Cake and contemplation

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Today I went into Manchester to have lunch with a dear friend. Such is the pace of life and its many demands that we don’t get together as often as we would like. With both of us being off work this week it was an ideal opportunity for a catch up.

I arrived in the city with a couple of hours to spare so I decided to head to one my favourite food places, Earth Cafe at the Buddhist Centre. It’s run as a separate business nowadays but still serves a delicious and healthy vegan menu.

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It’s an informal cafe where the staff are always polite and accommodating if not exactly gregarious  – though that can vary from one visit to the next. For me, it’s just so refreshing to not to have to enquire about any ingredients, and everything is fresh and tasty.

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Manchester Buddhist Centre is within a repurposed former industrial building whose design legacy still remains, incorporated into the very different 21st century space.

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In near solitude I quietly enjoyed my food for thought: coffee and walnut cake….

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…..with only the laughing Buddha for company.

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I pondered the changing face of this city where industry had been replaced by commerce and hospitality, including the very spot where I sat. What would the Mancunian industrial giants of  a century ago make of all of this? Of how we can choose to live now. Of our choices about what we consume. About what we revere and how we find spiritual expression in the 21st century.

Manchester, one-time exporter of textiles to the world, now weaves philosophies from the east into the fabric of city life. No wonder the Buddha is laughing!

I still had nearly an hour until I was due to meet my friend so I decided to have a look around the Buddhist Centre ethical shop where there was a selection of statues, books and meditation accoutrements…

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….and a comfortable and peaceful place to sit and read…

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I chatted with one of the staff who told me that yesterday had been an important date: the anniversary of Buddha’s death. For the community, this commemoration had been the focus of a special meditation ceremony which took place at the main shrine. I was asked if I would like to take a look, and of course I happily accepted.

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The larger of the Centre’s two shrines is a peaceful and airy space painted in an uplifting shade of sunflower yellow. Its focal point is a beautiful and unusual representation of the Buddha, of somewhat European appearance, including blue eyes.

 

Placed around the shrine were some photographs of loved ones who had died within the last 12 months, along with floral tributes, trinkets and treasured possessions. I haven’t included any photographs close up for obvious reasons.

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A special reminder of a loved one

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A bowl of white flowers, still fresh and slightly fragrant, will remain in place until they fade and finally decay, at which point they will be removed; a reminder of the natural cycle of life and death.

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Left to look around on my own, I sat for a while enjoying the peace before bidding the dead farewell and returning to rejoin the living and life in all its colour.

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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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This Sensation of Flying

On 15th September 1830, actress Fanny Kemble was one of a group of lucky VIPs gathered in Liverpool to be part of a very spectacular event: the world’s first inter- city train journey.

The train – Rocket – set off from Liverpool on its historic journey to Manchester. Rocket’s coal-hungry furnace fired its powerful pistons, driving the steam engine to a mind-blowing top speed of 35 miles an hour; no great feat to the 21st century passenger, but Fanny Kemble and all those on board would surely have been awe-struck.

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Fanny is reported to have said of the experience, “ I closed my eyes and this sensation of flying was quite delightful, and strange beyond description.”

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This print from 1831 on display at the Manchester Museum of Science & Industry shows an early journey on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway
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Also on display at Manchester Museum of Science & Industry, this sketch shows the variety of goods and passengers and the range of carriages in use

In 1830 the Industrial Revolution was in full swing and Britain was renowned as the workshop of the world. A railway linking the port of Liverpool to the coal and textile centres of Manchester and the rest of Lancashire would make for speedy transportation of goods and raw materials and would offer fast passenger transport to those who could afford it.

There had been other steam locomotives before, but Rocket was the first of its typeinvented and built by father and son George and  Robert Stephenson at their works in Newcastle-upon-Tyne for the Rainhill Trials in 1829. The Trials had been set up to choose the best locomotive for the new Liverpool and Manchester Railway which would open the following year. Despite a tragic accident where Rocket struck and killed the MP for Liverpool, William Huskisson, near to what is now Newton-le-Willows station,  Rocket won the contest and became the design template for almost all steam locomotives that would follow.

Rocket continued to run on the Liverpool to Manchester line into the 1840s before becoming obsolete when better engines were developed. After 150 years at the London Science Museum and a short stint in Newcastle in early 2018, Rocket returned last September to the site of her maiden run at Manchester Museum of Science & Industry.

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A few weeks ago I travelled, by train, to nearby Manchester to see the world’s first inter-city loco, which will stay in Manchester until April before moving to the National Railway Museum in York.

 

 

I had been expecting Rocket to be bigger, but that apart I was fascinated and quite moved to be up close to this historical ‘game-changer’.

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It was easy to imagine how those first passengers, having only been used to travelling by horse and carriage or possibly on a canal barge, must have felt as they moved at a fantastical speed.

Rocket arrived triumphant at Liverpool Road Station, which was built for the occasion in 1830 and is the oldest railway station in the world which is still in existence. It is within the Museum of S&I where it has been lovingly restored.

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An 1830s view of Rocket as she zooms past
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The original track

Inside the station, visitors can enjoy some of the original fixtures and fittings.

 

 

 

 

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The booking clerk’s desk 

The spacious exhibition area provides a sense of the proportions, comfort and overall impressiveness of the station in its glory days. Anybody who was lucky enough to travel by train must have felt quite important.

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The exhibition is interesting and tells the story of train travel from that first journey to the present day.

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As with all new technology, railways were not welcomed by everybody, especially those whose commercial interests might suffer. This sketch of the time shows thin and redundant horses singing for their suppers because of the decline in canal traffic
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Bust of George Stephenson
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I would love a copy of this print

Within the Museum’s large engineering exhibition hall I found another of Stephenson’s locomotives, Planet, whose improved design later rendered Rocket obsolete.

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My journey home on another Northern line was somewhat faster once the train eventually arrived, 40 minutes late and with two of its four carriages out of action. My carriage seemed considerably more congested than those depicted in the 1830s sketches looked to be, but at least I wasn’t open to the elements. Things have come a long way since Fanny Kemble’s delightful sensation of flying……… possibly 😉.

Manchester Canal Walk

At this time of year I love to spend cosy weekends at home with books and copious cups of tea, pottering about and conserving energy to keep those winter bugs at bay; but it’s good to get out sometimes, to blow away those cobwebs.

I decided on a Sunday afternoon visit Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. Rather than push through the crowds of Christmas shoppers, I opted for a relaxing stroll along the Rochdale Canal.

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The Rochdale Canal runs down into the city of Manchester from high in the Pennine hills. In the late 18th and early 19th century it was key to the city’s industrial growth, through the transportation of cotton and finished goods to and from the plethora of mills and canal-side warehouses.

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Of course, the industrial buildings have all now been repurposed, some as swanky offices or apartments, or even trendy clubs and restaurants.

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The Sun was shining and quite a few people were out cycling or running or, like me, finding a quieter path through the city clamour.

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Locals of the feathered variety ventured out from their desirable residences.

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An art installation celebrates the late famed Tony Wilson, Mr Manchester: journalist and broadcaster, founder of Factory Records and the Hacienda nightclub.

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I walked by Deansgate in the direction of Castlefield, passing under dark low bridges and alongside swelling lock gates holding back walls of water

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A couple of work men repaired railings on the towpath

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A little further ahead, Castelfield hub offered light and space

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The wharfs and basins around Castlefield, once a hive of commerce where boats were unloaded at the city warehouses, is now one of the most popular spots in the city, especially in summer where people gather on the towpath and at the bars and restaurants. A wedding party posed for photographs. I offered my congratulations as I passed.

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A small cluster of boats is permanently moored ….

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….where an attractive space is used for outdoor performances and recreation. A single practitioner of Tai Chi moved gracefully whilst a group of boys practised skateboard stunts on the steps a short distance away, where my canal walk reached its end.

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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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Manchester Cathedral: Stained glass and gargoyles:

 

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Two of my favourite things are stained glass windows and gargoyles. I decided to spend a quiet hour on a rainy Sunday afternoon in a spot where there are some splendid examples of both.

Manchester Cathedral, or the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St. Mary, St. Denys and St. George to give it its full title, stands at the north eastern edge of the city, near to Victoria Station and to the border with the city of Salford. Cathedrals are mostly grand imposing buildings, designed to command attention, to make their presence felt; Manchester’s feels like it’s tucked away behind a screen of shops and a mock Tudor pub, its grounds a haven for lunching office workers and, at the weekends, huddles of teenaged goths. World renowned Chetham’s Music School -home of the Cathedral choir -is adjacent.

Ask anybody to tell you what they associate with Manchester and their replies will probably include some of the following: Oasis; New Order; The Hacienda ; premier league football; the Peterloo Massacre; The Smiths; a certain coconut-covered custard tart; ‘Madchester’; ‘The Village’ and, more recently, the northern quarter. The cotton trade, early trades union movement and political activism might also feature……………..and rain. The city is synonymous with it. It’s unlikely that anybody will mention the Cathedral.

Visitors rarely arrive here by accident –  unless they take a wrong turn when visiting the Christmas Markets or heading towards Harvey Nicholls . Most would have sought out this almost hidden gem, perhaps pulled by the promise of the gorgeous windows which are – in my opinion – the big attraction. The Cathedral is not a crowd puller and this is to its credit. A trickle of sightseers drifts in and out, leaflets and maps in hand. Admission is free, where the same, sadly, cannot be said for most other British cathedral churches, perhaps an admission – or exploitation – of their change of status from spiritual centres of the community to local visitor attractions.

From the outside it is not possible to appreciate the aesthetic impact of the stained glass windows. Yes, most churches have at least one or two, usually depicting biblical scenes whose subjects have been attributed suitably anglicised features: haloed blond martyrs fail to fend off marauding beasts, and blue-eyed virgins gaze longingly into the distance, hoping to be swept up into the sky by a heavenly wind. We’ve all seen lots of examples, and one is usually much the same as another. Not so in this case.

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All having been added during the last 50 years to replace originals destroyed by war time explosions, the stained glass windows of Manchester Cathedral form an intensely colourful folk-art collage. Non- traditional designs, vibrant and engaging, are apt in a city which prides itself on modernity, openness and progression, not to mention diversity.

Remembrance goes hand in hand with reconciliation within the design of my favourite ‘fire window’. Situated in the chapel dedicated to the Manchester Regiment, the window designed by Margaret Traherne pays tribute to lives lost. The orange flames represent the blitz, but as fire destroys it also clears the way for new beginnings. The glass used in this window, significantly, was created in Germany. On a sunny day the flames come alive as the light pours through the glass. Today the rain patters against the panes.

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The spirit of inclusion and the celebration of the colourful spectrum we find in nature and in all life is evident in this building. Art work depicts the community which the Cathedral serves and welcomes into its fold. This space feels unpretentious and welcoming.

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Back outside, look up and you will see the marvellous array of gargoyles and grotesques which adorn the stonework and guttering. The word gargoyle originates from an old French word meaning throat, hence the verb ‘to gargle’. Technically, to qualify as a gargoyle there must be a spout for the purpose of channelling water away from the building. The non-gargling varieties are more accurately described as grotesques or chimeras and were added to places of worship for decorative effect and to ward off evil spirits from the buildings, evil spirits being prevalent in the mediaeval mind-set.

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I’ve been fascinated by gargoyles for many years and enjoy photographing them, though I don’t do that as much as I used to. Fantastical in appearance, comical, terrifying, grimacing and gurning, the rows of stony faces tell stories of a world long past. This is the post- industrial north and some are exceptionally grimy and grim. Each one seems to have its own personality and it amuses me to imagine their discussions about the passage of time:

 

Dragon: “It’s a bit glum for the time of year.”

Beast: ” Yep! Where’s all this rain come from? It’s more like November!”

Dragon: “It reminds me of that washout of a summer we had in 1546. My spout got blocked with moss. It played havoc with my waterworks and no amount of gargling would clear it. I flooded in the end”

Beast: “I remember it well. We all suffered. That rising damp really gets into the mortar! The serpent on the east wall took such a battering by the storms that his forked tongue dropped off. “

Dragon: ” I know, poor sod. You can’t make out his features now. ‘Erosion’, I’ve heard those surveyors call it. We’re all losing our looks. Mine started to go downhill in the 1700s.”

Beast: “I sometimes feel like we’ve been forgotten about. Even the evil spirits don’t come up like they used to back in the day. Health and safety regulations……….”

 

Now we have new cathedrals made of glass and steel, temples to the gods of commerce and celebrity. The nearby football museum rises like a glass obelisk. Across the city, Manchester Hilton looms on the distant grey skyline. The Cathedral will witness other grand designs have their moment and will still look on, sagely, as, in time, they too disappear.  

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Street Gallery – The art of Manchester’s northern quarter

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Like all cities, Manchester has its share of art galleries. They are the custodians of the city’s permanent treasures, including celebrated masterpieces in their gilded frames and exciting creations, through every conceivable medium, by both established and emerging artists, many of them from the north of England.

The ‘northern quarter’ of Manchester city centre has been transformed during the last two decades. What was once a run-down part of the city, neglected since the decline of industry in the 1970s and ‘80s, is now a bohemian hub of creativity. Home to a plethora of hip bars and restaurants, quirky vintage shops, unconventional cafes and social spaces, specialist art, music and book stores plus an impressive array of artists in residence, innovative designers and very colourful characters – this is the place to be in Manchester if you want to experience an alternative take on the usual urban city scene.

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This part of the city has proved to be popular with film makers due to it still having retained much of its original character and architecture. Some of the scenes in Guy Ritchie’s 2009 remake of Sherlock Holmes were filmed here, and due to an apparent resemblance to 1940s New York, the northern quarter was chosen to double as the ‘big apple’ for some of the filming of Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011.

Here, also, was the birth place of the ‘Madchester’ music scene of the 1990s, growing out of the rebranding of the city as the home of independent music at the time. That spirit continues, with music production and specialist outlets strongly represented and thriving.

Meander around the northern quarter and you will discover another kind of art gallery, accessible to all and with no admission fee. This awesome collection of original expression changes and evolves, a contemporary commentary on life in the city of Manchester. Every time I walk around the northern quarter I find something new has been added. Some of the artists are well-known, whilst others are anonymous, making their marks in the side streets, challenging us, amusing us, surprising and inspiring us through their contributions. Turn a corner, take a look behind that security fence or crumbling wall; you never know what you might find.

Here are some of the wonderful exhibits from the northern quarter of the city of Manchester. Enjoy!

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I’ll leave the bee mural ’til last; a symbol of commemoration of the industrial heritage of this great city, of loyalty to the hive and continued work to build strength and hope in the future.