past a nice looking cafe bar situated above the Canal tunnel.  I’d had a quick breakfast at 05:30 so I decided to break off for coffee and toast with a view of Little Venice.

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From there, the diversion took me further away from the water and through a housing estate. I consulted my map which seemed to suggest that I was still on track, but I had no idea where I would get back onto the towpath. A jogger helpfully pointed me in the right direction, informing me that I would pass a “nice pub” further ahead and that close by there would be a gate leading back down to the canal. Both were easy to find, but to my dismay this gate too was padlocked shut. A sign indicated an alternative route should the gate be locked, suggesting that there was actually no way for a pedestrian to ever know in advance whether the towpath would be accessible, as this depended on the choice of the boat residents at any given time.

With the water back in view, I ambled along past St John’s power station where on the other side of the Canal yet another cluster of boat people had made a pretty little floating community.

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They had also closed off the towpath where they had assembled some lovely gardens and homely structures. At that point, as I focused my camera through a gap in the railings, Jason sailed past. On balance, even though I had been diverted away from my chosen path through an insalubrious residential area , I was still glad I hadn’t wasted 45 minutes of my day waiting for that particular voyage to commence.

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A little further on, I was able to cross over to join the towpath. By this time, more people were canal-side: walking, running and cycling, with some even on the water. The capital’s waterways are havens for busy city-dwellers.

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My walk revealed a spectrum of city living, from the palatial properties on the far bank, through the array of quirky boat homes to the sleeping bags and tents under bridges and amongst the trees. One tent dweller bathed in the water as people passed by. I was quite moved by the sight of his little grooming kit of soap, shampoo, comb etc., guarded by his faithful canine companion. I hope he doesn’t have to do that for much longer as the days become colder and the water icy.

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This part of the canal skirts the western boundary of Regent’s Park and cuts through London Zoo with bridges connecting the two sides. Animal sounds can be heard from within the grounds. The photographs below show an aviary on my left and the giraffe house across the bank.

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The familiar view of the floating Chinese restaurant told me that I was to take the left turn under the next bridge.

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Camden lock was just a little way further ahead, as announced by the Bohemian air and herbal aroma.

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Camden Lock is a noisy and very vibrant hub of activity. It was almost midday and the area was teeming with visitors, exploring, shopping or just watching the world go by. The finger post told me I had walked two-and-a-half miles from Little Venice and that I could walk 302 miles to Liverpool if I fancied it. I decided to pass on that.

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I love Camden and have been countless times over the years, but I have found that as I get older I am less comfortable and less patient in the thick of the very slow moving swarms of spatially unaware sightseers, but it’s still good to see the amusement and wonder on the faces of visitors as they pose for selfies in this bizarre and very unconventional part of London where anything goes.

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The late Amy Winehouse  was a Camden girl, a fact which is celebrated through art works around the Stables market where she once worked on a stall. Would she still be around now if she hadn’t found fame?

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The Stables Market was formerly a horse hospital, dating back to 1854. Camden was an industrial hub where horses were instrumental in hauling goods between the canal and railway networks. References to the site’s former use are displayed throughout the market place’s alleys and courtyards.

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Stables

I amazed myself by keeping my purse zipped shut as I mooched around the winding passageways, a cornucopia of ethnic, vintage, and curio shops.

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Very ready for a sit down and a spot of lunch, I walked the short distance to Chalk Farm tube station to head back by train to the heart of the city.

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