Finding Manchester

Previously I’ve written about my desire to go on a scavenger hunt in and around Manchester. My ideas were miniscule compared with Chris Smith and Liz Peel’s ambitions:

You see, whilst my hunt was limited to our very own Manchester UK, Chris and Liz’s ‘scavenger hunt’ is to visit 52 Manchesters in 52 weeks in 5 continents, sharing knowledge, memorabilia and experiences and building bridges between our cities:

  • 52 Manchesters
  • 52 weeks
  • 5 continents

You have to admit, my hunt is trivial by comparison.


Chris emailed to tell me about ‘Finding Manchester’. He wrote “It’s a crazy research project (in a good way!) to create a permanent archive of 52 Manchesters for generations to come, celebrating each of them as they are at this moment in history.

“We’re going to be interviewing people connected with the Manchesters, photographing the places and collecting memorabilia. We’ll also be taking with us ‘boxes of Manchester UK’ to the other Manchesters.

“The boxes will include things that are ‘Manchester’ through and through, such as interviews with people from here (well known and not so well known), images of the city and people today, emblems, technology etc.)

“Before we go we want to pull together a selection of interviews with people who are passionate about Manchester!”

I read and re-read the email. The project sounded fantastic. I could see the potential and it gripped my imagination from the start. When at the end I read “How about an interview sometime?”, well, you can imagine my reaction.

Finding Manchester in the Amazon

*A few years ago Chris and Liz discovered a forgotten Manchester in the Amazon. This new challenge stems from their earlier adventures. (Photo: Thanks to Chris Smith)


I asked Chris how the interview would take place. I hoped it would be nice and informal, over a few drinks in a pub perhaps, with him taking notes as I answered. I even thought we might do the interview via email. I thought he could send the questions and I could compose a reply at leisure. No such luck. 


If you’ve been reading Manchester Meanders for a while you’ll remember my radio interview and the sheer terror I experienced leading up to it. That was live (LIVE!) but at least they could only hear my voice.

Regarding the Finding Manchester interviews, Chris wrote “we like to do them face-to-face so that we can record the audio in WAV (the adopted technology format for the British Library to ensure that the recordings can be listened to in many years to come and doesn’t become redundant). We also like to video the interviews where we can too. People like to put a face to the voice.”

(Video? They want to video it?! Eek!)

Chris and Liz: Finding Manchester

*Finding Manchester: Lost in Bolivia. For more information see below and visit the Manchester Museum website. (Photo: Thanks to Chris Smith)


After several emails back and forth we finally set an interview date. We arranged to meet at the Manchester Museum one afternoon after work. The plan sounded simple enough but on the day I missed every sensible connection; I missed busses, got stuck on trains; I ended up running across Manchester city centre rather than risk any further mishaps, which wasn’t easy as I was breaking in new hiking boots at the time.Two and a half hours after setting off I arrived for my interview glowing with sweat and panting for air. It wasn’t really the best look for Manchester UK.

As we were running out of time we launched straight into the interview. Still gasping for air, without checking a mirror for streaming mascara and without combing my hair, I answered personal questions off the cuff without thinking. To be honest, I hadn’t realised we were recording.

The plan, according to Chris, was to “capture what it is I love about Manchester and give people an impression of the person I am – as a person who lives in Manchester today.

He said: “Think of it as telling someone about your life in Manchester who has no idea what the place is like or who it is that lives there.”

I’m not sure how well I achieved that. If it was a job interview I wouldn’t have got it.

I don’t know how long the interview lasted. The staff at Manchester Museum were waiting to lock up but they patiently (and generously) let us record for half an hour past closing time, after which we slipped into the museum’s café for a brew until they threw us out too.

I answered questions about relationships, how long I’ve lived in Manchester, why I moved into the city centre, how I met my partner, how long we’ve been together, what I studied at University, how my career has changed over the years, where I want it to go from here… None of that actually made it into the final cut. The final cut from the interview is all about this blog, making it appear like a shameless advertisement for Manchester Meanders! That wasn’t my aim! Hopefully I’m just being paranoid.

Contact Chris Smith

Follow Finding Manchester on Facebook and Twitter.

I might be able to show you the interview on Vimeo sometime in the future but until then check out the Finding Manchester website. Show them your support! It’s a fantastic project and suggestions and donations are welcome.

Chris and Liz hope to leave Manchester UK to visit 52 Manchesters in 52 weeks in 5 continents shortly after the Manchester Day Parade. (Sunday 10th June at 2pm). 

* For more information on their previous adventure (through the Amazon, in search of the small South American village called Manchester) visit The Manchester Museum Website.

Extract from the Manchester Museum archive: “Chris Smith and Liz Peel came across the village of Manchester on a 1950s Russian air map of Bolivia. Intrigued by this, they set out on a canoe along the Rio Manuripi River in the Bolivian Amazon in South America to find it. Liz and Chris spent four months on the river, negotiating tropical storms, eating piranha fish and aided only by basic equipment, before reaching the small village. Home to less than thirty families living in huts around a football pitch, the village was founded in the late 1800s when Anthony Webster-James, a young Mancunian engineer, moved there to set up a rubber smelting plant in the height of South America’s rubber boom.”

All comments are welcome.


Cheery Cheap Weekend

Doing more with less challenge: Part 2

(Two ticks for the Day Zero Project)

Last week I was sent on a mission to see how far I could stretch £50 in Manchester. As predicted the answer is very far.

I had a non-stop day of activities planned for Saturday, which I estimated would cost about £45. When it came to it I barely dented the budget.

I enjoyed a full day out in Manchester for only £1.60.

OK, so I changed my plans slightly: I substituted eating out with eating at home and decided to drink coffee instead of cocktails but after a busy day that’s honestly all I wanted. Plus now I have £48.40 to stretch over February too.

Here’s how I got on…

The Manchester MuseumManchester Museum

The first place on my visit list was the Manchester Museum, the city’s very own natural history museum. Knowing it was all the way across the city centre, (walkable sure but I had a lot to fit in,) I hopped onto the free Metroshuttle (Green bus, number 2) to Chester Street and walked the remaining half mile along Oxford Road in the pouring rain.

Until recently it had been a shockingly long time since I’d been inside the Manchester Museum, 10 years at least. To be honest I felt a bit intimidated by it.

Set in the historical University buildings I half-expected it to be pretentious and inhospitable and I recalled wandering around totally alone looking through unmarked drawer after unmarked drawer. I remembered the Egyptian Mummies, a firm favourite, but as for the rest I remembered it being monotonous and gloomy. I expected it to be the same today.

I was so very wrong.

Family Friendly: Vibrant and Fun

I had read that the Manchester Museum is ‘family friendly’ but I was sceptical until I saw it for myself. I arrived to find a bright airy reception, bustling with young families and cheery commotion. For a few moments I actually thought I’d arrived just as a special children’s event was dispersing, but no, the museum remained that vibrant all morning and probably all day. There were children having fun and learning in every crevice of every room. It was delightful to see.

Manchester Museum for KidsI leisurely strolled though each exhibition, staring in awe at the animals and surreptitiously doing the challenges set out for children. I watched a girl draw the taxidermy animals and kicked myself for not having the foresight to bring a sketch pad myself.

Large Tusked ElephantEvents For All Ages

The museum has focussed heavily on children’s events in the past few years so now they are turning their attention to the adult programme. As I was planning my weekend I noted down activities I was interested in and found one that fitted in with my schedule:

Crafternoon Tea

I had hoped to take part in Crafternoon Tea, a social art and craft workshop where participants enjoy a cuppa whilst trying their hand at something new. I had earmarked £5 for the workshop but discovered I had gone to the wrong venue.

Crafternoon Tea is part of the Whitworth Art Gallery events programme, not the Manchester Museum’s. Ooops!, The Whitworth Art Gallery, which is also part of the University of Manchester, is a further 5 minutes up the road. Had I made enquiries earlier I could have dashed over there but by the time I asked I was already too late.

Fortunately the staff members I spoke with were very friendly and helpful so rather than laughing at my foolish mistake they encouraged me to try out the new adult events programme at the Manchester Museum instead.

Book Crossing

Before leaving to visit the next venue I sat opposite a dinosaur and registered a book with the Book Crossing website. People probably wondered why on earth I was juggling sticky labels, a mobile phone, a thriller and a still-sopping-wet umbrella.

Book Crossing means to leave a book in a public place so that another may pick it up, read it and do likewise.

When you register a book online you are given a unique ID number which you copy onto the bookplate (sticky label) inside the cover, along with the instruction to check out the website. You can then leave a note online for whoever finds the book and follows the bookplate instructions. Each new person who enters the unique ID onto the website is able to leave a message. Therefore, as the book is passed from reader to reader you are able to track its journey.

I discreetly left the book on the chair and made a swift exit. A week has passed and no-one has left a reply yet. I hope the book made its way into someone’s rucksack rather than into the ‘lost and found’ box. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you don’t. To learn more visit the website here.

Font Cocktail Bar

After leaving the museum I headed back down Oxford Road towards the Cornerhouse Art Gallery. On reaching the Thirsty Scholar I impulsively took a detour down the side street to Font Bar.

Being in the heart of Studentville Font prides itself on providing cocktails from as little as £2 each. Baring in mind a cocktail in the Northern Quarter, or virtually anywhere else in Manchester city centre might cost upwards of £6.50 (excluding happy hour offers) it was almost too tempting to resist.

I wandered in, wandered around and wandered out again. It seemed a good idea when I was heading towards it but I decided I should probably visit a few other venues before blowing the budget on cheap and cheerful booze.

Cornerhouse Art Gallery

The Cornerhouse ManchesterWhen I studied in Manchester I used to visit the The Cornerhouse Art Gallery during my lunch breaks. As I have neglected it since gaining full time employment I added the venue to my Day Zero List.

Although there are 3 floors only one exhibition space was open. Lost is Found is a group show of work from nine artists, all under 20 years of age, based in the North of England. The exhibited works were said to “find beauty in the redundant and discarded, explore past lives and find new stories in transformations and fleeting identities”.

I cannot adequately describe the exhibition so instead you should read this review and visit it for yourself!

Manchester Town Hall

I didn’t plan to visit the town hall but as I was passing it would have been rude not to!Manchester Town Hall is a Victorian Gothic masterpiece, designed by Alfred Waterhouse who also designed the Natural History Museum in London.

Often people don’t realise that behind those hefty doors is a relaxed and reasonably priced café where you can admire the décor over a variety of snacks or go all out on a three-tier afternoon tea.

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On weekdays you are allowed to explore the building by yourself (email me for a self-tour guide) or for a small fee you can book a guided tour of the clock tower. I couldn’t resist taking lots of photos.

As tempted as I was to sit in the town hall café I had promised myself I would visit Nexus Art Café as recommended by Manchester’s Artistic Son.

Nexus Art Cafe Statement of IntentNexus Art Café

I had heard there was a night café somewhere in the city centre but despite passing it almost daily it didn’t click that Nexus was that place.

Nexus Art Café is a community based charity, which hosts various creative events and remains open until 6 am at weekends to provide a safe venue for people making their way home after a night out. They’ll even phone for a taxi if you need one and feed you bacon butties whilst you wait.

Set in a basement on Dale Street, Nexus has a distinctive student vibe, similar to that in Common but without the alcohol. I took advantage of the free wifi by registering another book to the bookcrossing website, whilst sipping a coffee (£1.60) and curling up in a wicker chair.

Nexus Needs Our HelpSupport Nexus!

I regret that it’s taken me so long to visit this little gem, especially now I know it is struggling to stay afloat! One Night Café session costs £200 in overheads and they desperately need more support to keep on going. Click on the image left for more information or to make a donation contact

Feeling refreshed I left the bookcrossing book on the coffee table and handed our cups in at the counter. I had one last place to visit before going to home to raid the fridge.

Manchester Craft and Design Centre

As I made my way to Paramount Books on Shudehill I made a final detour through the Manchester Craft and Design Centre.

Set in the Victorian market building the Craft and Design Centre is the place to go to buy something handmade, unusual and bespoke. The two floors of contemporary studios sell paintings, jewellery, ceramics, interior accessories, furniture, bags, baby wear and more, or you can simply drop in to visit the café.

Whenever I visit I always linger the longest over Linzi Ramsden Ceramics. I find her designs simply stunning and struggle to find a favourite to purchase. If I could I would buy her designs in threes.

Paramount BooksParamount Book Exchange

After I allowed myself to be dragged from Linzi’s window I finished the day in Paramount Book Exchange near Shudehill station.

The moment I entered my ears were blasted with piano music. I mooched between stuffed shelves and crammed boxes looking vaguely at the titles but mainly marvelling at the jam-packed chaos. A few books caught my eye but I was repeatedly distracted by the random dolls and other paraphernalia squished between the spines.

I was tempted by a box of Sandman Dustcovers by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean until a fusty smell overwhelmed me. I thought the stench was coming from the girl next to me but in hindsight I realise it was probably the sofa.

In addition to old books Paramount Book Exchange sells vintage comic books, (and vintage porn!), LPs, CDs, DVDs, rare books and first editions. If you have the time to scrutinise the shelves and can live with the smell you’re sure to find a hidden treasure or two!

So that was last weekend. How are you stretching your post Christmas budget?

All comments are welcome 🙂

Extinct to extInked

(Woolly Mammoths, Childhood Trauma and Tattoos)

I love animals. I always have. When I was a child I was a member of the RSPCA, RSPB and WWF: World Wildlife Fund. The latter sent me a vibrant poster illustrating animals such as the Dodo, the Tasmanian Wolf and the Saber Tooth Tiger. This beautiful poster, with its exotic and intriguing animals took pride of place above my pre-teen bed.

The focal point of the poster was the majestic Woolly Mammoth. For months I admired the poster and dreamed of visiting a zoo principally to see the Woolly Mammoth, looking vivacious and magnificent in real-life with its mountain of furry flesh. Imagine my horror when I learned what the poster’s title ‘Extinct’ meant. My childhood ended there and then.

It’s been a while since I recalled that traumatic day. The suppressed memory returned whilst reading about Manchester Museum’s new exhibition: ‘We Are ExtInked’.

Official Photograph: Huw Spanner and the White Tailed Eagle. Photography by Andrew Firth

Huw Spanner and the White Tailed Eagle: Photo by Andrew Firth

The project ‘extInked’ was launched by Ultimate Holding Company in 2009 to mark Charles Darwin’s bicentennial birthday. It promised to be a ‘once in a lifetime participatory arts and ecology social experiment’.

During the initial three-day live event, 100 willing volunteers were painstakingly (and no doubt painfully) tattooed with 100 illustrations of endangered British species.

This unique performance resulted in an army of permanently tattooed volunteers taking the role of ambassadors for threatened and rare birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, plants and fungi. These volunteers went on to raise funds and promote education about changing ecologies and species loss.


On reading the tattooed species list I’m transported back to my childhood:

Is the ‘Boring Millipede’ really boring? Is the ‘Hornet Robberfly’ actually a thief? Does a ‘Distinguished Jumping Spider’ wear a monocle and are Weevils relieved that ‘Weevil-hunting Wasps’ are endangered?

Come to think of it, does the choice of endangered species reveal something about the tattoo wearer?

The list also contains the ‘Erratic Ant’, the ‘Wormwood Moonshiner Beetle’, the ‘Soprano Pipistrelle’ and the ‘Arctic Mouse Ear’. With names like these I defy you to not be a little curious too.

Imagine how disappointed future generations would be to learn that their favorite furry (slimy / creepy-crawly / feathered) or funny-named animal had been wiped out and placed on an ‘Extinct’ poster because we hadn’t bothered trying to save them.

TATTOOS – Good or bad?

I’ve always argued that I could never have a tattoo. I couldn’t choose a design that I’d be happy to wear engraved into my skin for the rest of my life. The things I like today could mortify me in 10 years time: Certainly if my Uni mates and I had taken seriously the suggestion of having our University Crest tattooed on us for graduation… Urgh! I shudder to think!

However, promoting education and protecting endangered species does strike a chord with me. Due to the aforementioned potential for future self-loathing it’s probably for the best that I didn’t know about extInked at the time, otherwise I might have been swept along and volunteered myself.

I want to applaud the 100 volunteers who were courageous enough to go though with it. In their own way they are each contributing towards the possible prevention of future childhood traumas like mine.

Volunteers: I thank you!

The ‘We Are ExtInked’ exhibition is showing at the Manchester Museum from Friday 8th July to Sunday 13th November 2011, alongside the new Living Worlds collection.