Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Two Saints in Manchester: Where are the Factories?

Now for something totally different.

We have recently had two visitors from St. Helena. Having done an account of our visit to St Helena, I thought it would be interesting to produce some kind of record of their return visit to Manchester.

For them this was a once in a lifetime visit, and we wanted to make it memorable.

They were clearly surprised by Manchester. Not a factory in sight. We eventually found one that produces breakfast cereals. We couldn't find any smoking chimneys though.

This is a view of Manchester taken a few feet from the site of the IRA bomb that devastated the city a little over a decade ago.
In the distance is Manchester's answer to the London Eye!

One thing Manchester has in common with St. Helena is that it is hard to work out how it earns its living.

Like St. Helena it produces very little.

Its main industry is probably education - there are some 70000 students at the three local Universities.

The City Centre: From Prince Albert to Karl Marx via Peterloo

My wife has become experienced at showing others round the sights of the city centre - including some Mancunians who have been surprised what their native city has to offer. Not bad for a Norwegian!

So the Saints got the usual tour. Starting with the Albert Memorial and the statues in front of the Town Hall, the nearby statue of Abraham Lincoln, and the Hidden Gem (St. Mary's) - the site of the first purpose built Catholic Church to be built in England since the Reformation, with Norman Adams' wonderful abstract paintings of the Stations of the Cross.

Then to the Radisson Edwardian hotel, built on the site of the Peterloo massacre and the former Free Trade Hall. All that remains of the latter is the facade of 1856.(1)

Our visitors clearly enjoyed the luxurious surroundings of the Radisson.

Today the hotel staff were very excited - not by the visit of two people from some remote island in the South Atlantic, but by the imminent arrival of the Juventus football team. Unfortunately we couldn't wait to welcome them.

Then we moved on to the remarkable John Rylands library with its resemblance to a cathedral, then to the eighteenth century St Ann's Chuch and so to the Royal Exchange - once the site of the Cotton Exchange, and now the home of the largest theatre in the round in the UK.

Then after the Cathedral a visit to what is to me the most fascinating place in Manchester

- the medieval buildings of Chethams, home now to a School, as well as to the famous chain library - the oldest public library in the English speaking world.

Our two Saints can be seen sitting in Karl Marx's favourite seat in the library. A first surely for residents of St. Helena!

Nearby is a list of the books that Marx read in 1845. The stained glass which would have been in the windows in Marx's time was unfortunately destroyed by a storm some time after his last visit.

Finally a visit to the river Irk, on whose banks thousands used to live in insanitary conditions in the early industrial period, and then to Angel Meadow, beneath which 40,000 of Manchester's poorest inhabitants were buried in unmarked graves in the early nineteenth century.

A Temple of Shopping and the Theatre of Dreams

The Trafford Centre is I am told the largest indoor shopping centre in Europe.

It is truly a modern temple. I have to admit that I have hardly ever been there, and I found it more enjoyable to view it through the eyes of a tourist rather than as a shopper.

It is about as far removed from shopping on St. Helena as you can get. Our guests seemed to enjoy the experience.

I wonder what Karl Marx would have made of it all: the world's first industrial city which produces little, and has erected this huge temple dedicated to consumption.

Seems appropriate to move on to the Theatre of Dreams (Old Trafford), only a short drive away - here young men kick a ball around for tens of thousands of pounds a week, watched regularly by some 75,000 paying customers, with millions more watching on TV screens around the globe - including some on St. Helena.

Here our two Saints, one a Liverpool supporter and the other having no interest in football, posed in front of a picture of Europe's currently most successful team. The photo was taken by a supporter of Ipswich Town, and watched by a Norwegian supporter of Man Utd! A funny old world indeed.

On leaving I spoke with a delightful young man from Singapore whom I found lying on the ground with a camera. He was determined he told me to take the perfect picture of Old Trafford before he returned home. He had watched the friendly against Juventus the night before. It had ended 0-0. He had come thousands of miles and had not even seen a goal. Maybe next time, he said!

Fine Dining at the Lowry Hotel

We decided to take our guests for a meal at one of our favourite restaurants.(2) We hadn't been for some time, and found that it has become a convert to the cult of classic British cooking, under the guidance of Mark Hix. My wife and I agreed that we preferred it when Marco Pierre White was the Advisory Chef. Still, we had an excellent time, and our Saints seemed thrilled with the whole experience.

The young waitress from Vancouver looked after us very well. I don't think she had ever heard of St. Helena. She gave our guests a copy of the Menu to take away as a souvenir.

Liverpool: The Docks, The Beatles and Anfield

We decided to take our guests to visit the home of the Beatles, which is less than an hour's drive away.

Liverpool is currently European City of Culture, and we were keen to visit the Klimt Exhibition currently showing at the Tate.

It is sometime since I last visited Liverpool. The area around the Docks has been beautifully restored, but much of the rest of the City still bears the scars of industrial and maritime decline. In the last few days a Right Wing Think Tank has suggested that attempts to revive places like Liverpool and Sunderland are bound to fail - and that the population should be relocated to the south east, particularly to the areas around Oxford and Cambridge! I wonder what the Think Tank would suggest for the residents of St. Helena!

And so to Anfield, which is scheduled to disappear in the next three years, and be replaced by a brand new stadium.

As he perused the shirts on sale, our Liverpool supporter told us that for him this was a dream come true.

"Hay Fever" at the Royal Exchange

A quick visit to Manchester's Transport Museum.

Close by is a reconstruction of the world's first train station (first class passengers)

- and a notice telling us that the Duke of Wellington was booed when he came to Manchester for the opening of the railway in 1830. He was not too pleased.

We also took in an exhibition "Manchester Underground" which showed how water, sewerage, gas and electricity services had developed in the city. It took a long while for Manchester to get anywhere near the hygiene standards which the Romans in Britain had reached almost two thousand years earlier!

And so to a performance of Noel Coward's "Hay Fever" at the Royal Exchange Theatre. It seemed appropriate that our guests' first visit to a theatre should be to a theatre in the round - closer to that of Shakespeare's day than the modern proscenium arch. We got them seats in the front row, and advised them to be careful not to trip up the actors.

Bramall Hall

By now we were flagging a little, but we felt that they had to see one of the best examples of the black and white architecture typical of these parts of the United Kingdom. This house has been much altered over the years, but parts of it were built before the first human beings set foot on St. Helena.

Our visitors have never experienced is a proper winter - one in which the trees lose all their leaves. I have included a picture of Bramall Hall taken earlier this year to illustrate this.

Another thing that came as a surprise to them was the light summer evenings - on St. Helena the sun sets at roughly the same time all year, around 7.00 p.m.; in Manchester it can stay light until 10.00 p.m. in mid-summer.

So we put our guests in the stocks

and then took them round the house.

Inside we met a lady who not only had heard of St. Helena but told us she intended to visit it on a mail ship that apparently comes to the island. She also informed us that they were planning to build an airport on the island. Now where had we heard that before?

Once again, and all too soon, it was time to say goodbye. Something which Saints are very used to.

It was a pleasure to have them as guests and to show them around. We hope to see them again on their home territory in the not too distant future.

(1)There have been a number of buildings on this site since the Peterloo Massacre (1819). Many famous people performed and spoke in the Free Trade Halls which once stood here - including Dickens, Churchill and Bob Dylan (twice). Incidentally Napoleon read about Orator Hunt and Peterloo whilst at Longwood. He took no satisfaction from it. The fall of the English aristocracy, he said, would be a great disaster for Europe.

(2)The River Restaurant at the Lowry Hotel - The best restaurant in the best hotel in Manchester, The River is the place to eat on a Friday or Saturday night, offering modern classic cuisine in a smart environment. Move to the bar for a nightcap and you'll see everyone who's anyone in the city, for better or worse. - The Independent, 100 Best Restaurants in the U.K. Another visitor, Michael Winner, was not so impressed with it. But he is a very hard man to please.

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