This is England – as it was?

I watched the Shane Meadows film, “This is England” at the weekend. Partly because it was filmed in Nottingham, but partly because it was on offer in HMV!

The film is set in the summer holidays of 1983 – and is centred on a group of thugs – who spread across a spectrum of big softies to outright thugs. The film is ‘gritty’ to say the least. Shaun, the 11 year old star of the film is thrown into a world of drugs, alcohol, violence and girls… He must have been the youngest ever member of the National Front.

It’s really about gangs – and Meadows does capture the peer pressure brilliantly as the members lurch from one set of friends to another – and back again. As the line in the film suggests, “Run with the crowd, stand alone, you decide”.

I will forgive Meadows the technically incorrect 0115 code for Nottingham on a shop sign at the start. The code changed in 1995… I notice these sort of things. And the fact that Nottingham doesn’t have a beach (except sometime in the Market Square). We don’t have any sea though.

The film does show how the world has changed in such a short space of time. The fashions are awful! Boy George had a lot to answer for. The cars are incredibly angular and ‘basic’. The shops are all local though – not a Sainsbury’s in sight! Starbucks was to appear in the UK in the 1990′s.

Maggie was in power and we were at war in The Falklands. It was a fairly fraught time. Racial tension was high.

I am sure that some of the places featured in the film do still exist. We have moved on, but the film provides a stark warning about what happens when society breaks down. The feeling of helplessness was palpable. Broken families, drugs, alcohol and promiscuity and not great adverts.

We have, in my view, some challenging times ahead – we must make sure we don’t spiral into the sort of society Meadows documented so very well.

By Tim Garratt Posted in Nottingham Tagged National Front, , Shane Meadows, This is England

Retro photographs

I am a keen photographer – and was discussing with some friends last week that if I had a chance to have another career I think I would choose it.

I have a number of cameras, my trusty work camera is the Ricoh GR3 – which I blogged about here. It (and its predecessor the GR2) have been with me all over the world. It travelled with me to Shanghai recently and most of my images from the trip were from it.

I also have a Canon 40D SLR with an assortment of lenses – and this is my ‘serious’ camera. But it, and its accompanying lenses, weigh a lot. So there has to be a good reason for me to lug it around.

But I have another camera too – a four-thirds Panasonic GF1, which is halfway between the GR3 and the Canon. I have used it a fair amount, but I have now set it up in to work in black & white – but also in square format. It is very much like a pro-Blad or similar. The images it produces are just fantastic.

There is something about a black and white image. It really is timeless. and the square format makes you think differently. We have become used to TV frames – so working ‘square’ challenges you. It has a completely different dynamic. The way in which our eyes scan the image are different too – we still see in thirds, but in my square image those thirds now make equal squares.

I love some of the results I have had – including the image in this blog post. The image is straight from the camera. It has not been tweaked in any way. It could have been taken at the weekend or 25 years ago. There is no distraction from colours (and the subject building is perfect?).

I think this may well be the way forward! I love it…

Nottingham : Grand Designs!

I had the privilege last week of visiting Nottingham Architect Julian Marsh’s house in The Meadows. He had opened the house to a group of us – the Shanghai Crew and a group of German Architecture students over here in Nottingham visiting the university.

Julian is a green champion and was the architect who designed the Abel Collins bungalows for me a few years ago.

I had seen his house just as he was completing it – but only from the outside. We had a full tour – and it is amazing!

The house has been a labour of love for Julian and his wife Judy – over a four-year period. It has, as you might expect, some very green credentials. Photovoltaics, a self composting toilet, huge thermal mass slabs (to allow heating and cooling of the structure), rainwater harvesting and ground-source heat pumps all have their place. This is not bling though – it is all very functional and carefully chosen.

What I really liked though was the attention to detail. The small things make the difference – I loved the staircase with its clear vinyl balustrade. The rubber floors and bottle walls are just stunning. The timber clad steelwork is fantastic.

This is a house which is very bespoke – it’s not for everyone, but I admire the individuality. It has the feel in parts of a teenagers bedroom – but very much for adults! I loved the studio elements. And Judy’s art climbing high up the walls. The sun room view out across the embankment allows outdoor living in part.

I loved it – and was really pleased to have had the opportunity to have a look inside. It looks they have lots of visitors!

Julian has long been a champion of The Meadows and has voted with his feet. He has also been the architect on the Blueprint Green Street Housing Scheme – just around the corner.

The only thing I didn’t like? The Corten gate. I have never really got the concept of rusty steel…

Designing buildings to make you fitter

In New York (one of my favourite places!) there are some interesting developments in buildings – which I heard about about last week.

Chilled out in the middle of Times Square!

There have been some subtle changes to buildings. And this is as a result of a a new Active Design Guide. The guide has been prepared as a collaboration of various of the Cities agencies – including Design and Construction, Health and Mental Hygiene, Transportation, City Planning, and Office of Management and Budget. They have also worked with a number of leading architectural practices.

The blurb suggests:

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, architects and urban reformers helped to defeat infectious diseases like cholera and tuberculosis by designing better buildings, streets, neighborhoods, clean water systems, and parks. In the 21st century, designers can again play a crucial role in combating the most rapidly growing public health epidemics of our time: obesity and its impact on related chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Today, physical inactivity and unhealthy diet are second only to tobacco as the main causes of premature death in the United States. A growing body of research suggests that evidence-based architectural and urban design strategies can increase regular physical activity and healthy eating.

I was really interested to learn that some very simple changes have been adopted – including moving stairs back to the front of a building and hiding the lifts behind them! Then giving natural light to the stairs and playing music in the area! At the same time, turning off the music in lifts and making them more utilitarian. I guess this is reverse of what we have been doing – making lifts funky and relegating stairs to block-work finished ‘fire escapes’.

Active design is environmental design that encourages stair climbing, walking, bicycling, transit use, active recreation, and healthy eating.

The details are all available as a download on the NYC City website here.

So there is a green agenda too. Getting us away from the motor car! But there is another benefit in that public spaces have been improved to make walking and cycling easier. I saw some evidence of this when I was there with my daughter last year – Times Square closed to traffic!!

Much of what is being suggested is common sense – but can be very effective. The New York Times building is one of the pathfinder buildings.

The only thing I’m not so sure about is walking up to the 102 floor of the Empire State Building!!

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business, Green stuff Tagged Active Design Guide, Empire State Building, Jade Garratt, , New York Times, NYC

Bowie (song) murdered

I am a huge fan of David Bowie – and have seen him 14 times – the last time in the Isle of Wight in 2004. He has not played here since.

Bowie has collaborated with lots of artists over the years. His songs have been covered by numerous people. He remains one of the most influential artists of all time.

But Carla Brunei, France’s First Lady has murdered one of his songs. Bowie’s original version of ‘Absolute Beginners’ reached number two in the UK singles chart in 1986. It was written as the theme tune for Julien Temple’s film version of the cult novel by Colin MacInnes. It may not be my favourite Bowie track, but Carla’s version is quite something.

If you can listen to the whole song from Carla, you have done well. It is quite appalling! I could have done better… and that really is saying something! You have been warned…

By Tim Garratt Posted in Grumpy Old Man! Tagged Absolute Beginners, , Carla Brunei, Cover songs

Another milestone….

A few minutes ago, my blog reached 20,000 hits. I reached 10,000 on 6th May.

The list of most popular blogs goes something like….

1. An interesting opportunity in Russia
2. Jamie Oliver brings Italy to Nottingham
3. Justice – Crown Court or Twitter
4. MIPIM 2010
5. Architecture – the great divide
6. ipad – a new beginning
7. Cruel April Fool
8. I hate Sainsbury’s
9. Rage against Cowell
10. Little Boots food menu

Thanks for dropping by….

Nottingham’s newest iphone App!

Hats off to Nottingham City Council, who this week announced that they are about to launch an App for iphone users.

Details are here, but essentially residents will be able to photograph graffiti, dog mess, litter and other problems – then send the image to the anti-social behaviour team. The photo will arrive with them geo-tagged with the co-ordinates so that they can dispatch someone to sort the issue.

This is a really great way of enabling residents to be the eyes and ears of the Council.

At the moment this is going to be restricted to the iphone – but may be extended to other smart-phones.

I think this is a great idea – making the best of technology and encouraging local people to help in a very easy way! The new system will even deliver a message back to the person who reported the issue in the first place to tell them that the matter has been dealt with.

Clever stuff. I like this sort of initiative!

Fancy paying some more tax?

It has famously been said that there are only two certain things in life – “tax” and “death”. Neither are particularly palatable (perhaps the latter slightly less so?)

But listening to the Today programme this week it seems that the former should be enjoyable. Well, that’s not quite what Nick Clegg said, but he wasn’t far off. And his mate Danny Alexander repeated the charge.

I have long since held the view that National politics is the sport of fools, but Clegg really is on a different planet to mine.

He was agreeing that Tax evasion is illegal whereas Tax avoidance is perfectly legal – but, in his view, immoral. Immoral in the current times when he wants us all to pay for the financial mess the Country is in. Apparently we are to exercise restraint and make sacrifices in these times of recession. We are not supposed to find technical ways of avoiding tax. Not should we be indifferent to Tax avoidance.

Apparently the Revenue lose £42bn from Tax avoidance each year – and he wants some of the wonga back – or at least for us to volunteer it up.

My take on this…

You have to be joking Mr Clegg? (and Danny boy too)

Did I get this Country in the mess? Did I contribute to the deficit? Have I taken excessive bonuses? Would I like to pay some more tax?

No, no, no, no and certainly not.

In respect of Tax, I want to pay the least I can. I wouldn’t mind paying more if I thought that the people at the helm had any idea what they are doing. This week the Telegraph reported on the work of the Public Accounts Committee – with a report on how the Home Office had managed to waste £29 million of taxpayers’ money on thinking about building a centre to hold asylum seekers. Read about it here. Even when they do collect it, they seem to be incapable of getting that right?

I presume also that Clegg & Alexander will be making all of the Accountants redundant?

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business, Grumpy Old Man! Tagged Danny Alexander, Nick Clegg, Tax, tax and death, tax avoidance, tax evasion

Residential tenancy changes

Although the bulk of my work is in the commercial property sector, we do manage some residential property and I was involved in this sector for many years in my previous life.

Property like this would not have been available to let 20 years ago

There is a change in legislation afoot which will not impact on the East Midlands market, but will probably hit London. Tenancies of an annual rent of over £100,000 will from 1st October 2010 automatically become Assured Shorthold Tenancies. This gives the tenant greater protection. It also means that Landlords must register tenant deposits with one of the approved schemes. Failure to do so can result in a fine of three times the amount of the deposit. Landlords beware!

Ross Clark writing in the Mail on Sunday wrote a rather emotive piece suggesting that we go back to the protected tenancy that existed pre 1989 – when the Housing Act 1988 was introduced. His argument was that AST’s are ‘thrown out on two months notice” and that “criminal acts were frequently used to get tenants out”. Mention was made of Rachman and the synonym Racmanism.

This is not entirely balanced!

Firstly, residential tenants are not thrown out on two months notice – thus living out of suitcases. The initial tenancy is for a term certain – the minimum period of which is 6 months. Most landlords we act for are happy to secure income and offer 12 month tenancies – following which the landlord must give two months notice, but the tenant can give one.

Secondly, the fundamental flaw with the regulated tenancy (a tenancy for life) was the restricted or controlled rent. This was a crude device to keep a cap on rents with little or no regard to the market value. As a result the housing stock was not in good order – due to the lack of investment. Returns were often seen at around 2-3% pa. Valuation was often done by estimating the life remaining of the tenant… (there are published tables)

Rachman was actually a scapegoat for many unscrupulous landlords who operated in London at the time. This doesn’t take away from some of his tactics – but he was not alone!

The present market system works well – there is renewed investment (just look at the success of the buy to let market). The stock quality is good. Landlords get a good return and there is more property available. When I started out in this game we would have around 6 or 8 properties available at a time (and we were a major player); now in Nottingham there will be 1,000′s.

If you start to strangle the market with regulation and false barriers it will wither and die.

I am not sure that the Government are contemplating this, but such a move would be ill timed and a step backwards. Rachmanism might again return!

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business, Nottingham Tagged Housing Act 1989, Mail on, Rachman, Rachmanism, Residential Tenancies, Ross Clark

A sense of perspective

I heard a great story the other day on the Radio, which I have heard before – but it made me smile – and think!

The context was that we can sometime lose our perspective on life and business. I think when you have been away from the office, like I have been in the last few weeks, it does help you to re-focus. You can become blinkered and rather insular when you are immersed in the day to day flotsam of life. We all do it?

But back to the story – it goes something like this…

George Best is staying in the Dorchester Hotel in London – in the Penthouse Suite. His Rolls Royce is parked downstairs. He calls down for room service – ordering cigars, caviar and the finest champagne in the house for two.

Ten minutes later the bell rings and a waiter walks in and immediately recognises George, who is lying in bed with a naked blonde at his side – she is wearing nothing but £50 notes to cover her modesty. She is giggling at the waiter in his penguin suit!

The waiter doesn’t really notice the girl, but looks at George and asks him, “George Best, Manchester United legend, where did it all go wrong?”….

Sometimes we do forget what we have. We lose sight of our surroundings. We lose perspective.

George might have got some things horribly wrong, but in the circumstances he was in was the waiter right to admonish him? Who had the right idea?