Happy new year

A happy new year to everyone, I have been feeling a bit under the weather this week so it has been an ideal opportunity to laze in front of the fire and watch television, we are slowly making our way through the box set of ‘Cracker’, I worked for British Gas around Didsbury in Manchester when the series was being filmed. I had watched some of the episodes before but not all of them. I have been driving Karen mad by pointing out that ‘I passed by when they filmed that’, ‘that extra in the backgound is a friend of mine’ ‘that’s such and such street’. The gas boiler that exploded in the second episode was given to a friend of mine by his brother in law who worked at Granada studios, we installed it for a friend of his and hopefully it is providing them with heat and hot water still. The scene I am waiting for is the two stars Robbie Coltraine and Ricky Tomlinson driving down Princess Parkway with a gas van alongside with me staring at them out of the window, I bet they cut it out.


“What Manchester does today the rest of the world does tomorrow”

I have just returned to France from Manchester, I have been preparing and decorating my house in the south of the city ready for renting. It was up for sale but the market is in a slump and nothing is selling, it looks as though I will have a tenant in the new year.

It feels strange not to have a home in this great city, I have family and friends there and will perhaps in the future have more time to explore it’s delights, it is is a city I love and I am proud to have lived there.  Manchester has been occupied continuously for 2000 years, nothing of any significance happened after the Romans left in the 3rd century until the 18th when someone discovered that it’s damp atmosphere was good for spinning cotton. The fist steam powered mill was opened in the 1780’s by Richard Arkwight and things began to take off. Manchester became the worlds first and greatest industrial city, dubbed ‘ cottonopolis’ in the victorian era. It had the first railway station at the end of the first intercity railway line, (presumably Liverpool had the second but perhaps they didn’t bother with one at that end). The first wholly artificial waterway the Bridgewater canal was built to bring coal into the city from the Duke of Bridgewater’s mines. The first atom was split in the city, the first progam-stored computer was built there. It had the worlds first industrial estate at Trafford park still Europe’s largest, the first trade union congress was held there and was the site  of Britains first gay supermarket.  Famous former residents include, the Pankhursts, Freidrich Engles and Karl Marx for a while, he lived and died in London but as Engles kept him in cash he popped up north now and again. (I once met someone who lived in Karl’s old house in London, he could barely get out of his gate for Chinese tourists), Mary Gaskell, Charlotte Bronte,  Antony Burgess,  Henry Royce,  Robert Donat, Oswald Mosley, Burt Kwouk and the Gibb brothers.  Famous for it’s music it has produced bands such as The Smiths, Oasis, The Buzzcocks, The Fall, Joy Division, The Happy Mondays, Inspiral carpets and James, further back in time there was Hermans Hermits, The Hollies and of course the Bee Gees. It is twinned with the cities of Los Angeles, Cordoba and St Petersburg amongst others. It has it’s own Lincoln Square with a statue of Abraham himself, Lincoln honoured Manchester workers for their support during the American civil war refusing to accept cotton from the Confederate states, known as the ‘cotton famine’ it caused great hardship and starvation.

The first McNee to live in Manchester as far as I know was my great great grandfather Robert, he moved from Glasgow in the 1870’s he was a ‘Cloth Lapper’ a occupation which involved cleaning the cotton threads before it went into the carding machine. They lived on the edge of an area called ‘little Ireland’ which was described by Engles in his book ‘the condition of the working class in Britain’ 30 years earlier as ‘the worst spot in Manchester’ and I think he had seen a few bad un’s.

The photograph is one I took some time ago, it is taken in an area called Castlefield, so called because it was the site of a roman fort founded in 79AD. The tall building is Beetham tower, a 47 story tower constructed in 2006, it houses a Hilton hotel and apartments and it is the tallest residential building in the UK. The old building in the foreground is a former lock-keepers cottage at the start of the Rochdale canal which passes through the city centre.

in search of boeuf.

First my apologies if you have been receiving emails announcing blogs from me that don’t exist, I have been trying to add a photo gallery to the blog and have been having problems. I have been given instructions on how to sort it out so all should be okey dokey from now on.

We went to a local town Riscle last Friday for the annual fete and market, we had lunch in the market hall which was ‘daube’ a gorgeous stewed beef dish with potatoes, lovely bread to mop up the gravy and a not too bad red wine all for 7 euros.  After we had eaten Karen went off to buy the biggest, most expensive loaf ever made I went out the back to look at the Charolais bulls on show. It is very ‘rural France’ to display bulls in sight of scores of people eating their offspring, but hey I didn’t feel too guilty they were delicious.

In search of Hadrian

On our way to Scotland to visit our children (her son my daughter) Karen and I traveled along Hadrians wall in Northumbria. Karen had passed close by inreign the past but had never managed to get to see it. I had been there several times but not for a while and had even walked a length of it when Mike and I walked the Pennine way  some 30+ years ago.

The wall was built during the reign of the roman emperor Hadrian started in AD 122 it took around 6 years to build. It was the northern frontier of the empire and was 80 roman miles in length.


Looking for Herod

We had a walk and a picnic lunch this week at a village called St Bertand de Commings in the Pryenees on the way to Spain to buy olive oil, wine and tobacco (the last item not for us )which are all cheaper there in varying degrees. . We had been there before but wanted to look at the ruins of a Roman town which spreads out below the hill. The main center of the town had been excavated some time in the recent past but was in need of  bit of attention, some of the information boards had been damaged by rain and some broken which would not cost a fortune to replace. We enjoyed walking around the bits of the town we could see, it once housed 30,000 people so there must be a lot more buried under the surrounding fields. It was founded 72 BC by the roman general Pompey on his way back from Spain I am sure he too bought back olive oil and wine but probably not tobacco.  The notorious King Herod slayer of John the Baptist and the  famous hand washing incident was exiled there in 39 AD, not a bad place to end up I thought I could think of a lot worse. The town survived for around 400 years until wiped out by marauding Germanic tribes from the north, the survivors retreated up the hill for another 100 years or so building the first christian church until another load of Germans arrived and finished them off.  Nothing much happened for the next 500 years until Bertrand arrived in 1073,  the son of noble family and Canon of Toulouse he was created bishop of the area and decided it was a nice spot and built his cathedral on top of the hill it was completed in the 12th century.

For his saintly deeds he was canonized in 1218 his tomb soon attracted pilgrims and still does, another Bishop Bertrand arrived at the end of the 13th century expanding the church to its present form, he later became pope Clement V. We didn’t visit the cathedral on this visit as Spain and shopping beckoned, I will go back for another look last time in high summer it was crowded and we were a bit rushed, the carved choir stalls are superb some of the best in France. One carving depicts an Abbott caning a bare bottomed monk which is worth the entrance fee alone.

Dog walking in the Pyrenees and other ramblings

We decided to get out more as part of our latest attempt to reverse the weight I at least have gained over the last 12 months. I was convinced I had lost weight since the two dogs  arrived and I was walking at least 40 minutes a day so I was a bit shocked when I discovered on weighing myself for the first time in months that I had indeed been putting it on. So yesterday we drove down beyond Lourdes to a pretty village where it took a while to find the start of the walk. so as time was getting on we decided or rather i decided to take a short cut which turned out to be rather steeper than the original route. It turned out ok in in the end and we had a good walk through the woods and back down again to the village where we had a  late picnic lunch. We will go out next week when I am instructed to find a walk involving less hills and more flat bits.

The photo is of one of the deserted barns or dwellings along the route, this was the only one with a door the others had fallen down with only the walls partially still standing.





Hello again!

It seems like weeks since the sun shone down on us, it has been a wet July when normally South west France is bathed in sunshine, ok we normally have the occasional thunderstorm this time of year which cools us down and washes the dust from the streets but days and days of rain is just not normal. We finally got out to look at our tomatoes and found more than half rotting away, we have managed to save some for chutney if they don’t ripen.

I blame the bad weather on installing my solar hot water system, I wanted to get it working before the hot weather was over and was concerned I was going to be on the roof in 40 deg temperatures, in the end we had to dodge the showers but managed it in the end.  It has worked fantastically giving us loads of lovely free hot water even on the dullest rainy day.