So, here we are at our new home. Or at least here G is, asleep in her pram on the porch of our new home, at Dobcross in Saddleworth. The move itself was a bit of a production, with removal men that didn't turn up and Mrs J coming down with the lurgy, but it was all good in the end, even though most of our stuff is still in boxes.

Today I walked down the road to Uppermill, the nearest bigger village, to go to my first-ever mothers and toddlers group. It was a sing-along-with-baby sort of idea. Inevitably, once everyone was sat down I realised there were 18 babies, 18 mums, G and me. It wasn't too off-putting though, and I managed to get through it without doing anything that would lead to an outbreak of tutting, such as forgetting to warm up G's feed, or dropping her onto the floor. I'll go again next week.

In case you're wondering about the exact location of Dobcross, here's a mile post handily situated more or less outside our house. It reveals that we're almost equidistant between Manchester and Huddersfield:
But I don't fancy rushing back to the city this weekend, even if the shopping is better. There's plenty to explore around here. Not to mention a lot of boxes to unpack.

Rosy Cheeks

We're moving house this weekend, to our new place in Saddleworth. This means the flat is filling with boxes full of all our stuff. All this chaos might account for G making a bit of a nuisance of herself by being grouchy today. The picture above caught just about the only time she's smiled all day, and those rosy cheeks suggest we're getting closer to the appearance of her first teeth, so maybe that's what's bothering her. Hopefully she'll be in a better mood tomorrow, because if moving house is the most stressful thing you can do, I'm guessing moving house with a whining baby is even worse.

A Walk Around Ancoats

We're in our last few days in Manchester. The three of us are moving to Dobcross in Saddleworth this Saturday. While this is exciting for lots of reasons, I'm also going to be sad to leave central Manchester behind, so today I took G for a walk around Ancoats, which I've never properly explored despite living nearby all this time.

It's often said that Ancoats was the world's first industrial suburb. This strikes me a nice way of saying it was a poverty-ridden hellhole where lots of factory workers too poor to go anywhere else lived and died, because it was near the mills where they had jobs. However, the first building you see when you walk towards Ancoats from the Northern Quarter isn't an old mill, but this art deco masterpiece:

It's the old Daily Express building. Built in the 1930s by that newspaper's owner Lord Beaverbrook, back when the Express was the best-selling paper in the country. It was a genuinely great paper back then too, but if you've read the Express in the last ten years you'll know that isn't the case anymore. It was so successful in those days that Beaverbrook built three of these office/palaces, with the others on Fleet Street and in Glasgow. Which perhaps suggests he was either too rich for his own good, or a bit mad. Probably both. The building still looks gorgeous though (the Express moved out in the 80s, it's offices now).

Round the back of the old Express building is Cotton Street. Next to Cotton Street is Loom Street. Can you see a pattern developing here? The sign above is on the side of a small knitwear factory, which still appears to be churning out jumpers just as merchants have been doing in Ancoats for a couple of centuries. There aren't many businesses like that left in the area though.

I'd read a little bit about the history of Ancoats before setting out. During the 19th century heydey of the cotton industry, it was, unsurprisingly, full of migrant workers. Initially these were mostly Irish. In 1867, there were so many Irish workers around that the Fenian prisoners sprung from a police van by the Manchester Martyrs managed to hide in Ancoats following their escape, even though they were the most wanted men in the country.

But over time the Irish influence in Ancoats gave way to immigration from Italy, turning the area into, yes, Manchester's own Little Italy. I know, I was surprised too, but this excellent site has a wealth of information about it. Cutting a long story short, the Italian community thrived until Italy ended up on the other side in the Second World War, and all Italian nationals living in Britain were interned on the Isle of Man. By the time they came back to Manchester, a mixture of slum clearances and new suburbs dispersed the Italian families throughout the city.

Anyway, as I wandered around today I was hoping to spot some sign of the area's Italian past, but the only thing left seems to be this Catholic church:

Those banners relate to a campaign to save it, so presumably it's either closed already or is under threat. The pictures are of the most recent Whit Sunday walk, which Italians in Manchester still do every year. At this point G was fast asleep, and I thought to myself that an Italian coffee, or even better an Italian ice-cream, would really hit the spot, but sadly there's nothing like that available in Ancoats anymore. That's despite what the 'inspirational' graffiti on the construction site billboards says:

The only answer to this is, "no, it isn't." That's not to say Ancoats might not become vibrant and desirable one day, or that there's no point in trying to improve the area, but a bit of realism would be more welcome than nonsense like this.

Having said that, the amount of work that's already taken place demonstrates the council and other quangos are clearly keen to make it better. There's already a new public square, called the Cutting Room, complete with murals of the overgrown land which was cleared to make way for it:

However, even though it's a public space, there weren't actually any members of the public around to enjoy it, except for a couple of skateboarders. Admittedly it was a cold day in January, but the old maxim 'if you build it, they will come' hasn't worked here yet.

There are now a fair amount of flats in some of the old mill buildings, but with no shops or pubs or anything like that actually in Ancoats, it's difficult to see why any of the residents would bother hanging around these still rather bleak-looking streets, when the Northern Quarter and central Manchester are just a short walk away.

The Cutting Room square is overlooked by another church, this one Anglican, and very definitely not a church anymore. Like several of the mill buildings in the area, it's been saved from decay in recent years but remains empty, although there's apparently a plan to turn it into a museum of embroidery:

A museum is the sort of attraction that might encourage people to spend a bit of time in the area, which is the only way to get other businesses into Ancoats, which in turn will make it a much more pleasant place to spend time. Unfortunately, despite all the repair work which has obviously gone into many buildings, there are still an awful lot that look pretty decrepit:

I've no idea who Barrow, Hope and Co. were, and neither does Google, so I imagine it's quite some time since they went out of business.

I suppose one of the problems Manchester has when it comes to these wonderful old mills is that, well, there are just so many of them. In most cities an apartment complex in such a building would really stand out, making it a very desirable address. But here the supply of epic Victorian brick structures far outweighs the demand to live in them, let alone the developers' ability to convert them all.

As an example, here's just a small part of the Murrays' Mills complex:

The buildings were saved from ruin in the 90s, and look fantastic (that's the Rochdale Canal at the end of the street, the Murrays even had their own bit of the canal routed into the building on the left). The building on the right now has some flats in it, a bit of office space and even a couple of furniture shops on the canal-front. The building on the left, and it's far bigger than this photo suggests, still appears to be completely empty.

And that's the situation for Ancoats in general. Until more people live, work and spend more of their time in the area, it's not genuinely going to become 'vibrant and desirable' like the PR guff says. Not much of that is going to happen until the recession's over and developers have big money to invest once again.

I hope the improvements to Ancoats continue though, because there's nowhere quite like it anywhere else in the UK. Its rich industrial and social history is (at least partly) told by all the wonderful buildings which still survive, the sort of buildings demolished in other areas. Maybe when G's a bit older I can bring her back, and we can see how much things have changed.

In The Chair

Here's G showing off her new chair. She's not quite strong enough to sit up properly on her own yet, but the little red chair helps prop her up a bit, so she can sit and play with her toys. G looked confused at first, having a completely different view of all her stuff, but she soon settled into it. The next problem will be getting her back out of it again.

The End Of Breastfeeding

There aren't many subjects that get parents going as much as the thorny topic of breastfeeding. I now realise that mums often fall into one of two camps. The first group finds breastfeeding easy and can't help but tell everyone about how they wouldn't dream about giving their baby anything else. The second group finds breastfeeding difficult and so give their baby formula instead, which usually means a lot of nagging from health visitors and, in turn, a lot of complaining about this nagging on various internet message boards. The thing is, everyone seems to think they're doing what is best for their baby, and when confronted with conflicting evidence like this, it's not hard to see where the confusion comes from.

We fall somewhere in between those two groups. From about two weeks old G has had a mixture of breastfeeding and bottle feeding, with an initial one bottle feed per day rising to two and then three shortly before Mrs J went back to work last week. We decided to start giving G the bottles because she was a big baby and often seemed to be hungry, no matter how many breastfeeds she got, and sure enough she was a lot better once we switched. Not all babies are happy to take both breast and bottle (the milk flows out at different rates, which can be irritating for little ones) so we were pretty lucky with that too.

But now Mrs J has gone back to work breastfeeding isn't really practical. The less often you breastfeed the less milk you produce, and there just isn't enough to keep our little milk monster happy, so from this week we're giving her bottles only. It won't be for long though, because soon enough we'll have to start trying solid food. Another thing I've now learned is that, once you finally solve one problem with your baby, you're almost immediately confronted with a new one.

Money Saving Tip

Fellow parents! Don't spend money on expensive gym memberships. Just balance your baby on your shins and use her as a leg weight! It's good exercise for you, and fun for all the family, as G demonstrates in the picture above. Best of all, you don't even have to leave the sofa, which is my kind of workout.

Graduation Day

Today was graduation day. Well, actually it wasn't graduation day at all. The graduation ceremony for the MA I finished in September actually took place before Christmas, but I didn't bother going because, frankly, the one graduation ceremony I've already been to in my life was more than enough. All that poncing around in silly robes and listening to dull speeches just isn't for me.

So we finally got round to having a subdued celebration this lunchtime. Mrs J took me out to the Marble Arch on Rochdale Road for a pint of their lovely homebrew beer and some lunch (I had a tasty bowl of game stew). There hasn't been any snow for three days but it's still all over the ground, and today was another beautifully clear and cold day. The winter sunshine was so pretty it almost took my mind off the struggle of heaving G's pram through and over all the ice and slush. Not that all the jiggling about bothered her, she lay quietly and dozed on and off the whole time. I don't know about an MA, but, and I realise this is tempting fate outrageously, G certainly deserves a prize for being so well-behaved lately.

I Never Love England More Than When Covered In Snow

Mrs J went back to work today. We agreed I'd take G down to the office to see her at lunchtime, which would give her something to look forward to if she found it a bit difficult leaving the wee one behind. But when we got up we found something a lot more exciting. It had snowed. A lot.

The picture above is the view from our flat window of the junction of Oldham Street and Dale Street, which is usually busy with plenty of buses. There wasn't much of that this morning though. A quick look at the terrace at the back of the flat demonstrated just how much snow had fallen overnight:

I'm from the north of Scotland so I'm used to a bit of snow, but I've never seen snow like this in the middle of a city like Manchester. Normally it's gone almost as soon as soon as it's fallen, but not today. Paying no attention whatsoever to those 'only go outside if it's really necessary' messages (snowy days are far too exciting to sit inside), I put G in her snowsuit and got her ready to go out:
Getting the pram through the snow was hard going. I thought I'd been sensible by putting a layer of thermals on, but a few minutes of trying to push G along the snowy pavements had me feeling pretty warm. Warm enough in fact to undo my coat, which got a few funny looks from what few passers-by there were.

Outside the Arndale Centre I saw some workers trying to clear the snow. Only they'd run out of grit, and it looked suspiciously like they were putting ordinary table salt on to the steps instead. I suppose it probably has the same effect, although if you discover the supermarkets have run out of Saxa then you'll know why. I pressed on and made it to Urbis for a coffee. Unsurprisingly, we were the only customers.

Afterwards we doubled back on ourselves, and I pushed G through the streets of the city centre. On a much-quieter-than-usual Market Street, people were waiting patiently for a tram, although there weren't many of those around either:

Eventually we made it to Mrs J's office, although G was fast asleep by this stage, and seemed far less excited about the reunion than her mum:

Perhaps when she realises that every day is now daddy-daughter day she might be less sanguine about the whole thing.

I decided to explore a bit more before taking G back home, and in Albert Square I happened upon a really big snowman that some people had built in front of the Town Hall. They'd even given him a penis, although I made sure I tastefully put the pram in front of it for this picture:

The Town Hall itself looked suitably wintry:

By now wishing someone would go on Dragon's Den with a snow plough attachment for prams, I pushed G back through the streets towards home. Being stuck in her snowsuit, G couldn't really move very much, so she just lay there and stared at me in silent contempt:

I thought I'd earned a treat for lunch so popped into Bread and Butter on Tib Street for a flatbread and (another) coffee. So ended our little adventure in the Manchester snow. It was surprisingly deep in places, although not bad enough to scupper our fun. However, I suspect the first time we get snowed in at our new home in Saddleworth it'll be a more serious business altogether.

(The title of this post comes from this song. I could have gone for this one, but I don't think it's aged terribly well.)

Attention Seeker

Mrs J keeps saying, only half-seriously, that we might find we've got an ADHD child on our hands. G has reached a stage of wanting to be constantly entertained. Otherwise a kind of half-happy, half-sad whining starts, and if we continue to ignore her, we end up with some proper crying.

G is still a bit too young to be amused by many of the mountain of toys and other gadgets that are rapidly filling a corner of our living room. And there are only so many games of astronaut or peekaboo that she can stand before getting bored (although, I admit, usually I get bored long before she does, I mean have you ever played peekaboo? It's a bit repetitive).

One thing that G does find fascinating is lights, and I'm afraid that includes the TV. She particularly enjoyed Strictly Come Dancing (this was Mrs J's choice, not mine, obviously) when it was on. If she was lying on her playmat she'd turn her head to stare at the screen, which probably had something to do with all the movement and colours.

So far we haven't resorted to just dumping G in front of the TV to keep herself amused, but the options for entertaining her are going to reduce by half from Tuesday. That's when Mrs J goes back to work and every day becomes daddy-daughter day. From then on, I'm going to need all my powers of imagination to avoid using the gogglebox as a babysitter.