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.

Breakout Manchester

Being locked in an upstairs room, above a wine bar for an hour is honestly one of the most exciting things you can do with your mates in Manchester, right now.

Breakout Manchester are a two-site entertainment venue straight out of the ordinary, where you and select mates can test the very fabric of your friendship in an immersive experience akin to Crystal Maze. But, 10 times more amazing, because you’re not watching it on TV, you’re living it.

Breakout is made up of eight rooms, in their sites on Brazennose Street off Albert Square and High Street in the Northern Quarter, each with their own story and puzzle(s) to solve. They range from hard to the near impossible in difficulty and each room gives you one hour to breakout before you’re (locked in forever) declared the loser and have to take a humiliating mug-shot to tell all your friends on Facebook.


When we last broke out (and saved the world from annihilation, you’re welcome!)

To celebrate our wonderful friend’s birthday (which was actually in October…) the boyf and I took him and his hubby with us to play the Madchester room. Together, the four of us have broken out before, we played the Sabotage room last year – a then 4/5 difficulty rating that’s since been raised to 5/5 – which tells a Cold War meets 007 Golden Eye story that was absolutely hilarious and saw us break out with less than a minute to spare. 

This time, however, we were playing Madchester (5/5) and were subsequently locked in some sweaty teenager’s room, a teenager with an unhealthy obsession with all things Manchester. A bit like the room from that girl in My Mad Fat Diary.

Now, I’m not giving anything away – because that’s mean and I think Breakout Manchester would come round and lock me in a Chinese Puzzle Box and then paint it like a rubik’s cube and throw me into the canal. But, what I will say is – you don’t need to be an expert on Manchester for this specific room, just in the way you don’t have to be a war veteran to play Sabotage. It’s just the theme, not the nuts and bolts. What you do have to be good at, however, is screaming across the room at your best friends about how shit they are.

In the room, everything is a clue (unless, y’know it’s just the light switch…) and you can’t overlook a thing. You run around piecing pieces of the puzzle together and you have to keep each other in the loop so you can connect the dots on the things you’ve seen and done.

There’s a big screen on the wall too, that counts down from 60 minutes to 0, with increasingly hostile music being played to, y’know, make you feel right at home and positive you’ve got this under control. You can shout into the screen (or, actually, the camera above) and the game master person who runs your game can communicate with you on screen if you’re desperate for a clue, or to tell you go get down off the wardrobe because their liability insurance won’t cover them.

Yeah baby!

So, there’s us, running around like headless chickens thinking we were doomed with too many puzzles to solve and only 5 minutes left when we have a windfall and we’re all of a sudden, back in the game. We still had a bit too much to do, so started guessing the remaining answers to our puzzles to unlock the exit door, with two of us operating the door locking system. We guessed right and the door unlocked, but in our sheer excitement, the stupid thing locked itself again, I turned around and clocked the screen as the code was being thumped back into the door and we had 3, 2, 1 seconds remaining when the door flung open and we fell out.

I’ve never come closer to murder.

Book now.

This post was written with my disclosure policy in mind here.


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’re gunna hear me roar

I just wrote this blog and then the bloody thing deleted it. I want to shoot something.

Sooo, as I was saying, I am aching all over because I, like the rest of the world, has decided to get back in shape after eating way to much cheese and drinking, to be quite frank, a disgusting about of whiskey, over Christmas. As I type this I’m drinking an Avacado, Cucumber, Celery, Apple, Pear and OJ smoothie and an attempt to appease my pickled body and dull skin into forgiving me my trespasses.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js So, as well as getting back into our gym, on our morning smoothie regime and curbing my enthusiasm for Irish Whiskey, the boyf and I are feeling a little more human.

But, we’re taking it further. In an effort to eat cleaner, we’ve invested in a bumper pack of lean meats and poultry from musclefood.com, your friendly online butchers who deliver in chilled packages, to your door.

Darren Cravens

Before you go all suburban on me, no it’s not GM, 3D printed meat-substitute from Romanian Horse farms. It’s British Red Tractor certified, RSPCA Freedom Foods accredited, Soil Association approved, good, honest meat. You get tonnes of the stuff too, filling our 2nd freezer to the brim and therefore forcing us to eat cleaner and more high-protein food as we get back into the swing of things.

But, I’m not finished, I’m going the whole hog. I’ve joined a boot camp squad too. I know, I’m like Madonna.

Fitness and lifestyle coach Darren Craven hosts a boot camp style, high intensity workout class our of Proper Gym in Ancoats and I’m going to be hopping over the city once a week for 3 months to partake in the classes, get my home-work for in my own gym and receive some one-on-one training too, all for the benefit of your entertainment on this here blog.

So, expect more from me on my training trails soon!

This post was written with my disclosure policy in mind here.


Weird gift ideas

Don’t you just love a Christmas gift straight out of the ordinary? Cuff-links and ties are all well and good, but here’s a list of things you wouldn’t expect to get this Christmas.

Now that’s something worth writing. 

Because egg boxes are ugly. 

Cute design by illustrator, Julia Gash. Bobby is one of Julia’s two cats, together Bobby and Jimmy are a source of inspiration for Julia’s designs.

Moccis (pronounced Mock-Keys) are luxury hand-sewn Swedish moccasins for padding around indoors in.

Made by Nat in her Cornish studio, all Thrashion jewellery is made using traditional woodworking techniques with broken skateboards and silver.

Watches like you’ve never seen them before. I don’t even know how this one tells the time!



Popped by the multi-award winning Foundation Coffee House off Stevenson Sq. in Manchester’s Northern Quarter t’other day. Why? For a brew, of course.

Thermos are celebrating being all good at keeping things warm and wanted to talk hot coffee with us in a hot space. The team at Foundation are hyped-up caffeine fuelled coffee manic connoisseurs, what they don’t know about coffee, isn’t worth knowing.

They took us through four unique brewing processes that each make a different kind of coffee. The processes were as bizarre as they were over engineered, but it was fun to watch and learn more about coffee.

I had no idea there was so much to it.

The four methods the team showed us where, Balance Syphon, Syphon, Aero-press and V60, each a totally different way of brewing coffee and not something you’ll find in your local Starbucks. Note, never mention Starbucks, flavoured syrups or even sugar in front of these guys. They’re serious about coffee and won’t stand for it.

Syphon brewing is a bizarre one that almost amounts to witch craft. Basically, the coffee is popped into the top bit, and the water in the bottom. Then a flame is lit and boils the water, once the water reaches boiling, the vacuum created sucks the water up a spout and into the top compartment to mix with the coffee before falling back down into the bottom, ready for drinking.
How utterly ridiculous. (read: amazing)
Verdict: the coffee was weak. Not much time to brew.

Then there was this contraption. A Balance Syphon. So, much like the other Syphon, this kinetic wonder houses the water in the metal basin, where a flame underneath boils it. Once boiled it tips and the water rushes through into the glass jug to mix with the coffee before swooshing back.

Absolutely mad. (read: I want one)

Verdict: The coffee wasn’t great.Once again, a little weak.

Then there’s the Areo-press, an equally over complicated process to get a brew. (Anyone just fancy a Nescafe?) Here the coffee is popped into an air tight telescopic thingie and water poured in on top. Once sealed you pop the contraption over your cup and push down really hard until the water seeps through the coffee. 

Insane (No, really)

Verdict: The coffee was alright actually.

The best brew was the simplest. The V60 is your standard filter coffee contraption where the coffee is popped on top of a pot and water passes through both it, and a filter paper, to make a gorgeous brew.

Verdict: The coffee was divine.

Large flask, Thermos, £30.95

Cheers to Thermos for an enlightening and buzz-filled evening and check out their new range of flasks to keep your brew hot. They made our welcome coffee at 6am and served it to us from these flasks, pipping hot, at 7pm. Amazing.


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?