Monday, 25 January 2016

Burns Night or just wanting to feel the burn? 8 ways to whisky in Manchester

Are you ready for Burns Night: a little bit of Scotland in Manchester… whisky, words and wonderful food, all in one occasion?

The 25th January brings ‘Burns Night’ with it; the annual celebration of the Eighteenth century Scottish poet Robert (aka ‘Rabbie’) Burns and his boozy, brilliant verse.  He wrote poems which captured Scottish culture and country, bringing elements of the folk tradition together with  excitement and adventure. You may know more of Burns’ than you first think – ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is the popular New Year ditty adapted from one of his verses, and he also penned the likes of the narrative poem ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ and  ‘A Red, Red Rose’. Does this link to a ‘red rose’ speak of even more suitability to the county of Lancashire, and especially, Manchester? This is certainly a city with a taste for the Scots –as 2015’s devolution discussions saw The hashtag #Takeuswithyouscotland spring up across the city; thousands of people preferring Northern solidarity with Scotland, than the Southern separateness of London!

Although devolution didn’t happen, there is still plenty of opportunity to enjoy a taste of Scotland in Manchester. Burns Night provides the perfect occasion! This celebration, also known as ‘Burns Supper’, was first set up by Rabbie’s friends after his death in 1796 – turning the 25th January, his birthdate, in a time to be merry and remember. It’s an occasion typically enjoyed with a wee dram (that’s a ‘small glass’) of Scotch whisky, plenty of poetry and… haggis – all of which you can find in Manchester! Burns loved a good boozer, and you can commemorate the ‘Bard of Scotland’ in style at some of these great events and venues. They also double-up as great places to keep in mind when you are looking to enjoy some spirits …                               
                                                              WAYS TO WHIKSY...

1)      Celebrating a star … at The Whiskey Jar – This quirky Northern Quarter bar has a proper portfolio of whiskies; with over 40 different types showcased on their website. Prepare yourself for Burns(both types!)… With the best selection possible! They take pride in creative talent here too – regularly hosting open-mic nights, so you can tell your tales of magic and misadventure just like the Scottish bard.  The Whiskey Jar, 14 Tariff St, Manchester M1 2FF

2)      Serving it sweet: Walrus - want to try some celebratory tipple, but worry that whisky isn’t really your thing?  Burns would most probably give credit to the creativity of Walrus bar’s ‘Chocolate Orange Old Fashioned’; turning scotch into a sweet treat. Here, 12 year-old Chiva whisky meets a whirlwind of our favourite flavours; powerful chocolate and zesty orange all served up in a cocktail! Walrus, 78-88 High St, Manchester M4 1ES

3)      For dinner with your dram, get to Wetherspoons – this well-known chain is making a big celebration of ‘Burns Week’ (18th-25th January) , with a number of affiliated pubs across the city, such as ‘The Moon Under Water’ on Deansgate. To celebrate, not only can you enjoy a whisky, but also a taste of award-winning McSween haggis.  A traditional meal as well as a ‘highland burger’ option is available! Various locations.

4)      A World of whisky tasting at Electrik Bar – not far from Chorlton, this cosy bar and eatery is determined to take you on a tour this Burns Night – through 5 different drams of whisky! For £19.95 per person you can sample five fine single malts, each from a different region of Scotland.  If you are planning to recite some poetry too, you have a better chance of managing it before rather than after… Electrik Bar, 559 Wilbraham Rd, Manchester M21 0AE

5)      A cocktail which keeps Scotland in mind at Rosylee – This beautiful drinking and dining place in the Northern Quarter serves up a suitable array of whiskies; including Chivas and Singleton. Plus you can enjoy the creativity of their signature ‘Scotch Sour’ which takes the traditional taste to the next level –whisky combined with premium port, Angostura, sugar, lemon and egg white. An ideal Burns Night celebration. Plus on the 25th they are hosting cocktails and haggis, ready for you to enjoy! What are are you waiting for? Rosylee, 11 Stevenson Square, Manchester M1 1DB

6)       A twist on the history, with Épernay -  Rather than Rabbie Burns, why not sample Épernay’s signature cocktail ‘Bobby Burns’; a blend of Great King Street Blended Scotch, complimented with Benedictine, Vermouth, bitters and orange? This glamorous venue, inside The Great Northern Tower, serves up so much more than champagne. Here you can sample some of Scotland’s best spirits, so prepare to be impressed! Épernay, Unit 1a, Great Northern Tower, Watson St, Manchester, Lancashire M3 4EE

7)      Words and plenty that burns at The Castle Hotel – this authentic Oldham-Street pub is sure to serve you up a whisky or two this Monday… though the real celebration  is set for Wednesday 27th, in the form of their ‘Bad Language’ open-mic night. This is a monthly occurrence which encourages new writers, poets and performers to get to their feet – something Burns would have approved of, I’m sure. It’s a great atmosphere and a real array of creativity. Castle Hotel, 66 Oldham St, Manchester M4 1LE

8)      Going the whole hog, Bangers and Bacon – stars of Spinningfield’s street food initiative ‘The Kitchens’, Bangers and Bacon are determined to deliver a Burns night feast – with the best quality British produce and meat. They are offering a five-course celebration on Monday 25th, complete with neeps and tatties, plenty of whisky… along with some surprises too! Get your tickets via Eventbrite to avoid disappointment and prepare yourself for interactive, impressive grub made with love. A number of big names are expected, including local whiskey connoisseur @thirstymanc – so don’t miss out! Bangers and Bacon, Unit 2 The Kitchens, Manchester M3 3AG

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Why are Britain's waters so unhealthy?

Inspired by the piece in The Guardian Environment Network written by Rachel Salvidge: ''England’s waters to remain illegally polluted beyond 2021' 

Playing cars, running rivers

You too can remember the thrill of the moment

As we took the toy cars beyond the garden
For the first time
Assembling freedom
Under the fingernails, throwing up earth.  I was seven then
Drawing the wheels of the car
Along my palms
A practice particularly urban
Feet turning the turf

For we started races – the rivers
You said, grabbing your bottle
Would form a challenge
I watched the movement
Drawn out in handfuls

As you tried to push streams, into the grass
Still to used to the lawn
Of your suburban house.  
Half-appalled stare on a nine-year old brow
I saw your plans turn to plains
The water burst out.

You tried pouring it into course
But plastic made it warm, greasy, sluggish
Swept over our race course, turning
Our play into rubbish

As it still does today
Rivers catching same angst
Covering reflection
With buildings
But the same dirty hands.

The news of Britain’s failure to keep her waters clean has seemingly fallen by the wayside in recent weeks. Attention seems to lie with attempts to control and regulate the course of its flow, like a kind of ‘game’ we are playing with nature (to which the poem alludes) – perhaps not surprising in light of the recent floods. But when will we consider the contents? Water can wield devastation, and is tragic, but what it is important to address going forward is the devastation we too have inflicted on it. Right now the UK is set to fail to reach basic ecological standards regarding the ecological condition of her water bodies – much is polluted, poisoned and putrid. Surely a way to go forward is consider cleaning and clearing our waters alongside the flood defence effort?

When will we realise that we’ve been so much more than just ‘playing’ with water; we’ve been polluting it – at catastrophic levels, for years.   Recent news has confirmed that UK water bodies – which include waterways such as streams and rivers – are condemned to fail to meet recommended ecological standards by 2021. ‘Good’ was the recommended ecological level – with the original deadline for the UK to crucially improve the overall chemical and ecological status of its water being set for 2015. Not only did the UK fail this, but its anticipated failure to reach the 2021 recommendations puts it in a position risking legal action from the European Commission. The reality is this – a number of the country’s streams and rivers are ecologically damaged, in poor condition and heavily polluted – and yet we carry on forward, adding to the issue and inventing excuses, like children invent rules for a game.

But this is no game – this is the culture, nature and natural habitat of Great Britain which is at risk. In order to address the pollution of our rivers and streams, we have to take real responsive steps; wider environmental action. The first step may involve considering your own actions and emissions. Aspects include diverting waste away from our waterways and increasing awareness of the river environment, starting with the young. Encouraging conversation, conservation and cutting emissions – especially from our cars. Summer-tinged streams may offer an idyll of child play in our heads, but this isn’t childsplay, the reality is that our rivers and streams are at poisonous levels and it is being seriously underreported. We can’t just address them when they are affecting us directly; because we affect them all the time.

Surely now is the time for cleanliness to go forward with constructive defence?

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Dry January? Alcohol-free Options in Manchester

Dry January? Manchester is here to give you a helping hand: be sure to sip on some of these non-alcoholic options and marvellous mocktails... 

Perhaps the boozy festivities of 2015 were enough to make you think ‘never again?’ Or you may be inspired to give up alcohol for a good cause – with donations to charity? Whatever your reason for giving up the drink, this has been the month to do it – Dry January. Do you think you can manage to take yourself away from the tipple for a whole 31 days?? Last year over 2 million people across the country managed it, and this year, a range of venues in Manchester are here to offer an array of alcohol-free options! 

         Some of the finest, fruitiest and most fantastical options around...

1)  Rosylee – this tearoom turned chic dining place serves up an array of creative mocktails for you to choose from. It proves that going alcohol-free doesn’t have to be inelegant – gone are the days of clutching a glass of coke in the corner! All three of their signature mocktails are well worth a try, with their Bramley Apple Crush being particularly good. It uses proper apple and elderflower cordial along with fresh juice, mint and soda. Rosylee. 11 Stevenson Square, Manchester M1 1DB

      2) The Alchemist - a brilliant bar with two locations in Manchester, Spinningfields and New York Street. They bring fantastic flair and some crazily creative cocktails – including a number of ‘Alchemists Apprentice’ choices; mocktails with might! With names such as ‘Bananaman’ and ‘Mango shake’ (this one comes complete with white chocolate foam!) you’re sure to be in for a treat. Make your friends envious with a drink which blends the best of dessert – and is much cheaper too. You can even go all retro with ‘Bubbly Gum’: an apple, lime and cranberry base infused with bubblegum and grenadine – served still bubbling! The Alchemist Spinningfields, 3 Hardman Street, Manchester, M3 3HF and The Alchemist ,1 New York St, Manchester M1 4HD

      3) Sakana – A pan Asian restaurant and bar on Peter Street, Sakana knows how to give guests a good time. The place is famed for its plush interiors, as well as its commitment to quality cuisine.  Their alcohol-free options open up adventures in themselves: with ‘Lychee Lemonade’ bringing big flavours of the Far East. They also offer what they call ‘detox hangover cure #1’, in the form of ‘Perfect Timing’: an alcohol-free blend of lavender cordial, lemon juice, soda and fresh herbs. There’s no need for alcohol amidst the stunning settings and great soft drink selections in Sakana. Sakana, 23 Peter St, Manchester, City Centre, UK M2 5QR

   4) The Botanist – This bustling bar is located right on Deansgate and has a number of non-alcoholic options ready to quench your thirst. They have everything from refreshing ‘Watermelon Dew’ to a seriously funked-up version of ‘Chocolate Milk’. You can even take yourself back to the tuck-shop with their ‘Cherry Cola Drop’ – cherry syrup and puree blended with fresh juices, rosemary and topped up with Pepsi. Perfect! The Botanist, 78 Deansgate M3 2FW

      5) Cottonopolis -   newcomer to the Northern Quarter, Cottonopolis opened in November, a bar and restaurant infusing Asian flavours with Manchester’s industrial legacy. Based in a Grade II listed building, the bar occupies a former tailor’s studio, with many of the original features still intact. Therefore you can immerse yourself in the experience and stay sober – complete with mocktails made up for you by the award-winning mixologist Jamie Jones. Why not sample ‘Shiso Fine’: a beautiful blend of shiso leaf, lemon, lime, egg white, yuzu and fritz lemonade: finished off with sugar. Other choices include ‘Just A Little Ting’ and ‘No G&T’, though a stand-out certainly is ‘Buzz to the Beet.’ Get to grips with a great combination of beetroot, apple and lemon, raised up with raspberries and finalised with black pepper! Pow!   Cottonopolis, 16 Newton Street, Manchester, M1 2AE

A selection at Taurus
   6)Taurus - a Canal Street bar and restaurant which celebrates seriously good food and drink in Manchester. ‘The Taurus Virgins’ are a series of non-alcoholic cocktails served with elegance - and the ‘Elderflower Mojito’ is particularly good here. The brilliance lies in a blend of muddled lime, mint and elderflower, topped up with soda. Or why not celebrate Summer early with a fun-filled ‘Kiss on The Beach’, complete with fresh passion fruit!  Taurus, 1 Canal St, Manchester, Lancashire M1 3HE

     7)  Revolución de Cuba - come on down to everyone’s favourite Cuban bar on Peter Street. These guys certainly know how to dress-up their drinks: and the on-alcoholic options are just as exotic as the others! ‘Shy Mai Tai’ is sweet almond, lime and apple, finished off with perfumed orange,  and soda – so certainly nothing ‘shy’ about it! Also packing a punch is their cranberry and ginger mojito; powerful flavours pulled together. If you prefer it lighter, there’s always the ‘Lavender Lemonade’ on offer too. Revolución de Cuba , 11 Peter St, Manchester M2 5QR

Burger and Lobster
    8)  Burger and Lobster – They call their cocktails ‘pretty bangin’’ and this is the case, even when alcohol isn’t involved! Burger and Lobster is a King Street restaurant and bar which doesn’t have a menu – invention is stead the key! They stock seasonal produce, as well as an array of cordials and waters for non-drinkers, so they can conjure you up something creative.  This means you can surprise yourself, or get as specific as you like with what’s available. Burger and Lobster, Ship Canal House, 98 King St, Manchester M2 4WU


      9) The Cosy Club – a restaurant and bar which revels in the beautiful architecture of The Corn Exchange, serving up lovely and long drinks you can chill with. Their soft drink selection must be one of the best in the city; offering options from ‘Berry Delight’ to ‘Watermelon Iced Tea’.  ‘Sherbet Lemonade’ is an old-school treat, whilst their ‘Virgin Mary’ certainly has attitude. The menu asks ‘how spicy would you like it?’ and with Worcestershire sauce, tabasco, and zingy tomato over ice, you’ll be beyond caring about the lack of vodka. Get cosy. The Cosy Club, 3 Corn Exchange, 37 Hanging Ditch, Manchester M4 3TR

     10) Sapporo Teppanyaki – this Japanese restaurant close to Castlefield serves up some mighty mocktails: it’s all part of their interactive and inclusive atmosphere. Sip away whilst you are entertained by the talented teppanyaki chefs, prepping food with flair before your very eyes. They have one of the most extensive mocktail menus too. The ‘Green Dragon’ is a serpent worth sampling; apple and lychee juice blended with aloe vera, zingy lemon and elderflower cordial - a great detox. Or get a taste of summer come early with their ‘Blushing Giesha’ – the ultimate strawberry mocktail. Sapporo Teppanyaki , 91-93 Liverpool Rd, Manchester M3 4JN
Sapporo Teppanyaki

      11)   Manchester House – it’s the ultimate destination for fine food and brilliantly blended drinks: and Manchester House makes sure that their non-alcoholic options still celebrate tradition with a twist. Guests enjoyment seems planned to perfection, all under the watchful eye of head chef   Aiden Byrne. The non-alcoholic ‘Bumble Bee’ could be considered as tribute to the ‘worker bee’ symbol of Manchester, and is buzzing with the flavours of honey, apple and lemon. Think an alcohol-free and chilled-down hot toddy: yum! Their ‘Virgin Mojito’ takes some beating too, bringing the perfect balance of lime and mint.  Manchester House, Tower 12, 18-22 Bridge St, Manchester M3 3BZ

Rosso – enjoy an elegant drink in one of Manchester’s most renowned celebrity haunts: Rosso. Owned by Rio Ferdinand, this is a restaurant and bar serving up selections fit for the stars, all complete with beautiful interior features which are grade II listed. Their range of mocktails show impressive attention to detail – their ‘Rinfresco’ a particularly interesting blend of citrus juices uplifted with apricot. They also offer a signature ‘Amalfi Iced Tea’; infused with raspberry and peach and a delicate ‘Apple Nojito’. Stay sophisticated, stay sober and enjoy it all at Rosso. Rosso, 43 Spring Gardens, Manchester M2 2BG

Cloud 23
1    13) Cloud 23 – soak up the scenery rather than the alcohol, and opt for a mocktail experience at one of Manchester’s must iconic and exclusive bars. The Hilton’s Cloud23 is located on the 23rd floor of Beetham Tower – so you can relax in plush interiors and look out across Manchester as you sip away. Their non-alcoholic options come under the heading of ‘Blue Sky Drinking’: so you can keep a clear head and instead enjoy some amazing flavours. Their ‘Bee On Time’ makes an instant impression, with its industry-inspired and expressive infusion of bee pollen, lemon sherbet, apple and sage. ‘Salute the Sun’ and ‘Cherry Blossom Skies’ are just some of the other options you can enjoy in Manchester’s highest drinking place. Cloud 23, Beetham Tower, 303 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4LQ

     14) Wahaca – this bold Mexican eatery and bar bursts with colour across two floors of the historic Corn Exchange. They are certainly serving up plenty to smile about this January – with flavours so fresh and fruity you won’t even miss the alcohol. It’s like a holiday in a glass with their ‘passion fruit and hibiscus cooler’ which is served up with bubbles. Or why not get your tastebuds tingling with their ‘Virgin Maria’: tomato juice, orange and pomegranate all topped off with spice. This is hot stuff! Wahaca, The Corn Exchange, Exchange St, Manchester M4 3TR

     15)  Dog Bowl – are you prepared to be bowled over by the choice of mocktails at Manchester’s much-loved ten-pin, Tex-Mex venue Dog Bowl? Inspired by old-school cavemen cartoon ‘The Flintstones’, inventive options such as ‘Dino Juice’ and ‘Strawberry Bam Bam’ are sure to quench your thirst. For a flavour of something truly exotic, try their ‘Coco Barmy’ too, a combination of coconut water, guava juice, lemon and luxurious coconut cream. You are sure to strike great things with their selection. Dog Bowl, Whitworth St W, Manchester M1 5WW

1  16)      Australasia - this beautiful underground bar serves up Australian-inspired food and drinks, as well as exploring the cultures of the Far East.  Their cocktails and drinks are hand-crafted for your enjoyment; so you can go sober and still feel pampered!. An apple, kiwi and lemon combination  provides a perfect pick-me-up, served tall and elegant.Their exotic choices mean you can enjoy the best of the East without the burn of alcohol too! Why not make the most of their watermelon lemonade or  mocktails packed with the freshest mangoes and coconuts, married together for a taste sensation?  Australasia, 1, The Avenue, Spinningfield, Manchester M3 3AP

Monday, 18 January 2016

The River Isn't Blue

On a layer of concrete, nature’s bone
Long worn – now thrown up defiance.
It was 8 am, Monday
And I was evading the papers
Instead this the science,
I’d rather feel through my fingers:

And the light
Turning skin blue.
It burnt into my hands
Its insatiable fragrance

I waited
Steadfast like graphite, though
Turned by sensation: Sharper
The wind
But the clearer the view.
This was the learning of laughter
As I churned the flakes upwards
Watching them fall
Beside the riverbank, evading school

The moment you realise
White is made up of colours
For then
Over the Irwell
A kingfisher flew.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Does 'Blue Monday' build stereotypes rather than support?

Another day with an ascribed title draws closer – January 18th or ‘Blue Monday’ in the UK. It’s typically a name given to the third Monday in every January and apparently ‘the most depressing day of the year’. Whatever this means. Yes, it is the allocation of a ‘Blue Monday’ at all and the language used to refer to it which I am critical of. Many people may have good intentions when referring to it – encouraging others to recognise negative emotions and face them. But the format seems bad; as it often involves the commodification of anxieties, generalisation regarding people’s insecurities (casually referring to things as ‘stress’, ‘depression’ etc.)  and even a marketing opportunity by retailers. It leads to people lumping things like ‘depression’  abd ‘feeling fdown’ together; a big inaccuracy which leads to stereotypes.  Those facing ‘Blue Monday’ are so often recommended to buy this or that, read this, watch that – when what is crucially needed is conversation, not consumption.

It is this kind of culture which is consuming us

‘Blue Monday’ can bring some attention to low mood and issues such as depression, but in a way I believe is in the majority unhelpful. Firstly, it appears to make the frustratingly old mistake of conflating ‘depression’ (as calling it the ‘most depressing’ day) and terms to describe short-term unhappiness like ‘blues’. I also wonder how anyone arrived at this conclusion. After all, depression is a mental condition which is typically very difficult to quantify – it is certainly not a case of the sufferer being able to rank some days as more affecting than others. Depression is as diverse and deep as the wide array of minds out there, and it doesn’t correspond well to one set feeling either. In many cases, depression is an absence of feeling, a sensation of ‘emptiness’ experienced by the sufferer. It certainly isn’t the open expression grief and tears we typically associate with feeling ‘blue’. Many people affected by depression allude to the colourlessness, the blandness of what they are faced with.

In this light, ‘Blue Monday’ seems more and more of a boxed-up marketing ploy, under the guise of positivity, when actually entrenching unhealthy views. Carried by the modern media, the most commonly-recommended strategy in  relation to it seems to be ‘retail’ – and in the past it’s been used to endorse the sale of products including clothes,  food , alcohol… even holidays. The links to big business are unfortunately clear here, as the concept was actually first publically developed by Sky Travel holiday company, which in 2005 emphasized that it had calculated ‘Blue Monday’ using an equation. As you can imagine this became an ideal PR opportunity for package holidays.

Not as benevolent as it seems 

Therefore, bringing attention just to ‘Blue Monday’ in itself is important – as it might not be as benevolent as it seems. The attitudes it endorses can be unhelpful – negative stereotypes about depression, retail rather than conversation, commodification rather than consideration.  Ultimately, it is a pseudo-science, as the task of evaluating ‘the most depressing day of the year’ is not possible. Each person’s experience of negative emotion is different, and for those who suffer from mental conditions such as depression – it isn’t just a case of some days being worse than others. Depression and other conditions do not fit to equations or occasions. They are often unpredictable, difficult: they can consume people’s livelihoods when adequate action isn’t taken.

So to cover up with depression with further consumption is clearly unhelpful. Depression, low mood, negative emotions – they can be terrible any day of the year – and it is this which needs to be talked about consistently. For anyone affected, Blue Monday is just another day; but the thing to remember is that there is no set date needed to talk about it. Conversation can occur when you choose, and that’s a liberating thing – whether you tell a friend, open up to family member, get involved with a brilliant online resource like or even pick up a book on the subject. Some mental health charities are attempting to use ‘Blue Monday’ in a positive way and put forward campaigns to increase awareness of mental illness, but what it is important to recognise is that the majority of these charities are drawing important attention to this issue all-the-year round.  It is this awareness which is needed across the board.

Designating certain ‘days’ – an unhelpful process?

Blown-up days like ‘Blue Monday’ endanger trivialising conditions such as ‘depression’  and ‘stress’ too as they become words thrown around relating to temporary emotions.  The cold weather can be inconvenient, but it is certainly not ‘depressing’. You may be flustered over something at work, but it isn’t necessarily ‘stress’. Ultimately, the way to deal with assigning definitions and describing sensations is to TALK about them. Under-representing our emotions and then designating certain ‘days’ to accommodate them is an unhelpful process – keeping things well-discussed and out in the open helps to avoid accumulations of negativity. If things go under-addressed, no wonder they feel like a catastrophe when they come to the fore.  January is a tough month for many – with the returning routines of work and study, the anti-climax of Christmas, dark nights and the like. There will be new cases of depression, just as there is every month. What matters is that people feel in a position to talk about their emotional situation, whether it’s positive or negative.

Of course we want banish Blue Monday, not by batting away the related issues, but by interacting with them. If you are struggling with your emotions any day of year – it is okay – many people do. You may question why, see no reason, feel anger, sadness, upset, or even nothing at all– that is okay. You are entitled to the course of your emotions, as well as to be open about them.  Your emotional health is worth so much more than a marketing experiment on a certain day – it is something to be talked about in a way which suits you.

It’s time for a new Monday. 

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Irwell Clay - a reflection and a poem

It has been recently reported that over the last decade in the UK, Manchester has been the city attracting the largest amounts of commercial property investment, outside London. Manchester has already seen a massive £8.2 billion from this source, according to CBRE, the global property advisors. And having been close to city for more than ten years, the changing landscape of the place is clear to see. Corrugated iron and cutting-edge structures, walkways replaced with tram-tracks, cranes and drains.  More people move in, old aspects move out. Some people cry the loss of the past; others seem only to think of the future. But what keeps going most profoundly throughout - is not the traffic, not even the changes themselves – but the course of the river. The Irwell, and its presence in the city, still holds a captivating power. The recent statistics made me think that although the city diversifies and develops, the river moves on with even greater force.

The river speaks as a reminder of our natural power.

The clay at its base is the first material which tells us of our ability to shape, to structure, to make things malleable.

The rest is history.

Irwell Clay

We were attempting to assemble nature
In the raised roofs, the cut-glass pillars
Which made from individual specks of sand
Were sent to stand
Like stunted rivers.

A pantomime of water, winched
To towers of ice reciprocating
Numbers, times – our faces find
In each high-rise and city building.

They talked of Manchester torn and scratched
When in this act, to keep sky-scraping
Leaves clays of night upon our hands
The potential, black – the light, reshaping.

For we may float, but not forgetting
The path from which we did not stray
Shaping the city as the Irwell’s emblem
From the beginning, fingers, in the clay.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Thank you David Bowie, from Manchester

'Once there were mountains on mountains
And once there were sun birds to soar with
And once I could never be down...'

It’s so much easier to look back on the beginning, to travel back through the wealth of the art he created, than to consider the end.  David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in Brixton, South London, 1947 – but just as his name would change, so would his associations. The master of invention, he would never stay tied by a particular place.  In this way it’s hard to say he meant ‘this’ to Manchester and ‘this’ to London: he went far beyond that. As  the haunting track ‘Lazarus’ from the 2016 album ‘Blackstar’ reflects ‘Oh, I’ll be free/ Ain’t that just like me?’: a concise summary of his artistic power.  He explored his talent, the world, through dynamism rather than definition – ultimately reinventing himself in ways that freed him from location. He entered people’s thoughts and memories instead, in a way almost alien. In this sense, he seems just as part of Manchester as he is part of London, part of parent’s memories as well as the inspiration of the younger. David Bowie’s death, announced to the world on January 11 2016 resists definition too. Instead it shows the man, the artist, the innovator, alive not just in his music, but in the endless cultures he created – all whilst remaining free.


The freedoms unfurled by Bowie is clear in Manchester, as though not a regular visitor, his artistry seems to communicate his presence here in a much more effective way. He’s inspired a legion of local talents, with Morrissey, Joy Division, New Order, Inspiral Carpets and Happy Mondays as just some examples. That is the thing about Bowie; he lets other artists stand, without ever diminishing.  It’s the same even for more recent artists such as Charlatans, The Slow Readers Club and The Courteeners too, who took to the media to express their sorrow.

His impenetrable status perhaps seems like a far cry from the travelling musician of the early 1960’s – at this point ‘Davie Jones & The Lower Third’; who came to Manchester on the 12th June 1965 to perform a gig at the Kings Head pub. Four years later, the once jazz-loving boy  now brought psychedelic flair to the North in the form of a rare solo performance at the Magic Village Club, just  off Market street. The grittiness of Manchester met the gravitas of Bowie on this 21st February 1969 occasion. Reports from the time described how Bowie blew a small crowd of about 30 away with an impromptu performance. It was the following night he would gig at the Free Trade Hall, a venue where later musical legends would also gather.


But now the music legends, just as so many of us, are gathered in thought. David Bowie touched Manchester so much more than just tours and trips:  as despite not being in the city often, one can’t help get the sense that he KNEW it. It was Bowie who knew the importance of reinvention, escaping convention and unlocking expression: something shared with the city. It was after all, in  a car on the way Manchester’s very own Granada studios in 1971 to mime his version of ‘Holy, Holy’ on TV that Bowie showed his aptitude for creative philosophy. As he reflected on his studies of stardom, to publicist Dai Davies:

“If you want to be perceived as a star, you start off with little bits of behaviour like that, not opening the door for yourself, waiting for someone else to do that...”[1]

It wasn’t in arrogance that Bowie expressed these views, it was knowledge. For Bowie is the star who kindled so much in Manchester – giving the inspiration for many others to open creative doors. His presence pulsed through the posters and albums covers of the 1970’s, the era where he turned strangeness something to shout about, to advertise.  The ‘freak’ became fashion and the underdog became fierce – something this city and its people have thrived from. The starman, a starship, a New Killer Star, Blackstar. One thing is for sure here in Manchester; David Bowie is a bright star.
Rest in peace.

A tribute is being planned at Sound Control on Sunday the 7th February, set to be called ‘Sound Control to Major Tom’. Money will be raised for Cancer Research and the opportunity for all to listen to the music of David Bowie and reflect on his life.

[1] Bowie: The Biography
Wendy Leigh
Simon and Schuster, 23 Sep 2014 

Saturday, 9 January 2016

The Christmas-time hunts confirm a culture of cruelty which cannot go on

Christmas time is typically looked-to as an occasion to promote goodwill and unity. It seems completely contradictory then, that on Boxing Day, thousands go forth in a ritualistic tearing up of animals, habitat and hopes. The issue is hunting and the subject is the Boxing Day hunts; which approximately 250,000 people turned up to in the last days of 2015, according to estimates by The Countryside Alliance. It shows that a culture celebrating slaughter still exists, often emblazoned with uniform and some even arguing that it is in the interests of ‘conservation’. It’s hard to see what is conserved by chasing a beautiful animal until exhaustion levels over fields, before committing it to a cruel death: the reality of foxhunting. We  need to know how important it is to address the myth and expose the lies which linger around the current ‘ban’. More work is needed and the current legislation is not enough: foxhunting needs to be tackled, for good.

Filled with inconsistencies and loopholes

Fox hunting and its current ‘ban’ – as well as Conservative attempts to challenge that position – has received increased attention in the media over the course of 2015. However, that the ban has remained could be seen as causing a sense of stagnation; when more work is needed to address the issue. What it is crucial to remember is that the fox hunting ban does not mean the problem is resolved. In fact, the crucial legislation is filled with inconsistencies and loopholes; something which needs greater attention if we are to ‘go forward; into 2016. What we need to go forward with is a change in attitudes; people shouldn’t have to just feel ‘satisfied’ with the current ban, people shouldn’t feel afraid to speak out and to condemn a fox hunt should not be demonised as anti-tradition or anti-patriot. In fact, to decry the ritualistic killing of Britain’s animals is perhaps one of the proudest things anyone can do. That is why I am fighting for it to be a big focus for 2016.

The current fox hunting ban is not enough, and there are a number of issues which make this clear.  Boxing day hunts highlight a big problem; that the culture of hunting and killing is still endorsed.  The press flocked to capture film and pictures of the parades, quick to jump on the ‘controversy; of Tracey Crouch, the sports minister and her comments on the event, that hunting should be ‘consigned to history’. Crouch’s comments are not a stir of ‘controversy’ at all, nor should they be sold as such. What she is saying are clear words of common sense; that hunting animals in this way is wrong and needs to be stopped per se.

It is in the detail that further faults lie

The current hunting ban is clearly not what it says on the tin. The idea of a ‘ban’ suggests complete stoppage, that the activity is prohibited, seen as bad, incorrect, wrong.  Yet it seems peculiar that an event associated with a ‘ban’ goes to be celebrated on not just Boxing Day, but at a variety of events throughout the year. And it’s not just outwardly that the ban doesn’t make sense, it is in the detail that further faults lie. ‘Trail’ hunting still continues throughout the year; a practice where hounds are still allowed to chase after a fox scent which artificially laid. Yet the number of times this results in the persuing and killing of actual foxes is likely high, as well as poorly monitored. The continuance of this clearly highlights a culture which casts foxes as something to ‘pursue’, nothing more than a piece of ‘chase’. Plus there is discretion in place to allow for ‘accidents’ resulting in the death of a fox; whatever these may be interpreted as. Ultimately, there are a number of loopholes for hunters to comfortably slip through, mockingly even.

Therefore, 2016 needs to be the year where we address hunting, even in light of the ban. In order to progress, we cannot simply slide into acceptance. A corrupt culture which celebrates the killing of animals as ‘game’ and ‘tradition’ still continues. It is up to people who care about the preservation of wildlife and our country to expose this. It;s essential to emphasize the importance of true awareness for what foxhunting really is. Increased awareness, open conversation and keeping up with campaigns are all important. Just because there is a ban, doesn’t mean that the cruelty is banished. Foxhunting is going to be an issue I will focus on considerably in 2016.

Let’s keep the ban AND make it a ban for good.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016 – The social enterprise where your stories and struggles matter

Do you need to get something of your chest but not sure of where to go?  In the hustle and bustle of the city, it can seem hard to express ourselves properly. It becomes second-nature to bottle up problems and put on a brave face. Yet a growing social enterprise is seeking to provide everyone and anyone with an outlet – where they can write of and share their experiences anonymously online – Cathartic co.

Type up your troubles 

Setting up the site began in 2014, from a Manchester base. The aim was to provide people of any age and background the opportunity to express themselves.  Cathartic is a website where you can type up your troubles, read those of others, and offer your advice – all with anonymity – it’s that simple. The format is straightforward and easy-to-use, like a hug of clarity, even when things feel chaotic.  

The founder, Neil Chandler, has drawn on his own experience of hardship to create Cathartic co. He emphasizes that ‘it’s not easy, but critical to talk about things’ and so the site is the opportunity for people to get things out in the open with ‘a higher level of anonymity’. It’s expanding too, whilst still providing a secure environment for self expression where ‘the public come first’. Yes, what is surprising about Cathartic is whilst it is anonymous, it is also highly personal. Operated like a business, not a charity, this means users are never seen as a source of revenue.

Whether you are a student or senior, it doesn’t matter, your experience is just as valuable as anyone else’s. It is that assurance which can be enough to brighten your day.

Do you ever read stories of the hardships of others and feel inspired to think differently? Perhaps you’re a fan of Humans of New York or other online features which show the variety in life and that you can comment on it? Cathartic takes personal storytelling and its emotional benefits to the next level.  It also, Neil emphasizes, works to ‘challenge our own preconceptions’.    You may read a story on a subject such as ‘eating disorders’ and assumes the author to be a woman, to then find the male pronoun being used.

The clear thing about Cathartic is that it is human 

 The word Cathartic is taken from the Greek language meaning ‘purification of emotions’ and the site provides a place for that – and it’s growing. There you can write about whatever has affected you, and stories on there include themes such as feelings, sex, anxiety and suicide.

Although anonymous, the clear thing about Cathartic is that it is human. With stories as varied as ‘Battling and overcoming anorexia’ to ‘today was a good day’, you are encouraged to write whatever you are feeling. It’s reassuring to know that you can hear the experiences from people all over the world, both in their stories and their support.  The times of turning to (often unreliable) chatrooms or keeping things quiet when you are finding things tough, now need not be the case.

Whether you’ve just had a difficult day, or have faced building pressure but are not sure how to express it, Cathartic can help you. Celebrate your storytelling ability, and realise that sharing your experiences may be transformative to another person - it’s there when you need it.