Four Days in Manchester and Half a Book

Manchester I’d not been to Manchester since I can’t remember when but I do recall going to a Rock Against Racism gig there which tells British readers of a certain age something. It was soon clear that the derelict, grimy city of those days had been replaced by a prosperous shiny updated version, at least in the centre.

Monday morning’s walk to the Jewish Museum through a rundown area of town suggested that prosperity only The Jewis Museum (Manchester) stretched so far. The museum is partly housed in a beautifully restored synagogue built in the 19th century by the Sephardic community who were drawn to Manchester because of the textile connection as the excellent volunteer, whose name I failed to ask, told us. They were part of the wealthy merchant class, hence the splendour of the synagogue, and paid a subscription for their place in the congregation which left a handy record on which to base biographies of each of them. Such an interesting museum with a very active educational programme, too.

Ordsall Hall and garden What felt like a long, hot afternoon trudge through post-industrial Salford took us to Ordsall Hall, a little gem, parts of which date back to the fifteenth century. Home to the Radclyffe family for three centuries, it was meticulously restored over two years, reopening in 2011, complete with a pretty knot garden. Well worth the slog to get there and the exercise worked up an appetite for a meal with an old friend at Dishoom, always a treat.

After a jam-packed first day we decided to take it easy on Tuesday, wandering over to the Whitworth Art Gallery in time for lunch in their lovely café which overlooks a park. We were both a little disappointed in what was on offer in the exhibits although I loved Mary Kelly‘s Lovesongs: A Multi Story House, a glasshouse lit from within and etched with quotes taken from conversations about feminism. My favourite was ‘When I went to college, I couldn’t even boil and egg. My mother thought if she didn’t teach me how to cook, then I wouldn’t end up taking care of men… the way she did’. Smart woman.

We woke on Wednesday to find we’d dropped around twelve degrees overnight and the inevitable rain had Andy — The name of the Bow is Life, but its Work is Death (Derek Jarman, 1982) finally arrived. The morning was spent at the City Art Gallery at Protest!, a Derek Jarman retrospective which followed his career from his early paintings through to his HIV/AIDS activist work and the glorious garden at Dungeness which we visited last year. Great to see some of his music videos again, not least the Pet Shop Boys’ It’s a Sin – they looked so young – but the most striking piece for me was ‘Andy — The Name of the Bow is Life, but its Work is Death’, a magnificent painting in oils, black with a lustrous golden sheen. Such a talented man. He died, aged only fifty-four. A brilliant exhibition and a much more satisfying experience than Tuesday’s visit to the Whitworth. Much of the rest of the day was spent on a long, enjoyable lunch with a dear friend at the excellent No 1 Canal Street.

There were light snow flurries on our last morning, the first I’d seen all winter, long gone by the time we caught the train south following a pretty route down through Shropshire and Herefordshire. We arrived home relaxed and engaged with Cover image for Apeirogon by Colum McCann the world again after another winter of Covid caution although that’s not over yet.

And the book? When the holiday started, I was just under halfway through Colum McCann’s remarkable Apeirogon which blends fact with fiction exploring the Middle East conflict through two fathers – one Palestinian, the other Israeli – who both lost daughters to the other side. The story of their loss and friendship based on a mutual desire for peace is told in brief episodic paragraphs interspersed with observations and digressions, all woven together into a novel which takes it’s structure from One Thousand and One Nights. Moving, tender and beautiful, it’s extraordinarily impressive.

26 thoughts on “Four Days in Manchester and Half a Book”

  1. You did pack in a lot of interesting things in 4 days. I’ve only visited Manchester when my son was at university there. We didn’t do art galleries and museums, but it was good to see the shiny centre.

  2. We went to Manchester for the August bank holiday weekend in 2015. Like you, we found it quite a hip and happening place — lots of trendy eateries — but also passed through some down-at-heel areas. Looking back at my write-up, I see that we packed a lot in, visiting Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, the City Art Gallery, the cathedral, John Rylands Library, the Museum of Science and Industry, the People’s Museum, and Chetham’s Library. I would have enjoyed seeing the Jarman exhibit and the Jewish Museum.

    1. Just before we left we discovered most of the main galleries/museums are currently closed on Monday and Tuesday so we missed several we wanted to visit. The Museum of Science and Industry is having a massive overhaul which will take several years. We’ ll just have to go again!

    1. Thank you! The Jarman was a treat rounded off with a huge shot of the garden. It seemed so familiar which made me realise how often I’d thought about last year’s visit though the winter.

  3. What a lovely trip! We spent a couple of days there in 2014; we went to an event at the International Art Festival on the evening we were there and then to the lovely old library and the art gallery, also managed lunch with one friend and afternoon tea with a couple of friends (we were doing a Northern Odyssey holiday as then went to Preston so I could go to a Barbara Pym conference then up to the Lake District).

  4. Sounds a great trip! I was watching something about Manchester in the early 90s recently and was struck by how much it has changed.

    Apeirogon sounds so impressive, what an ambitious tale to tell.

    1. It’s like a different city altogether, and so many apartments/offices under construction.

      I’d recommend the McCann although it’s far from an easy read. I very nearly gave it up before we went away then something clicked and I’m very glad it did.

  5. Isn’t it fun that a spring break in Britain can include sunshine, rain and snow? I’m glad you managed to have an interesting and enjoyable time despite the weather, though. 😀

  6. Sounds like a wonderful trip. Manchester has always been on my radar, now if only the planets would align & co-operate!

  7. I was only in Manchester once, back in 1976 when I went to visit my cousins there after spending nine months in Israel (as a tourist, but now I live here). My cousins don’t live there anymore (the older generation passed away, and the younger ones all live in Israel), but I wouldn’t mind visiting again.

      1. 7 Kendall Road – I believe there was a fairly good sized Jewish population in that area at the time (or at one time). My cousin went to the Meade Hill Shul synagogue – he was religious. His only son is not, and lives on a Kibbutz in Israel now.

  8. Your trip sounds so interesting. I do hope to travel over there someday just to see some of the old buildings.
    What a nice cover on the McCann book!

  9. The last time I went to Manchester I hardly recognised the city centre. Glad to see some of the old buildings hadn’t been bulldozed to make way for the shiny new ones though.

    1. There’s quite a dividing line as we found out when we walked to the Jewish Museum. I was also struck by how little traffic there was in the city centre but they have an excellent public transport system.

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