2016-06-25 12.07.21

A Wild Weekend in Manchester

It can’t be a coincidence that on both the occasions I have visited Manchester a fight has broken out. I suppose some might see me as the catalyst but in both cases I was an innocent bystander.

We had chosen a weekend in Manchester solely because it is equidistant between the homes of ourselves in Reading and our friends in Newcastle. It isn’t somewhere that instantly springs to mind for a weekend break but is just a three and a half hour train ride away.

Our first day there was spent in the town itself looking round the odd mix of architecture on offer. We visited the John Ryland’s library a fantastic building which looked very much like the interior of Hogwarts. Also passing the central library, the imposing town hall and the surprisingly small cathedral.

Interspersed between these fine old buildings were the usual mix of glass fronted shopping centres, run down high streets and huge numbers of coffee shops.

We had the second day of our visit all mapped out. We were to get a tram out of Media City at Salford and visit the BBC where we had booked a studio tour. Much of Manchester seems to be being dug up at the moment while upgrades are made to the lines. When we checked the tram times to Media City we were disappointed to discover that the line out that way was shutting until August starting… today! So we got a cab.

It was while sat in said cab that we looked across while waiting at a set of traffic lights to see two blokes throwing punches and wrestling each other to the ground while partners tried to pull them apart. This was road rage taken to the extreme. I have to admit that I was pretty flabbergasted at the scene but not as much as when our friend undid his seat beat, got out of the car and ran across to help break it up!

Media City is vast, sparse and modern and home to the BBC in the North. We had booked on one of the regular tours laid on by the BBC and I am really glad we did. I had been a little concerned about just what we might be able to see and whether we would be able to take any pictures. I needn’t have worried as two incredibly knowledgeable and friendly guides took our small group through a fascinating tour right into the heart of the action.

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First it was into a radio studio used primarily for BBC Radio 6 Music. Rather than being held back we were encouraged to sit at the desk and take as many pictures as we wanted. Next, it was into a radio drama studio where we were shown how it was setup to allow them to record any number of different scenarios including a set of steps with four different types of tread on them to get different sounds.

Finally, we were taken to the studio where Blue Peter is recorded. Another myth shattered – it was tiny! The presenters apparently have to take smaller steps to ensure that they don’t cross the floor too quickly!

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All the way round the guides imparted a number of great stories that were entertaining and informative. Telling us, for example, that people write in to the Archers to say things like “the migratory birds you played was wrong as they would already have left the UK by now” and that Blue Peter has between 8 and 10 people whose sole job it is to reply to all the letters they receive. They also made me look at wildlife shows in a new light and said that they practice the announcement of the death of the queen twice a year. So she not only gets two birthdays a year but also two deaths!

And that was our two days in Manchester. Would I recommend it? Well the BBC studio tour is definitely worth it and there are some interesting places to visit and but it’ snot somewhere we’ll be coming back to regularly I suspect.

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So Long and Thanks for all the Fish(ing Quotas)

So I awoke early on Friday morning and was disappointed to discover that leave had narrowly won and it seems we are out of the EU. I wasn’t the only one to be disappointed as the pound and the stock markets dropped significantly on the news. I’m glad that I’m not picking up my pension anytime soon…

Since the vote Britain seems to have become a very different place. I don’t just mean in the way that the pound has plummeted, the stock markets are in free fall, the major opposition party looks about to self destruct and that it could precipitate the break-up of the union. No, I am talking about the people on the ground. The ordinary, normal people who have become very different animals in the last few days (myself included I should add). People who would politely post family pictures on Facebook and others who would comment how marvelous they looked are now locked in increasingly heated debates about the rights and wrongs of Brexit (again, myself included).

What is even worse is that the vote seems to have made some people think that it is now absolutely acceptable to be openly racist. When did ticking a box on a bit of paper suddenly allow all humanity to be thrown out of the window? Except, perhaps, that immigration was for many the underlying reason that they voted to leave in the first place. They could be in for a very nasty surprise as we negotiate our EU exit and find that in order to trade with other member states that we have to accept freedom of movement and pay AND don’t get any say in the laws. This is summed up nicely in this graphic stolen from the Independent:

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So, in summary, there are some pretty horrible people about and I feel thoroughly depressed about the future of the country.

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In, Out, Shake it all about

So tomorrow is the time for us all to vote on the future of the Conservative party. June 23rd is your opportunity to decide their fate once and for all as that is really what has triggered this vote – factions in the tories that have spent years arguing over Europe.

In truth the conversation about whether we should be in or out of Europe seems to come down to one single issue – immigration. To be clear here we are talking about recent immigrants from the continent not the inbound immigration that has been taking place over hundreds of years. Chances are you’re not British if you think you are, see the video below. I know I certainly have Germanic ancestry.

The thing about immigration is that people try and wrap it up as concern for the fragile resources of the UK. The fact of the matter is that immigrants from the EU make up a tiny proportion of the population and are more likely to be in work paying taxes than an indigenous person. If you would like to run through the numbers take a look at this post.

One argument made is that immigrants are taking jobs from British workers. With unemployment at an 11 year low I think that this can be safely discarded as a reasonable line to take. In fact many of the over stretched services, such as education and health, are only running at present because of workers from outside the UK. Without them who would teach our children? Who would nurse us when we are sick? Who would pick fruit and vegetables from the fields? And who would do all the jobs that UK workers don’t want to do?

It is obviously clear that I will be voting to REMAIN but whichever side of the argument you fall on if you do nothing else make sure you VOTE.

And remember, once the decision is made, there is no going back…

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A Summer of Vinyl

Anyone that has been paying attention will have noticed that I am back into vinyl in a big way – mainly because I like having a physical product and also the print on a record sleeve is large enough for me to be able to read without glasses!

However, I am trying to be a little more discerning about what I buy now rather than simply plundering the local charity shops for dog eared copies of what I already have (although I do that too!). And with vinyls resurgence there is now so much new music being released on that format that it is increasingly possible to add new items regularly.

To illustrate that very point I have all of the following on pre-order, all of which are on “heavy-weight” vinyl and quite a few are also signed too:

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool – 17th June 2016
Peter Gabriel – So, Up, Us – 15th July 2016 – half speed, limited edition, remasters
Dodgy – What Are We Fighting For – 2nd September 2016 – Signed Deluxe
The Divine Comedy – Foreverland – 2nd September 2016 – Signed
Marillion – Fuck Everyone and Run – 23rd September 2016 – Signed

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There does seem to be a gap in August though but the La’s reissue would fill that nicely!

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Reading Mammoth Record Fair

So I have been getting back into vinyl in a big way. No, not like that, but vinyl records of the round black variety.

I am trying to limit the amount I spend on records by only purchasing brand new releases and particularly if they are limited releases, special vinyl or signed. This isn’t working out too well for me as everyone seems to be jumping on the vinyl bandwagon at the moment releasing limited releases on special vinyl that are signed!

There are still some releases that are no longer available or I would like to collect so I am always on the lookout for them. When I saw that Reading was holding the largest record fair in the UK I had to check it out.

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I haven’t been to a record fair for probably about 20 years or more but they haven’t changed in any way in the intervening years other than now holding a smattering of CDs too. It was pretty well attended showing that there are a lot of people still wanting a drop of the black stuff!

I think in the end I must have made three complete circuits of the stalls looking for something that took my fancy but came away with empty handed. The issue was that for the most part nothing was in any order so if you were looking for something specific, which I was, you would have had to be pretty lucky to stumble upon what you were looking for. I did come close to a signed copy of the latest Steve Hackett but couldn’t bring myself to part with the required £35.

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So the visit to the record fair was an interesting trip down memory lane taking me back to my youth but I don’t think I will bother going again as I stand a much better chance of sourcing what I want to eBay.

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Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Like many people I have a bucket list of things that I want to do and this week I managed to tick another one off the list with a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show.

I’m sure that if I could go back to my younger self and tell me that one day I’d have a hankering to go to a flower show I would have laughed so hard it would have hurt. However, tastes change and as you mature you appreciate different things – is the line I’m now taking to explain this volte-face! And so it was that last Thursday we found ourselves setting off early to join the crowds of other horticulture aficionados at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

It’s a curious thing, holding a flower show in the grounds of an old people’s home, but that is what the Royal Hospital Chelsea is and there were plenty of Chelsea Pensioners enjoying the displays in their back gardens.

While the hospital grounds are a large area for a few hundred pensioners it isn’t really large enough to accommodate all those that wish to attend the flower show. When we arrived it was comfortably busy and with a little patience and a little light elbowing you could get to the front of the displays. By midday, however, it was heaving and it became necessary to employ more devious tactics. The numbers weren’t helped I suspect by the great weather we had with the sun pouring down making the displays look magnificent, as you can see in this short video.

There is an amazing amount of work goes into all the displays and there is plenty on display that is flowering at what must be the wrong time of year. Having never been before I can’t be sure but I am pretty certain that there must be some sort of floral arms race going on with people trying to out do what others (and themselves) have done in previous years.

There is a good reason to put on a good show as there are prizes but the whole thing did seem to have the feel of a junior school sports day where everyone wins a prize just for turning up. Every stand seemed to have received a certificate or gong of some description.

One worthy winner, however, was this unassuming grey box looking a bit like the Pandorica in Dr Who. There was a queue wrapped twice around the box to get to see what it contained and being typically British we joined the end.

When you reached the head of the line and to the box itself there were three holes drilled at different heights on two sides through which you could look in and see the miniature garden within. It was, like so much else at Chelsea, incredibly well done. You can see some pictures of the inside of the box and many of the other features on display below.

Helped by glorious weather we had a great day and we will certainly go again.

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Spain 2016 – Day 5 – Presa De Béznar And Orgiva

Our last day in Spain started at the bottom of the hill from were we are staying where there is the Presa De Béznar dam. We stood at the top of the dam looking down – it’s a very long way and enough to make my stomach curl.

It is a curious thing in that there is an escape for a (very) small amount of water but it seems to be recycled so none leaves the confines of the dam works. According to the notices there it was built to help the environment, provide a reservoir for drinking water and hydro electric power. At least that is what we could make out through the use of Google Translate! 

After lunch on the terrace at the villa we drove out to the small town of Orgiva hitting the mid afternoon lull. It was the most curious place in that the only other people we saw were what can only be described as British hippies. They were all there with their dreadlocks, multiple piercings in interesting places, colourful tattoos and scrappy dogs on bits of string. We fitted right in! I could only assume that there must be some commune nearby and they had all come in to collect supplies.

For our final meal we went back to Lanjarón and to a hotel overlooking the castle ruins. We had a superb meal but the portions were of monumental proportions. Take my starter, which was described as fried egg with Spanish chorizo and fried potatoes, an accurate description but I was expecting a delicate little thing. What I got was a full meal served in a large pan, as you can see from the picture below. The main course was similarly overblown too!

So we have enjoyed our few days in Southern Spain and a bit of early sun but now it is back to the UK and Reading where it has apparently been trying to snow…

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Spain 2016 – Day 4 – La Alpujurra and Lanjarón

After yesterday’s traipse around Granada we took it slower today starting with a walk up to the bakers to get some pain au chocolate. As described previously, like all shops, the baker here is carefully disguised as a house lest anyone find it and purchase something. To aid this further all shops also open as infrequently as possible shutting just at the time when it would be most convenient to buy something. It really is like a trip back to the 1970’s or a trip to France… Now.

Breakfast out the way we set off to the La Alpujurra region on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada aiming for three villages Pampaneria, Bubion and Capileria. These were reached up a winding mountain road which Helen treated as some sort of white knuckle ride! We stopped at Pampaneria and went for a wander around the streets looking at the well maintained, white washed, houses. A feature of the houses is the high chimneys on the roofs, each having a little hat presumably to prevent snow coming down.

Rugs seemed to be a speciality of this area and there were examples of all colours, shapes and sizes along the twisty footpaths through the villages (no hiding the wares here!). As luck would have it we have been looking for a new rug for the lounge and to date hadn’t found anything suitable but here, half way up a mountain,was something that appeared ideal and was likely £200 cheaper than we expected to pay. So we bought it, you can see it on the picture below furthest away from the camera, but we were quite a long way through the transaction before the question “how are we going to get this home” surfaced. 

I have form when it comes to bringing home rugs from far flung places. I once brought home a rug in a rucksack from a shop just outside of Agra so I knew that it was possible to do. We were assured by the shopkeeper that it only weighed six kilos but it felt an awful lot more than that when I lugged it back to the car. Right now it appears to be a toss up between the rug and my dirty clothes as to which one makes it back to Reading so check back in a few days to see which one makes it!

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Spain 2016 – Day 3 – Granada

Today was the only day of the break where we had anything planned. One of the draws of being in this region was being able to visit Granada, somewhere that everyone who has been there seems to wax lyrical about. We had been warned about booking early for the Alhambra and when I did, a couple of months ago, I was amazed at how booked up it was already, so it is certainly popular. In the end we went for a 14:30 slot which allowed us to explore the town in the morning and the Alhambra itself in the afternoon.

We arrived at Granada at 10am and parked up at the Alhambra car park having decided that this would be the easiest option as reading online it seemed that parking could be difficult in the town itself. After a short stop to collect our pre-booked tickets we walked down into town and it was steeply down too so the walk back up would be fun!

First stop was a cafe for a well earned coffee and a Fanta! That out the way we wandered the streets past some lovely buildings following the stream that ran between the road and the base of the hill to the Alhambra. Ideally we wanted to find the iconic view that you see on so many postcards taken overlooking the Alhambra site but this was to elude us (spoiler alert – don’t look too closely at the header image if you don’t want to know yet if we managed to find it!).

We made the climb back up to our staring point and entered the Alhambra. The site is huge made up of at least four distinct areas including the Nasrid Palace and Generalife. Entry to the former is via timed ticket which avoids there being massive crowds traipsing through the rooms, although it was still busy with parties of disinterested school kids.

It is easy to see why it is so popular as the buildings and in particular the mosaic tiles and carvings are spectacular. There is something deeply pleasing about the Moorish geometric designs.

The outside wasn’t bad either!

In the end we spent the best part of three hours wandering around the well preserved site and could easily have spent more time. It was certainly well worth the €14 each entry fee we paid.

We then caught the little train back down to the town and this time stayed on until we reached the highest point. We got off and went for a wander and somehow stumbled upon the view I had been hoping to find across the town to the Alhambra and the snow capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada behind – breathtaking.

A slow walk back down to the bottom where we had some dinner. In my case the local speciality of plato alpujarreño which looks like an English breakfast with it’s sausage, egg and black pudding and was a welcome treat after a long days walking. By the time we had walked back to the top and the car park we had done over 20,000 steps which is equivalent to ten miles and were knackered but it was a great day.