My first time in Manchester, 8 hours away from Cornwall

I went to school in Truro, Cornwall. I am from Westcountry. So don’t fool me with fake looking pasties…

This is a true account of the time when I came up to UMIST for my interview in Manchester for the very first time.

The train takes about 8 hours. It was a direct train from Truro all the way along the westcoast then to Birmingham then onto Manchester. The University has found me a cheap B&B hotel (Grafton Hotel £20). It was next to the Royal Infirmary just off Oxford Road. Although I was from Hong Kong and familiar to city life. I was little overwhelmed by Manchester at first, alone in a unknown city. All I remember people from Cornwall was saying: “Manchester is rough!” (They probably still think that now). So arm with this but also with my real excitement, as I really want to go to UMIST, I went to Manchester. It is also where Chemical Engineering had all started too. I was not a bright student, not good enough for Oxbridge, so UMIST was the next best uni in Chemical Engineering.

Got into a taxi heading for the hotel. My eyes kept looking out of the windows, there was nothing to see along Upper Brooke Street! The hotel was not modern at all, even worst than Trennick, my boarding house. The room was very small and there was no tele. For my dinner, I went out hoping to go to China Town. Not knowing any transport or directions!, I just kind of walked. My sense of direction is poor (still is), I went toward Rusholme rather than China Town. Got lost in little India. I was miles away and was so disappointed that I missed the opportunity. I was so looking forward to proper Chinese food. There are good takeaways in Truro, but it is not quite the same. Char Siu Rice ar….

Low in morale, low in energy, I had to settle for a pizza, not really wanting curry. Also went to the shop and got some magazines to fill the time in the evening. Back to the hotel and to my box room, ate the pizza, then had to open the windows to get rid of the smell. In the same time, feeling the cold wind coming in, you know Cornwall is much warmer. Then I was so tired, so headed for an early night for the important next day.

Our school has taught us well, encourage us to wear a suit to interview. I did and look pretty smart. Many other just turned up in their jeans and trainers. This was my first suit from the local Topman. I still have it in the wardrobe.

The one thing I was looking forward to is the Pilot Plant. UMIST is the only university has a pilot process plant. If you drive pass the new Macdonald Hotel near Piccadilly Station. The now named “Morton Laboratory” is still there, the hotel people want to have it knock down to improve their view but it is still there after a strong battle. It is there to stay!

The day was great, UMIST is a modern university, we got to go around Weston Hall. Ensuite Rooms, close to Uni & town, what sold me was INTRANET = INTERNET. No more 14.4kbps (yes 14.4kbps!) at school, it was 10MBps straight though to JANET, the inter-university link in the UK. I remember downloading was already at 600kb/s. This was more than 10 years ago! I still can’t get that speed in my new place…

Other than the attractive intranet, I was also impressed by my chat with my interviewer Prof Davey, who afterward became my tutor. I presented myself well and we chatted about what I was learning in Chemistry (btw Chem Eng don’t really have that much chemistry though). There were only good things that I saw afterward, the Joule Library, the Vimto thing, the statue of Archimedes, the computing facilities, sports facilities. I am definitely coming back and so I did with my luck.

I had to dash as the train was leaving at around 3pm. The train would arrived back to Truro at about 11pm just before roll call at Trennick.

I was both lucky and unlucky that I met my Physics teacher’s daughter who was travelling back down from Bath for her interview too. That meant two things, I can’t get await from the Physics test the morning after but at least I got a lift from his dad back to school.

That was my first time in Manchester and here I am now some 12 years after, the slope leading up to Piccadilly Train Station is still a joyful walk. I still called University of Manchester – UMIST, the Morton Laboratory – Pilot Plant, Sackville Street building – The Main building, Still stare at the changing colour logo at the top of Social Science building while driving on the Mancunian way (I will be careful).

Thanks for reading – My first Time in Manchester, 8 hours away from Cornwall!


SOGS Dinner at Sweet Mandarin

This year SOGS dinner took place on the 31-1-2010 at Sweet Mandarin in the Northern Quarter of Manchester.

History of S.O.G.S = Salford Office Gambling Syndicate. It is not as serious as the word Gambling actually mean.

During a time in the Salford Quays office, I started to run regular sweepstakes amongst my colleagues. It was an important talking point, was not about the money, but about togetherness and a bit of fun.

The topic can vary, anything from New Born Baby Weights, IT’s respond time, Football and other sporting events etc

In fact the syndicate is dead now, we have not had a sweepstake for years. People had somehow stop bothering and also some people has left us too.

What remain is the Annual Dinner? Our normal office Christmas party is often Chinese Food. I always complain that the food at these Christmas dinner is poor wherever we go. So every year, I organise an alternative Christmas dinner in Chinatown with me ordering from the “Chinese Menu”. This year the dinner was delayed to January because of the takeover in that we end up having two Christmas parties. Another one would just be too much colleagues bonding!

I chose Sweet Mandarin (Twitter @sweetmandarin) because they won the Gordon Ramsey F word Best local Chinese Restaurant award. I was hoping to attract more people to come. But for several reasons that it turned out to be the opposite.

Nevertheless the spirit should be there, which is very very very important to me. There was people who don’t really know what SOGS is and the importance of this gathering. The atomsphere was not as high as I wanted to be. But let the food do the talking!

A pre-dinner drink at the Printworks, before we slowly progressed to our table at Sweet Mandarin. I have not been there before and with my trusted guide (Google Map), we have find the vibrant restaurant in Northern Quarters. When I walked in, Helen (one of three sisters who own the restaurant) greeted me (and already  knew I am Simon). Then I said hello to Lisa too. I have been talking to them via Twitter, was nice to met them.

The restaurant was buzzing, so busy on that Friday night. The restaurant is decorated to a very high standard, very warm and the atmosphere was excellent.

I did the food ordering of course. Every time I try a new restaurant, I always try their signature dishes, and this time no different.

1) Mabel’s Claypot Chicken
2) Lily Kwok’s Curry Chicken
3) Buddha Golden Basket

The food was good but it is not as authentic as the food I had trained my colleagues to eat all these years. It was tasty don’t get me wrong, and I would probably go back but it is different from the true authentic Chinese (Cantonese more specifically) food you can order from the “Chinese Menu”. But this really deserves another blog to discuss.

Next year I am banning any partners, sorry but they dampen the atmosphere. It was only Andrew who were keeping to the spirit of SOGS.

Anyway after more food and drinks, it was the big event of the evening. The “Sweepstake” on the bill. In this, each person would bet £1 on the final value of the bills. Just two simply rules.

1) If you are over you are out
2) Everything including VAT (ie the biggest number on the bill)

SAME RULES every time, is it because of luck that I always  win? Although I am the one who ordered and everyone else thinks I have insider knowledge, sorry but I don’t. The reason must be I am just pretty good at guessing!

The bill was above 200, roughly £25 per head. Everyone had gone for below £20 per head, I am the only one on £20 per head. So I win once again! £7 pound better off woo hoo. I was hoping if I didn’t Andrew would, because he made great effort all night.

I have to say it was not as fun as last year, or the year before, or the year before before, or the year bbb bbbb …….. etc…

We rumbled over for more drinks around Northern Quarters and slowly lost everyone.

I think next year’s dinner, chicken feet, roast pig’s head, ginger & spring onion tripe, Beef entrails, Pig tongue, Duck gizzard, all have to return to satisfy my not so “gweilo” colleagues…