Thursday, 7 September 2017

The Next Stop... Leeds, England!

Beating my post Scotland blues I looked towards Yorkshire to serve something industrial and then historical. With the astronomical train fares I chose the Megabus to Leeds before checking out York, going up north had to be the one! Choosing the alternative, Leeds had something to show me, from darkness there comes light and Leeds shone brightly! Don't hold back!

Getting down from my Birmingham Megabus at Leeds Bus Station allowed me to begin my northern trip. Looking for the markets I didn't have to go far, clocking Kirkgate Market I viewed a normal looking set of market stalls that didn't exude the 19th century architecture that I had researched! Seeing the period market stalls with the fresh fruit and the famous Marks & Spencer Penny Bazaar I was snatching the views that I had wanted to! Giving me everything that a traditional English market should do, adorned with colourful beams and a legendary glass roof that oozed period features I was loving that Yorkshire market without a doubt! Ranging from a unique foods stall that served a slice of what London's Borough Market does I was thrilled the majority of the stalls embodied independence, not paying no mind to chains or the shady business a certain Corn Exchange did to eradicate the talent! Kirkgate tell the truth!

Was I looking to bag a bargain from those humble stalls at Leeds's Kirkgate Market? I did stop for a coffee at an ordinary looking cafe, personally for me it was all about appreciating the look of the market. The Marks & Spencer Penny Bazaar stood proud, representing the original store that began the empire of quality products. Taking note of the history I was extremely impressed by the story of Kirkgate Market, a powerhouse of enterprise within a city that went above and beyond within its many industries. Did M&S shade Kirkgate Market? Returning to the market during 2012 with a dedicated Penny Bazaar brought that Leeds born business back to its roots, telling the time wasn't an issue as a timely green clock was presented to the market in 1984 to celebrate the centenary of M&S setting up shop way back at Kirkgate in 1884. Kirkgate Market kept it real, honest and from my view it looked like things were independent, finding out about a certain ousting within Leeds was so cold!

Leeds presented itself as a Victorian showcase city with all of its period features I loved it, obviously Victoria is my favourite queen! Leaving Kirkgate Market behind me I was curious what was worth to see next. Millennium Square was littered with a funfair, not impressed by that sight I noticed Leeds Town Hall was just over the road from the Mandela Gardens, lets just say that Victorian civic hall had me transfixed by it's ruling queen! Walking away from Millennium Square towards Leeds Town Hall I captured a top vista, encapsulating Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds War Memorial and the Town Hall for good measure. Challenging this alternative northern city had me looking for something ordinary that in my minds eye gave me everything and even more! I could only imagine what life was like during that Victorian hey day after the opening of the Town Hall? Leeds looked victorious with all of its Victorian overness! Yass!

Why Leeds? I had three north west cities to choose from, between Sheffield and Bradford I chose Leeds for its close to proximity and cheap train fares to York, my next port of call during that northern trip. I always look for somewhere that's not on the tourist map, any of those cities sounded like the perfect place for that business. Not wasting any time I was off my Megabus that morning to see what hidden gems I could find, as I profess that I hate shopping I did not pay attention to the pedestrianised shopping streets for something else. The rain may have poured a bit in the morning but the early afternoon was blessed with some lovely sunny weather, perfect for moving onto the next phase of my Leeds day. Being proud of it's working class flex, Leeds presented itself as a modernising city with bucket loads of character. I saw that it was fashioning its factories into spaces for the future. Talking about a working class flex, I was about to see a place that allowed Leeds to soar! 

Leeds displayed its fashion lines proudly thanks to its industrious ways, crafting the cotton brought by the barges the working people of the Armley Mills hustled hard during those challenging days during Britain's Industrial Revolution. Stepping into the Leeds Industrial Museum schooled me back to those days and beyond, linked to the port of Liverpool by a vital canal link brought the raw materials to the former mill. Leeds's premier fashion houses would have well been stocked with the finest garments but the workers of Armley Mill and many others of its time worked immensely hard in conditions that brought the name 'sweat shop' to light. Witnessing the 'spinning mule' I could not begin to imagine how the work conditions were for those desperate workers, some of them I read were children who were working to support their families. I was proud of the history of the mill but for the treatment of the workers, no!

Not just famous for its cloth making but in the here and now Leeds is known for a popular ITV soap opera, going by the name of Emmerdale. Before making my self guided trip to Leeds and then York I had looked at tours that were packaged for that area with a visit to the Emmerdale filming set. Deciding the Armley Mills at the Leeds Industrial Museum would show me a real part of Leeds's history I didn't pay the Emmerdale Experience much attention, but believe me I'm not being shady. Leeds looked like it had a great set of bars but I was so whacked out from seeing all I did in that day, choosing to take it easy I missed the opportunity to see any of the bars during their best hours. Dealing with that nighttime factor I know that I will make up for taking it easy in one of my upcoming trips. Leeds served several things that I really loved, its past and Victorian charm impressed me much! I'll never underestimate the draw of a city that's not a London, Manchester or Birmingham! Yes L!

Legendary Leeds! 

Joseph Harrison

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Back To Birmingham... My Southside Comeback!

Birmingham hasn't been part of my life for some time due to being in Wuhan, China. Time away from my student city has always been good for me, the longer time passes since my university days the more I feel immensely appreciative for the journey. With some time on my hands I wanted to hop back to my past student home. Of course I had Southside in my sights!

Chinese food and culture has been part of my life for the last two years, before I moved to the Middle Kingdom I was eased into things during my students days within Birmingham's Chinese Quarter with the help of my dear friend Kelly. Fresh off the Midland Metro I bypassed Grand Central for the moment because I had China Town set in my sights, I was hungry for a late dinnertime treat at Peach Garden. It didn't take me long for some Oriental talent to cross my path as I grew closer to Birmingham's Chinese Quarter, those East Asian brothers were looking finer than fine! Over the years Birmingham has brought me back together with myself, since finishing university it was bitter pill to swallow not living in Birmingham full time but as the years have past and I've been living my real life Chinese life it was humbling to be back for that one time. One thing I couldn't deny was the view, pure gorgeousness from every angle!

The late summer sun in the Arcadian shone, the atmosphere of that Friday was great as I made my way to Day In Oriental Supermarket. Transported back to my Oolong Tea hunting time I wasn't looking for that brew, no it was all about the curry paste I swore by during my China days first time around. The air may have felt fresh but it was filled with the familiar tones of the Cantonese language, that Hong Kong and Guangdong chat took me back to my time in Hong Kong and also in Guangzhou. Content with my curry mix, I was hungry for some sweet and sour from Peach Garden on Ladywell Walk. Ready with my chopsticks I loved my late dinnertime treat, accompanied by some mixed chow mian with a cup of hot water for good measure. I knew my return to China wouldn't be too long away so that brief Oriental moment gave me some life. Did I want some post-dinner Bubble Tea? Yes, please! Ordering my milky tea in pure Mandarin Chinese was life! 珍珠奶茶? 是的, 大而冷!

Rewinding slightly I did things differently as my Metro tram passed by the all new Snow Hill development, staying on past the new 'St. Chads' and 'Bull Street' stops, passing the shops along Corporation Street before pulling into the all new and finally open Grand Central terminus. After checking into my hotel and having my Cantonese dinner I took a walk through the new Grand Central and New Street Station complex that amazed me, the wind and airy environment oozed modernity and light. The smaller parts of the new station were so cramped during my final term at University College Birmingham and the Metro extension took such a long time the whole project seemed more like a hindrance rather than a help during that concluding part of my Birmingham living. Redeeming itself in the present day I saw a streamlined view for Birmingham's main railway interchange. It resembled 武汉站 but without the shops! Oh BHM!

In a strange way I felt a slight detachment from Birmingham but in a healthy way, casting my mind back to the last full day I spent in Birmingham I felt gutted to leave the city because essentially I wasn't happy with life before China, working in a place in the West Midlands that didn't give me life had me running to Birmingham to seek some solace. I remember my first 'Back To Birmingham' post from August 2015 it was a time when I craved the city that took me away from Bilston and that gave me independence. 2017s Birmingham had me looking at a whole new city that still had the same quirks as before but my life has evolved so much from that point of leaving the Maltings for the final time before summer 2014. All in all the progress that I and Birmingham have made is remarkable if I don't mind saying so! In that moment Birmingham's New Station looked just right from my view. Going back to the hotel I decided it was time to relax and get ready before the night started. Let's go BR!

Even before I came back from China, me and my younger brother had already decided we would hit the town after I came back from Wuhan, China. Keeping to our word we met at Grand Central along with his lovely girlfriend, Alice. Beginning the night with our first drink at Grand Central's very own All Bar One set the pace for the night. We decided a bar crawl would be the perfect thing to do, moving onto Lost & Found along Bennett's Hill for a mixed gin cocktail. We rambled on about anything and everything, I've met Alice a few times since coming back from China, so the night out gave me a chance to get to know her better. Leaving that gin infused lounge for the Wetherspoon's at the Briar Rose shocked us as two double mixed drinks and a pint of Strongbow Dark Fruit only cost us £9.99! Winning with that price we stayed for three rounds or so at the Rose to take advantage of those prices! It was turning out great!

I had only found two cities in China during my two years that served me with fabulous venues, holding onto those experiences in Chengdu and Jinan I waited patiently for my chance to slay at the Village Inn within Southside, Birmingham. Making our way to the Village for the midnight Friday night cabaret was our plan, Sandra London's performance was one of the reasons I had called the night out on the 25th of August 2017! Being on the dance floor felt truly freeing, with the music right and Sandra slightly behind schedule I lost myself in the music, they played some RuPaul and after being starved of that type of music had me crazy! Sandra was amazing as per usual, the drinks free flowed and the night just felt so lovely, we don't always see eye to eye but as we get older as brothers we will always have each others back no matter what! Bidding a rather drunken farewell to Lewis and Alice I carried on the party at the Village Inn. After that episode I can close that Birmingham chapter! Getting back that Chinese flavour felt ace, seeing Grand Central's completion pleased me but the night out ruined me the next day!

Birmingham, I Can't!

Joseph Harrison 

Friday, 1 September 2017

Luss, Loch Lomond & Helensburgh, Scotland...

I hadn't made any reservations in Glasgow, I was told that I needed to book my flights to Scotland and my friend would sort me out. Running for the train at Glasgow's Queen Street Station, we eventually arrived at Helensburgh Central after going via Dunbarton! Those ticket machines! Well, Luss and Loch Lomond were waiting for us and a bottle of Buckfast was all mine! So?

Helensburgh had been a place that Fiona had told me about during our time in Wuhan, China. To be very honest it sounded quite like a Bilston by the sea! After our introductions I made myself comfortable at the Dade-McPhee household, after a lovely lasagna tea with a few pink gins for good measure it was time to rest, the next day was going to be eventful! I want more pink gin! Waking up uncharacteristically early for me during my post-China routine it was a chilled morning for us before the crazy commenced. It only took a hot minute before Helensburgh turned into a distant thought, the lush green hills of the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park grew closer. No, I'm not a tourist neither is Fiona so I tried to keep my cool as the hoards of tourists made their way into the picture postcard streets of Luss. The chocolate box holiday cottages desensitised me as modernity beckoned so near. Luss was lush! 

Chauffeur driven by Norman, Fiona's stepdad got us to where we wanted to be that morning. The weather was as changeable as life was in Wuhan for myself and Fiona, those clouds brought the rain down in annoying spots. Gifts aren't usually my thing I usually like to use photos as my only memento of a place but my grandparents deserved a gift or two for being fantastic and then some. Wading through the groups of stationary tourists tested my patience's, but I exercised impeccable manners throughout that brief shopping period. Content with my Scottish purchases it was back to finding the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. Luss had something special, going from the sandstone looks of Glasgow's city centre to the rolling hills of Luss gave me life for true! I'm not usually about travelling within the United Kingdom but after spending two years in China, detoxing from the utter pandemonium of Wuhan with such views has been the perfect tonic. Yes, Loch Lomond was hiding somewhere!

The boundless beauty of Loch Lomond treated my eyes to a sight so beautiful I wasn't bothered by the thick layers of clouds and sporadic showers. My nan would always sing the song 'The Bonnie Banks 'o' Loch Lomond' to us and to my younger cousins when we were babies so that idyllic vista was amazing to finally see in real life. Relocating Joanne and Norman was a relief as me and Fiona had briefly lost them, they had chosen to have a look at local art display whilst we were in the gift shop. I took my time to get a good photo of the fresh waters of Loch Lomond with a few boats in the background, the Loch was lively yet sedate, it seemed the off weather had kept people away from the waters edge and that completely fine with me. Had I seen a sight as beautiful as Loch Lomond before? I'd have to say the Erhai Lake in Dali, China closely matched Scotland's beautiful Loch Lomond. I paid those tourists no mind!

The Loch Lomond Arms had me thirsty for a pre pre-party drink but it was rammed with families, leaving that business behind us we drove for a little bit around passing the Gare Loch that showed me a glimpse of HMND Clyde before ending up at 'The Cafe' in Kilcreggan that overlooked Kilcreggan Bay on Roseneath Road. Unknowingly we were just over the water from Greenock Port where the majority of the cruise liners dock for Glasgow and Loch Lomond. Our light lunch was nice, it gave me and Fiona the permission to speak about our crazy lives in China and if anyone felt jealous they knew that they could have an experience like we did, we don't have time for negativity because thats so basic! The morning and afternoon out had been really nice, Loch Lomond and Luss served views and then some! Going back to Fiona's after our lovely outing to Luss, Loch Lomond and Kilcreggan gave us the chance to take a disco nap before the carnage would begin. Everybody let's say Scotland!

With our looks on-point it was down to Helensburgh town centre to begin the night ahead. I had promised to pre-drink a bottle of Buckfast, known as 'tramp tipple' I bravely bought a bottle of fortified wine for the win! Getting our night started at Charlotte's flat was the key for us! We were later joined by Fiona's sister Caroline after she got herself ready for the night. As we sipped on our pre-drinks I felt the Buckfast kick in, being my first night out after getting disorderly in China I was on my best behaviour. Leaving Charlotte's place we headed for the Logie Baird, but the locals just called it 'The Logie'. The Clyde had lost its buzz so I had already heard a lot about Helensburgh's top late night venue. Hitting the Logie just before 11pm allowed me to survey the locals, mostly from the forces it was going to be an interesting night to say the least! Getting our drink on and then some it was a scandalous night! We got mad with it HB!

With the lights almost up it was time for something to eat, Chinese had to be the one and I was so excited to eat properly with chopsticks again. Back to Charlotte's we went with our food, unbeknownst to the others I baffled them with my crafty chopstick game, I was too hungry to notice and essentially it felt normal for me to eat without a knife and fork. Feeling rather 'not well' the next morning we took a walk down the seafront close to the town centre, it definitely took the edge of our hangovers but I needed a bottle of Iron Bru to settle that score. Dropping into Caroline's we reminisced on the previous nights antics, we honestly had a great time and there was no drama! Sunday Dinner came to the rescue, chilling for the rest of the day had to be the one, we were both not well. All in all the two days spent in Helensburgh was lovely, Loch Lomond and Less were beautiful and the Logie was mad! Fiona and I may be on different paths but we're shared such an experience. Bye Fiona!

Get Mad With It!

Joseph Harrison 

Destination: Glasgow, Scotland!

Glasgow, Scotland called my name! Boarding my flight from Birmingham I touched down into a dreary Glasgow but my China bestie, Fiona was waiting for me at domestic arrivals so it all good. Ready to reconnect with Scotland's realest city, I didn't want to a one single thing! Second time lucky I was feeling so ready to see the city again, Glasgow was absolutely incredible!

Returning from China me and Fiona had made a pact to meet in her homeland of Scotland, keeping to our plan I booked up my flights from Birmingham to Glasgow International without any hesitation. We had connected during our crazy two year teaching experience in Wuhan, China and had vowed to keep in touch no matter! Forbidding any basic energy I was more than ready to slay my way to Glasgow, bounding ahead on my propeller plane it was a fifty minute flight from BHX to Glasgow! Not appreciating the weather forecast whatsoever it wasn't going to have a detrimental impact on that long weekend thing. Sashaying through domestic arrivals had me reunited with Fiona, we were ready to take the city of Glasgow for ourselves and nobody would dare stop us! My post-China life had me slowed down, getting out of the malarkey of visa renewal craziness had to be done! Oh no, Glasgow didn't have a choice!

I had previously been to Glasgow during my university days, accompanied by two friends who hailed from Portugal it was a great weekend but we missed out so much during our time in Glasgow. Not throwing shade on those Portuguese beauties but I had to take power, stepping on the gas to get us to the hotel and then to break down the language barrier. I had seen the Necropolis and the Cathedral, both amazing sights that I didn't need to see a second time around, that distant trip served ultimate realness with the duel we saw in McDonalds by Central Station, only high heels and chicken nuggets are needed to cause drama in Glasgow! Saving the Buckfast for the next night I wasn't looking for drama at all, leaving the perimeter of the airport brought us closer to Glasgow's city centre. Being back with Fiona felt amazing, it had only been a few weeks since we said goodbye in Wuhan but we were back! George Square, the Tenement House and the Clyde River were all in our sights! Yes!

Straight up Glasgow served its gritty truth, facing George Square gave me life for certain. Glasgow's centre point didn't need approval, that 17th century focal point impressed me much with the City Chambers as the main focal point. Listening to a reliable source we learnt that before George Square was fashioned into its current state it was a ground to slaughter horses, I suppose darkness always turns into light? I believe so in George Square's legacy, looking at its location I recognised the links from Buchanan Street from previous trip, how did we miss that? George Square sure was pint-sized but its horse statues brought the royal factor back, I'm always in favour when Queen Victoria's present. During the Scottish Referendum, George Square was a hype of activity with people expressing their views to be independent or to remain with the United Kingdom. In many respect's George Square is a main stage! Werk Glesga!

The stature of George Square had me working for a worthy photo, the threatening weather brought an unfavourable amount of cloud into my view! Now that's just shady! Greggs for breakfast, there's no shame in that because Glasgow wasn't going to judge us! Glasgow had me ready to recapture what I had wanted to see the first time but the blog wasn't alive back then, I really had no clue! Hopping on the sightseeing bus seemed like a champion plan, I usually look for transport like the Subway but embracing something different I was game to be schooled about this Glaswegian wonder! Leaving George Square behind us, me and Fiona were bamboozled with enough information it was almost too much! Passing the Winter Gardens showcased a slice of Victorian splendour, it was a shame art isn't our thing because were impressed by the People's Palace much! My day up till that point had been hectically fantastic, both of us looked forwards to our next stop, we were ready to step back in time!

My family is definitely the realest, we don't live in mansion or penthouse suites because we live on a council estate and there's nothing wrong with that at all! Seeking out a piece of Glasgow's housing history I came across the Tenement House along the sightseeing bus, located near Argyle Street and on the Subway system I could have found it independently but time wasn't a healer in our case. Supporting the National Trust Scotland with our entrance fee, we rang the bell on the first floor to be greeted by a volunteer worker. At first glance I was shocked to see how comfortable the Tenement rooms looked, I had an image of abject squalor but a Middle Class style was present. The dining room was modestly decorated with a cupboard housing a small double bed, presumably for the parents? A small bedroom sat next door, complete with a chamber pot reminding me of the Black Country term 'guz-under'. 

Delving into the kitchen led us to a helpful and very knowledgeable volunteered who informed us that the house had been kept exactly how it would have been during the 1800s as the previous tenant had not changed a single thing. The original family were not typical of the common impression of tenement housing in Glasgow, many other families would be in a state of poverty without running water or any real form of sanitation. I asked questions about the disparity between social classes in Glasgow during that time, she informed us that rents would be cheaper on the top floor and in the basement due to severe coldness at the bottom and the many floors to reach the top floor. Having seen many historic photos of Tenements from the Gorbals planted the impression of Glasgow housing, my family would have probably been living on the top floor or down in the basement, let me proclaim that we don't have tine for the middle class style. Glasgow had to work for it, no it's no Edinburgh!

Glasgow stands legendary with its own waterway, famously known as a powerhouse for its ship building along the Clyde River. Glasgow stone structures were given life by the Clyde many industrious ways, ship building built that city for certain! During my first visit to Glasgow we made it to the waterfront as the sun began to set, I won't lie it was a little bit sketchy but that what made me love Glasgow's edgy Clyde Riverside. The crane that stood still caught my eye because it resembled the past, sat by the crane is the wonky bridge. Why was that bridge not built straight? Due to the historic foundations of the Bankside it was thought if the bridge was curved it would cheaper and wouldn't cause much chaos. I have a love for industrious city that have worked for what they own, even though the shipping industry doesn't power Glasgow like it used to there are still moneymakers that fuel the city today. Build it G!

Let me eat my words because the Clyde is still craft sea worthy vessels to this day, hot off the docks is HMS Forth, slated for handover to the British Royal Navy in 2017 it's being completely assembled in Glasgow. Over the years Glasgow's branch of the Clyde River can say its been part of the building of the following vessels; the legendary tea clipper known as the Cutty Sark was crafted in Glasgow but has now been lifted into its own dry dock in Royal Greenwich in London. Ships fit for royalty such as RMS Queen Mary and the QE2 respectively, now that sounds like music to my ears. Glasgow showed us all of that and even more, stopping for in-between visiting the Tenement House and the Clyde Riverside we went for a lovely burger because Glasgow served it better than the previous time! There were no early evening scuffles near Central Station involved a Happy Meal but during this 2017 rebooted edition Glasgow sure delivered! Of course Scotland's realest city took us on the best ride!

Giving Us Glasgow! 

Joseph Harrison