Nottingham Castle – backwards we go?

There was disappointing news for Nottingham last week.


Our Heritage Lottery bid to upgrade the Castle failed. We were seeking nearly £15 towards the estimated £26m cost. Six out of 11 projects were successful in sharing £68m:

* Silverstone, home of British motor racing in Northamptonshire
* HMS Caroline, the last surviving warship of the First World War fleet, in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter
* Redruth’s old brewery transformed to celebrate Cornish heritage
* London’s Alexandra Palace – ‘The People’s Palace’ – with over 140 years worth of history
* 12th-century Auckland Castle in Durham, home to a spectacular collection of Zurbaran paintings
* Aberdeen Art Gallery and Cowdray Hall, the city’s public gallery with an impressive collection of early and contemporary works

We now have to wait another 12 months to re-submit.

You may know that I sat on the Sheriffs Commission back in 2008/9. Five years ago we were pressing for the Council to bring on board the private sector, that looks even more necessary now.

I was a little underwhelmed last year when I saw the plans for the first time. In fact, I blogged about it here.

We really need to aim higher and in my opinion we need to bring a different game to Nottingham. There is such an opportunity here – Robin Hood is a world brand and we just don’t use it. Five years have passed since we looked at some of the options. Lets not wait another five years!

In the meantime my good friend Johnny Lyle sent me a link about a theme park that looks like it might go ahead in Sherwood Forest. Pity they didn’t put that in the Castle?

The John Lewis story – it’s not all that good

I’m old enough to still call John Lewis in Nottingham “Jessops“. Jessops always was the store you went to if you wanted decent quality stuff. Never knowingly undersold meant that you were fairly sure that the prices were going to be competitive.

But something has changed in my view. It’s not for the better.

I have been in the store a couple of times in the last few weeks and I can’t help but notice a subtle erosion of quality. Some of the staff now have ‘attitude’, forgetting to greet. Then a lady at the weekend scraped over the helpful threshold, but only just. The restaurant wasn’t busy but many of the tables were full of dirty trays.

I’m frequently accused of being grumpy here and I promise you I’m not trying to be. But Jessops enjoys an enviable position in the market. It is a destination place. Nottingham is not awash with quality stores – in fact I guess that I buy 75% of things I need or want in there. So they have a (sort of) monopoly. It’s a nice place to be – if you are them. But the flip side is that I think they have become complacent about this lofty position – and think that I have no choice. Which is, sort of, true.

But things change and when I get the chance to shop elsewhere I will do so. My good friend John Lyle always says that the opposite of love isn’t hate – it’s apathy. And I’m beginning to feel apathy for John Lewis….

360 degree appraisals

I think it was the late 1980′s amongst the buzz of business-babble-speak when someone came up with the idea of ‘appraisals’. Then these became 360 degree appraisals where the member of staff was allowed to appraise the boss. I’m pleased to tell you that in 32 years working I have studiously avoided all such things. I don’t agree with them.

But the world has moved on and we now have the internet. So we can move way from the simple employer:employee relationship appraisals. We now have web sites dedicated to ‘people-power’. People who can offer their view on almost anything. I guess this includes me with this bog – although I do hope to be fair to people!

I have always used Trip Advisor to check on places – but to be honest I take some of the comments with a pinch of salt. Some of the hotels I have stayed in bear little resemblance to the so-called reviews given. Of course the problem is that it is widely known that some competitor hotels get staff to post good and bad reviews where it suits. Hardly cricket!

Then we have Patient Opinion – a web site about good and bad experience in HNS hospitals. You can read one for the reviews about Nottingham’s QMC here of you can be bothered. It is all a bit pointless? And not a place I shall have on my favourites list.

Then last week I read about “Solicitors From Hell” – a website that may not be around for much longer. The Law Society are trying to get it shut down – so you had better be quick if you want to check out the moaning about lawyers. I did have a look to see if there was anyone I recognised… but there wasn’t. Honestly! In fact I think this web-site is dangerous as it doesn’t appear to be a place where those wronged can do anything about the allegations made.

When I fist started blogging, my good mate John Lyle and I had a discussion about ‘comments’ made on your blog. The question was whether you should edit the comments made. And the answer is “no”. Categorically. If you want to have any credibility then people need to be able to challenge and question your views.

Bad news

My good mate John Lyle has come back into the Apple fold. He tried, unsuccessfully, to part with his iphone. But Jobs and Co do grab hold of your digital life Rottweiler like!

I have quite a few Apple machines – macbook pro laptops, ipads, iphone, Apple TV, Time machine, ipods…the list goes on. In general terms I love the simplicity of the operating system. The design is usually pretty cool too.

But today was a bad day. My main machine – a 17″ macbook pro more or less died. It had a feint pulse, but despite the light being on, no one was home. The machine has been sent to the nice techies at Jigsaw24. I think it is in ICU. I have many digits crossed that they can revive it! They didn’t sound at all hopeful!

So, watch this space. I am reduced to a 13″ macbook pro – which was updating my mailbox in the office – 7 hours and counting!

This was the bad news, the good was that I needed a new machine, so am playing with a brand new macbook air. Just a baby one. It is very light and very cool… every cloud??

A step into the void…

My good mate John Lyle has cleaned his life up by ditching his iphone – he is now disconnected from his email. I am not sure I can do this.

But for the last 16 hours I have been forcibly removed from our email system! It is very quiet…

As you probably know I am not a beige-box person, I live my digital life on mac hardware and software. In the main I find it brilliant – with one exception. Entourage is the mac equivalent of ‘outlook’ and it is pretty awful. It just about works – but is somewhat creaky at the edges. As the data set of emails has grown, Entourage crashes with alarming regularity. Large emails are a problem for the system and it hangs frequently. It will eventually come back to life, but it can be frustrating.

I was delighted last year when Microsoft announced that they had completely re-written Outlook for mac users. I rushed out to buy a copy – but alas it won’t run on my Nottingham based server. This was rather frustrating as the program looks great (it will run my home email account quite happily!). The cost of a new server was a bit much to swallow so I could have a new email program! But fortunately (?) one of our other offices has a server that has reached the end of its life and so a replacement was necessary. And so I am now able to run Outlook 2011…

Except that I have to switch over to our Leicester office. Which is a slow process of copying my 5gB mailbox down a little phone line – and then bringing it all back. With luck this will all be sorted by the weekend – and I can have the pleasure of 300 unread emails!

The cost of progress? A very quiet few days!


It looks like I am back on line; the transitions was not quite as easy as expected. I was off air for around 48 hours and the emails are dribbling through. I had expected a torrent…

Shanghai – mini update – photo of the day!

John Lyle's doggies daddy

My mate John Lyles has got a new little Puppy dog. He reckons it’s for his kids, but I know better than that. And I may have seen the father to the new puppy.

Sometimes a picture speaks a thousand words. Or more. And sometimes there are no words you can use to help. Like here. Apart from the fact that this is Shanghai – a mad mad place…


PS No photoshop was used in harming this poor animal.

How cheap can a TV get?

My mate John Lyle blogged about his experiences of pricing TV ‘s before Christmas here. We had decided at our office that the time had come for us to have a TV in our open plan office. (Well I had decided).

I was going to search around the internet, but found myself in PC World over the Christmas break. They were offering in the sale a 42″ LCD LG TV. £379 – including VAT – £322 net of VAT (at 17.5%). It is difficult to see how there is any profit on this. In fact the salesman told me that the profit to PCW was just £8 per unit. They had sold 20 in the morning. The hook of course is they are desperate for you to buy the HDMI cables, a fixing bracket and the 5 year cover for £129. I bought the braket – and I guess they made more profit on this than on the TV.

At this price I couldn’t be bothered to search around the internet – in fact on Best Buys the TV retails at £448

Sometimes I do wonder how thin the margins must be on these sort of goods, after taking account of the packaging, the shipping and marketing costs. This really must be a loss leader

What is more frightening perhaps is that one of my mates bought one of the first flat screen TV’s a few years ago and paid just shy of £10,000…

Customer service – some good stuff

In the last week or so I have been reading blogs about customer service and the changing market. My colleague Simon Dare blogged here about great customer service he had been given at Nando’s. And then my mate John Lyle blogged about the power of the internet and I shamelessly steal one of his quotes:

Products and services rise from mediocrity by being exceptional, by being differentiated and by being well branded.

It was my turn last week to get exceptional customer service.

I was in that great ‘boys’ shop – Maplin. It’s a shop where you see no women and I have no idea why. It is just brilliant – full of stuff you don’t need, but do want.

I needed a special computer tool kit – the reason why is another story. Suffice to say that my trusty macbook pro needed work. The tools required to perform an operation on this machine are not your average ‘philips’ screwdriver!

I picked up a kit which seemed to have all the minute tools I required and promptly went to the till. The young lad (not girl) on the till asked which of the tools I needed in the kit. I told him. He promptly suggested that there was another kit that contained the tools – but was on offer. So my £22 kit could be swapped for another – which would do the job. Price? £4.99.

I guess he spotted I wasn’t a geek, but he didn’t need to do this. I am not sure he was supposed to, but he clearly just had a desire to be helpful.

This is what John calls ‘exceptional service’. Not ‘good’, ‘exceptional’.

Of course, you will always go back to this sort of experience. And next time I might buy one of those radio controlled helicopters…

The joy of flying?

I read my mate John Lyle’s blog when I got back to the UK about his experiences of air travel – notably BMI and RyanAir. You can read his comments here.

They have ways of conveying bad news!

I had to wait until I got back to the UK, as WordPress (who rather excellently host this blog) are not flavour of the month in China. I couldn’t actually see my blog, but had a work-around to post submissions. It was frustrating at times – but I got there in the end!

Anyway back to the current subject – flying.

I flew to China with Virgin Atlantic, who I have generally found to be excellent. But my flight back was a bit of a trial. When I arrived at the airport they told me there was a thirty minute delay – which was due to the late arrival on the inbound aircraft. Sure enough we were all loaded on board – at which point the Captain gave us the good news and bad. Good – everyone was on board with their ‘stuff’. Bad – we were in the queue to leave – behind the plane at the side of us. He had been there for two hours. It was busy and I assume it had come as a surprise to Air Traffic Control that all these planes had gatecrashed the airport?

I knew it was bad when they put the films on – and then started cooking!

I was half way through Bad Lieutenant (which was rubbish) when the announcement came that we had a slot – 2 hours after our original. So that was good news.

Then more bad news. A lady had decided not to fly – she was unwell. So she was de-planed. With her luggage. This cost us our slot.

Eventually we took off – and faced some interesting weather. The storms were quite spectacular over northern China. We wriggled our way around them as best we could!

I landed at Heathrow 14 hours 35 minutes after I first sat in my seat! The flight time was 11 hours 46 minutes…

There is an inevitability about delays when you fly; and there is nothing you can do about it. It’s called powerlessness…

The Sheriff’s Commission – 12 months on

I attended the advisory panel meeting of the Sheriff’s Commission last Friday. It was held at Loxley House – a fitting location!

The Commission celebrated it’s birthday and it was time to look back on the year – and forwards into the future.

Firstly, there was a review of the things that have been achieved:

1. Without doubt the biggest achievement has been the recognition by the Council that Robin Hood has a massive role to play in the City. This was not the case when we set out…
2. As a result of this recognition, the City has reclaimed Robin Hood and we now proudly claim that this is the Home of Robin Hood. The logo above is a small but important part of this strategy.
3. The work done in the USA and elsewhere (looking at what makes a World Class Attraction) has been well received and sets the benchmark for the aspirations of the City. This is not nebulous, it is a real aspiration – it is acknowledged that if Nottingham is to ‘get this right’ it has to be done well.
4. The Robin Hood film captured the imagination of the Public and (hopefully) the sequel will keep Nottingham on the map. Spending on gifts with a Robin Hood theme were up 83% in the week of the film premiere. Nottingham hosted a Gala screening which attracted media attention from around the World.
5. The Robin Hood month in May was a huge success – visitor numbers at the Castle were up, spending in the shops was up.
6. A Robin Hood trail complete with new visuals will be in place in Nottingham shortly. (These have been done by my mate John Lyle and are really good)

But the real trick now is to move forward. The ideas are still coming forward about keeping the momentum going – in all sorts of areas. This includes long term aspirations for a Visitor Attraction, educational materials for schools, ongoing events (like the Robin Hood month) and the continuation of marketing and merchandising…

Graham Allen MP was present at the meeting and he spoke passionately about his aspirations for the City.

I have some disappointment that we are not further on, but it was said that “good things come to those who wait“. We have gained some momentum – we need to keep it going! I genuinely believe that we have won some hearts and minds and that we are in a better place than we were 12 months ago. There is much work to be done, but we have made a great start.