Long Island Ice Tea…

Thursday 29 July 2021

Was I the only one not to know about Long Island iced tea …

For the first time since January 2020, I meet up with one of my oldest friends for a day of cocktails and catching up. A momentous occasion, because simply getting to this point has been a true covid-endurance test. We tried last Summer but were hit by the Greater Manchester Lockdown. We tried at October half -term but were thwarted by both Lancashire and Greater Manchester being dumped into Tier 4. And since the ‘unlocking’, it has been an endless, sometimes demoralising, litany of burst bubbles and isolation orders. But finally…finally we are here and intending to make the most if it. And I have been given a top tip…

Yes, earlier in the week, I take my daughter and niece out for food and drinks. As I mention my ‘cocktail’ day plan they chime in with ‘student land’ advice,

When I was at Uni, if we did cocktails , my trick was always to start with a Long Island iced tea…” announces my niece confidently

Me too” agrees my daughter, adding as I continue to look confused, “It’s the same price as all the other cocktails Mum, but you get 4 alcohol shots instead of 2…”

So as my friend and I settle into a trendy greenhouse booth in a Spinningfields bar and peruse the drinks menu, I decide that I am going to give it a go. My friend checks out the theory

It does look lethal! It’s not 4 shots…it’s five!”

But,” I point out, “it is a ‘long’ drink…so it will last…

Whether it lasted a long time or not, I really couldn’t tell you. But we certainly have a lot of fun! I think, about an hour and half later, after much chat and tons and tons of laughter, we climb out of our greenhouse pod to find a leisurely lunch, with glass of wine. Then it is another bar, before we seek out a final ‘coffee and carbs’ to sober up a little before the tram and train rides home.

Such a great afternoon! I really do think that, to be a good mum, you need days when you forget about being a parent for a few hours and just let your hair down. It recharges the batteries and lifts the spirits like nothing else. And after a year and a half of pandemic, I am aware that I have been running low on such times. On the home-bound tram, another friend, I am due to see next week, calls and I tell her, with great excitement about my new cocktail ‘discovery’

Oh yes,” she replies “Long Island iced tea – completely lethal. I used to have one after work every Friday. Once had two .. and could hardly walk!”

The fact that I am clearly the last to this particular party makes me laugh out loud in my seat and I am a little too tipsy to care whether any of my fellow mask-faced passengers notice. After a grim 18 months of battling covid-19, laughter … and possibly Long Island iced tea…really are the best medicine…

Victoria Station…

Saturday 29 May 2021

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport…”

Love Actually: Richard Curtis 2003

Well it’s not Heathrow for me today, it’s Manchester Victoria; my Eldest child is coming home for a week and I am planning, with great excitement, to pick her up

Victoria Station, a grand old 19 Century building and my favourite railway terminus in the city. Not all love it, as I do. In fact, in 2009, it was named the ‘Worst Station in the UK and has since been significantly renovated. But that cannot have been a vote about the architecture; the Victorian facade, the lovely domes, the charming tiles on the interior and,  for me, the very best feature –  those evocative destination signs posted on the station front, which seem to capture the excitement of travel and exploration in bygone centuries. Surely it was just an outcry about facilities and repair?

I like to think that it was. And, as I have stood watching the teens playing Christmas Carols with our local band over many years, I have certainly been grateful for the new roof. I am also a fan of the delightful Java Bar Expresso, deliciously tucked into a corner of the concourse and the perfect spot for bit of reading, dreaming or just people watching.  And that is the vision I have, as I hop out of bed to face the day. Arrive early, a fancy Italian coffee, me, my kindle and a hour of tranquility. Utter bliss after a really tough and stressful term at work.

Alas… it does not quite turn out that way. Around midday, as I, still rather sweaty from an early run, am catching up on some chores my phone pings. My daughter’s arrival time is a full hour and a half earlier than any of us were expecting! So it is ‘adios’ to hopeful Brief Encounter images of me in any coffee bar, enigmatically perusing my novel, and instead, a mad dash to shower, tame my hair and dive into the car. Prom-dress daughter further shatters the concept of sumptuous solitude by leaping into the seat beside me… but thank the Lord that she does. Mid-Manchester is an anarchy of traffic roadworks and…closed car parks. As the clock ticks down, I find myself, in growing panic careering round the city centre streets unable to find any spot to stop in and, in desperation, flaunting occasional ‘bus and taxi only’ zones!  But teens, at least my teens, don’t do hysteria. My middle child just taps into some ‘map-app’ on her phone and takes charge, calmly and commandingly steering me to the front of the station where her sister, plus friend are ready to jump in and head homeward.

We catch-up, we share funny stories, we talk through any worries and we head out for an evening meal.  Even if everything didn’t quite go to plan, this feels like a pretty good start to half term. Manchester Victoria – alas, it was not a day to stop and sit and drink in your charm and style but it is a day to thank you for bringing my girl home!

We are worth fighting for…

Saturday 17 October 2020

“…it is wrong for some of the poorest parts of England to be put under a “punishing lockdown without proper support for the people and businesses affected”. A Burnham October 2020

Manchester houses the People’s History Museum, a collection of Ideas worth fighting for’; the UK’s only museum entirely dedicated to sharing the stories of the revolutionaries, reformers, workers, voters and citizens who championed, then and now, for change and rallied for rights and equality. In the city which witnessed the Peterloo Massacre, the birthplace of the Cooperative movement and home town to Emmeline Pankhurst you find the perfect location for this national museum of democracy. And for me this week, Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham has reawakened that local pride in boldly challenging unfairness and prejudice.

It has been inspirational to have a public figure blast the ridiculous and insulting premis that North West residents flaunt ‘The Rules‘ more than people in any other city in the UK and are to blame for the dangerously high levels of covid-19 cases. Instead let’s highlight the levels of deprivation in our region which mean that more of our residents will struggle to socially distance because they: do live in crowded housing, do not have cosy ‘working from home with a lap top and wifi’ options and do have to use public transport. Instead let’s highlight the national disgrace of the ‘Track and Trace’ system which has sent key workers into hospitals and schools like unarmed soldiers into battle. Instead let’s highlight the resources needed to address the spike in infections cased by students, in a region that houses many of the nation’s finest Universities.

Above all, how amazing to see our mayor standing up and fighting for us. With a passion and conviction, almost shocking it is seen so rarely from our elected representatives, he has told a distant Government that the people of Greater Manchester deserve better. After months of aimless Lockdown gloom and despair, I feel inspired and alive and know what we are fighting for in this region at least. It is for human dignity and the quality of people’s lives. Now that is an idea worth fighting for. That matters and we matter too. And I have not felt that I matter for a very long time…

“(We ) are being used as canaries in the coalmine for an experimental regional lockdown strategy as an attempt to prevent the expense of what is truly needed”

This is Manchester …

Friday 21 February 2020

“This is Manchester, we do things differently here” (Tony Wilson)

Tony Wilson, ‘Mr Manchester’ himself, opened one of the earliest bars in the area we’ve called Manchester’s ‘Northern Quarter’ since the 1990s. It is even rumoured that he influenced the name! Whether or not that’s true I’ll never know but, after a glorious day exploring the chaotic and characterful streets of this corner of my hometown, I am very confident that he would love the place…

Our adventure starts in style with ‘Street Art‘ , a Skyliner walking tour of the Northern Quarter. I sport, sensible shoes, gloves, woolly hat and a raincoat. The weather is dismal. But the wind and rain cannot dampen our spirits as the tour guide opens our eyes to secret sights and delights on the pavements we’ve walked many times … but never really seen.

There is stunning art; huge and beautiful murals that touch the soul and stir the mind, creative mosaics that capture the iconic faces and places of our northern home and lamp posts decorated with tiny individual ‘rock-star’ bees. The absolute highlights for me, a proud Mancunian, however, are the details that link us back to our historical and industrial roots. The distinctive ceramic street signs are white on blue for the streets running East/West and blue on white for the streets running North/South, symbolising the ‘warp and weft’ of the weaving tradition in this area. Looking up, we see sculptures of exotic birds and other animals, celebrating Tib Street, once affectionately known as pet shop paradise. Looking under a doormat, we find clues to a previous Italian ice cream trade. High above the gates of old fish and fruit market are facades decorated with scenes depicting the hustle and bustle of Victorian life. Another market now houses the Craft and Design Centre. Our wonderful guide makes us look up, down and all around. How can I have missed it all …. for so many years?

Even with all these visual treats, two hours in the chill of a North West winter take their toll. Donuts and coffee, at a cafe housed in a former weaver’s cottage, followed by a sumptuous afternoon tea, are the only ways to thaw out as we prepare to re-enter the Northern Quarter of the 21st century.

It is now an area famed for its vibrant bars and eateries. Finding somewhere to imbibe is easy, but finding a ‘hidden bar’, now that is more of a challenge! And, as the darkness of evening begins to creep across the sky, it seems like the perfect way to round off our outing. Fascinated by unearthed artistic discoveries by day, thrilled by secret drinking dens by night. We make our way to our first, through a doorway disguised as a stack of wooden beer crates, into the elegance of a cool cocktail bar. Just like our walking tour, it is another eye opener!

It is also utter fun. It is light years away from my usual routine. It is the perfect end to my half term. It is Manchester …

What’s worth fighting for…

Wednesday 20 November 2019

As part of my working week, I am sent on a course that involves a ‘cultural tour’ of Manchester.  What a memorable day! It showcases the industry, the creativity and the inspirational spirit of equality that has shaped my home town. It also challenges my thoughts about the sort of future I want to fight for. Not so much for the teens, their futures seem full of excitement and of endless opportunities … but for me.

We start at the Whitworth Art Gallery, deep in University land. There is gallery upon gallery of stunning displays: photography; textiles (in honour of the proud industry of “Cottonopolis“);  a Cezanne exhibition… but the gallery that really blows me away  is “The Reno“. This celebration of the famous Moss Side club, not only charts some significant shifts in societal attitudes during the 1970s, but also sums up the journey we all make from youth into adulthood and responsibility.

“What was your club called?.… Where it mattered if it rained cos your hair wouldn’t hold up.   And what was his name?   Before your wage.   And the person you became.  That bears no relation to the person you were then. When you believed in magic. Ours was called The Reno “

Well mine was called The Hacienda or The Cellar at Uni. And I was a very different person back then. But gosh … do we really stop believing in magic… do we really give up on happy endings…. is our teenage self really lost forever?

My mind is still whirring with this one as we stride off to visit other Mancunian treasure. The Manchester Art Gallery, the  National Football Museum and finally The People’s History Museum.  We see great objects, some beautiful, some innovative, some highly emotive. We watch film archives and listen to iconic commentaries. We relive the struggles of women, of working men and of ethnic minorities for acceptance and equality.   It’s a  treat for our eyes, our ears …. and our hearts.

At the People’s History Museum, exhibitions are united around the theme of ‘Ideas worth fighting for’ and the contribution that ordinary people have made to building a fairer world where all are valued . It’s inspiring and very much epitomises Manchester and these streets that have seen PeterlooEmmeline Pankhurst  and the founding of the Co-op Group.  For a Mancunian, there can be no better way to close our cultural tour.

And so  ends a lovely day.  But in a few weeks it will also be the end of a decade. As we welcome the start of a new one; and one in which my role as the primary carer for 3 children will end, I ask myself ‘What will I be fighting for?’ And I just don’t know. But I am sure that I want to make the most of the time I have left and try to make a story…. a story about ideas worth fighting for or just a story about making mischief? I really cannot decide. But I do want a story worth telling. In the words of  ‘The Reno’,

“We are all pages in the book of our time on earth.”

Magical Manchester

Tuesday 22 October 2019

The teens return from a holiday with their dad tomorrow. That gives me 24 hours of blissful freedom and I spend them exploring my home town. It’s a day that comes as close to perfect as you could ever hope a day to be. Sometimes you don’t need to travel far for new adventure and experience, sometimes your just need to open your eyes and see what’s right under your nose.

My friend and I hop off our tram and straight into the Northern Quarter’s characteristic chaos of cafes. The Manchester skies are unusually clear and blue and we perch on high stools at an outdoor grilled cheese bar for a quick lunch stop. It’s simple, speedy and mouth-wateringly delicious and happily replenished we take a leisurely stroll through the lovely Victorian streets to a concert hall for a lunchtime recital.

I am not sure that I’ve ever been to a lunchtime concert before and it blows me away. We step out of the hustle and bustle of city life to enjoy an hour of peace and some beautiful piano playing. Mozart and Chopin fill the hall and fill my soul. I am transported far from all the worries and niggles that fill my mind on a daily basis … it is just amazing!

Manchester is famed for its lively bar and cafe scene, indeed it was recently dubbed “the most hungover city in the world”. So without too much difficulty, we find ourselves a bar to discuss the concert and over several glasses of Merlot, review the playing, catch up on news and generally while the afternoon away until it’s time to catch the tram home again.

I feel relaxed, happy and, at least for today, free of all responsibility. My mind is stirred, my heart is too. This is city life at its best. A 2019 Time Out survey ranked Manchester 15th out of the ‘48 Best Cities in the World to Visit’. Well I challenge those Time Outers to find me a city on this planet or beyond that can give me a better day than the one I’ve just had…