Monday, 18 April 2011

Manchester - The New London?

We had another great day in Manchester yesterday. In fact we’re liking Manchester so much these days that we are going to have a look around a couple of estate agents today to see what the property market is like now that we seem to have been priced out of our ideas of moving to London.

We started with the Imperial War Museum North, which is close by Old Trafford. It’s a fantastic piece of architecture. The museum tells the story of 20th and 21st century war in a very poignant way by concentrating more on the stories of individuals – the ordinary soldiers and seamen, the kids who were evacuated and the civilians who suffered the blitz – rather than on overloading you with facts and technical stuff. We both choked up on reading some of the letters and watching the grainy black and white footage of young men heading to the horrors of the Somme – it’s an emotional trip and one that I can strongly recommend for the sympathetic layout and the amazing artworks including an incredible sculpture that dominates the gallery. We’re spared images of death and some might think that this sanitises the full horror of war but I believe that it was the right decision as there is enough there (including the stark statistic that 20,000,000 Russians died in WWII) to make even the darkest warmonger question their thoughts.

From the museum you can see the new BBC Media City another architectural triumph. I have read that the BBC is struggling to convince their employees of the benefits of a move up north. OK, Manchester is not London (yet) but when it sinks in that they can get to work in a few minutes and save themselves two hours of misery on the Tube every day, buy an affordable property and enjoy a city that is certainly vibrant and up and coming, perhaps the voices of dissent will die down. At the moment the Media City area lacks things like pubs and local shops (although there is a shopping mall a couple of hundred yards away) but once established I can see it becoming a success. I hope that it does succeed as it is one hell of an investment.

As I said on Saturday’s blog, we were staying at the Lowry Hotel having mistakenly thought that it was near the Lowry shopping mall and the Lowry theatre (we aren’t the first a waitress told us). It’s a great hotel with spacious rooms and all you could want (including a wardrobe big enough to sleep in). I have just one gripe. In common with almost everywhere nowadays, there is a service charge added to all your food and drink. It’s only 10% so that’s not a problem. The problem is that the staff are really nice and when they hand you the bill to sign there’s a very big and obvious space for you to add a gratuity. Now I would love to reward their lovely service with a gratuity and it would normally be more than just 10% but what is the service charge if not a gratuity? Can somebody please explain? I noticed in London (where 12.5% is the norm) that an (optional) service charge was added in 90% of the restaurants we visited. What’s the point? Why not just inflate all the prices by 12.5% and let tipping become a thing of the past.It would save me a few quid as I generally give a bit more.

We enjoyed Lenny Henry’s Cradle To Rave. It’s a nostalgic trip through Lenny’s life and his love of music. He’s a genial bloke who you can’t fail to warm to although I found his story sometimes pathetic (in the true sense) rather than hilarious. The audience was mostly staid and middle aged and it was a huge credit to Len that by the time he reached the excellent finale to the show he had managed to bring everyone to their feet to rapturous applause. He’s still touring so do try and catch him if you can.

And you wonder why I am giving up football after loving it for forty-four years?