Off to central Manchester on Saturday, for a chance to look around the city for the first time in some months and also indulge my two daughters. As we enter the city centre by car, the police cordon the whole area off and turn us away. I had completely missed the fact that Prime Minister Tony Blair is arriving in town that morning, in preparation for the Labour Party conference – and that 15,000 protestors have also taken the opportunity to tell him how they feel about the war in Iraq, hunting, the Trident missile, communism, Islam, gay rights, Guatanamo Bay, the decline of Tupperware, the poor performance of the Ford Edsel, slavery, keeping pandas in captivity, out of town shopping malls, speed cameras on motorways and just about every other thing you can think of that’s happened since the Beatles. I think I saw one banner blaming Blair for the fact that Glen Miller had gone missing. So whilst I am trying my best to indulge in some plain and simple retail therapy, a collection of wierdo’s, drop-outs, students, fundamentalists, teachers, engineers, trades unionists and Uncle Tom Cobley are parading around the shopping streets to the tune of “One, two three, four – we don’t want your bloody war.” Observed with a combination of disinterest and confusion by hundreds of 12-18 year olds who are in Manchester to buy the very latest music and fashions. Curiously, I discover a discarded pile of Friends Of the Earth placards later in the afternoon, when the protestors have finished and wandered off for a GM cappucino and Danish. Have FOE moved on from pollution to weightier matters? At least our Catholic community have ignored the encouragement to fight with the Muslims, as suggested by their new Fuhrer, Godfather, Pope. In fact, I have to admit that I am a little impressed that so many people with so many things to protest about can be united by their common hatred of one politician (well maybe two if we include that American guy that’s working him) and set aside their differences for the day. Good news was that the whole affair was peaceful, in spite of the hundreds of policemen in battle-gear who seemed genuinely dissapointed at the lack of anything to do on an unusually warm and sunny afternoon. My suspicion is that the absence of Manchester United supporters who were watching their team down in Reading, probably contributed to a peaceful day. There is, however, one blessing in all of this – no traffic! It’s the first time in my life I have walked around the city with no cars crawling bumper to bumper – and it’s quite wonderful. So here’s an idea for Manchester City Council (we were Britain’s first nuclear-free zone you know – way back). Hey “comrades” – why don’t you close the city to traffic every weekend – encourage shoppers to park just outside, bus them in – and maybe more people would choose that option, rather than drive out to the Trafford Centre and avoid the congestion, outrageous parking fees and asphyxiation? Just a thought. On the way into town, I am amazed at the sheer volume of property development that is going on. The developers are still building urban apartments. Having converted all of the Victorian canal-side cotton offices, in which Marx and Engels developed their theories of capital and the working classes in the 19th Century, they have now moved on to start building shiny new glass towers, the most impressive of which is the new Beetham Tower which, at 47 floors, will be home to the new Hilton Hotel and England’s highest residential property when it opens later this year.