The hot, hot, very hot summer continues - doesn’t it feel like we went straight from snow to heatwave – bizarre!
Hands up if you’re too hot to sleep? Every plant in your garden dead? Washing basket piled up after multiple changes during every day…? But still there is nothing like sunshine to lift everyone’s mood, entice you outside and just make you feel better about everything.
The hottest day of the year so far (it just keeps changing!) saw the temperature reach a whopping 35C (90F) in London while Manchester basked in temperatures of 29/31C.
What a glorious day to spend two hours waiting for and eventually travelling on a train on a journey that should have taken 20 minutes. No drivers and a train stuck behind another which had broken down resulted in two cancellations and then a very slow journey missing out all the small stations which it should have stopped at (there was a genuine collective groan on the platform when that was announced). Finally, on arrival at Manchester Victoria, there were no available platforms, so another wait on the outskirts of the city in blistering heat. I love train travel, but the current unreliable service across the North West is becoming a massive problem. You almost feel like standing up somewhere high (Beetham Tower maybe?) and shouting down South – “Oi have you seen what is happening up North??”. What a ridiculous situation when a train cancels all its stops to get back on time. Shouldn’t the priority be to get people to their destinations?
Still, I arrived safely, and the sun was still shining, so all thoughts of the journey soon disappeared. We were lucky to have entrance to the VIP garden at the Jazz Festival so spent a lovely evening relaxing on deckchairs listening to the free music at the festival. We go nowhere without our cameras and that evening had promised the best ‘blood moon’ for decades and a lunar eclipse, but as so often happens in this country, despite the heat along came the clouds and the moon was nowhere to be seen. Never mind there is always something to photograph!
Excitingly, having seen ice cream rolls on many an Instagram video, we were delighted to find The Ice Alchemists serving the jazz festival audience. What a fascinating procedure to watch (and photograph – our cameras are always ready!) and they tasted good too. The urge to pick a ‘roll’ up and eat it as you would a wrap was irresistible, but believe me don’t try that yourselves it is very messy especially on a hot night!
As the sun presumably disappeared for the night – who knows there was so much cloud we couldn’t see! – we decided to go and try some night shooting. We don’t do this too often as we like to go to bed early – we are over 50!!
Manchester is currently ‘buzzing’ with a fantastic art sculpture trail from Wild in Art with 101 large bees designed by a variety of people - professional and amateur artists and even Liam Gallagher! (you can find his in the corn Exchange building).
Of course, we knew all about the Bee in the City event – in fact when the LGBTQ Queen Bee followed us on Instagram we were very excited - but I’m not sure either was us was prepared for just how amazing the bees are. Everyone different and the expressions are just a dream to photograph. We saw our first half a dozen late at night and got some amazing (well we thought so!) shots. The following day we saw more including some of the smaller ones designed by schools in the cathedral and the library. Every bee is surrounded by people patiently waiting to photograph them. You feel like you’re playing Pokémon Go collecting each one!
We’ve already been asked which is our favourite bee, that's a hard decision. We have so many more to see, but each one is wonderful. Our favourite shots this weekend were of the fantastic Bee-vina Mccall in Spinningfields. The bees are buzzing around until September – go and see them you won’t be disappointed! I’m sure there will be a further blog on the bees when we get around the other 80+ (even the sneaky ones outside of the city centre!)
So, our weekend was spent in the hot sunshine spending time with family, eating, listening to music, eating ice cream, moaning about trains, searching for bees and photographing (I’m sure this is not a surprise to you!)- imagine our surprise on Sunday morning when we woke to torrential rain – now where did I put my coat….
It was with some trepidation that I accepted Chris’ invite to the Manchester Jazz festival. We both love music – all sorts of music, but for some reason this does not include jazz – at all. I imagine jazz (as described by a close friend!) to be ‘stuffy’ and jazz festivals to be full of people in cardigans debating very important things (unlike our nights out which usually involve debating a million different solutions to the current Avengers problems!).
What we do both strongly believe though is in supporting local events and trying new things.
The Manchester Jazz Festival takes place annually and this year (in their own words!) had ‘over 500 musicians in 80 events spread over 7 venues, free gigs, music day and night indoors and out, regional jazz artists, new talent, innovation and contemporary jazz trying to break down musical boundaries’…phew. Exhausting just to write it all down!
How exciting you might think, but to me the most tempting reason to go to one of their concerts was the temporary venue they had on Albert Square – the ‘Salon Perdu’ - a 1920’s touring music venue (Spiegeltent), it is a structure of great beauty and one I was desperate to get inside! Added to very reasonable ticket prices it was time for one of us to do some ‘male research’ (is that a real thing? Its always quoted in our home!).
So, after studying the programme, it was decided that we would go to the final concert and watch ‘The Hackney Colliery Band’. ‘They’re great fun’ I was told – ‘you’ll love it!’. (I would insert here the emoji with its eyes raised – it is my favourite – but unfortunately not sure how to do it, so please just picture it in your head!)
Imagine my delight (insert eye raising emoji again!) when we arrived at the venue (which is truly the most wonderful place I have ever been to listen to music) to find there were not one but two jazz bands that night and all for just £18.50. Bargain!
First up - Zambian artist Namvula – at this point I was trying to work out how long this performance was going to last? Did I need another drink? Where were the toilets? Were these shoes going to hurt all night? Does anyone go for comfortable shoes when they go out? How many photos should I take of the lovely building? Shall we try a couple of selfies? Distracted? Yes, just slightly, but it didn’t last long. The music coming from the stage surprised me – unusual African beats with a great singing voice and so easy to listen and sway along to. I was even more surprised to find I was enjoying it despite my immediate neighbour debating whether this was indeed jazz or some unusual fusion. He wasn’t sure - I wasn’t bothered.
Why are people like this? Music is music it doesn’t need to be a genre. People can either sing, play and make good music or they can’t. You either love it or you don’t. It would be a boring world if we were all identical.
So - an hour soon passed, swaying in time with the audience to the music onstage and I had now begun to look forward to what was coming next and forgotten all about my shoes (still hurting).
Cue the arrival of the ten-piece Hackney Colliery Band – drums, trombones, trumpets, saxophones and a very large sousaphone which looked like it was being played via a shower attachment (the old ones which excitingly used to turn your bath taps into a shower!)
They were loud, lively and looked like they were having a blast. I loved them from the minute they came on stage and played a mixture of their own compositions and unusual arrangements of some great rock songs! Three of my favourite songs from Nirvana, the Prodigy and Blackstreet (No Diggity was my ringtone for many years until it got me into trouble at a conference – long story!!) Once again, my neighbour expressed his displeasure that they hadn’t just stuck to covers as they were much better when they did! I strongly disagree their original music was fun and exciting and most importantly tuneful and great to dance to!
After weeks of complaining to anyone that would listen that I was having to go a jazz festival (insert emoji again – you know which one by now!) life once again proved that sometimes the things you aren’t keen on doing turn out to be the best experiences in your life. I’m not sure I’m now a jazz convert, but both acts we saw were excellent that night – proving that true talent always shines through.
So now I find myself stalking the internet to find where I can next see the Hackney Colliery Band, sending the videos to all my friends and family and generally taking a keen interest in seeing them again! I'd even go so far to say I am looking forward to next year’s Jazz festival (insert a whole row of laughing emojis!).
As we've previously mentioned we are both 'larks', awake and ready to go very early in the morning. This has its advantages - watching the sun rise, catching early morning mist, getting to work on time!
Imagine our excitement when we found out a steam train was due to pass through Manchester Victoria generating (hopefully!) lots of contrasting ancient (well maybe not ancient!) and modern transport pics! Imagine our horror when we found out it was due to pass through at 6.30am. we're about 45 minutes away from the city centre on a good day (rare and infrequent - the days when no one else is on the road!)- mentally adding on breakfast, getting ready (have to put my lipstick on!), parking, walking etc meant a very, very early start and after a busy week it was not something either of us relished.
It was an opportunity we didn't want to miss, so time to book a last minute hotel deal in Manchester for the night (this is how seriously we take our photography now!) and there was even time for a Friday night family meet up with the 'grown ups'.
Even without the travelling, Saturday still brought a very early start and when the alarm rang at 5.30am we almost had to drag each other out of bed. Thankfully Chris had done a pre-visit 'recce' on his work lunch break earlier in the week, so we knew exactly where to stand (or thought we did!). The sun was out, the city was quiet and, unlike earlier in the week, it was warmish (no frost!).
We positioned ourselves at the side of the track, just before the train would disappear inside the station - at the side of the embankment building and not on the actual track!
I didn't realise we had become train spotters too ( I will shortly be buying my very own anorak!), but there was considerable excitement as we saw the steam appear and the familiar chug chug noises. It wasn't the prettiest of steam trains, but it was a delightful sight making its way through the building works and the new flats in and around the station. Happy travellers waved from every window (they must have been up so early as the train had departed Liverpool at least 40 minutes previous) and the train looked really inviting particularly the First Class section (until we reached home and priced it up!).
As it entered Victoria Station, we casually set off to the other side of the bridge to see it come out the other side. Even managing to look at each others videos and photos! At this point our plans went slightly (well massively!) array - neither of us had read the actual timings! We waited until 7am and then checked to find the train had just gone straight through Victoria and we had completely missed its departure! Still, no time for disappointment as we saw lots of early morning trains and trams and the trainlines looked particularly impressive in the early morning sunshine!
So, there we were 7am - all done for the day and a bit lost for ideas. The lighting was spectacular, so we wandered around for 8km passing through the Northern Quarter and back into the city with a stop for cinnamon swirls on the steps of the Bridgewater Hall. We still had time to kill before we were expected at our next appointment, so called in at Salford Quays (again the lighting was really, really good!) and were met by rowers, wild water swimmers and more spectacular sunshine.
All done for the day and back home in time to watch the Royal Wedding (might have been a slight afternoon nap though!) we were pretty pleased with our mornings work!
The famous British Bank Holiday - what does it make you think of? Rain? Traffic jams? Old films on the TV? Who remembers when Disneytime was the bank holiday treat and the only time you saw Disney film clips outside of a cinema! How times have changed.
No matter what the weather, Bank Holidays are such a treat. No Monday morning get up (hands up who forgot to cancel their work alarm!) and a four day working week to follow. Time to spend with your family and friends, barbecues to eat, gardens to dig, scarecrow festivals to visit and no end of weird and wonderful UK traditions.
The 2018 early May Bank Holiday followed the strange weather pattern of the rest of this year producing the hottest temperatures for that day for more than 40 years, cue queues at the beaches and garden centres, the sound of lawns being mowed, people digging and planting, the smells of sausages being massacred on barbecues and badly sunburnt people visiting Boots for some after Sun! Sound familiar?
We retreated into the cool, peaceful surroundings of Manchester Cathedral - strangely quiet for a Saturday morning. We love to take the cameras inside the building and when the sun shines through the stained glass it becomes a photographers dream. Imagine our delight when we realised a young harpist @elfair89 (better known as Elfair Grug Dyer!) was setting up to rehearse for a concert later that day. After asking her permission, we then spent at least twenty minutes photographing her and the harp whilst listening to the most beautiful music which was so in keeping with the surroundings of the cathedral.
If only we had been able to stay to her 11am coffee concert (all free of charge with donations for your coffee and cake!). Sadly we had duties elsewhere and after a quick recharge in the café at the Royal Exchange Theatre (my first glimpse of the original trading boards still hanging in the building - remnants of its previous life as a cotton exchange) we sadly left behind the crowds of people who were now enjoying al fresco dining and socialising in the by now glorious sunshine.
In line with probably half the country we gardened, visited the garden centre for some bark to hide the weeds and came away with some half price garden furniture. ( word of warning here delivery is later this week and we fully expect that to be the end of everyone’s summer - sorry!).
We walked 7k with daughter and the pup early in the morning before it got too hot, which happened surprisingly early! Then enjoyed the beautiful weather in our currently tidy garden listening to our neighbours digging their garden and playing darts! We took lunch al fresco and enjoyed a lazy afternoon.
If only every Monday was as relaxing as this…now somebody bring me an ice cream?
Competition comes in many forms including two of England’s most famous cities vying for the title of ‘second city’ after London. What attributes does this second city need? What would be the one thing that would propel one of the cities to the coveted second place? Would there be any advantage to being the official ‘second city’
Manchester is a very familiar city to us with strong family and work links. We socialise in the city, dine there, attend different sorts of events and frequently just wander around with our cameras uncovering hidden corners and hoping for exceptional photo shots. Conversely Birmingham is a place we’ve never really spent any time in other than to pass through on occasion and, in the pre-arena days, attend concerts at the NEC.
Our recent short visit to Birmingham gave us for the first time, and purely from a tourism view, the opportunity to see for ourselves the differences in the two cities.
Arriving in Birmingham late afternoon on a working week day was the first surprise – where was the city centre traffic? In fact, the whole time we were there we saw no traffic queueing in the city centre at all. Sadly, horrific traffic jams are part of everyday life all the time in Manchester. How does Birmingham achieve that?
Another notable difference was the skyline. Birmingham was surprisingly flat and even though the two cities have similar skylines filled with cranes and building sites, Manchester appears to be growing upwards at a rapid rate. The views are equally stunning but quite different.
Birmingham has a very compact shopping quarter including its very large markets, the Bullring and the Grand Central area around the station. Manchester is much more spread out with substantial distances between some of its main shops. Like most shopping centres now there is no real individuality to them with the same shops and restaurants offering the same clothes and food.
Birmingham’s New Street station is huge and feels more like an airport terminal with restaurants and food bars, shops and space. It has undergone a huge transformation in the last few years and now is part of the Grand Central shopping mall – or maybe the shopping mall is part of the station? Either way it is very central to the city and gives easy access to most areas. The Manchester stations both sit just on the outskirts of the city centre and are relatively small in comparison, but it is easier to find out where you need to be in them. New Street offers a bewildering array of platforms and lounges and there were so many different options for you to go through that it was a very confusing experience!
Both cities have interesting buildings, art galleries and museums – equal amounts of photo opportunities! Whilst Birmingham cathedral is interesting particularly the stunning stained glass windows, Manchester’s is exquisite. We return to it repeatedly and never fail to be disappointed. Manchester also has the beautiful Harry Potter like library inside the Chetham’s buildings and the equally stunning John Ryland’s library on Deans gate. Both free to visit and definite must sees.
And, in what is a very controversial subject up north, Birmingham has more than one Michelin star restaurant whereas Manchester has yet to achieve one despite several chefs having a try. That is not to say that Manchester has no Michelin quality food just that it never seems to fully meet the criteria. Does this matter – maybe, maybe not we could both recommend many a Manchester restaurant where you are guaranteed to have good food and service. However, for many the lack of a star in Manchester has become an obsession and having one would probably help lift the city out of what seems its focus on burgers.
The canal development around the Gas Street Basin area in Birmingham is another must see and something Manchester could learn from. Bars and restaurants, miles of well paved walking opportunities, well signposted routes – a joy to walk down and spend time in. Particularly attractive at night with many a twinkling fairy light and canal side seat.
Manchester has the previously mentioned Northern Quarter. Edgy and exciting, unusual restaurants and bars and a wealth of quirky, individual shops to visit including the famous Affleck’s. Ever changing murals appear on walls in the old-fashioned streets. Modern yet still having a period feel it’s a perfect film location– most notably being used in scenes from Captain America and Peaky Blinders.
Constantly trying to encourage visitors to the city, Manchester City Council are particularly good at events and themes – Chinese New Year resulted in a city full of red lanterns and decorations – Halloween saw the city turn green and giant tentacles above House of Fraser. Having never been in Birmingham for the equivalent it’s not fair to say who does it best. Think a visit to Birmingham’s Christmas markets will take place later this year for a brand new experience and to do some further research (as well as trying some more Michelin standard food!)
So, it’s probably too early yet for any final comparison, if one is even needed, and does it even matter who is first or second? Makes no difference to us. What we do believe very strongly is in the amazing cities we have in the UK. Go and visit them both you won’t be disappointed.
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.
January is such a strange month - nothing much happening after the excitement of Christmas and New Year, no presents to buy, no food to plan for and probably for most people either a big credit card or no money in the bank account after the excesses of the previous month. Its a month of new starts - diets, exercise, savings - we all do it at least for a few weeks! It probably should be a restful month after the stress of the Christmas build up - a month of winter walks and holiday planning.
Our January hasn't turned out like that! For some reason both of our 'grown ups' decided to start 2018 with a big new start and are currently in the process of moving house/flat , which (as we all know) brings a whole new range of stress and worry to everyone involved!
Lucy and Simon finally move this weekend after selling their house back at the beginning of October - house sales take so long now! Adam is right at the start of his process but as it is a flat for flat rental swap it probably should be a quicker process - won't it? I really hope so! With lots of paperwork to sort and discussions needed we decided to take a trip to the brand new Salford-ish Tim Hortons. But did it live up to expectations?
A Christmas Eve Eve trip to the Lowry to watch the wonderful production of Elf. We had no idea what to expect of the show but it actually bought tears to my eyes with the most amazing ending - snow, starlight and Santa flying - magical and we're over 50!
Winter family walks, long lunches (afternoon naps!) and catching up with films and box sets all topped off with an almost perfect New Year's Eve spent in and around Manchester with our cameras . From Alan Turing in the morning, reflections in Canal Street, to a coffee stop and lots of photographing in the new amazing building that houses the Mackie Mayor food court (first of two places that day where I wish I had taken my camera into the toilets!) in Manchester's Northern Quarter (the best place for interesting photography in Manchester and one of several places where they filmed Captain America!). A brief stop to spend some Christmas money and then into the glorious Manchester Cathedral beautifully decorated for Christmas. Amazing views from a 10th floor room in the always excellent INNSIDE (most courteous and friendly staff followed by amazing breakfasts - chocolate yule log for breakfast on New Years Day though?!)
All we need now is a break from work to recover!
We started 2017 watching the fireworks from the 19th floor of the Hilton Deansgate in Manchester and ended it 12 months later in Albert Square with thousands of other New Year revellers at the last Manchester Town Hall fireworks for a considerable time. The Town Hall will close to the public from Sunday 14th January for restoration works which will continue until 2024.
The Town Hall provides a magnificent backdrop to the fireworks, all watched over by the world famous Manchester Santa, affectionately known locally as Zippy - make your own mind up!
This year's end of year celebration had an added poignancy and was fittingly marked with a musical tribute to the 22 people who lost their lives in the tragedy of the Manchester Arena bomb and the families who continue to be affected by the events of that night. We were personally touched by the events of May 22nd 2017 and count ourselves very lucky that our son returned home safely that night.
New Year is a strange night full of what if's and what might be's. Sadness when someone you love has been lost to you and great joy for those who have found love whether that be with a new partner, child or even a pet. We've had some difficult New Year's but also some of great joy - most memorably a skating expedition with good friends which involved one member of our party accidentally sitting on someone's tray of lunch! Cue exploding crisps and coffee and great hilarity from one half of the incident!
We celebrate New Year quietly now, which this year included a first time lunch at Wahaca's - lots of lovely Mexican street food and the chance to pay with their brand new app! Paying the waitress would have been much quicker, but maybe next time...
This was followed with a fabulous evening in 'Las Vegas' at the Bridgewater Hall with the always exciting Manchester Camerata, where it would appear Frank Sinatra is alive and well and pretty amazing!
The decision to watch the fireworks in the square was made very last minute as, as is often the case in Manchester, there had been some spectacular rain showers earlier. It turned out to be the best decision of the day - a moving, warm and convivial end to 2017 followed by a spectacular beginning to 2018. We've nothing but praise for the organisers of the event, Manchester City Council and the GM Police. The event was well policed and organised and felt very safe and friendly. It was also very exciting! Nothing like a good countdown.
So here's to 2018 and whatever it may bring us all. In the words of Tony Walsh aka Longfella Poet 'We choose LOVE'.
Life and other