Category Archives: History

Manchester

It’s been a pretty rough week.

Last Monday a suicide bomber killed himself and 22 other people at the Manchester Arena, many more were injured. On top of that a close colleague of mine lost her mother suddenly (nothing to do with the bomb) and, perhaps not as tragic but still sad for me, Roger Moore died.

Monday, was coincidentally our 24th wedding anniversary. Now that date will have a second, darker, relevance. We had talked about next year’s silver wedding anniversary as a celebration, it will now also be the one year anniversary of the bomb. A time, like this week, where we reflect on the victims and effects of this senseless act.

Out of all the pain and suffering, one light of hope has shone bright though. The response from the people of Manchester.

I was born and raised in Manchester and I live there still, I love Manchester and I’m immensely proud of the way everyone has come together to try and help their fellow man. There are numerous stories, which you’ve probably seen on the media; taxi drivers offering free lifts, queues at the blood donation centres, the homeless man who ran in to try and help the victims and many more. One thing has struck me though.

Many of the people offering their support and love for the city have mentioned that they were not born here. I have been surprised by how many of the people I know came here from somewhere else. My wife is one of them. She was born on the Wirral but has lived more of her life here in Manchester than back where she grew up.

Some people would say that she isn’t a true Mancunian because she wasn’t born here.

Well, if you think of Manchester itself, how much has been built by people who were not born here?

In 1773 Manchester had a population of approximately 25’000. In less than twenty years that had risen to 95’000 due to the industrial revolution. That wasn’t down to more babies being born, that was because people came here. If they hadn’t, the prosperity of the city would never have happened.

When we think of Manchester, what do we think of? The Manchester Ship Canal was built by 12’000 navvies, many of whom were Irish. Chinatown and the Curry Mile are both the result of immigration from other countries. The Gay Village has drawn people from other parts of the country, looking for acceptance and tolerance, that is why it has grown. How many Manchester City/ United players come from here? George Best? Eric Cantona? David Beckham? Sergio Aguero? Pablo Zabaleta?

One of City’s most celebrated goalkeepers, Bert Trautmann, was German and fought on the Eastern Front. He was awarded the Iron Cross for bravery. Sir Matt Busby was born in North Lanarkshire. Sir Alex Ferguson was born in Govan.

People talk of Manchester as a vibrant, exciting, city, but where does that come from?

The city is kept young by the constant influx of young people. Over 9’000 students start at Manchester Metropolitan University each year (over 50’000 apply), and the MMU has a student population of over 35’000 – many, if not most, were not born here.

Media City has approximately 40 companies based there and the BBC alone employs over 2’000 people. One of the criticism’s has been how few came from the local area, so most of them, apparently, are not from here.

Noel and Liam Gallagher are from Manchester, but their father was originally from Ireland. Peter Kay’s mother is from Northern Ireland. Sir Charles Hallé, who started the famous Hallé Orchestra, was from Westphalia in Germany.

The Nobel Prize for Physics that Manchester won in 2010 was more specifically won by Andre Geim and Constantin Novoselov, both born in Russia. In fact Ernest Rutherford, who won the Nobel prize for Chemistry, back in 1908, for splitting the atom here in Manchester, was originally from New Zealand. Neils Bohr who won the Physics prize for Manchester in 1922 was born in Copenhagen. Look at the MMU’s list of Nobel prizes and there are quite a few, many of which were won by people not from here.

Alan Turing, the father of modern computing, who did much of his great work here in Manchester, was born in Maida Vale.

Manchester’s strength and prosperity is built by people from far and wide. It has been for hundreds of years and it will continue to do so. If we close the door to outsiders or we lose our famous warmth and welcoming nature, we will start the decline of this great city.

If you were one of those brave emergency services personnel who ran into the Arena last Monday, when everyone else was running out, or you queued to give your own blood to help other people, or you opened your home to strangers so they might have somewhere to sleep because they couldn’t get home – then you’re a Mancunian as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care where you were born.

Mancunians are Mancunians by choice, not by accident of birth.

Thank you,

Chris Hughes

 

British Museum

Another wet weekend forecast, with grey clouds and rain, so off down to ‘that London’ for a trip to the British Museum. Lady Hughes and myself had never been to the British Museum, so this promised to be interesting.

Looking at the website, we saw that it was walking distance from Euston Station, free, and the average visit lasted 2.5 hours – all I can say about that last one, is the average person can’t be looking at half of the stuff or they’re constantly being visited by runners trying to beat their personal bests for getting around as quickly as possible.

I didn’t actually know much about the British Museum, obviously, I knew it had a lot of antiquities and priceless artefacts – at what point do things become artefacts by the way? My house is full of ‘stuff’ but I wouldn’t describe anything as an ‘artefact’ as such. I don’t complain that people aren’t putting their artefacts away, or I’m sick of tripping over artefacts left lying around on the floor. Maybe it has to be in a museum first? Maybe museums have artefacts and I just have stuff.

Anyway, I didn’t know a lot about the British Museum.

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We entered through the North entrance, which meant we missed walking through the main entrance into the Great Court which was renovated for the millennium with a beautiful sweeping roof making the courtyard into a stunning indoor space. So when we stumbled into it, it was a wonderful surprise.

The exhibits themselves were impressive and extensive, with highlights including; the Elgin Marbles, The Sutton Hoo collection, the Lewis Chess Set (finest chess set in the world, apparently), the Rosetta Stone, the Rothschild collection, the Egyptian collection, Roman collection and the Assyrian collection – if you don’t know what any of those are either google them, or visit for yourself, I can’t do them justice here.

Needless to say, some of the exhibits were amazing, especially when you consider how old they are. In fact, we were able to handle a flint hand axe that was 500’000 years old. Which is pretty impressive in itself, until we were told that it wasn’t made by a human but by a species of early man now extinct – get your head around that.

Yes, lots to see, and it was pretty busy, so lots of people too. I saw one woman literally give up and tell her friend, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t do this anymore”. Her friend seemed to understand and helped her to the exit. Like all museums, you’re walking around looking at stuff, sorry, artefacts. And even the most enthusiastic and interested get a bit weary after a while, so we did skim a few sections – there are only so many Greek vases I can look at and still summon up the interest to read the description.

The map, offers some ‘not to be missed’ suggestions and we focused on them in the end to give us a bit of a focus. This worked a treat as it meant we saw most of the museum anyway, even if parts were a little cursory.

So, in summary, if you like a good museum I certainly recommend this one – it’s a cracker. But wear comfortable shoes and maybe check out the website to see what you definitely don’t want to miss. Also, I’m not sure I’d bring small children, unless you’re confident they’d really be up for it.

Chris

Brussels

Part three of our trip to Belgium.

After three lovely days in Bruges, we jumped back on the train to Brussels.

On the advice of Xavier, the owner of our Brussels B&B (X2), we avoided Brussels Midi station and headed to Brussels Central, much nicer and the same distance from our accommodation.

After the medieval splendour of Bruges, Brussels’s modern, sprawling, capital required a slight gear change in attitude, especially as it was raining.

Once we’d navigated our way to the B&B we dried off, relaxed with a coffee and were briefed on the best places to eat, see, visit, etc. Xavier, the owner, was very thorough, drawing it all onto a map and labelling the key locations so it all made sense. As we were early for the room, we left our bags and set off again into the city.

 

Comparing Bruges to Brussels is a bit like comparing York to London. One is a small, beautifully preserved medieval gem and the second is a large modern city with lots of historic places mixed in with the modern. Brussels is beautiful, but it can also be dirty, drab and shabby – like any big modern city.

 

We followed Xavier’s suggested route and found some of the most beautiful bits. One suggestion was the comic book festival at the Royal Park and the balloon parade, which was starting at 2pm. Even though we aren’t the biggest comic book fans in the world, we thought it would be colourful and interesting so we agreed to give it a go.

 

The festival was interesting, and colourful as promised, but Lady Hughes really wanted to see the balloon parade so at 1.30pm we found a spot and waited as the large inflatable characters were prepared. 2pm came and went and they still weren’t parading. Due to the crowds, and recent events, security was tight with lots of police and heavily armed soldiers patrolling the area.

 

At one point, a small girl lost control of her little balloon and it floated in the breeze, bouncing across the floor towards me, with her chasing it. When it came to me, to help her, I reached out my foot and gently stopped it, so she could catch it.

BANG! The balloon popped.

Four things happened. First, everyone jumped, including the police and the heavily armed soldiers just yards away. Secondly, the little girl stopped and looked up at me with a shocked, hurt, expression, her eyes saying “why?”. My guilt was only tempered by the thought that I might be machine-gunned down as a potential terrorist at a balloon parade at any second – not the way I want to go believe me. Third, every adult within twenty yards took in the scene and looked at me as though I was the most heartless, reckless bastard they’d ever seen, and the fourth reaction was one guy, stood about ten yards away who was just pissing himself laughing.

 

We continued to wait for the parade, until a tall man in a long coat, with a large support boot, sat down next to me and proceeded to grunt loudly. At this point Clare decided we should go, so we never did see the balloons parade – but at least I survived, which is always a good day in my books.

Following Xavier’s map we eventually found the Grand Place, which had been previously described to me as the most beautiful town square in the world. This we had to see, and it did not disappoint.

 

The stunning architecture was enhanced by the fact that most of the square was filled with the Belgium Beer Festival, so, when in Rome, etc.

A few beers later, we continued our exploration and found more beautiful parts to the city which I won’t list here. That evening we returned and had a lovely meal, and a few more beers, in Le Cirio, one of the oldest restaurants in the city.

The next day we had planned to visit the art gallery before catching our first train home, but we arrived at the entrance to find they were all shut on Mondays, so we quickly changed our mission, jumped on the metro and headed off to the Atomium. Just sixteen stops out of town.

The Atomium, was built as part of a World’s Fair in the fifties and is sometimes referred to as Belgium’s Eiffel Tower. It’s certainly impressive, commanding the view as you walk the short distance from the metro station.

 

Once inside we bought tickets to the top and explored the various ‘rooms’, etc. The 360°view from the top was wonderful and the light shows as you travel through the escalators and ‘balls’ as Clare put it, gave you the feel you were in an old science fiction movie. It was as if we’d travelled to the future, just a 1950’s version of the future – if that makes sense?

 

Back on the metro we headed back to the B&B to grab our bags and then hiked to the Midi station, which didn’t do much to improve our first impression, and the Eurostar home.

Looking back on the whole trip, Bruges is beautiful but so is Brussels in the right parts. I’d definitely go back to both and I think everyone should visit the WW1 Battlefields, at least once, as it really gives you a powerful perspective on the cost of conflict, in a way you can’t get from a documentary or a museum. Even now, as I watch the news there are events happening in the world that seem very similar in their own way, as if we have forgotten many of the lessons. It’s important to refresh what we’ve learnt to make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes and the best way I’ve found is to go there and see for yourself.

Chris.

WW1 Battlefields

Part two of our trip to Belgium.

As we were in Bruges, and I’ve always had an interest in the First World War, I really wanted to visit nearby Ypres, an iconic location

Clare and myself decided that we’d make the journey by train on the third day of our trip, but as we weighed up the travel options we realised that it was doable but would take hours. When we mentioned this to the owner of the B&B she suggested we go with an organised tour company – Quasimodo Tours.

I was hesitant, not just because they were named after a famous hunchback, but it was a bit expensive and I was concerned it would all be a bit rushed. In the end we did opt for the tour as it meant we could relax about the travel logistics and we’d get to see more sights than if we were on foot.

After a few complications booking the night before we were picked up by taxi at 9am and driven to the pickup point – all part of the service.

The tour was extensive to say the least, lasting nine hours, we travelled around the area with our guide Phillipe giving us a constant commentary on what happened where and why. He really was excellent, with a genuine passion for the subject and a talent for bringing it all to life. We visited a lot of sights around the Ypres Salient including (thanks to Quasimodo for the info):

Langemark German Cemetery: the second largest German cemetery containing 44,000 bodies. Among them are more than 3,000 German students who died during the battle for Langemark, more infamously known as the “Massacre of the Innocents”.

Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial Wall: The largest of the Commonwealth cemeteries. Almost 12,000 soldiers are buried here and another 35,000 are listed on the memorial wall – soldiers with no known grave.

Walking through the sea of gravestones, reading the names and where they came from, the emotional impact was very strong, very moving. Especially as many I came across, seemed to come from Manchester.

Polygon Wood: two cemeteries here and two memorials. Most of the dead here are from Australia and New Zealand, but there was still several Manchester graves scattered around.

The Brooding Soldier at Vancouver Corner: Memorial to 2,000 Canadian Soldiers who lost their lives in the St Julian area during the first gas attacks in 1915.

Hooge Crater Cemetery and Museum: we had lunch at the nearby restaurant and explored the museum with its wealth of artefacts.

Hill 60 Preserved Battlefield (Messines): This was the site of vicious fighting including the detonation of two massive mines under the hill which killed 650 Germans.

Control of this strategic point changed hands several times, which can be seen by this British bunker, built on the remains of an older German one.

Ypres and the Menin Gate: The Menin Gate is a memorial to almost 55,000 men who fell during the Great War and have no known grave.

Ypres itself was completely destroyed during the war and everything we saw was rebuilt afterwards, which in itself was amazing, especially when you looked at the great Cloth Hall.

There was a blacksmiths event on while we were giving Clare the chance to buy an Ypres poppy to go with our Tower of London one we bought a year or two ago.

The Yorkshire Trench and Dugout: These are the remains of the actual trenches, reinforced with concrete to preserve them.

Essex Farm Cemetery and Dressing Station: one of the original cemeteries and made up largely of burials from the dressing station on the site. One of the youngest soldiers to die in the war – Valentine Studwick, a 15 year old from Surrey, is buried here. Dr John McCrae, a Canadian, wrote his famous poem “In Flanders Fields” here in 1915.

Phillipe also took us to the Menin Road and Hellfire Corner, the most dangerous place on earth during the war. He also showed us some recent finds, dug up by local farmers. This ‘Iron Harvest’ of shells, grenades and assorted ammunition continues to this day and is a constant danger for the locals.

It may sound a bit depressing to spend a day visiting cemeteries and it certainly wasn’t ‘fun’ in the literal sense, but to actually stand where all these events happened, hear the accounts and see the names of those men and boys whose stories ended there, was something I’ll never forget. It was fascinating, enjoyable and very, very moving. Also, when we look at issues such as chemical weapons, long-term effects for communities and war in general, there are still lessons to be learnt today from places like this.

If you have an interest in history and the subject, I’d heartily recommend it.

Chris

EU Ironies

The UK has voted, by a slim majority, to leave the EU.

At the time of writing, the Prime Minister has announced his resignation, the Labour Party leader is facing calls for his resignation, much of the shadow cabinet have already resigned, Scotland is talking about a second independence referendum which may break up the union, the pound has plummeted to a thirty year low and far right parties across Europe are cheering our decision and using it to demand their own referendums. Today is Sunday, the results came through on Friday morning – even 24 hour rolling news is struggling to keep up.

I voted to remain and I was genuinely shocked when the result came through. I knew it would be close, but I was confident remain would win – why was I confident?

Well, the leave campaign seemed to be based on three main points:

  1. Immigration
  2. Sovereignty
  3. Expense

All of which didn’t seem to stand up to close examination. Most of the evidence showed that immigration had been a positive, and economically rewarding benefit to the country. Sovereignty is always being traded to be part of multi-national clubs like the EU, NATO, UN, etc. No-one seemed bothered about the others, so why should they be worried about the EU. It’s not as though we were living under occupation or a Stalinist regime. If anything our freedoms were more closely protected by Europe than they often were by our own governments. The expense, again, was something of a red herring once you factored in what we got back in return – there were problems, but it was actually quite a good deal, according to the majority of economists.

Then you add in all the other benefits we had from the EU like protection of workers’ rights, freedom to study, work, trade and live anywhere in the region and being part of a peaceful stable Europe. We should remember, that the initial idea for a European union was Winston Churchill’s. He saw it as the only way we could guarantee peace after the ravages of the second world war.

On top of that, the majority of business leaders, scientists, world leaders, economists and all the main party leaders were all united in supporting the remain cause, whereas the leave camp had Boris Johnson (who seemed to have changed sides to further his career), Nigel Farage and Keith Chegwin – how could we fail?

Well, as the dust settles it becomes apparent that many people don’t care about the arguments, or the logic, or the experts. Michael Gove said as much, and it appears he was right.

Vast swathes of the electorate simply made a gut decision on which way to vote and then only listened to anything that supported that initial choice, dismissing anything that went against it as false. I doubt any of my friends who voted leave will have read this far in fact, they’ll have realised that I’m not supporting Brexit and dismissed me as a sore loser or a whinger. They’ll point to democracy in action and tell me to get over it.

And that’s what causes the resentment, the anger and the bitterness. Not that we lost, that hurts obviously, but what beat us. It wasn’t a better argument, it wasn’t stronger logic and it wasn’t a genuine desire for a better solution. It was an impulsive, gut feeling, fuelled by emotion, fear, prejudice or insecurity. Watch the interviews with leave voters and listen to their reasons. What you hear isn’t a plan it’s catchphrases, ‘we’re taking back control’, ‘we feel British again’, ‘it’s our independence day’, you’d think it was VE Day.

In fairness, that’s what was fed to them by the Brexit campaign, but that’s all they wanted. They didn’t need or ask for any detail, which was good because it’s now apparent that there wasn’t any.

The ironies of what’s happened and what’s going to happen, are starting to come out:

Immigration – Boris has already said that he is pro-immigration and still wants us to be an active part of Europe. Most of our immigration is non-EU anyway, so it won’t be affected. The French are now saying that they don’t see why they should stop people at Calais anymore and we’ll have to deal with them on British soil. Ministers are already saying that we will probably have to accept some level of free movement to get the trade deals we need. It’s worth bearing in mind that no government has ever really been able to get a grip of immigration despite their various promises, being out of the EU is unlikely to change that.

So, for those of you that wanted tighter immigration control, it looks more likely that in a couple of years we’ll still see ministers having to explain why nothing has changed.

Sovereignty – taking back control. Who exactly is going to be getting this control? Well, in short, the elite. The next Prime Minister will be chosen by the Tories, not the British people. Even if the Tories don’t win the next general election, the chances are that Labour will have swapped Jeremy Corbyn for someone much more voter/business friendly, remember the gap between rich and poor got bigger during the last Labour government and that was before they bailed out the banks at our expense. So both ways, the top 1% wins.

Like turkeys voting for Christmas, we’ve just handed control of our future to the very people who have a vested interest in milking it for every penny. With union membership diminishing who’s going to stand up for ordinary people now – Boris?

Additional irony – many of the areas that voted to leave are also the areas that received the most EU support, what happens to them?

Expense – yes, we won’t have to send any money to the EU but if the economy suffers, then we won’t have it for anything else either. Even if the economy does bounce back, do you really think the government is going to spend it on education and the NHS? I’m not sure what you write on the side of a bus is legally binding. Boris and Michael Gove had both previously said that people should pay for treatment and hinted at an insurance model of healthcare, and Nigel Farage said on the day of the result that the promise was a mistake and he wouldn’t honour it (not that it’ll be up to him).

Great quote today from Ian Duncan Smith, “we just made a series of promises that were possibilities” – and so it begins.

Making Britain great again – well Nicola Sturgeon is already talking about a second independence referendum, and as Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, who can blame them. It was a pretty close verdict last time, so the chances are they’ll probably finally break free of us.

No Scotland, no Great Britain. No Great Britain, no Union Jack. All those people waving their red, white and blue flags and telling us how they’re proud to be British again, may have actually lit the fuse that will blow up the idea once and for all. You think we’ll stay GB without Scotland, well Wales also voted to stay in and Plaid Cymru have already talked about for a referendum of their own, as have people in Northern Ireland.

Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing in the long-term.

One of the interesting things that has come out of all this, is the division between young and old. Young people voted to stay in but as the age of the voters rose the more likely they were to vote leave – except for the oldest, who lived through the war and remembered what it was like to live in an unstable Europe, they voted to remain.

In an increasingly interconnected world, young people see themselves as global citizens. They’re not as weighed down with all the nationalism, history and misplaced patriotism. They play games with friends all over the world, they have relatives that they skype in different continents and they see the opportunity in free movement and the possibilities excite them.  But now they feel like the older generation have closed the door to those possibilities and they’re angry. They want to move into the future and the older voters just seem to want to take them back to the past. A past they don’t recognise or want.

There’s been lots of evidence of people living in the past recently, trading on old glories and selling the idea of returning to the good old days – whatever they were. Posting pictures of union jacks on Facebook, references to WWII and even pictures of spitfires flying over the white cliffs of Dover. Hey, I think the generation that lived through that period were the greatest generation, but I’m not sure it helps clarify anything about this debate. It was a different time and we live in a world they couldn’t have imagined back then.

It’s interesting that some of the most resurgent countries at the moment have come from difficult histories, whether it’s recovering from devastating wars or communist dictatorships, they have had to start from virtually nothing. Reinventing themselves anew for the modern age. Dealing with their past but not defined by it, moving forward – I saw this in Berlin where they were honest and contrite about their past but focussed on the future.

Like young people, young countries look to the future. They adapt to their circumstances and start afresh. We, on the other hand look backwards, and tell ourselves that we’re still great, expecting circumstances to adapt to us. We tell ourselves that foreigners can’t be trusted and we should rely on ourselves as we’re inherently superior because we’re British – it’s rubbish and I think it’s holding us back.

If the union does break up, maybe we’ll finally get the message that the days of empire are finally over. We’re not a superpower anymore and we should embrace it and move on. Not one ‘great’ nation but a group of separate, modern nations, in much the same way Scandinavia is. We don’t have to give up our history, but we don’t have to rest everything on it as well.

Instead of loving our country, why can’t we love our people. Instead of being proud of our history why don’t we build pride in our achievements and our future. Let’s put the flags down, get through the painful divorce period and start again with a new identity.

But please, let’s base it on rational thought and reasonable debate and not just blind impulse and prejudice. One tweet today said, that obviously, not all Brexit voters are racist, but now the racists think that 52% of the population agrees with them. Maybe that’s why there’s suddenly a rise in reports of attacks on minorities. It’s the idea that this kind of thinking has won the day that makes us remain voters feel sick and ashamed, and it’s this kind of thinking we need to fix if we’re ever really going to get back on our feet and dare to call ourselves ‘great’ again.

Chris

 

Dublin with Ed and Helen

After much organisation and planning, we finally made it over to Ireland again. This time we were with my Uncle Ed and his wonderful wife Helen, both of whom had visited Dublin before, but not for a long time.

As there were four of us, we couldn’t crash at anyone’s house so my sister Claire managed to get us a deal on the Doubletree Morrison Hotel, right in the centre, on the banks of the River Liffey. It’s a beautiful hotel and the service was excellent (warm cookies while you check in!) so big thank you to Claire – you’re a star!

Taxi from the airport was a bit of an adventure as I asked to go to the Doubletree Hotel and it turns out there are two and our driver thought we meant the other one. It was only when he said that we had a thirty minute walk to get into the centre that it all came out, but he’d passed our hotel at that point – he said it was his fault, and I agreed. But no-one else did unfortunately.

I’ve never had a bad time in Dublin and this trip was no exception. We explored a few places in Temple Bar and met up with my brother Peter and my sister Claire on the Friday night. Starting in the Palace Bar where we somehow managed to adopt two drunken cockney golfers.

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The weather was grey and wet for the whole three days but we didn’t let it get us down. On Saturday we held Helen back from beating up a miserable bus driver who wouldn’t accept notes, even though it was the exact fare, and we jumped a cab to Kilmainham Gaol. This was the where the leaders of the Easter Rising were held before they were shot by firing squad. The subsequent outcry lead to Ireland gaining independence from the British, so it’s a fascinating place and very topical at the moment.

Once there we discovered it was fully booked – something about a centenary or something.

Never mind. Onto the National Museum with a special exhibition all about the uprising. It was here that Clare stood looking at an exhibit next to an Irish lady and a teenager with an American accent. The lady was explain the exhibit to the teenage girl, who then exclaimed “the British are such bastards!” Clare turned round and replied, “we’re very sorry”, to which a nearby Irishman answered, “apology accepted.”

I’m not sure what the teenager made of it all but we felt we’d done our bit for Anglo-Irish diplomacy – that’s that sorted, well done us!

Saturday night, we all met up at the Fallon & Byrne restaurant for a meal, again organised by my sister Claire- she really played a blinder on this trip, thanks again.

Food was great and the company even better. Once fed, we staggered to the Stag’s Head pub and managed to bag a table. More friends turned up and the Guinness flowed, it’s been a long time since I’ve had as good a night as that, over far too quickly.

Sunday, we checked out of the hotel but still had the day before our evening flight, so we visited Dublin Castle and did the tour there. I love a bit of history, so this was great. The castle is where all the Irish Presidents are sworn in and was suitably impressive.

Our last real taste of Dublin was the Brazen Head pub for lunch with my Irish Dad John and his wife Anne. This is apparently the oldest pub in Dublin and we just had one thing left on Helen’s list to tick off, so it was Irish Stew all round.

A quick hop back over the Irish Sea, courtesy of Ryanair, and we were back in tropical Manchester. Overall, a great trip, great company – especially Ed and Helen and all my family in Ireland, can’t wait for the next time. Thanks to Peter and Helen for letting me nick a few of their photos – if only I had a selfie stick of my own Helen.

Chris

Back to the Globe

Last Christmas, as a gift, Lady Hughes gave me two tickets to see A Winter’s Tale at the Globe Theatre in London.

The Globe is the recreation of the Elizabethan Theatre that stood on the same site when Shakespeare was alive. We did the tour last year and I’d said that I’d love to see a show there. It was a wonderful, thoughtful gift – so after much thought I offered to take her with me. It was the least I could do I suppose.

Clare actually presented the gift to me in the form of a globe paperweight, she then asked me to guess where we were going. I guessed wrong, and I sensed she was a bit disappointed when I shouted out ‘round the world trip’ – but hey, this is good also.

As it’s the winter season they don’t use the open air theatre, instead they have new indoor theatre, the Sam Wanamaker Theatre. This is still a recreation of an Elizabethan Theatre but its inside.

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(Picture courtesy of Shakespeare’s Globe)

One problem we had was whether Clare would be well enough to travel as she was involved in an accident at work a week or two before, and had been poisoned. Just the day before we were supposed to go, she called the theatre to see whether it was possible to resell the tickets if we couldn’t go. In the end she felt that as long as we took it easy, she’d give it a go, so we jumped the train and headed off to ‘that London’ – as we call it in the North.

The theatre itself is wonderful. It’s small so you’re very close to the action and the whole thing is lit by candles. They’ve managed to do some deal with health & safety so there isn’t even the usual ‘exit’ signs to spoil the period mood.

The performance was excellent, lively, dramatic and surprisingly funny. The creative use of the limited staging and props kept it interesting, my only gripe was the cramped seating, but that’s the price of authenticity I suppose.

We stayed at the Hamilton by Hilton in Waterloo so everything was walking distance – which was nice.

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The next morning we wandered over the Thames to Somerset House for a quick look before sticking our heads in the National Gallery which was somewhere else I’d wanted to visit after we went to the National Portrait Gallery a while back.

We couldn’t do too much as Clare was still recovering so we kept it light and were quickly jumping the train back home.

Overall, if you like the theatre and/or Shakespeare, I’d heartily recommend the Globe, it’s a different experience to other, more traditional theatres (which is a bit ironic if you think about it) but it’s still a lot of fun.

 Chris

 

Salford Hall Hotel and Warwick Castle

I don’t like birthdays.

My birthdays, that is, I have no problem with anyone else’s. It’s not the aging aspect that I object to, I feel the depressing inevitability of that on a daily basis believe me. I don’t need a day each year to remind me of that particular biological process. It’s the anticipation and celebration of my ‘special’ day that I find vaguely wearing – I know, I’m a barrel of laughs.

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Don’t get me wrong, I have friends and family and they’re all lovely, but I find the best way to cope with my birthday is to get away for a day or two. My wonderful wife Clare knows this, so this year she treated me to a night away at a beautiful hotel and a visit to Warwick Castle, somewhere I’d always wanted to visit – hey, I like castles, all right!

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Our hotel was the Salford Hall Hotel, confusingly nowhere near Salford but situated just south of Birmingham and about thirty minutes away from Warwick.

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The hotel was hundreds of years old and reputedly haunted, but as our room, the Catherine Howard Room no less, was in the converted stable block I doubted we’d be troubled by anything other than a ghostly pony or two. Clare had paid a £10 supplement for a four-poster room, which we thought would be an old wood-panelled bedroom with loads of character. In reality it was a fairly modern hotel room, with a four-posted bed sat in the middle of it. I don’t suppose we can really complain but it wasn’t quite the rustic ambiance we were hoping for.

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The weather was great so we had afternoon tea in the garden, soaking up the sun. Afternoon tea seems very gentile, but after you’ve put away a plate of sandwiches, two scones with thick cream and jam, a plate of cakes, two glasses of bubbly and a pot of tea, you almost need a forklift to get you back on your feet.

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Later on, we ate in the hotel restaurant. The food was very good but the beige décor looked like it hadn’t changed since the hall had been converted into a hotel back in 1989, and I don’t think the background music CD had either, but hey, I grew up in the eighties and quite liked the trip back in time, the food was great and we were having a good time so we weren’t complaining. We finished the evening off in the hotel bar.

The next day we had a hearty breakfast  and set off for Warwick Castle.

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Warwick Castle is a great Castle with lots of fascinating history involving several key figures from English history, such as Richard III, but I won’t go into all that right now. I love the history and the opportunity for a bit of photography, but to be honest I’m less interested in the ‘showbiz’ elements such as various out-of-work actors in period costume pretending to be medieval time-travellers. In fairness, we spoke to a couple who explained that they were contracted as actual peasants and loved the work, so good luck to them. The gangs of school parties running round seemed to love them.

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I can see why places like this have to try and make the day as entertaining as possible, especially when they charge so much for admission (approx. £25 per person) but there’s a fine line they have to balance before they start to diminish the reality with the glitter, rather than enhance it. On the whole I think Warwick Castle has got it right, but they’re very close.

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On the whole a great couple of days – made me forget it was my birthday – which is fine by me.

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Chris

Victoria Baths

Victoria Baths is a Grade II* listed building, situated in the Chorlton-upon-Medlock area of Manchester. The Baths opened to the public in 1906 and were used for most of the 20th Century before falling into disrepair. In 2003 the baths won the BBC Restoration programme, securing funding to start the difficult process of bringing them back to their former glory. IMG_6034 - Version 2 IMG_6033 - Version 2

The baths aren’t too far from where I live and I’d always wanted to visit them, so the open day yesterday seemed like a good opportunity for a bit of architectural photography. There was also a vintage fair on, so I reckoned there should be something interesting to shoot.

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The baths themselves are beautiful but obviously still far from finished. There are three (empty) pools, Turkish baths and various other rooms to wander around and explore. The hope is that one day they’ll be able to refill the pools and get people swimming again but for now they are empty with the middle one covered and used for today’s vintage fair.

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I quite like the fact the fact that it still has its original fixtures and fittings even though they are in a sad state in a lot of cases. It hasn’t gone through the clinical process of being stripped out and modernised over the years, removing all character and Victorian beauty for a sterile shell. I think it’s brilliant what’s being done, bringing it back to life, but wandering around looking at the scale of the task you can see how immense this project really is.

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Some rooms are more like building sites and then you are struck by something like the stunning green tiled stairwell which doesn’t seem to have aged at all.

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With all the redevelopment in Manchester at the moment, its great to see something unique and beautiful from our past, not just being protected but actually repaired and returned to it’s original function – even if it is a bloody long and difficult process. I tip my boater to the volunteers – hip, hip hooray!

Chris.

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London Surprises

A couple of months ago I was contacted by my brother’s partner Ger, asking if Clare and myself could help with a birthday surprise for my brother Peter.

Unbeknown to Peter, Ger had booked a surprise weekend in London for his birthday (it’s worth mentioning here that Peter and Ger live in Dublin). The plan was that we’d ‘appear‘ unexpectedly as part of the trip and spend the day together.

And so it was that Clare and myself travelled down to London on Saturday in time to make our appearance at the Nag’s Head pub in Covent Garden.

I was a little nervous as we got closer to the pub, as the street’s were busy and I didn’t want Peter to spot me before we got there and ruin the surprise. I was also conscious that being six foot three, I hardly blend into the crowd that well – I don’t think I would make a good spy!

Not far from the pub, I glanced down a side-street and to my horror looked straight at Peter. I quickly ducked down, grabbed Clare and dragged her round the corner, “he’s there, Peter’s there, I just looked straight at him but I don’t think he noticed me.”

We rushed down the street knowing that Peter and Ger would turn round after us any minute. Clare shouted to go into a shop but the doorway next to me was a Paul Smith shop, “I can’t afford anything in there!“. Clare pushed me in.

After a short period pretending to be interested in a very expensive shoe, we ventured carefully outside and crept into the pub. The pub was packed but there he was on the other side of the bar. I crouched down and squeezed forward through the assorted drinkers like a lion stalking its prey – or possibly a man with a serious back problem trying to get to the loos.

What I couldn’t see though in my hunched-down position, was that Peter had his drink, and was now walking straight towards me. The crowd parted and Peter was confronted by this strange man squatting and creeping towards him. I looked up from his feet and said the first thing that came to me, “oh, hello. D’you come here too?“.

Mission accomplished!

We had a great time in London with Peter, Ger and Ger’s brother Derek (Derek lives in London, he joined us later). We had a few drink’s in the Nag’s Head and then met up that evening before travelling to Soho for more drinks, a beautiful meal in a local Tai restaurant and then on to the Hippodrome Casino.

Now I’ve been to casinos before and to be honest I’m not really a gambler. When I’ve gambled in the past I’ve proved to be fairly incompetent and extremely unlucky, so I’ve learnt to simply keep the money in my pocket and not bother. So the lure of the casino didn’t really work for me, but I happily watched as Peter gave Ger encouragement and she went onto more than double her money, I think Derek did even better, so a good night had by all – it seems gambling does pay. Just not for me.

Good company, good food and a great location. In fact we had such a good time, I forgot to take any pictures.

The next day we met up for a debrief on the previous night before Peter and Ger had to catch their flight home. Always a pleasure to see them, we bid them farewell and wondered what to do next?

As we were south of the river we walked to the Globe Theatre, which I’d always wanted to see, and did the tour. The Globe is a recreation of the theatre that Shakespeare’s plays were first shown in, and is a very active venue with live shows throughout the summer. The Globe is open air so they only use it during the warmer months and then they use the new, candle-lit, Sam Wanamaker theatre next door, which is undercover (apologies for the photos, they’re all taken on my phone).

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The tour was interesting and we got to explore a little bit, though I was a bit disappointed that we couldn’t actually go onto the stage. It did, however, make me really want to see an actual show there. We didn’t have time this trip, but we both promised ourselves that we’d book something in the new year and make a special effort.

As we finished the tour, we discovered that a surprise, free, event was arriving. A procession of performers in a variety of costumes came into the theatre and we were encouraged to follow them. It’s hard to describe what was going on but it was a kind of theatrical, Elizabethan harvest festival with singers, actors and morris dancers.

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We watched it for a while and then the procession left and made it’s way onto Borough Market. We decided to get a bite to eat and then make our own way to the market, as it had been recommended to us.

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After the market, we headed home.

Travelling by tube we arrived at Euston only for Clare to hear an announcement that she recognised as a coded alarm. This was shortly followed by an instruction to evacuate the underground station. Luckily we were where we need to be so we quickly climbed the escalators out into Euston station, only to discover that the trains were disrupted as some idiot had thrown something off a bridge and it had hit a moving truing damaging the train and the tracks.

Again, we were lucky. We managed to find a train home and get seats – all part of the adventure, eh.

Chris

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