Monday, 30 September 2013

'Art' in the toilet at Djanolgy

Billed as 'artwork' and currently 'at work' in the male toilets at the Djanology Arts Centre by Highfields Park in Nottingham is this head made of soap.

There is also a soapy statue in the female toilets. You are encouraged to use them, although I suspect that in this day and age some folk won't touch it for fear of what they might catch from a previous user.

As amusing and fun as the soap head is, it is a bit of an overstatement to claim it is a work of art. When I was growing up in the late-forties and fifties, Walt Disney was selling soaps based on his cartoon creations. I also remember 'Noddy' soap. Type in 'novelty soaps' on e-bay and you can find pages of such soaps as per the example below:

I don't know how much Djanology paid the 'artist' Meekyoung Shin for the soapy heads, but there are times when you have to come clean and be honest and admit that something is not art. The head was fun to use and ten out of ten for that, but as for it being art, no way.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Park brutalism and train-trams

 Over the past few years millions have been spent on improvements to Wollaton Hall and Park, much of it from the Lottery, but still this ugly example of 19th century brutalism remains.

It is the Park's south entrance on the Derby Road and is passed by tens of thousands every day and you could argue that, because it is the most seen entrance to Wollaton Park, it is very much its public face. According to the Park's entry in Wikipedia, Beeston Lodge to give it its official name is '...was designed by the architect Jeffry Wyatville around 1832. It is built of coursed Gritstone ashlar in a heavy Gothic style with "martello-type" round outer towers with battlements. The square central gatehouse is connected to the towers at the second floor level. It has an arched carriage entrance with an oriel window above. It was built following the Nottingham Reform riots in October 1831 and is now a Grade II listed building'.

This last fact always surprises me — as does the fact that no effort appears to be made to make this 'landmark' entrance to a Nottingham park of national significance more attractive and welcoming to visitors. I would even go as far as to say that it would be quite easy to create a Derby Road car park to make for easier access to the Wollaton Park for visiting motorists.

On a few occasions over the years I have heard bus drivers tell people getting on a bus which passes this entrance and stops directly opposite that they actually want a 'number 30'. Last week, I heard a 35 bus driver outside the Victoria Centre say exactly this and asked him why. 'It's what we're told to say' was his reply. If this is true, then there is something crazy going on in the heads of Nottingham City Transport managers. Even if you ignore the Y36, a rival bus service, NCT buses 35 and 36 pass the southern entrance to Wollaton Park every few minutes whilst the no.30 runs only every 20 minutes, so why direct Wollaton Park visitors to a less frequent bus service?

Personally, I prefer entering the Park this way than from the Wollaton end. I rather like sneaking up on Wollaton Hall from behind and glimpsing a back view first.  Of course the front view from the Wollaton entrance is the one we all know and images of it abound on the web.

What has prompted these thoughts is the fact that Highfields Park close by, which is known to many as 'University Park', has been awarded Lottery money towards the cost of preparing a detail bid so that Highfields can have a much needed makeover. It is actually a trust with just one member — now Nottingham City Council's Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Councillor Dave Trimble. Highfields is lovely park and we visit it far more often than Wollaton Park, even though both parks are less than a mile from our home in Lenton.

I took this photo in 2007 from above the waterfall at the west end of Highfields Park, looking across towards Nottingham University. This end of the park with its stepping stones, which you can see in this photograph, gave my children and grand-children no end of fun whilst they were growing up and this photograph fills me with happy memories.

I am sure the Derby Road entrance to Wollaton Park can be made more attractive and certainly promoted as the easiest way of reaching the Park if you are using public transport.

Whilst on the subject of public transport, the Nottingham Post has just published the latest column by me on public transport topics relating to Nottingham. It was about creating a tram-train / train-tram network for the Nottingham region, which would be cheaper and quicker than building more tram only lines.  I drew this map to go with the column, but it was published a week sooner than I expected, so it wasn't included.

For  some reason the web entry headed 'A tram to Skegness by 2025?' is dated 29 July 2013 when the story was actually published today (23 September 2013).  When putting the story together, I dug out some old files from the past and campaigns from the 1980s I had been involved with. I saw names I had long forgotten and whilst some of the things we wanted to achieve didn't happen, we did actually save a railway line and I well remember the reasons why The Robin Hood Line could not be the light railway we argued for. The 'can't do' mentality of those days is still with us and I never cease to be amazed at how long it takes to get things done.

If you are wondering about the differences between tram-trains and train-trams, here are photographs and weblinks which may help explain:

Below a tram-train and a conventional tram side by side. Click here to see more about tram-trains on Wikipedia.

Manchester's Metro system is a train-tram network. As the photograph (below) from the web from an 'unknown' source shows clearly, they need train like platforms and the doors are at the same height as doors on conventional trains. I think the difference is quite clear and demonstrates why The Robin Hood Line and extensions to Skegness and Lincoln would be train-trams, whilst you could run tram-trains between Langley Mill / Eastwood and Cotgrave. Such a network would be much cheaper than building more costly tram lines. It would not cost much to connect the existing tram network to railway based trams (afterall, from Old Basford to Hucknall they run alongside one another and in Lenton and at Nottingham Station they will cross over one another once the new tram lines open next year (2014).

None of the proposals I am making are new, but the new tram-train link between Sheffield and Rotherham coming in 2015 may be enough to make Nottingham politicians and transport planners to think about doing something along the lines I have suggested in the Nottingham Post and here. I hope so.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Beeston Bus connections now has its own page

Version 2 of my Beeston Connections bus map uses circles instead of tabs. I like it better. What do you think?  The map and additional information now has its own page. See column to right and click on Beeston Bus Connections.

Here is my revisied version of the map:

Monday, 16 September 2013

Beeston Bus connections map for Beeston Writers Café Guide

There is no point in publicising a place if you don't help people to find it in the first place — hence this. Like the Café Guide Map, comments please.

My map clearly pays homage to the original London Transport Underground map, as thousands of others have done worldwide. The latest maps issued by 'Centro', the public transport authority for the old West Midlands Metrolpolitan County Council area sports an Underground style cover, although the maps themselves are based on geography. This map has taken me about ten hours to get this far. 

This is the first bus map I know of which actually puts Beeston at the centre. If you want to encourage people to use public transport you have to created maps which put them at the centre. As good as the web is, it cannot give you as much information in a single glance about Beeston bus services as my map does.

It's back to the Beeston Café Line map tomorrow. I have already decided to change the colour from royal blue to 'mocha' — given what the map is about, 'mocha' it has to be.

Keep coming back for more news of my efforts to get Foodie Heavens by Beeston Writers into print!

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Beeston Café Line is born: Tell me what you think

A quick post of a diagrammatic map I have created and will form part of a proposed A4 folded leaflet promoting Beeston Writers. For the moment, how does the map look? Is it clear enough or does it overwhelm? Any helpful comments welcome?

I am working on a 'Beeston Connections' bus map, which also appear on the planned leaflet.

The possible WEA funding route for Foodie Heavens by Beeston Writers got nowhere, so the cafe leaflet route, which includes a story / poem from a Beeston Writers contributor, is my 'Plan B'. We shall see what happens.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

A Birmingham walk

Last Monday we spent the day in Birmingham with our grandson Curtis. He's a delightful soul, a great talker like all Howards. He also enjoys walking around looking at buildings and this walk has its roots in something I wanted to see and then something Curtis wanted to see. After that it was all chance.

NOTE: The photographs have all been numbered, so they can be linked to my map showing our walk. Enjoy.

1. I start with an escalator in New Street Station, where we arrived, because this is a good one, with plenty of level space to get on and off.

2. The old Stephenson Place, much changed in the last year. The whole station is getting a makeover, inside and out.

3. Burlington Arcade.

4. The Council House.

5. Birmingham Town Hall,  In the early-1970s the City Council's Planning Committee, which I was a member of at the time, considered a feasibility study on turning the Town Hall round so that it faced directly down New Street.

6. A view of the old Birmingham Central Library and Archives, which lasted less than forty years. I knew the building well in my time as a Birmingham city councillor for a variety of reasons.

7. Birmingham City Museum & Art Gallery, another place I knew well.

8. The glass canopy covering 'the hole' in the middle of the old library.

9. Baskerville House, where the City Council Planning Committee used to meet (it may still do).

10. The old Registry Office on Broad Street, opposite Centenary Square, now 'The House of Sport', whatever that is?

11. Once I knew we were going to Birmingham for the day, I wanted to go and see the new Central Library & Archive building. We arrived a day early. It didn't open until 3 September. On the outside, it doesn't impress, but I'll hold back on any further comment until I've been inside. I liked the outdoor all-weather exhibition panels telling the story of the city's central library buildings. Centenary Square is not the fun place it used to be. The interactive sculptures have gone, so there is nowhere for kids to climb or paddle, which is a shame.

12. Matthew, Watt and Murdoch on Broad Street, across from Centenary Square.

13. The walk-through atrium in the National Conference (or is it 'Convention') Centre which links Centenary Square and the canal area. Much too messy, with lots of half-levels and banner clutter.

14. The view south towards Broad Street, Gas Street Canal Basin and beyond. I actually wrote an article in The (Birmingham) Journal in February 1973 arguing that this area should be developed and made more accessible to canal walkers like myself. Even included a canal walk I had done on several occasions with my kids from Selly Oak to Newhall Street in the city centre.

15. Brindley Place from this view looks pretty banal. Nothing original about it…

16. …until you turn around and see this. It would be interesting to see inside.

17. The tall building is what caught Curtis's eye over lunch and was why we decided to walk south along the canal past Gas Street Basin to try and find it and this is what we found.

18. Took this photograph because of the narrow gauge track set in the towpath. I cannot ever remember seeing it before, but the last time I walked this way was forty years ago, when it was all derelict and the canal was lined on either side by abandoned factories and the towpath overgrown, so much so in places that I had to carry the pushchair.

19. A view back towards Broad Street. Notice the sign, 'The Mailbox'.

20. At this point the canal does a ninety-degree turn and heads out towards Selly Oak and Kings Norton. Beyond the trees and the bridge in the distance a glimpse of a canal more like the one I remember.

21. The tall building Curtis likes is called 'The Cube' and I took this photograph looking up its east side elevation.

22. The Mailbox has clearly not been a success retail wise. It has a number of 'levels', all lined with retail units, most empty, full of large posters telling of plans to give The Mailbox a new look for 2015. In truth, it is little more than a long walk-through, housing BBC offices and a mini-supermarket at the canal end, plus a few non-descript shops (or were they beauty parlours? I can't remember).

23. The eastern end of The Mailbox opens onto Queensway, the city centre ring-road. It is separated from the city centre proper by the ring-road and lots of high buildings which funnel wind and made the section to John Bright Street the most unpleasant on this walk, which by now had become random. Well, I had a destination in mind, as you will see a few photographs on.

24. This old corner building at the junction of John Bright Street and Lower Severn Street came a welcome relief. Too many modern tall buildings and you create a cityscape which pedestrians cannot relate to. There needs to be scale and I have no objection if new buildings provide this, but developers want to maximise their potential profits, so we have to rely on old buildings like this.

25. This old theatre has been turned into an Indian restaurant. I rather like its facade.

26. And this where I was leading Susan and Curtis. To the National Trust Back-to-backs on Hurst Street. Unfortunately, it was closed (they open Tuesday–Sunday), so it was all a bit disappointing. Susan and I had been at the opening a few years ago, when we used to publish Local History Magazine and we ran its opening as our cover story. 

27. Much of  'downtown' Birmingham is like this photograph I took of Pershore Street looking south. Ugly. Just loads of multi-storey car-parks and office blocks. Most of the buses are old and clapped out just like the one. It could be anywhere.

28. Just along Pershore Street, heading north towards the city centre again and you come to the Birmingham Bull Ring Indoor Market, which was not as busy as it was when I knew it best in the 1970s. The sign says it all. Hardly the best way to encourage visitors.

29. At the other end of the market, at the back of the Bull Ring, there were people playing ping-pong on concrete tables. This what I like to see.

30. Across from the Market we entered the Bull Ring Shopping Centre via its back door and was confronted with this glass atrium. The place was bustling, full of shoppers and very noisey. We made our way to the other end and stopped for tea in Selfridges and found the experience disappointing. On our first visit a few years ago, all the eateries were 'high-end', a bit more expensive than your average Costa of burger bar, but worth every penny. Not any more. The Victoria Centre in Nottingham does it just as well.

31. Out the other end of the Bull Ring and looking across Digbeth to Moor Street Station. We decided to cross over and have a look. The last we were there was years ago when they had re-opened the old railway tunnels linking the Moor street and Snow Hill stations to pedestrians for a Sunday before they put down the tracks and we walked through with Owen, Curtis's dad.

32. It was lovely. People passing through all the time, a bar cum coffee shop and it was all very relaxing. I could happily while away a day at Moor Street Station.

33. The writer in me saw great potential in the Station's impressive flower stall for stories about why people were buying flowers. Men with guilty secrets, hoping that the scent from a bunch of flowers would mask the perfume on their shirt from a afternoon assignation, or daughters trying to placate a mother in desperate need of attention. And did I see George buying flowers for John. In this day and age, quite possible.

34. It was time to move on, a bookshop beckoned and only ninety minutes left before Curtis was collected by his mum at six o'clock. New Street thronged as it always does. Once it would have been full of buses and pavements unable to cope. Pedestrianisation has made a great difference to all our town and city centres.

35. Waterstones Bookshop on New Street, where we parked ourselves for an hour. It no longer has a coffee shop, which is sad. It was alovely place to have coffee.

36. We ended our walk where we had started it seven hours earlier. Once Stephenson Place would also been full of buses and featured in an article I wrote for The (Birmingham) Journal in June 1974 called 'A Glimpse of Paradise' about my then (and still) favourite Birmingham bus route, the no.28. I those days it shared the street with buses I called 'The Lions in blue' which all headed out of the city to the Black Country towns of Dudley, West  Bromwich and Wolverhampton, all with several routes going to the same destination. Not any more. I really miss not seeing the buses down there.

And that was the end of our day in Birmingham, lots of talking, eating and walking in the company of a grandson who is a fine young man, able to talk about politics, architecture, Dr. Who and other sci-fi TV dramas (something both he and Susan enjoy).  For us, it was the 6.19pm back to Nottingham and home by 8pm.

Birmingham remains a special place and I love it dearly.