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Saturday, 18 October 2008

Manchester Christmas Markets

This year's Christmas Markets will be bigger and better than ever, with organisers confirming that the stalls will run until Sunday December 21st after complaints last year that the market finished too early. There will also be six sites this year instead of five, with Exchange Square hosting stalls for the first time. Otherwise, it will be business as usual for this increasingly popular annual fixture, although apparently the main site in Albert Square has been redesigned to ease congestion (not before time - last year, the Albert Square site attracted an average of 43000 shoppers per day, most of whom seemed intent on jostling my drinking arm as I was trying to slurp the mulled wine that is pretty much compulsory at these events).

The Market begins on Tuesday 18th November (some kind of feigned sick-leave perhaps required), with Albert Square hosting the European Market, St Anne's Square the German Market, Brazennose Street the World Market, Arts & Crafts on Exchange Street, and additional stalls on New Cathedral Street and Exchange Square. One can almost hear the brass band warming up and smell the brandy-laden hot chocolate already...

Monday, 6 October 2008

12 Hours in Liverpool

A brave move perhaps, but what with Liverpool being current European City of Culture it seemed a shame not to venture west simply on the basis that Liverpool is full of Scousers. So we boarded our train at Picadilly on Saturday morning, and less than an hour later we were at Liverpool Lime Street Station, touristy map clutched firmly in hand (and handbag tucked even more firmly under arm).

First stop, the Liverpool Tate Gallery on Albert Dock. The docks are extremely impressive, and bring a nostalgic lump to the throat of anyone who fondly remembers Fred the Weatherman leaping about on his polystyrene map back when Richard & Judy were in charge of This Morning. Before embarking on any actual culture, we steeled ourselves with hot chocolate and toast in the Tate Cafe, and then dutifully examined three floors of modern art. To be fair, there is not much installation-style what-the-hell-is-that-meant-to-be art on show here; the Andy Warhol room is worth a look, and there are also works by Picasso, Degas, Henry Moore and Bridget Riley on show. Not sure about the huge furry body on the ground floor though.

Time for lunch: a fillet steak sandwich with fries at The Pan American Club on Albert Dock, a couple of minutes from the Tate. Thus restored, we tackled the impressive new shopping centre Liverpool 1, housing all the shops you might expect as well as an enormous John Lewis where we booked in to have our make-up done at Bobbi Brown (cunning - get nice lady to scrape off evidence of tiring day and replace with flattering new make-up). Many thanks to the lovely Angela who did such a good job on us.

Dinner was booked at Negresco, a modern Italian on the trendy Lark Lane - about £6 in a taxi from the shopping centre. The decor is stunning, the staff friendly and laid-back, the cocktail list ginormous and the food delicious - I had duck liver pate for starter, fillet steak for main, and finished with cinnamon creme brulee with sable biscuits. Prices are very reasonable, andthere is apparently a Negresco in Manchester which I shall duly investigate as soon as humanly possible.

Watch out for the 9,55pm train though - it's more like a bus than a train, rendering sleep impossible, and full of over-excited teenage girls (likewise). It got us back into Manchester around 11.15, safe and sound (slight pun intended).

Friday, 3 October 2008

Review: Shakespeare's Othello at The Lowry, Manchester

Teachers bring much of the stress they so frequently purport to suffer from upon themselves, doing such foolhardy things as booking tickets to see Othello on a Thursday evening. After teaching for six hours - including an hour on Othello - said teacher can think of few things she would rather do less than drive to The Lowry and sit through a couple of hours of Shakespeare: opening a bottle of wine and watching America's Next Top Model clearly being a preferable option.

I did, however, dutifully drag myself to The Lowry, and I am extremely glad I did. Frantic Assembly's current production of Othello, which finishes tonight, is the best interpretation of a Shakespeare play I have ever seen: genuinely ground-breaking without losing the power or the beauty of the original language. The setting has been updated to take place in a Northern pub called The Cypress, a witty reference to the section of the play that has been largely omitted from this production where Venice goes to war with Turkey over Cyprus, and the staging revolves (literally) around a pool table upon which much of the key action occurs.

The acting is without fault, with a particularly menacing Iago and a delightfully chavvy Desdemona standing out from an excellent cast. Don't be put off by the slightly scary fact that Frantic are exponents of "movement theatre" - all this means in practice is that the choreographed fight scenes are stunning, and that the energy of the performance never flags.

If you get a chance to see this production, then do: I can offer no better praise than that the theatre was pretty much filled with sixth form students (some of them mine) and they remained transfixed for the whole two hours - a feat never achieved by any of my lessons.