Writing Well… and more at No 93 Church Lane

From the outside the building on Church Lane looks pretty much the same. What was the North Manchester Wellbeing Centre is now No 93. The signage has been updated but there’s still a striking mosaic on the end wall. Inside, the layout’s slightly different; the open courtyard in the middle is still my favourite bit.

There’s plenty going on and, tonight, they’re hosting a Residents Information Market organised by the City Council Neighbourhood team for Harpurhey.I’ve already picked up some leaflets in the corridor from the ‘We Love MCR Charity’ before spotting a familiar face in the art room/gym where the main event is set up. It’s Stephen Evans from Writing Well.

“We’re looking to fill a few more places for our next course later this month.” He tells me as I off-load my stuff. “And we’re running another one in South Manchester too.”

We had a quick catch up before I wandered off to see who else was there.

Jamie, from Citizens Advice, was promoting local drop-in sessions where residents can get access to on-line support. Manchester’s Waste Management Team was represented and there was a wealth of information about NHS mental health services.

There was also a craft initiative, based at the Fire Station on Rochdale Road, Blackley, called ‘Shed 17’. It was a new one on me and I loved the photos they had on display.Donna explained, “Some are from a green woodworking course, others are from a glass etching session. We have a qualified tutor and they make some lovely things.”

Next, I had a chat with Lauren Evans, Neighbourhood Health Worker, about her work in the community before working my way back to Stephen to pick up my things. He handed me one of his leaflets too.

“Look.” He said pointing out a photo. “Two of the South Manchester writers have had their books published. What about you?”

I put my coat back on. “Oh, I’ll stick to blogs thanks.”

Stephen and his colleague Veronica Hyde run the Writing Well course together at No 93. Stephen’s a published writer/lecturer in English and Veronica’s a qualified counsellor. They combine their skills to teach the process of creative writing and, at the same time, improve your emotional wellbeing.

Late last year I was struggling, couldn’t breathe properly or sleep and felt exhausted. So I decided to give ‘Writing Well’ a try.

It wasn’t a big group. We were typically shy to start with, although it didn’t stay that way for long. Stephen and Veronica kept us busy. Over the 10 sessions we had lots to learn and plenty to think about.That’s Stephen, far right, and Veronica in the middle.

I’m calmer now, feel more confident and enjoy writing more than I used to. If you fancy giving it a try too the next Writing Well course starts on Monday 24th February and it’s free. Full details, including how to register, are on their website below.

No 93 has plenty more on offer; the original North Manchester Wellbeing Centre (NMWBC) still run the Heartbeat Exercise class, Knit and Natter, mosaics group, yoga, Tai Chi, mixed crafts, relaxation class, sewing/dressmaking and Reiki.

You can also join a gardening club, play table tennis or take part in the pool tournament. Manchester Carers Centre has regular coffee mornings and the National Lottery Funding support even have a regular slot. To find out more just click the link to No 93 below or call in.

Or, don’t do anything at all. The café’s re-opened. If you want, just pop in, take a break and have a bite to eat, it’s not expensive.

Here are some useful links (click on one and then click the back arrow <- to return)…

Writing WellNHS No 93Shed 17 (on Twitter)Self Help ServicesWe Love MCR CharityCitizens Advice digital help serviceManchester Recycling,  Buzz Community Health 

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Puss in Boots at North West Theatre Arts Company

I’m at NWTAC’s theatre on Lightbowne Road, Moston settling down and soaking up the atmosphere. It’s January, bleak and I need cheering up.

Our story is set by the Blind Cobbler, aka Harry Gardner, displaying a magical pair of boots and how they will work wonder on anyone who wears them. Harry’s portrayal was spot on, as it was each time he appeared on stage, and I rather warmed to the chap.

The multi-talented Jonny Molyneux swapped his assistant director’s chair (Scrooge the Musical) for a variety of tree-mendous, resplendent Dame costumes. He had us in stitches from the moment he arrived on stage, with great comedy timing, ad libs and the ability to engage an audience with skill and confidence. He was ably supported by Alfie Cook, Lois Dibden and Erin Carty playing the hapless trio Muddles, George and a very comical Esra.

The magical boots transformed the delightful cat (Shannon Ryan) into ‘Puss in Boots’, played by Poppy Evans. This purrfect casting really paid off. Poppy and Kate Bannister, as her master/Principal Boy Colin, worked so well together. Both have fabulous voices, they nailed their routines and were a delight to watch.

Kate also sang duets with the Principal Girl, Princess Rosalind, played by Grace Donohue. Her parents were inspired when this young lady was born. She literally graced the stage and when she sang a solo, she owned it. I’m not biased by the fact the song was one of my favourite Lewis Capaldi tracks – honestly, she just delivered it so well.

A special mention has to go to James Burke. James’s characterisation of a ‘camp’ Spanish court chamberlain was fabulous. His accent and mannerisms were superb. Most of his appearances on stage were shared with a convincingly ‘spaced-out’ dizzy-minded King Phillip (Gareth Maudsley) making a great comedy duo.

The main characters were supported by a cast of nimble dancers and an ensemble that had me wondering just how big the area behind the stage must be. They arrived on stage and exited again with their own air of professionalism, working their routines to deliver a memorable and slick performance. They all looked and sounded amazing.

It’s easy to take the passage from one scene to the next for granted. The plot unfolds in various locations including a woodland copse, a palace, castle, dungeons and cat world but each transition is seamless. Scenery glides about silently, with not a bump or wobble to be heard or seen. It’s all part of the magic and the NWTAC production team pull it off perfectly. They deserved the applause at the end as much as stage performers.

Preparations will already be underway for the next project, Bouncers and Shakers so, if you’ve no plans for Valentine’s Day, look no further. Performances take place on Friday 14th and Saturday 15th February. Tickets are in demand and will sell out fast, so best book early.

A few short weeks after that NWTAC will be performing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, running from Thursday 12th March to Saturday 14th March.

Productions planned later in the year include Factory Fest, Hairspray and High School Musical.

Full details including dates and how to book can be found on NWTAC’s website, just click here.  You can even sign up to join their mailing list.

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Street Life: Your Very Good Health

1948 saw the launch of the NHS, but the concept of free medicine took a little time to get into the nation’s psyche. In the 1950s, ‘prevention’ continued to be the household watchword. Cod Liver Oil was common, but thankfully the custom of basting children in goose grease before sewing them into their vest for the winter had become obsolete.

Patent medicine manufacturers were relentless in their advertising of nostrums, which at best were little more than a placebo, and at worst contained some highly questionable ingredients. Nevertheless, they remained popular, even when prescription drugs came free.Grandad was asthmatic, so we knew all about ‘bad chests’ in our house. He accepted his NHS inhaler gratefully, but he continued to wear Thermogene next to the skin for luck. Pink in colour, Thermogene’s texture most resembled modern roof insulation, with a smell that was redolent of a chemical weapons establishment. But for those who were put off by its pong, there were always Do-do tablets. Also known as Chesteze, they contained caffeine and ephedrine to relieve breathlessness, wheezing and other symptoms of asthma.

Children have always caused alarm to parents with the onset of sudden and inexplicable symptoms. In our house, liquid Fever Cure, or Cooling Powders (both made by Fennings) were administered for a high temperature. And until a positive diagnosis was made, spots were painted with Calamine lotion. The cardboard ointment box of Fullers Earth came out for rashes, and drawing ointment (magnesium sulphate) was applied to splinters, boils or infected cuts. The preparation and application of Kaolin poultices was still being taught to St. John’s Ambulance cadets when I joined in 1959.

Back then, even the tiniest corner shop would find wall space for a display of small bottles and packets of patent remedies attached by elastic to a card. Cephos and Beechams powders or Little Liver Pills had their brand names in bold lettering, while the mysterious composition of the products was something a customer had to take on trust.Aspro were sold in a distinctive cellophane strip (the inspiration for bubble packs perhaps?). Many regarded them as superior, purely because of the brand name, but their ingredients were actually the same as generic aspirin tablets.

There were almost as many prudish euphemisms for constipation as there were for the WC. But whatever we called ‘it’, laxatives played a significant part in many people’s lives – especially those who had a dark, frosty yard to cross for a visit to the lav. The switch from brimstone and treacle or turkey rhubarb (Rheum Palmatum) to preparations freely available at corner shops began in the 19th century.

In the fifties, astute manufacturers used advertising to persuade modern mothers they should abandon the old fashioned Syrup of Figs for children’s weekly ‘dosing’. It was replaced by such products as Feen-a-mint which looked and tasted like Beech Nut chewing gum, and Ex-lax that might be passed off as chocolate to the gullible.

Some adults loyally stuck with their old-fashioned Senna pods, Cascara or Epsom salts to ensure ‘regularity’. The more susceptible to brand names transferred to Sedlitz powders, Shure Shield tablets or Beechams Pills – worth a guinea a box, according to the advert…

And then there were Bile Beans! Originally marketed as a cure for ‘biliousness’, they contained cascara, rhubarb, liquorice and menthol, rolled in powdered charcoal and coated in gelatine. Soon this apparently universal panacea was also claiming to cure headaches, piles and female weakness.Advertising drives would see men blitzing a neighbourhood with Bile Bean flyers containing testimonials from satisfied customers. One of the most extreme was from a mother who claimed she had been preparing her daughter’s grave clothes, just prior to said daughter’s recovery, due entirely to Bile beans!

The manufacturers also produced ‘give-aways’ of cookery and puzzle books, as well as sheet music for the Bile Bean March. In spite of their foul smell and questionable efficacy, Bile Beans continued to be sold until the mid-1980s.

A number of us have managed more than our allotted span of three score years and ten, despite the smearing, dosing and poulticing with medieval sounding concoctions we had to endure. Perhaps there is something to be said for the ‘old magic’ after all.

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