What Shakespeare means to me

One of the greatest ever writers of the English language died sometime this month, 400 years ago – leaving behind a canon of work that would be read, enjoyed, studied and performed for centuries more. Long may he continue to inspire.

As an English Literature graduate, I have a particular fondness for Shakespeare. His playful ability to weave vast and complex tapestries with his words, intricate webs with layer upon layer of meaning, was one of the discoveries I made in my early school days that lead me to want to study English Literature at University.

 William Shakespeare effigy, Historical Reading Room, 
John Rylands Library Deansgate Manchester

I am a man more sinn’d against than sinning.”

I struggled to read as a child, I lagged behind peers in our reading classes, I found it hard to keep up in general and it was predicted that I would not necessarily reach the reading and writing comprehension required to pass my SATs. But, I always enjoyed stories and wasn’t put off by my inability to articulate myself in prose or digest the written word quickly, I kept on reading.

My parents pushed me to read outside of school too, I took special lessons and had a reading coach, eventually conquering my demons, being able to read and write at the rate of my peers by the time I was to go to “big school”. 

“nothing will come of nothing”
It was at said big school that I was formally introduced to Shakespeare’s plays and poetry and for the first time was struck by the power of language and how – aside from delivering instruction or conjuring two dimensional images – words, syntax, grammar and even punctuation could also have a profound and immersive effect on the reader. 

 Depiction of Julius Caesar Act IV Scene III, the ghost of Caesar in Brutus’ tent. 
John Rylands Library Special Collections

I had never comprehended that we could discuss language for the sake of discussing language rather than merely discussing the outcome of language. Discussing the fabric and stitching, not just the dress. It’s a small revelation, but it was the catalyst to a new way of thinking for me and it had a lot to do with William Shakespeare.

I’ll be celebrating his genius with a visit to John Rylands Library on Deansgate to soak up the literary history and see his effigy in the Historic Reading Room. There’s also a co-production of King Lear (my favourite tragedy, and the source of the above quotes) on from today until 7th May at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, details here.

Not in Manchester? You could give these articles from the New College Group a gander instead. They uncover some of the words and phrases Shakespeare introduced to the English language, words you thought you knew the meaning of until you read Shakespeare and words you may never know the meaning of. Enjoy!


A walk around Trinity

The boyf and I bought our first home last year, in the last remaining leafy corner of the inner city area, Trinity – a hop, skip and a jump over the river at Spinningfields and the mantelpiece from which Salford displays its best wares.

I spent a day wandering around the area (just 10 months after moving in) because I had a morning of work, and it was splendid.

I started with a coffee from Lupo Caffe,  a gorgeous little Italian caffè on Chapel Street, the main drag in Salford Central. Then, after a peak in the window of neighbouring Pencil Me In Shop, it was straight up Chapel Street toward Salford University campus.

A photo posted by Jordan McDowell (@jordanjmcdowell) on Jan 14, 2016 at 5:32am PST

It’s around a fifteen minute walk from the Manchester end of Chapel Street, up to the University where my final destination, the Salford Museum and Art Gallery, is situated and you pass some impressive sights en route. The old Salford Town Hall, for one, now swanky flats, sits within a pristine and pretty square with the New Oxford Pub nearby, all just around the corner from our home. 

Further up you come to the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salford, Salford Cathedral, the first cathedral to be built (1848) in cruciforiam shape since the Reformation. It’s an impressive space, sparse and solemn like most churches, but surrounded by gorgeous gardens too.

Next door is St. Philip’s Church, Salford’s answer to St. Paul’s in London, with a striking dome shaped steeple.

As well as relics from the past, you pass examples of regeneration in Vimto Gardens, the beginning of a huge residential and retail regeneration of the Chapel St. drag, on the site of the former Vimto factory. Timekeeper’s Square is another resident complex, next to St. Philip’s Church is being developed right now too.

St. Philip’s Church, Trinity, Salford

Nearing the campus, you catch a sight of The Meadows, a expanse of greenery within the meander of the Irwell, before it scoops back around and trims the boarder of Manchester and Salford at Spinningfields and Trinity. It’s a nice sight, some green within the urban city environment.

A photo posted by Jordan McDowell (@jordanjmcdowell) on Jan 14, 2016 at 5:46am PST

Then, the University, and my destination for a spot of culture on a rare morning off when I had nothing else to do. The Salford Museum and Art Gallery is a lovely little spot, with some beautiful permanent displays in the Victorian Gallery and changed exhibits throughout, from pottery and paper-work to modernist painting and photography. Well worth a visit.

For me though, it was time to trundle back down the street toward Manchester.

Roma men X fashion

Stumbled across a magazine whilst visiting Salford Museum and Art Gallery on Salford University campus the other day, the cover of which caught my eye. Love v Style was the title, a fashion magazine I thought, so I rolled it up and carried it home.

Later, when I got around to looking through it, I found it wasn’t a fashion magazine as such, but a project as part of Roma Matrix, an EU Fundamental Rights and Citizenship supported programme, working with Salford University and the University of York. The magazine explores Roma identity, including that that of the community’s young men-folk and their approach to fashion and clothing.

Portraits, photographed by Vasile Dumitru, from the Roma Matrix project, of Roma men living in and around Manchester are featured, with a short synopsis outlining how they dress and how it impacts/conflicts with their identity as Roma men. 

It’s really interesting to understand a little of this community’s adoption of western, or as they categorise it, “English,” fashion and how it can often be at odds with the practices and expectations of the older men in their community too.

Felix, 20
“I like to look good. I really like bright colours lie yellow, blue and red because they make me feel good. My jeans are from Zara, and my shoes are from Emporio Armani. The belt is Hermes. I like to wear designer things and shiny things. My watch is shiny and stands out. The necklace I’m wearing is real gold – it from my dad, who used to wear it when he was a teenager. He still lives in Romania and gave it to me when he came to visit recently. I’m his oldest son, so this means a lot to me.”

Marius, 19

“Today I’m wearing a pink T-shirt from Hugo Boss, some Nike Huarache trainers and a yellow Stone Island jacket. I love to wear very bright colours because they make me feel comfortable. I try to dress in the English style. My trousers are Polo – they are sports style trousers. I buy all my clothes in the UK, from shops in town.”


Nicusor, 22
“I think clothes matter – you have to look nice. My dad and uncles dress a bit differently to me but with time everything is changing. I’m wearing denim shorts today. My trainers are from Firetrap and the bag is from Romania. I have tattoos as well: on my right are are my son’s names, Josef and Yanis.”

Florin, 21

“Clothes are important to me because I care about my looks and style. I get fashion ideas from the TV, from Facebook and from seeing people around. My jacket is from Zara and the bag is Gucci. I don’t wear the earring in front of dad and family as they don’t really like it – I just wear it when I’m out with friends.”

Ion, 18

“The way I dress is not that important to me – I sometimes buy clothes from charity shops. Today I’m wearing a Chinese suit jacket, some jeans, a pair of driving shoes and a gold necklace. My parents don’t mind the way I dress, as long as I look respectful. It’s the personality that counts to them.”

Vasile Dumitru, in self portrait

“I used to dress a bit more traditionally but I have changed my style. If I didn’t then my friends would laugh at me and call me old-fashioned.”


Ionel, 18
“My shirt is English style, I think, and the jeans came a bit ripped. My yellow trainers are by Polo, from Ralph Lauren. I think these colours go well together. I change my hair style quiet often. In my opinion you have to care what you look like. It’s important to look smart, to show Roma are respectable.”

 Adiran, 18

“Normally I wear brighter colours than this. I like clothes a lot and feel better if I’m wearing something good. I dress very differently from my dad, who often wears suits when he’s going out. Sometimes my parents ask ‘what are these clothes?’ but the fashion is changing among young Roma guys.”

Find out more about the Roma Matrix project here


You are here

We’ve been tarting up our new home since we moved in, but at a snail’s pace because our priority has been enjoying summer on the balcony!

Now it’s autumn though, our attention has turned back to décor and the hallway we need to finish off before moving onto the living/dining room.

You can catch up on our painting here and our up-cycling here

Manchester Doodle Map, David Gee, Pencil Me In, £42 (framed)

Now, Pencil Me In is a gorgeous shop, that I’ve mentioned in posts before. It’s on Chapel St, very close to our home, and represents part of an indie renaissance around the £360m regeneration area of Salford Central and New Bailey, skirting the River Irwell and Spinningfields. Along with Lupo, the italian coffee shop, Kings Arms and its theatre space and the Salford Arms, the strip is getting known amongst the hipsters.

The store stocks gorgeous stationery, prints, gifts and all manner of wonderfully cute things, including lovely doodles by local illustrator, David Gee, who, incidentally, is based just above the store!

David’s illustrations adorn ceramics, phone cases and come in the more traditional framed print form, and the boyf and I fell in love with this monochromatic doodle map of our fair city, Manchester.

It works perfectly well on an otherwise barren wall, breathing a little humour, sense of location and place within the welcoming foyer to our home.


Read all about it, Manchester Literature Festival

Manchester Literature Festival is back in town, promoting contemporary poetry and prose from across the globe, as well as Manchester’s own incredible literary history.

University Professors, writers, poets, editors, journalists and readers of all ages will come together, from 12th October – 25th October, at venues across the city to celebrate the written word. But, which of the events is worth a punt?

To mark the festival’s 10th birthday, the schedule is bigger than ever, with Festival Co-directors Cathy Bolton and Sarah-Jane Roberts promising to invite, “back many of our favourite writers from the past decade and hand-picking some of the most gifted emerging storytellers, destined to make big literary waves in the coming decade.” 85 events will take place, some having already taken place in September, prior to the official festival start date. They’ll span talks and seminars, walking and coach tours, film screenings and things for the little ones.

Top names include Margaret Atwood, Patricia Duncker on George Eliot, Jeanette Winterson, who will launch her re-telling of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, Simon Armitage and, of course, Carol Ann Duffy.

On my must-see list is:

An Evening with Robert Harris
Harris was a Panorama and Newsnight reporter before turning his attention from broadcast and newspaper journalism to fiction. He’s authored many thrillers, including Fatherland, which I studied when at University as part of a course on literature of the Third Reich. Harris will discuss politics, power and corruption in conversation with Carol Ackroyd.

Royal Exchange Theatre
Monday 12th October, 7:30pm

Elizabeth Gazkell’s Manchester
Join Ed Glinert on a walking tour of Manchester, pin pointing many sights and sites of Gaskell’s Manchester, ending at the newly reopened Elizabeth Gaskell’s House for tea and cake.

Meet outside St. Ann’s Church
Tuesday 13th October, 1:30-4pm

Jeanette Winterson, The Gap of Time: The Winter’s Tale Retold
Winterson is the acclaimed author of many novels, including the multi award winning Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. I’ve read and studied Winterson for years and got to meet her a few years back at the launch of her memoir, Why Be Happy, When You Could Be Normal? When signing my copy, she said she liked my name #fangirling

Winterson will discuss her new work, a retelling of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. re-set in a post-credit crash London and the US city of New Bohemia.

Royal Exchange Theatre
Tuesday 13th October, 7:30pm

Patricia Duncker on George Eliot
Duncker is an icon to any undergrad who was lucky to hear her lecture at The University of Manchester. Her opening address to the School of English, on my first day of University was inspiring, to say the least. She raised an eyebrow and bellowed into the microphone, “University is a time to experiment,” a brief pause, “Lord knows I did,” a whip of her pashmina and she strode off the stage.

Duncker’s works include many gripping and tantalising fictions, including the mind boggling The Curious Case of The Composer and His Judge, which I highly recommend. Here though, Duncker will explore Eliot’s later life, the relationship between author and reader and her new work Sophie and the Sibyl.

Portico Library
Wednesday 14th October, 6:30pm

An Evening with Carol Ann Duffy
Join Duffy in celebrating the launch of the Poet Laureate’s first Collected Poems, spanning 8 collections and 30 years.

Hallé St. Peter’s
Sunday 18th October, 7:30pm

Simon Armitage
Armitage’s poetry touches the hearts and adorns the bookshelves of most poetry enthusiasts. For his best-seller Walking Home, the poet trekked the Pennine Way. Now, he’s busking his way through Somerset, Devon and Cornwall and this will be the topic of his discussion.

Central Library
Tuesday 22nd October, 6:30pm

Find the full schedule here

See you at the event!


Womanchester, oh the womanity!

Of all the public statues in Manchester, there’s a metal tree, a horn, a stone, a bicycle, at least sixteen men, but only one woman, Queen Victoria. Can you believe that? In a city that brought the world the Pankhursts, the suffrage movement, allowed women to attend its University before any other higher education institution, the home to the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy and just all round bodacious place to be?

Well, a campaign, WoManchester, is under way, lead by Councillor Andrew Simcock, to rectify this issue and raise the public money (up to £500,000) to fund a new statue to commemorate a late great lady of Manchester. The statue won’t solve the inequalities between women and men in this city (or this country) and 1/2 million pounds later the balance between statues of men and those of women won’t be rectified at all, but it’s a step and a statement.

Simcock has just completed a bike ride from top to tail of Great Britain, from Land’s End to John O’Groats in Scotland, to raise funds. You can donate to the cause here and the long list of potential subjects has been revealed, which you can view here

Each of the 20 women that make the long list were celebrated at 20 separate intervals of Simcock’s bike ride, with a picture taken (some of which are below) to snapshot the moment.


The incredible Marie Stopes makes the list, Stopes wrote the controversial Married Love in 1918 which taught readers about the female orgasm and the need for women to enjoy their participation in (albeit heterosexual, married) sex. She also spoke about birth control and campaigned for women’s rights on the subject. If you’ve not read Married Love, read it, it’s amazing and also shocking how little we’ve moved on.

Of course, the Pankhursts also make the list with Emmeline, Sylvia and Chrisabel up for nomination, but also Enriqueta Rylands, who founded the John Rylands Library on Deansgate in her late husband’s name. Although, interestingly, there is a statue of Enriqueta within the library, in the main reading room, starring across the magnificent room across to a statue of her husband, so perhaps she should let another amazing woman get the gig this time round?

The long list will soon become a short list and then it’ll be up to the Mancunian public to decide. Who will you vote for?


The Pilcrow Pub

Manchester is building a pub. Trained craftspeople, builders, coders and makers are coming together to lead an army of volunteers to co-operate and build a pub in Manchester, for Manchester, by Manchester.

NOMA’s coordinates, which is why it’s sometimes called NOMA 53°.

The team behind The Pilcrow Pub have a site, the as yet unnamed square in NOMA* and they have an architect, but that’s pretty much it. Now, they need Manchester to fill in the blanks, you can join up as a volunteer here.

Construction should start in January 2016, with workshops being devised to up-skill Mancunians on just how to go about building this temporary Pub. Once built, the pub will move around NOMA and will host local beers, food and learning spaces too.

Why The Pilcrow? Well, you may not know (I didn’t!) but the pilcrow, ¶, is an oft forgotten punctuation mark that signifies the end of a thought. It’s still used by editors and proofreaders, but has long since been dismissed in the wake of WhatsApp and Twitter. The mark will be stamped onto each piece of the puzzle that is The Pilcrow Pub, an emblem to the organic and ever changing nature of the project. Read more on this here.

Excited? You should be!


Edinburgh, the International Festival and The Fringe

The boyf and I recently took a sojourn up to Edinburgh, it was my birthday gift to him, and our first ever time in Scotland! Edinburgh is a wonderful city, with a centre small enough to navigate on foot and set around some gorgeous gardens and boasting truly awesome architecture.

The Scottish-American author, Andrew Carnegie once said: “Edinburgh is a city which makes you think about what a city can be, or what it should be,” and he was absolutely right. The city just works; the way the central train line runs uninterrupted through the city’s valley, flanked by the beautiful Princes Street Gardens, the way Waverley Bridge and North Bridge fly over, through the sky. It’s a city on many levels and each level is a totally different experience, from the lofty heights of The Royal Mile and old town Edinburgh, a cobbled wander into the past, through to the hustle of Princes Street and St. Andrews Square and then the beauty and tranquillity of the gardens, deep in the valley. Coming from Manchester, a much busier and more hectic city (by some additional 2m people), where cars compete with swarms of people, trams and buses to scurry through the narrow streets of the built-up metropolis, experiencing Edinburgh, in all its uniformed sensibility, was quite a change.

An average day in Manchester (Greater Manchester Police Flickr)

An average, albeit sunny, day in Edinburgh (BBC)

We visited just before The Fringe, which many people, including myself, had heard of – but don’t 100% know what it’s about. Well, I assumed it was just a comedy festival, because I knew a lot of comics tend to showcase works there, from reading the autobiographies of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. But, it seems its much more than that.

The Fringe was set up as an alternative to the more classical Edinburgh International Festival, where performers of classic arts and dance are invited to the city to showcase their talents. (Just like Manchester International Festival, but less contemporary and it doesn’t solely commission brand new works.) Instead, The Fringe allows pretty much anyone to participate and therefore has a broader spectrum of arts on offer. This year, the two opposing festivals will run concurrently, throughout August, EIF bring with it a calendar of high art and The Fringe, over three thousand performances and works from late night cabaret to street performances, with many bars, hotels, tents and traditional play houses playing host, all over the city.

As a result of getting to Edinburgh just before the masses descend for the cultural event, we got to take a sneak peak at some of the events before anyone else!

Sunshine on Leith is a musical based on the music of The Proclaimers returning to The Fringe by popular demand after its 2007 run and the 2013 film adaptation, with the same name. We got 2 4 1 tickets to the preview show at The Famous Spiegeltent, a temporary venue in St. Andrews Square with a wig-wam like structure, in hexagon shape with stained glass windows and a pop-up bar.

It’s a great show, that tells the story of two Edinburgh lads returning home after serving in Afghanistan and realising what home means and what they want from life, now knowing how valuable it really is. And, who knew The Proclaimers had so many good songs? I particularly enjoyed Letter from America and, of course, 500 Miles at the finale. Worth a go if you’re in Edinburgh for The Fringe – especially because St. Andrews Square also plays host to a gorgeous outdoor acoustic tent and Prosecco bar! A tented and decked portion of the gardens, with patio heaters, bars, facilities and Hard Rock Cafe sponsored free acts to enjoy in the sun or the evening.

Also running at the same time of the festivals is the David Bailey exhibit at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Bailey’s Stardust (until 18 October). The exhibit showcases some of Bailey’s finest works – with some new pieces never having been on exhibition before! Documenting Bailey’s career from Andy Warhol selfies and the many and stunning images of Kate Moss in the 90s through to his photo-journalism trips to New Guinea and also Ethiopia, for Band Aid.

If you’re a fan of portraiture photography, celebrities from bygone eras or, like me, just a fan of Bailey – it’s well worth a visit!

Whilst you’re there, pop next door to The Scottish National Gallery to see some beautiful examples of Italian Renaissance painting and the full length portrait of the Honourable Mary Cathcart by Gainsbourough, which her widower hid away for years – finding her beauty too painful to see after her premature death – and which was bequeathed to the gallery by her family on condition it never leave Scotland. There’s also a surprising little exhibition of etchings and carvings inspired by the Greco-Roman Gods, called The Olympian Gods (until 18 October), all free.

See more of my trip on my Instagram @jordanjmcdowell
Check our my restaurant reviews for Scotland on my TripAdvisor contributor pages


Dig The City Manchester 2015

Dig The City is back! Manchester’s urban gardening festival returns to the city centre from 31st July – 6th August, so, what better time to introduce you to our little green corner of the city, than now? 

Our 18×4 ft rectangle of outdoor space is our little gem and we love it. Space comes at premium in the city and outdoor space, is like gold dust, so we adore our little plot of “outside”. The balcony is just off our kitchen, so it made sense that our approach to urban gardening be edible, a little kitchen garden of delicious surprises.

We spend a lot of time out here too, because the balcony is covered and protected from wind and rain on three sides, so it’s a cosy space to sit even when the weather isn’t too good and we have the door open from the kitchen pretty much all day when we’re in, so the cat can sprawl on the astro-turf and hiss at the neighbour’s dog.  

We picked up the astro-turf for next to nothing from Home Bargains, but it doesn’t quite extend the full length of the balcony, we were testing it out to see if we liked it before investing in a fitted run, which isn’t cheap. Turns out, we love it, and will probably make the investment next summer.

Our petit pois are doing really well, as are our mini herb selection, Thyme, Oregano, Basil and Parsley. As I type I have a roasted cherry tomato and caramelised red onion soup cooling with our home grown basil leaves in it!

We also have two types of fresh mint, perfect for cocktails, three different types of strawberry and two different types of chilli growing too!

Going to dig your city?



#MIF15 The Crocodile

The Invisible Dot Cabaret and Manchester International Festival presents The Crocodile, a tale of a man that re-evaluates his life after being swallowed hole by a Crocodile…

 Q&A: Simon Bird

An unusual comedy hits The Pavilion Theatre at Albert Square as part of Manchester International Festival, and you should grab tickets whilst you can!

  Starring Simon Bird, he of The Inbetweeners, it’s a right laugh from start to finish. Set in Russia, during the reign of the Tsars, the comedy begins with two friends discussing art and love and quickly descends into farcical humour straight out of the obscure. 

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsThere’s song, dance, commentary on capitalism and the pursuit of fame, art, culture, love and discussion around whether being swallowed by a Crocodile could be the answer to all our troubles.

Buy tickets here and remember, Manchester residents from lower income families can get tickets for just £12.