Do you ever wake up and decide to go and see a bridge? It’s a normal occurrence in our house!
Sunday morning is one of the few mornings that we usually have a little bit of a spare time so we like to go out very early with our cameras and try to capture something different. A photowalk with a purpose.
Just beneath the M60 motorway close to the Chill Factore is a brand new road bridge crossing the Manchester Ship Canal to Barton and beyond – hopefully relieving some of the (what can be horrific) traffic around the Trafford Centre and Event City.
Parking at the Trafford Centre and walking to, and then across, the new bridge as far as the shared stadium of Salford Red Devils Rugby League and Sale Sharks Rugby Union gave us a 6k walk (tracked to ensure we keep up with our Us Against the Year Challenge on Map My Walk!) Perfect start to a winter Sunday morning with the added bonus of some exercise and umpteen photo opportunities. Our average pace is pretty rubbish – we stop too many times to take a photo!
A very impressive bridge well worth the trip. Fascinating structure and frightening when you see how they are held up. It was a perfect photowalk with urban opportunities everywhere – motorway bridge, the stadium, the new bridge enhanced by a surprisingly beautiful Manchester Ship Canal complete with reflections of trees and shimmering sunlight.
We finished the walk with a trip inside the Chill Factore – from urban Trafford to an alpine village in seconds! The slope is particularly impressive although I’m not sure I’ll ever be going down it! I’ll stick to taking photos of bridges!
Birmingham has been high on our list of places to visit for some time. We'd had a long planned-for trip to Purnells to take and it is just a hour and a half train journey direct from home. Having a Christmas birthday in the family always means extra thought and planning to ensure Chris' birthday doesn’t disappear into the Christmas festivities. Finding two lots of special presents in one week can be quite a challenge cue this years brainwave – a day trip to Birmingham for lunch at Purnells and a trip round the markets. As with any activity undertaken close to the Christmas season the chance of illness stopping plans is very high and unsurprisingly I came down with a heavy cold and the decision was made to postpone (disappointment after disappointment as I also missed Star Wars Episode 8 The Last Jedi!)
Sometimes disappointment eventually unveils unexpected hidden silver linings. We made the decision to rearrange our trip for February and include a few nights in Birmingham so, and I am sure this is familiar to everyone, it was time for an online accommodation search and to read countless reviews. For no other reason than they looked nice and sounded a bit different we settled on the Staying Cool apartments located in the Rotunda. We booked direct and got what we felt was a really good price for a city centre hotel room.
As is the case (in our house anyway busy lives etc…) we then forgot all about it and only read up the night before what was actually included – small kitchen, small amount of breakfast food, toiletries all included in our mini studio apartment. We hadn’t realised at this point how different a ‘hotel’ room we had booked.
On arrival – pleasant surprise number 1 was the proximity of the station. A very short walk from the front of Birmingham New Street although we managed to end up on the wrong side of the road! Couldn’t actually miss the Rotunda towering over everything else!
Easy check in and our lift up to our 18th floor apartment and surprise number 2 - the view - wow
As soon as you enter the room you have floor to ceiling windows and the most amazing view over the Bullring shopping centre, Birmingham markets and beyond. Bizarrely there in the middle of all the modern buildings is the old Church of St Martins in the Bullring.
And the room was so much more than just another hotel room - as described it was a mini studio with a small kitchen, bedroom, living area and dining section – all separate and feeling perfectly in proportion for the two of us. Interestingly the bed faces away from the windows making it feel very private and allowing you to leave the windows uncovered all night.
Most excitingly we realised that the two middle windows fully opened (like your patio doors at home)! You’re safe behind a rail and there are some strict safety rules but the feeling of being so high and so open is breathtaking (particularly when the wind blows!
Apart from our Purnells lunch, we ate every meal sitting out just looking at the views. Over the three days we were blessed with clouds, sunshine and even a misty morning giving us the opportunity to use our cameras to full capacity! My favourite was the trains travelling through a short piece of the track filled with lights. They glittered as the lights reflected on their carriages – magical!
For us it was so much better than your average hotel room – we loved the freedom of being able to breakfast when we wanted and choose our own food and wine for the evening plus I am sure it was considerably cheaper! Little extras like the milk in the fridge, granola for breakfast and even oranges for you to squeeze your own juice coupled with a departure day check out of 12 noon made it a perfect stay, oh and did I mention the views.
Needless to say we did a few tweets and Instagrams which were picked up and retweeted by Staying Cool and just to cap it all off we got a bottle of Prosecco on checking out as a thank you for the tweets and posts. It's not often we're lost for words but we were with this - what a great gesture - thank you Danny and the team!
Only problem now is we want a view like that all the time! Interestingly we've learnt that they are opening up similar apartments in Manchester. Can’t wait to see how they turn out.
There is something very magical about the story and celebrations for Chinese New Year – unicorns, lions, firecrackers and lanterns, drummers, bell ringers and of course a giant dancing dragon. Red clothing, dragon toys, lucky cats and delicious aromas of Chinese food delicacies.
Manchester City centre always enters wholeheartedly into the New Year season which has no fixed date and stretches on for several weeks. February 2018 saw the city centre transformed with red lanterns hanging around in every tree, a giant golden dragon outside St Ann’s Church (inflatable I think and hope otherwise we’re in trouble!) and on February 18th, a whole day of celebrations for the Chinese community.
It had always been a special treat for us when the kids were small – the thrill of watching the dragons and lion dance almost, but not quite, as exciting as the opportunity to purchase your very own paper dancing dragon complete with the required pearl in its mouth! Imagine our surprise when we realised it was 13 years since we had last joined the celebrations! As your little ones turn into big ones (ours are now 23 and 26) some of your family traditions sadly fall by the wayside. We both feel it is really important to still take part in some of these traditions whilst creating some brand new ones.
What such a colourful celebration does offer us (apart from the fun of being involved in such a joyous and exhilarating celebration) is a major photo opportunity for us two and one of the grown ups @the_instagradam
We arrived earlyish in Albert Square to traditional Chinese toy stalls full of the obligatory dragons and drums and much more, balloon sellers and delicious aromas from stalls cooking traditional Chinese food including burger, chips, Thai curries and giant hot dogs! Still it all smelt really good and there were queues of people buying so presumably it tasted good too. Street vendors peddled their rainbow fur strips on a stick toys – only £1 and hours of fun for the younger members of the family! How I wish I could think of money making ideas like that!
Time to pick a place to stand and hopefully capture the parade with our cameras but what had changed in the past 13 years since our last visit was the sheer number of people who had come along to watch the spectacle . A good hour before anything was due to start the streets were packed with people ensuring they had a good view. At this point we decided to split up in an effort to get different views and perspectives. It was a hard task trying to find the perfect spot – in fact I’m not sure there is a perfect spot- a great photo of the event involves lots of luck – Chinese good luck! The crowds were reminiscent of a Disney parade – several deep at every spot on the pavement with happy families and the occasional screaming toddler in abundance! Adam and I chose our spot close to the tram stops behind the town hall whilst Chris took up his position to the left of Manchester Art Gallery.
Almost 90 minutes later we heard the firecrackers outside the town hall and in the distance saw the dragon’s head appear, moving in time to the beat of the drums. It is truly a magical spectacle of colour and noise and well worth the wait in the midst of crowds of people on what was a really cold day.
Standing near the tram stops was particularly entertaining with Metrolink staff valiantly trying to keep the line free and the pedestrians safe as tram after tram came through. It is remarkable how some people constantly demonstrate their inability to follow safety instructions – we witnessed appalling behaviour from several people including one ‘gentleman’ who felt the need to express his disgust at being unable to go the way he wanted with a string of f words in front of a very young crowd. What I found most upsetting was the photographer loaded with his cameras who decided to pick an argument with the police who had dared to stop him gaining access to the vantage point he felt was his right. Not sure what happened to him he was last seen being escorted away. Apart from these ridiculous people the crowd was big and friendly and mostly full of very excited children. As the dragon’s head appeared in the distance my immediate neighbour (a young boy aged about 8 or 10) joined in with the drummers and kept up a perfect beat on the metal barriers! Trying to hold the camera still whilst your being shaken around by the barrier with a giant rainbow fur toy waving around in your line of sight was challenging but the excitement of the kids reminds you of how it was years ago when ours were tiny and I wouldn’t have swopped my place at all.
Photography wise it really is just a point, press and hope for the best experience. Everything moves so quickly you just have to hope there is one shot in there that you will love. The different lenses we used and the different positions we took proved very worthwhile and all three of us were pleased with at least one of our pictures!
So 'Xin Nian Kuai Le’ in Mandarin and 'San Nin Faai Lok' in Cantonese to you all and here’s to a good Year if the dog for all of us.
A shared love of music over 30 years ago was pivotal in bringing two 20 year old bank clerks together – we bonded over the misery and angst of Morrissey and The Smiths, sang along to the love songs of Shane McGowan and the Pogues and even danced together to the catchy songs of the, maybe not world famous, Macc Lads (parental warnings definitely needed at this point do not let anyone under the age of 18 listen to their songs!). We share a love of Billy Joel and the Foo Fighters and have watched everyone from Justin Timberlake to the Darkness, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Barry Manilow. Eclectic is our music choice and shows not signs of altering as we ‘grow up’!
Attending a live music event is one of our great passions or has been but increasingly the prices of these concerts are being priced out of the reach of the average hardworking family. £140 to watch ELO, £200 to watch U2? Is anyone worth that amount of money? It’s almost the cost of a short holiday now to get two decent tickets for any performer of note.
Thankfully classical music has not yet adopted the high pricing of other music events (not round here anyway!). We love to attend the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and have our own favourite seats at the side of the stage (limited view as stated on the tickets!) which do indeed give you a very odd view of the stage, but at orchestral concerts you feel as though you almost a member of the orchestra and you get to watch the strange behaviour of some of the conductors! These tickets cost approx. £17-£20 for most performances which in the current climate is a bargain! The restricted view has its drawbacks, particularly at the Christmas concert when we couldn’t see one of the choirs at all and a more central view of the fabulous Marc Almond might have been nice, but it gives you a couple of hours of musical bliss, reasonably cheaply in comfy seats!
At a recent Spanish night with the Halle Orchestra, my mind began to wander (in a particularly heavy section after the interval). The first half of the concert had seen excerpts from Carmen and a wondrous performance by the amazing guitarist Craig Ogden. (Again a more central view of just exactly what he was doing with his hands might have been nice! ) The second half I found very heavy going. As my mind wandered I wondered if I did actually like classical music, did I enjoy listening to an orchestra, had I got any maltesers in my bag… As I pondered these deep questions the Halle struck up the opening beats of Ravel’s Bolero and it was suddenly crystal clear to me. I am a classical-lite fan! I need to recognise the tune to enjoy it and as I am still a big MTV fan these probably tend to be film or advert music! The concert finished with Bolero which was wonderful – Torvill and Dean dancing round in my head -nothing compares to hearing a piece of music played live.
Fellow classical-lite fans can be reassured that we are well catered for by a wide range of concerts put on by the orchestras– Sci Fi themes, fake Las Vegas entertainers, music of the musicals…once again there is nothing to compare to the Star Wars theme played live by an orchestra and if you are lucky there might even be some stormtroopers.
Special mention must go to my favourite orchestra, Manchester Camerata, exciting and adventurous and proud of their northern heritage. We were there the very first night they performed Hacienda Classical complete with Bez and Shaun from the Happy Mondays, Peter Hook from New Order and the silky voiced Rowetta, all watched over from the decks by DJs Graeme Park and Mike Pickering. What a night and what a combination – a live orchestra 20 song non-stop DJ set. I have never seen the Bridgewater Hall bars so full – and definitely never a queue!
Imagine our excitement when a Classical Smiths night was announced with a collaboration from three of the original Smiths and Manchester Camerata – imagine our disappointment the day after when it turned out to be some elaborate case of misunderstanding and misinformation! Ah well – quite sure it will reappear at some point with a probably hefty price tag!
One of our favourite places to join the canal is behind the Fredericks Ice Cream shop on Bolton Road, on the approach to Chorley. Anyone who lives in the vicinity will definitely have taken a trip to Fredericks and sampled their ice creams. The shop has been there since the 1890's, so there has been plenty of time! The legendary shop (locally anyway!) always has a huge variety of flavours some traditional and some just strange! The queues in the summer on warm days can stretch all the way down a very long Bolton Road, which no doubt causes the locals considerable parking angst! If you follow the path at the side of the shop it takes you down past the factory where they produce all their ice cream (tiny place - don't expect huge smoke filled industrial buildings!) to a seating area and the canal. Left takes you into Chorley and right leads you through a canal side residential area. On a warm sunny night this is a magical place full of houseboats and fairy lights - people sitting reading and eating at fires with fantastic views of Winter Hill and beyond behind them. Horses in the fields, beautiful reflections - it looks like an idyllic way to live and always makes us want to 'drop out' of our current way of life and try something different - a life on the waves (albeit very gentle ones!)! Second only fantasy to the travelling the world in a camper van one - we're hardly original!
So a cold, damp January Sunday led to a bracing, windy walk through piles of mud down the stretch of the Leeds Liverpool between Appley Bridge and Parbold. It was a real trudge, the mud was really thick and the wind was blowing a gale!
I was convinced I had nothing of interest on my camera at the end of it- nothing had inspired me - I was cold and tired and very muddy! Tree lined canals are very bleak without their leaves and a dull sky didn't help. But, as is often the case, something that doesn't look that interesting is transformed after a little experimenting on Lightroom!
Shot of the day by far was Chris' mean and moody bridge. He loves black and white! I must try harder next time - although I'm secretly pleased (and a little bit shocked) with some of my efforts!
Life and other