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.

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.

Cornbury: the fabulous finale


The sun was setting on the Cornbury Festival last weekend for the last time because low numbers of people attending in previous years left the organiser seriously financially embarrassed. However, it may not be the end as rumours were circulating that it might reappear in a couple of years in a different venue. We were attending it this year as rugby in New Zealand won over Glastonbury and my friend suggested this as an alternative. The estate is not an ideal festival venue as it has numerous very large trees, one of which obscures the view of the main stage from one side of the audience area and there are no screens. It is however a small festival, other trees provide some shade in hot weather and it is easy to get around everything and move between stages. We arrived about an hour before the campsite opened so could park near it and find a good site for our tents.

After having our very civilised camping dinner of duck à l’orange cooked by my friend with aperitifs and wine followed by dessert we wandered off to the campsite stage to hear the Overtures, a tribute band who took us back to the 1960s for the rest of the evening. On Friday we explored the venue, relaxed in the hammocks before it got too busy (I managed to fall out and acquire some bruises) and sampled some of the music on that day. Here is Kansas Smitty’s House Band: a jazz ensemble.

That evening, my view of the Kaiser Chiefs was blocked by the afore-mentioned tree and also my view of Midge Ure the following day. The festival describes itself as a very English one and certainly over 90% of those attending were white, affluent, southern English. I did spot one saltire, one Welsh and one Swedish flag in the campsite and met some Liverpool FC supporters at one point but most of the voices I heard were southern English. There were ‘posh loos’ that you had to pay to use. There would not be any chanting of ‘Jeremy Corbin’ here. One of our friends thought they spotted Michael Gove but this was not confirmed and David Cameron has attended the festival in previous years. The friends also said that they tried to get into the Cafe Nero stage at one point but were prevented from going in as it was already full (before the arena was open) by people they presumed were VIPs. In addition to music, there was comedy (the best of which was Nish Kumar), activities for children, shopping and of course people-watching. There was an airfield not far away so we saw several small planes fly overhead and it was Bristol balloon festival on the same weekend so a number of hot air balloons also flew over us.

The weather was fabulous and we enjoyed a good variety of music before heading back home, wondering which festival to attend next year as Glastonbury is having a fallow year.

24 hours in Liverpool


For once, our journey to Liverpool was not for work but pleasure. James is a Bob Dylan fan and I had managed to get tickets for his Liverpool night in his current UK tour. We arrived in the morning as for some time I had wanted to visit the Anglican Cathedral with my 1927 guidebook. The Diocese of Liverpool was not founded until 1880 as previously it had been part of Lichfield and then Chester Dioceses. Giles Gilbert Scott was commissioned to design the building at the age of 22 in 1902. By 1910 the Lady Chapel had been built and consecrated. Although work did not cease completely during the First World War, fund-raising had not been as successful as hoped and was limited to preventing what had already been built from deteriorating due to the weather. It was still under construction when my guidebook was published and it was not until 1942 that the central tower was completed and the first bells rang in 1951. We wandered around admiring the mix of the sacred with modern art. Here is the west window with a Tracey Emin installation below it.

Charles Lutyen’s Sculpture from wood ‘Outraged Christ’

The Lady Chapel is beautiful

and the Children’s Chapel has a Craigie Aitchison painting

Sadly no-one was playing the organ

You can climb to the top of the tower to see the view but I left that for another time. After a coffee in the mezzanine cafe we headed back down the hill past the entrance to China Town.

Along Bold Street I browsed in News from Nowhere, the radical bookshop but nothing grabbed me. I did find two books in Oxfam. The store had a re-vamp last year but still has a large shelf of newly arrived stock unlike any of their other stores that I have been in. Further down the hill, buskers were competing to see who could make the most noise. It was so sunny and warm we could not resist sitting outside with a cold beer for the first time this year before checking into our hotel. Before we could get into the arena, Simply Dylan, a tribute band were playing on the terrace at Jury’s Inn near the arena and quite a large crowd were listening. Nearby is the John Lennon memorial.
The Echo Arena does not allow photography so no photos of Bob in action. He is renowned for not having a support act, not interacting with the audience and just coming on and playing. A friend had said that he always starts on time so we were a little surprised that his start was delayed by people still coming in 15 minutes after the start time. The vast majority of people respected the no photography law with fewer phones flashing than at other events. Afterwards I only had my phone to get an evening shot as we headed back to the hotel.

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.

The end of summer in Edinburgh

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Black Friday (aka Carmaggeddon according to the media), saw us driving to Edinburgh on the busiest weekend of the year. The radio was giving out traffic warnings for most of the major roads in England. Scotland does not have a long weekend at the end of August but the rest of the country all seemed to be on the move. We had tailbacks and crawled all the way until we had passed the M55 intersection and were just south of Lancaster. Then we had a quieter road and we lost a few more vehicles at the Lake District turn-offs. We could now see the familiar profiles of the Cumbrian hills. Our main reason for choosing to travel this weekend was that some Australian friends were in Scotland during the Edinburgh Festival and we had arranged to meet up with them. On Saturday we had a few things to do in town. I went into one store to buy some glue for a craft project. The proprietor was in the midst of a long telephone conversation half in English, half in Hindi, about local landlords. He carried on while I and several others made our purchases and was still on the phone when we left the shop. That evening we met our friends for dinner at the Tower Restaurant which is situated at the top of the Museum of Scotland with good views over the city and got as far as thinking about our Big Lap of Australia in a couple of years time. Sunday morning was spent planning next year’s trips to Iceland and New Zealand before we headed out of town to visit Little Sparta, Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden near Dunsyre in the Pentland uplands that I love. I had been intending to visit for quite some time but it is only open in summer and not on every day so had not coincided with our travels on a number of occasions. This first visit was a bit of a scoping exercise for me to see whether to return with my camera and obtain a photography permit (which only allows personal and private use of photographs). There is so much to process as there are more than 260 art works in the garden and several recurring themes. I think repeat visits will be necessary to do it justice. James gave me the book a while ago so now is time to digest that and plan a trip next summer as we are not going to be back here in September. Afterwards, we visited friends in Carnwath before enjoying Americana Sunday at Henry’s Cellar Bar. The band, Flagstaff, also play in Edinburgh at other venues including Byblos so we might catch them again at some point.
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James was due back at work on Tuesday so left very early this morning and had an easy run home. I was going into town to catch the last day of an exhibition. Just down the road from the flat, a group of a dozen Goths (is there a collective noun for a group of Goths?) were sitting on the pavement waiting for a lift. I carried on past all the stallholders who were packing up and was soon in Howe Street at the Ski Club to see Paperworks 3. This exhibition contains works in various media, natural and abstract forms by three artists: Marion Barron, Trevor Davies and Ruth Thomas. I enjoyed it very much and it provided another prod for me to get back to painting and printing. Here are some of Ruth’s books inspired by finds on nearby beaches both natural and some of our pollution.
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This evening I trekked up Calton Hill to try and get some firework photographs. I was up there reasonably early and set up in daylight but it got very crowded with quite a lot of jostling so I gave up before the end. I must try and get to the concert next year and get some closer shots.
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