Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Ramchizzle

I'm moving.

At any moment now, the folks at BT are going to cut the cord and I will have no internets until they see fit to connect me up in my new place - and based on my long and wearisome experience with BT I fear that may take, oh, a few weeks on the outside. Factor in Christmas-related inertia and we may be well into 2009 before I'm online again.

But the good news is I'm moving to a place with many nicknames. Ramsbottom is also known as Rammy, Rambo and, my favorite, Tup's Arse (Tup is old slang for a ram, oh American readers). It's a Pennine mill town just a hair inside the Greater Manchester border. Which will make me, like, an actual Mancunian. Or something.

Good things about Ramsbottom I've found out about so far include the delicious Ramsons, a steam train, the lovely Nuttall Park and an eerie chippie called The Wayward Tyke.

Anyone in Ramsbottom? Give us a shout.

(Ramsbottom photo from Flickr user topdogdjstew.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

To do: red dust from space, social media and dough

A few cool things to squeeze in before we roll out the advent calendars.

Jackie Kay has written seven new songs on the theme of HIV, and seven different composers (David Horne, Bechara el Khoury, Colin Matthews, Craig Urquhart, Niel van der Watt, Errollyn Wallen and Marc Yeats) have composed music to go with them.
The result is a secular requiem called "Walking along the red-dust road," which will premiere at the Bridgewater Hall at 8pm on Dec. 1, World Aids Day. Mark Elder and the Halle will also perform Faure's Requiem, one of my most favourite pieces of music ever. And tickets will raise money for international charity ActionAid's Mission Malawi. Tickets: £15/ £25 from The Bridgewater Hall Box Office, 0161 907 9000 or online here.

Those crafty Islington Mill folk have put together a smorgasboard of christmas present possibilities at an impromptu shop at 142 Chapel Street, near Salford central train station. 'FROM SPACE' is a temporary art and fashion store selling one off pieces made at t'mill and further afield. Products on sale including fashion, accessories, clothing and t-shirts, large scale photographs, handmade clothes, ceramics, fine art prints, hand-crafted furniture, etc. Go between 3-7 for the launch this Thursday and you might get some mulled wine or something.

Also, the craft and design centre is packed to the rafters with gorgeousness this year. And the cafe there is making some tasty sandwiches. They're having Sunday shopping launch day from 1-4 this weekend. Go for a 10 percent discount, music from Manchester Community Choir and Dr Butlers Hatstand Medicine Band, and the obligatory mulled wine.

The Northern Quarter has a brand spanking new pizza place on High Street: Dough. Haven't been yet but planning on making a trip soon; a family-friendly place for chow in the area is much needed. There's a pharmacy-themed bar next door called Apotheca as well.

And last but not least, Social Media Cafe Manchester has gotten off to a strong start. I couldn't make last month's inaugural event but I hear it was overrun with people merrily tweeting, yelping, blogging and pinging. If you know what those things are or do them yourself you might want to head to the next one, which is Monday 8th December - 6pm to 9pm at The Northern. FACT curator Heather Corcoran will be the guest speaker. For future reference, Social Media cafe lives here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Theft! Intellectual Theft!

I thought last week's Blog Lab event at MDDA went well. But today I'm amazed to learn that it may have been the site of a heinous literary heist. Over at The Case-Book of Desiderus, the shadowy Shoscomber investigates a most mysterious chain of events:

"I have to be smart, keep my ears and eyes open, approach this like a detective. This town is a small one. I will get to the bottom of this!"

Friday, November 14, 2008

New blogs: The hallelujah edition

Ahhh....Now that I've stopped levitating, and the choirs of jubilant angels have settled down a little bit, I can finally get back to the business of blogging. Time to introduce some new characters for the blogroll.

A few writerly blogs: Nice Big Shiny Teeth , Maladjusted and Making Eggs.

A photo blog: Native Photography.

A couple of music blogs: New ears and A boy like Thom.

A personal blog: Sometimes funny is all I have

And Tillerpop, where comedy songman Matt Tiller (who I met at last weekend's Blog Lab) has a whole bunch of videos and podcasts up, as well as writings about various things. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Literary magazine madness

New literary magazines are springing up like mushrooms all over the Northwest (last week Mancubist tipped me off to two more I didn't know about.) But there are plenty of established mags still out there doing their thing, like ... uh, really big mushrooms. Sorry, it's early and I'm out of coffee.

Anyway, check this out: Succour Magazine will be hosting an evening of reading and drinks in Manchester to mark the launch of its eighth issue, 'Icons,' featuring new fiction and poetry from both established and unsung writers. It's at the Briton's Protection pub on November 28 at 8. Anyone welcome to attend or read. They're also calling for submissions for the next issue on the theme of Fantasies. More info here.

Swings and Roundabouts (creative saviours of the northwest) have a shiny new website where you can download all of the stuff from their first six issues. It's been on a bit of a hiatus for the last year, but is still very much alive and kicking and looking to publish new stuff.

Transmission no. 12 is out and looking good - I really enjoyed this issue, especially the profile of Joe Stretch and Chris Killen's piece on Richard Brautigan. Editor Graham Foster says the magazine will be making a pit stop for a while to rest on its laurels and ponder the future before it returns to us looking tanned, rested and ten years younger.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Blogging workshops: Autumn 2008

Non-bloggers: Were you so inspired by the awesome display of blogging might Wednesday night that you're determined to start your own blog? If so, you're in luck: Chris of Mancubist and I are running two blogging workshops aimed at total beginners*.

(*You should know how to use a computer. You should know how to use a mouse and how to navigate the internet with it. But that's about it.)

Two sessions:
Saturday 22 November, 10-12am Gorton Library
Saturday 29 November 10-12am Crumpsall Library

And... we're doing something new this year: a blog lab. It's an open surgery for people who are already blogging but want some help making their blog all shiny and exciting. Drop in and we'll show you how to pimp it up with the freshest widgets, and also give you some ideas for new and startling things you can do with your content.

Saturday 8 November, 1-3pm
Manchester Digital Development Agency, Portland Street
(drop in whenever you like during the session, but please let us know you’re coming.)

The workshops and blog lab are free, but numbers are limited so please book. You can ring the Literature Festival office at 0161 236 5555 or email admin AT Please let us know when booking if you have any accessibility needs.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

2008 Manchester Blog Awards: The Winners

What a great night! Thanks to our talented readers, to everyone who came and packed out Matt and Phred's, and to those who helped make it happen in other ways, either by blogging about it or otherwise helping us spread the love.

And the winners are...

Best New Blog:
Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Judges: "It seems honest, and charming. The personality of the blogger comes across well, and I like how varied it is."

Best Writing on a Blog:
Every Day I Lie a Little

Judges: "Beautifully written and a pleasure on the eyes. I really like Jenn's style, sense of perspective and humour."

Best Arts and Culture Blog:
Winner: Northernights

Judges:"Very Manchester. Gives Mancubist a run for its money."

Best Personal Blog:
Travels with my baby

Judges: "The personality really comes across, and, considering it's subject, it really isn't very 'twee' and is engaging even if you’ve never held a baby."

Best City or Neighbourhood blog:
Manchester Buses

Judges: "Blogging is about passion and information. No one could ever accuse Manchester Buses of not believing in what they write. I've also used this site to gather news!" Manchester Blog of the Year:

Travels with my Baby

I'll try to link to all of the (sure to be many) accounts of what happened last night here: Check out The Mancunian Way

Leave a comment with your link if you want me to add yours. And if you have photos to share, Alan at MDDA has created a Flickr group here. The picture above is from Sam Easterby-Smith, who has many lovely pictures of the night up on his site.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

One week 'til the Manchester Blog Awards

So why should you come to the blog awards on Wednesday night?

You should come because we'll have all four of this year's best writing nominees in the hizzouse to give us a sampling of their wordy wares: Sally Cook (Nine Chains to the Moon), Socrates Adams-Florou (Chicken and Pies), Jenn Ashworth (Every day I lie a little) and Maureen Ward, ameneusis to Miss EP Niblock (Diary of a Bluestocking) will all read.

Maria Roberts, last year's personal blog winner for Single Mother on the Verge, will read from her forthcoming book based on her blog. It's due out in the spring from Penguin and we're beaming with pride.

Literary dynamo and cat fancier Chris Killen, whose blog Day of Moustaches won last year's coveted best writing award, will be reading from his new book The Bird Room (Canongate). Then I'll ask him some pertinent questions, and we'll have a Q&A so you can ask him some impertinent ones.

Music bloggers jonthebeef of Black Country Grammar and James Yer Mam! will be manning the wheels of steel during the evening's musical interludes and have hand-selected rare and strange tunes for your personal delectation.

And of course you get to find out who won this year's six blog awards, including the extra-special CityLife Manchester Blog of the Year award.

If you're coming you don't have to book a ticket in advance, but you can here if you're the sort of person who likes to make extra sure you're going to get in. (We had some problems before with the booking website saying it was sold out. It isn't.) Otherwise, show up with £2 in hand. You should come to Matt and Phred's Jazz Club on Tib Street after 6:30 and before 7pm on Wednesday, Oct. 22.

Pictured above: Ali's bird room.

Friday, October 10, 2008

CityLife Blog of the Year

Holy cats! Stop the presses!

The folks at have stepped in at the eleventh hour and upped the ante for Mancunian blogstars. They're sponsoring a new blog award this year: Manchester Blog of the Year. Our judging panel will pick the winner from among the shortlisted blogs. And the winner gets a big fat £300.

Yeah, £300. I know. It's a lot, isn't it?

The winner will be announced at the blog awards night on the 22nd of October.

I don't know about you, but I'm dead excited.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Rainy City Stories

I'm really delighted to announce the launch of a project that Chris (Mancubist) and I have been cooking up on the sly for some time now:

Rainy City Stories
is a website that publishes new writing set in Manchester. It uses a Google map of the city to organise stories or poetry linked to particular places. Readers can click on a place marked by the little cloud icon to read a piece of writing associated with that spot.

Who can write for this site? Anybody can. We're open to all submissions of unpublished work. To get things rolling, we've commissioned pieces from four outstanding Mancunian writers: Jackie Kay, Mike Duff, Nicholas Royle and Rajeev Balasubramanyam. They're up now - go take a look.

But now we want YOU to send us your stories, poems or bits of memoir. If we like them, we'll put them on the map.

We've got big plans for the future, too.

We'll be publishing more commissioned writing in 2009, and expanding our site to include photography, graphics, and audio and video readings to accompany the words. A series of related writing workshops and a live literature event featuring some of the Rainy City Stories writers will be part of the 2009 Manchester Literature Festival. And we're investigating a fantastically exciting new possibility that would involve some of the best writing from the website, but we can't say much more about that yet.

Erm, what else should we tell you? The project is part of the Manchester Literature Festival's Freeplay programme, and it's funded by the good people of Arts Council England. Chris designed the site on Wordpress and is in charge of the techy stuff. I'll be doing the editing. No ferrets were harmed in the making of this website.

I'd love to hear what people think about the site so far - if you have some thoughts, leave a comment or email me at themanchizzle AT gmail DOT com.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Manchester Review launches

It's always good to see a new literary journal starting up, but to my mind this one couldn't be more exciting. The University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing this week launches The Manchester Review, edited by the Centre's co-directors John McAuliffe and Ian McGuire. Most intriguingly, "it will depart from the medium’s conventions by existing only online, with new issues appearing each spring and autumn. These will often include broadcasts of new music, public debates and video pieces, as well as visual art, fiction and poetry."

The first issue is up now, with work from the likes of Paul Muldoon, Ali Smith, John Banville, Matt Welton and Chris Killen. Some more about the publication, from its website:

“The Manchester Review takes its cue from their proactive promotion of new writing, but uses online media to show and sponsor the interplay of poetry, fiction, music, visual art and essays by new and established practitioners. We hope that it will find new readers and audiences for exciting and innovative creative work, which is steeped in traditional virtues.

“This will be accompanied by the Review’s lively critical blog, which will take the temperature of - and maybe sometimes set the agenda for – the contemporary arts in the UK and beyond.”

Manchester is becoming quite the place for online literary endeavour. It seems like every week or so I add another couple of lit bloggers to the blogroll. We're blessed the with Literature Festival's geek-friendly Freeplay programme, and blogtastic live lit nights like no point in not being friends, with its tech-aided readings, Facebook group and antics on youtube. Even more traditional publishers and publications like Comma Press and Transmission are increasingly doing stuff online.

And new paper publications all seem to all have blogs, often as their main web presence. One such is the lovely Wufniks, started by students at the aforementioned writing school, with a fantastic tagline: "a mishegoss of shiny new words."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

2008 Manchester Blog Awards Shortlist

Here is the 2008 Manchester Blog Awards Shortlist. We had 107 separate nominations this year, coming in from as far away as San Francisco. There was such a wealth of great stuff that it was harder than ever to do the shortlisting, particularly in the Best Writing on a Blog category (by far our most nominated-for.)

The force is strong with you, Manchester bloggers. Many thanks to all those who nominated.

Best New Blog:

Dear Kitty
Coco LaVerne
Follow The Yellow Brick Road

Best Writing on a Blog:

Diary of a Bluestocking
Every day I lie a little
Nine chains to the moon
Chicken and Pies

Best Arts and Culture Blog:

Quit This Pampered Town
Max Dunbar

Best Personal Blog:

Travels with my baby
Single Mother on the Verge
Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Best Neighbourhood Blog:

Hyde Daily Photo
Lady Levenshulme
Manchester Bus

This will now go to our panel of judges, which includes Sarah Hartley, blogger and online editor at the Manchester Evening News, Dave Carter of Manchester Digital Development Agency, Richard Fair of BBC Manchester and author Chris Killen, winner of last year's Best Writing on a Blog award.

The winners (who each get £50 and a large metal studded belt that is very heavy) will be announced at the blog awards event Weds Oct 22 at Matt and Phred's Jazz Club.

Friday, September 26, 2008

New blogs: The not from here edition

Here's a whole heap of new blog goodness for your Friday afternoon delectation.

Ken and Belly is the very engaging personal blog of Kelly, an American expat in Mancunia, who like myself wishes you could get Annie’s Organic Mac N Cheese here in the UK. And through this blog I found out about the Expat Blogs network, which has a few blogs right here in Manchester: Canadian expat Britt Breu writes Brittunia in Mancunia, and there's Singaporean Alex's World, as well as blogs written in Japanese and Portuguese. Guess I should add this one to the list, though I feel less and less like an expat these days.

Abbas Ali writes about films over at The Movie Hack Pretty impressive, with lots of Top Five Best... lists and a preview of the London Film Festival. And don't call me Shirley!

Anthony Richardson, who is just starting a Creative Writing MA at Manchester, has set up a lit blog. He writes: "The blog is called Anthony Richardson Writes Stories That Are Funny, which is actually sort of an arrogant title come to think of it. It isn't meant to be that way. I have all my short stories up there, plus I am writing a short story a week for a year, which started this week." He also likes to redo classic album covers using Microsoft Paint, and you can see those on the blog too.

14 sandwiches bills itself as a technology-media-music party for your brain. Martin Bryant writes it, and for the record he has not eaten 14 sandwiches in one sitting.

An intriguing new group blog with a manifesto: "The LRM (Loiterers Resistance Movement)is a Manchester based collective of artists and activists interested in psychogeography. We can’t agree on what that means but we all like plants growing out of the side of buildings, urban exploration, drinking tea and getting lost. Gentrification, advertising and blandness make us sad. We believe there is magic in the mancunian rain. Our city is wonderful and made for more than shopping. We want to reclaim it for play and revolutionary fun…"

Expletive Undeleted
is freelance journalist Smith3000's collection of reworked longer versions of published interviews and features. "It’s mainly music stuff at the moment, but that will probably change over time," he says. He also writes about older music at a section of the site called Hip Replacement.

Languishing in Levenshulme is a personal blog written by a resident of what has to be the best-represented nabe on our blogroll. Languishing has lived there for 7 years, and says: "I love it but kind of wish it was Hebden Bridge. I think some residents of Levenshulme would appreciate my point here. I have met some of the most fantastic friends here - but damn it I still live next to a thundering arterial road with a back garden the size of a budgie's tongue; and the closest I get to birds twittering and wildlife is the minging mice that scutter across my floor at 2am and the flying vermin (fattened on dropped Saturday night kebab) that my dog loves to chase around the Fallowfield loop. Despite all that, my heart belongs to Levenshulme." Awww.

Not a new blog, but a new site to link to: Manclopedia. "Manclopedia is a free, open content encyclopedia project operated by Hive Magazine. Launched in September 2008 it attempts to collect and summarize every aspect of Greater Manchester (including its history, culture, politics, people and places) with the aim of becoming the most comprehensive collection of information regarding this great city!" Nice idea, though there's not much on there at the moment. Any takers?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Short Stories at Friends Meeting House

Here's a cool event I only just heard about: On Saturday, Manchester Libraries are hosting Short Stories, an afternoon featuring writers, publishers and producers.

Workshop leaders include Frank Cottrell Boyce, David Constantine, Elizabeth Baines, Ra Page and Polly Thomas. This event is for anyone who loves to read short stories or would like to know more about writing for publication or radio.

It's at The Friends’ Meeting House this Saturday from 1-5pm, Tickets £8 in advance. For more info/booking go here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

No point in not being friends

Or if you prefer its gloriously full name, There's no point in not being friends with someone if you want to be friends with them. That's the new monthly reading night started by ace Manchester litbloggers Chris Killen (Day of Moustaches) and Sally Cook (Nine Chains to the Moon.) They have scheduled readers as well as open-mic slots on the night, which seems quite inclusive and as friendly as its name suggests. The third one is coming up on Tuesday at 8 and the lineup looks great. I've been meaning to get there for the last two but haven't and will make a concerted effort to get there this time, dammit.

Here's the rundown from the cats at No point...

"please come to the UPSTAIRS MUSIC HALL at the Deaf Institute on Tuesday 23rd of September for the third 'there's no point in not being friends with someone if you want to be friends with them' reading night.

we have lots of readers booked: Joe Stretch, John McAuliffe, David Gaffney, Jenn Ashworth, Thomas Fletcher, Socrates Adams-Florou, Sally Cook, Nicholas Murgatroyd, and loads more ... also, the american writer Tao Lin will be doing the 'video reading' and Matthew Davis will be performing a 'comedy monologue'.

And, as always, there'll be a few open-mic slots available on the night. if you've got something you'd like to read, just bring it along and speak to one of us. it should be good fun, and it's free to get in. it'll be the first night in the big upstairs room -- there'll be lots more space than in the basement, but it's also a much bigger room to fill so please come along and show your support."

You can check out the No point blog here, and they're also on facebook here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Reading Capital

This just in... A fortnightly reading group dedicated to reading Karl Marx’s Capital Vol. 1: A Critique of Political Economy will begin on 6 October 2008 at The Salford Restoration Office.

Individuals are invited to join the group to read Marx’s Capital Vol. 1 in conjunction with David Harvey’s online lectures. Harvey, a respected academic and writer, has been teaching open classes on the book for 40 years, and the current set of lectures given at the City University of New York have been filmed and made available on-line. The lectures are accessible to all at anytime but the fortnightly sessions at The Salford Restoration Office will create a structured environment in which to read and discuss this
pivotal text.

Reading Capital is open to all who wish to attend and participate. Sessions are free of charge, but space is limited so please contact us using the email address here if you would like to participate. Meeting every other Monday from 6 October between 6.30pm and 8.30pm, the sessions will run until 1 December 2008, and begin again on 19 January until summer 2009.

For more information or to contact the organizers visit

Thursday, September 11, 2008

One week for blog award nominations

Hello all: just a friendly little reminder that we have one week left 'til the close of the nominating period for this year's blog awards. Get 'em in!

By the way, anyone know if Sarah Palin thinks dinosaurs were here 4,000 years ago? Me and Matt Damon want to know.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Manchester-based blogger and poet Matt Dalby writes with news of a very interesting project: a poetry wiki. He says: "It is called 'mutapoem', and was conceived and launched (twice - in 2004 and again in improved form in 2008) in Manchester, from where I also moderate the site.

Mutapoem is a poem without final form or single author, it is a collaborative poem in the form of a wiki, to which anyone can add text, images, links, html, audio or video. More detail is available at the site itself - - especially the page 'what is mutapoem?'

Basically the background is that mutapoem was inspired by one of Nobuo Sekine's 'Phase of Nothingness' sculptures, in which huge pieces of oil clay are placed in galleries for visitors to reshape as they like. They retain their plasticity and continually change. I was impressed by both the absence of any definitive form for the piece, and by the democratic process that enables everyone to contribute to the evolution of a perpetually unfinished work."

Pretty cool, eh? Get on there and start writing!

Monday, September 01, 2008

New blogs: The Britney edition

Clearly, blogging ain't dead. The number of responses to my last most seems to support that age-old blogger maxim about a provocative title generating traffic. Henceforth my titles will all contain the words "Britney." And I'll be experimenting with some other attention-grabbing words too.

A slightly poorly baby (no, nothing serious) prevented me from getting this new blog bulletin out all week, and every day seemed to bring a couple more new ones, so this is a long one. And an extraordinary percentage of this week's additions to the blogroll (4!) come from the same person: artist and writer Diane Becker, who lives up Preston way.

Her blog Dot7Seven explores the minutae of the everyday through short fiction, poetry and other observations.Pressed On is "comments and images relating to the theme 'Pressed On': including things you can press - buttons, switches, videos - or stick on stuff - chewing gum, blu-tac ..."

Ambient Nation is a collaborative visual arts initiative set up in 2003 by Becker and Mark Clements. And Famous Typist features cultural commentary plus art & fiction reviews. Sheesh. Anyone else feel slightly underproductive?

Follow the Yellow Brick Road is the blog of Katherine, who is a Manchester-based writer: "The blog is really supposed to be a place for creative writing, though it seems to have a mind of its own and has turned into a more general ramble about writing, visual arts, red shoes and whatever I'm doing." I sneakily saw that she has a second blog about visual arts books called Unpacking My Library, so I'm adding that too in the interest of encouraging rampant multiblogging.

How come I didn't know about your blog, Max Dunbar? Anyway, here's a link to it. A meaty literary blog that takes in politics and personal musings as well as providing a showcase for Max's writing. Great stuff.

Quit this pampered town is the online home of writer Richard Barrett. Recent posts include a riff on comics, a poem about inventing the wallet, and a completely impressive jigsaw puzzle of the Isle of Wight.

Joe Gravett has a very sharp-looking techy personal blog, or maybe it's a personal tech blog? He says: "I’m something of a geek, and love keeping up to date with what’s going on in the world of technology."

Run Paint Run Run "is intended to be a critical antidote to, and amusing assessment of, all the wonderful and not so wonderful Arts and Culture that is going on in Manchester." It's written by Ella Wredenfors.

Voices From The Below is a personal blog that's also concerned with culture. And it's written by someone with fantastic taste in music. (Jeru the Damaja: so underappreciated on these shores.)

And last but not least, we have Blog by Boz. It's a cat blog. I mean, the cat writes it. Hot damn.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Is blogging dead?

Slow summer? Or has the blogging mania died down? Yes and yes. Blogging, along with every other form of media output, always slows to a trickle during the long, wet days of silly season. But it can't be denied that blogging isn't a craze anymore. Amen to that, I say.

All the cultural mavens chattering excitedly about blogging say, five years ago, have moved on to twitter about Facebooking. That means that the people who started a blog to be trendy and in-the-know have mostly drifted off, leaving their stale urls littering the blogosphere like fallen apples. The many organisations and companies eager to get a piece of the action have figured out exactly how blogging best fits in with what they do (or whether it does at all) and reconfigured things.

The result? I think people who blog now are likely to engage with it in a more substantive way. Blogging as a form of journalism and cultural comment has been subsumed into the mainstream media, while blogging as a way of publishing creative writing online continues to evolve in exciting directions.

So yes, blogging's profile has dropped a bit, but I don't think that's a bad thing. On a local level, I feel like I haven't helped much, y'know, going off and having a baby and all and not blogging much or organising blogmeets (not to overstate my own role in the Manchester scene. Ahem.) But hark! After months of me dropping hints someone has finally seized the blogmeet baton: Julia of Notebooks and MEN Online Editor Sarah Hartleyof The Mancunian Way have between them cooked up a real, live blogmeet. It's set for Wednesday, September 17 at 6pm.

The action is in two parts: first, a tour of the Manchester Evening News newsroom and Q&A with an editor there (limited numbers - go here for info. Second, a more traditional unstructured blogmeet in a nearby pub. Voting on which pub is happening at Sarah's site now. In choosing a pub, I would advise you to consider two important qualities 1.) "dive"-ness and 2.) likelihood to be empty enough to afford the gathering bloggers enough space to comfortably unwind at that thirsty hour. I will try to attend with the littlest blogger in tow, but I probably won't make it. Early evening is our fussy time.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Helpful hints on nominating for the blog awards

How could I forget? Every year, right after I publish the news that we're taking nominations for the blog awards, I have to write a curmudgeonly and pedantic post explaining how a nomination is not the same thing as a vote. And it's that time again. So listen up:

Your blog only has to be nominated once to be in the running to be shortlisted for a blog award. Even if it gets nominated 73 times by devoted readers spanning the globe, the first one is the only one we care about. This ain't the people's choice awards; the judges decide at the MBAs. So putting something on your blog like: "Hey everybody, email this address and nominate XBLOG!" is kinda missing the point.

Also missing the point: nominating your own blog in every category, even the ones that obviously don't apply. Instead, why not maybe throw in a few nominations for MCR blogs you respect and admire in other categories? What? You don't read any other blogs? I'll pretend I didn't hear that.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

MLF seeks volunteer bloggers

Calling all literary-minded Manchester bloggers, or wannabe bloggers: The Manchester Literature Festival is looking for one or two people to write for the festival's blog during this year's events in October - and possibly take some snaps too. It'd be a great way to get the most out of the festival (bloggers would get free admission to MLF events - the full programme is now up here) and get some wider exposure for your blogging skillz. Your posts would be read by a large audience on the MLF blog, and linked to your own blog if you have one. If you don't have a blog but have been toying with the idea of starting one, this would provide a quick practice run. Interested parties should email cathy AT

Monday, August 18, 2008

Manchester Blog Awards 2008: Nominations open

It's that time again. Nominations are now open for the 2008 Manchester Blog Awards.

Here are this year's categories:

Best New Blog: You're in the running if your blog got started after August 1, 2007. It's that simple.

Best Writing on a Blog: This category recognizes some of the excellent writing people round here are publishing on their blogs. Your blog doesn't have to be a "writer's blog", though. It could be about anything; it's the quality of the prose we're interested in, not the subject matter.

Best Arts and Culture Blog: A blog that covers some aspect of cultural life or leisure in Manchester. So yes, that means art and music, but also food or sport.

Best Personal Blog: If your blog is like your online journal, this is where you fit in.

Best Neighborhood Blog: This new category has been created in response to the upturn in hyper-local online writing; some may have noticed that the "City and Neighborhood" section of the blogroll has grown considerably this year. You're a contender if you focus your bloggage on a particular locale, which could be a nabe (i.e. Gorton) or a wider area (South Manchester, or even the whole city of Manchester.)

Each winner will receive a cash prize, be the envy of all their geek friends and gain admission into Manchester's special section of blogger Valhalla after death. Mind the rules: To qualify, you have to live, work, or go to school within commuting distance of Manchester. And you can't work for the Manchester Literature Festival or MDDA, our valiant sponsors.

You can nominate your own blog, as well as someone else's. Get your nominations in by 6pm on Thursday, September 18. Email them to mancblogawards AT, clearly stating your name, where you live, the name and url of of the blog(s) you're nominating and which category or categories you're nominating for.

I'll be back to tell you about the shortlist in late September, and let you know who this year's judges will be. The 2008 blog awards shindig is October 22 at Matt and Phred's, look for more details here or here closer to the time. In the next few weeks, I'll also be posting interviews with past winners to give you all some insight into what makes blogs work.

Questions? Email me at themanchizzle AT or leave a comment. Have fun!

(MBA logo by Neil Nisbet)

Monday, July 28, 2008


It's kind of like I've been on vacation from blogging, but now I'm actually going on vacation to Vermont, for two weeks. When I return there will be news of a wildly exciting online literature project, frenzied blog awards anticipation and - hey! - more frequent blogging. Honest injun.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Which is about food

So there are good restaurants and bad restaurants when you have a baby, and which ones turn out which way is often a surprise. The Three Fishes in Mitton seemed like a good idea for a baby-friendly outing - a country gastropub run by the Northcote Manor folks. We've been before and liked the food. But with a kid we didn't feel welcome. Ended up shoved into a noisy table by the door, and our server got majorly pissy when asked to keep my food warm while I fed the bambino. He was so rude about it that a woman at a nearby table actually complained. And now I don't really want to go back there, like, ever.

But now that the wonderful Food by Breda Murphy has opened just down the road in Whalley, I'll be hitting that instead when I'm in the Ribble Valley. We had a really good meal there last weekend. My chicken salad had generous pieces of perfectly cooked Goosnargh bird with grapefruit, cashews and an interesting selection of greens and herbs. They also do a mean orange cake.

I was a little worried about our dinner with some visiting family at The Market - I adore the restaurant (above), but wondered how the somewhat fancy place would react to an 8-week old baby. We were treated like royalty - seated at a table in a quiet corner, cheerfully supplied with a pitcher of hot water to warm our bottle and even a cloth so we didn't get our table wet lifting it out. They kept dinner warm without being asked, and were generally lovely about the baby - made us feel like they were glad we had brought her in. They've started opening for Sunday lunch, by the way.

Love Saves the Day has opened a third outpost on Dale Street. It's in that weird, smallish concrete building right next to the Piccadilly Basin car park. It's tiny, but quite nice and stocked with plenty of goodies, a bit more like their Deansgate deli than the minimalist one on Thomas Street (which is soon to get a refit, I hear.)

The long-awaited (okay, at least by me) bagel place in the Arndale Centre has opened. Hilariously, it's called Bagel Nash. Yeah, like Nash Bridges. It's probably too late to tell them the right way to spell nosh. Haven't tried it yet, but they seem to have about a hundred different kinds of bagel sandwich going on.

Oh, and Jay Rayner actually gave a Manchester restaurant a positive review in Sunday's Observer. He really liked The Modern, the new place at Urbis.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

New blogs: The Summer (yeah, right) Edition

Hey there, it's time for another update on the newest blogs in and around Manchester.

First up isn't really a new blog, it's been going for a while unbeknownst to me. It's the blog of author Helen Tse, whose memoir about growing up Chinese-Mancunian family bears the same name as her family's Chinese restaurant in the Northern Quarter: Sweet Mandarin. Unsurprisingly, that's also the name of the blog. You can keep up with book news and read extracts from the memoir too.

Next is Booncunian, who calls himself "The Manchester blogger." Here is a guy is really into the new Batman movie. I mean, like, REALLY into the new Batman movie, to the point where I'm wondering if the studio is paying him to write about it. If not, man, you're missing a trick there.

Here's another work-related blog by a rather disenchanted Mancunian worker bee. It's either called Wage Mule or My Boss is An Idiot But He Pays My Wages. I'm going to go with the former until adrvised otherwise, because it's shorter.

A new photo blog: Summerseat Views chronicles the changing seasons in this lovely village outside Rambo. It's not updated that often, but the quality of the photos more than makes up for that. That up there is a sample.

Solepower is a group blog "dedicated to the culture of sneakers/trainers. As we have all lived in Manchester all our lives there will be lots of reminiscing about Manchester culture."
is a network of 12 websites providing community-based information for Manchester. They've also hooked up with the BBC to help devlop media talent in Manchester and Salford. They're doing some really interesting work in helping people get rolling as community reporters, essentially neighbourhood-specific bloggers who write about what's going on in their 'hood - check out B of the Blog (Beswick, Clayton and Openshaw) or Roblog (Hulme). It looks like they're working with both new and existing bloggers as they've also signed up Lady Levenshulme to represent her domain. Content manager Jessica describes their approach thusly on her MyManchester Editor's Blog:

"When you hand the cameras over to the people who actually live here, the stories are so different. We’ve got loads of content on our website from people doing really interesting, really positive things in Manchester, which never make it into the news because they’re not going to sell, but they actually paint a much more realistic picture of what’s going on in our community. Whether its a young people’s anglers club in North Manchester, a refugee talking about their experiences, or a report of a local event, its real news and real issues from real people."

Sounds right on to me. Kinda similar to what the BBC Manchester Blog was doing, but more localised and a little more directed - I look forward to reading lots of good new neighbourhood blogs. If you're interested in getting involved, they're looking for more community reporters, so get in touch on their website.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

From here to maternity

Well, I didn't intend to take maternity leave from this blog, but we moved and our broadband took its time getting hooked up. Anyway, all is well with me and baby Molly. Let me get up on the soapbox for a minute: We had a home birth, and if anyone is thinking about doing this but is a bit scared, just do it. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I also highly recommend the book Spiritual Midwifery, the ace documentary the Business of Being Born, and getting a doula for your birth. A doula is kind of like a mother's helper, a wise person who knows loads about birthing babies. Our doula was Antonia Segura Walker, and she was wonderful.

Having this tiny sidekick makes me look at Manchester in a whole new way. Before, I was most interested in whether a cafe had decent coffee, good food and free wireless and wasn't filled with jerks. Now I just want a baby changing station, dammit.

I've become inordinately fond of the Arndale, because it does have brilliant facilities for those with child, and is filled with all manner of changing rooms and feeding rooms (though they don't exactly roll out the red carpet for men in the changing room, as we found.) Breastfeeding is another issue. So far I've tried it in Barburrito, the Costa in the Arndale Waterstones, and Starbucks, with no problems. I don't know what I'm expecting, since no-one seems the least bit fussed, but you never know. I don't think I'd be in a hurry to get the boob out in Piccadilly Gardens, say. If anyone knows of any particularly bf-friendly places in Manc, give me a shout.

Anyway. That's enough about babies now. No, this is not turning into a mommy blog. Next post I'll be back to telling you all about the exciting cultural events that I can't go to. Sheesh.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Manchester's newest blogger

Molly Patricia Roe arrived at 2:15 am on Saturday May 17. She was born at home. She was a healthy 7 pounds 10 oz, and Rich and I are just delighted with the wonderfulness of her. I'll write a post about the birth later, when things are a little less crazy around here, but many thanks to all for the warm wishes and support.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New blogs: The calm before the storm edition

First of all: no, I haven't had my baby yet. You'll be the first to know. I promise. Apparently, a due date is not like an appointment that your kid knows about. And no, that is not my belly.

Since blogging could be tough for a while, I'm going to try to clear the decks of all the new blogs I've been saving up for, oh, ages. Too long, I know. Blogging is hard to squeeze in when you've been forbidden to sit too long at the computer (bad positioning for el fetus) and you're much too busy anyway scrubbing that mysteriously gummy corner of the kitchen counter that never bothered you before but now, for some reason, you must obliterate.

So what have we got today? First up is Manhattanchester, a personal blog written by Gregling, a NYC-loving Mancunian that features some graffiti art photos, cautionary stag do tales and thoughts about the rising cost of higher education. Greg also mentioned Overheard in Manchester as a fun place to play - I'd heard of the New York version but didn't realise we had our own one here.

Another personal blog: Middle Man, which is the sometimes irreverent ramblings and observations of a middle-aged, Midlands-born middle manager. Nice.

And another one: Gay/Thinking is the diary of a twentysomething gay student in Manchester.

Et in Ribbletonia Ego
is a blog about the adventures of a new mother and pigeon racing hopeful who lives in Preston.

A new writerly blog: Extracts Von is Manchester-based writer Jack Burston's blog "collecting extracts, chapters and episodes from my writing as well as a few photographs etc. etc"

is a new mp3 blog from Manc DJs (Black Country) Grammar and Jon Claude, linked to their Bay Horse clubnight of the same name. It's basically all the latest remixes, for a limited time only.

Still on the music... Ugly Talented is a Manchester-based music blog written by Tom and Haydn. Nice eclectic mix of stuff on there, new and old both. And if you're in the mood for a total mindfuck, watch that Garfield and Odie do the Theme from Taxi clip they linked to. Whaaa?

The PR Media Blog is written by PR dude Mark Hanson, who recently returned to his native NW from the big smoke, and colleagues Toto Ellis and Michael Cooper. Some interesting posts on there concerned with the overlapping ground where PR, politics and media intersect, locally and globally (though Mark has questionable taste in US Presidential candidates. Hee hee.)

And a departure on the old blogroll: The Console, that ambitious and appealingly-designed dual pronged music and visual art blog, pulled the plug a couple of months ago. Sorry to see it go.

Also, as the literary types among ye may know, the blogs-to-books publisher The Friday Project has come a cropper. I'm not going to join the debate about whether their list was any good in the first place, whether blogs naturally make good books or not, or whether the whole idea was half baked/prescient but under-resourced, etc. etc., because other folks have already commented on this much more eloquently than I could hope to in my current state.

But I will say that local author and blogger Caroline Smailes (who spoke/read at last year's Manchester Blog Awards, you may remember) is one of the lucky few TFP authors whose books were picked up by HarperCollins, and so last year's In Search of Adam and her forthcoming Black Boxes are comparatively safe.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Music blogs

Just noticed this good article on music blogs in Sunday's Observer, by Killian Fox. The article is fairly explicit about the increasingly important role the blogs play in spreading the word about new artists. If anyone's thinking of setting up one, don't worry about artists or labels coming after you (as long as you aren't silly enough to post whole albums in perpetuity) - they're almost always more than happy for the publicity. In fact, they're sending stuff out to bloggers constantly, as I'm sure the Manc music blog brigade can attest to.

Even this non-mp3 blog has been getting a lot more requests to post tracks and press releases from music labels and prs lately, most of them Manchester-based. I won't say trying to get me to listen to/post about music is a total waste of time, but chances are pretty slim that I'll end up writing anything. The tiny bit of music-related blogging I do on here is basically me mentioning gigs of bands I like that are coming up in Manchester. These bands are more and more likely to have released their best work sometime in the last century. I'm open to new music but I just don't care enough anymore to spend too much time trying to keep up with musical fashions.

I accept that as a media outlet you're going to get a certain amount of pr spam from club promoters and music bods, and that's fine. But sending me three emails a day about your sizzling band is probably just going to annoy me.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Manchester spring festivals

Yep, it's spring, and you know what that means... the Manc festival frenzy is officially beginning and it won't end until late Autumn. Here's your tear-and-save guide:

22-26 April
venues around Manc, and a bit in Lancaster too.

Moves celebrates movement on screen via a shitload of experimental short films, award-winning animation and enough talks n' workshops to keep all the flickheads and aspiring filmmakers in Manchester happy. The biggest event is probably the UK Premiere of the animated short film "I met the Walrus" which was nominated for an Oscar (pictured). But it's really all good. There should be some screenings outdoors, too, so if you walk by the big screen in Exchange Square and it's showing something more interesting than usual, that's probably what's going on. For a taster, check out these "ArtCast" podcasts that Folly has cooked up with Moves, featuring some of the best of the fest.


1-5 May

This year the theme of our technogeek extravaganza is social networking. In fact, Futuresonic promise us "a city centre overrun with 'unplugged' social networking." So, that's a city full of people talking to each other in the flesh? Hmmm. Not sure about that one. Seriously, though, some of these art projects are kind of cool, conceptually at least. On the music side we've got hip hop with RZA of Wu Tang Clan, old art-punkers Wire, mind-bending electroweirdlet Luke Vibert aka Wagon Christ, and a whole bunch of artists of the electronic persuasion that I'm probably not hip enough to have heard of.

Sounds From the Other City

Sunday May 4
venues around Salford, the Brooklyn of Manchester

The fourth chapter of this one-day blowout sees local bands descend on Salford Rock City, playing churches, random places, and some freaky old man pubs you'd never otherwise enter. Having each venue booked by a different promoter ensures a really bewildering mix of stuff, and this year the venue count has grown to 8. I like the sound of Hey! Manchester's gigs at the Salford Arms, and the eclectic lineup in the arty environs of Salford Restoration Office. Oh, and local heroes Performance and Lonelady are playing at Egerton Arms. But, really, it's best to just pick a venue that sounds good, park there for a while, and then maybe stumble over to another one, and then another one, in an increasingly beer-fuddled haze. You'll see some good bands, you'll see some bad bands. That's how it goes.

Queer up North
9-25 May, venues around Manc

Yeah, remember that whole fiasco this winter in which the Arts Council almost axed Queer up North's funding? But it was saved by a heartswelling groundswell of support and general outcry from the good people of Manchester, who said it was essential to the city's cultural well being? Well now's the time to put your money where your mouth is and book some tickets. We have: the slightly scary Sandra Bernhard revisiting her superfamous one-woman show, Without You I'm Nothing. Marisa Carnesky and Ivo Dimchev bringing the performance art, Justin Bond of Kiki and Herb, the awesome Club Brenda, Lesbian Pulp Fiction, a Scottish jazz singer and a film about a zombie named Otto. And that's just a sample...

Friday, April 04, 2008

Mike Leigh at Cornerhouse

This just in, from Gill Moore. If I wasn't going to be out of town I would definitely try to go to this...

Mike Leigh, international & award winning film director of "Secrets and Lies" "Vera Drake" "Life is Sweet" amongst others is previewing his new film "Happy-Go-Lucky" at the Cornerhouse on Tuesday eve at 8pm. He will be present and open for questions after the showing. There are still a few tickets left (as of today anyway) as this event didn't make the Cornerhouse brochure in time for printing !! So it hasn't been widely publicised. This is a great opportunity to see a fantastic director on his home patch (he was born in Salford.)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Flotsam and jetsam

A few bits and bobs:

The MIF fringe fest is coming back for more in Summer '09, and has started scouting around for acts and artists. Somewhat confusingly, its name has changed again. After being called Not Manchester International Festival and Not Part of Manchester International Festival it's now being called, simply, Not Part Of. Anyway, if you'd like to be involved, all the info is here: Not Part Of festival.

Maybe this is old news at this point, but I just heard about the rebranding of Wythenshawe. This was attempted with Ancoats/"New Islington" a year or so ago, and I think it's interesting that the folks involved in this project are openly stating that they're rebranding it. Is it just me who gets all squirmy when people talk about rebranding neighbourhoods, like they're deodorants or trainers rather than communities where people have been living quite happily for hundreds of years? Hmmm.

Krispy Kreme is about to hit Manchester like a spare tire. An outpost of this American donut chain is opening at Piccadilly Gardens next week. Have you seen these things? I renewed my acquaintance with them at the Trafford Centre drive-thru recently. They are fearsome. But tasty, dammit. Even if one of the sugarcoated devils contains enough saturated fat to keep a family of four alive for two weeks. Ah well, at least I'll now be able to get a a decent cup of brewed coffee in the city centre.
And don't give me that song and dance about Americanos being the same. They're not.

And, yes, I'm feeling much better now. Thank you to the many kind souls who sent in messages of solidarity during my long period of sickness and self-pity. I'm taking my massive 8-month-old bump to Ireland next week, so all will be quiet here on the blog.

Monday, March 31, 2008

BBC Manchester Blog: RIP

Some sad news: The BBC Manchester blog is no more. The experiment has run its course, and creators Richard Fair and Robin Hamman are bowing out.

You have to hand it to them - okay, I became involved with it, so I'm not totally impartial here - but they did good. In fact, I was initially very suspicious of the project. So many other instances of traditional media trying to "do" blogging result in tin-eared, unreadable sites that have all the easy authenticity of Michael Howard in a metallic hoodie. Or they expect bloggers who already have an established audience online to fall all over themselves to write for their media outlet just for the sheer privilege of it, and seem gobsmacked when they don't.

But Robin and Richard, from the first, demonstrated their willingness to engage with the existing community of Manchester bloggers on equal terms, and use the BBC's broad reach to make the medium increasingly accessible, welcoming many Mancunians new (and old) to blogging with workshops, radio spots and generous linking. They showed that blogging can be a very effective way for established media to incorporate new voices into their output - and that local people who are not necessarily members of the media elite can contribute really worthwhile and fresh content about their city (even if it isn't news-led; even if, in fact, it is totally random.)

I'm sorry to see the experiment end, but I understand it couldn't go on forever - these two guys are pretty busy. I'm frankly amazed they were able to keep the blog active and interesting for as long as they did, given the number of other things they both have to do. Still, the UK landscape has changed so drastically in since the blog started in 2006 - big newspapers and media companies seem to be getting a bit more of a handle on this blogging thing, and local microsites, citizen journalism and community-led content are the buzzwords of the day. The BBC Manchester Blog was certainly at the forefront of this trend.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New blogs: The moany edition

Oh my god. I have been feverishly ill now for two weeks, and being ill is apparently much worse than normal when you're super pregnant. For one thing, your immune system is not so effective. I have drunk gallons of vitamin C drink, inhaled more steam than a sauna attendant and ingested such radioactive levels of antibiotics that I can curdle pots of bio-live yoghurt with a single glance. And for all that I feel a little better, but not much. In fact, I have to go lie down for a bit.

That's better, not so dizzy now. Okay. (Cough.) Sigh. So I guess I have some new blogs to tell you about.

Last year Susie started a pregnancy blog called Oscar or Isabelle. And then she had her baby and it turned out to be neither an Oscar nor an Isabelle, but a Milo. So she's unveiled a new wordpressy blog in which she will record her adventures with the new man in her life: Travels with my Baby.

Lovely Gill Moore, Manchester photographer and graduate of one of our blogging workshops, has started an excellent blog that features photos she admires as well as her own work, news and thoughts about photography, exhibitions and other random things. Scatterdrum: Ramblings from inside a photographer's head.

Andy Sewina has started posting a work-in-progress-novel blog, called "Space Invaders!"

Tom writes Book of the Future, which deals in technology, society and geekery. "Been going since November 2006 and though I haven't managed to keep up my intended blogging schedule over that time I'm still approaching my 90th post," he says.

Ian Hough is the author of a book called Perry Boys about Manc football and culture in the 70s and 80s. He also writes a blog called The Nameless Thing, at which you can read about his theory of The Four Quadrants of Manchester.*

"The 4 quadrants are sectors, regions in Greater Manchester County, which possess definite identity and character, fault-lines in the ancient crust of our city. Just as Paris’ arrondissements are arrayed as a gigantic snailshell, in a tight clockwise spiral around the central core, so are Manchester’s degrees of suchness concentrically packed, like jam roly-poly about its lively heart..."

(*Unless you're from Partington, in which case you should not read it. It'll just make you angry.)

Finally, Manchester socialite Miss Coco LaVerne has arrived to pretty up our general area of the blogosphere. In her own words, Coco is "an enigma, a spectacular incarnation of beauty and grace." Welcome Coco. Now I'm going back to bed.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Shaken and stirred to do list

1. Anyone who had tickets for the Vampire Weekend gig tonight at the Academy is SOL: they've pulled a sickie. But they ask us to "please send positive health vibes our way." Consider it done.

2. The Viva film festival, featuring the freshest cinema from Spain and Latin America, hits Cornerhouse next week. Have seen some great films there over the years that I'd otherwise have been completely ignorant of. Get your tickets early as each film only screens a couple of times and it's usually quite deservedly mobbed. And don't sit in front of me and talk to your friend or check your texts.

3. Ever wondered about those shadowy figures writing for Manchester's literary journals? You know you have. You can see some of them for real at a mega reading event featuring way too many writers from Ugly Tree, Lamport Court and Parameter, and enjoy the cool malty tipples of the ever-reliable Briton's Protection at the same time. Monday night 6:30 for 7.

4. Got a bike, unicycle or frankenwheelie? Grease it up and join the hordes for Manchester Critical Mass on Friday. Meets at 6pm at the Central Library.

5. If you're the least bit obsessed with the Obama-Clinton primary (and may I say, what's wrong with you people? I at least have the excuse of being a US voter) you might get a kick out of watching this campaign commercial that's currently airing in my home state of Vermont, which votes on Tuesday. Hear that heart-stirring theme swelling up in the background? Remind you of anything? Aww. It's amazing how close you can get to the West Wing music without actually playing it.

6. The ill-advised Manchester supercasino has once-and-for-all bit the big one. But maybe we'll get some more money as a consolation prize. And did anyone read this Jonathan Jones piece in the Guardian about public art and, specifically, the B of the Bang?

"'s bad art; in fact I think the word "art" overpraises it. It's a piece of design, like a decoration devised for a shopping centre. There's something planned and corporate about it."

I couldn't agree more. What say we keep that money in East Manc and use it to fund a groundbreaking project that would recycle B of the Bang into another totally different artwork that neither quietly crushes your soul nor threatens passersby with grievous bodily harm? Schematic proposals on a postcard please.

7. As a follow up to the bewilderingly popular post about Manchester restaurants, I ate at Isinglass in Urmston for the first time last night. Everyone says how good it is. It was good. It's also a lovely place, with very atmospheric lighting and branches on the walls for decoration. I tried rabbit pie and venison but they had a smoked eel and beetroot tart on the menu too which I faintly regret not getting. If you haven't been, maybe you should go sometime.

Friday, February 15, 2008

New blogs: the dyspeptic edition

Three days later, I am still recovering from judging the North West Fine Food awards. Judging food awards seems like a great gig until you find yourself facing 19 varieties of sausages with additives at 9 o'clock in the morning, and then realise you have to eat steadily until 4:30. Eeek.

But there's no cause for indigestion to be found in this week's heaping plate of new blogs (do you see what I did there?) Which is good, cause my hoard of imported Tums is dwindling fast. First up we got Mini Manchester, which is a blog about kids' activities in the region by Manc journo and mum Ruth Allan. She's asking for like-minded parents to share news of interesting kid-friendly outings around the city.

Another new music blog: Just Press Play has lots of samples to taste.

nine chains to the moon
is the blog of Sally, a Manchester writer, who uses it as a place to post a mix of fiction, poetry and random musings. She has this to say about it:

"It is weird that someone left a comment because it made me realise people other than my friends might read this blog. I wonder how anyone would find it. I am sorry to anyone who was excited by the title and thought it might be about geodesic domes or something. I feel peculiar when I imagine strangers reading it. When I think of it I get a kind of creeping shivery excited sick feeling. But that is the point isn't it? Is it very narcissistic to want to write a blog? I feel more vulnerable than gratified at the moment. But I think it will be good to Toughen Me Up and get some bits of writing that I do out into the open, and also gathered in one place where I can keep an eye on them."

I think that's a really apt summary of how many people feel about their blogs.

Does Christopher Walken like hotdogs? You can find out at manc dj and pubquizmeister Elliot Eastwick's new World Famous Blog.

And an interesting take on a personal blog is Cotton and Coal, subtitled "The adventures of a bachelor cotton trader, his friends, lovers and carrier pigeons in a Manchester steaming towards boom or bust." Writer Batson Bargreaves adapts events from his life into the voice of the narrative, which is decidedly old-school.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rayner: Manchester restaurants "not quite"

"What is it with Manchester? Why, when it comes to restaurants, is it always so nearly, but not quite? Why does every restaurant I visit fail to deliver? Is it me? Do they hate me so much that they decide to show me such a mediocre time I won't return? Or is it the city? It's a big buzzy place, Manchester, full of interesting-looking people, and there are lots of Mancunians with money - exactly what you need for a thriving restaurant scene. And yet almost every time I eat here, I return home wallowing in disappointment, as though a little bit of me has died."

That's the lede of Jay Rayner's review of Grado, Paul Heathcote's new Spanish place on New York Street, in yesterday's Observer.

Rayner is one of the few national restaurant critics I have much time for. He's down to earth and clearly loves food, but never takes it too seriously. He seems like the kind of guy you wouldn't mind sitting down to eat with yourself, unlike most of the pretentious, self-worshipping windbags sharpening their steak knives on restaurants these days. And most of all, he's fun to read. ("It's all very well to source Iberico ham, but to then machine-cut it is an insult to the pig. To cut it thick and serve it fridge-cold is to jump on the pig's grave while howling at the moon.") I've always wondered why he doesn't review more Mancunian eateries, and I guess now I know why.

To be fair, Rayner goes on to praise my beloved Red Chilli to the skies. But his indictment of the city's dining scene is pretty damning. And in a way, I think he's got a point. Not neccessarily about Grado (I haven't been there yet, mostly because Heathcotes places are, in my experience, kinda boring) but about the standard of eating here.

I don't have a huge eating out budget; I love food and seek out good restaurants when I can. But in the five years I've lived here, I've found that lots of places the local press made much of (The Bridge, The Ox, Yang Sing, Obsidian) didn't live up to the hype, while others (Le Mont, Establishment) never appealed enough to try. I haven't been to the Michelin-starred Juniper yet, but am dutifully trotting over there before Paul Kitching leaves. Like most people, I'm happy to stick to my less-exalted favourites in the city: This n' That, Red Chilli, or the wonderful Market if I have some extra cash. Still, for a rock-solid special occasion meal, I'll usually be heading into the surrounding bits of Lancs and Yorks, which isn't what I would have expected before moving here.

Rayner speculates that Manchester's culinary shortcomings are down to the calibre of cooks in the city's kitchens, which could well be. For my part, I think too much time and money goes into creating a restaurant that looks flash, while less attention is paid to what comes out of the kitchen - and with an increasingly savvy dining public up here this tendency is starting to seem out of place.