Portsmouth: what’s the point?

Apart from it being the largest place in the UK I hadn’t visited up to this moment, why was I even here? Is there a point to Portsmouth?

Porstmouth Point sign

Well, I guess if you like boats it’s okay. On first impressions, the parts worth visiting have got harbour and dockyard written all over them; but what’s with the local sailor types dangling over the yardarms singing sea shanty’s?

Singing sailors

The word to keep at the forefront of your mind is ‘old’, as the aquatic warblers in the picture above are sailing into the harbour passed Old Portsmouth (where you will also see the aforementioned Portsmouth Point plaque). But, if you want a linguistic upgrade, this is definitely the place to try out ‘historic’.

The Historic Dockyards may well be the point of Portsmouth these days; catering to all manner of oldy boaty stuff. If you lament the loss of the British Empire, (or simply want to indulge some Brexit style Euro hatred), then HMS Victory will transport your imagination back to times when good old Blighty ruled the waves (with balls to the French, and all that kind of malarkey)…

HMS Victory [10]

HMS Victory [8]

Then again, if your passion is for doing creative things with leftover damp pieces of wood from the times of Henry VIII, try out the stunning Mary Rose exhibition…

 

 

 

 

For those who flunked in their woodwork skills, but prefer a bit of heavy metal, HMS Warrior 1860 has you covered. There is nothing like seeing a steam driven warship that never fired a single shot in anger for bringing out the pacifist in you! Come to think of it, the macrame specialists amongst you may even get some inspiration regarding what to do with all that surplus rope you meant to throw over the garden wall under the cover of darkness…

Moored aptly just outside of the historic dockyard is a 21st century wonder… a brand new aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, with not an aircraft in sight! A great hunk of gun grey metal sits quietly representing Britain’s threat to the world. Just you wait Johnny Foreigner, as soon as we get out of Europe we will scare the world into signing free trade deals with us; or else we will recall the glorious ghost of Lord Palmerston!

Once you have exhausted yourselves spending a day around the historic dockyard, Portsmouth is not short on Historic Dickyards either! Wonderfully inviting port-side pubs simply ooze character and charm… but beware, the charm usually stops at the facade, because if you like your characters drunk and falling backwards off bar stools at 9.30pm, then this is the place for you…

Ship Anson at night [1]

At night [3]

Those of you who have managed to remain transfixed so far by this travelogue may well have just seen a glimpse of the point of Portsmouth! Just about anywhere you go near the waterside, you can’t help but see the spiky pointy thing…

And the point of Portsmouth has even been known to have a little added spice, particularly for those interested in mutual tonsil polishing!

At night [1]

If you don’t mind a bit of elevation, the views from the top can even help you plan your itinerary…

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Until we speak again, this sea-faring extravaganza has just reminded me that the oldies are still good; for example, what is brown and steaming and comes out of the back end of Cowes? No, behave…

IOW Ferry sign

That’s the Isle of Wight ferry for the uninitiated.

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Assault by noodles!

Is it a cafe or is it a pub? Only one way to find out I guess…

The Ship & Castle in Portsmouth is a quirky place, to be sure. Situated directly opposite the main gate to the Historic Dockyard, you would expect something nautical and historical to inform its character and ambience, wouldn’t you? Well, you get something that is long and narrow, maybe that’s like a boat, I suppose?  Then there is the rope tightly wound around the base of a couple of metal pillars… exponents of sailing paraphernalia may genuflect with respect…

Ship and Castle [5]

So, I decided I would go for the fish-like part of the menu, so I could at least pretend to myself that I was eating in the historic heart of nautical England.

Ship and Castle [4]

The Teriyaki Salmon and Roasted Vegetables were cooked to ensure scurvy would be far from any landlubbers mind. But, beware the crispy noodles! You can’t eat them whole, but when you try to cut them with traditional eating irons, they ping everywhere. The experience of being assaulted by your own food was not listed on the menu, but adds a worthy distraction from the watery thin Young’s London Gold liquid accompaniment.

Ship and Castle [3]

Until we speak again, there might well have been a backdrop of an old metal anchor outside the window, but look elsewhere if you want authentic nautical history infusing your your choice of vittles.

Cultural appropriation

Who really needs to go to America when America has arrived in Smallsville UK? Take a slow stagecoach up the spine of England to somewhere near the mid-point, then hang a sharp right. Keep going until you nearly fall into the North Sea. Open your heart and prepare to fir up your arteries.

You might just be in the historic fish town of Grimsby, but the welcome when you get down off your horse is distinctly hog and steer focused. 

A mouth-watering menu invites choices of ribs, steaks, burgers, dogs all properly slow smoked. There again, if you want the authentic American experience try doubling up on your order; or even the ambitious ambiguity of the house challenge, which I suspect few win and will spend many days living in gastric regret if they did! 

Shooting for the moon could result in all kinds of medical complications in this place. So I go for the simplest version…

Choice made; when on a rare visit to Grimsby how could I resist the offer of a ‘Dirty Dog’? This one has been smoked for 5 hours, and comes with added pulled pork, salsa, sour cream, and hidden fire. Just as well it was too long for the bun, because once those sadistic Jalapeno guys grip your throat smoky thinking gives way to howling for more moon’s… of the blue and liquid combination, that is.

Until we speak again, just remember, you can now experience a little bit of America in Grimsby. But, who in America can honestly say they have experienced a little bit of Grimsby? 

‘Titanic’ for dinner, anyone?

A trip to Belfast shouldn’t induce any kind of sinking feeling, even when you are greeted with a sign that could easily be directing you to some dismal place at the bottom of the Atlantic

Road sign

There is a distinct landmark offered by the twin cranes, Samson and Goliath, of Harland and Wolff providing a beacon to draw you towards the location where the Titanic was built (even when gazing out of the hotel window).

However, these are a relatively modern monument to past industrial glory (circa 1969). Back in the day, the Titanic was built in a backdrop of harsher times, and the following pictures contrast a vision of the early 20th century with the present day exact location of its construction (actually marked out in detail on the ground)…

In a world where everything that is rooted to the spot can now be classified as a museum, to something or another, the Titanic has been commemorated by a particularly spectacular building, where every dimension and use of materials symbolises something about the original short-lived icon…

Museum building [1]

Museum building [3]

But, what about that dinner? Well, you could try the Bistro in the museum itself. My time was limited so I sampled the wares of the sleekly designed Premier Inn hotel. After all, some of us are visiting Belfast for work purposes you know (with a wonderful welcome from the Belfast Home Treatment Team)!

Premier Inn

Here, a Sirloin Steak can be adequately complemented by a glass of a Malbec Reserva. Just remember, when your waitress asks if you would like water with it, the reply is ‘NO ICE’!

Premier Inn steak

Until we speak again, you surely didn’t expect a carnivorous cat to ask for a vegetarian steak, did you!? For the record, unlike on that horrendous day in April 1912, only one animal suffered in the making of this blog post.

Surfing the turf

So there I was, in this crazy cats kind of world, suddenly finding myself back in Llanelli. Now, for those of you who haven’t been, you might just be wondering why go in the first place? And, for those who have been to this run down post-industrial area of south-west Wales, the source of wonderment is… why go back a second time? Well, we can’t always choose where the work is going to take us, is the plain simple answer to that conundrum.

However, once drawn into its web of intrigue, don’t expect things to be as they usually are! For a start there are the Castle Buildings as a prime place to stay… but it’s not the traditional Welsh castle that you might have been led to expect?

Vista Hotel

The hotel occupying this so-called castle site is the Vista Hotel… but I suggest you revise your expectations of vista’s before you arrive!

Church from hotel window

However, there is one thing that should cause most unsuspecting cats to pause (or is that paws?) before they pounce… it’s always interesting when your meal looks you in the eye and says ‘Your move!’

Surf and Turf [2]

The thing is… where to get the energy to launch an escape beyond the orbit of Llanelli’s gravitational pull? Rest assured, cats wishing to get out of the bag can take on an early morning full (Welsh/English) breakfast…

All Day Breakfast

Though be warned… the food in this place might just be enough to tempt you stay… at least until the next meal, if for no other exciting reason!

Until we speak again, Juno will display the level of industriousness now associated with the former powerhouses of Welsh industry…

Armadillo pose

 

 

Home of the Black Cats

Black Cat House

Sunderland is a city with a claim to be first to return their count at just about any national vote. Indeed the shock Brexit vote of 23rd June 2016 can be claimed to have started here. A recent visit gave some insights into why they are quick with the count… as a tour of the city centre suggests there is little else to do than stay in doors and count votes! What the Luftwaffe started in the 1940’s the city planners completed in the 1960’s and 70’s.

The local people are informally known as ‘mackems’, one explanation emerging from their former shipbuilding tradition, whereby it is the Sunderland shipyards that ‘mackem’ (or make them); and the rival Newcastle shipyards that finish them off… ‘tackem’ (or take them). My recent visit to the city was perhaps summed up by a representation of this very name, but closed to business…

Machem Pizza

Even their strangely named football ground, the Stadium of Light was shrouded in darkness (though it wasn’t a match night).

Stadium of Light

However, all is not doom and gloom. If you have a spare couple of hours, that should be just about enough time, then get your Google maps out. A stop off at the Hilton Garden Inn, next door to the Stadium of Light offers a great steak and glass of Rioja.

Hilton Garden Inn [2]

Then take a stroll over the old iron bridge into the city centre…

Bridge [3]

Navigate your way passed the colourful Magistrates Court (Tip: don’t end up inside as a result of thinking you can vandalise or litter the place as a means of visually improving the city’s demeanour!)…

Somewhere within the tribute to grim concrete lies a couple of interesting pubs with good ale selections. If the local CAMRA reps are to be believed, then The Ship Isis is the best pub in the area. Test that claim for yourself, but I would certainly recommend a visit if you like a pint of Allendale Mosaic &/or Camerons Strong-arm in restored Victorian surroundings…

But if you want to experience the real deal, there is always the likes of an Anarchy Blonde Star waiting at the Dun Cow, next door to the Empire Theatre…

Dun Cow and empire Theatre

As I write it seems the local football team are hurtling towards relegation out of the Premier League. I can only muse that if the disgruntled of one Stadium of Light decided to smash up the town to vent their anger, it would take Sherlock Holmes like attention to detail to spot the difference.

Until we speak again, I am sure that Juno would advise no more than a couple of hours needed to sample all that Sunderland has to offer, and then quietly make your escape!

Plotting an escape

 

Revolution without the beer

My avid reader will be aware of a very recent post on the birthplace of the industrial revolution. You would be forgiven for thinking I got somewhat pub obsessed in my reflections on days gone by in Manchester. So, here is my opportunity to salute the architectural legacy of Manchester (with maybe one potential sighting of a pub!).

Artistic cats will be particularly drawn to the Manchester Art Gallery on Mosley Street, a Grade I listed building in Greek Ionic style built in the 1820’s, it acts to remind us that cultural appreciation is free to all… well, at least those who can be bothered to take their gaze temporarily away from a screen these days.

manchester-art-gallery-mosley-street

Meanwhile, cats who like to read something in a more traditional style may be attracted to the Manchester Central Library on St. Peter’s Square. Loosely based on the Pantheon in Rome, this Grade II listed building, combines a columned portico fronting a rotunda, built in the 1930’s. It succeeds the original and first free lending library of 1852, when Manchester demonstrated a ground-breaking recognition of the benefits of providing education resources for its local population.

central-library-2

For orchestral cats there is the Manchester Free Trade Hall. Built in the 1850’s as a monument to the repeal of the Corn Laws, this building on Peter Street is also built on the site of the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. It became the home of the Halle Orchestra, before more recently succumbing to mammon’s requirement for more hotel space.

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free-trade-hall-1

Talking of hotel rooms, for decadent cats there is always the magnificent sight of the Manchester Midland Hotel. The Edwardian Baroque Grade II listed building was erected in 1903 facing St. Peter’s Square to serve the northern railway terminal. Interestingly enough, the true frontage faced the square, with the rear of the hotel facing the station! However, even the side street facade was adorned with the same elegant detail, including direct access to the Spa and hairdressers.

midland-hotel-1

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midland-hotel-4

If you’re looking for insurance against the mind-numbing advancement of bland architectural fashions, look no further than the corner of Oxford Road and Whitworth Street. It used to be the iconic Refuge Building in my day, but no less magnificent is now the Principal… a Grade II listed building constructed in the latter part of the 19th century, and housing an early example of the importance of financing public welfare through life insurance and pensions. It has more recently become the home of the Palace Hotel… well a great conglomeration of architectural gems needs beds for the volume of visitors to be accommodated!

principal-building-oxford-road

Did you think I would ignore the needs of the administration cats amongst you? Manchester Town Hall on Albert Square is a Victorian neo-gothic building completed in 1877. And the old Queen even reflected her love for a pre-Brexit German union with the formidable Albert Memorial, whereby the pillar of teutonic heartthrobness faces the great home of Manchester City Council many years after his untimely demise. A Grade I listed building, this centrepiece of Manchester is considered one of the best examples of Gothic revival architecture in the world. In the 1930’s an extension was built and connected by two covered bridges.

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But when visiting such architectural beauty don’t be blinded by the overall majesty of the building, look for the detail, as there is a history to be read by looking at the ornate representations just above the natural eye-line…

town-hall-detail

For spiritual cats there is always the Friend’s Meeting House on Mount Street. Built in 1828 this has been the home for the Quaker community, and provides a venue for all forms of action towards social and economic justice, including providing shelter for homeless asylum seekers during cold winter months.

quaker-friends-meeting-house

The aforementioned Whitworth Street is always worth a stroll, if only to experience a canyon of former late 19th century industrial warehouses, now largely converted into apartments. Here names such as India House and China House reference Manchester’s original connection to the wider world of industry and commerce.

whitworth-street-1

Look up when strolling along King Street and you might just take in the motto of ‘upward and onward’ as Doric columns support an image of advancement. Here lies Manchester’s first town hall, a seat of administration from the early 1820’s until the present day structure opened in 1877 at Albert Square, when the demands of a burgeoning bureaucracy required a larger home.

king-street-roof-sculpture

As time passes the old must inevitably give way to the new, but is it always a gracious transition? The Chinese influence will take on greater significance as the 21st century progresses (i.e. not just affecting our palate!)…

chinatown

The new must occupy space alongside the old… well, at least until the new gets condemned or simply falls down, leaving the aesthetic champions to once again dominate the picture. But here a number of new buildings offer some startling contrast to the historic core of the city…

new-on-mosley-strret

old-new

hilton-hotel

Then there is the confusion of the old and the new, as trams re-occupy the street as the best mode of transport. Blackpool may be home to the longest consistently running tram, but Swansea to Mumbles in south Wales was home to the very first tram. In recent decades Manchester was again at the forefront of adopting the form as its primary means of transporting the masses around the centre of the city…

trams

So, Manchester has a historical core to match the best of them, and a willingness to showcase its history in splendid fashion. Did you spot that pub? Until we speak again, take Bella’s lead and become an inquisitive cat.

reading-paper-and-books