Monday, 25 February 2013

Green Arrow

The other day I made a trip down memory lane when I read The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell, a Green Arrow story.
When I worked in London, I found a little comic shop near my office. I wasn't too sure what to try, until I found a Green Arrow comic - a superhero with a bow was just my cup of tea! I used to sit in the canteen at lunchtimes reading while I ate the frankly quite disgusting "curry" that they served up (it was cheap!). One of the things that impressed me back then was how adult the comics were - the characters went to bed together, and talked about getting married (or not). It wasn't just about fighting crime - the characters had real relationships.
Those stories must have come not long after the story in The Longbow Hunters, because I remember the Black Canary was recovering from some very traumatic incident in her recent past, and this story tells you what that traumatic incident was.
There's also a rival archer lurking on the rooftops of Seattle, where Oliver Queen has set up his shop the Sherwood Florist, a meaty plot involving Japanese gold and drugs and money laundering - and it was all great fun!
I'll be hunting down the sequels now to find out more about Green Arrow and the Black Canary.

I was interested to see that there's a new TV series, called just Arrow, but about the same character. I saw a trailer for it, but I haven't seen any episodes yet. The TV Oliver Queen is a lot younger than the comic book one I'm familiar with, though, and I understand he hasn't got together with his Black Canary yet. It should be fun to find out the differences, and the similarities, with the comics, when I finally get round to it (so many good stories out there, in so many formats - and so little time!)

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Patrick Troughton

When I realised how little I knew of Roddy McDowall's career, outside Planet of the Apes and Fright Night, it occurred to me that I didn't know a lot about Patrick Troughton's career, either.

Patrick Troughton became the Doctor in 1966. I was five years old, and I loved William Hartnell. I understood that Patrick Troughton was the same man, but I hated his silly hat and the way he played the recorder. What finally stopped me watching was an episode where what seemed like armies of Daleks were exploding on screen, revealing the Kaleds writhing horribly inside. My gran had to keep turning to ITV, and then flicking back again to see if it was all over - and after that we didn't watch it at all for a long while. When Patrick Troughton changed into Jon Pertwee, I suddenly took an interest again, but it took me a very long time to realise that Patrick Troughton had actually been rather good as the Doctor, and that some of those old episodes were worth watching.

Apart from the Doctor, I was aware that he had been the very first TV Robin Hood, though the episodes were filmed live, and I was too young to have seen any of them. I did enjoy seeing him in The Box of Delights - it was a book I loved as a child ("The wolves are running!" sends a chill down my spine even now). He was the magical Punch and Judy man who gave the Box to Kay Harker.

I'm a life-long Robin Hood fan, and I grew up on re-runs of Richard Greene's series - and there was Patrick Troughton again, playing various villains and good guys. In those days you only got to see the episode once - no videos or DVDs - so it was possible to have the same actor appearing as different characters all over the place. Paul Eddington, later famous in The Good Life, started off as Second Peasant and ended up as Count de whatever in a later episode!

He was also in films - playing the blind man harried by harpies in Jason and the Argonauts, that classic Ray Harryhausen film.

In the mid-Seventies, there was a children's serial called The Feathered Serpent, set in Aztec times. What I mostly remember is the young men in the production tying their hair back with the thick wool we used to call Dougals, which were fashionable briefly at about the same time as those clacker balls that got bashed together in a rather dangerous fashion. I also remember the heroine being poisoned by the evil chief priest (Patrick Troughton being really quite scary) and being totally paralysed, unable even to blink.

And just recently, I was hunting down some pictures online and came across a blog dedicated to Swallows and Amazons - especially the filming of the stories in the 1970s. The blog is called Sophie Neville, and it is quite fascinating. There was Patrick Troughton again, playing the eel man in The Big Six!

Apart from all this, he was another actor who always seemed to be working - he was in masses of TV series, did quite a lot of theatre work, and a few more films, and he appeared at Doctor Who Conventions as well.
And now I'm starting to collect the DVDs of his time in Doctor Who, with a new appreciation of his time in the role.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Roddy McDowall

After I'd watched Fright Night, it occurred to me that, though I always enjoy watching Roddy McDowell on screen, I didn't actually know much about his career.
When I was at school, one of the shows that everyone watched (along with Alias Smith and Jones) was Planet of the Apes. One of the girls in my class was obsessed with Galen, and even had his picture on her school bag. Satchels and briefcases were rather old-fashioned by the time I was going through school, and we all used black zip up bags, which could be plain but sometimes had those glossy plastic transfer pictures on them.
Galen is the role that Roddy McDowell is probably best known for, along with the other apes he played in the films - Cornelius and Caesar. I think the series was under-rated at the time - it's really very good, and Galen is such a fantastic character. He's a bit of a coward who ends up doing some really brave things, and he's enthusiastic, and even gets a love interest in the form of a chimp surgeon he gets to help him and the humans. And he does it all without being able to show his face. It's all in the eyes and the voice. What's even more impressive is that he plays different characters in the films, and manages to make each of them distinct from the others.
I'd never seen his face without prosthetics until I happened to catch an episode of the Invaders - and my first thought was what a big nose he had! (I have a feeling he died horribly in that, and it was quite traumatic for some of us at school, especially the Galen fan!).
Later, I saw him in an appallingly bad SF show called The Fantastic Journey. It was a time travel show, with a group of people from different times working together. Roddy McDowell was Dr Jonathan Willoway - he came from the 1960s and wore a leather jacket, and he was the best actor in it by far! (though I always had a soft spot for Jared Martin, who played some sort of healer from the 23rd century).

Now I've been looking at his biography - and the list of the films and TV shows he was in is enormous! I'd known he was a child actor, though if I've ever seen Lassie Come Home it's mercifully slipped out of my memory! It was, however, the first film my mum was ever taken to see as a small child - and she had to be taken out of the cinema, loudly crying "That master's hurting Lassie!"
I do remember seeing How Green Was My Valley, but I had no idea he played Huw, the young boy who was the star of the film.
He doesn't seem to have stopped working since, and he was good friends with many well-known actors and actresses - Maureen O'Hara and Angela Lansbury (he appeared in a few episodes of Murder, She Wrote, and he was also in Bedknobs and Broomsticks with her). Elizabeth Taylor said he was the one friend she could confide in - she told him things she would never tell anyone else. He was also Julie Andrews' boyfriend for a while!
He seems to have spent his whole life doing what he loved doing, and everyone around him seemed to like him. In the IMDb biography, he's quoted as saying:
"I absolutely adore movies. Even bad ones. I don't like pretentious ones, but a good bad movie, you must admit, is great."
and it also says: "He was that rarity among movie stars in that he appears to have made no enemies at all during his lifetime."
That's quite a good epitaph to have.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Richard Briers in Shakespeare

The summer I got married, Kenneth Branagh was touring Britain with his Shakespeare theatre company. They were due to come to Norwich just after our wedding, so part of our celebration was to go and see A Midsummer Night's Dream and King Lear on consecutive nights. Because the theatre in Norwich was being refurbished at the time, they were doing it in a tent in one of the parks.
So we got the pre-play speech each night by Kenneth Branagh explaining why there was no scenery - when they'd measured up in the spring, it would have fit in the tent, but since then the tent had sunk several inches into the mud, and the scenery was now too big to fit!
In The Dream, Richard Briers played Bottom. He was brilliant, of course - it was the sort of role he could do with his eyes closed.
The following night, he played King Lear - and it was a revelation! This wasn't a light comic actor, famous as Tom Good and as a panto villain in Doctor Who's Paradise Towers! This was an actor of the stature of the other greats who have played Lear. Coming the day after we'd seen him play Bottom made it all the more impressive.
Maybe it was partly the live performance, but I thought he was far better than Laurence Olivier in the BBC TV version of the play - and Emma Thompson twisted herself into grotesque shapes as the Fool and was likewise awesome. We staggered out of that tent with our jaws on the floor!
Kenneth Branagh also cast him in several Shakespeare films, and I've enjoyed his performances in Much Ado About Nothing, acting with Brian Blessed, and as Polonius in Hamlet. I remember seeing an interview with him where he confessed to being really nervous while acting opposite Gerard Depardieu and saying that he always ended up speaking very fast because of his nerves!
So, while I'll always watch a re-run of The Good Life - it's the Shakespeare that I'll really remember Richard Briers for.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Marvel 1602

It's a wonderful idea - to take the Marvel superheroes and place them in the year 1602 - because something has gone wrong with time and they are needed 400 years early.
I'm pretty much a novice when it comes to the Marvel universe, but I have seen Avengers Assemble, so Sir Nicholas Fury, spymaster to Queen Elizabeth I, was familiar, even down to the eyepatch - and he had an apprentice with a fascination for spiders who was called Peter....
The X-men are there, in a School for Young Gentlemen somewhere near Warwick - I'm not so familiar with them, though I do know about the bald professor in a wheelchair. There was no wheelchair here, of course, but he was still bald, and renamed Javier, as the X-men were renamed witchbreed.
And anyone who knows a bit of Tudor and Stuart history would know that James I and VI, who succeeded Elizabeth, was pretty anti-witches. In short, this was not a safe time for people with unusual powers to be living. In Spain, of course, there was the Inquisition, and the Grand Inquisitor plays a part in the story too, with his unusual assistants, a red nun and a boy who can run very fast.
And then there's the Roanoake colony, and a young girl called Virginia Dare, the first European child to be born in the Americas, coming back to England with her native American protector. Both of them are more than they seem at first glance.
As if that weren't enough, we also have the Four of the Fantastick and Count Otto von Doom - and a blind Irish minstrel with amazing acrobatic abilities (I'd never heard of Daredevil, but I really like this Matt Murdoch). Matt teams up with a mysterious widow called Natasha (I think I've met her before, too!).
And if that weren't enough, the Court physician is Dr. Strange, and Thor gets in there, too.
This being a Neil Gaiman story, all these many characters work seamlessly into a plot that makes perfect sense. And, this being a Neil Gaiman story, he gets the feeling of the early seventeenth century, with the very different ideas about science that they had then, too. It's amazing what can be done with oil of vitriol and water, a rod of copper and a rod of Chinese zinc....
So much for the script, but what brings it to life, of course, are the artists. Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove do a magnificent job of bringing the characters to life, in the clothes of the period, and the ships and the buildings. "For reference, I'd suggest Shakespeare in Love," Neil Gaiman says in his notes (some of which are reproduced at the back of the book, along with some of the character sketches). The cover art for each comic is by Scott McKowen, based on woodcuts of the period, and it all looks marvellous!

There is a sequel, written by Peter David, who wrote quite a few Star Trek novels among other things - and I think I will have to look out for it.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Fright Night

Being a fan of Doctor Who, I have followed David Tennant's career since he left the role - and there was this photo I saw, of a banner for a stage show, with an almost unrecognisable David Tennant, bearded and with his shirt open to the waist, in tight leather trousers, holding a ball of light between his hands. It looked intriguing, to say the least!
It seemed that David Tennant was starring in a remake of a classic horror film called Fright Night. I'd heard of this film, but never seen it (I'm not a great one for horror films) even though the original starred another favourite actor, Roddy McDowell.
To be even more topical, the remake starred the young lad who played Chekov in the new Star Trek film - only without the Russian accent - as the kid who nobody believes when he says there's a vampire living next door.
So I watched the film, and enjoyed it - and one day my Young Man was standing with me at the Co-op checkout when he spotted the original version of Fright Night among the cheap DVDs.
Well, we had to have it.

With apologies to David Tennant, it is the far superior film. Roddy McDowell is magnificent as the star of old horror films who is reduced to introducing them on TV - and he's a complete charlatan. He doesn't believe in any of it. He's just an actor playing a part, until the kids get him involved with the real vampire. The modern version gave David Tennant as Peter Vincent a back story about his family being killed by vampires, so he knew they were real from the beginning - and it really didn't work so well. I think it was better, too, that there was only one vampire in the original, with his creepy minion - it really didn't need a basement full of them.

So, although Roddy McDowell never wears tight leather trousers, in all other respects, his is the film to watch!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Ancient Brewhouses

One of the blogs I follow is Zythophile, a blog about all sorts of beer.
I was also once an archaeologist - so I found his post on brewing Viking beer fascinating.
The structures involved have been known about for a long time, but they have always been interpreted as saunas or bath-houses before - which shows the importance of interpretation of finds! A wrong interpretation can completely skew ideas about the site or even an entire culture in some cases. These buildings were usually next to the drinking hall of a settlement or farm, and though it is well known that Vikings liked to be clean, it probably makes more sense to brew the ale next door to where you intend to drink it. The one in the picture on Zythophile's blog is in the Orkneys. It has a stone box with a hole in one side to light the fire, and the cauldron would have rested on top of the walls of it.
Merryn Dineley, the archaeologist, and her husband Graham, who is a craft brewer, have also been doing experimental archaeology on the subject, which is to say they actually brewed some beer, using the original equipment at Bressay Heritage Centre in Shetland! In this case, the stone trough was Bronze Age, and they got out a very drinkable ale, rather like a barley wine. They heated the mash with hot stones, as this one is built into the ground with no room underneath to light a fire.

Strangely, on the same day as I came across this story, I also found an archived post from Moore's Group Blog, which is an archaeological blog. In October 2007, they posted "Ale, brewing and fulach fiadh: Archaeology Ireland" which looks at Irish ancient monuments which consist of a horseshoe shaped mound and an associated trough. No-one was sure what they were for, apart from agreeing that water was heated in the troughs by putting hot rocks in. So they, too, did some experimental archaeology, after much research about brewing around Europe, and the discovery of a similar method of heating the wort which is still used in Finland for a traditional ale. Originally, the liquid would have fermented using wild yeast which is in the air - lambic beers in Belgium are still made by this method.
There's an interesting digression about magic wands, too - if you kept using the same stick to stir the brew, it made fermentation easier, because some of the yeast from last time was still on the stick.
They got a drinkable ale in three days, but pointed out that the hard work was all associated with processing the barley. They used the spent grain after the ale was brewed to bake bread and feed to the cattle. (When I was growing up, bread buns made with brewer's yeast were known as barm cakes.)
They also have a new post on brewing, including a story about St Brigid apparently making beer from bath water, for the 1st Feb this year.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Doctor Who ebooks

I haven't downloaded many ebooks since I started off with ePub and Kindle - partly because I live in the Town of Secondhand Books, Hay-on-Wye, and work in one of the biggest bookshops there, so I always have plenty of reading matter all around me.
Having uploaded two novels onto Smashwords, though, I did feel that I had to at least put my toe in the water - and there are lots of books out there which are unavailable in print form, such as the Alex Beecroft books Bomber's Moon and Dogfighters (which I very much enjoyed).

The Doctor Who Christmas episode, The Snowmen, was fun, and I think Madame Vastra and Jenny and Strax are great characters, so I was very easily tempted by the BBC ebook The Devil in the Smoke by Justin Richards.
It was obviously put out very quickly after the Christmas episode, and stars Madame Vastra and her team without the Doctor. Most of the action is seen through the eyes of a young workhouse lad, so it's very much a juvenile adventure. It was fun and I enjoyed it - but I did get quite concerned about Madame Vastra's carriage horses. Do they never unharness them? Or feed them?

Having read that, I looked at another book by Justin Richards, The Angel's Kiss. This looks like the Melody Malone mystery that the Doctor was reading in Central Park and throughout the Angels Take Manhattan episode, but it actually isn't. It's a prequel starring River Song as Melody Malone in a mystery surrounding movie stars, and it's very different from Devil in the Smoke. You can hear River Song's voice steaming off the page - it's very well done. For instance: "I don't often need rescuing, but it's nice when it goes well and doesn't involve great heights."
The blurb describing the author is fun, too: "She is possibly married but lives alone usually, and is older than both her parents. Sometimes."

If I see more Doctor Who ebooks by Justin Richards, I'll probably give them a try.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Richard III's Accent

Apparently, with the current interest in all things Ricardian, someone has been trying to work out what Richard III sounded like.
They seem to think he had a West Midlands accent - and Broadcasting House on Radio 4 demonstrated what he might have sounded like by inviting Noddy Holder into the studio to read out a note written by Richard himself, and the famous "Now is the winter of our discontent" speech from Shakespeare!
(Of course, Shakespeare himself was a Brummy, more or less! According to the Radio 4 comedy Old Harry's Game, anyway).

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Judge Dredd

When I was a young archaeologist, camping out over the summer somewhere near Preston, one of the other diggers used to buy a 2000AD comic, which he would share around in the site hut. It was my first introduction to comics that were not June and Schoolfriend, or Bunty, or Mandy - so a bit of a culture shock!
One of the most popular characters, of course, was Judge Dredd, dispensing The Law in Mega City One. It was violent, and sometimes funny, and we all enjoyed it (though some of us got slightly worried about the sort of children who sent in pictures of alien plague bugs they had drawn!).
When a film was announced, I was quite interested - it would be good to see a story move from British comic to Hollywood big screen.
Then they said that Sylvester Stallone would be starring in it. Hmmm, not sure about that.
And then in the movie - he took his helmet off!!!!
If there is one element of the character that is non-negotiable, it is that Judge Dredd NEVER takes his helmet off.
There were other things wrong with that movie as well, but never mind them....

More recently, there was an announcement that there would be a new Judge Dredd film. I was quite interested.
Then they said that Karl Urban would be starring in it. So, that's the Karl Urban who was Eomer in Lord of the Rings, and Doctor McCoy in the Star Trek re-boot? This could be good....
Then they said that Karl Urban is a fan of Judge Dredd himself, and only took the part on condition that he never took the helmet off!
That's when I knew the film was in safe hands.
I was a bit unsure about actually going to see it, though - I'm not over-keen on violent films, and to be true to the comics it would have to be violent.
I needn't have worried. It is very violent. Many people die horribly - but it is all integral to the plot. It's all necessary to show what Mega City One is like and why the Judges are so - uncompromising. They're fighting a losing battle, and can only ever deal with a tiny fraction of the crime that goes on there. Karl Urban said that the fans would want to see him in the helmet, and riding his Lawmaster motorbike through heavy traffic, and you got all of that right at the start of the movie. It's a proper, powerful motorbike, too, unlike the one in the previous film with the really wide tires (which were like the comic strip, but not actually practical). Where the first film went for the look of the comic, this film went for the reality behind the pictures, and they got it. When Dredd finally says the iconic line: "I am the Law," you really believe it.
It's a very good script. It was a good idea to start with Judge Anderson's first day on the job - it means Dredd has someone to explain things to for the audience, and Judge Anderson is a popular character in the comic. They did a good job with different camera techniques to show her psychic abilities and the effects of the slow-mo drug that the villain of the piece was peddling.
Lena Headey played the villain - and Ma-Ma was very different from Cercei Lannister in Game of Thrones! Just as ruthless, though.
The film even passes the Bechdel Test! There are two female characters who talk to each other - and not about a man. In such a testosterone fuelled film as this, that's something to celebrate.
ComicbookGRRRL has a very fine review of the film on her blog, dated last October.

Really, I think it's best to pretend that the Stallone film never happened. Karl Urban is The Law.
I hope they do another one.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Over 300 Beers!

This was the main reason I was in Manchester recently - the Winter Beer Festival, which is the last one they will be holding in Manchester. The next one is going to be in Derby, I think.
I say "in Manchester". The posters cheerfully said that the Sheridan Suite is only 15 minutes walk, or 5 minutes bus ride from the City up Oldham Road. It seemed like a lot longer! We needed a beer after that walk!
Once inside though, things couldn't have gone more smoothly. We had the booklet detailing the 300 beers, as well as foreign beers, cider and perry; we had the Festival glasses (I liked the way I always got a handled glass when I asked for a half while I was 'up North'), and we had lots of time. We'd also had a good meal at Bella Italia on Piccadilly Gardens before we started out.
I'd decided that I wanted to find as many Manchester beers as possible, or from that region, so I started with Pendle Witches Brew from Moorhouses, which was sweeter than I remembered. Moorhouses also do the excellent Black Cat, which I had later on. In the meantime, though, my resolve to drink only Lancastrian ales was broken when I saw the Adnams beer clip. I started grinning broadly when I saw that, not only was it Adnams, but the beer they had sent to the Festival was Adnams Old Ale!
A word of explanation may be in order here. When I lived in Norwich, I was introduced to the wonderful world of real ale through the beers from Adnams, Batemans, Woodfordes and other East Anglian breweries. It was actually on a trip to Southwold, where the brewery is (and it must be the only brewery to have a lighthouse on top of it!) that I discovered that they were stopping the brewing of their Old Ale. It was a commercial decision, to drop the least commercial of their beers, I imagine - and now it's back!
This made me very happy indeed.
What made both of us very happy was the Robinson's Old Tom (we only had a third of a pint of this potent brew - it's 8.5%), and we also sampled the Robinsons 1892, and the Unicorn. The unicorn is their logo, and featured on the side of the Festival glasses as they were the sponsors of the glasses.
Mark was also very pleased to see the Bushy's Oyster Stout, from the Isle of Man, and the Red Beacons, from Brecon. I didn't have any of that, because I knew I could get it locally later. I did try the Moonraker from JW Lees, though, another Manchester brewer, and another fondly remembered dark beer.
We also tried some beers that were new to us - after all, there's no point to going to a Beer Festival if you don't try anything new - so we enjoyed Sleepless from Red Willow, Old Slewfoot's Friend of the Devil (another full-bodied beer at 7.7%) and Isle of Skye's Cuillin Beast.
Mark is more of a drinker of foreign beers than I am, so he tried the German Wagner Dunkel and the American Flying Dog Wildeman Farmhouse IPA, both of which he enjoyed for their different styles.
By that time, we'd reached capacity, and it was time to take the bus back to the town centre (there was no way we were going to walk back!)
So we didn't get round to sampling any Joseph Holts or Marble or Hydes (more local brewers). Mark spotted the Nethergate Old Growler, but what he really wants to try again is their Umbel Magna, which he first sampled at the Hereford Beer Festival, Beer on the Wye. If I remember correctly, it's made with coriander!
It was nice to see a scatter of Welsh breweries, too, like Purple Moose and Conwy as well as the Brecon Brewing - and I'd had the Grimley's Brown Bombshell from Quantum over lunch the day before at the Joshua Brookes pub, which was very pleasant.
Worthingtons seems to be branching out too - the famous White Shield has been joined by Winter Shield, and I've heard that they have a new brewery to play with.
Everyone seemed cheerful (and the place was heaving with people), and though there were rather more men there than women, it felt a safe and friendly atmosphere for a woman to drink in - and the following morning, we woke up without a hangover!

Saturday, 2 February 2013


I've always liked trams. Some of my very early memories are of trams going up and down Blackpool sea front in their cream and green livery. It was always exciting to be allowed to go on them, and once every summer we would go from Blackpool all the way to Fleetwood just for the tram ride. There was never much to do in Fleetwood (though I remember seeing the Fisherman's Friend factory there) - it was the journey we liked.
During the Blackpool Illuminations, we also tried to get a ride on one of the illuminated trams. I think there were five of them, and I've been on every one except the rocket ship.
So when we went on holiday to the North East last September, and visited Beamish Open Air Museum, I was delighted to see this:

The destination still says Starr Gate, and it's in beautiful condition. I asked the conductor, and he said that they got it last year for their fleet. I think I might even have travelled in it when I was little.

My home city is Manchester, and when I was growing up there were no trams, but sometimes you could see filled in tramlines in the road here and there. In fact, I think Blackpool was the only place in the UK where the trams were still running.
I'd heard that there were new trams in Manchester, but I hadn't seen any pictures of them, so when I got the chance to go back there the other weekend, it was all quite exciting!
My, how Piccadilly Gardens has changed - but it's still a transport hub of the city, with a proper tram station, with platforms and everything! And it's a huge network - I saw some trams that were going to Bury from there.
This picture isn't from there - it was taken outside the Central Library. I love the noise they make, too - a friendly little "toot" as they pass by.

More trams come out from underneath Piccadilly railway station, which has also changed almost out of recognition - all those shops! - though once I got outside I pretty much knew where I was.
It's wonderful to see trams again in the centre of the city.

Friday, 1 February 2013

How Some Landmarks Stay the Same

I was very pleased to find that, despite all the new building there has been in the time since I last went to Manchester, some things are still where they always were - and I could still navigate my way round the town centre. Mind you, even some of those things have changed - Piccadilly Gardens is much bigger than I remember it, with a modern water feature as well as the Victorian statues - and it's criss crossed with tram lines, and with a tram station at one end.

Albert Square, where the Town Hall is, has been pedestrianised. Once it looked like this:

This is what happens when a French Impressionist artist goes to the grim industrial north of England. The painting is by Pierre Adolphe Vallette, who was LS Lowry's tutor.
Now the Square looks like this (taken from the same direction, but further into the Square):

From what my mum has told me about family history, I think that the red brick building in the background was once the Press Club, where my gran worked for a while (they could always tell when she was on duty at nights, she told me, because she put the table cloths out and made sure that everything was served properly, just as it was during the day. The other woman who ran the kitchen at nights never bothered). It's now quite a posh looking restaurant, with traditional local food.
Underneath it was once the Kardomah. I remember being taken there when I was quite small, and being amazed by the Arabian Nights decor of the place. It was down in a basement - which now seems to be a noodle bar.
And just to one side was once B Division Police Station, which I think is now a fish restaurant. I think that might have been where my step-dad was a desk sergeant for a while.