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WAR, TERRORISM AND SHOOTINGS have dominated the international, national and local headlines this week. First we heard about the tragic events last week at the Columbine High School near Denver Colorado. There were nailbombs in London, and then Greater Manchester hit the headlines, with a car chase on Friday from the M61 to Rochdale, where several innocent bystanders were shot and injured. Only two days later there was a pub shooting in Salford, and yesterday came the shocking news of the assassination in London of one of Britain's top tv presenters, Jill Dando.

All these incidents are horrific and difficult to comprehend, but for millions of tv viewers here, the murder of Jill Dando is particularly disturbing, as people knew and loved her as if she was one of the family. I was at the Central Library when a friend told me the news on my mobile phone yesterday. Later I read the front page report by Manchester Evening News London correspondent Ian Wylie. He interviewed her only one week before she was gunned down. The feature, altered to take account of the tragic events, appeared in the MEN today. The murderer is being sought - it appears to have been carried out by a professional killer.

YESTERDAY THREE MEN WERE CHARGED in connection with the car chase and shootings in Rochdale on Friday.The chase started on the M61 when police noticed the occupants of a car were acting suspiciously, and approached them. The car sped off down the motorway, and came off at Horwich, to north west of Bolton. From there, the gang, still pursued by the police, drove along Chorley New Road, to Bolton, where they hijacked a BMW. A woman was snatched from the side of the street and taken hostage. Then they drove along Rochdale Old Road, under the M66 at Heywood and on towards Rochdale, finishing up on Edenfield Road, where shots were fired, injuring several people. Shortly after, two men were apprehended by the police. A third was arrested in Bolton later. As Stuart Flinders of BBC Northwest Tonight remarked, people there said: "It's like America, but this is Rochdale." The only satisfaction to be drawn is that the police have captured and charged the offenders.

THE SHIP INN on Cross Lane, Pendlebury, Salford was the scene of a shooting on Sunday afternoon. 32 year old Steven Lydiate was seriously injured when a masked gunman walked into the pub on Cross Lane, Pendleton Salford and fired eight bullets at him from an automatic handgun. Two other people were also hit by the bullets. It happened between 1 and 1.15 pm on Sunday. People there were watching Manchester United's match with Leeds.

ETHNIC MINORITY AREAS around the UK are on alert following the recent nail bomb attacks in London. Far right wing groups are suspected to be behind the attacks. And it's emerged that Jewish groups in Manchester have received threats from racist groups Suddenly in the past couple of weeks a mood of unease has developed in the country, though most of us go about our daily lives as normal. One highly effective method for combating crime is the use of security cameras - currently they're helping to reduce crime on the streets of the city centre. Soon there will be lots of new cameras in operation there - though civil liberties groups have raised objections to the use of CCTV - Personally I'm all in favour of them.

THE MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS named Declan McCann aged 31 from Crossmaglen Co Armagh Northern Ireland as a prime suspect in the case of the Manchester IRA bomb of 15 June 1996. They've based their declaration on the extensive undercover police investigation, which probably won't lead to any arrests or convictions. It's important to note that the Manchester Evening News said that there were lots of reasons for the police to interview him, and that there was a case to be answered. Declan McCann has responded by saying "I had nothing to do with it". His solicitor Gerard Trainor also affirmed his innocence. It's very frustrating that those responsible for the explosion, which might have killed hundreds of people if it had gone off prematurely, are still free.

DARREN VICKERS was revealed to be a closet paedophile even before he came into contact with James Lavis, though under English law this wasn't admissible as evidence during the trial, and the jury knew nothing of it. He was given a life sentence on Friday for the abduction and murder of 8 year old Jamie Lavis. Now that justice has been done, I think I'll lay this story to rest.


THE CARNIVAL OF ANIMALS, incorporating the St Georges Day parade, took place on Sunday afternoon. It was a colourful entertaining and at times hilarious spectacle, which wended its way along Deansgate, through St Ann's Square, along Cross St and into Albert Square. It was a parade of many different moods, with historical resonances: A brass band called to mind the Armistice parades from the First World War, while groups of small children reminded me of the Whit Walks. Members of Manchester's many bohemian communities struck a more contemporary note, dancing and gyrating along the streets. The theme was animals, and there were many huge beasts all constructed especially for the occasion - a wooden elephant, a pair of what looked like papier mache tigers, and a giant inflatable bug were the ones that stuck in my mind. Mancunian cat girls in body stockings and with painted whiskers teased the onlookers, and a "man monkey" and his rider acted the clown. The only participant that didn't stay the course was the giant inflatable dragon, who had trouble getting underneath the Metrolink Bridge on Mosley St and suffered a deflating experience. And St George was - in typical Manchester style - a woman. It was a magnificent start to the Streets Ahead festival, which continues through May. See the website at

By the way, people on the mailing list will already have seen the two composite images above - I'm currently trying to speed up the process of taking and posting images - the Carnival of the Animals postcard was online by mid-evening on Sunday. I'm aiming to reduce the time to near-realtime once I start to use a high-quality digital camera - very soon. In the meantime, please join the mailing list if you haven't already done so, and if you're in Manchester, please visit the exhibition - starting next Tuesday. Poster, right.

THE LOWER END of Market St and St Mary's Gate, next to the new M&S building, was closed off this weekend, to allow a huge crane to remove an existing smaller crane from the centre of the building. This is the second huge crane I've seen in the past week or so - this one was a whopper, as wide as a street and as high as a 10 storey block. I think it was former leader of Manchester City Council Graham Stringer who once said he could judge the economic success of the city by the number of cranes visible on the skyline - if that's a valid measure, then Manchester is doing very well indeed at the moment.

DISRUPTION CAUSED BY CONSTRUCTION WORK can cause difficulties for traders. Shop owners around the Market St / St Mary's Gate area complained that the closing off of the street was damaging their business. And over on the other side of the mammoth new M&S building, the owner of the Mitre Hotel, Don Wolstenholme, says that the building work has had a disruptive effect on his business, which, he says, may not survive the completion of the new city centre. He's complained that Manchester Millennium and Manchester City Council haven't helped him.

THE PROPOSALS for the redevelopment of Piccadilly may be ready in a few weeks time. Entries in an international design competition are being judged at the Town Hall at the moment. It's reported there are plans to put a building on the Portland St end of Piccadilly Gardens. Piccadilly Plaza won't be demolished, though Bernard House (the one with the pointed roof - currently with scaffolding around it) may be demolished.

MANCHESTER HAS BEEN PRAISED by judges in the "Britain's Cleanest City" competition in Birmingham today, for the way it has made its streets cleaner, shedding its "dirty old city" reputation. It has a long way to go before it reaches the urban tidiness levels of countries like Switzerland, but then I'm not sure if I'd like it to be that clean! Things are looking cleaner in Piccadilly Gardens - below. Currently the flowers and blossoms add an eye-catching splash of colour to this part of the city centre. In Japan they have festivals to celebrate the coming of the cherry blossoms, here we're much more laid back about them, and the people that sit on the benches all day drinking beer don't seem to take any notice of the splendours of nature around them. Sadly, despite the efforts that have been made to brighten up Piccadilly Gardens, it can often be a rather seedy place, especially at night.

ROBERT LEGGETT, who was electrocuted and burnt three weeks ago on the railway line at Longsight, is recovering at Booth Hall Childrens Hospital. He's been given a boost by Manchester United stars Ryan Giggs David Beckham and Alex Ferguson, who sent a message of support to the 14 year old, and a souvenir gift pack. Despite being a City supporter, Robert's father appreciated the gesture.

MICHELLE RICABLANCA, the Filipino schoolgirl from Crumpsall has been told by the Home Office that she will be allowed to stay in the UK. Her mother Norma Scallon was told recently she would not be allowed to re-enter the UK. The family are appealing against the decision and have the support of Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley.

TAMESIDE COLLEGE has introduced a new course designed to attract people back into education. It's on the subject of the British pub and its development over the past thirty years. The course will be held in, you guessed it, a pub. And The Ladybrook Hotel in Bramhall is going to be used as a polling station in the upcoming European elections in June.

RESIDENTS in Pendleton Salford have launched a campaign to restore bus services to Churchill Way. They were diverted away from the road, which runsthrough the centre of the huge multi-storey and low rise housing estate built to the south of Broad St on the site of the old "Hanky Park".

A CURVACEOUS NEWCOMER in white, pink and blue has been turning heads on the A56 between Bury and Manchester - it's the new articulated bus that's just gone into service with FirstBus Manchester on the 135 route. I caught up with one of the fleet of 15 today just near Heaton Park. Each one costs 200,000, is 60 feet long carries 140 passengers and has a video camera at the rear for reversing. Whether this glamorous new model will lure passengers away from that other bendy, but rail-bound people carrier, the Metrolink, remains to be seen. Metrolink boss Chris Napier says: "We don't see them as a threat. It's another form of public transport which will help take cars off the road." Articulated buses are neat, but certainly not new - I saw them on streets of East Berlin and Budapest years ago.

FIFTEEN LORRIES left Urmston bound for Albania on Friday. They were carrying three hundred tons of aid for Kosovo refugees, paid for by donations from local people. Crowds lined the streets of Urmston to see them off. The aid was organised by brothers Chris and Geoff Mallarkey, Alan Jones, Kevin Strickland and Eamon Allan. And MEN reporter Jaya Narain, with photographer Gary Roberts has been sending illustrated reports from Macedonia.

PERFORMANCES THIS WEEK included: Emer McDonough at the RNCM, "Me and My Girl" South Manchester Amateur Operatic Society at the Forum Theatre Wythenshawe. Happy Monday's played at the MEN Arena on Friday. "Cafe Vesuvio" was on at the Royal Exchange Studio, "Hit The Deck" at the Albert Halls Bolton, "Veni Veni Emmanuel" at the Royal Northern College of Music and "Pooja" at the Green Room. And Shaun Ryder asked several hundred people on the band's guest list who received free tickets to donate at least £5 to the Kosovo appeal.

SIMPLY RED will be playing at Haydock Park in a specially created fully seated arena on Sunday 22nd of August. Tickets are £32.50 and doors open at 5.30pm. It's one of the events which are part of Alex Ferguson's Testimonial Year.

FOOTBALL RESULTS: Portsmouth-3 Stockport County-1, Oldham-1 Gillingham-4, Wigan-4 Reading-1, Macclesfield-1 York-2, Manchester City-1 Wickham Wanderers-2, Exeter-2 Rochdale-1, Leeds-1 Manchester United-1, and of course the big event of the week, Manchester United beat Juventus 3-2. Rugby: Wigan-8, Castleford-24, Gateshead-38 Salford-14, Sale-17 Leicester-41.

SIR ALEC GUINNESS was at the Royal Exchange Theatre on Thursday to read from his autobiography "A Positively Final Appearance", Carl Palmer reports in the MEN Diary. Audience members were asked in a written note not to ask questions about his appearances in Star Wars.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BET AND REG from the Street? You may be able to find out in a spin-off mini-series which is currently in the early stages of planning at Granada TV. I'm told by Blue Badge tour guide Ailsa Walters that Coronation Street has a huge following in Canada. Is this true?

THE WEATHER IS TURNING SUMMERY - On Thursday afternoon, it was glorious, and the evening sun gave a fabulous light. After a cloudy weekend, the sun came out today in style today, bringing that perfect English weather I used to miss so much when I was in the Middle East - sunny, but with a cool breeze. With all the depressing news stories we've had over the past few days, all I can think of is to "say it with flowers", so here are some examples from Bury tulips to Ringway dandelions. I hope you're safe and well, wherever you are.


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