Sunday, 25 March 2018

Hidden Treasure: Manchester Libraries

I was dubious about visiting Manchester again as although I've been many times before last time was a disappointment. The city seemed to be defined entirely by consumption with so many shops I may as well have just visited one big shopping mall. I couldn't pick up on any sense of identity, no sense of place, so I was reluctant to go back.

I did go though and I was happy to find some non-shopping places to go: Two fine libraries. In my head I see them as hidden treasures but of course they'e not. Manchester Central Library and John Rylands Library are massive Manchester landmarks visited by thousands of people every year, and they're not ticked away. Not secret or neglected but to me they're hidden behind Manchester's expensive, trendy image. As my friend Claire said, libraries are one of the few places you can visit where you're not necessarily defined by buying something.

I hadn't Manchester Central Library for years and had forgotten how grand it is. There are some lovely lending libraries out there but this one is really special. The Public Libraries Act was passed in 1850 and Manchester was one of the first Local Authorities to build public libraries in response. Manchester at the time was progressive and proud of it's reputation as place where a working man could learn and self-educate. It built several libraries with the Central Library opened in 1934 to extend the collections and facilities. Can you imagine that? A Council planning a fortune into building a pantheon of books and learning for anyone to use? It's incredible and I think it says a lot about Manchester at the time. They could have built a big, cheap rectangular box full of books but instead they chose a design that's inspiring, decorative and a pleasure to be in.

Manchester Central Library (Wikipedia)

30 odd years before Manchester Central Library opened it's doors the city saw the opening of a cathedral of books: The John Rylands Library. John Rylands was an immensely rich mill owner and philanthropist, building everything from orphanages to public baths during his lifetime. He died in 1888 and the Library was commissioned by his wife, Enriqueta. The library is built in the Victorian Gothic style from red sandstone and was inaugurated on John and Enriqueta's wedding anniversary; a love letter, a memorial.

The John Rylands Library and the Manchester Central Library were built in different era's for different reasons but both have the same interest at heart, that of free access to learning and the potential for anyone to learn to improve their lives or just for the pleasure of it. Visiting these buildings reminds we how fortunate we are to have access to so much learning for free, not just public libraries but free online courses, articles, archives,'s endless. Next time I say I'm bored tell me where to go!

John Rylands Library (Wikipedia)

The libraries also reminded me that away from the worship of shopping Manchester is an impressive self-made city and buildings like these are a monument to the City's pride and aspiration. It has a wealthy city centre where former cloth warehouses are expensive apartments and run down areas a couple of minutes outside the centre where poverty is has been ingrained for generations. Manchester has designer shops where the price of a handbag is more than the average monthly wage and there's a man or woman sleeping rough in every other doorway. I'd like to see the city's pride as a driving force to deal with it's problems humanely like it appears to have been historically, but I suspect that Manchester's pride is just another line on it's tourism website, a bow on top of the city, not a real and tangible thing to build on. Maybe that's something we're all guilty of though, talking the talk and not walking the walk- citys and people can struggle to turn values into actions.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Gluten Free Staffordshire Oatcakes

This is my gluten free version of this recipe. It’s also sugar free as the milk provides enough natural sugar for the yeast to work on. These are cheap to make too and turn out far tastier than gluten free bread. They freeze and defrost really well too.

I’ve twiddled around with it and they come out a bit thicker than a shop bought Staffordshire Oatcake but I think that may be because of my warped frying pan. I get impatient with lots of writing before a recipe so here it is. I’ll waffle a little at the end instead.


250g oatmeal or oats ground up finely in a food processor
200g Dove's Farm gluten free plain flour
4g fast action yeast
1 tsp xantam gum
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp cider vinegar
650ml milk
650ml water
Sunflower oil for frying

Recipe (makes 8 – 10)

1) Heat the milk and water together in a saucepan on a medium heat until steam starts to rise off the pan, but before it simmers. Turn off the heat and add the cider vinegar.

2) Mix together the oatmeal/ground oats, flour, xantham gum, bicarbonate of soda and yeast in a large bowl.

3) Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and use a hand whisk to combine well. Cover and leave to rise in a  warm place for at least an hour but preferably overnight.

4) Stir the batter mix. If it looks to thick add a little milk and/or water to thin it to around double cream thickness.

5) Heat about 1 tsp of oil in a small frying pan and pour in 1 to 2 ladles of the batter (it depends how big your pan is and how thick you want your oatcakes to be). Fry for a couple of minutes until the top side is mostly set but a little wet in the centre. Turn carefully and fry for a couple of minutes on the other side. When the oatcake is cooked it will look mottled golden and brown.

Time for my waffling: I'm sure you can fill Staffordshire oatcakes with all sorts of healthy things – and on their own they’re really very healthy indeed – but please do yourself a favour and cover half of an oatcake with fried bacon and/or mushrooms, top with Cheddar cheese, grill until the cheese melts then fold over the oatckake and tuck in. They’re also lovely smothered in butter like flat and oaty crumpets.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Garden longings

We started the bank holiday early by finishing work mid-afternoon and driving to Beverley for a stay over. Beverley is a beautiful old market time which still has a thriving market today, lovely old buildings and the beautiful Minster. We stumbled accross this peaceful hidden garden that belongs to the Minster and is open to the public as a place for some quiet time. A place to "sit and think the right kind of thoughts" in the words of an interesting old lady we got talking to whilst we were there.

Spending time in the garden gave us ideas for our own. I really do long for a peaceful, private garden of my own filled with flowers, vegetables and maybe chickens one day. I listened with envy the other day as my craft club friends talked about the work they were doing in their gardens and allotments at the weekend, and the pleasure of seeing things start to grow. I’ve been discouraged from growing much in my front yard this year (it’s  back to back house so there’s no back yard) as things have been stolen, including a bench. I may get some bright, easy flowers though to cheer the space up, and I’ve got a couple of pots of hardy herbs growing. I’ve got a pot of chocolate mint growing on my kitchen windowsill along side a tomato plant, and even though that’s the full extent of my vegetable garden at the moment it’s still exciting watching them grow. Really, it is!

The house – and garden – hunt has slowed down a little. We’d booked a viewing of a new build for this Saturday coming but when we went for a quick look on Monday we saw that someone had smashed the front window; not a good sign. We walked around the near by streets and it looks quite rough and run down. I looked more deeply into the crime statistics for the area and found that an alarming number had been reported in that one street of new builds alone. It’s also occurred to me that one of the reasons I want to move away from where I live now is that it’s quite high density, which gets noisy and even aggressive in Summer, when people are hot and crammed together without their own space. The new build house is surrounded by block after block of flats, so that’s going to be even higher density housing than where we are now.
Back to the drawing board. It’s disheartening but I know two things. One, however many little setbacks we encounter we’re still making progress because we’re constantly learning about what we do and don’t want, and about all the legal processes involved. Two, we’re privileged to even be in this position of potential home ownership; a few years ago I thought we’d never be able to do this and here we are, looking for a home to call our own. So many people live in insecure or low standard accommodation, and I need to make sure I never loose sight of how fortunate I am to be in this position. In other words, struggling to find our new homw is most definitely a first world problem, up there with over soaking one’s quinoa.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The first house viewings

It's been an up and down week with various things including the house hunt, one of those that leave you feeling wrung out. We viewed a beautiful house with a wonderful garden in a quiet location. It was just what we we're looking for and in our budget. It needed some repairs but once we'd calculated the costs we decided it would be worth it. 

We booked a second viewing then got a call from the estate agent saying an offer close to the asking price had been made and accepted. I was surprised it had gone so soon, having only been on the market for 4 weeks. We were tempted to have the second viewing anyway and decide from there whether to put in a higher offer but after discussing it decided not to get drawn into making a rash decision, so cancelled the viewing. I was disappointed but I think it was the right decision: We're not experienced at any of this and it would be too easy to get carried away.

Not wanting to get hung up on one house I immediately booked two more viewings. Both were for houses we knew we weren't likely to be interested in but I wanted to get experience looking around properties and knew it would be best to keep an open mind and go out and see what's available.

We went for those two viewings yesterday in Leeds and it was educational. They were beautiful houses but in terrible locations. The first house was by a main thoroughfare that was generating a lot of noise, the neighbours looked scratty (I've decided that's a word) and the neighbours but one had a flag pole with a huge Union Jack crammed into ther tiny garden and had decided to block out all sunlight to their house by covering their windows in more large Union Jacks. It was a bit...much.

The second house was on the edge of the countyside, and was a short stroll from this lovely heard of horses that we sometimes visit:

Unfortunately it was on a very rough, run down, dirty street, although when we left and turned out of that one we found that the streets near by looked totally different, so I'm going to be searching that area in the future.

After that we drove to Shipley as we both like the area, it's got good amenities and is close to the countryside. The houses are also much cheaper than in Leeds. I'd seen some new builds advertised so we had a look. They seem to have a lot going for them and there's a community garden next door with small allotments and poly tunnel growing space available to locals. The view was open and bright:

The area looked nice and it's close to two train stations so I could get into Leeds for work, but when I did some research I found out it's Bradford's  most deprived area and it rated very low down in England overall. When I looked at crime statistics though they were much lover that where I'm living now. The housing looked in good condition and everything was clean looking too. The nearest neighbours are an immaculate old peoples home on one side and neat maisonettes on the other.
So more beautiful houses in iffy areas! I'm not snobby (I don't think) but I've spent 8 years living somewhere I don't feel safe, where there's a high amount of anti-social behaviour, drug crime and theft (something else got stolen from out garden last week) and I've had enough. Mr CB grew up in one of the roughest parts of Manchester so we'd both, for a change, like to live somewhere we feel safe. I come back from work worried that something else has been taken. I come back from holiday scared that the house has been broken into. It's a dispiriting place to live.

I think our next step will be to stalk that area in Shipley, find out as much as we can about it, visit it at different times (including at night) and arrange a viewing or two. 

Thinking about it all is exciting but exhausting, so after we'd made our plans we stopped for a coffee in the sun in Saltaire then came home to relax. I put a large sheet on the washing line as my budget sun shade and spent the rest of the time peacefully crocheting in the garden whilst Mr CB watched football and did a bit more house research.

Lovely old Gem spent her afternoon investigating the yard and watching the world go by from the gate, which left her tuckered out - she's not used to that level of activity, or any level of activity! I put a cushion out for her by my chair and she flopped down for some restful sun bathing.

Today I'm planning on mostly having a break from house hunt things, although I want to send off an email to several solicitors for conveyancing quotes, and I know it will feel good to tick another thing off my list. We may also be calling a mortgage broker to get the ball rolling, we'll see. Other than that I'm looking forward to having a slow day and finishing off a blanket I'm working on.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Back to life

Over a year ago I put this blog to bed. I wasn't writing often and life in general was getting more demanding; sometimes you have to help yourself by lightening your own load, and blogging was one of the things I was able to put down to take some pressure of myself. It's that thing where you feel snowed up by no one thing in particular, just lots of little things.

Leeds Liverpool Canal

A lot has happened since then. Me and Mr Crafty Blueberry have both got new jobs in a much better organisation than the one we were both working in before. I didn't realise how much harm my old workplace was doing to me until I left. There was bullying, gossip, favouritism and someone running to the toilets in tears every few days. I'd been there so long though that I thought all jobs must be like that! Leaving to work in a more balanced workplace has changed things around for me. I used to get headaches every day, mood swings, sleeplessness, palpitations...not good. My mental and physical health are much more balanced now.

Margaret Bridge, Budapest

We're now at a point where Mr CB has his first permanent job in 8 years, I'm looking into being at least partially self-employed, we've saved a deposit and are looking for a new home. It feels like lots of new challenges and adventures lie ahead and I feel happy and ready to meet them

Snowdonia from Anglesey

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Just one big Autumnal aim

No September October aims...what's going on? Well there's been a fair bit of disruption in the Crafty Blueberry household these past couple of months which has led to both of us having one big shared aim: Find new jobs. For Mr CB it's necessity because his temporary contract has ended. For me it's out of choice as I'm in need of a change and, hopefully, one that leads to better things.

All other aims have been pushed to one side as we work on our shared purpose and try to get through a difficult time. Thanks to our low-key, simple lifestyle home and daily tasks are ticking along as usual without disruption. Times like this, when the near future is so uncertain and the further future is a total blank, make me grateful for how we live. Over the last two years Mr CB has paid off the debt from his one time business and we've both saved up. Neither of us has a fancy lifestyle to maintain so however happy we may or may not be about life's ups and downs we can at least be comfortable  and well-fed.

October's aims are therefore two fold: Get a new job and remember how lucky we are to life this life we both love.

Feeling on top of the world together on Holyhead Mountain

Sunday, 11 October 2015


A new library book, berry tea in my favourite mug and a comfortable place to read. There's nothing more I could ask for.

If I had to rate my level of contentment it would be equal to this little kitty.