Kindness of strangers

Within all the horror of terrorist attacks, most recently Manchester and London in the UK, the abiding strongest message is the reporting of how strangers stop to help each other. But my recent travelling experiences to the USA have shown me that this is not only a response to terrorism.

Travelling solo to New Orleans and Chicago has left me with a great sense of how strangers are more than happy to meet, share thoughts and experiences, and are usually welcoming of people from different backgrounds.

So, to Victoria, Tom and Gayle in New Orleans, Laila in Biloxi, Steve in California, Bob in Massachusetts, Charlotte in Chicago, and Gayle and her sisters from Wisconsin… a special thanks for making a strangers travels a truly jazz funk of an experience…

Jazz Funk guys at RF's

And any blues were of the most welcoming kind (why, here is Buddy Guy in person!)…

Buddy Guy in person [2]

So until we speak again, to Jazz, Blues and all other musical cats everywhere, let the music do the communicating, as it spreads the love better than anything else! And celebrate the kindness of strangers.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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!

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!)…

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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…

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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…

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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.

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Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution

Forgive me the indulgence, but it was a quiet Monday night revisiting a good friend and an important place in my personal story. When you’ve been in Manchester at an important time in your life, I can assure you Manchester gets into you. Its history, its culture… come to think of it, Cardiff has a big lesson to learn, albeit far too late… that the places where people get together to share tall tales and fabulous ales don’t necessarily need to succumb to the persuasion of the bulldozer!

Tommy Ducks may have justifiably been buried under the foundations of the Bridgewater Hall, but Peveril of the Peak can still offer a good pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, amongst other fine beers, where Wilsons beers used to bring cheer.

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And while you’re in the vicinity The Britons Protection offers local north-west beers, before you jump on the tram in the background, though it prides itself on its whiskey collection…

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Portland Street offers a couple of interesting, if small hostelries. The Grey Horse Inn is the first of my Hydes Anvil Ales recommendations…

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If you’re looking for something a little cramped try the Circus Tavern. Proudly declaring itself the smallest bar in Europe with the warmest welcome. It advertises Tetleys beers, not the first of stops that take you down memory lane to beers that no longer exist!

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Take a minor detour around to Charles Street, just off Oxford Road, and you must pay a visit to the famous Lass O’ Gowrie. Try not to be put off by the incursion of southern beer from Greene King, as this historic boozer also showcases local micro breweries.

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And, talking about ‘paying a visit’, check out the sign on the side of the pub facing over the small adjoining canal. If you’ve been sampling the wares of each of the pubs so far you are certainly ready to ‘pay a visit’…

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Just around the corner I’m reminded of a ‘back in the day’ moment, as I stumble across The Garratt on Princess Street. Strange what time does, it used to be ‘The Old Garratt‘ in my dim distant memory… somehow, as time passes by, the ‘Old’ gets dropped! It also used to be home to Boddingtons beers, another name that passes into the supping history memory banks.

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Heading north on Princess Street towards the magnificent Manchester Town Hall (and taking a right and a left at the appropriate places) you are presented with three pubs in a row. You are now on Kennedy Street and I’ll spare you the agony of choice… go for the middle option, The City Arms. Amongst the local beers was the option of a Stoke-on-Trent import, but keep your eyes peeled for a Titanic Iceberg!

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But if t’s a taste of history you want, why not join the lawyers and modern day industrialists in Mr Thomas’s Chop House on Cross Street? Food might be the order of the day here, but if you are looking for northern sourced liquids, Holts, Thwaites, Robinsons or Black Sheep beers might just quench your thirst…

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The revolution has recently given rise to a Northern Quarter, so if you are in the vicinity of Oldham Street why not try the local brew of J.W. Lees at Gullivers

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Then you simply cross the road to grace the Castle Hotel, where the well-established Robinsons Ales from Stockport are now joined by a wider range in which to imbibe…

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The Northern Quarter is heavily populated with ‘bars’, but it is not difficult to find Port Street for a Moorhouse’s White Witch (that’s a beer by the way, from Burnley) in the Crown & Anchor

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Looking for something unusual, knowledgeable, and maybe a bit expensive if you’re not taking notice? But you need to arrive after 4.00pm to sample the thirds, halves or pints of what the Port Street Beer House has to offer. We did the evening before the following shot was taken, and I can assure you the beer menu goes on forever. Check the chalkboard sign top left at the bar for ‘Growlers’, you’ll have to ask Dave about those!

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However, for me there is only one place to end a long nostalgic trip down memory lane (or is that Ducie Street?).

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It’s not for the feint-hearted, and maybe some of the locals don’t actually have a home to go to…

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But the welcome is warm…

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And at this time of a pub crawl you just need to look over your shoulder and whisper a somewhat slurred goodnight…

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Well, what did you expect? Being an industrialised revolutionary was thirsty work you know! There is plenty of space in Manchester for the range of modern day ‘bars’, but they haven’t swept away the good old fashioned pub. So until we speak again, may all of your crawls be nostalgic, and don’t forget to finish off with some of Bella’s advice and check out the water!

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The Unmentionables

My pathologically biased servant has suggested I avoid using the most commonly recognised name of today’s visitors to fortress CCS (Cardiff City Stadium). So, in the interests of balance here comes the greatly anticipated game between Riverside FC established in 1899 v Newton Heath (Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway) FC established in 1878. The esteemed visitors were originally named after their local railway depot, so in one sense they are being welcomed today by their hosts Canton Sheds. Since the turn of the 21st century the visitors have been attributed a new name after the theatrical exploits of some of their more balletic personnel. Cristiano Ronaldo was determined to perfect the art of the pike, twist and tuck before he moved to Real Madrid and learned how to stand up for relatively longer periods of the match.

         The Trafford Park Diving Club was born and is now in the rudest of health through the single-handed efforts of Ashley Young as he stuttered from

  Watford into Aston Villa, and then tripped the light fantastic up the M6 to the dangerously lurking rinks and pools of Salford and district

      Its November, and the recent spell of colder weather could be treacherous for the visiting delicate flowers. The Cardiff players will be under strict orders by the local Magistrates to observe a 5-metre exclusion zone around any of the opposition wearing gloves outside of the penalty areas, to avoid giving anyone reasons to revert to an artistically horizontal game plan.

We approach 4.00pm on another unusual Sunday afternoon kick-off, c/o the Sky-dollar. It is time for the Red Dragons/Bluebirds (Purple Dragonbirds) to measure themselves against the existing English champions in the form of the Red Devils:

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The visitors display the early tactic of getting the home team to play the opposite way to what they prefer to do… thus reducing the impact of the home support on their team’s attacking play in the second half.

City v Man Utd [1]

The away team have been heavily dependent on the goals of the attacking Dutch/Anglo partnership of ‘White Van Man’ and ‘Join the Dots’; as their defence of ‘Dutch Junior’, ‘Peckham Twitter’ and various ‘Treatment Room Recliners’ have been even less convincing than a midfield that is still occasionally relying on an old guy born in Cardiff 40 years ago next week. Master Wilson not only left his home-town before he had the chance to play on a cold Tuesday night in Grimsby (instead of a warm Wednesday night in Barcelona), but clearly felt the need to change his name when stepping into the limelight of sporting celebrity and nefarious family sexual unmentionables.

The opposition are without ‘White Van Man’, and it is up to ‘Join the Dots’ to start with a less than impressive connecting with player rather than ball; a well-deserved yellow card, despite the home fans plaintive pleas for a red card sending off. However, the miscreant responds to the taunting of the home crowd with a goal early in the game. However, typical of such an occasion, it is a former upstanding member of the Diving Club, a newly installed home favourite by the name of Frazier Campbell who sends the home fans delirious with an equaliser mid way through the first half…

Fraizer Campbell; Jonny Evans Cardiff City v Manchester United - English Premier League 11242013

… only for that man ‘Join the Dots’ to set up a late second goal for the visitors just on the stroke of half-time. These teams haven’t met since the days when their old man of Cardiff was in nappies (c1974/5 season), and since then they have experienced contrasting fortunes. The eponymous Trafford Park Diving Club have had unprecedented opportunities to perfect the art through competition with European experts of the forward somersault with twist and pike. Meanwhile, the Mighty Bluebirds have had the unenviable trips to the football citadels of Scunthorpe, Halifax and Darlington. What will this gulf in experience bring as the two teams are set for kicking off the second half?

City v Man Utd [2]

They may be in the lead but the away team are clearly missing the historic motivation of a demented hair-dryer…….

  The differences in wealth and experience are nowhere to be seen as both teams create a few chances to keep the crowd edgy. Then, as the announcement is made of four minutes of added time to play, up steps the king of South Korea as Kim-Bo Kyung heads the equaliser, and the crowd go wild.

 Kim Bo-Kyung scores Cardiff City’s late equaliser   against Manchester United during the Premier League  match at Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff. Photograph: Rebecca Naden/Reuters

The Purple Dragonbirds roar as the Red Devils are left to contemplate their blunt spikes:

       

‘Pathological Bias’ tells me the match ended in a ‘Desmond’ [*]: Riverside 2 Newton Heath 2 and that hearing the away fans exercising their bloated egos through moaning about the result as they were leaving the ground really adds icing to the cake. While the local fans take a rest in a favourite hostelry I will continue to be Juno, looking forward to more interesting things like our next conversation.

[* Desmond Tutu]

Going nowhere

So there I was gazing out across all I could survey in this idyllic place I call home, when my appointed journey planner suddenly asked if I was going somewhere.  Plotting an escapeWell, I said in contemplative mood, to go somewhere you need to be sure about something and saddle up a means of somehow. Which only served to confuse my poor food fetcher, so I made do with a simple it’s a know-nothing going nowhere kind of day.

Much to my surprise this seemed to produce one of those butterfly-effect moments, and somewhere on the far side of ‘journey planners’ brain a couple of stray cells briefly rubbed together, and out tumbled all sorts of reminiscences about a long-distant past where a nationalised British Rail used to provide entertainment for the masses by organising ‘mystery trips’ by trains out of Cardiff Central station; or ‘Cardiff General’ as it was then, bearing in mind my groomer-in-chief is what I can only refer to as an ‘old git’, who seems to be thriving on my presence and attention.

Cardiff Central stationMystery trips, I thought. Seems to me that with all this privatisation malarkey one constant remains… go to Cardiff Central station these days, and the place is one big mystery trip in its own right!

If you are planning on going ‘somewhere’ just hope that nobody looking for a reason to play a practical joke suggests your train goes from Platform 5. On the other hand, if you are going ‘nowhere’ this is just the right place for you… go straight to Platform 0! Yes, you are right first time, I said zero.

Platform 0 [4]

Research on this computer contraption tells me this rather strange option for non-travel, or possibly even time-travel, is not just the preserve of the good people of Cardiff… the good, and in the interests of equality all other types of people, in Stockport (Cheshire), Preston (Lancashire) and Haymarket (Edinburgh), can all share in the global pursuit of going nowhere.

However, in Cardiff, we are talking about a mystery trip of a journey in the station itself.

Platform 0 [1]You might have been planning on a straight-forward visit to the M&S Food emporium, stocking up for your journey to who-knows-where. But, who can resist the message that blocks your advance… Platform 0 even has a staircase of its own. If this doesn’t convince you of its elevated status (excuse the pun), what will? So, you make the understandable decision… London can wait, Swansea has lost its appeal (if it ever had any), Manchester and the North (wherever that place is) will have to wait. We are off on what might just prove to be the experience that knocks Harry Potter’s Platform 9 and 3/4 at Kings Cross station into a minor footnote in the history of rail travel.

Platform 0 [2]As you overcome your initial trepidation, you climb the stairs. Ever the informative types, the railway company have even expanded your knowledge of Welsh, with what must be one of the most useful signs you are ever likely to come across in the whole Principality. But, at least you know you are on the right track (ok, produce your own puns then!). Then they really excel themselves… remember, you are on a mystery journey going nowhere. For this, the most vital guide should be ‘no information at all’; and wow, do they come through. To top off your mysterious journey they have even provided a customer information kiosk… closed and shuttered!

Platform 0 [3]

Armed with nothing, you are now fully geared up to go nowhere… the train company wish you a relaxing and pleasant journey; if you have any further questions, just don’t ask.

For those readers who use this rail equivalent of a black hole, on your way to all stations to Ebbw Vale, I am Juno you mobile DJ offering you a little bit of Going Nowhere by Oasis, or alternatively for you ‘valleys’ go-getters here is Somewhere by Tom Waits. See you at the end of your journey, where ever that may be.