We spent a sunny Saturday in Manchester yesterday, hitting up the Manchester Print Fair and the John Rylands Library. I love going to print fairs to draw inspiration for my own work and the Manchester Print Fair, held only twice a year, never fails to disappoint. It was wonderful seeing and chatting with many of the artists I’ve met at previous fairs. It’s always so refreshing to get out of the parenting headspace (which feels like all I ever do every day) and immerse myself in art for a bit. I find I really need that these days. Raspberry was decked out in her brand new glow-in-the-dark bug shirt, which won her a couple of compliments. There were also workshops at the fair, and she had a good time screenprinting, rubber-stamping and doodling with Posca markers and coloured Sharpies. She drew a purple fox (which I was impressed by, as she hardly ever draws anything besides people these days) and made two drawings (one of a monster under clouds and another of a ghost caught in the rain) for two of the artists we know and got a pocket mirror as a trade, which she carried around for the rest of the day. The workshops served as a nice break from me dragging Raspberry all over the fair. There wasn’t anything similarly entertaining for Ares though and beyond the fact that he was tired (he did nap halfway through), he didn’t seem amused by the fact that I was toting him around to tables and tables of artists selling their wares, and he just wanted to crawl around to stretch his little legs.
I think he was relieved when we finally left and headed over to the library, where he suddenly became very chatty among the tomes and let me tell you, there’s nothing like the shrill shriek of a baby in a dark, echoey public space with people trying to soak up the atmosphere, to make you feel self-conscious. Similarly, Raspberry was more or less oblivious to the ancient books and was determined to complete her trail with the kind of single-mindedness found only in young children. I marvelled at the archaic building on my own. I did manage to get her interested in Later-day Saints, a hilarious exhibition of illustrations of saints situated in contemporary times. We popped in a coin to watch a mechanical dragon and old lady having tea, and were tickled by the unexpected results. Ares alternated between wanting to crawl and wanting to be held and fought tooth and nail against being put in the baby carrier when I had enough of this up-and-down business. He’s in a table-loving phase and after I set him down at a 130-year-old desk briefly, it was quite the challenge getting him away from it after.
Trail completed, Raspberry set to work making a dragon’s egg in the craft area while a fatigued and destructive Ares overturned containers of coloured pencils and sent them flying all over the floor. We left soon after, after the dragon’s egg was sufficiently stuffed with pom-poms, after encountering an older white guy who irked me by saying “xie xie” (thank you in Mandarin) to Raspberry’s spontaneous outcry telling him her locker was occupied, after browsing the gift shop, after I picked up a postcard. All in all, a good day.
Amid bucketloads of rain and gusty winds, we took a trip to Manchester on Sunday to check out their Chinese New Year celebrations. Lucas was refereeing a volleyball game at the university, so it was just Ares, Raspberry and I braving the weather in Chinatown. We could’ve stayed in Liverpool, but we did that last year and honestly, despite Wikipedia saying that the city is has the oldest Chinese community in Europe, its Chinatown has little more than Chinese restaurants that open late in the day and is just plain disappointing. After that experience, I was determined to head to Manchester for Chinese New Year this year so that’s precisely what we did (even though I contemplated staying home because of the weather). Raspberry has never experienced a proper Chinese New Year with all its red-packet, tasty-treats, visiting-family-and-friends festivities and while I can’t offer her that at this time, I thought it would be interesting for her to at least have a glimpse of some of the other festivities surrounding the new year.
The train to Manchester was ridiculously busy, with standing room only because they only had half the number of carriages as they normally would. I thought the train might end up being a little like those in Tokyo. A girl very kindly offered Ares and I her seat but Raspberry and Lucas stood for most of the journey. Raspberry, being Raspberry, kept complaining that she wished people would get off and she could get a seat. Needless to say, it was quite embarrassing. Lucas got off at Oxford Road while we went to Piccadilly, so we could go to Fred Aldous to get Raspberry’s birthday photobooth portraits done first.
I’d initially thought about heading back to the station to pick up the free shuttle bus to Chinatown but somehow we ended up walking there instead. Chinatown was really busy even though it was raining. I’d hate to think how much busier it would’ve been if it wasn’t that wet. It was hard to navigate through the crowd and nearly impossible to see anything that was happening. I think there was either a dragon or lion dance (surprisingly, not a very loud one) going on in the square, but we couldn’t make our way through the crowds to see and given my short stature and with Ares strapped to me, I couldn’t hoist Raspberry up to see anyway.
Somewhat frustrated by our inability to see or do anything, we ducked into the Manchester Art Gallery to get warm. We had our lunch in a hallway, where Ares didn’t seem all that interested in another baby who kept smiling at him. Unlike Ares, the baby was walking and was likely older than him, but Ares seemed absolutely enormous next to her. The gallery was running a chopstick-decorating workshop (read: wrap strips of stickers around disposable wooden chopsticks), so Raspberry did that while Ares tipped over bowls of stickers and I chatted with an older lady volunteering there. She said babies (Ares, specifically) have inscrutable faces and she was determined to get a smile out of him. The whole time we were there, he didn’t oblige. The room we were in partly overlooked a street where the Chinese New Year parade was happening and standing on a huge tub by the large windows with other kids, Raspberry was lucky enough to see the dragon go by. I’ve seen it before so it didn’t bother me that I couldn’t see very much. I pointed the dragon out to Ares, but I don’t think he could really tell what I was showing him or he really didn’t care.
There were events running at two other locations besides Chinatown, so we went to see what else was happening there. At Albert Square, there were tents selling various Chinese trinkets. Raspberry had the opportunity to write a new year wish in exchange for a fortune cookie and red packet containing a chocolate coin (incidentally, she wrote, “I wish my wish will come true”). I offered to write her Chinese name on it for her and for the first time, I learnt what her name sounds like in Cantonese. There was little else that was interesting, so armed with my map, we headed over to St Ann’s Square where I knew there was at least a craft workshop that Raspberry would like. As I tried to find my bearings, two older Caucasian guys who’d just crossed the street came over and one of them asked if I needed help with directions… except that he asked in Mandarin. I was caught off-guard but told him I was impressed with what he said as I figured out what he meant. For the record, he was able to point me the right way.
I’d been under the impression that there was more happening at St Ann’s Square, but it was even quieter. I guess we’d missed all the activity. Raspberry did some firework origami run by a girl with an interesting accent wearing a shimmery gold skirt and yellow shoes. Raspberry gave up quite quickly when it didn’t work out for her so I had to encourage her to keep trying. Her inability to persevere really frustrates and annoys me; I don’t know where she gets it as neither Lucas nor I are that way. Sigh.
I was waiting for Lucas to text me when he was done but there was still no word from him so for a while, we were at a loss for things to do. We walked for a little bit and came upon the Royal Exchange Theatre and were lured in on the promise of a craft store and a warm, dry place to hang out for a bit. We’d never ventured to this part of the city centre before and had never been into the theatre. The space used to be a trading hall in Victorian times and looks resplendent, with colourful lights contrasting Corinthian columns. It was nice and quiet and Ares was glad to get out of the carrier to stretch his legs. We all had a clementine each and while I was feeding Ares his, he accidentally lost his balance and tumbled off the bench, bumping his head. Of course, a security guard just had to notice him at the exact moment he fell and came over to see if Ares was all right. Having still not heard from Lucas, we wandered around the space briefly until we were told by the aforementioned security guard that the building was closing. I’d initially thought he was being all judge-y when Ares fell (yes, in my two second interaction with him) but he turned out to be quite nice, telling me how he’s worked there eleven years and the building still astounds him. Anyway, we got to see a bit of the space (an exhibition on crafts based on cartography!) but we didn’t fully get to explore the Royal Exchange so another visit there in the future is definitely in order.
Unsure of what else we could do (given that it was past 5pm on a Sunday evening), I suggested we head back to Chinatown in search of some Thai durian cake. We’d picked some up at a Chinese supermarket there way back in September 2013 but haven’t located any in Liverpool. Since then, I’ve repeatedly told Raspberry that the next time we were in Manchester’s Chinatown that we’d pick some up.
The first grocery store didn’t yield any durian cake. In fact, when asked, the cashier looked at me like I was crazy and for a split-second, a look of disgust crossed her face as the words “durian in a tube” spilled out of my mouth. The store did, however, have the exact laksa spice that’s been impossible to find in Liverpool for the past few months, so I excitedly cleaned out their shelf (I’m not as crazy as I might sound. I only bought seven packets). I tried to find the same store we went to back in 2013 but was convinced it’d moved and had been replaced by a gambling place. We went to another supermarket and after trawling the aisles with little luck, I asked a guy cutting shallots at the counter and got overly-excited when he knew exactly what I was talking about. I picked up three tubes and at her request, promised one of them could exclusively be Raspberry’s.
The cashier spoke to Raspberry, who was munching on a rice cake, in Cantonese, asking her if it was sweet. I had to translate for her as she has no knowledge of the language. I was actually surprised by how often people spoke to Raspberry in Chinese. The guy at the table where she wrote her wish spoke to her in Cantonese and Mandarin and when I said she couldn’t understand either, he switched to English. Perhaps the assumption is that she knows either since she’s with me and I’m very noticeably Asian. Although, it irks me that some Caucasians speak to me in Chinese (like the guy who helped me with directions). When I was at Marks and Spencer the day before, a lady giving out milkshake samples unexpectedly wished me “gong hei fat choy” and I just smiled and said thanks. It’s not like I really celebrate Chinese New Year, so argh to that and to white people attempting to speak to me in Chinese.
Anyway. As we were leaving Chinatown to head to Oxford Road station to meet Lucas, I heard all these mini-explosions. I knew exactly what they were, as I used to play with these when I was a kid. There were so many kids with them that I actually stopped a couple with two kids to ask them where they got them. The woman pointed me toward one of the supermarkets, but I suspected someone must’ve been giving them out for so many kids to have that simultaneously. I thought it’d be fun for Raspberry to play with and since we had time to spare, we briefly headed back to Chinatown to try to locate the supermarket that supposedly had these little fireworks. Except that since I’m terrible with directions, I couldn’t exactly find my way (even though I was convinced I knew where I was going) and with only a little bit of time to meet Lucas, I gave up and promised Raspberry we’d try to find them the next time around. Interestingly, it was at this time that I came across that supermarket that I thought had moved. It was just a block directly opposite where I thought it was. Oops.
I can’t believe that with all the times we’ve been to Manchester that we’ve really only been to their Chinatown twice. I really must change that as not only is their Chinatown miles better than the non-entity that is Chinatown here, but their grocery stores have much more too (next time, I’m going to try to locate the individually-packaged seaweed that I used to munch on all the time growing up). Chinese New Year there wasn’t anything like what I had growing up, but I suspect that unless we’re actually in Asia and around Chinese family and friends, it’ll be hard to replicate that experience. Having never actually experinced Chinese New Year beyond seeing a lion dance and hearing firecrackers go off last year, Raspberry said she enjoyed the day though. Lucas and I gave her a red packet for the first time ever (two days late!) so I think that might’ve helped too. Maybe we’ll head back to Manchester again for Chinese New Year next year, or maybe not. Whatever it is, I’ll like to try to swing it so we have at least a bit of a different experience next year.
This was Manchester almost a week ago. Lucas refereed a volleyball game in Salford and we browsed to the Northern Quarter, in all its independent store glory. It was a strange, aimless trip for us (a first), as we normally have a museum or gallery to go to but this time, nada. Just a neighbourhood with lots of shops to explore.
A bead store, charity shops, lots of vintage clothing stores, surprise street art, cool objects in cool stores. Lots of things I’d love to have but really don’t need. Raspberry’s in a materialistic “I want this. Can you get me this?” stage and it’s starting to wear thin. Note to self — stop window shopping.
The Manchester Craft and Design Centre was quiet because it was Sunday, a far cry from how busy it was the last time I was there on my own in October 2013. But we got to browse some open studios and chat with a couple of artists, including a ceramic artist got Raspberry’s opinion about some bowls he had on display, and the paintings of his studio-mate. I wasn’t that interested in the art although Raspberry was, and I had to keep reminding myself that we needn’t rush and things often go better at a child’s pace.
We spent way too much time in a shop selling tons of awesome kitschy stuff, where Raspberry marvelled and manipulated everything she could. I surreptitiously nursed Ares in the cafe and he tried to snoop in stranger’s bag of shopping. Raspberry sent a series of 1950s tin toys across the floor while I painstakingly tapped out a couple of texts to Lucas to figure out where we were going to meet.
There was the requisite photobooth picture at Fred Aldous, because it’s a must every time we go. Lucas didn’t want to be included, so it was the three of us squished into the black-and-white photobooth. Ares was more interested in the fact that I fed coins into the machine than the blinding flash going off every few seconds, so our pictures didn’t turn out quite how I expected, with him looking away and me trying to get him to look into the lens. Oh well, it was fun anyway.
I was relieved to head home soon after that, as it’d just been an okay trip. I don’t think any of us had really been feeling it and Raspberry was having the kind of day that involved too much adult yelling. Our next trip to Manchester — definitely soon — will be to a museum and I’m certain it’ll turn out a lot better than us wandering around from shop to shop.
I was in Manchester on my own last Saturday, partly because the Manchester Weekender was happening and partly because I was craving a leisurely day to explore on my own. The day didn’t quite turn out how I was expecting (I’d been expecting awesomeness), probably because it was spitting rain most of the day, preventing me from taking as many pictures as I normally would. I really dislike the rain, for what it does to my mood and what it does to my plans. Obviously I’m living in the wrong place and I should just suck it up and deal, or really, make the best of it.
Anyhow, I had plans to explore the Northern Quarter, which I did, hitting up a bunch of independent stores along the way to marvel at their wares and flip through art magazines, garnering creative ideas scribbled into my notebook. In hindsight, I think that was the most successful part of my day — having the mental freedom to be able to be inspired and come up with new ideas. I had some places I’d wanted to see too — the Manchester Craft and Design Centre and the Chinese Arts Centre — and I did but found them underwhelming. Maybe because I was already a bit miffed about the less than perfect weather. I went to the Manchester Print Fair too to see all the gorgeous things people had made to sell. Way back when, I thought about getting a table but I was put off by the cost and my previous experiences at print fairs. Besides, I’m taking a bit of a break from it anyway. It was nice to see it busy. The aisles were crammed and people moved along at a snail’s pace, which I didn’t mind as I got to browse the tables as I inched along. I chatted with a couple of vendors, some of whom I’d recognized from other print fairs, and I traded a cat drawing for a little orange clay cat head for Raspberry. As always, I’d love to have supported some of the artists there by buying some of their work, but the whole idea of disposable income is still a bit beyond our reach at the moment.
Down Oxford Road, Hot Bed Press had set up two pop-up print shops giving away free prints. I scored myself a couple and talked with the people running them about the courses they run, as well as about letterpress, which I’m dying to learn one day. Since I was in that neck of the woods, I decided to go to the Manchester Museum, even though it was the weekend and I knew it was going to be jam-packed with families (did I ever mention how much I prefer quiet museums? Well, I do!). I’ve been meaning to take Raspberry there for months, but we still haven’t made it and it remains on our unspoken to-do list for the coming months. I thought I’d check out to see what might interest Raspberry and to make sure it was worth spending a day there. I wasn’t there very long (much of my time was spent getting lost and resting my feet in a darkened gallery, surrounding by taxidermied animals and gleeful children) but I saw enough to really want to go back. It’s like the World Museum, but bigger and with more interesting stuff (of course, I say this, having been to the World Museum about fifty times since we’ve moved here), which I think Raspberry will definitely enjoy.
I made an impromptu visit to The Cornerhouse too, as I’d just read their brochure while having lunch that afternoon, and I’d heard about it from an artist a few weeks back. I didn’t quite get the exhibition and I spent most of my time browsing their shop but it still looks like an interesting place to be. I briefly contemplated walking all the way back to Picadilly Station, taking a different route so I could explore more of the city, even though I was right next to Oxford Road Station. Yes, this is me wanting to make the most of my time out by myself. But then my feet decided that it would probably be a better idea to postpone the walk for another day and to end my day in Manchester so that pretty much did it. It wasn’t exactly the kind of day I wanted but it was definitely a nice break from the daily grind. I’m not sure how often I’ll get this chance, so I’ll take what I can get!
Except for the day we arrived in the UK and the day we were at the Manchester Print Fair in early April, we hadn’t really visited Manchester despite being here for nine months. The funny thing is that throughout the spring and summer, I kept saying that we were going to make a trip there but for some reason, that didn’t materialize. This past week though, I finally planned a somewhat impromptu trip there — our first proper visit to Manchester! Lucas was going to be at school, and with the British kids’ summer vacation over, there wasn’t anything happening around here. Our trip was largely weather-dependent though, as I didn’t want to be walking the streets in the rain, and because the weather forecast changes quite quickly here, I was obsessively checking and re-checking it up until the morning of. It worked out in our favour, so off to Manchester we went!
The primary reason for the trip was for the Hans Ulrich Obrist exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery. It’d been running as part of the Manchester International Festival back in July and I’d wanted to see it, together with some other events in the festival, then but somehow life got in the way. Luckily for me though, the exhibition doesn’t close until almost the end of September. Despite the fact that the trip to the gallery was the main part of the visit, Raspberry and I took it easy and checked out a couple of other things. After all, one cannot spend eons in an art gallery with a five-year-old.
Our first stop was a photobooth. Back when we were at the print fair, we’d meant to get our sorta-annual photobooth picture done at an art supply store just down the street from where we were. Unfortunately due to time constraints, that didn’t happen so I was determined to get it done this time. According to this site that lists all the old photobooths worldwide, there are only seven in the UK, most being in London. So I think it’s incredibly lucky that one of them is close by (a relative term, of course) and naturally, it only makes sense that I take advantage of this. The photobooth is in an art supply store, so we browsed before we did the picture. I don’t know about Raspberry but I was in heaven there — there was so much cool stuff in addition to actual art supplies. There were actually two photobooths, a black-and-white and a colour one. The black-and-white one was just like the one at the Drake Hotel in Toronto, where we did all our other black-and-white photobooth pictures. I opted for that one while Raspberry wanted the colour one. I reasoned that all the pictures I take are in colour anyway, so it’d be nice to do something different. Plus, I like the look of the black-and-white strip better too. She didn’t really put up much of an argument so we did it. Inspired by a cover picture from an issue of East Village Inky, I wanted a picture of my bump. It didn’t quite turn out how I’d envisioned it but good enough for my liking. Actually, I like all my photobooth pictures, even the ones where I look weird and dorky.
On our way to the art supply store, we’d passed a store tucked under some scaffolding — The Real Camera Company — and of course, I just had to go in. While I’ve seen images of shelves upon shelves of old cameras, I’d never seen this in person until I walked into the store. Oh, how beautiful it was. I’m totally a sucker for old cameras and if I had some disposable income, I’d probably have more old cameras than I currently do. While I oohed and ahhed and marvelled, Raspberry busied herself looking at tripods. Evidently, things you can touch are way more interesting than those behind glass. I’d probably liked to have stayed longer in the store, but I saw little point in doing so since I knew I wasn’t going to get anything and besides, one little camera store doesn’t make Manchester!
Lunch was at Piccadilly Gardens — I was drawn to the small green space and Raspberry, the enormous fountain. I love that there’s a bit of green smack within an urban setting, even though it was still mostly concrete and it was quite busy and there were several smokers around. But it’s lunchtime, so what are you going to do? We sat by the fountain, next to a lady with four kids, three of whom were dressed in police outfits. Hmm. After having her sandwich, Raspberry ran around the space, to the fountain and to a statue of Queen Victoria covered in pigeon feces, while I sat and watched a little girl feed the pigeons with a bagful of bread. Clearly someone came prepared. Raspberry wanted to climb another statue after seeing some older kids do so, and I lifted her up but she got a little nervous. She loves climbing but doesn’t always have confidence in her physical abilities. Anyway, we headed to the visitor information centre after, as I needed to pick up some maps (by “some,” I mean a handful, for immediate use, backup and for later. Yes, I was being well-prepared) . I had had Lucas print me a map of the city centre, but it’s smaller and in black and white. It’s completely functional, but I do prefer the large colour versions I picked up instead. But those larger maps were of little help to me, as I walked in the complete opposite direction leaving the info centre, heading away from the art gallery instead of toward it. I wouldn’t be me in a new city if I didn’t get lost once. Ha.
But I found my bearings, and we got to see the Chinese Arch, just like I’d originally wanted to. We also popped into a Chinese grocery store. Liverpool only has about five Chinese stores, of which we’ve been to four and they’re just all right. I wanted to see if Manchester could do better and if the prices were cheaper too. Raspberry stroked an oyster mushroom outside the store, as she’s never seen one before. I think she liked how silky it was. Inside, she was surprised and a bit freaked that there were live lobsters and crabs on ice, and I had to reassure her that they wouldn’t hurt her. We browsed the aisles, seeing typical Chinese-store groceries, and stopped to look at some hell money. I’d explained hell money to her a few weeks ago and she was quite taken by the large denominations (a stack of one billion dollar notes, anyone?). As we were leaving, I spotted a small tube of durian paste and got pretty excited. Raspberry wanted to get some but I had no change on me, so maybe next time. I’m not sure if the durian paste is meant to be consumed as if (my mother mixes it with cream for crepe fillings) but hey, I eat Nutella out of a jar, so clearly I’m not overly concerned with the proper way to eat certain foods.
The art gallery is on the edge of Chinatown. I’d meant to walk more through Chinatown, but I figured that since the point of the trip was to see art, then that’s really what we ought to do. While I was enjoying the sights, I didn’t want to end up in a position where we’d have to rush through the exhibits. I think Raspberry quite enjoyed the gallery more than the galleries here, as there are a few interactive activities scattered throughout. They’re just tables and chairs set up with paper and pens and a prompt. We came upon one of them in the room for 17th century art (“old art,” as Raspberry calls it) while trying to find the room where the Obrist exhibition was. Ignoring the prompt to practise various signatures, Raspberry sat down to work on a portrait of me with messy hair while having breakfast. I quite like it actually and I might put it up on the wall.
We eventually found exactly what we were looking for and she had a great time with the interactive exhibits, especially the one that allowed you to draw anywhere in a room (except for the floors). I left her scribbling madly on the table, chairs and walls while I looked at the various exhibits. She also insisted on decorating not one but two shoeboxes to take home, so as you might imagine, our subsequent trek through the gallery was a little cumbersome. I’d told her both boxes were her responsibility, since she’d insisted on two, but by the end of it, I ended up carrying them since it’s quite the hassle for a kid who’s only a little over a metre tall to be toting around something rather large. I know I shouldn’t reneged, but I wanted her to enjoy the exhibits too.
The Obrist exhibition took up most of the top floor of the gallery and we both really enjoyed going through the various exhibits. Raspberry watched a video on diving twice and seemed rather inspired by an installation where the artist made a scene by rearranging various items of clothing. She also got to squeeze a lemon on a bicycle seat and climb a rather tall ladder. Interactive exhibits are clearly the way to go when it comes to a kid. She enjoyed the exhibition (and probably the gallery) so much that she asked if we could come back the next day. If only! On our way out, she came across some supplies you could borrow to view the exhibits — a magnifying glass, binoculars, coloured glasses, a hard hat (why?!). She seemed most interested in the binoculars, especially by the fact that she could clearly read the words on the door that was quite far away. It’s maybe the second or third time she’s used binoculars but I think the fact that she could read faraway words just blew her mind. I had a hard time dragging her away from the binoculars, but I did so on the promise that we could borrow a bag of this stuff on our next visit and that I’d look into getting her her own pair of binoculars.
We headed out after a quick browse through the gift shop, and a late-afternoon snack in the cloakroom. There was a small grassy patch by a war memorial down the street and Raspberry stopped to run around there for a bit. What can I say? The kid is drawn to grass, among other things like climbing urban structures. We headed down Oxford Road to the station, as we were closer to that one than to Piccadilly, which was the one we came in at. There was a McDonald’s along the street and for a moment, I was actually tempted to stop in and grab an apple pie, but I knew how awful I’d feel about having done so after so I nixed the idea. The station was closer than I’d expected (maps are deceptive that way) and smaller than I’d thought too.
We didn’t have to wait long for the train, but once we got on it was delayed about twenty-five minutes leaving the station. To add to that, at times it seemed to travel more slowly than need be. It turns out there was a door fault. I still had some of the food we brought, so that kept Raspberry occupied for a short while, as did her notebook in which she decided she wanted to write cursive, but her version of cursive which is just letters joined together. I tried to explain to her that cursive was about more than just joining one’s letters together but she’s stubborn and insisted that this was her way. Sigh. There was a lady sitting across from the aisle from us and she seemed quite amused by Raspberry. I overheard her talking to a friend and it sounded like she’s got an almost-five-year-old so maybe that’s why she seemed entertained. At one point, Raspberry held up her book to show her imaginary cat audience, but she faced this lady and was explaining her cursive and the lady and I just looked at each other, trying to stifle our laughter. With the train being delayed, Raspberry got bored quickly by the extended trip. She was able to entertain herself at times by telling me all kinds of things her imaginary baby and cats were getting up to and at times she was so animated that I had to remind her to keep her voice down, but it was obvious that she was bored.
Lucas was back when we got home and Raspberry wasted no time in telling him all about her day, it was that good. I really enjoyed our trip too. Usually when I’m on my own, I have a specific plan about where I want to go and exactly what I want to get done and I go at it full-force and end up absolutely exhausted at the end. But when you have a kid with you, obviously you need to tone the day down. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed our leisurely day (really, just unrushed and with much less of a need to go everywhere), one that had enough buffers built in for spontaneous activities like stopping to jump around in the grass or balancing on concrete beams. And I’m glad Raspberry enjoyed the gallery too. I’ve been taking her to galleries since she was a few weeks old, but I don’t think she’s ever expressed that much enthusiasm for any particular exhibit before until the Obrist one. Plus, I learnt she seems to prefer sculpture over paintings, but the contemporary kind though (that’s her taste when it comes to art too, but I think I had something to do with that). Having a more specific idea of her preferences in art now, I think I might be better able to tailor our gallery trips. I thoroughly enjoyed the Obrist show too. Sometimes I feel really harried when I’m looking at an exhibition and I end up not fully immersing myself into it and of course not getting much out of it. But being at this exhibition, I was able to get the peace of mind to enjoy the art as Raspberry was really into it too (often, she just ends up running all over the gallery space and being a little bored so I feel obligated to hurry up and get out of there). I think it’s the first exhibition in a long time that I’ve really enjoyed. For some reason, I haven’t quite been able to get into the art I’ve seen in Liverpool in the past several months. In fact, when the LOOK/13, the Liverpool Photography Festival was on in the spring, I’d made tentative plans to see many of the exhibits but never quite found to motivation to see them, save for a few. Perhaps I was just a little sore that I was missing CONTACT, Toronto’s huge photography festival held the same month, for the first time in eight years. Ha. But I’m glad that this exhibition has renewed my interest in art. For a moment, I was wondering if perhaps my interest had waned. Maybe I just wasn’t viewing the right kinds of art.
Anyway, Raspberry seems to really enjoy Manchester and wants to go back again soon (“next week?”). There’s still lots of places I’d like to visit there and an upcoming Science Festival so I’m sure we’ll be there again soon enough (actually, with all the cool stuff the science festival is holding, I wish we lived there so we could take it all in!). Once a month, kinda like our trips to Toronto, seems like a good frequency to visit Manchester, I think. Next time, we’ll probably go to the science museum, as they’ve got an exhibit about brains and all of us, Lucas included, really want to see that.
The Manchester Print Fair has now come and gone, and if there’s one thing I learnt from the experience, it’s that my work doesn’t really belong at a print fair. Now, Raspberry’s work — her zines and her prints — do, but mine — my sewn maps, my photographs, my envelopes — not so much.
As you may now be able to figure out, Raspberry was once again more successful than I was, selling as many zines as she did the last time and a couple of prints. Her popularity was often spread by word of mouth — one guy bought her meerkat zine and showed his buddy who later came over to pick up one of his own. A lady who works at a vet whom we met at the last print fair brought her friend over to see Raspberry’s work and collectively they bought three more zines. There was also a professor who bought both her zines, a postcard and a print, all without much hesitation. He said his students had mentioned her work to him so he’d come over to check it out.
I had none of that. My envelopes were my only seller, pretty much like the last time. I’ll admit that I resorted to some cheap shock tactics to get people to stop at my table by sticking the Ai Weiwei envelopes at the very front just to attract people. It seemed to work though, as I don’t have any more of those envelopes. Ha. Lots of people looked at the maps and thought they were cool, but no one seemed to want to spend money on them. There were a few people who browsed through the folder and had me really believing they were going to buy a map, but unfortunately there weren’t any takers. Many people didn’t know that the maps were stitched until I told them, so at the next fair I do, I’m going to change my label to say something like “hand-sewn maps” rather than just plain ol’ “maps.” We were sharing a table with Joanna and it was a smaller table than the one we each had individually at the Inprint Print Fair, so space was a commodity and we weren’t able to put out all the things we did the last time, not that it really mattered anyway.
Through my discussions with Joanna, we surmised that a certain kind of crowd attends a print fair — the kind of crowd that likes screenprints, illustration and of course, prints. Obviously. Both our work generally defy that kind of aesthetic and are less likely to attract the print fair-going crowd. If anything, I think I might fit in better at a craft fair rather than a print fair. There was an application and flyers going around for an upcoming fanzine fair and I briefly thought about trying my luck there but I think it’s the wrong crowd for me to be around to sell my work so I’ll pass. There are actually quite a few craft fairs coming up around Liverpool now that summer’s coming but the tables are quite expensive and participating in them often requires insurance as well as your own physical table or tent. I don’t think I’m quite at that point yet where I can comfortably shell out £25 for a table and invest in my own portable furniture and, not to mention, insurance. I think my next step is to make new maps and to sell them online and see how that goes.
Despite another less-than-successful fair, the rest of the day wasn’t too bad. The train ride to Manchester was fun in the way train rides often are, if you like that kind of thing. And I love that initial sense of awe when you pull into a city that you’ve never been to before and everything seems so cool. From the little that I saw, Manchester is to Liverpool what Toronto is to Hamilton. I spent pretty much the whole time inside but Lucas and even Raspberry got to see a bit of the city (Lucas would’ve probably seen more but he wasn’t feeling well). Prior to our trip, I was able to locate a retro photobooth just across the street from where the print fair was being held and I’d wanted to go get our picture done before going to set up. As luck would have it though, our train was delayed and we had a bit of a challenge finding out how to enter the building the fair was in, so we had to nix the photobooth picture. Rest assured that we will most certainly be back in the city to get this picture done, among other things like hitting up the Manchester Museum and of course, checking out the streets.
Raspberry seemed more restless during this fair than the last. Perhaps the novelty had worn off. There was a constant stream of people through the space and not a lot of down time. Much of the first hour-and-a-half was spent stuffing herself with food until I exasperatedly decided she had to do something else. There was a loud screamy tantrum somewhere in there too, as Lucas and I both thought she’d benefit from talking a walk outside but she was quite resistant. She spent quite a bit of time wandering the other tables, hanging around a table with another kid whose mother was a seller, and of course Catherine Chialton’s table, because she’s got phenomenally cool stuff. Raspberry actually made her very first purchase, with her own money made from both fairs, from Catherine. She bought the heart brooch and she’s been wearing it the past two days. I love what she’s bought and if I were the kind to wear brooches, I’d have bought it for myself (actually, I would’ve bought all the organs). I did mention to Catherine that if she made organ necklaces, I’d be all over those. Anyway, it’s kinda funny. Now that Raspberry has made her first purchase, she’s more acutely aware that she has money that she can spend and wants to spend it on everything. We’ve had to remind her that it’s a better idea to save her money for something she really wants rather than fritter it away frivolously, but then again even if she does, it would be a good lesson for her to learn, if not a hard one (although I don’t think money really means a lot to her — after the first print fair, she was most excited by the fact that she now had a £1 coin of her very own that she could use as a refundable deposit at the museum lockers).
Anyway, it had been gorgeous when we first arrived in Manchester but by the time the fair was over, it was raining. Even though there was over an hour until our train, we made our way back to the train station and camped out at a bench with our dinner, a combination of leftovers from the lunch we brought and pita bread and cheese and chive dip from Marks and Spencer. It was nice just watching the world pass by for a little while. Of course, Raspberry much preferred to run and jump about, nearly tripping people rushing to or from their trains. Tired, I think we were all relieved when we finally got on our train home.
I’m a little disappointed by the way things turned out but I’m okay with it. I’m learning as I go and I know that few people are successful right from the get-go. I’ll just keep working at it. It’ll likely be a while until I sell at a fair again so in that time, I’m happy to continue to make new maps and revel in the whole process.
Here’s a long overdue post!
We finally made it to Liverpool just slightly over a month ago; I can hardly believe it. So much has been a whirl and a blur since then.
On December 10th, we arrived bright and early in Manchester, dazed and exhausted after barely sleeping on the seven-hour red-eye flight from Toronto. Getting a very clear view of the moon above the clouds and watching the sun rise over Ireland was wonderful though. Raspberry slept four hours at most and was a zombie going through immigration. It took her a bit but riding a travelator on the way to the train helped perk her up and she was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed while we waited for Lucas to pick Avy up. The hour-long train ride from the airport into Liverpool was a daze and there were moments where we we all nearly nodded off. Luckily, the hotel was quite literally a block from the train station, although it most certainly felt longer while hauling our bloated, overweight suitcases there. That evening, Raspberry drifted off before six p.m. and we were done by half-past eight. Beautifully, our being awake through the day staved off any jetlag, although as I like to think about it, our December 9th/10th felt like one very long day.
Our first four days were spent in a spectacular, old hotel, a place filled with plush carpets, chandeliers and what seemed like uppercrust old people. When I was busy checking into the hotel, Raspberry explored the lobby, noticed the soft carpeting under her feet and asked if she could take off her shoes. Absent-mindedly, I actually said yes before I caught myself as I saw her sitting down to remove her footwear. I jokingly told Lucas we didn’t deserve this hotel, and in truth if we hadn’t found a great deal online, we couldn’t afford to stay in such a fancy place. We’ll probably never stay in a hotel this opulent ever again. Ha!
I think in the four days we spent at the hotel, we ate out more times than we had all year. Had our room come equipped with a stove, we would have gladly made meals but rather, we had to resort to fast food for most of the days — subs, burritos, burgers and fries, pizza. One cold, desperate afternoon we even stepped into a McDonald’s because there was nothing else around and grudgingly, we bought Raspberry her first (and thankfully thus far, only) Happy Meal of chicken nuggets and fries, relinquishing the Madagascar 2 hippo toy to a child at another table because she didn’t want it and she doesn’t need extra toys anyway, especially Made-in-China plastic ones. The meal’s only redeeming aspect was the organic milk and the fact that it transformed Raspberry from a hungry, cold, sullen, grumpy child to a more pleasant, tolerable version of herself. On our final evening at the hotel, we got a pre-cooked roast chicken, tomatoes, an avocado and cans of corn and potatoes from the grocery store and together with glasses of milk, put together some semblance of a meal that made us feel more at home. It definitely helped that the heater in the hotel room was hot enough to keep the chicken warm and the windowsill with the window open was cold enough to store milk. What a dichotomy.
Our days were largely spent walking the streets in search of a place to live. As luck would have it, Liverpool was undergoing a cold spell that week (a high of 1°C is nothing to us, coming from Canada, but we weren’t used to being out in the cold for extended periods of time). The hunt for a home took us to some shady neighbourhoods, with abandoned buildings and shuttered shops. I tried to envision myself walking down those streets daily and couldn’t, so it was a bit of a relief when the places we looked at were crappy (we saw mold on the walls in one and another was just kind of a dump) or the property agents cancelled on us. We called and emailed a ton of places and most refused to allow a cat or a child (mostly the former though) and quite a number deemed themselves authorities on whether two adults and a child could actually fit into a one-bedroom apartment. On the third day of our search, we finally found a gorgeous one-bedroom apartment on the edge of the city centre, a bit out of our price range but the lady Lucas spoke to seemed really nice and was willing to let us take a one bedroom place. I was beyond relieved as for a moment there, it seemed like we were going to be homeless. Unfortunately due to a bereavement, the property agent’s office was closed for three days, thereby prolonging the start of the paperwork. It was unaffordable for us to extend our stay at the hotel, but fortunately someone responded to my last-minute Couchsurfing request, thereby saving us from the streets.
For a week, while we waited for the paperwork for our apartment to be processed and for our deposit and rent to be wired to the property agent, we ended up staying with Steven, a guy originally from Malaysia. He was really nice, showing us around town on the weekend and repeatedly giving us a ride into the city centre on his way into work. He has five cats too, which meant that Raspberry was in feline heaven. The presence of a kitchen and a grocery store just down the street meant that we resumed making our meals rather than eating out, which we very much appreciated for the sake of our pockets. While we were able to explore the city centre and visit museums in this time, all that waiting and being in limbo was a challenge and took its toll on all of us; it merely added to the almost five-month-long process that began when we moved out of our Hamilton apartment. I realized later that in our first week-and-a-half here, I didn’t take as many pictures as I normally would have, likely because we were so caught up in the stress of finding a place to live as quickly as possible (I do regret not having more pictures from this time). It was such a weight off our shoulders when we finally moved into our apartment on the twenty-first. To quote a short story I read last week, “it’s good to be home, even if home is unfamiliar.”
We’ve now been in our apartment, our home for almost three-and-a-half weeks. Initially, it felt foreign, to be able to say things like, “let’s go home now.” For the previous five months, both Lucas and I actively avoided using the word “home,” since we didn’t actually have our own home. To be able to say it once again requires practice and the positive reinforcement of feeling all warm and fuzzy when I say it out loud. I can’t wait until I don’t have to consciously think about it when I use the word.
Our past few weeks have been a glorious wash of museum visits. We live within a forty minute walk (almost two miles) of most museums and because it’s been the holidays, the museums have all had some kind of craft activity going on just about every single day (Raspberry is really into making art and doing crafts right now — our apartment has been engulfed in a mass of paper scraps, tape, glue and pencils). The walk there and back was initially quite daunting for Raspberry, who hasn’t walked long distances in five months, but I think she’s getting used to it, although some days she prefers a day in so she doesn’t have to walk. I love the fact that there are so many museums (and that they’re all free) and there’s always something to do — this is what we were severely lacking living in Hamilton and what I was longing for. Raspberry needs a bit of time to get used to the museums — her first visit to any of them involved a lot of excited running around from one exhibit to another. I think the wealth of information was overwhelming, and I’d actually forgotten from previous experience that her upper limit for spending time at a museum is about two hours. This week, we’re going to try taking our time to explore one small area of a museum at a time in the hopes that she’ll be able to better focus.
The oft-asked question is, expectedly, how Liverpool is. Mostly, I’m unsure of what to say because I haven’t thought deeply about it, so I settle in the easiest, least provocative answer, that it’s good. And it has been good. We’ve wrenched ourselves out of our monotonous existence, out of our comfort zone and have begun building ourselves the kind lives we’ve been wanting for a while. I can’t expect immediate perfection but sometimes I do wish for it, because hey, it’s always nice when things are perfect. We’re working on making things better and that of course comes with time. I’m actually quite looking forward to us easing into a new routine, with Lucas going to school and doing his thing, Raspberry and I getting more into unschooling, and as we teach Raspberry to be more independent, I’ll hopefully be able to able to start working on my own art again. Not to be cliche, but I really do think it’s going to be fun.