17 December 2011

Clock Tower, Clock Tour

Last Friday, I went on a strange sort of walking tour. It was mostly vertical.

Manchester's Town Hall is a neo-Gothic beauty, built in 1877 by Alfred Waterhouse, who also designed the Palace Hotel just minutes away on Oxford Rd. The Town Hall serves as the film double for the Houses of Parliament, so if you see The Iron Lady this holiday season, you'll see it. Hmm, it doesn't quite feel right, does it, Thatcher and the holidays?

The clock tower hadn't been open to the public for years, but they've finally put together tours of it.
This image is from the BBC, it's a detail of the clock face that I could never get a shot of with my regular camera:

The tour was fascinating. Over the whole tour, we climbed over 170 steps up a tiny spiral stone stairwell. It was a fairly harrowing climb.

Here are the ropes for pulling bells that were used more often before automation. Town Hall is one of only 25 secular buildings in the world that has a set of bells like this. I love this town.

And this is the 19th-century clock mechanism that runs the bells every half-hour and hour. Because Manchester was the first city to have a timetabled passenger train, the clock had to be extremely accurate. Like Big Ben, the Manchester Town Hall's clock is kept to within one second of GMT. George Bradshaw, also from Manchester, developed and published the first timetable compilations right here in Manchester soon after the railways started up: Bradshow's Railway Companion.

On the half-hour, we got to see some of the gears tick over and various parts rotated, and the bells rang out. It was lovely.

There is also an old Carillon that can run the bells to play music, and it still uses paper music rolls!

The Town Hall has loads of music rolls: God Save the Queen, various national anthems for visiting dignitaries, the wedding march, etc.

I was really excited to see the back of the clock face, but we were only able to see parts of it. The clock doesn't have any numbers on it, just fleur-de-lis and little rising suns, because it was inspired by some European clock towers– maybe Dutch or Flemish? Can't quite remember.

Then, we continued up some more stairs to see Great Abel, which is the Great Hour Bell. It weighs 8 ton and 2 cwt. What is cwt, you ask? It's 112 lbs, in Britain. The bell is named after Abel Heywood, the Mayor at the time of the official opening. Abel's a great character. A radical and a Chartist, he was unliked by the royalty and the establishment because early in his career, he published a super-cheap rabble-rousing newspaper, called The Poor Man's Guardian. A guy like that couldn't help but get elected in a town like Manchester back then, I suppose.

Great Abel rings out the hours, and it's such a huge bell, it doesn't move at all, so it doesn't work with a pendulum like a normal bell. It's struck by a hammer; the pendulum on Great Abel is there to absorb and reflect vibrations.

This radical city elected a radical Chartist for its mayor, named its bell after him, and inscribed this line from a Tennyson poem onto it: "Ring out the false, ring in the true." I love this town. It has other inscriptions, too, such as far more boring "Teach us to number our Days," from some Psalm.

From above, you can really see how triangular the Town Hall building is, and that there are two little internal courtyards. I love Mr. Waterhouse for his clever use of space.

And from this great height, nearly 85 meters above the city, the view from the parapet around the clock was amazing, especially because all of Manchester's holiday fairy lights are out.

In this one, you can see City Tower, which marks out Piccadilly Gardens:

And the Palace Hotel is in this one, if you look carefully:

Lovely Beetham Tower, the lonely skyscraper.

And the Albert Square Christmas Markets, from a remarkably quieter vantage point than the crowded bustle to be found on the ground. The big red bulbous thing at the bottom of the image is a lit up Santa that presides arrogantly over Albert Square. Check out this post to see what it looks like on the ground.

A fantastic tour. You should go.

Back in March, I saw more of Town Hall's interior, just wandering about. It's an astonishing beautiful building on the inside. Check out this photo album from that visit. When the Clock Tower Tour ended, I managed to snap a photo of something I'd missed last time I went: the mosaic bee floor tiles.

The bee is the symbol of Manchester because it was the hive of industry, and because this city witnessed the birth of the worker bee class. The other mosaic floors feature cotton flowers, because of the importance of cotton to Manchester's wealth at the time.

By the time I post this, I'll probably be in Atlanta, ready to celebrate my dear sister's birthday and the holidays with all my family and friends. Writing this, I can't wait to see everyone, to see Atlanta, but strangely, I also can't wait to see Manchester again and discover more of its beauty and history. I just love this town.

West Coast Wintertime

Recently, I spent a week up in Prestwick with Mark, and this time, we had access to a car. Which meant we were able to see some of the beautiful western coastline I'd heard so much about.

We drove up to Loch Lomond, where we hoped to get in a nice hour-long-or-so hike... but the marked walks were only about 5 minutes each.

That was slightly disappointing, but it was really way too cold for a good long hike anyway. We wandered around the Loch a bit, with its gloomy gray sky and dramatic, cold, blackish water. It's a beautiful place.

It would be a gorgeous spot for a wedding, but so cold! The bride, I imagine, was wearing a white, fur, full-sleeved, floor-length coat for a dress...

The tides were coming in as we walked around the Loch, and the water was clearly overstepping its bounds.

I enjoyed bashing the ice off this bench...

And when it was cleared, I felt rather triumphant.

This quartz wall– and the strange football sculpture in the first image– were both parts of a public art project around the Loch. The wall was constructed of locally quarried rock.

I actually kind of like being outdoors in the cold. What has happened to me?

Mark and I also visited the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow, a beautiful building with gorgeous old chandeliers. What I like about these chandeliers is that though they were clearly made before electrical lighting, they have been electrified using small lightbulbs. The end result is this: a chandelier that rains lightbulbs.

We also drove up and around the Argyll Forest. It was a snowy, coldgray day, so the forest looked foreboding and sinister and creepy and lovely. A Tim Burton set.

So, I was happy to finally catch some of the famed beautiful Scottish landscape... but I also caught some of the famed Scottish weather. One of Mark's favourite places is a cemetery in a town called Dunure. It's at the top of a hill that rolls steep down to the coast. It was a little rainy when we got out of the car, but only when we were in the cemetery did the wind suddenly pick up and the rain turn to sting-your-face, destroy-your-eyeballs hail. Our umbrellas were well and truly destroyed.

The next day, it was nearly impossible to leave the house, the wind was so bad. In fact, the wind was bad enough to shut schools, and Scottish people used the collective power of social media to name the weather pattern "Hurricane Bawbag." Hooray for twitter! (For those interested: baw is Scottish vernacular for ball. And that is as much explaining as I will do on this blog, because my parents read this, for goodness sake.)

Keep an eye out this week for plenty of posts to keep you warm, dear reader. Like a hot spicy mulled wine on a chilly night, the things I have been up to will warm you, make you drowsy, convince you to hit on that hot mess you see across the room there, and leave you with a cracker of a headache in the morning. I might have taken that metaphor too far. Or maybe I didn't? Read on to find out!

03 December 2011

Thanks O'Giving!

It's been three years since I've had a decent Thanksgiving, and honestly, for the first couple of years, I didn't really miss it all that much.

Last year, I missed it. But I didn't have the time to celebrate it, because I had about 20 papers due.

So this year, when I got an invitation to Emily's Belfast Thanksgiving, I decided it was the perfect thing to do. Visit Emily again, enjoy a lot of delicious food, catch up with some old friends.

I've been to Belfast before, and that time, Emily and I wandered around town and saw a lot of the town. This time, we spent most of the weekend in the house, cooking up a storm of comfort food.

Tom and Emily (with the help of their friend Tom --yes, there are many Toms in Belfast--) made a big giant turkey and a chicken.

They're very proud of it. As they should be.

I contributed a vegetarian bread dressing. It was delicious, and I made a vegetarian gravy to go with it. I also suggested macaroni and cheese, and strangely enough, Emily had never before had mac & cheese for Thanksgiving. Bizarre.

But I have to say, Tom and Emily's Thanksgiving ain't nothing like Thanksgiving back home. It's no quiet family dinner-- no, no. These two invite all their friends and hold a heaving party. It was around 60 people in the end, and everyone brought food and drink (in fact, 2 other people brought mac & cheese, too, so I was clearly proven right).

I got to meet loads of Emily and Tom's Belfast friends, and here is what I think: people in Belfast, at least the ones who get invited to Thanksgiving at Tom & Emily's, are lovely. There was also a beautiful puppy named Lucy– I couldn't get enough of her. 

It was a really fun weekend in Belfast, and I was very grateful to be around such good friends, and to meet so many new friends and sweet people, for Thanksgiving.