Category Archives: Manchester

Manchester: A Week After the Bomb

This Bank Holiday Monday was exactly one week since the Manchester Arena bomb that killed 22 people and injured many more.

Lady Hughes and myself had arranged to go into town with friends a while back, and this was the first time I had been into Manchester since the bomb. I was curious what the mood would be and I was also keen to visit St Anne’s Square and pay my respects.

Getting off the bus in Piccadilly I was pleased to see that it was business as usual. Children were playing in the fountains, getting soaked and upsetting their parents, who would now have to take them into Primark to buy them some dry clothes – we did the same when our lads were smaller.

The Northern Quarter was still busy and bustling, but there were signs and street art showing their support for the victims and a desire to stand strong.

Walking through the streets, we found the police cordon very much still in force but people and the police were smiling and helpful in directing us around it.

We quickly visited Manchester Cathedral, lit a candle and signed the book of condolences before heading off to St Anne’s Square where all the flowers and messages were laid out.

The atmosphere here was very subdued and respectful, with people slowly shuffling around the square, reading the messages and taking it all in. I felt a bit self-conscious taking pictures, so I didn’t take too many.

There were police with machine guns standing around but they were chatting with people and looked relaxed. The media were still present but were keeping themselves to one end near the church.

It was quite sombre and emotional as you would expect, especially when you read some of the many messages, but still very colourful and vibrant with all the flowers and balloons.

On the way out back we past the entrance to a tattoo parlour where they were doing bee tattoos to raise money for the charity fund. One week later and people were still queuing down the stairs.

Liam Gallagher played a benefit gig in Manchester yesterday and he said, “normal business has been resumed“. Walking round Manchester, I think he might be right. We’re not knocked down, but we not forgetting either.

Chris Hughes

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

 

Manchester Macro

I’ve not posted anything for a while, don’t worry, I’m not dead – just getting a few things sorted, unfortunately not the kind of things that make great blog posts

So, to get the ball rolling again, I’ve done a little photography project.

My lovely wife, Lady Hughes, gave me a new macro (close-up) lens for Christmas and I haven’t had chance to try it out properly – until today.

I’ve always wanted to have a go at macro photography so I dropped various hints in the run-up to Christmas and Clare didn’t let me down. Many lenses have a ‘macro’ setting, allowing you to get a bit closer, but they’re not strictly proper macro lenses like this one – Canon EF 50mm macro, for the photographers out there. It’s not a microscope, but it allows you to get very close and still be able to focus.

The challenge I set myself was to go to the Northern Quarter of Manchester, a place I’ve photographed several times before, and try to get a new perspective with the new lens.

What I found was you start looking at the details, the textures, patterns and the abstract. It’s quite interesting walking round a place you already know and just focussing on the small. You also get a few strange looks from passers by, wondering why you’re taking pictures of a bollard from only six inches away.

Going through the photos afterwards, I realised that the wide open aperture I used gave me a very narrow depth of field, which was a bit tight on several shots – but hey, that’s a learning point for next time.

Here’s the rest of the pictures, see if you recognise any of the places, and feel free to give me any (constructive) feedback.

Thanks,

Chris

Autumn Update

I’ve not ‘blogged’ for a while now but don’t worry, that doesn’t mean I’ve given up or stopped having adventures, in fact it’s partly because I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to write any posts – that’s my excuse anyway and I’m sticking to it.

Anyway, here’s a quick update on the story so far.

Two weeks ago, Lady Hughes and myself had a visit from my Brother Peter and sister Claire, over for the weekend from Dublin. We were really looking forward to this as we always have a great time with them, but it did pose the question of, what makes the perfect weekend in Manchester?

Now the answer will obviously vary, depending on your tastes and interests, but in the end we came up with a Friday night in the Northern Quarter, Saturday morning tram to Media City, Imperial North and the Lowry, then on to Castlefield and lunch at the Wharf. Stroll through Christmas Markets, meet up with both of my sons, Alex (and girlfriend Jade) and Elliott, and then onto Mr Thomas’s Chop House for dinner. Finished at the Molly House in Manchester’s Gay Village. Sunday was gentle (very gentle) recovery and prepare for their flight home.

We had a great time, but I must confess I did get very drunk on the Saturday and made a bit of a fool of myself apparently, so apologies to anyone I may have offended – I didn’t mean it, honest.

No photos I’m afraid (or perhaps, thank god), as we were too busy have a good time.

The week after I was invited by my good friends Mark and Andy to try the famous Ale Trail train. The idea is that you catch the train from Victoria Station to Batley and get off at each stop for a drink as there’s a recommended pub at each one. Lady Hughes decided to come along for moral support.

So we caught the bus into Manchester, and walked to Victoria Station to meet the guys at 3pm.

After a brief scare due to a fire on the track, and a quick warm-up pint at Victoria, we set off and were soon at pub number 1 on the list, the Station Bar in Stalybridge (great pies).

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We then progressed onto Greenfield and the Railway Inn, Marsden and the Riverhead Brewery Tap & Dining Room, and finally Slathwaite (pronounced Slowat) and the Commercial.

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At this point we all agreed it was time to head home. Due to a cancelled train, it was quicker to go on to Huddersfield and get a direct train back to Piccadilly than to wait for the next scheduled train back to Victoria.

Overall, we had a great time, but the actual pubs weren’t as great as I’d hoped, Stalybridge Station was probably the best. Also, word had obviously got around and there were a lot of people doing the same as us. This meant that when the train got into each station there was a bit of a sprint to each pub and get a drink. That being said, we did meet some great people and it was a bit of an adventure.

Would I do it again? Probably not to be honest, but I’m glad we did it at least once.

What else have I been doing? Well I’m writing a new screenplay, a dark thriller, and I’ve been doing a few more portraits. Here’s one I did a week or so back, Roy Keane:

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Lady Hughes and myself have also joined a gym, so we’re ‘sculpting’ our bodies in readiness for next summer – at our age it’s a much longer job than it used to be.

Last week we went to Jon Ronson’s ‘Psychopath Night’ at Home (the venue, not our home, if that makes sense?). Great night and we even got to meet the man himself afterwards.

So, that brings us up to date I think. Next big thing is probably Christmas, so there’s something to look forward to.

Chris

 

 

 

Sunny Street Photography in Manchester

With Lady Hughes working this Sunday I was at a bit of a loose end, so I decided to pop into Manchester and do a bit of street photography. The weather was great, sunny and warm, I had no agenda, so no pressure. I grabbed my camera and jumped in the car.

My favoured technique with street photography is that of the sniper. Pick your target, shoot quickly and then move on. What you’re looking for is a story, a glimpse of life, action, character, relationships. The trick is to find a subject and then capture what you’re after quickly before they realise. Once they know they’re being observed, people change, the moment’s gone. If all else fails, you can always shoot the environment.

 

I try not to be too intrusive and I do think about whether it’s right to take certain pictures – I try to empathise with the subjects and show some respect – well, most of the time anyway. If you’re going to stand on a busy street corner and start singing you’re really asking for attention aren’t you.

Starting at Piccadilly, I walked through Piccadilly Gardens and down Market Street to see the street entertainers. One group called the Piccadilly Rats were drawing a crowd but more out of morbid curiosity than admiration I think.

At St Anne’s Square there was a lady whacking a tennis ball on elastic, which made a great shot with the Victorian statue right behind her, but she spotted me and moved out of the way – spoilsport! Perhaps she didn’t have a permit and didn’t want to be photographed – who knows?

I stopped by the John Ryland’s Library as there was market, and I’d only taken about three shots when a security guard approached me to ask if the pictures were for personal use. When I said yes, he backed off, radioing my status to his controller. Walking on, into Spinningfields, I was challenged by another security guard, asking the same thing. He was very nice about it, but it became apparent that I was being watched – ironic, I suppose.

Apparently, the whole area is privately owned and the security guard explained that they get a lot of celebrities and football players so they are very sensitive about paparazzi. Well I didn’t see any celebs, not that I was looking for them. What I did see was lots of ‘beautiful’ people, head to toe in designer brands, relaxing in a spotless, designer environment, with a designer busker, on a designer performance area, fenced off by designer shrubbery under a designer marquee – time to move on I think.

On to Albert Square, Central Library and back to Piccadilly Gardens, where I met up with Lady Hughes, who had just finished her shift. We popped into Pizza Express, sat outside and watched the world go by over a couple of pizzas and drinks.

Piccadilly Gardens has always been one of those places I’d previously avoided to be honest. It had a reputation for dodgy characters and seedy goings-on, not helped by haphazard redevelopment and a lack of maintenance – the once lovely fountains are now filled with plastic flower containers to try and hide the fact they don’t work anymore.

But here in the sunshine, there were children playing, couples relaxing on the grass, families, Pokémon hunters, workers, pensioners, disabled people with their carers, teenagers, and even a busker – admittedly, she was bloody awful, but at least you knew she hadn’t been selected by a marketing department, to fit in with the colour scheme. It wasn’t exclusive, it was inclusive and no, I probably wouldn’t want to go there every weekend, but it was a damn sight more interesting than Spinningfields.

Chris Hughes

Summer 2015

I feel very guilty as I’ve not written a blog all summer and it’s mid-September now – don’t worry, I’ll get over it.

Not sure why not, I’ve been very busy but I also think I just wanted a break if I’m completely honest – but hey, I’m back so panic over.

What have I been up to?

Well the first part of summer was taken up with the Manchester International Festival. Every two years, Manchester hosts an arts festival where every performance is a premiere.

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Two years ago I was gutted to miss out on tickets for Kenneth Branagh’s Macbeth, so this year we signed up to become a friend of the festival, which, for a small fee, meant we got advance notice of all the shows and priority booking. Despite some glitches with the booking website we managed to see some great shows, including; Damon Albarn’s ‘Wonderland’ musical (interesting), Maxine Peake in ‘The Skryker’ (brilliant), Charlotte Rampling in ‘Kneck of the Woods’ (disappointing), Adam Buxton (very funny), Bork, various exhibitions and two full days of talks called ‘Interdependance’ (fascinating). We also saw Professor Brian Cox talk about his upcoming ‘Age of Starlight’ show, which looks amazing.

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On the filmmaking side, I’ve been involved with Bokeh Yeah and we shot our latest short film in Cheshire last month- we’ve finished the edit and are waiting for my son, Alex, to complete the music – very exciting.

We have several other films in preparation including, at least two poetry films – watch this space.

The big project we’re considering at the moment is the Shining Tor Film School.

Can’t say too much at present, but we’re planning to run some basic film-making courses for absolute beginners, probably starting in the new year – if we can find a suitable venue!

Last week, Lady Hughes and myself came back from a rare holiday. One scorching week in Malta. More to come about that trip later, when I finally manage to organise the photos, etc.

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The main thing is, we’re okay (thanks for asking) and we’ve a lot happening so stay tuned for more adventures.

Chris

Feeling at Home, at ‘Home’

Manchester has a new arts venue, confusingly named ‘Home.

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Already, I’ve encountered the problem of statements like, “we saw it at home”, “we’re off to home” and “great time at home last night”. I get round this usually, by adding the preface, “the arts venue, not where I live“. Hopefully this confusion will dissipate once people get to know the place – the arts venue, not where I live.

This new centre, houses two theatres, a five screen cinema, exhibition space, bars and a restaurant, and it’s the new ‘home’ of the old Library Theatre and Cornerhouse cinema.

The official opening was last Thursday, but Clare and myself went to an early performance of the first play to be performed here, ‘Funfair’, the Saturday before, and we took Elliott to a screening of ‘Blade Runner’ the day after, so we’d had chance to have a look around before all the hoopla of the official opening.

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The venue itself is great, with a good location just on the edge of the city and lots of space to wander around and explore. Obviously, everything is shiny and new and the design appears to be very minimalist with bare concrete walls and lots of glass – very modern but perhaps a little cold and inexpressive.

But hey, maybe that’s the idea, after all the test of this venue, won’t be the wallpaper, it’ll be the stuff going on inside.

The opening itself was blessed with glorious sunshine and we were excited to hear that Danny Boyle, one of the patrons of Home, and Oscar-winning director of such films as Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire would be there to cut the ribbon. So, we stuffed our DVD of Shallow Grave in Clare’s handbag and popped down to see the show.

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There was lots of colourful characters and music so we had a great time, Elliott even managed to get a selfie with Mr Boyle and got him to sign our DVD – though Elliott did forget to take the pen we gave him, but Danny Boyle had one himself, which was lucky.

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Now we’ve been to ‘Home’ (the venue, not the …) a few times, I can say how much I like it. I love cinema and the theatre, so this is a welcome addition to the already vibrant arts scene in Manchester. Even though the architecture is new, shiny and a little cold for my taste, the energy and vibe is quite warm and exciting, which can only be a good thing.

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It’s actually quite ‘homely’.

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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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Manchester Street Photography

Some time ago I tried my hand at street photography in Manchester and was surprisingly pleased with the results. So, this Sunday we ventured out again to have another go.

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I’m not sure what the official definition of street photography is, but mine is to try and capture something different about a place, especially something about the people. Something that hints at a story.

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Manchester city centre is great for this kind of project as there’s so much going on and so much to see. I try to find little moments that might make an interesting picture, preferably moments that make you wonder who the people are and what’s going on in their lives.

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I did photograph the buildings as well but I was looking for unusual images, different to the typical postcard shots you see of the familiar landmarks.

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Shooting people is tricky, as you don’t want to be insensitive. I’ve seen people who are obviously upset and distressed, but I don’t take their picture as I think that would be too intrusive, though I’m sure the pictures would be interesting.

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You want to capture that fleeting moment, but you don’t want the subject to notice you taking the shot as they then become self-conscious and the moment is lost.

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I heard some street photographers shoot from the hip, keeping the camera low and aiming instinctively without looking through the viewfinder, but when I tried it the shots were usually of the floor or the sky. Instead, I use a 250mm telephoto lens so I can shoot from a distance.

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My approach is similar to a sniper, take the shot and then move on. I hope you like them.

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Chris

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Pub Crawl No 3

Bit late with this one, but here it is anyway – Our third pub crawl round Manchester. Just like the first crawl, I was joined by my old friends Mark Hillyard, and for half the crawl, Andy Morrison.

The rules this time were, all the pubs had to be new to us, we each took it in turns to pick the next one and we each had a veto we could use if we walked into somewhere and instantly hated the place – luckily, this rule was not needed, actually I don’t think we told Andy about that rule, now I come to think about it.

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Mark and I met in Piccadilly Gardens at three o’clock and proceeded to ‘Slice’ Pizzeria in the Northern Quarter to lay a foundation of food down in preparation for the beer to come. Great little pizza place this where you could select lots of different quarters, which suited us fine. It was also beer number one, a pint of lager to warm up the liver.

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Leaving ‘Slice’ we met up with Andy and walked to Mark’s choice, ‘The Tib Street Tavern’. This pub was nice but busy as it had big screens with the football on. We managed to find a table and did our best to ignore the distraction of the game. This pub had a nice atmosphere, even with though it was busy, it was probably one of the more trendy pubs on our lists and the beer was good (pint number two) but it was still good to get away from the crowds and the football and move onto pub number three – my choice, ‘The Angel’.

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‘The Angel’ is on the way to ‘The Marble Arch’ (see crawl No 1) and was recommended to me last year by a Catholic Priest we met at Angel Meadow. With such high praise, it was time to check it out.

Not the smartest pub, but good atmosphere, friendly staff and an open fire. Andy ordered a burger and chips and was pleasantly surprised at how good they were, and the price. I liked this pub, it seemed very genuine – if that makes sense?

Pub (and pint) number four was across Manchester to Deansgate and the ‘Knott Inn’.

It was starting to get dark when we got there and the pub was busy. Great selection of beers here so we took our pick and found a couple of square feet out of the way to stand in. Again, nice atmosphere, but this pub felt like the kind of place you meet up with your friends before going somewhere else. I told a story about travelling through Russia and a lady nearby became very interested – it turns out she was Russian, what are the chances of that happening eh?

It was at this point that we had to say farewell to Andy who had a previous engagement, so, dodging the traffic, we crossed Deansgate and made our way to pub number five, ‘The Cask’ in Castlefield.

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We approached the bar and Mark asked if they served food, “no mate, but there’s a chip shop next door. You can bring ’em in but take the fish away with you”. I got the drinks in while Mark went next door to get two fish and chips. Other customers eyed us enviously as we picked our way through the fresh cod and chips with our bare fingers (Mark forgot to get any forks). And soon we noticed more people disappearing before returning with white parcels just like ours.

Pub number six, ‘The Britons Protection’, just near the Bridgewater Hall. Beautiful Pub this, good atmosphere and friendly staff. Slightly strange layout here as you have to leave the bar and go outside momentarily, to get to the rooms at the rear. We managed though, and found a table to enjoy pint number six and contemplate our final destination.

Pub number seven, ‘The Temple’.

‘The Temple’ has had several incarnations. I remember it as a record shop in the eighties, but it was originally built as an underground public convenience, which is ironic because the loos here are the worst we’d seen all day. This is more a bar than a pub, but we were curious so we gave it a go and checked it off the list. Met some nice people, but it’s small, cramped and a little grungy, so we only had a half each and finally climbed the stairs out to catch our bus/train home and recover.

Overall, it was an interesting day exploring, I’m starting to feel now that I’m getting a bit of an overview of the most interesting pubs, and Manchester in general, though I’m sure there’s much more to find. Who knows, maybe I’ll come up with the ideal pub crawl, with all the favourites, etc.

Watch this space.

Chris