It's been a very busy weekend, with events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Things started on Friday evening, when we had been invited to the Polish Catholic Centre for their monthly music jam. Tonks's family run the community centre, which closely resembles a British working man's club but is adjacent to the main Polish Catholic church in Chapel Allerton. I walked up from work, expecting it to take a lot longer than it actually did, resulting in me arriving 55 minutes earlier than opening. This saw me explore the area, and I was interested to note that I had been here before, having gone to Boss Burgers on Harrogate Road about a year and a half ago. As I walked, I listened to the excellent Remainiacs podcast, for all traitors and saboteurs, which provided much needed catharsis in these bleak times. I was surprised to notice that the number 91 bus goes right past here, providing a direct route home, which was convenient. Wolfie had embarked from Pudsey and I had to wait around forty-five minutes for him to arrive, with me buying a sandwich for him as I did. I also just walked around and explored, waiting for him to come.
When he arrived, together we walked down the road to the walled area behind which the community centre lay. I had dropped Tonks a message and he met us outside the front door, pointing out that no-one had actually arrived yet. Apparently the 7pm start was somewhat loose, and it wasn't for another ten minutes that his mother and father turned up. We had met his father before at the Leeds CAMRA real ale festival, anhd had hit it off, but this was the first time we had met his mother, who is Polish herself. We were let in, and soon we were drinking fantastic Polish craft beer, while Mrs Tonks had kindly prepared perogi for us (both Russian and meat) which many of the other regulars sampled too. This part was free and highly appreciated. This was served at around 8pm, with us having spent the opening half hour just talking to Tonks's Dad as no-one else was there. Some of the regulars soon turned up though and music very quickly started to be played, with an impromptu jam session taking place with a miscellany of instruments. If I was being honest, there weren't many Polish people there, with many being locals (as well as one Welsh-English-Canadian guy who was half-Eskimo) but the atmosphere was lively and a good range of genres were played. 'Learn to Fly' by Foo Fighters was possibly my favourite, but the folk songs had particular heart, while we spent a lot of the time sat at the bar chatting about this and that. Tonks and Wolfie had an isolating conversation about Warhammer so Mr Tonks and I ended up talking about Eighties music (he even knew 'Eisbaer' to which we both sang along) while later in the evening there was a rather fun dog who was bounding about saying hi to everyone. All in all it was a good night and it was a shame when we had to catch our last bus, but Saturday was meet day and we needed to go. We had sampled four beers each though and Tonks kindly bought two more, which he delivered at the meet the next day, and we will definitely be going back.
I had been worried about the Leeds Meet for most of the week, particularly fearing a low turnout. These things really shouldn't bother me but I invest so much in the meet that it's hard for it not to feel like a personal rejection. Added to this was the fact we had moved venue to Bar Soba on account of Atlas being sold and turned into a trendy cocktail bar so apprehension was high. There were a number of people at the Londonfurs summer party, and a few couldn't make it for a miscellany of personal reasons. Meanwhile, a few more simply weren't interested. Still, as we packed our hi-vis jackets and long plastic tubing for the fursuit changing screen, I did fear the worst and was not in the best of moods as we left the house. Carting the tubes on the bus proved to be fun but not overly unmanageable and soon we were at the station, where we were greeted to a not unsizeable crowd. This gave me hope and indeed it turned out we had about 50-60 there - down on usual but not bad under the circumstances. A few furs who don't regularly come were there - Lapres and Ellis from Birmingham, Croft from Beverley to name but a few - while the new venue worked out quite well apart from a couple of small issues. I have since spoken to the manager and he assures me that this will be resolved - with the hen party on one of our tables only there due to a computer related booking issue. The loud music quite late on was also a little annoying, but hopefully this will be pushed back in future.
The outside area on Merrion Street proved to be quite popular while the fursuit walk was also a success, with the bar's close proximity to Briggate being a huge boon. We ended up taking fursuit photos inside a large reflective cube placed on the middle of the street advertising the Open University's 2017-18 courses. They let us go inside if we took some flyers, and mirrors on all sides were quite trippy. It was a shame I didn't suit - with the early morning wet weather putting me off - but the day soon turned out dry and the walk was quite the success. On Briggate we also saw a huge tent with Muslims condemning extremism, which was good to see, while my friends Leeds for Europe were there too. At the end of the walk, we headed to the flyover near Shuffledog to take a group photo before retiring back to the bar. When there, I was alerted to a tweet from GeekWolfie, who told me to come to where they were sitting. There I found a fantastic large conbadge drawn by Prince Cirrus, which was an unexpected delight. I was a huge fan indeed.
As is customary, the meet started to fragment around 5pm, while we grabbed some excellent Beef Massaman Curry from the bar itself. This was gorgeous, creamy and a brilliant blend of spices, making it one of the top eateries in the city. We then headed outside, grabbing a couple of beers from Mean Eyed Cat Bar as we noticed they had two exclusives from Northern Monk. As it turned out, only one was available, so I got two halves. On both occasions, they invited me to roll a dice and if I got an even number I got a discount. The first time I threw a five but the second time it was a two, giving me 25% off. On the first occasion, I was asked whether I wanted pizza, which seemed an odd request until I realised you got a free six inch pizza with all drinks. If only I had known beforehand.
We stayed outside for a couple of hours but the rather sparse and genteel daytime crowd started to become a more drunken rowdy bunch, with the space filling up fast. Not liking the ambience, we drank up and left, with most people splitting as it was around 8pm. We headed down to the bus stop with Taneli but with twenty minutes until our next bus, we decided to call off at Friends of Ham. On our way there, the number of people who asked us 'are you doing some plumbing' on the sight of the plastic tubing became annoying, but at least the bar were reasonably good about us stacking it in a corner. Indeed, it became a useful marker for the staff on working out where to deliver our beer and smoked almonds. We grabbed a gose, after which we had a marshmallow stout as Tonks had dropped me a message, asking where we were. Wolfie was quite drunk by this point - and earlier in the day had struggled with splitting the bill evenly as I had paid £12 for his food and was wondering why I kept asking for his card to buy £3 drinks - so we didn't stay overly long, heading back on the 9:20pm bus. Wolfie grabbed a pizza while I headed back, not really feeling hungry after the curry at SOBA. So all in all a successful day and I think most people enjoyed the new venue, so we'll see what happens here.
We had to be up reasonably early on Sunday, which facilitated our rather early night on Saturday. I had arranged to meet my sister in Manchester as she has just moved to the Deansgate/Salford area of the city having started a new job in mid-June. Due to a pre-arranged holiday, this was only her second full weekend in the city and knowing Manchester a little bit, I thought I would show her some of the bars and sights. This saw us board a train at New Pudsey just before noon, with the day being a glorious summer one with a slight cooling breeze. We arrived into Manchester shortly after 13:20 and met her at Victoria station, taking her to Northern Soul Grilled Cheese initially for some lunch. We had only been here once before, in February, but I remember it being execptionally good and so it proved to be again. Alas they were rather busy so we had to take it out, but there was nothing wrong with eating it while sat in the sun on Piccadilly Gardens. My sister didn't realise that this was the centre of Manchester so I showed her the fountain and the statues, before casually walking through an Arabic themed food market on one corner of the square.
We decided to spend the day on a bar crawl albeit one interspersed with various city sights. Along the way I pointed out good restaurants to try, hoping to give her an insight into the diversity of the city. These included Almost Famous, Reds, Buca da Pizza, Bundobust and Solita. Our first bar was Beermoth, one of my favourite bars in the city, before we walked down to the Town Hall area and on to Deansgate. We went for a quick drink in No 1 Watson Street, with its Pawtraits of dogs on the wall, before we headed down to the canal area to see my sister's place of work. The canal area was fantastic and it was great to see that there has been so much regeneration down there since we were last in the area for Confuzzled 2009. The yha is still there of course, albeit slightly tarted up, but there are numerous new houses as well as bars and restaurants that simply weren't there before. The tatty bridges - some of brick and others of steel - add a post-industrial landscape to things which contrasts with the tranquility of the canals and the narrowboats. Meanwhile, at one point we were delighted to feel the vibrations of the railings underneath the viaduct, caused by a parked train on the bridge above. In this part of the city, we spied the Industrial Museum and The Crystal Maze experience before we walked along the canal for a while, surprisingly reaching Canal Street rather quickly. It was here we got off the towpath and walked through the Village, not my favourite place in Manchester but at least the atmosphere was relaxed. There was music blaring out of some of the crappy bars, but at least Sackville Gardens was tranquil, and my sister was particularly intrigued by the Turing statue. While we were here, we told her the time my ex-girlfriend couldn't get into a gay fetish store because it was men only. My sister was quite shocked at the discrimination, and although I tried to explain it to her, she couldn't really understand it.
We pushed on, heading to Richmond Tea Rooms, which my sister particularly enjoyed due to the Alice in Wonderland theme. We opted to get a milkshake and a slice of cake here, with our choice of lemon drizzle sadly not available. We ended up with a Boston Creme, with the biggest slab of cake I had ever seen. It was so big that we struggled to finish it, and indeed it completely scuppered our evening meal plans. Still, it was a nice place for a rest and the staff were really friendly, as they had been at all of the establishments we had visited. I was telling them about my sister having just moved to the city, and they were interested.
We moved on to the Northern Quarter after here, a place my sister had particularly been looking forward to seeing. I pointed out Port Street Beer House but with our stomachs still in full bloated mode, we decided to move on. We walked further up the street, turning left on the road that fringes the northern edge of the Northern Quarter. I had never been down this road before and we found a few surprising bars in this vicinity, including Pie and Ale and one dedicated the Blackjack Brewery. We had a drink in both, with the latter a great find as we had known about Blackjack for a while but we hadn't had chance to sample much of their stuff. This was a little bit of an old man's pub though and there was some folk music going on, so we only stayed for a brief third. Seeing the dog in the corner was a highlight though, but we soon headed off, ending our tour in the fantastic Marble Arch pub on Rochdale Road. Here we tried a gose made from longestines and a Japanese based stout/ale which was far too sweet for both me and Wolfie. The sour beer was excellent though, with even my sister enjoying it. In this bar, there was a doggo friend sat on his owner's lap staring at the salad he was eating and another doggo friend who was just loose in the pub sniffing and a-snuffling. He was after food, being a hungry Jack Russell, and he came for pettings on four separate occasions. He was fun, and it was a great way to end a fantastic day of catching up with my sister.