WIN: Two Tickets for Coronation Street Tour

We're giving away two tickets to our readers to tour the original Coronation Street set. 

The iconic set, although open for tours right now, is only open for a finite time with its demolition planned when the site is eventually redeveloped as part of the upcoming St John's Quarter. 

The tour covers behind the scenes looks into the dressing rooms of the most famous characters, as well as the street itself including inside the Rovers Return and other memorable sites. 

To enter simply answer the question below:

Q: A former character on the soap now produces his own cheese, what was his character's name?

Email the answer to; with 'Coronation Street' as the subject.

These tickets were kindly provided by National Holidays, who run coach holidays to Coronation Street: the tour. 

National Holidays on Facebook | National Holidays on Twitter

My Essential Kit

Other people's belongings fascinate me, I love to see inside of people's homes, bags, and fridges so I really appreciate when a blog I love shares their essential kit. It satisfies my voyeurism for a start but it's also really useful to see what other journalists or professional bloggers rely on. You've shown me yours; now I'll show you mine.

1. iPad Air. For a long time I just didn't get the iPad. I didn't understand the benefits of having something that my laptop could do better. But there are things that are so much better on the iPad, for instance, using Evernote and managing email. If you're on the road a lot, or work in journalism or a similar field then they're actually amazing pieces of kit. I still haven't realised the full potential of mine but it's made me more organised than I've ever been and I was surprised that I enjoyed writing on it too, to a degree. I have a fairly basic smartphone (a below £100 Nokia) but it has the option to allow internet tethering and being with Giff Gaff it means even if I can't get on wifi I can still use my iPad anywhere without it costing me anything. The cover I use is Foxnovo, for vanity purposes because it was the only one in my favourite design colour - orange. 

2. Headphones. I accidentally bought two pairs of these Sony MDRZX600 headphones so I have one in my office and the other set at home or in my bag. They're really useful for researching given that I often get my work done in cafes or the library and some research can lead me to old news reels or recorded interviews. These are also really great quality for music too, probably my favourite headphones I've had after many years of thinking I'd never leave Sennheiser behind. They're not the smallest set to take around with you, earbuds are probably more convenient for most people on the road, but lucky for me I have an enormous handbag. 

3. Manchester. Books on Manchester and cities are essential for what I do although not always carried around with me. Amongst my favourites and most useful are Manchester Pevsner (Clare Hartwell), Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester (Terry Wyke), and Manchester: An Architectural History (John J. Parkinson Bailey).

4. Nikon F-501. As you can see I'm a film photographer and I love it although I'm not quite confident enough to use it in low light. I'm really happy with the images that I can get on this camera but I wish I'd been better at keeping records of what film I'd used on each shoot. You can pick up this camera pretty cheaply but lenses are limited: many Nikkor lenses not working on it or simply that they're not being produced anymore. I have several film cameras but this is my favourite and all the photos on the site that I have taken have been with this. I'm looking to also get a digital equivalent just for convenience when I'm travelling for long periods of time, so I welcome suggestions from any other film fanatics for a decent high end compact that replicates the bokeh and vibrancy of analogue.

5. Dictaphone. This Olympus dictaphone is really useful. I know that I can probably use my phone or iPad for the same function but this is much more discrete has some great functions that help pick up sound in varying situations. The only issue is that I became reliant on its huge memory and never deleted anything until it was too late and it stopped recording part way through a talk by one of my icons - the artist William Mitchell. Doh.

6. Notebook. When it comes to taking notes I don't think I'll ever stray from a nice notebook. For a start I love buying them, to the point of obsession perhaps, but writing things down by hand just seems to help me absorb information. And not to mention there's no need to contend with autocorrect. This Rhodia notebook is my current stationery du jour, it's dotted paper (I can't stand lined) and whaddya know - it's orange. 

7.  USB drive. I have a confession. I've never really got into using USB drives. I'm pretty sure I had one as a nice keyring accessory without using it for a long time but I've started to use it for emergency back ups of travel documents. I also use Evernote for this but it's good ot have an offline option. My main use for USB drives is for photos. I work on a Macbook Air and it has no CD drive. I didn't realise that would be a problem at first but as I shoot film my images are all put on to a disc for me at the lab, and I was resorting to giving the disc to my boyfriend and getting him to transfer them over to me. Now I just drop off the USB drive along with my film and I'm ready to publish. 

I mentioned Evernote a few times and even though it's not a physical part of my kit it's just as important. It's actually another one of those things that I had for a long time and didn't really utilise but having read multiple articles by journalists saying they couldn't live without it, I gave it another try. It quickly syncs across devices and can be shared with other people. 

I have a second kit of essentials, my safety gear for when I go exploring new locations and find myself crawling through flooded caves, but perhaps that's best saved for another day. 

An Urbanist Guide to Manchester

I had my urbanist guide to Manchester published on The Guardian this week, there's still a video to come wherein I discuss how I would run the city if I could for a day. I'm a little stumped right now on how to answer all of that in just one minute but I'll mull it over for a while. What do you think? Take out the bins more often, turn the volume down on Madchester music, open an outdoor pool at Pomona? For now, take a look at my guide and see what you think of my best and worst building.


An Urbanist's Guide to Manchester

As well as having a published piece this week I'm delighted to announce that I've also been shortlisted for the Best City and Neighbourhood blog at the Blog North Awards. Your vote is hugely appreciated. I'm also hugely honoured to be among such great blogs as Food Legend and Clarissa Explains Fuck All.

Vote at the Blog North website.

Over on the home page I've added a few shots from my week in San Sebastian. Editing down to a dozen is always so hard but I've picked out a selection which highlight the blues and whites of the city - the official city colours, as well as a few extras I couldn't bear to omit including a game of Basque Pelota. 

Other than that I'm busy trying to pull together a new blog post and a new book review, preparing a talk for the exciting new dry bar venture Umbrella Cafe, and at the beginning of next week I'll be starting my new job as City Curator for the National Trust. I can't say how delighted I am to have this on the horizon, thank you to everybody who suggested me for the job and to all my readers who have gotten me to this point over the last three years.

Skyliner Towers


This week I've been working on setting up a studio space to work from. I've had a space previously but it was too far from home to use regularly - now I've set up camp just down the road from my flat in Chorlton and I've turned what was known to the guys who own the bar below as 'the crack den' from a dusty old storage room into a tiny space with a work area and meeting space. The deal is there's still storage in the room but I've disguised it all with a fabric throw and a curtain wire, and used a stack of old boxes that were already in the room to build a kind of false wall across the other junk. It was really fun putting the desk together and customising it - I added a thin layer of cork I picked up in Fred Aldous and some vinyl stickers then lined the edge of the desk in neon orange fabric tape. I found an old school desk in the new antiques shop across the road which is as yet nameless but the guy who runs it has the good sense to stay open until 9pm, even later some nights, which really is the only way I see independent businesses in the suburbs making decent money - closing before people get home from work in the city centre is frankly ludicrous and it's no wonder butchers and greengrocers lose out to convenience stores and supermarkets. But that's a rant for another time.

I put up a few cardboard letters that read Skyliner and today a huge wall sticker of my logo arrived and it's on the chimney wall (I learned this morning that mounting giant wall stickers alone is not fun, nor easy). The room isn't finished yet but almost - I'm having a cityscape mural added to the windows eventually by illustrator Mark Barton and I'm waiting on a few little fixtures like light shades. I'm really happy to have the space and it's amazing how much more work you can get done when you have somewhere outside of the home to go to.

It's made my behaviour slightly odd in that now, instead of taking a break to do something like switch the TV on and watch Frasier, I watch the residents of the area through my new window taking things out to the bins in the alleyway beneath me and I ponder if what they're throwing away really belongs in the bin they've opted for, or if they're throwing paper in the black bin and bottles in the paper bin. I would worry about my new obsession but I was appeased by hearing from two freelancer friends of mine that they too descended into the haze of bin spying. Bin Club is now open and recruiting new freelance members. 


In other news I have a couple of articles in limbo that I'm struggling to publish - venues I've been lucky enough to visit lately but ones where the research process has come to a stand still and I'm having real trouble trying to find a story. I hope to have those published soon even if it means they're more of a photo series; researching leads to a frustrating amount of dead-ends but you never know, something might turn up.

I'm also working on a new arts project that I'm recruiting artists and writers for at the moment whilst also trying to work out how to apply for funding, once I've secured the venue I'll fill you in on the details but I'm incredibly excited by it and it's encouraging that everyone I've spoken to is similarly excited by the idea. 

I also have a tour coming up on August 23rd at 1pm, £5 meeting outside Fopp. Please email me using the contact button at the top of the site to secure a place as it's almost at capacity. The theme is Hidden Art in Architecture and it last for 2 hours. 


Guardian of Pomona

My obsession with the strip of wasteland that is Pomona has been picked up by The Guardian and I wrote a piece for them in which I fawn over the land as if a teenager in love.

I understand from the comments that some people don't really get that I can love a strip of land that is also frequented by drug addicts but I guess those people are the ones who get behind things like today's news about demolishing the old Cornerhouse site because, as councillor Kevin Peel put it's "totally impractical for anything other than existing purpose". 

Have some vision, guys! Here, put on my rose-tinted glasses for an afternoon, it's a pretty world out there. 

The article can be found here and I'm so proud to have been asked to contribute to The Guardian. 

UPDATE: A bus interchange and a hotel for the 'intimidating' wasteland

Postcard from Zakynthos

I went on holiday and I didn't take my camera - on purpose. We had a last minute deal, cheap sun and sea but no culture to speak of. Which in a way was a relief, I spend so much time snapping photographs and researching locations that to know I was going to a resort where all I had was a beach and a hotel room to look at felt like a real break from everything. I mean, at the time I didn't realise that whilst away The Daily Mail were going to contact me about my last article, say they loved it and tell me they'd be publishing their own version but promise to credit me, then go on to publish it without any credit at all, to go on to delete any comments made on the article to that effect, to lie to me about why comments were removed, to refuse to acknowledge I was their source despite them telling me so in writing originally, and to demonise the people living in the property to a point that they have almost definitely put a stop to my hopes of working with the owners to restore the houses. I didn't know THAT was going to disrupt my holiday, but who would?

Anyway, to my surprise there were a few points of interest that I kind of wish I had my camera for, the poor economy in Greece means building projects are invariably abandoned before completion so there were a few shopping centres halfway through having their escalators installed that are now just covered in gigantic dust sheets and shut down. There were structures around the town that were empty concrete shells, on their way to becoming a bar, a house, a shop, and then there was a part completed hotel that I couldn't resist going to explore. I took a few shots on my phone as it was quite a magical place - up on the roof, or strolling through the gardens picking plums and lemons off the trees. The main building was sealed and ready to go - a TV in the lounge, tables and chairs prepared for breakfast, and when trying to get closer I realised there were some people living inside as property guardians, but the second building was some self catering villas that were totally deserted and I was able to get inside and on to the roof.

Then after all my exploring I got a phone call from the BBC asking me to prerecord an interview with them about public art for the Allan Beswick breakfast show, I've got to say sitting on a balcony at sunrise in 30 degree heat was much easier than my last appearance on Allan's show - knees knocking together on location in the city centre at 5:30am during winter...

Suburban Summer

suburban summer.png

I'll be spending time this summer celebrating the oddities of the suburbs with a new series of articles called Suburban Summer. It's mainly down to one particular house that I had discovered some years back but had soon reached a dead end during the research process and put the idea to bed for a while.

Two years later and I found I was still thinking of my suburban discovery nearly every day, I decided to give the research another shot and I started again with a new approach involving my readers, to see if they could help, and it worked! I'm currently working on the article and it's going to be a lovely nostalgia trip for many of you who grew up in Manchester so stay tuned. 

I'm also looking for suggestions for the rest of the series so please do drop me a line by hitting the email button at the top of the page if you know of any sites of interest across the suburbs of the North West. They can be as obvious as the Toast Rack to a peculiarly shaped post box at the end of your street. 

Arts and Culture blog winner!

I'm delighted to announce that Skyliner won Best Individual Arts and Culture blog at the UK Blog Awards last week.

Each category had two finalists, an individual and an organisation and the organisation winners in my category were the British Museum with their Medieval Manuscripts blog, it's a real honour to be in ranked alongside them.

In 2011 Skyliner won Best City and Neighbourhood at the Manchester Blog Awards and I still see traffic coming to my site from that now so it's exciting to think how this UK-wide accolade might help the site. Already this week Skyliner has been mentioned in New York Magazine, and there's a lovely article over on Groupon about my tours. At the very least the awards has certainly given me the motivation to continue with a few new features I've been thinking of introducing since moving to a new site. So look out for some architecture and arts books reviews for starters.

Thank you so much to everyone who voted for me, and has helped me in any way over the years especially my loyal readers and collaborators especially regular photo collaborator Andrew Brooks.

 Skyliner meets Natasha of Graphique Fantastique - the winner of the Young Persons Blog Award

Skyliner meets Natasha of Graphique Fantastique - the winner of the Young Persons Blog Award

BBC's Head of Quirk

This morning I was on Alan Beswick’s breakfast show on BBC Radio Manchester talking about little known facts of our buildings, and about my upcoming events for Manchester Histories Festival - Faques. 

You can listen to the breakfast show here

I thought I’d also take the chance to quickly comment on a few of the unusual facts mentioned by callers in to the show - well, I was crowned BBC Radio Manchester’s Head of Quirk so it’s only right I fulfil the role  of quirk reporting…

Alan mentioned the houses on top of the Arndale Centre: 

True. This was Cromford Court and was indeed a housing estate on the rooftops. They were demolished in 2003. I wrote about the estate and have some fantastic archive images here

The Imperial War Museum is designed to look like an exploded hand grenade:

False. Not quite right but not a million miles from the truth. The building’s concept is the fragments of a shattered globe. Each fragment represent earth, air and water or land, sky and sea where battles are fought. This symbolism continues in the use of each fragment - the Earth segment is the openness and earthliness of the museum space, Air is the entrance to the museum, and Water is the canal viewing platform. 

There are little hillbilly men on a rooftop in Piccadilly

True. And I wrote about them in detail for one of my very first articles. They are Alpine style men and were quite damaged by the weather over the years but have been lovingly cleaned up. You can read about the little men of 79 Piccadilly here.

The Refuge Assurance building is made from smaller than average bricks

Well…I love this fact, and I they do look smaller so yes, I guess it is true but I don’t know much about brick sizing conventions. They were certainly specially commissioned to complement the terracotta decorations of the building so the size no doubt plays a part in that sympathetic design process. Have you ever looked closely at the facade of the building and the clock? You may well spot some interesting things when you do - castles, boats and insects are hidden throughout the building including an ark on the roof that’s not visible to anyone except the birds. 

There’s a train station underneath the Arndale centre

True. Indeed there is, underneath Topshop, though you shouldn’t get as carried away as to think of it as a complete station - it’s more of a cavity in the foundations that would have been a station if the Picc-Vic line went ahead. I talk a little of it in my fictional account of how Manchester might have been if architect Joseph Sunlight was head of city planning (here)

There’s a steam train underneath Victoria Station

False. The caller said that he’d seen this himself so I don’t want to doubt him but I’m positive it wasn’t there in the 70s when archivist Ken Howarth explored the tunnels, and it almost certainly isn’t there now during the renovations. I did some research and what I think the caller was referring to is the front end of a pacer cab that crashed into the buffers at Liverpool Lime Street. I’m not sure why it ended up under the station at Manchester and I have confirmation that it’s no longer there - there’s a photo of it in this article.

There was a graveyard under the station, and last summer you may have found yourself in a secret location, taken through a dark, man-made tunnel, and it may or may not have led you to a gig that was maybe held in the underground arches of the station which is normally used for storage of old furniture. Maybe. 

Toilet and catacombs under All Saints Park

True. Kind of. I actually don’t know about the toilets but it seems unlikely if they’re directly underneath the park because the catacombs the caller speaks of is a part truth - All Saints park is a mass grave for cholera victims (like many of Manchester’s parks) so it is consecrated ground and can’t be built on as a consequence. There’s a plaque to commemorate these burials at the park, on St Augustine’s church side of the park.

There are BT tunnels underneath Piccadilly Plaza

True. City Tower itself is an important site for the city - during the war Manchester made the decision to protect communications as a priority and as a consequence we have the Guardian tunnels (now owned by BT). The entrance to the tunnels is just over by China Town and they do indeed reach far out of the city, going as far as Ardwick and possibly beyond. City Tower hosts a variety of masts for communications so the tunnels leading here is no surprise. A further tunnel just behind the tower exists, or at least it did, and this was for the banks. There’s a photo of the bank tunnel on my article about City Tower here.

There was an underground swimming pool on Oxford Road.

True. It belonged to the Gaskell’s and much of it would have been underneath the former BBC building. You can read about it in our visit to the partly demolished BBC site from early in 2013

Alan also mentioned a little garden outside of a signal box in East Manchester, I don’t have a story on this one but I have seen it and can confirm its presence. 

Faques event details and booking can be found here, I will also be selling illustrated maps of all the locations closer to the time.