Almost 24 hours in Manchester

Or just over 22 hours to be precise. Our train pulled into Piccadilly Station with enough time to settle into our hotel in Dale Street before sunset. The sun disappeared quickly behind the buildings and lights came on accompanied by the sound of distant fireworks.

This part of the city reminds me a little of the garment district in midtown Manhattan which we visited last year. There are even a couple of wholesale fashion houses in some of the side streets. One more recent addition is Chapter One at 19 Lever Street; an independent bookshop which opened in 2016. Their website notes that in 2013, over 1,000 bookshops in the UK closed down and from 2013 to 2015 not a single new UK bookshop opened. It is also a cafe, welcomes people who want to sit and work and has interesting decor. There are not a lot of books on display but they also sell online and host a weekly creative writing group.

The main reason for visiting Manchester was to see some live music recommended by friends we had made at Cornbury Festival in the summer. Rusty Shackle are a Welsh indie rock group who were performing at Gulliver’s pub on Oldham Street which regularly hosts live music. En route we had an early evening meal at Turtle Bay, a Caribbean restaurant near the venue.

We arrived at the pub before the venue door opened so had a beer downstairs in the bar. It had some interesting light fittings.

The venue upstairs appeared to have been made by combining three rooms with ceiling roses, chandeliers and painted a deep red colour. It chimed with Rusty Shackle who have standard lamps on stage and one by the mixing deck. The support act was a group from Colne called Folkestra who describe themselves as ‘a punk-driven rock-fuelled folk machine’. My musical preference was for Rusty Shackle who came on at 9.30pm. In addition to the usual guitars and drums, the bass guitarist also played a trumpet and one of the other guitarists did some percussion as well. Here they are setting up.

The next morning we headed wandered around the city centre doing a little Christmas shopping. The Christmas market stalls were under construction but it is likely to be after Christmas before we have another day in the city.

The end of summer?


The last weekend of August (the hottest August Bank Holiday since records began) saw us back in Edinburgh to catch some of the last music and the Fireworks concert at the end of the Festival. Flagstaff Americana are a mainly Scottish group with an Australian playing bass guitar and a lead singer from Northern Ireland. They play a selection of country and rock music which is right up James’s street and also do regular gigs at the bar & bistro, Biblos. We saw them in the Fringe last year at Henry’s Cellar Bar in Morrison Street and this was their venue on Sunday evening. Here they are getting ready to perform.

On Monday evening, after walking down to town with only one flyer being thrust in our faces, we joined the long queue to enter Princess Street Gardens where there is a seated are at the Ross Bandstand and standing/picnicking tickets for the gardens. I had treated us to seats so we enjoyed the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and guests while watching the fireworks a little closer than I saw them last year from the top of Calton Hill.



The Scottish schools began their autumn term in mid August and the rest of the UK returns to school this week. Monday is Labor Day in the USA and another sign that autumn is on the way. However, although we have plenty of mellow fruitfulness: I am busy making apple juice, damson and sloe gin, passata with tomatoes and soup with cucumbers, we have only so far had a fleeting glimpse of mist before the sun burnt it off yesterday morning. Summer is not over yet and some are saying an Indian Summer is forecast. Traditional recipes state that sloes should not be picked until after the first frost but if we did that now, they would all be eaten by birds as our first frost is still weeks away and they are ripe.

A friend commented recently that we used to pick blackberries in October and now they are ripe in August. I now have figs ripening outside which I could not have done several years ago. We will be extending our summer a little more during a week in southwest France very soon and I am also busy planning more journeys.

Sunshine and jazz in Edinburgh


This gull had found a quiet spot to enjoy the sun we have had for the last few days but many more people were sunbathing in the Meadows, St Andrews Square or Portobello Beach. School and university are out for summer and the tourist season is in full swing. We were here mainly to get some work done on the flat but managed to escape for dinner with some friends on Sunday evening and for a trip to the Jazz Club on Monday evening. The Jazz and Blues Festival runs from 14-23 July before the main Festival and Fringe start. The Jazz Club’s resident Big Band were participating on this occasion. An early evening meal at Biblos which is almost next door meant we were first in the queue when the doors opened. Seating is fairly restricted at the venue and I did not feel like standing for a couple of hours that evening. Biblos has live music sessions in the B Bar throughout the year in Fridays and Saturdays. Here is the Big Band getting ready to perform in the Jazz Bar.

One of the festival staff asked whether I had seen them before and I had to explain that until this summer I had a choir rehearsal on Monday evenings and until last summer had to be in Liverpool early on Tuesday morning so Monday evenings in Edinburgh were not possible. He said the band had played every Monday evening for the last 10 years. The Jazz bar also runs jam sessions in the later part of the evening during the festival. Musicians can just turn up with their instrument and tell the door staff they want to play. Admission is free. They often have music going on until 5am. We enjoyed the selection of music from the Big Band but left well before morning. I made a note to get on with learning to play the alto saxophone. Wednesday was still very warm although overcast and we had a fairly uneventful drive home.

New Year in Edinburgh

We saw the New Year in quietly at home as James had worked a 12 hour day and then driven up here on Thursday and we had been out celebrating his birthday with friends on the 30th. The 31st had dawned with high winds which were blowing down all the barriers being erected in the city centre for the Hogmanay celebrations that evening. It then rained for a few hours in the afternoon. I had been contemplating doing some firework photography from Blackford Hill as the weather did improve a little. However, I could see myself slipping in the mud with all my equipment in the dark and thought better of it. New Year’s Day began quietly as some of my neighbours are away and one is a taxi driver who had been working last night. After coffee with friends who popped in to deliver a Christmas present, we needed some exercise and headed up Blackford Hill. The dog-walkers, kite-flyers and some runners were all out and a few others who like me were hoping so see a good sunset. The darkest clouds were moving away to the southwest but the sun remained mostly hidden as it set.
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As we walked downhill towards the Observatory, I spotted this guy who was playing Auld Lang Syne on the top of one of the hillocks.
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Opening the door to history in Edinburgh

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Like Jim Perrin whose book I was reading on the train last night, I always enjoy finding new things or revisiting old favourites in familiar places. My first port of call this morning was the Assembly Rooms in George Street, the first Advent Door to be opened. I joined the 11am guided tour with a small crowd and heard about the various adaptations and renovations of the current building since it was opened in 1787, the most recent being completed in 2012. It replaced buildings in the old town which were described by Youngson in his book The Making of Classical Edinburgh as providing opportunities for ‘dancing. This – as a later age would have thought of it – unpresbyterian diversion was carried on in the form of public assemblies in the Old Assembly Room in the West Bow as early perhaps as 1710’. Here is an illustration of that building:
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That Assembly and its predecessor did not only provide entertainment for the upper classes but also raised funds for the support of the poor. After the last renovation, the building is now a venue for conferences, exhibitions and weddings. They are keen to advertise their green credentials but no mention of supporting the poor. It does have a fabulous ballroom:
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Here is one of the Coade Sybils in the Crush:
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and a chandelier in the later drawing room made from pressed rather than cut glass:
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The music room was lit in red for World Aids Day
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I ended the day at the Queen’s Hall enjoying the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s concert:

SIBELIUS 
Valse Triste
Scene with Cranes
MAXWELL DAVIES 
Strathclyde Concerto No 2
BARTOK 
Divertimento
MAXWELL DAVIES 
An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise – this last piece with the obligatory dram for the conductor, cheers from the orchestra and a finale with a piper.

On the rails in the dark

Most of my train journeys to Edinburgh are in the early morning with good views of the Cumbrian hills and the Southern Uplands. Not so on this occasion, I was on the last train in the evening. In the week or so leading up to my trip yesterday evening there had been innumerable reports of problems on the rail network so I was not hopeful. As it turned out, my train was only three minutes late and I was soon installed in my seat with a coffee in front of me. The staff member in the carriage explained that due to staff sickness there would be no at-seat service in first class after Preston and plied us with enough food and wine to take us all the way to our destination. The wine came in a plastic bottle which I will hang on to as they are useful means of carrying alcohol into festivals where glass is forbidden for obvious reasons. I settled into the rest of my journey with Jim Perrin’s ‘Travels with a Flea and other Eccentric Journeys’, a collection of his essays on trips to various parts of the world and around his home in Wales. We arrived in Edinburgh on time and although my usual short cut to the bus stop was blocked by the ice rink and Christmas market, I did get a quick shot with my phone of the castle lit up in blue for St Andrews Day just before the bus pulled in.
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I came up a little earlier than James and my father who will drive up on Friday afternoon as I wanted to fit in some last-minute Christmas shopping. I then discovered several things that will distract me from shopping. Firstly, Edinburgh is doing something a little different for the festive season this year. Each day from the 1st December to the 24th they are opening a building or part of a building which is not usually accessible to the public. The event, which is free, is entitled 24 Doors of Advent. Each day from 1-24th December, a different building or part of one not usually open to the public, will open its doors for a day.
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I plan to visit the venues for the 1st and 2nd and possibly the 3rd, depending upon the preferences of the others. I also discovered that the Scottish Chamber Orchestra are performing Peter Maxwell Davies’s ‘Orkney Wedding’ on Thursday evening so that is my treat for this evening.

More good things in Edinburgh

The weather forecast suggested that Edinburgh might be one of the wettest places in the country this weekend. Fortunately, most of the rain held off until overnight on Saturday and early Sunday morning. We had our friends from Inverness down to stay. On Saturday morning,after a local wander, we had coffee at The Canny Man’s, a Morningside institution and free house run by the same family since 1871. The pub’s real name is The Volunteer Arms but no-one at all refers to it as that. When we first lived in Edinburgh 30 years ago, it was a serious drinking place. Now, it also serves good food but is still decorated with the same fantastic array of objects suspended from the ceiling.
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In the afternoon the men went to a rugby match while my friend & I took the bus down to the Botanic Garden. It was an unusually still day and the sun continued so the autumn colours were glowing, mostly leaves but some flowers as well.
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The garden is also set up for the Botanic Lights celebration which is held on evenings every autumn for a month. I have never been but it might be something for the future. We also managed to find some Christmas presents in the gift shop.
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I had also been keen to see an exhibition of botanical paintings from Nepal. They dated from 1802 to 2016 and there were also exhibits of other ways plants were used either as dyes or to create fibre which was then made into lace. I particularly liked this painting of Ficus religiosa or Peepal. The tree is sacred to Buddhists and Hindus and is often planted around temples and at rest stops along trails. It was also used for various medical conditions. There were paintings of many plants and flowers including Rhododendron arboreum, the national flower of Nepal but which also grows in other Asian countries. I have never been there but have seen the tree in the Western Ghats in India and was amazed to see for the first time, a Rhododendron that was not a shrub.
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In the evening we had dinner in a local restaurant and then adjourned to the Jazz Bar for their World Premiere Quintet. They arrange for five musicians who have never played together before or rehearsed to perform together. This was scheduled for 9pm after the acoustic tea-time session but by that time only a drummer, double bass player and pianist had arrived. We began to think it might only be a trio. However, the trumpeter and then the saxophonist, both from Glasgow, did appear and we were treated to a great set before heading back to the flat. Today, our friends headed back north on the A9 and we drove home through the Borders on the A701 and the motorways via a series of roadworks, arriving home just as the sun had set.
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