John Lewis isn’t Jessops anymore…

A few weeks ago I blogged about my invisible cloak I sometime don when I go into John Lewis – especially in the cafe.

We went in again yesterday. At around 10.00am. There was a queue – fair enough as the Christmas-Mentalists have emerged to do the shopping, all at once. But the queue I discovered was not because of the volume of people – it was because there was one member of staff on the till on his own. The other one was in search of jugs (first) and then milk (second). I did wonder if they could have sorted this before they opened? So two members of staff – and one wandering around looking for stuff they need.

It took 15 minutes to get a cup of coffee, cheese scone, biscuit and diet coke. Thank goodness we didn’t want breakfast – as that queue was much longer. This is where the word “brunch” originated – a man went into John Lewis for breakfast and by the time he got his breakfast it was lunch…

When I was in the USA with the Sheriff of Nottingham looking at world class attractions we found that a food offer was a really important element of the attraction – good and bad food experiences ‘stuck’. Sorry John Lewis you are not at the good end of the scale at the moment.

In the old days – when God was a boy, the Jessops was a great shop. You had a debit card that was brilliant in its simplicity – now I have a Partnership Card – which is so sensitive that if I scrape snow off my car with it they know and ‘block it’. Last month they stopped it because I used in the Apple Store – where there is loads of fraud according to them after I had to call them to say yes I had bought a magic mouse (which is excellent).

Today in John Lewis there was a ‘competitors event’ and some items were reduced by 20% – which in its self sounds great – except that the stuff I wanted wasn’t in the sale (Crew Clothing wasn’t in but Gant was). And it’s a one day event -so prices go up tomorrow – which is an admission tacitly that they are ripping you off? Surely if they are ‘never knowingly undersold’ the prices could go down by 20%? But I know this not to be that case as we bought some goods last month and then had to exchange them – when we went back the prices had gone up. And the reason – well never knowingly undersold means they check their competitors prices – and they sometimes put them up! This may be commercial reality – but it’s not really cricket is it?

When we needed more refreshment we decided not to patronise them again and headed off for The Walk – at the top of King Johns Arcade – a European style cafe bar – where the service is much better than John Lewis. The food is great too – and if you are a fan of tea – it’s the place for you. The cheese board is great! And the Walk are providing the cafe at the new Nottingham Contemporary – where I had great food in the week!

So, in future we’ll go to The Walk for breakfast. And maybe the Contemporary for lunch? And they are at the good end of my scale!

p.s. I still hate the Nottingham Contemporary building!

Very good music food menu – via Little Boots

my image of Little Boots at the Bowery Ballroom September 2009

I saw Little Boots in New York in September at the excellent Bowery Ballroom. Since that time I have been following her on – and she has certainly travelled around. But over the last few days she has been inviting fans to put forward a menu on twitter using music as the basis. And the very funny menu is:


Black Eyed Pea Soup
Notorious B.L.T.


Calvin Haggis with Susan Boyled Potatoes and Paris Stilton
Madonna Kebab with Hot Chips
Cod Stewart with Lady Gagalic bread
Roast Pjork with Cheryl Coleslaw


Cake That with Ginger Spice
Pavlova Faith with Peaches
Jelly Furtatdo topped with Bon Bon Jovis

Lionel Rich Tea / Hot Chocolate

It made me smile! The power of collaboration!

ps She can sing too – here she is on Youtube with a great acoustic version of Earthquake – if you get the chance go and see her! And if you are ever in New York, look up the Bowery and see what’s on, it too is a great venue.

Bring on the Summer!

I have to admit (and I guess you will be aware from other blogs) that I am now fed up with the Christmas music in Starbucks. The staff at Castle Marina know this (and secretly they are fed up too) but they are not allowed to say. They do turn it down for me… and for them?

Jez and Tg at the IOW

Slumming it in the Champagne Bar at the IOW Festival - tough but someone has to do it?

So I was delighted when my mate Jez called me to say that the Australian Pink Floyd Show were playing and did I want tickets. I am no fan of ‘tribute’ bands – but Dave Gilmour says this band are the best in the world – and if anyone knows Pink Floyd he does! I have seen them twice – both at the Isle of Wight Festival. And both times they have been brilliant. I would highly recommend them. So I am off to see them – next May!

May seems a lifetime away and Summer will hopefully be in full swing! And talking of Summer – the IOW tickets go on sale next week! This will be our 6th year of going back to nature. It’s my contribution to being green. Park the car and ‘live off the land’ for four days… We are eagerly anticipating the line-up – but to be honest we’ll go whoever is playing. We sometimes give bands a miss, but the list of people we have seen is quite impressive – Bowie, Rolling Stones, The Police, REM. But we have had some surprises too – The Magic Numbers, Snow Patrol and Newton Faulkner (doing Bohemian Rhapsody) were really good – on their debuts.

The Festival is quite an experience, especially the toilets and showers. As this is a family orientated blog I can’t actually describe the toilets. But the showers are great – if you can wash in a mug full of hot water – and then wait ten minutes for the next mug! And that’s after you have queued for an hour. Basic diet consists of Pig Sandwiches and Lager – quite healthy!

We both had new tents this year – as the old ones had a peculiar smell. Febreze tried but failed.

So, whilst not wishing my life away – I am already looking forward to Summer – and no more dark mornings or Christmas music!


Tickets to Isle of Wight booked! And Squeeze are playing on the Thursday night – result! No big names yet (I don’t count Jay-Z as a big name!)

Kill a cow – save the world?

Earlier in the week there was some more amusement from the corridors of power in Whitehall.

Kill a Cow or Drive a Cow - save the planet either way?

There was a great story on the Today Programme which set out a new plan to save the world. Kill a cow – well actually lots of them… and sheep too. 30% to be precise. The argument runs something like – if you have a cull then it has two effects. The first is that the cows stop producing methane which spoils the planet (and smells). The second is that we will stop eating beef-burgers and thus become salad eating ‘ski yoghurt‘ people. I have blogged about this before here.

Andy Burnham, Health Secretary was wheeled out at a Lancet meeting – and even Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband got involved. Then International development minister Mike Foster agreed.It seemed that health and climate change could hold hands in harmony. Wow. Result.

Except they had all forgotten to tell DeFRA. Who got a bit stroppy. And they asked if Britains farmers might be a bit miffed? The National Farmers’ Union was apoplectic, raging at the “ill-informed and simplistic report”, condemning ministers for their “poor judgement”. Then there was then the small issue of whether culling livestock in this country will not actually mean people eat less meat. We will just import more! Probably on ships and by road / train. And from Argentina and Brazil – who will probably have to cut down some rainforest trees (a pretty big source of the global warming problem) to satisfy the extra demand. And then the wee issue of how to cull so many animals.

So what did we learn? Well Burnhams ‘people’ said he wasn’t really endorsing the report. And he ate meat – lots of it no doubt. And he knew where reverse gear was when he needed it. So the story has gone now – the report can safely prop up someone’s monitor in Whitehall somewhere? Photoshoots arranged at McDonalds?

You do sometimes wonder if there even is a right hand to the accompany the left hand which is flapping around hopelessly? I have made my views known previously on here about national politics.

So save the planet – save a cow is the new message. And eat beef-burgers in moderation. But please don’t drive electric cars – it’s not big and it’s not clever.

Nottingham Contemporary – I wanted to hate it….

I managed to get a very quick look around the new Nottingham Contemporary yesterday. I was pushed for time, but my mate John Lyle had text me earlier in the week to say how much he hated it. So I thought I had better see what the fuss was about.

Nottingham Contemporary - Lace patterned concrete

I have to say that I carried my prejudices in with me in a large suitcase (with wheels). I think the external facade is hideous. And as a gateway into the city I am not sure that it gives a good impression. I particularly dislike the cast concrete with its lace pattern – it already is beginning to attract the dirt. There are acres of the green concrete and the street scene is pretty awful. And does it sit well in its surroundings? No. It really is a blot.

The hideous sign at Nottingham Contemporary

So, what of the inside? Well it has the current vogue of certain architects – cast concrete by the cartload. I have a fear that it will date and if ‘green’ is your thing, concrete certainly isn’t. And I don’t mean the colour green – I mean the way of life! Concrete does not have a high sustainability factor. The quality of finish of concrete can be the difference between good and great. This is at the good end of the scale. The finish at Nottingham Trent University is great.

But this is exhibition space and thus big white boxes prevail. And thats what they are. There are a series of them. And they are…big and white. Not disappointed about that – but surely this is the easy bit? Even I can design a big white box!

I peeped in the cinema / performance space which looks ok. And the cafe was quite good. It has a mix of social and formal seating – the food was reasonably priced and quite tasty. The toilets were purple! And no sign of the Dyson hand dryers?

So my overall impression? It’s ok. They have done well to get the Hockney Exhibition – the Bigger Splash thingy is … big! The new retro ‘diner’ sign is completely out of context and I can’t help wonder what the planners were thinking. The outside is horrible, the inside passable, but not ‘wow’. And is was only double the price of its original budget… Only a ‘C’ for me then. And a scraped ‘C’ at that!

Attention to detail

I blogged last week that I had been to see the new Nottingham Trent University refurbished buildings – I thought they were great. One of the things we saw, but honestly didn’t ‘get’ at first was the lift control buttons.

The buttons for the lift are on the outside

The buttons for where you want to go are on the outside of the lifts! There is no button inside. It was only when the ‘guides’ explained the issue that we realised the cleverness of the solution. There are six lifts – and at peak times there can be hundreds of students trying to get to different floors in the (tall) Newton Building. So what happens is that you press a button on the outside and the ‘system’ directs you to the next suitable lift which will transport you quickly and efficiently.

So there is no getting in the lift and everyone pressing ‘their’ floor – thus making the lift stop at every floor! It takes a bit of getting used to – but is quite clever and a real attention to detail. I like it!

Attention to detail on the piping!

So, liking attention to detail, I was amused in the week when one of my colleagues, Nick Hammond, sent me a picture which is perplexing. It suggests that an order was placed over the telephone with ASDA for a cake, the conversation went something like:

Customer – Hi I’d like a cake with writing on – it’s for a leaving present.
ASDA employee – ok, thats fine – what would you like on it?
Customer – “Best Wishes Suzanne” and then underneath that “We will miss you”

An easy mistake?

p.s I accept this might not be ASDA who did this! But I did check on Hoax- Slayer – and no sign of it there!

Learning to ride the (google) WAVE!

I am quite excited! After what seems like an eternity (ok about five weeks!), I have had my invite to join the testing group of Google Wave!

Problem is, I have no one to talk to, apart from my son Jack! I have sent out my invites to ‘like minded’ people and family – but Google won’t promise an early invite to them… Although he got his quickly!

Google Wave has been predicted as the end of email in its current form, and this may be the case. Generation Y are moving on; they think it’s boring. Hence the growth of and . Short sharp messages in SMS bursts (140 characters or less) are the order of the day.

The wave looks like this will address this issue with threads and multi-media. It will act as ‘normal email’ but relies more on a collaborative working style. I have to say that at the launch I thought the presentation given by the Google team was fairly dire! Ignoring the fact that it is 80 minutes loooooong! I guess I have become accustomed to the master of launches – Steve Jobs. Tips from his presentation have been recently published here – and are absolutely spot on. (I have tried to use his style in my own work – including in my presentation to the Sheriffs Commission here)

But I digress – the Wave is here… just waiting for the surfers!

I am at

Say hello if you are out there!

UPDATE 25.11.09

Friends and contacts joining the Wave – it is quite good fun! Some very clever features especially around the editing of messages – and watching people type!

A fantastic day!

I promised I would not whinge at the end of my week; today was the official opening of the four new bungalows at Abel Collins Almshouses on Derby Road Nottingham. I have blogged previously about the journey these bungalows have taken us on. But that is all in the past – and today was a celebration. A celebration of the first new homes on the site being built since the 1980′s.

Abel Collins bungalows

The Sheriff of Nottingham, Councillor Leon Unczur and his Lady Adela Hampson officially opened the bungalows and handed the new keys to four residents. All were keen to show Leon and Adela their new homes.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather and the general feeling around the homes was fantastic. Back in the Hall, I gave a small speech about the history of the Charity and the legacy – which started 300 years ago!

L-R : Me, the Sheriff, his Lady and Meryl, my Co-Chair

My thanks were extended to the Board of Trustees, the staff on site and the professional team – Julian, Joe, Mike, Steve and Guy at Marsh Growchowski Architects, Lois Plaistow at Price & Myers Engineers, Tony Harris at D H Squire M&E consultants and Charlie Smith at Appleyard & Trew Quantity Surveyors. But also to Nicholas Bird at Birds of Derby for donating the biggest and best cake I have seen for some time! I couldn’t manage all of it.

Leon spoke about the new bungalows not in terms of bricks and mortar (actually there’s not much of that!), but rather of the care with which they had been designed. When I first showed him the bungalows – he actually said ‘wow’ and later said he was ‘bowled over’.

The donated cake from Birds of Derby - amazing!

I have said before that the real test is when our residents have moved in and are living there. I think they will love their new homes. I would be happy to live there!

The Sheriff trying not to cut my tie!

It really was a great day – and a milestone in the history of the Charity, I think Abel Collin would be proud – I certainly am. It has been a challenging project, but worth it. I love the architecture – it is different – but you can be of no doubt as to the fact that it belongs to this time.

Now what shall we do next?…..

Ever wondered what a Hon. Secretary of State does?

In my capacity of Co-Chair of Abel Collins Almshouses I have managed to find out. You might recall I blogged previously about some really bad customer service from British Gas Business – look at their credentials here though!

Yellow Barriers approved by the Secretary of State (for barriers)

In essence we paid British Gas Business £12,500 in July for a new gas main to serve a number of properties. The litany of excuses between then and now are fairly tedious. But work started today. We had been waiting for the Secretary of State (which one I was not told – yellow plastic barriers?) as we needed permission to work in the road. This is because the A52 is a designated Trunk Road. i.e. it’s busy.

I was delighted to hear that the work was to be done today – 136 days after they cashed the cheque. Not that I’m counting!

Imagine my disappointment when I saw the closure. You can see for yourself. This process has involved British Gas Business, Enterprise, Fulcrum, The Highways Agency, their agents, The Notts County Council and the Secretary of State. This is not to mention Nick Palmer (MP) and my professional team (Architect, engineer & Contractor). I wonder how many man hours have been used to achieve this ‘closure’. Hundreds? At least there were two blokes digging and no one watching! Two days work maximum – £12,500. I presume £12,000 is for ‘administration’?

Sometimes (actually – quite a lot of the time) I think / know the world has gone mad. Completely mad.

So I am going to move on and stop blogging about this. We have our official opening on Friday by the Sheriff of Nottingham – and I will blog a happy story I hope after the opening!

But rest assured that I think the role of the Secretary of State is an important one!

p.s. I am very grateful to Nick Palmer for helping us out!

    Update 19th November

I was right not to get too excited. It seems that British Gas have just realised that a Governor has gone missing; so I have a gas main but…no gas! Next week now before that gets sorted. They did ring me to explain, I have just run out of energy to express any form of emotion. Perhaps that’s their tactic. Grind you down?

A sense of Deja Vu

I was privileged today (with my colleagues) to be shown around the £90m refurbishment project at Nottingham Trent University. Both Arkwright and Newton buildings are undergoing a massive facelift – and the results are fantastic.

The space between Arkwright and Newton - a social space

It was quite a strange feeling as I was last in Arkwright when I did my HNC in Building Studies between 1981 and 1983. And then in Newton when I did my Degree between 1983 and 1988. I was a perpetual student!

Both buildings are grade II* listed – for quite different reasons. Arkwright was originally a School of Design in 1843 – and famously had D H Lawrence as a student. Newton was built in the 1950′s – and was listed for its external ‘beauty’. The buildings were accidentally thrown together and the connectivity comprised covered walkways – with some fairly basic toilets!

But what is happening is a Sir Michael Hopkins connection – ‘The Link’. And it looks fantastic now – when it is open I think it will be truly inspiring! The spaces being created are being opened up and are light and airy. And I loved the Glulam beams! A new entrance is being created which will feed into the new Link.

There is a business feel to the whole – especially the business school in Newton. But I think the School of Architecture, in particular, will really enjoy their new home. I am sure that Sir Michael will have loved to study in the spaces he is creating. When you think that this part of the building is over 150 years old – and survived an attempt by the Luftwaffe to remodel it – it shows that the original designers got it right. The space was wrecked in the 1970′s by mezzanine creations – but has been opened up to its former glory…

Glulam banana shaped beams!

In the Newton building there is an amazing lecture theatre – which Diarmuid Gavin will be the first lecturer – I am sure he will be impressed too! The long corridors marked out with their grey lines of battered lockers are all gone. Double glazed sound-proofing partitions have replaced the internal walls. Hi Fi and Wi Fi are order of the day – with smart boards. It really is a learning environment fit for the 21st Century.

One of our hosts, Ann Priest Pro VC, said that the environment was really important. Students tend to live their learning life in a bedroom (some good, some bad) – and the University should provide space to ‘live’ outside that bedroom. So the lecture space may be centric to their course, but as important is the social space. The ability to eat / relax away from that bedroom is key. There are lots of social spaces built in – both in and out. And places to ‘hang out’. With wi-fi flooding this will become a home from home.

This really is going to be a jewel in the University’s crown. I just wish they had done this thirty years ago so I could have learned there – now I am feeling old! But I am really pleased that the young people studying now can learn in such inspiring surroundings. And I did learn a lot in the Penthouse bar of the Royal Hotel back in those days! Honest.