Valencia – now that’s what I call Architecture

I was in Valencia at the weekend – catching up with my little girl and hearing all about her Yoga training!

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It was the first time we had been to Valencia – and I was impressed. I had heard great reviews about the architecture and it doesn’t disappoint.

It is very much a City of two (or three) parts. The third part is a one that the tourist need not see – blocks of apartments thrown up in the 1960’s and 70’s – we’ll gloss over that!

The old town is just an amazing maze of windy streets with buildings nearly touching in parts. It is very easy to get lost – even when you have a sense of direction. There is real history here – played out over thousands of years. The Churches are incredible – the Cathedral is just stunning. They also have the Holy Grail – which took some finding – as it rightly should! A trip to the top of the Cathedral tower was a test of fitness – 207 steps was the price to pay. But the view was worth it.

The central market is an example of how we should shop for food – no vacuum packed, ‘pretty’ food here. Fresh and cheap. This is a proper market and the colours, sounds and smells are an assault on your senses.

But the real treat for me was the modern architecture – principally around the City of Arts and Sciences. It sits in the drained riverbed of the former River Turia. There are four key buildings – El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe, L’Umbracle, L’Oceanogràfic, El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia.

Each is completely ‘mad’ in terms of what we expect buildings to look like. But theses are works by two very forward thinking designers for the 21st Century – Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela. Calatrava’s blinking eye at the Planetarium is just brilliant.

It helps when the sun shines and you see these white structures against a deep blue Valencian sky – but this is exciting architecture. It challenges and it has a wow factor. It is architecture we need more of?

Squash and Charity – Cancer Research UK

I mentioned yesterday that I am coming to the end of my tenure as Chairman of Nottingham Squash Rackets Club. I spend a lot of time in the club – I still love the game and play as much as I can.

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A few months ago I was approached to see if the club would be willing to host an inter-firm tournament – in an effort to raise money for charity. As my firm have nominated Cancer Research as our Charity of the Year 2015 – this seemed like a great idea.

So the date is set – Friday 15th May 2015.

It will run from lunchtime – through the afternoon until we crown one form the winners. Entry is £25 for a team of 5. The team must be mixed and contain one ‘novice’. There will be some judicious handicapping as well to give everyone a chance.

My firm, Innes England are co-sponsoring the event with Smith Cooper.

We already have interest from a number of firms but are hoping to get as many people involved as possible. We want to raise money for CRUK and have a networking and social afternoon.

If you haven’t played (or are a bit rusty) we are running some sessions with coaching – for free – in the run up to the day.

If you can’t get a whole team together – we have a team of waifs and strays who are still looking to recruit bandits players.

You can contact me at tim@nsrc.co.uk for more details if you are interested.

Squash – so near

I’m coming to the end of my tenure as Chairman of Nottingham Squash Rackets Club. I have told the committee I will be standing down at the AGM in October. It will have been a roller coaster three years at that point!

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One of the most enjoyable parts of the role has been watching our ‘professional’ team fight it out in the UK’s equivalent of the premier league, the PSL.

From the outset, we were keen to keep the team local where we could. This meant that the team generally knew each other and had some affinity with Nottingham.

The 2014/15 season has just finished and we were so close to making the National play-offs. But it was not to be. We finished 4th from 6. The points were:

Duffield – 162, Coolhurst – 134, Birmingham – 129, Nottingham – 125, Leicester 91, Pontefract 67.

We won seven of our ten matches.

One of the privileges of this league is that we get to see world class players – this season we have faced Nick Matthew, James Willstrop, Cameron Pilley, Daryl Selby and Laura Massaro – these are some of the top players in the world.

But our team have held their heads high – often winning against the odds. They have fought hard when the form book was against them. I have never seen anything other than 100% effort.

We know that teams don’t enjoy coming to Nottingham – to the partisan and noisy crowd. It has the name ‘fortress Nottingham’. The fans always turn out and we have sold out all of our home ties.

Next year we hope to have a bigger and better team – and gain a place in the play-offs.

In the meantime – if you play squash and your firm are interested in putting a team into a fund raising afternoon – watch out for tomorrows blog!

Trams and threats

Like Christmas, the tram is coming to Nottingham. It was supposed to be last Christmas – but lets not dwell on its (very) late arrival.

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I know it is on its way because last week I had an email at the office from the NET team – advising that,

In readiness for imminent daytime testing of the tram, temporary traffic management has been removed from Enterprise Way”.

Good news then.

But not quite. There was a bit of a warning,

Please be aware of signage and road markings forbidding entry into the segregated tramway section. We are aware of a number of instances where vehicles have driven along the tramway. Do not drive along the tramway. It is dangerous and you could be fined.”

Actually, I agree with the summary – vehicles have driven along the tramlines – usually at the point they enter NG2 Business Park. It’s not that they are taking a shortcut or overtaking. It is that they are utterly baffled by the road layout and signage. This happens with alarming regularity. As someone who uses this junction a lot I know where to go, but visitors don’t.

It seems to me tat the sort of threat issued by the Tram team ought to have been directed at whichever designer drew this junction. I have pointed this out to NET and they tell me that,

all signage has been approved the Highway Authority, however, I will pass on your comments to relevant parties.

This is not exactly great PR. We have suffered for nearly two years at the hands of this project. There have been countless instances of stupid driving by the contractors. We have had more temporary traffic lights than most adults have had hot dinners. But beware – we are all going to be fined for our law-breaking.

Not impressed.

It’s going to be a long few weeks…

Am I the only person bored of the General election? I probably mean disengaged.

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I know I shouldn’t be.

We treasure our freedom of speech and the fact that we live in a democracy. They are important and we are lucky to have a free society. I don’t get arrested for blogging. In Gansu I would be in trouble as it is illegal to ‘provoke trouble’. I consider it life’s purpose to cause trouble!

We sometimes forget all of this.

My lack of interest is partly because the Election has come just at the wrong time for the property industry. We have just about recovered from one of the deepest recessions in living memory. The market is just getting back on its feet. Uncertainty is not exactly helpful at this time.

I think if there was an opportunity to extend this Parliament by two years a lot of my peers would vote for this.

But we can’t and we have an Election. We do have to choose.

What is very clear is that it is simply too close to call at this stage. There could be some bloody noses and an outright majority seems unlikely. The days of ‘right’ and ‘left’ politics with clear delineation seem to have gone. Yes there are differences – but they are modest. No one want to pay more taxes, no one wants less benefits or a watered down NHS. We don’t want our children to be paying off the UK deficit for their lives. Unfortunately as in life you can’t have everything. So we do have to make a choice.

I just wish that the choice would be clear and based on positive campaigning – as opposed to the negative character assassination politics we seem to be having at present?

A Big kid – of course! 5-4-3-2-1 Thunderbirds Are Go!

There was an utter triumph tonight on British TV – Thunderbirds was back!

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Being someone born in the 1960’s the original TV series by Gerry and Silvia Anderson was compulsive viewing. Especially as it was filmed in Supermarionation! Thunderbirds was shown in the UK between 1964 and 1966 and repeated in 1992 and 2002. There were 32 fifty-minute episodes spread over two series. It was shown in 66 countries wordlwide – such was the success.

ITV have commissioned a new series which is a mixture of some brilliant models and overlaid with Computer Generated Images (the people). It’s a stellar cast for the voices – including ex Bond girl, Rosamund Pike as Lady Penelope. Aloysius Parker still has his unmistakeable voice.

This was the stuff of dreams when I was a kid – spaceships, gadgets, baddies and death defying scenes. It was the era of the space race and the technology didn’t really exists. Fifty years on some of the technology does exist – testament to Anderson’s mind!

Of course this is a huge risk – the 2004 Thunderbirds film was a disaster – it lost £20m at the box office. It is always a worry that a copy of the original will be just that – a copy and a pastiche of the original.

But this series isn’t. It was superb – a really clever mix of the models backgrounds and CGI ‘people’. The CGI’s are intended to respect the original puppets – but there are no visible wires. Although computer greeted images can now make truly realistic ‘people’ this didn’t – they have a texture reflecting the original puppets.

I think it worked brilliantly – I’m sure there are a lot of very happy big kids out there!

Puzzling things #1 and #2

I could write a whole series of things which ‘happen’ and puzzle me, but I don’t think I will.

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However, some things do puzzle me about this world we live in. Two instances over the last 48 hours…

The first is the ‘I hate people DJ’. I don’t really listen to radio DJ’s – Radio 4 does ‘presenters’ if I’m in the mood to let someone talk at me. But at the weekend I listened to Radio 6 Music (I quite like their playlist) and smiled as the presenter, who shall remain nameless, read out a ‘request’.

It went something like, “can you play me Age of Aquarius – it’s my favourite song of all time”. The presenter (delighted that someone had written in) then said, “well we can’t today, but I’ll see if I can dig that out in a future show”. The good news is though that they did play a tune for Mr Smith in Cardiff – Pretty Vacant by the Sex Pistols…

The second (bear with me) is that I was in a lift with one other person yesterday. I chose floor 2 and he chose floor 4. We both managed to get the lights on the buttons on. A lady then got in at the next floor down and clearly needed my floor. She checked the light was on for floor two and, you guessed it, pressed the button again!

It’s as if she needed to remind the lift in case it need a reminder. In case it had forgotten since I had pressed the button seconds earlier. Lifts can be stupid I suppose.

Puzzling. Like tofu – but thats another story entirely.

Which watch next?

24th April. New watch day for all Apple fans.

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I’m not sure if I will buy one just yet – if I do I think it will be the sports version. It does look pretty cool and will hopefully vastly improve my sporting prowess.

I think you may have talked me into it.

I do have a number of watches already – I work on the principle that there is no such phrase as ‘too many watches’.

But what really made me smile was a new app – to be launched alongside the new watch. It’s called the Life Clock. A simple idea that tells you how long you have left on this mortal coil. If you do bad things (burgers and chips) it counts down faster, good things (yoga) it counts up.

You have a precise measure of how long you have to get stuff done. This should focus your mind?

The only real issue it seems to me is how it will know the ‘hit by a bus’ timetable? I’m sure someone is working on an app for that…

UPDATE – I have tried the new watch on (in Birmingham) and it is now a ‘must’. In Valencia though today they don’t have any to ‘show and tell’.

3CX telephones

You might remember that I blogged about a new world I was taking the firm into as part of a modernising strategy. I had two key aims – the first to move our IT systems to the cloud – the second to install a new telephone system – based on ‘voice over IP’.

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It has been a challenging time. The IT is being moved still (we have quite a lot of stuff!). That project is going to take a few more moths to complete – we are slightly behind but this is business critical stuff – and rushing is not sensible.

The telephone system has been a nightmare and in hindsight, a mistake. We opted for something I was assured was the best solution available. The system is called 3CX. In theory it is a fantastic system – it sits on your iPhone as an ‘app’ and on my desktop and iPad. It uses the internet to transmit calls. The result is supposed to be a scalable, flexible, cost-effective system.

Sadly it isn’t. After two months it just about works. But we still have problems. I got so frustrated that I called 3CX direct – although I had some initial response they have gone to ground.

In my view the system doesn’t work with iPhone. If you are using your iPhone for a 3CX call and someone calls you on your mobile number – the 3CX call gets killed – no warning! This is a known issue. You also need fantastic wifi – which we did’t have it seems. We had to agree to some additional costly software to ensure that the VOIP traffic got preference over other internet traffic.

The system showed so much promise and has just not delivered. Sadly we can’t go back to the old system – because if I could, I would. Which is not a great advert for this state of the art system…

MIPIM 2015 – wrap up

You may have spotted that this little part of the blogosphere has been a bit quiet. A weeks skiing in France, a week back and a week in MIPIM has taken its toll on my time!

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But I survived my 11th MIPIM – in spite of everything. 22,000 people from 90 Countries crammed into a small town on the Cote D’Azur for four days brutal networking has always been a challenge. I had 41 appointments in the week. I did 9 press interviews and met hundreds of people. It’s why we go. Back home for a rest!

I even played cricket on the beach – badly!

Most of my MIPIM was taken up with promoting the Boots Enterprise Zone – where my firm have been appointed the sales agent for a huge slice of the site. There is a lot of interest as you might expect – it is one of the most exciting projects Nottingham has seen for decades. Creating a new place will be at the heart of the work – a subject which I am really interested in.

But we were there to help promote he three cities where I have offices – Nottingham, Derby and Leicester. It’s important for the private sector to be there shouting about the great things going on. It’s no surprise that we don’t have the budgets of some of the other places vying for attention. Istanbul must have spent millions!

I think the East Midlands punched well above its weight and taking account of the marketing spend I think we should be proud of what we achieved. Of course, the proof is in the pudding – and only time will tell.

I did come back with a clutch of business cards and the key now is to re-make those contacts and follow up. It’s just not quite the same going to see someone in Coventry as in Cannes – but it has to be done!