Category Archives: Manchester


Blogging our recent US trip day by day, four weeks after the event.

Friday 22nd August – Amsterdam

DSCF4028Yes, OK, it should be #WOMBATSDOAMSTERDAM, but then it wouldn’t fit with all the earlier blog posts and that would be just WRONG. Anyway, over the Atlantic, at about 9pm Eastern Time Thursday when it was dark outside, Captain Keith (not Crieff, thank goodness*) warned us that there was bad weather ahead, which would cause some turbulence. He made the flight attendants sit down. The aircraft leapt about like a mad eejit. We caught brief glimpses of lightning among dense clouds out of the window. That was both beautiful and scary.

I tried to sleep, but dozed only fitfully, even though I used my full snooze-arsenal of squidgy neck cushion, tilty seat headrest, and loosening of the trouser waistband. It seemed hours before rosy-fingered dawn was stroking my eyes. No, you fools, that’s not the blonde who served us with what purported to be beef stroganoff, but tasted like beef with lard lumps. That’s POETRY to describe us flying into the next day.

The plasticky seat was making my arse sweaty, so it was a true relief when Captain Keith told us that we were beginning our descent into Schipol. I did remember to do up my belt before we went through customs. Sorry to disappoint those of you looking forward to a trouser joke. We emerged from customs at Arrivals Gate 1.

“I’m at Arrivals 3 gate,” Yvonne texted, “See you soon.”

“On our way,” I replied. We followed yellow signs to Arrivals 3 which sent us round in a big pointless circle. Bloody stupid airport. Seriously, it took half a bloody hour.

DSCF3946“I’m under the Heineken sign at Arrivals 2” I texted, followed quickly by “Oh bumholes, I mean Arrivals 3.”

It was very crowded, so I went searching for one charmingly attractive Dutch woman among scores of them that were thronging the area. Seriously, die Nederlandse vrouwen zijn prachtig. Soon we were hugging hello, though, and I’m sure I wore a big daft grin at finally meeting one of my longest and best Twitter friends.

Yvonne drove us into the city in her nippy little car, and walked us across towards the canal. We passed massive queues at the van Gogh museum, and I revelled in being in my fourth country in two weeks. I loved all the bicycles, and the trams. We were delighted by random statues of iguanas, too.

DSCF3951Yvonne took us on a narrow-boat tour around the canals, which we boarded opposite Hard Rock Cafe, a nice bookend for the one we’d seen in Niagara. The cruise was superb, and just right for the cloudy day and our slightly hysterical mood. We passed a houseboat museum, Anne Frank’s house, a tulip museum, the Bimhuis concert hall, the Rembrandt Museum, Opera House, and all manner of bicycle thronged bridges, houseboats, and fine houses.

Afterwards, we retired for a pleasant coffee and chat in a pleasant coffee house. It really had been a lovely day. The heavens opened as we left the cafe and we were drenched by a torrential downpour. DRENCHED, I tell you, in DUTCH RAIN! It was WONDERFUL.

Back at the airport after bidding farewell to Yvonne we steamed quietly, waiting for the gate to open for our final flight. And guess what? Yes, after all we’d already experienced, the capricious gods of flight had one last twist to throw at us. A long delay brought on by the very storm that had soaked even our underwear was greeted by a shrug. We were used to such things by now.

Then, a gate change which meant a scurry clear across the airport. Knackered after a brilliant day that had had little sleep before it, we were simply going through the motions now. More security checks, more waiting, more annoyances. Finally we boarded, now desperate just to get home.

DSCF4045Still those Gods of flight had not finished, however. We crossed the North Sea and were finally over England. When we were low enough to see land we spotted Scout Moor wind farm, and from the orientation managed to figure out that we were flying over our house. We gave a weedy “Yay”.

Manchester Airport was surprisingly easy to get out of, and there was Martin, good old Martin, who’d dropped us off on Day 1 seventeen days before for what was to prove, quite simply, two of the most amazing, astounding, astonishing weeks of my life.

Thank you for sticking with the #WOMBATSDOAMERICA blog posts. They’ve been a joy to write, and have helped me to revisit all the magical things we did, and the incredible friends we met and made. Where will we go next? I’m not sure – San Diego? Michigan? Canada? We’ll just have to wait and see.

*one for ‘Cabin Pressure’ fans there. For non-fans, this might give you a flavour



Blogging our recent trip day by day, four weeks after the event…

Tuesday 5th August – the New World

DSCF2230Airports are confusing places the first time around, but we managed to trudge through Manchester eventually. The woman at the bag drop was pleasant and helpful, the man at the look-through-your-bags-and-stuff place much less so. We were also a bit confused as we hadn’t been asked to remove our shoes at any point, something I had prepared for by wearing clean socks for a change. Once airside, we realised that we may have been over-cautious in our arrival time. Mary looked around the shops while I looked at women’s legs, and yet somehow there were always still forty-five minutes until the gate opened. The queue at Costa was not in the least enticing. Our first airport experience was a strange mix of confusion and banality.

Eventually, though, WE WERE ON A PLANE! Our first ever flight, which must be unusual at our age given these wizard, modern days of international travel. The KLM aircraft was quite small, with rows of three on either side of a central aisle – Mary got a window seat so that she could click away at the clouds and lose her pencil down the side of her seat. She said the clouds looked like celestial sheep on a blue-grey field. I adored the powerful upthrust of take-off – WHUMF! The experience of flying is much more turny than I had imagined. The aircraft feels as if it is banking far too sharply and steeply.

Snacks arrived over the North Sea – how very civilised, to eat thousands of feet above the earth. Um, above the sea. I thought I’d better avoid the alcohol, given that we had the sprawling great airport at Schipol yet to negotiate. As we banked steeply over the waves, it struck me that we would be in Amsterdam in under an hour, then on to a flight to Detroit on the other side of the planet. My mind said “Blimey” several times.

DSCF2239“Prepare for landing.” Ooer. There was a briefly alarming clattery clunk, which I realised was the wheels being lowered. It was a far less high-tech sound than I had imagined a modern jet making. I peered past Mary at the land below. That was the Netherlands down there, eventually bumping into our wheels with another surprisingly Heath Robinsonesque thud.

Schipol was very big, very crowded and very yellow. It took us some time to reach the gate for our next flight, which was already processing passengers. A bored-looking security chap examined our documents.

“Purpose of your visit?” he intoned.

“We’re going on holiday.”

“Huh? What’s your final destination? Surely you’re not having a holiday in Detroit?”

“Ah, no. We fly on to Erie.”

“Oh I see. That makes more sense.”

He passed us through to be felt up by more security personnel before we shuffled aboard an Airbus 330, along with over three hundred other souls. The Delta flight safety video was fun and made me smile; ideal for relaxing the nervous flyer, I imagine. This time take-off was overwhelmingly more powerful, and made me shiver internally. I decided that I adored taking-off. We had centre seats, due to my inexperience when booking airline tickets all those months ago, and so had very little view. Inexplicably, the wazzocks actually by the window pulled down the blind. This meant that much of our attention was focussed on the seat-back entertainment screens, when our gaze wasn’t inadvertently drawn by the pervy fondling of the couple diagonally behind us. Tut.

There were scores of films from which to choose – Gravity, The Lego Movie, Kick Ass 2 – but we chose to watch the second Hobbit film together. I also liked the Flight Details screen, which showed where we were and gave stats about the flight. For instance, at 6pm in English money:

Ground speed: 836kph
Head wind: 31
Outside temp: -50°C
Distance to Destination: 1762
Distance from Origin: 4608
Time to Destination: 2hr 15m

Minus fifty? Jeebus. Lunch was sweet & sour chicken, salad & a bread roll. Cheese and a biscuit. All in tiny little packs. I felt like a giant.

At one point during the flight there was an announcement asking if there was a doctor on board, exactly like the ones in bad sixties films. I’m not sure that there was, but I believe someone with first-aid knowledge eventually made their way to row twenty-two, just beyond the bulkhead. Mary wondered whether you would get any refund if you were a doctor on a flight who had to do some actual doctoring.

I suppose we should have slept when the cabin lights were turned off for the middle section of the flight, but honestly, we were far too excited. The larger Delta plane gave a much smoother ride, where the small KLM flight had been like a rollercoaster at times as it swooped and bumped through turbulence. I did know about turbulence, of course, but I hadn’t realised that it would be so… bumpety. Also surprising was the tiny size of aeroplane windows, and indeed the fact that airports manage to run at all. There are so many things to take into account, to link together, that if a spanner is thrown in the works (fog, maybe, or snow, or ATC strikes) then a myriad things must be rescheduled to work together. They must have ace contingency plans.

DSCF2247Detroit was a pain at first, since we had to collect our checked cases to take through customs. First, though, a long queue for security, and eventually being told that we should have filled in a ‘blue form’ on the aeroplane, despite being told during the flight that we didn’t need to do that. Among the scattered piles of blue forms available there appeared to be none that were in English.

“There are forms in English there!” snapped a surly man with an oily moustache and pantomime frown, pointing to a pile of forms in Spanish. Luckily, Mary found an English one on the floor a few yards away, and we finally got to talk to the TSA agent.

He was very friendly, thankfully, and eased our nerves with his chatty demeanour. Once past him we sailed through customs, rechecked our bags, and went back into the airport, stressed and sweaty. The ordeal over, I quite liked DTW. The psychedelic tunnel is fun, and the dancing fountain extremely relaxing to eye, ear and mind.

Our final flight was but a short hop over Lake Erie. We were tired – being awake for close to twenty-four hours following only four hours sleep was catching up with us. However, our arrival in Erie was a blast and livened us up, at least for a while. We were expecting to be met by Kim and Tom, our hosts, but as we staggered through the gate a gang of folk from Wombat Towers (our catch-all name for a group of internet US friends) descended upon us, waving stars and stripes flags and windmills and cameras. We were hugged from every direction, by Kim and Tom, Sandy and Dave, Ellen and Jere, and my old friend Jamie with his Barb. We immediately felt very welcome and smiley indeed.

IMG_14410459762791“I love your accent; I just want you to keep saying stuff,” said someone, Ellen I think.

We eventually said goodbye until the next day, and Tom and Kim drove us back to their house. I gaped at the unusual road signs and lights out of the car window, and wrinkled my nose at an awful smell.

“Skunk,” Tom told us. “Must have been run over.”

Back at the house, cosy in its nest of friendly trees, we cooled down with a beer or two (a deliciously dry Australian lager called Landshark) and rather excellent sandwiches, the first sign of Kim’s remarkable skills as a hostess. Then to bed, remarking on the fact that light switches in the US go up when on, and that wall sockets have no switches.

There are more photographs of Day 1 here.

Manchester EXPO

DSCF7464Three years ago (jeebus, was it that long?) me and Cat went to the London MCMExpo. Now that Expo was happening up North, and on our very doorstep, we could suffer no other action than to go again. Loved the fact that this year, cos we bought early entry tickets, we got in with just ten minutes of queueing, rather than two hours. There’s a SHYTELOAD of pics (and a couple of videos) here that I hope capture the feel of a joyous day full of happy, friendly, vibrant people. DSCF7459Enjoy. If you recognise yourself in a pic having stumbled across this humble blog, do yell “Ayup Wombat!” in the comments and give us a cheery wave of whichever body part you find most pleasing. Oh, and you can click on each pic to see a larger version.



DSCF7552I definitely recommend you click on this pic to see the large version. There’s lots of goodies to pick out from the crowd.



Lolly chainsaw, cheerleader, weird scarecrow thing – what’s not to like?






Decide on your own amusing caption for this one, cos I can’t even.






Dance, girls, dance!







I love the pop-quaffing furry on the left there. Working the pink hair there, kids.




DSCF7553DSCF7557Creature crouching








The steps were remarkably popular for resting, although they did give you a nasty case of Numbum.




That awkward moment when your cloven hoof goes wonky








“And you are Green Lantern?”




DSCF7579Assembled folk of all kinds, but every single one having a champion time. Yes I’m from Yorkshire, why do you ask?



DSCF7581Skitty & Bulbasaur







Tim, Cat & Katharine






Inside G-MEX – sorry, “Manchester Central”, its crap new name.






Resting bananas. Be careful not to tread on them.






No Luke, *I* am your helmet.






Some weird Super-Ghost-Doctor mash-up that I can’t even.




DSCF7481DSCF7482Posing with dead Heath Ledger







Spot the tiny Han! (Harrison Ford was 70 the other day, by the way. I KNOW!)








Small child, HUGE ROBOT





Inside KITT








Dalek japes. EXTERMI oh wait…..


DSCF7511Them nice Merlin knights sign stuff and smile a lot.












Raquel, phwoar.  Yes yes, I’m old.





Totoro graveyard.



DSCF7548DSCF7549Cuddly K-9s!


Art happens!



Shopping cosplayers.





The footballers seemed out of place. Which dickhead spelled Mike Summerbee’s name wrong?


DSCF7584A weird fight between disparate genres.








It was a family day – lots of kids, which was great.



DSCF7606Those Merlin guys on stage (yeah, I can’t be bothered to look up their names).DSCF7629





Mario entertains the kids.


DSCF7611DSCF7620How much money did YOU spend?




I hope he has a green crayon.





Mobile massage. Really relaxing, akshly.




A range of costumes that tickled me. Life’s too short for me to comment on every one, but oh, those Iron Men Girls Women. Iron Ladies? Oh no, that’s something else entirely …. ah, you know what I mean.
























































Vic Mignogna Meets cat
































Just a couple – first up, some bopping to YMCA after Vic Mignogna had finished singing.

Northern Exposure

189649_10150185920283313_771433312_7925777_2237005_nThose of you who already follow Ed Sprake on Twitter (@ed_moose) will know of this man’s talent. He takes heart-achingly beautiful photographs. Also, he has a beard, so must be one of the good guys.

Last Tuesday evening we went to a preview of his exhibition at The Portico Library in Manchester. (Well, his and three other talented photographers). There’s some uplifting pictures to be seen, and bought.

If you’re in Manchester before the 28th April, do yourself a big favour and pop into the little door just round the corner from the Bank pub. I’ll be there again on the 27th myself.



The cognoscenti gather in the Library.







The exhibition….







Impressive roof at The Portico.






One of Ed’s best, completely ruined by my own crap camera.







Polite Literature.







If you look carefully, you’ll spot Ed amongst the peanut and wine blaggers.





When Wombat met Jamie

What did we do before the internet? One thing we didn’t do is make friends with blokes from Michigan, and then meet them in Manchester for a day of their visit across the Atlantic. Here’s what happened when Jamie met Wombat.

Of course, he just had to be the last one off the train. A gazillion peeps poured out of the carriages and disappeared into the waiting city before I spotted Jamie, at the far end of the platform. Even though I’d only seen photographs on Facebook and Sparkypeeps, it was obviously him. The hair gave it away, more than anything – sort of a startled Stan Laurel effect.
Jamie saw me at the same time, and saluted. I waved, extremely goofily, and then we had a big hug. A tough one, of the kind Real Men do. No girly overtones at all, honest. And then we were talking, extremely comfortably, as if we’d been meeting up all our lives.
We walked through the sun-drenched city centre to Shambles Square (see the piccie on the right), where we sat a while and sank a pint or two. It was pleasantly warm, and the beer was tasty and refreshing, and we almost decided just to stay where we were for the whole day.
After ascertaining that his GPS worked, and that we could locate nearby geocaches if we wanted, we exchanged gifts. Like a magician, Jamie flourished his rather large backpack and produced a rather groovy T-shirt, while I in turn presented him with a lump of black pudding. Sorry, Jamie, bad swap. Oh, and a bottle of the world’s best single- malt!
We started chatting to the couple sitting next to us, who had their cute three-year-old daughter with them. The husband tried to persuade Jamie that Liverpool was the greatest, most beautiful city in the UK, while I chatted to his wife about kids and beer. She took a photo of Jamie and I with his camera, and we decided we’d better get on with the day and bade our farewells.
Jamie had mentioned in one of his posts from Glasgow, that he was fascinated by anything that was older than the country he lived in, so I had decided that our first stop would be Manchester Cathedral, which luckily was sitting just behind the pub where we were sitting.
The roots of the Cathedral were begun in 1215, although there are decorative stones in the walls which have been dated to the year 700. Whatever the numbers, the place is a haven of peace and beauty. We admired the Regimental Colours in the Manchester Regimental Chapel, the ornate and delicate wooden carvings on the choir (picture right), and wondered at the streams of coloured light pouring through the bright stained glass windows. We were childishly amused by the presence of a Saint Chad in one of the windows.
Leaving the Cathedral, we headed away from Hanging Ditch and through St. Ann’s Square, where there were craft and food stalls, and Vivaldi, courtesy of a busking violinist.
Threading our way down onto Deansgate, Jamie thought he had annoyed a news vendor by posing for this photo on your left about his latest exploits. He was relieved when I explained the dry, sarcastic nature of the Manchester sense of humour.
Our next port of call was the magnificent John Rylands Library, which houses one of the world’s finest collections of rare books and manuscripts. The architecture is extremely impressive, what you might call Victorian Gothic. The library was founded by the magnificently named Mrs Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her late husband, John Rylands. The huge reading room, with its alcoves and balconies of glass-fronted bookcases, full of impressive-looking old tomes, and a fine statue of Mrs. Rylands (a very imposing woman with whom you wouldn’t want to mess) is well worth a visit the next time you get to Manchester. Go on, do it.
The café at the Rylands is one of the most pleasant cafés in the city, very light and airy. The menu makes a really pleasant change from the fries, pizzas, burgers and pies usually on offer. We decided on The Northern Plate – “A sharing plate for two show- casing the café’s regional foods: Lancashire & goats cheese, black pudding, Manchester sausage, Grizedale pork pie, locally cured meats, all served with Lizzie’s chutney and relish and crusty bread. Accompanied with 2 glasses of house wine”. It was perfect for a sunny day, and Lizzie’s Apple Chutney was to die for.
For our next stop, I had been torn between choosing the Museum of Science and Industry, or electing to marvel at the pre-Raphaelites on show at Manchester Art Gallery.
Unfortunately, I chose the wrong one, and we walked down to Castlefield and the Museum. Oh, the kids area, Xperiment, was sort of fun – see photo on the left – especially the orangey globe that you could whizz around to make groovy patterns. There was also a bit where you could stand on coloured squares to make bits of music. Unfortunately, there were four coloured squares and only two of us. When I hinted to the two young ladies also in the Gallery that they might care to make music with us, they looked at me weirdly and quickly walked away. But half the exhibits seemed to be missing, and everything was silent in the Power Hall – no thrusting pistons, clattering wheels, hissing steam. All was silent, and the worse for it. The Air and Space gallery had been denuded of much of its interest since last I visited, too, with the whole top gallery cleared out.
With no time now to reach the Art Gallery, we meandered past the Town Hall and took a photo by the fountain, before retiring to the Chop House (piccie), established in 1867 apparently. It being a warm day, we opted to sit out back, in the peaceful area behind St. Ann’s Church. Again, we got talking to some locals, and had a good old chat. After a couple of pints, we decided that a change of scene was in order, and returned to Sinclair’s, where the passers-by were much more varied, and far better fodder for our game of People Watching (“She’s called Monique, and she’s got one of those bald cats”). There were many hot laydeez around, unless that was an effect of the beer goggles. We were also entertained by a guy pretending to be a statue – as I type that I realise you’re all wondering how a dude standing still can be entertaining? Let me just remind you – beer goggles.
Eventually, the light faded, and we walked back to Piccadilly and Jamie’s train back to The Smoke. It had been a terrific day, in which we cemented a friendship that felt like it had been since childhood, and may well last until our second childhood. Bye Jamie; maybe I’ll come over to Michigan next.