Experience a fun, cultural, foodie, city break in Manchester this Festive season
Having visiting Manchester a few years ago, I planned another trip recently to find out what’s on, where to go and what to see during the festive season. Instead of a seasonal sleigh, I had a smooth, comfortable journey on a brand new Nova Tranpennine Express electric train from Edinburgh. There are five carriages, with 264 seats in standard class, 22 in first class, complimentary wifi and a power socket at every seat. Trolley service for refreshments and snacks, and storage for 4 bicycles. The Nova 2 trains run between Edinburgh and Manchester Airport so the ideal route if planning to jet off somewhere exotic.
As I headed south to Manchester, meanwhile my sister, June, was speeding north from London Euston on an Aviva train: the itinerary for our Christmas shopping and cultural city break began with perfect synchronicity, the two trains arriving on time, just four minutes apart at 1.23pm and 1.27pm respectively.
Manchester’s Christmas Markets have been attracting thousands of visitors to the city centre every year since 1998 to add a sparkle to the winter chill. Staying at the Mercure hotel was a great central location on Portland Street, Piccadilly Gardens, which has been transformed into the ‘Winter Gardens’. This is a pop up village of Christmas market stalls and log cabin bars such as Apres Ski & Off Piste where you can warm up with an Alpine Ale, mulled wine, prosecco, cider, Nordic Glogg, Hot toddy and a Bailey’s coffee.
The markets are also located across St Ann’s Square, Exchange Square, New Cathedral Street, King Street, Market Street and Cathedral Gardens which will entice the skaters to the ice rink. A central stage with a series of live music events will entertain the crowds. Sip Gluhwein and sample apple strudel around the traditional German stalls, and, of course, Bratwurst – perhaps best to share the half a metre sausage!
Dine around the world from Little Spain – paella, chorizo rolls, patatas bravas and hot sangria to Mexico Joes Ltd – Chicken flatbread, falafel, and halloumi fries. Eat Greek – halloumi fries, pitta bread, Elsie Mays for warm brownies and milkshakes. French, Sicilian and Dutch dishes too. An American feast at Triple B -Pastrami Burger and a huge Turkey Reuben bagel.
The best of British at Porkys of Yarm serving Hot roast pork rolls, Hydes beers, local cider, English wines and Clowbecks for Cumberland sausage, bubble & squeak, tatties, mulled wine and lager. Porky Pig Yorkshire puddings wraps. Battered pigs in blankets. For vegetarians and vegans, Panc is a plant-based stall offers meat free sausages, burgers, fried chick’n and more.
And of course, the Markets are the place to buy innovative gifts galore – from chocolates and cheese, to toys and games, arts and crafts, soaps, clothing, socks, hats, gloves, leather bags and wallets, jewellery.
The Markets are open until Wednesday December 22, 10am to 9pm daily with some stalls continuing around the Winter and Cathedral Gardens into the New Year.
A night at the theatre to see the musical, Waitress at the Opera House, originally The New Theatre, which opened on Boxing Day, 1912, then renamed the Opera House in 1920. It was a cinema in WW2, then a bingo hall before launched as a theatre again in 1984, renowned for touring musicals such as Barnum and Phantom of the Opera. Waitress is a comedy drama set in an American diner and after the ten day run in Manchester, it’s now on tour around the country so do catch this heart-warming, feminist, feel good show if you can.
The pantomime at the Opera House this year is Aladdin, starring Alexandra Burke, with flying carpets, a genie, an evil sorcerer, magical effects, song and dance.
Warmly recommended for a pre-post theatre lunch or supper is Bill’s Spinningfields which is perfectly located a two minute walk away from the Opera House.
‘Our passion for great food, cooked with care in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Whether with friends, family or an intimate dinner for two, from breakfast to bedtime and everything in between.’
Bill’s started 20 years ago, when Bill Collison opened his Greengrocer’s shop in Lewes, East Sussex and soon added a café, a concept for seasonal local food which has gradually grown into a collection of restaurants across the UK.
The modern, stylish menu changes seasonally – quality, gastropub, homely food with generous portions and is very vegetarian-vegan friendly. I selected crispy calamari, perfect finger food, dipping the rings into the creamy aioli. Then a veggie burger, Halloumi, avocado and roasted peppers, with sweet potato fries. My sister nibbled a few olives to start and then enjoyed a real, juicy meat burger, cooked to her liking, with rosemary fries (we declined the bun to reduce the calories). With our meal we sipped one of the house wines, the South African, Journey’s End Chardonnay – deliciously crisp and dry.
This Christmas season, with the witty Wizard of Oz theme, There’s No Place Like Bill’s, you will be tempted by the enticing seasonal food and cocktail menu such as Pigs-in-blankets, Christmas Truffle Cheese Fondue Burger, Boxing Day curry, Truffalo sprouts and for dessert, sugar-sprinkled Snow Nuts or Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, a red berry cheesecake with chocolate tree, stars and baubles.
Time for party cocktails: Gin-gle Bells (Whitley Neill Raspberry Gin, Chambord, fresh pineapple), Passion Fruit Spritz and the Strawberry Margarita.
After the theatre, it was back to the Mercure hotel for a nightcap at the Level 3 Lounge Bar overlooking the bright lights of the Christmas market. The ‘seasonal’ cocktail list includes a Summer Mojito (not quite right for a chilly winter night!), and, disappointing that there was no Campari in stock for the Negroni. I chose a classic Gin Martini (but no olive garnish available), while June sipped a Nojito, a minty, fruity tipple without the rum.
Art lovers should visit the Contemporary 6 Gallery, 37 Princess Street, owned by Alex Reuben who selects a series of inspiring shows of paintings, modern prints, (Picasso, Kandinsky, Matisse), ceramics and sculpture. Throughout November is the eclectic artwork of Jim Moir (as seen on Sky TV, Celebrity Portrait and Landscape Artist), ranging from a flight of birds to quirky portraits.
For a marvellous day out for all ages, take a trip to the Trafford Centre, five miles from the city centre, and easy to get there by metrolink tram. This is very much like This is very much like an American shopping mall with designer and high street stores, not least a large branch of Selfridges, as well as a cinema, bowling alley, Game arena and Legoland. After browsing the shops or seeing a movie, time for refreshments, but signage needs improved as where to eat and drink is difficult to find. The Orient is designed around the replica of a pool deck on a classic ocean liner featuring numerous bars and bistros from All Bar One to Zizzi. A huge marble staircase modelled on the Titanic leads to the Great Hall and features the largest chandelier in the world.
Drink, eat and stay at the Kimpton Clocktower which was named recently in the Sunday Times as one of the best 100 hotels in the UK. Founded in San Francisco in 1981, the cool, quirky Kimpton brand focuses on art, wellness, modern cuisine and playful style while reflecting the heritage of each destination.
The majestic Victorian red brick and terracotta building was initially the The Refuge Assurance Company (1890), which opened as the hotel on 1st October 2020. In the lobby, a bronze horse sculpted by Sophie Dickens illustrates the turning circle for the former Hansom cabs and carriages; original features include ceramic tiles, stained glass and wooden staircases juxtaposed with contemporary furnishings.
Bold colourfully designed bedrooms and suites are draped in velvet with bespoke decor and artwork by Scottish company Timorous Beasties, while vinyl records of Manchester’s famous bands from the Stone Roses to Oasis can be played on a turntable. Guests can take use of the in room yoga mat, the complimentary tuck box and many bathrooms boast a classic roll top bathtub.
Relax over a drink or Afternoon tea in The Winter Garden, an interior glasshouse blossoming with plants and trees and wine and dine at The Refuge by Volta. The Refuge Bar and Dining Room is a vast but elegant space of interconnecting salons where on a Friday night the lounge area was buzzing with happy drinkers and around the corner, the fabulous Restaurant with well designed, comfy banquette seating and half moon booths.
An innovative menu of Soul Food for sharing is neatly divided into Meat, Seafood, On the Side and Vegetables, inspired around the global travels by the DJ -Restaurateurs, Justin Crawford and Luke Cowdrey.
First of all it’s time for finely crafted cocktails – the Drinks list is most enticing with a celebration of gin and modern twists on the classics. Like a revamped French 75, is ‘Glamour of Manchester’:– Malfy rose gin, lemon, hibiscus syrup, Champagne. There’s an innovative selection of spirits especially speciality gins for the perfect serve such as Aviation, Gin Mare, Malfy Rosa, Monkey 47 and Ramsbury Single Estate Gin.
My Gin Martini was a masterclass of the art which hit the spot with lip smacking delight. Across the table, June selected The Queen’s Peach – Spiced rum, peach, lime, mint with a splash of prosecco – for a refreshing taste of the Caribbean.
Advised to select four to five dishes for two, we chose the ras-el-hanout scented chicken, salt cod croquettes with tartare aioli, tenderstem broccoli, chargrilled cauliflower and chickpea daal, for an eclectic Middle Eastern, Asia and Spanish culinary journey. The vegetables were perfectly cooked almost al dente and the creamy daal in coconut milk was mixed with apricots and dates. For dessert, a sticky toffee pudding was the perfect finale to a superlative meal. Hospitality by Jake and James was exemplary.
As well as sipping a delicious Sartori Pinot Grigio, the wine list tours the world to France, Spain, South Africa, Australia and Lebanon. With DJs in charge of the ambience, you can expect a lively vibe with a soothing, sassy mix of jazz, swing, funk, soul and house.
Experience the magic of Manchester this Christmas at the Kimpton Clocktower. Treat yourself to a stay in one of the gorgeously styled rooms or suites and enjoy a three course Christmas Day lunch with a glass of fizz and festive snacks in The Refuge, breakfast each day is included and chill out for a leisurely 3pm checkout on departure.
Hope this all whets your appetite to plan a magical, cultural and shopping trip to Manchester soon.
Links to help you research your visit.
Waitress: a feel-good, feminist, rom-com musical as sweet as American blueberry pie @ Opera House, Manchester (and on tour).
This popular and very successful stage musical is based on the 2007 movie, Waitress which was selected for Sundance Festival, became a box office hit, making nearly $22 million on a $1.5 million-dollar budget.
Written and directed by Adrienne Shelly, it tells the classic American tale of Jenna, a small- town girl who works in a diner but has big dreams for the future.
When producers Barry and Fran Weissler saw Waitress, they knew it would make a great Broadway show: “I saw the movie and thought, ‘This is heart-wrenching, touching and funny. An all-female creative team behind the book, music and director led to four Tony nominations including Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Actress. It then played in London for a year until forced to close in March 2020 for lockdown.
Bouncing back again, the UK tour stars Lucie Jones, Sandra Marvin and Evelyn Hoskins who reprise their West End roles. The realistic stage set depicts the colourful Joe’s Diner with counter, stools, tables, booths, blackboard menu, and outside, a panoramic rural scene of telegraph poles against a blue sky.
The show kicks off in a colourful, rousing manner with a medley of songs, as we are introduced to the terrific trio of waitresses, Cal, the diner manager and old Joe, the owner, who loves to try the speciality dish of the day. Jenna is a talented baker devising her own Couch Potato and Polka Dot Peach Pies. She plans to enter a local Pie contest with the chance to win $25,000 which would solve her financial worries and escape her domineering husband Earl.
Jenna, Becky and Dawn are close workmates and loyal friends, offering advice on life, love, romance and marriage, woman to woman. With her vivacious, sunny pesonality, Becky cheers the girls up, boosting their confidence. Petite, with a high pitched girly voice, the cookie, cute Dawn is rather naive but keen to find a man on a dating site. She just needs to find someone who likes History’s Mysteries on TV.
The song lyrics drive the storyline along such as the upbeat, What Baking Can Do in which Jenna remembers how she made cakes with her mother, who encouraged her to do well in pursuit of happiness.
So with flour on my hands
I’ll show them all how
Goddamn happy I am
Sugar, butter, flour ..
Jenna cracks eggs into a bowl, sifts flour and rolls out pastry dough while she acts and sings, all at the same time with neat, multi-tasking talent.
Another passionate song, A Soft Place to Land, sung in perfect harmony by the three girls, relates how they are all determined to change their lives for the better.
The arrival of a new doctor in town quickly sparks an immediate romantic interest although unfortunately he is married. And so is she. Think ‘Brief Encounter’. She seduces him with delicious cakes and as the intimate scenes with Dr. Pomatter (Matt Jay-Willis) are often in slow motion in a shimmering light – is this really happening or a fantasy of her imagination.?
The topical narrative centres around Jenna who smiles happily, serving cakes in Joe’s diner, hiding the dark secret of Earl’s bossy, bullying behaviour at home. She is vulnerable, lost and afraid but has a strong-minded spirit illustrated in a beautiful ballad, She Used to be Mine: Lucie Jones is a true opera diva, showing off her soaring vocal range and deep emotion, enhanced with an echo effect.
If I’m honest I know I would give it all back
For a chance to start over
And rewrite an ending or two
For the girl that I knew.
Sassy, smart and soulful, Waitress is a feel good, feminist, musical comedy with strong, dramatic punch. Fine characterisation, sharp dialogue, charming songs, witty lyrics and moments of LOL hilarity, it all flows along to the lively score performed on stage by the six piece band. Slick choreography too for the ensemble numbers with high flying pies galore.
Imagine The Great British Bake Off as a musical: expect a sweet and savoury dish, a chunk of cheesy romance and a sprinkling of hot spice, the recipe for a perfectly baked show as delicious as American blueberry pie. No wonder there was a standing ovation at the Opera House, Manchester.
Opera House, Manchester 8 – 20 November, 2021
For a pre-theatre supper, Bill’s Spinningfields is warmly recommended. Just a two minute walk from the Opera House
Waitress on tour: https://www.waitressthemusical.co.uk/
‘Evocative Skies’ magical vistas from beach scenes to city panoramas – an exhibition by Jamie Primrose @ Dundas Street Gallery
Since 2003, Jamie Primrose has presented artwork at over forty solo exhibitions, specialising in city, land and seascapes from Scotland to the South of France. This new showcase focuses on the dramatic beauty of skyscapes along the East Lothian coastline and across Edinburgh.
The ‘Evocative Skies‘ exhibition is well laid out following a geographical route from the sandy beaches of North Berwick to Tyninghame and Yellowcraig, around the gallery to the rolling hills, high spires and streets of the Capital.
The introduction to ‘Evocative Skies,” describes the artistic theme:
‘The transient nature of light onto water and land to create luminosity and atmosphere, the dream-like quality of glorious streams of light reflecting onto the sea and iridescent sands; these sweeping cloudscapes depict the ever-changing play of light above sparkling, tranquil shores’.
The glowing, glimmering luminosity of fading sun is clearly illustrated in Late Afternoon looking towards Cove, in which the viewer feels they are standing on the sand to observe the immensity of the clear blue sky. This impressionistic scene is captured in striated layers where the sea meets the sand, and a line of white cloud hovering over the distant hills.
The iconic pudding shape of the bird sanctuary takes centre stage in Looking towards Bass Rock from North Berwick Beach, given a perfect perspective between the lapping waves on the beach and mauve-tinted clouds; a realistic sense of a brisk breeze whipping up over the sea and sky too.
Another majestic view of the craggy island in Clouds passing over North Berwick depicting a more blustery day. Again, the sky takes prominence, spanning over two thirds of the painting, with just a slither of sea on the edge of the sandy beach.
The Stevenson lighthouse on the island of Fidra is the focal point of Reflections on Yellowcraig Beach. Robert Louis Stevenson (who spent holidays in North Berwick), is said to have been inspired by the rocky shape of Fidra for his map of ‘Treasure Island’.
This is such an evocative and tranquil study of Yellowcraig beach after the tide has ebbed away leaving glistening wet sand with slender shards of sunlight below the billowing cloud.
The fading light at dusk is captured with such a delicate, pale palette in Tyninghame Reflections – the thick brush strokes sweep a soft dusty pink across the sky reflected with an impressionistic flourish on the waves and shoreline. Such an atmospheric, contemplative composition.
This is almost reminiscent of the artist’s previous abstract landscapes such as Tierra de La Luz (Costa Rica, 2003). The translucent sheen of blue, indigo and tangerine, with Rothko-esque expressionism, depict the horizon over the sea at sunset with stunning simplicity.
Perhaps, Jamie Primrose might be inspired to experiment again with his earlier, masterly artisic style to express these seascapes in similar abstract mode and manner, through blocks of pure colour, shape and light.
There’s an almost photographic perspective snapped in Shimmering light over Edinburgh from Longniddry, looking across the Firth of Forth. There’s a painterly pattern here: the foreground stretch of rocky beach is echoed in the long, low lying dark cloud, and also in the distance, the rolling mound of hills in a shadowy silhouette.
A seasonal, gold tinted cityscape is portrayed in Autumnal drama over the city from Blackford Hill, one of Primrose’s ambitious, signature, panoramic views with such architectural detail of the city skyline. The afterglow of sunset is sinking towards the west, turning the sky a shimmering salmon pink across the flow and flurry of clouds.
Around the gallery is a diverse range of other iconic skyscape views of Edinburgh, depicted from dawn to dusk – Duddingston Loch, from Calton Hill, the Castle and around the Old Town.
Limited Edition Prints
As well as over fifty original oil paintings on show, there’s also a selection of exclusive, limited edition prints: East Lothian beaches, Arthur’s Seat, city sunset skylines, colourful Old Town scenes, and more.
‘Evocative Skies’ paintings by Jamie Primrose
Magical vistas in East Lothian & Edinburgh
The Dundas Street Gallery, 6a Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ
Friday 5th – Saturday 13th November 2021
Open daily, 11am – 6pm. Saturday 13th November, 11am – 5pm (last day)
View the ‘Evocative Skies’ collection of original oil paintings online:
Limited Edition Prints:
East Lothian seascapes: http://shop.jamieprimrose.com/shop/3/12/index.htm
Vibrant sunsets: http://shop.jamieprimrose.com/shop/2/26/index.htm
The 29th French Film Festival is on the road – 30+ movies across 30+ cinemas around the UK from Aberdeen to Belfast and Plymouth
The French Film Festival is back, running from 3 November to 12 December 2021, offering another fabulous programme of new and classic movies screened in cinemas throughout the UK and on line.
“Bienvenue! We’re overjoyed to welcome back our faithful audiences to one of the most diverse line-ups, from award-winners to new talent. Thanks to our partner cinemas for showing enthusiasm and ingenuity and our sponsors for their unwavering support. Vive le cinéma! -Bon Festival.”
Richard Mowe, Director FFF UK
The FFF UK is the only festival dedicated to French and Francophone cinema in all its diversity, variety and vitality. This is a brief overview of a few highlights in the programme which will delight all movie fans who adore the intimate, dramatic mood and elegant style of French movies.
Deception (Tromperie), based on the novel by Philip Roth, relates the story of an American writer also called Philip (Denis Podalydès), who is working on a new book in London. Here he meets and becomes romantically involved with a married English woman, (Léa Seydoux), while his wife is back home. But is this literary affair real or a figment of the author’s imagination ?
In 1789, before the Revolution in rural France, fine cuisine was exclusive to the aristocrats. Delicious (Délicieux) is about the fine art of gastronomy. When a talented cook called Manceron, (Grégory Gadebois) serves one of his invented dishes at a dinner hosted by Duke of Chamfort, he is dismissed. Moving to work at a country inn, he is inspired to develop his creative passion for food to become a renowned chef. Bon Appetit!.
Starring the inimitable Catherine Deneuve, Peaceful (De son Vivant) is about a son in denial over a serious illness while his mother faces the truth. A real-life cancer specialist, Dr Gabriel Sara is cast as Dr Eddé, expressing genuine, personal empathy as a medical and spiritual advisor.
Inspired by true events, The Big Hit (Un Triomphe) is a comic drama about an out of work actor who gives drama lessons to high security prisoners, hoping to inspire them to perform a production of Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot. ‘The outcome is worth the wait, a naturalistic, well-balanced, satisfying social drama,’ says one critic.
In Promises, (Les Promesses) Isabelle Huppert portrays an ambitious Mayor of a Parisian suburb towards the end of her second and, expected, final term of office. Working with her Chief of staff, their mission is to secure a financial subsidy to save Les Benardins, an apartment complex from increasing urban decay. A power-grabbing, political game of chess ensues.
A neglected, feminist classic, Olivia, (1951), adapted from Dorothy Bussy’s autobiographical tale, captures the awakening passions of an English girl at a finishing school near Paris. The rather naive Olivia develops an infatuation for the headmistress, Mlle. Julie, sparking obsessive, jealous feelings in another teacher. ‘Gothic atmosphere, unspoken desire.…a landmark of lesbian representation.’
With perfect topicality in the race to save the planet, Hello World! (Bonjour le monde!) is a whimsical animated study of a fragile ecosystem. Papier-mâché puppets with a colourfully painted backdrop depict the life and natural habitats of a pike, beaver, bat, salamander, turtle, dragonfly and birds.
This charming film will appeal to all ages and is also part of the educational programme for children, L‘école du cinema.
As always in the FFF programme, there’s a selection of Short Cuts, mini-movies of between 8 and 24 minutes.
A special double bill features a mini-musical, Belle Étoile about a Vietnamese woman who has arrived in France to be married but her life turns upside down.
This is partnered with a vintage thriller, The Sleeping Car Murders (Compartiment Tuers 1965), starring Yves Montand as a detective in charge of finding a killer on a train, akin to Murder on the Orient Express.
After the welcome innovation and popular success of screening FFF movies @ home during lockdown, there’s a choice of nine films to watch from the comfort of your own sofa.
Another crime drama in The Enemy (L’Ennemi) follows the investigation when a politician is charged with killing his wife.
A classic from 1961, Vivre sa Vie, directed by Luc Godard, features his cinematic muse, Anna Karina as Nana, an aspiring actress who has a different role in real life, a lady of the night.
Thrillers, romance, wartime drama, politics, animation, documentaries – take your pick of the 29th FFF programme.
Browse the full selection of films, list of cinemas and screening dates on the website: frenchfilmfestival.org.uk