Modernising Manchester – Making it Mundane

This post was provoked by reading this thread – about Oxford Road and the “Manchester Corridor”.  The thread is meant to be about plans and general speculation about the proposed changes to Oxford Road Station and the surrounding area.

Most people (including myself) were struck in mid-2014 by the proposed removal of The Cornerhouse and its relocation to another new build, with the stick-in-the-back-of-your-throat-named-by-committee moniker of HOME.

What peaked my interest was the discussions about The Salisbury Pub being worthy of saving but there was less love for The Grand Central.

Manchester has a fine musical heritage, I’d argue the best and most diverse in the world (but I am biased) and we are used to seeing our musical institutions being converted.

The Grand Central crowd of rockers/punks & goths, etc. were left homeless (for a short time) after the closure of Jilly’s RockWorld and before that, arguably the most famous of England’s clubs The Haçienda was closed down and turned into the same boring red-brick flats you see in every major city.  Jilly’s ended up being a Tesco, or a Pizza Express – you chose the evil empire that fits in with the jist of this piece.

The Salisbury does CAMRA discounts, it also caters to the rock crowd too, but it is what you would call a proper pub.  The Grand Central is very much in the vain of the dirty, stale lager places that I frequented as a kid.  You know, the ones with character, because it wasn’t about what was on the outside that really mattered but who was in the inside.

I’m not trying to match the pubs up against one another, I enjoy both pubs, in fact the whole area along with Font and Thirsty Scholar is excellent for a very, very short-walk drinking crawl.

This comes at a time when there is a campaign to get more money to save the Ancoats Dispensary (direct link to funding is here).

There are also campaigns to save (from the clutches of absentee landlords Britannia) the London Road Fire Station.  A building left to rack and ruin by said landlords inability to do anything with it and a typically inept Manchester Council wishing to spend it’s money more on pot-plants and junkets abroad than pay attention to anything about Manchester centre that doesn’t involve driving (literally) people away to out-of-town shopping centres.

The Star & Garter – another Manchester pub with a massive musical heritage, has a doubtful future as a redesign of Piccadilly Station will see it either removed or forced to close when access to it is severely restricted during the proposed building works.

There are success stories, of a sort, with old buildings being saved.  The Victoria Baths by way of a BBC programme, now sees the venue used regularly for many different events, the most relevant to this blog being the Indy Man Beer Fest.

Case and point about design by committee which isn’t fit for purpose and is fast turning into a danger is Piccadilly Gardens (and its Wall).

People can talk about Grand Central being a bit of an eyesore but Piccadilly Gardens, the first thing many tourists would see from either train or bus, is an absolute shit-tip.  Granted it is a major transport hub now, but what used to be open and actually had something to do with a “garden” is now closed-off (walled-off if you will), claustrophobic and as crime begins to rise and austerity policy means police on the ground have to be cut so Councillors can still get their free holidays abroad, the rise of CCTV will continue unabated, along with that fucking horrible, massive wheel.  Whoo a city centre that doubles as a fairground park.

As I write this MPs have voted against a bid to tighten pub planning laws which really comes as no surprise.

This isn’t some Luddite rant – progress is vital to keep things moving and viable for the future – but taking a look around, everything that is new build, all it is is functional.

I’m struck by the cotton mills near me.  Some being put to use for a variety of things, others bulldozed and left either as wasteland (or a zombie car park) or….oh yes, another bloody big supermarket.  The actually lack of planning for the future is stark.

I could get into conspiracy theories about social engineering, the destruction of communities to build a mass of individuals with no collective power and without he ability to give a crap about anything other than the self, but that is not the point of this piece.

With little or no public consultation, buildings are being ripped down and their replacements have no character, no history (obviously), no romance, nothing artistic or photography worthy.

It seems that each city wishes to become a copy-and-paste job of every other city, not only causing a loss of history but also of identity.

Let us end with a oft-repeated quote amongst pub campaigners but that I feel can apply to all things touched upon…

“When you have lost your inns, drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England” -Hilaire Belloc

Manchester Beer Festival 2015

A review of the 2nd Manchester Beer and Cider Festival to be held at the Velodrome on the Emptyhad Campus between the 21st and 24th of January 2015.

Previous reviews of the 2014 event and the problems with the 2014 event can be found at those links.

This year I only went as a punter, not for any other reason than time and I only went as a punter on the quieter Wednesday opening day.

The biggest change this year was that the whole concourse surrounding the track was available.  This had enable about half the bars to be placed on this level (the same level as the toilets and the enterance) and allow more room downstairs for people.

So in one fell swoop they solved a great many problems that were associated with the first festival.  Plenty of seats in centre of the track, less of a walk to the toilet and then to get beer, less hurry in fact.

In doing this you often felt that you might lose a sense of atmosphere, that by halving the bars in the centre, you have the crowd size.

But looking at the photos on the event Twitter feed you can see that there is a fair old crowd still in the centre.  Plus the walk around the concourse means you don’t have to be stuck at the sometimes upcomfortable temperatures in the centre of the track needed to appease those healthy heathens cycling around the facility.

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Yep, they’ve started doing stemmed glasses.

CAMRA have clearly taken pointers from a lot of the smaller independent festivals and their popularity, not just in glassware but in general attitude.

It is hard to say that they’ve become more professional because, as stated in previous reviews (1) they are all volunteers and (2) they generally host things to a high standard most of the time.

This year there was an extra sheen to the festival, no small thanks in part to a very professionally run media aspect giving constant updates and reminders (see above twitter feed and the website).

The beer choice itself also seemed to have upped its game too, a greater emphasis rightly so put on the local brewers, which I sometimes feel is lost at other beer festivals, regardless of their location, but specifically Indy Man don’t often trumpet Manchester brewers often enough at their shindig, something that CAMRA do do and do well (Da Doo Ron Ron).

It seems that the 2014 festival was an abberation to that extent, which can’t not be unexpected (hmm, triple negative), the only thing to let this festival down (like those before it) was the food; acceptable stodge – but quantity over quality and choice.

So it is again thanks to all the volunteers, staff and organisers that made this possible.

The Beers

Stupidly I didn’t take a pen along, so this is all done be recall and having said that there now follows a list of beers and brewers that I really did enjoy at the 2015 festival with limited notes but a hearty recommendation for all:

Allgates – Macadamia, Coconut and Lime Porter (4.6% – refreshingly totally tropical)

Alphabet Brew Co – Crate Digger (8.3%) and Space Invader (6.0% – a very nice flavoursome saison)

Blackedge – Motley Brew (4.0%)

Black Jack Beers – Betting Cap (5.3%), Vanilla Stout (5.2%) and Beginners Cranberry (5.0%)

Five-Oh Brew Co – Sorachi Wicked (6.0%, yes another small cask from them)

Quantum – Imperial Buckwheat Stout (8.5%)

Silver Street Brewery – Porter (5.0%)

Squawk – Beanbrothers Coffee Stout (6.5%) and Ad Hop Liquorice Porter (6.5% and boy is there liquorice)

Stockport Brewing Company – Black Buck (5.8%)

Thirst Class Ale – Stocky Oatmeal Stout (5.5%)

Tweed – Black Shire Stout (4.5%)

Watt’s Brewing – Raspberry & Rosehop Pale Ale (4.6% – lovely and fruity)

Reading through the guide I realise just how many more I didn’t try…should have done another session, well live, drink and learn.

Till next year.

Brew-denell – 3rd Annual Beer Festival 2015 – Review

Subtitled “if students did beer festivals…”

I hope in reviewing this that I don’t come across as patronising, that is not the intent at all, I have a very good time, there were just a few niggles for me…

This event took place (or rather is still taking place) between the 9th to the 11 of January 2015.

It took place at the Brudenell Social Club in the Burley Park area of Leeds, which is a 4 minute train ride out of Leeds, one stop before Headingly.

It is quite the student area by the look of it, grid layout of terraced housing left over from an industrial age, some with full door-size security gates over the front doors.  Much like Hamsterdam.

Tickets were £4 per day, bought in advance, £5 on the door and, I think £7/8 for the whole weekend, Sunday being free.

Entry included either a regular pint glass or a stemmed one, or an extra quid got you a half or pint tankard.

WP_20150110_002You also got a rather nice booklet.

Beers were sold in halves or pints, priced more or less to alcohol volume, ranging from about £2.50 to £5 a half, there was an even split between keg and cask, there were also about 5 ciders and a big range of bottles too.

The average age of the punters couldn’t have been much above 23.

Food was pizza or burgers by The Pizza Bus (@eatourpizza)

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£5-£6, the pizzas were very good, the burgers were also good, if the patties were a little on the small side.  If you can read the above list, most of the ingredients were marinated/contained beers, which I though was quite a good gimmick.

Queuing up outside to get in I noted a list of bands set to perform; Sick Of It All, Julian Cope, Gruff Rhys, Turin Brakes – what the hell kind of venue was this, it just looked like a regular club from the outside?

On the bar they had Estrella Damn (£2.90 a pint), a few other high-end keg lagers, mixed with the regular UK ones.  Cask lines with Kirkstall Brewery beers on, a special keg line for, at the time Left Hand Brewing’s Black Jack Porter (6.8% and I think about £4.50 a pint).  What the hell kind of venue was this?

The main room where the beers were was a good size, but quite small when all the beer equipment was installed, the food was outside, then there was another room with an additional large bar area and then a games room, which itself was two good sized rooms, one containing about 4 pool tables and what looked like a snooker table; which were moved for the bands (not the ones above) to play.

The venue was excellent.  If you want to go to uni, I am now recommending Leeds based on this venue alone, let alone the city centre drinking holes.

The even have a very good hand drier…

WP_20150110_005I’m not going to review the all beers on here, well just a special one, but what I would like to do is thank, part of Manchester’s Brewery Mile, Track Brewing Co. for making me aware of this festival, due to the crowds I was unable to have their Ozark but having had if before, if you can find it, I recommend it.

So I end on as many positives as I can, I’ll state my two niggles…

1) Staffing – there just weren’t enough.  One guy on the door was doing a sterling job for about 8 hours before it looked like he got a break.  The bar itself wasn’t exactly teeming with beer pourers either.  Those that were there were displaying a mainly excellent effort of getting through the queues, but just a couple more people at each service point (even one more) would have made things go a lot quicker and in the end get more people spending more money on more beer.

2) Servings – now I’m not expecting to get 2/3rds of a pint when I ask for a half, but what I don’t expect to get is short-served most of the time.  The oddest moment happened when one of my drinks went slightly over the half-line and rather than just giving me the beer, the additional amount was….POURED AWAY…..what madness is that?

Having said that, the staff were all bob on with their service; friendly and as quick as could be expected.

The large choice of beers was clearly marked on the boards or on giant posters and to make things easier for all, were given numbers like a Chinese menu, even if the numbers themselves weren’t in any order behind the bar.

My special beer of the day, and I did have quite a few very good ones but this stood out, was The Sun Before The Darkness, a 10% Belgian style strong ale by The Yeastie Boys of New Zealand.  The brewery and beers are new to me and this was a very dangerously drinkable beer, maybe too honey-sweet for some, but a lovely complex tasting brew with a very pleasant aroma and no taste of the high ABV at all.

I think I’ve all ready decided that a few days at this place next year might be in order.

So thanks to all the organisers and volunteers – a most excellent time.

To end, this sign did was funny given the circumstances

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Cancer, Terrorism – It Is All Just Bad Luck

Most cancer types ‘just bad luck’

That was the headline at the start of 2015.  To be fair, most people with any sense of reality will have known this is pure logic.  You can do some things to lessen your chances of getting some forms of cancer but in the end it is still the equivalent one of those late night roulette and poker shows.

You pays your money, you takes your choice.

We can only go so far in keeping ourselves cancer free.

Likewise we can only go so far in keeping ourselves from being dead from terrorist attacks.

In many attempts be state officialdom to ride the typical hysterical reactions to terrorist murders in the West; following the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the current boss of UK spook agency MI5 came out with many “No.Shit.Sherlock” comments.

The public are quite aware you can’t stop every terrorist attack, we also know they are trying to kill us and we are also aware they will probably never stop, killing as many as you can and there are many waiting to replace them and they will always be thinking of new ways to carry out their violence.

All this while obviously calling for more powers of surveillance.

Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, popped up on the BBC to talk about the arming of regular police.  Granted he said it would be measured, but it plants the seeds that we the public should expect more guns on our streets, used by people who still haven’t mastered how to discharge their ‘soft’ weapons like pepper sprays and tasers in the correct manner.

We are always in danger, not from cancer and terrorists but from knee-jerking ourselves into more state control.

Our rationale lost in hysteria.  Our fear of the uncontrollable leading to giving up freedoms for the illusion we will be safer.

There is a Benjamin Franklin quote – overused but none the less true.

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

It is a cliché, true though it is, to say that terrorism is a cancer that needs to be faced down and fought with as much vigour as one can muster when diagnosed with the actual disease.

But where as 1 in 3 people will likely have cancer at some point in their lives, the chances of being a victim of terrorism are far smaller.

In the fight against terror and against cancer it is worth taking a look at what legislation has been brought in to combat these threats, or what facets of our lives are now being carved open and pried into and most importantly what is being restricted, if ever so subtly.

Then ask yourselves if you actually feel any less vulnerable to either threat.

You Don’t Need Guns To Massacre Free Speech

After the murders comes the debate about satire, free speech, free thought, censorship.

Last night and this morning #JeSuisCharlie was trending as a way of showing apparent solidarity for the victims and by inference free speech and as some oddly misappropriated “Western values” – which are a big an anathema as “religious values.”

But I’m not writing about religions or the religious, I’m writing about people’s proclaimed intent for upholding freedom of speech.  Though seeing the dead illustrators near deified by some (which must be odd if you were one of the atheists amongst them) was typical over sentimentalism.  By all means mourn the passings, but honour what they stood for more…

Freedom of Speech is an absolute.

Words can and do inspire people to do acts of good and acts of, for want of a better word, evil.  But the words aren’t to blame for the actions, even if the outcome is positive.

The image below represents some of the front covers used in Charlie Hebdo…

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I’m not French so I have no idea what the words roughly translate as for each article, or the context for their use, but as you see by the pictures, the art of satire at the magazine didn’t just solely lie with “attacking” Muslims.

Some of the front covers were republished all over Europe apparently – except in the UK.

On Wednesday’s Channel 4 News reporting on the deaths, their story was marked by the on-air admittance “It is Channel 4 policy not to show previous cartoons of the Prophet.

There is nothing brave or noble in self-censorship.

Today’s (Thursday’s) UK newspapers led mainly with the traumatic image of the injured Muslim cop about to be executed by one of the gunmen.  Yes violence sells and newspapers love terror-porn but they missed a trick; about the absolute requirement in an open society to have a free press.

This actually comes as no shock.  When violence about pictures of Muhammad first occurred, the seemingly obviously pact between newspapers not to print the offending cartoons was formed.

There was seldom any outcry from the UK press when Salman Rushdie had a fatwa put on his head for his book The Satanic Verses.  There was more outcry when, after Rushdie was knighted in 2007 (regardless of what you think about royalty), that this was wrong and an antagonistic thing to do.

But this should contrast with speech that doesn’t even feature Muslims as a “target.”

A Sky News (Murdoch Press) poll was trending today – last I saw 70% said “Yes” to the question “Should the media publish satirical religious cartoons?”

The worry is – and this is the crux about free speech – some will see that as a reason to publish only the pictures related to Islam.

Free Speech isn’t selective, but sadly people are.

If that ends up being the case then that is all on whatever person or publication does that.

This is what people are bothered about, that extremists also get to say what they want, but free speech isn’t only there for those with, shall we say “regular moral compasses.”

There are people who get offended at the burning of flags or armistice day Poppies, calling for arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators.

There are people now arrested and jailed for posting views online that are also deemed offence, because offence is taken whenever something goes against the status quo.

Last night BBC1 screened detective series Silent Witness, the plot revolving around a sniper.  Cue those taking to social media harping on about the offence caused that it was screened on the day of the shootings.

Thing is, to paint with very broad strokes; we would have it that those “offended” by portrayals of Muhammad, those that aren’t Muslim, are wet-liberals of the left; whereas those offended by poppy burnings are knuckle-dragging nationalists of the right.

We live in a world where a virtual lynch mob can be arranged in minutes because someone said something that people found offensive.  This is met with an equal response by those laughing and questioning the reasons of the offence.

The Sun (Murdoch Press) was vilified for phone hacking a few years back, with calls to curb press freedom led by many famous celebrities.  And because the Murdoch rag is viewed as right-wing by liberals (of which the celebs were many) and their acolytes, then the sound of the press losing their freedom was music to their ears, because giving Murdoch a bloody nose was more important that the possible long term impacts.

Of course, that the Sun decries its own persecution for spying on people, but actively supports state spying acts like RIPA and DRIP, highlights the human hypocrisy of free speech and free thought.

The flip side (again more broad strokes) is that an attack against art, music, films, etc. is viewed as a pursuit of the right against the left.

We are only human; prone not only to hypocrisy but to inconsistency and Schadenfreude.

But these things should always be trumped by the freedom to think and the freedom to say what you feel and what you like.

And if something does offend you, don’t shoot people, or threaten people, or ring the police and hope for an arrest, or start an online petition to get the offender removed from you comfortable little world.  Either debate with that person or put it behind you and go for a pint in the pub…or another pub.

Good Cancer vs Bad Cancer

Today I woke to the “news” that Most cancer types ‘just bad luck’ or the now revised Random DNA mutations largely responsible for two-thirds of adult cancers but poor lifestyle can add to ‘bad luck factor’, says study

Obviously as people start the new year with a lot of healthy resolutions, you don’t want to be putting it in people’s heads that you can’t improve your lot.

If you eat loads of fatty foods you deserve the cancer you get.

If you don’t exercise and lead a sedentary lifestyle, you deserve the cancer you get.

If you smoke, not only do you deserve the cancer you get, but you deserve an additional cancer for every single person you’ve also given cancer to with you nasty, filthy habit.

I wouldn’t say my dad was a triathlete, but he ate fairly healthy, never smoked, worked in a physical job and was active and fit.

My dad has cancer.

But I rest happy in the knowledge that it is the good kind – Multiple myeloma.

Rather ironically, given that his family history is of high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes it was his continual testing of his bloods for those symptoms that led to this rather more severe prognosis.

But my dad didn’t bring this on himself and it is this knowledge that has certainly lifted a weight not only from all of us in the family, but also on the over-burdened NHS, because my dad’s treatment is necessary as he couldn’t prevent it, it was just his bad luck and therefore because he didn’t live selfishly he justifies the expenditure.

As the snippet below from a talk show a few years back highlights, though talking about a different disease; we must remember to only ever care about and given money to the charities and numerous good causes that only treat people with good cancers.