An Englishman in New York…

Whilst the buildings in New York may hold the key to it’s charm, sometimes the people do not.


After a few days in the Big Apple you start to question your deep-rooted beliefs and behaviours. We are so used to saying ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ – the latter even when we’re not in the wrong. New Yorkers used to be gruff, managing only a grudging ‘have a nice day’ – and as insincere as they could muster.

Then after 9/11 the City seemed to change. I think the out-pouring of the worlds sympathy on the citizens probably took them back a little and for a few years they were almost connected to humanity again. They would thank you back, they would say ‘you’re welcome’ when you thanked them.They were positively friendly.

But this time I detect a change. The lack of politeness is palpable. They have literally forgotten their manners. even in restaurants – I feel the need to remind them that I’m a customer not an inconvenience?

So the dilemma is – should we do the same? Should we adopt their attitude – the one that demonstrates that they’re top dog (even when they’re not!). Should we just push by them – especially the women and children? Should we grunt at them?

I’m not sure. It’s actually harder being rude than polite.And it’s a vicious circle when you start…

A dilemma indeed!

The New York Boris bikes

It seems every city is destined to have them; New York joined the ranks this week.


6,000 CitiBank bikes in 330 locations have sprung up! They cost around £7 for a day or £63 for the year.

Being New York though, they aren’t without their critics! Motorists have complained that valuable parking has been taken up, street vendors have been displaced and residents dislike the logos of CitBank on every street corner! I’m not sure that this sustainability stuff has caught on here just yet!


But this is Americas largest scheme – and if it takes off, they will expand it to 10,000 bikes in 600 locations.

9,000 people had signed up as I write this – in a city of 8m people…

I think they are a great idea with one caveat; the Manhattan traffic. I think they ought to be re-named suicide bikes. Life expectancy for riders will, I expect be quite low. Hours rather than days?

Our dispassionate view of the world?

When Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern seaboard of the USA last October I’m sure we all watched on our TV screens with horror and sadness. Hurricanes and their ilk can wreak havoc and devastation. In the UK, we get bad storms and the occasional fatality – all very sad.

As you may guess from my blog I have been to New York a lot. It is my favourite city and there are some places which form an essential part of a trip.


One of those places is Seaport and Pier 17. These sit at the lower end of Manhattan island, close to Wall Street and house quirky shops – some independents, some multinationals.

At the moment there are none. Seven months after Sandy the shops are pretty much locked up – a handful have re-opened. They are rebuilding the streets (literally) and the shops are all being refurbished. Seaport was under 11 feet of sea water. The wind reached 80mph – making 600,000 households lose power. 375,000 people were evacuated.

The estimated clean up cost is between $10-20bn.


The concept of pop-up shop has arrived though. In the shape of shipping container, ply-lined, small shops. A Street cafe and theatre has been formed. In the sunshine the place has life again. Of course, it need to do this to keep people coming to the place. Otherwise it will fall off peoples radar.

When you see this sort of destruction at first hand (and they have cleaned much of it up) you do realise the power of our weather systems. But you also realise that in this age of 24 hour news and ‘twitter’ how detached we can become.This must have been soul-destroying to watch.

If you have time, have a look at their website and the participatory documentary. It’s sobering. It’s here.

Art and toilets…

One of the key attractions of New York has to be the Art. Where else in the world can you go and see a Monet and ten minutes later be looking at an original Keith Haring piece for sale (which I couldn’t quite stretch to at $140,000). There is art everywhere.


New York is full of Galleries and one of the largest in the world is the Metropolitan, cut into the side of Central Park. And, as luck would have it, they were having an exhibition about Punk. This was about the clothes though – how they were a sign of rebellion and chaos but have now become an influence and part of couture.

The centre-piece of the exhibition is a recreation of the ‘rest-rooms’ at CBGB’s. You can see from my photograph that this is real grunge!I never went to CBCG’s but wished I had. I blogged last year about the shop that now occupies the former club here.

Then there are the clothes – all of those ripped t-shirts, the safety pins and the ‘foul-mouthed’ slogans. The exhibition tells the story of how Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren opened Seditionaires at 430 Kings Road and began selling these clothes. It became the centre of the Punk movement – notably because McLaren was managing the Sex Pistols at the point the reached number one with God Save The Queen.

The show does include some original pieces – a t-shirt worn by Janet Street-Porter. But alongside this are new pieces by Prada – complete with rips and zips!

What would McLaren make of all of this? He died in 2010 – but I can’t help but think he would be disgusted that this stuff is now ‘mainstream’ – and high end at that!

The punk movement has become mature, expensive and acceptable?

The Big Apple …

Although I have been in the ‘States this year, it is over a year since I have been in New York. It was definitely time to put that right!


This is my favourite City. It’s really hard to pin down quite why. After all, it’s quite grungy and imperfect in lots of ways. It has (what Jackie Sadek would call) ‘urban grain’. It has soul.

Although there are big shops here – the best part of the place is in the lower part of Manhattan (around SOHO and The Village) where the scale is much more human. The shops are often independent. The mix re-defines eclectic.

I think the other thing you notice is that it is an ever changing back-drop. Although it is year since we I was here, some of the streets have changed completely. In some cases this is not for the better. One brilliant shop was Mxyplyzyk – which had been in The Village for 22 years, but closed last December. The owner claimed that taxes were putting him out of business. So, a similar experience to the UK then?

But the place lives on. If you want to come and see a real, living, breathing place – this is it. I know of no other place I have been where you can buy almost anything – day or night.

Although one of the key reasons this place survives and re-morphs itself is the sheer number of people here – it also survives and grows because it is not afraid of trying new things. There are new little shops everywhere!

We can learn a lot…

A new house – this is brilliant!

I’m always on the look out for new technologies in building. Ever since I trained as an Architectural Technician, I have had a fascination as to how we create places we live in.


I came across THe Looper – the blurb talks about a luxury pod for living in – inspired by a caterpillar. 10m long and 4m wide this is for a break, although it’s not far off the dimensions of a small one-bedroom apartment. It has an en-suite and air-conditoned sleeping area. The front rises and falls to create a deck!

I love it.

The only issue as far as I can see is that it keeps away – mosquito’s. In most of our towns it might need to keep away … burglars?

But otherwise, if we had a beach and lots of sunshine, this is house nirvana…

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business, Green stuff Tagged beach house, House, The Lopper

Elf and Safety …

Whilst I was in Scotland last week, I saw two things which I thought I ought to share.

The first is a sign in one of the brilliant golf clubs we played at …


There is nothing like stating the obvious, just in case people weren’t doing as anticipated. Presumably some people could be dancing in the corridor, or eating their Haggis?

But then there was a great handrail up a fairly steep staircase/ ramp we saw. Here, you need to make sure you grip the right thing!

golf_5_13 46

Great stuff.

The nightmare that is IKEA

Just occasionally you have to go to IKEA. Sometimes it’s for those tea light things (a bag of a 1,000 is essential). Stuff is so cheap you just have to buy it – even if you will never use it again. It’s stuff that might come in useful (apparently).


The place is a baffling myriad of anagrams STURKY, TEGGURKA, GRUQQAR – but it turns out there is a sense of organisation in this too. Inferior products (such as doormats, floor runners, carpeting – basically anything that touches the bottoms of shoes.) are named after Danish towns. Then Swedish town names are handed down to furniture, bookcases and multimedia consoles. Norway bags the beds, dressers and hallway furniture. Finally Finland have the honour of the expensive chairs and dining tables. I kid you not.

IKEA’s spokesperson Charlotte Lindgren responded, “It’s nonsense to say that we did this on purpose. It was a pure coincidence, and it happened many decades ago…Besides these critics appear to greatly underestimate the importance of floor coverings. They are fundamental elements of furnishing.” No shit sherlock.

Being in IKEA is akin to a living nightmare. It’s not just the products – it’s the people. They start their experience by wanting to park as close to the exit as they can – because IKEA don’t have those little pound machines on their trolleys – so they concrete you in. This is a test then to carry their heavy kit a quarter of a mile to your car!

But this is nothing compared to the pain of assembling all those odd shaped screws and washers. The instructions might as well be in Danish. Inevitably you finish the whole thing and are left with three or four screws, dowels of other bits of metal. They grin up at you in a smug way – “we know where we go, but we’re not telling you“.

Should I throw them out – or keep them, just in case the thing falls apart tomorrow?

When I came out I saw the pictured car. Reminded me of my old RS4. As for his parking … Enough said on the matter.

Nottingham – empty shops?

We have ongoing discussions with the Local Data Company and their assertion that 30.6% of our shops are empty. I blogged about it here.


Experian have suggested that the figure is 18.1% – which is probably a closer reflection. The Local Data Company stretch the definition of City Centre to a lot of the outlying suburbs. We have a plan to deal with this and try to properly reflect the position – more on that soon I hope!

What we cannot escape though is that we have too many shops.

Vacant shops don’t help Cities. They create gappy teeth in a street scene and ‘dead frontage’ (as it is known) is not at all good. It takes a few in a row to bring a whole area down.

So we have a few choices – we can either take the shops out of use (and there is some new Planning legislation to do this) and into another use. Or we can try to encourage new shops to spring up. I had a fantastic meeting a few weeks ago with Pop Up Britain – who seek to do this. They put temporary uses into places – often local people selling local goods. Again we hope to have some of these in Nottingham soon.

But there is another initiative launched last week by the City Council – in the form of grant aid to bring ‘out of repair’ shops back to a lettable standard.

The Vacant Shops Grant will be available to Landlords of up to £5,000 to improve the condition a shop.

This is a great idea – and a really positive step to take.

Manufacturing is dead in the UK – well it’s not in Crewe!

I had the privilege on Friday of visiting the Bentley factory in Crewe, as a guest of Nick Riley – you can read his great blog here.


I have to say that I was taken aback by the whole experience. I thought Crewe was a place you went through on the train. What I didn’t expect was a factory building some of the best quality cars that money can buy on the entire planet!

Bentley have heritage but suffered badly through recessions. At one point they had just 1500 employees – today that number is 4,000. Unlike the Toyota factory in Burnaston, there are people here. Lots of them. And people who have a passion for what they are building. During our three hour tour we spoke to a few of the teams building the cars – this wasn’t staged – they were genuinely passionate about what they do; they were really keen to show us what they did – and the lengths they go to.

These are expensive cars (think £115,00 upwards) but there is a reason for this. An Bentley Continental takes 100 man hours to build – the Mulsanne takes 600 hours. Virtually everything is hand finished – varnishing the woods is robotically done, but is still hand polished. A steering wheel takes 15 hours to hand stitch!

What was really fascinating was trying to work out the logistics of the production line. On the Continental lone it shifts stations every nine minutes, on the Mulsanne line it is one hour! And at each station the components being added are all logged and computer controlled. Parts which started life together (such as the wood inlays) are sent apart to different build elements, but then come back together for a perfect match.

It was a fantastic experience – and I was seriously impressed. Manufacturing is definitely not dead – and 8,500 lovingly crafted cars a year – is testament to that.

PS My fellow blogger Jackie Sadek will no doubt think that I’m after a freebie. This would be shallow. But true. Please Mr Bentley – can I borrow one for a few weeks?

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business, Grumpy Old Man! Tagged Bentley, Cars, Crewe, factory, hand built, Jackie Sadek, Manufacturing, Nick Riley, qulaity