Archive for November, 2013

Red. Meat.

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Since living on my own, my home cooking diet consists mainly of various combinations of vegetables, some sort of grain and cheese. Lots of cheese. When I eat out I will then choose the meat-focused dish to fill up on my quota of fish/chicken/cow for the week. I had been craving a decent steak and so when my brother said he was coming to visit for dinner on the weekend I booked us a table at Grill on New York Street. Yet another member of the Living Ventures emporium (my ex-employers), the Grill is known for delicious pieces of meat cooked well.

They certainly delivered on this – we both had fillet steaks which were still deliciously rare on the inside but nicely seared on the outer. The peppercorn sauce was creamy and had a good kick, and our sides of hand cut chips, carrot and suede mash, and roasted sprouts were all well done.

Mmm… cow.

Mmm… cow.

As an ex-employee of Living Ventures, it is hard to go into one of their restaurants and not mark the service by the criteria that I was taught as a waiter at Artisan. Times for welcoming guests and bringing drinks to the table are well engrained in my brain and unfortunately the service was a bit lacking on this occasion. There was also a general air of disinterest in our presence – none of the staff members really seemed to care that we were eating in their restaurant.

The other down side were the desserts – Ben had a trifle that was 80 per cent cream and covered in multi-coloured sprinkles, and my apple pie had a soggy pastry bottom (Paul Hollywood would not be impressed.) It tasted ok but it wasn’t remarkable. I was pleased I went against my habit of choosing the chocolate dessert but I had doubts about how enjoyable it would be. The table next to me ordered it and were delivered a giant slab of cake that resembled the Cheese Cake Shop mud cake. A wise decision on my part.

Apple pie with Lancashire cheese crust. Couldn't taste the cheese...

Apple pie with Lancashire cheese crust. Couldn’t taste the cheese…

It was a decent meal and the steak was seriously good. But considering the prices and hoity-toity reputation of the restaurant I expected better.

Christmas in Manchester

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

According to the calendar, there is only one month to go until Christmas. I’m in a slight state of denial about this as I am not entirely sure where the rest of the year has gone and I am avoiding facing the arrival of 2014 and the fact that it is about time I grew up. But I can’t deny the red, green and silver tinsel and Santa overkill in every shop window I walk past. Maybe it’s just a phase…

In the same week as Bonfire night, I attended a second lot of fireworks to mark the turning on of the Christmas Lights. Leading up to this potentially momentous occasion, I had witnessed cherry pickers and electricians attaching strings of lights to lamp posts at various points throughout the city. My expectations were great – soon the city would be covered in glorious oh-so-pretty sparkly things that would bring festive joy and endless happiness to young and old. I went to the light-turning-on ceremony at the Town Hall with my friends Damien and Eli and we pushed our way through a crowd of teenagers and old people to find a good viewing spot to watch ex-winners of X-Factor perform LIVE for our entertainment. We patiently waited through the average singing to finally count down to the pushing of the Lights-Are-Go button by James Arthur (X-Factor winner, 2012). Three… Two… One…

Waiting patiently for James to push a button.

Waiting patiently for James to push a button.

Not only did lights apparently turn on, but fireworks exploded from the roof of the Town Hall and we witnessed a ten minute display that consisted of the same fireworks over and over again. My favourites were some horizontal flames that spurted out from the side of the clock tower. Once that was over, it was time to go home, and as we walked away, my friends and I asked each other – where were the Christmas lights?

Boom! Bang! Whizz!

Boom! Bang! Hiss!

It would seem that Manchester City Council has spent most of its Christmas money on markets (there are nine market areas across the city) and a giant, fat Santa who sits menacingly in front of the Town Hall. There are some gold winged-star things attached to most lamp posts and some very funky (this is sarcasm), flashing-pixel Christmas tree things down the pedestrianised King Street, but that’s about it. However, since the installation of hundreds of wooden huts for the Christmas markets, things have improved. Now there is definitely a festive Christmas vibe spreading across the city and everyone is loving the hot wine. It now takes me 10 minutes longer to walk home from work as I have to go through at least three Christmas markets, dodging people carrying collector mugs filled with dangerous staining glühwein.

Wooden tower of Christmas wonder

Wooden tower of Christmas wonder

I’m not a complete Scrooge – I have been one of these festive revellers and I do enjoy a good cup of warm, spiced wine myself. I also have to give Manchester two thumbs up for their markets – while there is a lot of repetition of stalls, they are of a much higher quality that Paris’s Champs Elysées. Nothing will beat the markets in Germany and eastern France, but Manchester has put in a fine effort. So here’s to more overpriced glühwein and bratwurst – Merry Christmas Month to all!

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

 

As Darkness Descends

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

It is dark outside, it must be dinner time. Oh no, wait a tick, it’s only 4.30pm.

Winter has well and truly arrived in the UK with biting winds, dropping temperatures and an extreme lack of sunlight. The sun set today at 4.12pm, which completely messes with my head and my stomach. For some reason, a lack of sunshine makes my stomach start gurgling and requesting an evening meal. It doesn’t appreciate or realise that it has only just eaten lunch and needs to wait another three hours before being fed. No wonder British supermarkets have such a large supply of snack options.

The leaves on trees throughout the city have been turning over the last few months, creating amazing colour displays in parks and along streets. The soggy accumulated leaves are less pleasant, particularly when they hide large puddles of water that your feet seem to be magnetically drawn to.

Red.

Even trees come in my favourite colour.

She Came, She Took the Lift, She Left.

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Today was the big day – The Queen and Prince Philip came to visit me at work. I have never thought myself to be even slightly interested in the Queen or any of the royal family and I didn’t think the Queen’s decision to pop in to my office would really be a big deal for me. However as her arrival became more imminent, I felt my excitement levels rising, similar to when I stalked Paul Hollywood at the Lowry Outlet shopping centre. I even woke up 15 minutes earlier than normal in order to go for a run, have a shower, make my lunch, eat breakfast, and get to work with time to spare, just in case she decided to take an earlier train from London.

Over the past week, I had received mass-staff emails explaining the rules for the day (Only blue lanyards were allowed. No coats to be hung on the backs of chairs.) and finally the email explaining what to do if you make eye contact with the Queen arrived. The key points were to curtsy if you’re girl, bow if you’re a boy; to address the Queen as Your Majesty first, followed by Ma’am (as in ham, not as in harm); and that it is socially inappropriate to touch the Queen. It didn’t say we couldn’t touch Phil though.

She wasn’t early. In fact, she was late but that’s ok when you’re the supreme ruler of an extensive area of land. For approximately an hour before her car pulled up outside The Co-Operative’s Noma building, staff members secured their positions along the balconies looking down into the  open foyer area. My desk is conveniently located next to one of these balconies so I just waited for the “The Queen is Here” music to start before sticking my head over the edge for a gander.

Prime viewing positions.

Prime viewing positions.

And there she was, a tiny speck of peacock blue in the expansive Co-Op building. She waddled in, crossed the foyer and went straight into one of the building’s temperamental lifts. Which floor would she go to? Is she actually coming to the seventh floor to visit the IT Crowd? Will we really get to meet her? No, of course not. She got off at the fourth floor to a round of applause. I presume we were clapping because the lifts had actually worked as opposed to when we try to take them in the morning and the doors get stuck. From the fourth floor balcony, the Queen waved to her Co-Op fans, and I, standing on the opposite side of the building, felt the natural instinct to wave back. So the Queen and I have exchanged waves. She may not realise this fact but it will remain as one of my highlights of 2013.

That blue thing is the Queen.

That blue thing is the Queen.

The Queen’s tour involved walking around one third of the fourth floor, then back into the lifts to visit one third of the eighth floor. Then, due to a lack of time, she was whizzed back down to the ground where she revealed a plaque and signed a book, officially opening the building. Before we knew it she was off again, scooting outside and on to her next royal engagement.

Her Majesty is a little lady.

Her Majesty is a little lady.

And that was it. We all returned to our desks and life went back to normal.

While watching the Queen raise a small blind covering a bronze plaque attached to a pin-up-board, I realised how horrible it must be to be her. Required to attend events that you don’t care about and open buildings that have broken lifts. I’m glad I’m not the Queen, or any member of the Royal Family for that matter. I’m pleased to just be part of the IT Crowd helping funeral care workers open their emails. But thanks for visiting, Liz.

Women Go Wild for Nick Cave

Monday, November 11th, 2013

I have been slow to write about finally seeing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds live in concert. I had wanted to see them when they toured through Paris but tickets had sold out instantly. My friend, Andrew, managed to find tickets to Nick’s concert at the Apollo in Manchester and I was jumping up and down with excitement when Andrew asked if I would go with him. Hell yes.

The walk to the Apollo was slightly longer than I anticipated, potentially due to the persistent rain, strong winds and large puddles we had to avoid. Everyone in the venue was saturated and there was a general musty smell wafting through the room. I received a strong whiff of damp every time the guy in front of me swished his dreadlocks. Lovely.

Nick, on the other hand, was on fire, dripping sweat and exchanging all sorts of bodily fluids with the screaming women in the front rows. In his open shirt, gold chain and tight jeans, you wouldn’t think that Nick was 56. He bounced all over the stage, clutching the hands of his adoring fans and singing powerful rock tunes that verged on heavy metal. It was loud but beautifully loud, with fantastic lighting and some amazing sounds coming from the Bad Seeds band. Warren Ellis was brilliant on flute and particularly violin, strings from his bow flying off as he thrashed at the instrument. It was hard, sexy and dark – one of the best live performances I have seen.

Up close with Nick Cave

Up close with Nick Cave

Nick certainly has fans and his gyrating and physical interaction with the crowd had many hearts beating. A woman standing next to me cried when he first came on stage and then again periodically throughout the show as he sang her favourite tunes. The final song for the evening was a relatively chirpy version of Deanna, which, after a show dominated by the darker and more depressing songs of their collection, was quite a nice note to end on.

Remembrance Sunday

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Today is Remembrance Sunday – the more family friendly day to mark the end of World War I and to remember those who fought for us. While I still plan on having my one minute silence tomorrow at 11am, I headed to the parade this morning. It dawned on me that this would be particularly poignant for me as on this day 95 years ago, my great grandfather, William, was in the French countryside fighting for the Allies. He grew up in Salford not far from where I am now living and moved to Perth in his early 20s. In 1918 he returned to England and was then sent to France to fight.

William kept a diary throughout that year making short comments each day about the voyage by ship to England and then his experiences during the war. On this day 95 years ago (interestingly it was also a Sunday) he wrote:

“Nothing much doing today. We are out of range of sounds of gun fire & all is peace. “

On the 11th, his entry is:

“Germany accepted our armistice terms today & I think this puts “finni” to him.”

A fabulous, witty statement that shows great insight into a man I never met. I like to believe that he and I share a love for words as well as having moved to the other side of the world to live in each other’s home towns.

Poppies.

Poppies.

She Heard About My Jigsaw

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Through an amazing series of events and what I can only presume is pure FATE, Queen Elizabeth and young Philip are going to visit me at work next week. Her main point of business is officially opening the Co-Op’s new building but I have a sneaky feeling that she just wants to see the jigsaw puzzle that I did of her. I will bring it, just in case.

Jigsaw puzzles – bringing together royalty and IT Service Desk analysts since 2013.

Jigsaw puzzles – bringing together royalty and IT Service Desk analysts since 2013.

She is apparently taking a tour of the building however I suspect she will be kept far away from the IT department. Only an IT Crowd style mess up could possibly result in her shaking my hand. I shall do my best.

Fire and Explosives

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Last night saw the skies of Manchester light up with the glow of fires and the flash of fireworks, followed by the gentle orange drift of explosives smoke. It was bonfire night (aka Guy Fawkes night) where people around the UK set things on fire and let off fireworks while standing in the rain drinking cider.  The origin of this event stems back to King James I surviving an attempt on his life by Guy Fawkes in 1605 (thank you, Wikipedia) and, for years afterwards, people have taken the opportunity to blow things up. I find this a little contradictory considering Guy tried to kill James with explosives and now children are blowing their hands off with rogue rockets and roman candles.

There were no bonfires within Manchester city centre as fires and enclosed city spaces are generally not a good combination. I headed to Cholton with fellow Australian, Eli, as all British nationals had declined to join us. We headed to the usually pleasant residential square of Cholton Green where we found hundreds of people squished together trying to buy hot cider and get the best position for the fireworks. We arrived just in time for the 9 o’clock display as fireworks were set off from what appeared to be the roof of the Horse & Jockey pub. Considering it was just a local fireworks display it was quite a pretty show and it received plenty of oohs and ahhs from the appreciative audience.

Ooh! Ahh!

Ooh! Ahh!

Eli and I went in search of a bonfire as what is bonfire night without a bonfire? We found a burning pile of wooden packing crates at the back of another pub. When the wind changed direction and picked up speed, the people standing on that side of the fire would get a burst of hot air, ash and smoke. Delightful.

Fire!

Fire!

Everyone was getting into the community spirit and there was a great positive energy permeating the crowd. I was happy with my first bon fire night experience and am now just waiting for the smoke smell to dissipate from my jacket.