Tim Peake and Bringing a Country Together

British ESA astronaut Tim Peake on his first spacewalk. Image Credit:  NASA  via  Flickr  (Public Domain) - ISS-46 EVA-1

British ESA astronaut Tim Peake on his first spacewalk. Image Credit: NASA via Flickr (Public Domain) - ISS-46 EVA-1

     One of high points for the United Kingdom this year was Major Tim Peake's mission aboard the International Space Station, which began on December 15, 2015 and ended on June 18, 2016. During those six months, Major Peake fascinated and inspired people back home in Britain and throughout the world by carrying out mission objectives alongside his fellow ISS crew members from other countries, such as repairing a failed voltage regulator which made for Peake becoming the first British astronaut to participate in a spacewalk.

      Along the way, he kept everyone up-to-date with his engaging social media posts on Facebook and Twitter, including his participation in the London Marathon on a treadmill – making him the second person to run a marathon in space, various videos highlighting his life aboard the ISS, his support for British sports teams, and remarks for occasions such as New Year’s Day and the Queen’s 90th birthday.

     Perhaps my favorite aspect of Major Peake's journey was when he shared photographs of various locations in the US, UK, and throughout the world from the ISS, including fabulous views of picturesque auroras. It is indeed true that one cannot fully appreciate the world unless it is viewed from that vantage point.

     For Major Peake, it all must have been an incredible experience – one which he appeared to thoroughly enjoy for every minute. Even before he returned home, he was being celebrated as a hero throughout the UK and there was great interest in his mission from the public via several platforms, particularly social media. As the first British ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut and only the second Briton to wear the Union Flag patch in space, Peake was conferred the Freedom of the City by his hometown of Chichester and the Queen made him a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George for his services to research and scientific education – all while he was still aboard the ISS.

     Having returned from space, Major Peake now intends to embark on a tour of the United Kingdom this month, during which he will visit all four capital cities of the country (London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast), as well as Leicester, Manchester, Salford, and Glasgow. According to Principa, Major Peake will be “will be giving presentations at each city, giving his first-hand account about life onboard the ISS and talking about the important science experiments he conducted during his mission.”

     Alongside Major Peake for part of this tour will be our own Colonel Tim Kopra, a NASA astronaut who was a crewmate with Peake aboard the ISS. The two Tim’s (who look quite similar in appearance) will be in Belfast, Edinburgh, and London in what is expected to be an engaging series of events about their time working and living in space, as well as inspiring others to become astronauts, so that they may explore space and make new discoveries for the benefit of mankind. On a wider scale, there is the potential for Britain to develop its own spaceport and having more people interested in space and space travel may well provide additional impetus for such a spaceport to be built. With regard to Tim Peake, there has been an ambitious education and outreach initiative in which the UK Space Agency has invested £3 million to engage over a million young people into his mission and so this tour is also a way for him to thank the British public for their support.

The two Tim's - Britain's Peake and America's Kopra. Major Peake is being given a patch by Colonel Kopra to commemorate his 100th day in space on March 24, 2016. Image Credit:  NASA  via  Flickr  (Public Domain)   - ISS047-E-017191

The two Tim's - Britain's Peake and America's Kopra. Major Peake is being given a patch by Colonel Kopra to commemorate his 100th day in space on March 24, 2016. Image Credit: NASA via Flickr (Public Domain) - ISS047-E-017191

     On that matter, he remarked that he had been “extremely touched” by that support before, during, and after the ISS mission, and made a particular mention about watching the launch parties attended by so many in the four capitals as he ascended into space last December. Having viewed those celebrations, Major Peake now looks forward to the tour allowing him to partake in those celebrations himself and to thank as many people as possible.

     One hopes that he will receive hearty thanks from the people of a United Kingdom - wherever they live and are from - who are grateful for his service to the country. In these uncertain times, Peake shows what people ought to aspire to be, and is therefore an inspiration and an example to follow because of the hard work and dedication that has brought him this far, the grace and humility he has shown along with an uplifting personality, and for his love of country.

     Throughout his mission, Major Peake made it known that he was proud to be British – with his tribute to Her Majesty on her 90th birthday and frequently having the Union Flag nearby in his social media posts – and I do believe that this upcoming tour may be a way to celebrate what is good and decent about being British and sharing in the achievements of a British man which were made possible in part by the UK and its people at large. It may be asking too much for the Peake tour to be anything along the lines of what we have witnessed in the celebrations for Team GB and Paralympics GB following their dynamic performance at Rio 2016, but it ought to at least be something worthy of marking the achievements of Major Peake.

     Between these two – Tim Peake and the British Rio teams – there is a lot to be proud of as a citizen of the United Kingdom and they are examples of what can be achieved when the country comes together to make beautiful and extraordinary things happen and then commemorate them. With the country as divided as it is along several fault lines, it is sometimes a wonder that such things are able to occur, but I believe that this speaks to the enduring strength and resilience of a country that has withstood so much throughout its long existence. When there is a common sense of purpose, differences can be broken down to allow for synergy among different people (for the UK is a union of people as well as a nations) to work together as one, which instills pride in themselves as individuals and as something greater than themselves.

     Going forward, the virtue of working together, achieving together, and celebrating together as a United Kingdom will be invaluable as the country enters into uncharted territory. Perhaps the tour by Major Peake throughout the UK can help serve as a reminder to the British people of who they are and what they can aspire to become, while striving to build a better country, and indeed a better world, along the way.

Manchester and Its Elegant Town Hall

It has always been my intention to have this blog go beyond politics, the constitution, and current affairs to also focus on exploring these pieces of rock, these collection of islands known as the United Kingdom – the places, the people, the history, the culture, and everything else which make this country what it is and has shaped my view of it. This has already been done with articles about the holidays for the patron saints of the UK, the Titanic and Belfast, the Pilots of the Caribbean, British accents, April Fool’s Day, the NFL in Britain, symbols of the UK, Britain at the Olympics, among other topics.

So for this post, I’ll be looking at one of Britain’s great cities – Manchester, and with a focus on one of its most noted features, its Town Hall.

Manchester Town Hall. Image Credit:  Robert Cutts  via  Flickr   CC

Manchester Town Hall. Image Credit: Robert Cutts via Flickr CC

     Located in North West England, Manchester has a storied history beginning with the ancient Celtic tribes who settled there, followed by the Romans, who built a fort named Mancunium, which in turn became the basis for city’s current name. As early as the 14th Century when it gained a town charter, Manchester became a center for the manufacturing and trade of linen; from here, the city grew rapidly as trade expanded with new and better ways of transportation. The Industrial Revolution brought about major technological advances which vastly increased linen production and Manchester became the world’s first industrialized city, encompassing parts of both the counties of Lancashire and Cheshire; it also earned the nicknames “Cottonopolis” and “Warehouse City” for being the Mecca of cotton processing and linen manufacturing during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Heavy industry in general went on a steep decline following World War II and the city along with it through the 1980’s and it was the victim of a substantial Provisional IRA attack in 1996, which heavily damaged parts of the city center. Since then however, Manchester has undergone an extensive regeneration to become a hub for business and financial services, media, advanced manufacturing, and tourism, as well as competing with Birmingham for the title of the UK’s second city.

     As would befit a city seeking such a status, it has a beautiful town hall located at its center. Completed in 1877 and designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the Manchester Town Hall is a study in Victorian Gothic revival architecture and its purpose was to show that Manchester had arrived to be a city of wealth and importance – almost on par with London – during its heyday as the world’s cotton and linen powerhouse, having been elevated to city status in 1853. Even today, it takes on an elegant appearance which is pleasing to the eye and makes a lasting impression that there is indeed, much more to the UK than just the capital city.

     The exterior of this historic building is highlighted by the clock tower which rises 280 feet from the ground atop the main entrance, which faces Albert Square and a monument to Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert. It is the sixth-tallest building in Manchester and his topped by a spiky golden globe, which symbolizes Manchester’s empire made in cotton. Within it are contained a bevy of bells, including Great Abel – the city’s answer to Big Ben and named for Abel Heywood, the Mayor of Manchester who had championed the hall – which weighs eight tons and strikes on the hour. From the top are extraordinary views of the city and the surrounding area.

     On the inside are lavishly decorated corridors, hallways, staircases, and rooms filled with stone and other materials from throughout the United Kingdom which are filled with symbolism relating to Manchester, its trade and commerce, its people, and its civic organizations. Of note are two special areas which aside from the clock tower are a must-see for any visit to the building: the Sculpture Hall and the Great Hall.

The Great Hall with its expansive space, ceiling panels, organ, and murals on Mancunian history. Image Credit:  Tom Page  via  Flickr   cc

The Great Hall with its expansive space, ceiling panels, organ, and murals on Mancunian history. Image Credit: Tom Page via Flickr cc

     The Sculpture Hall is named so because it contains the statues and busts of people who made contributions to Manchester, including anti-Corn Law campaigners Richard Cobden and John Bright, music conductors Charles Halle and Sir John Barbirolli, and scientists John Dalton and James Joule. Located on the ground floor, it is also home to a café which invites visitors to “indulge in a menu inspired by the North West” and is convenient for anybody with an appetite worked up by touring other areas of the building, and indeed, the city itself.

     From the ground floor, there are a set of elegant spiral stairs which lead up to a landing known as the Bees Area, which has a floor patterned with bees and cotton and a glazed skylight on which the names of the mayors, lord mayors, and chairs of the city council are inscribed. This then leads the Great Hall, which measures 100 feet tall by 50 feet wide and features an organ along with the famous Manchester Murals by Ford Madox Brown which depicts scenes from throughout the city’s history. Above them are large arched windows permitting natural light to flow into the large space and along the ceiling are a series of panels with the coat of arms of countries and towns which had traded with Manchester.

     This room bears a close resemblance to Westminster Hall, and indeed, the whole Town Hall gives an appearance reminiscent of the interiors and exteriors of the Palace of Westminster, which is why the building has been used as a filming location for television and film, including Sherlock Holmes and The Iron Lady. It is also used for various private engagements, such as wedding ceremonies, conferences, and other events, and there are several other well-appointed rooms that are used for these purposes, including the Lord Mayor's Parlour, Conference Hall, Banqueting Room, Reception Room, Small Ante Room, and three conference rooms. In fact, the city council now mostly meets in the Town Hall Extension across Lloyd Street, which was built in the 1930’s.

One of the breathtakingly beautiful conference halls at Manchester Town Hall. Image Credit:  Michael D. Beckwith  via  Flickr ;  Public Domain

One of the breathtakingly beautiful conference halls at Manchester Town Hall. Image Credit: Michael D. Beckwith via Flickr; Public Domain

     Tours of the Town Hall are available via external tour companies such as New Manchester Walks, which offers guided tours through the building, including specific ones for extensive viewing of the murals and going up to the top of the clock tower. Unfortunately, tours for the clock tower have been suspended for at least this year due to repairs, but the other areas are still available, both in a general tour of the building and one focused on the Madox Murals. As the building is booked for private functions, it is advisable to check New Manchester Walks for date and time availability, as well as to email them to notify them of your attendance on a certain day and to obtain the latest information and prices.

     The Town Hall is only one feature to see in Manchester, but it offers a foundation for experiencing one of the great cities of the United Kingdom, and anybody who visits it will be in for a treat they will not forget.