Today, Tigger is off to Manchester on a courier run and I am tagging along. In order to meet the noon deadline for delivery, Tigger has a reserved seat on the 0900 train. The ticket price for that train is high so I have to wait for the first off-peak train at 9:40 to get a cheaper ticket. That means that we will travel up on different trains but come back together.
We left the house together at 8:15 and were rewarded by a 476 turning up immediately to take us to Euston station. We had time to buy breakfast (coffee, porridge and croissants) at the Camden Food Co stall there. Tigger left at 9 while I filled in the 40 minutes to the departure of my own train. I have brought my Archos tablet with me to use as a book reader during the journey but its poor battery life makes it desirable to get a seat with a power point. In case I don’t manage this, I have bought a copy of Le Figaro at W.H. Smith to be sure of having something to read.
As soon as the platform was announced I hurried to the train. It is a Virgin service and I am not very keen on them as the seating space is limited. I managed to find a table seat with a power point so I now have a choice of reading: the French newspaper or my books on the Archos! Unfortunately, another passenger, also wanting a power point has seated himself opposite me, meaning that I cannot stretch out my legs. Both trains left on time, so we are both of us running along the same railway line but 40 minutes and several miles apart. It seems ridiculous somehow.
It is a rather grey day without any sign of sunshine, rather humid too though quite warm. I hope it doesn’t rain though if it does, I am sure we shall find indoor activities, such as museums and art galleries, in Manchester. By the time I reach Manchester, Tigger will probably have completed the drop and be back at the station waiting for me. The delivery address is central so it shouldn’t take her too long. It will be fun to see Manchester again, especially as we spent a week there only recently (see Manchester 2011). This, however, will be a flying visit.
Tigger reached Manchester at 11 am, took a cab to the drop and returned to the station in plenty of time to meet me off my train at 11:49. Manchester Piccadilly station has a tram stop downstairs and thither we went to buy day passes. I like riding the trams, as I have said before. Whether they are grinding slowly with many twists and turns through the town or speeding along straight tracks in the suburbs they are fun to ride.
The tram takes us to a remarkable development in Salford, called Salford Quays or, as they call it on their Web site, simply The Quays. According to their account, this is “a wonderful mix of culture, retail and leisure around a continually evolving waterfront destination – soon to be home to the BBC and MediaCityUK”. In turn, the latter describes itself as “a global hub for innovation and content creation”. So there is plenty to see – more in fact than we could see in an afternoon.
The BBC and ITV have a presence here, along with the University of Salford. This striking building is the Imperial War Museum North. It was designed by Daniel Libeskind and was finished in 2002. The official description claims that the three “shards” of which it is composed suggest the fragmentation of war. I would say it could as well represent three pieces of cheese on a cheese board.
The basins and quays once served the famous Manchester Ship Canal as docks for loading and unloading cargoes. Today they provide a beautiful setting for the developing Salford Quays, in an environment with a certain similarity to London’s Docklands. Stretches of water have at least two advantages: they are decorative in their own right and by preventing building, create open spaces and welcome vistas of sky.
The Huron Basin has a large resident population of Canada geese and a few swans. When I walked down to the edge of the water I was surprised to find myself in the midst of a flock that showed little fear of people. When we produced bird food, we were treated to a level of interest that recalled the coot rush at Petersfield! (See Petersfield.)
Once I had sat down at Tigger’s suggestion (I imagine that because of my height I must seem a little intimidating to a goose), the bolder members of the flock were ready to take food from my hand. Needless to say, this was for me one of the highlights of the trip.
After a quick lunch at the nearby PizzaExpress, we turned our attention to The Lowry, the object of our visit. The least one can say about this structure is that it is impressive. Whether I actually like it is another question. I think it is one more example of how modern architects are groping for a new style and talking up their creations in grandiose but vacuous language (like their cousins in the arts) in the hope of convincing us that they have found it.
It was built between 1997 and 2000 to a design by Michael Wilford & Partners (from 2001, Wilford has apparently let go of the partners and now works alone – here is his Web site, if you are interested.). At first sight, the building is solid metal like something out of a futuristic Sci-Fi film but this effect is more apparent than real.
As you approach, you become aware that you can see through what you previously took to be solid structures. The above photo of one of the “legs” illustrates the effect.
The uniform battleship grey of the exterior gives you no idea of what to expect when you step through the doors. The bold, saturated colours will either shock or charm you or perhaps first shock then charm. The least one can say is that there is nothing dull about the interior.
The paintwork colours comprise orange, yellow, green, mauve, and probably others. There is nothing subtle about the colour scheme: it is laid on in big slabs of colour. I think the intention is to make it look random – like a teenager’s bedroom perhaps – without it actually being so. I think the combinations and shapes have been carefully thought out. The arrangement of features also responds to the pseudo random concept.
There is plenty of space inside the Lowry but I received a slightly uncomfortable feeling that everywhere I turned, there was something in the way, an obstacle to negotiate. This comes from the pseudo random organization which makes stairs and landings seem to burst through the walls as though they were added later. This is quite fun, I suppose, as long as the joke doesn’t wear thin.
We went upstairs to see the exhibitions. There were two that we saw and admission is free, though donations are welcome. Photography is not allowed in the galleries where the artworks are displayed, a depressingly familiar story these days. The first exhibition was of the life and works of L.S. Lowry, after whom the building is named.
There is a 20-minute film on Lowry’s life and work which I, for one, found interesting and instructive. Unless you know a lot about Lowry, it’s worth seeing this film before proceeding to the galleries.
Behind the seats for watching the film is a curved screen with a timeline or biography of the artist.
As photography was not allowed, I cannot show you any of the works. On the other hand, you will no doubt have seen the more popular works of the painter, at least in copies. You will find some reminders here. However, what this exhibition clearly showed was that the popular idea of Lowry as a painter of nice little scenes of Northern Life enacted by the famous “matchstick men and matchstick women” is a shallow and biased view. His work is much more varied that that and much of it is far from “nice”. In fact, I found a lot of the pictures rather troubling.
The other exhibition, entitled "Warhol and the Divas" showed some of that artist’s renditions of famous women such as Liza Minelli, Marilyn Monroe and Madonna. This is fine if you like Warhol, I suppose. Personally, I think his works are overrated and have been so over-exhibited as to now seem like clichés.
We took the tram again, this one heading for Manchester Piccadilly station. However, we decided to break our journey at Deansgate.
Though the weather was showing signs of deterioration, we went for a walk along the canal.
Here we see the extraordinary building that is the Deansgate Hilton. I cannot imagine ever staying in a Hilton hotel which is probably fortunate as I am not sure I could stand staying in a building that looks as if it might tip over at any moment.
We might have explored further but it began to rain. At first a light shower, it became heavier. We repaired to a bus stop and caught one of the free buses back to Manchester Piccadilly station.
We had time for coffee and then our train was ready for boarding. Having bought our tickets separately, we did not have reservations together, but we managed to find a pair of seats.
Despite having only a day to spend, including travel time, Manchester did not disappoint us. It once again provided new experiences while leaving more to discover on future visits.