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Category Archives: Nottingham

Tourist Misinformation

It’s Good Friday, and thousands are in the centre of Nottingham soaking up the Spring sunshine, making the most of the holiday atmosphere in our wonderful shops, bars and restuarants. What’s not to like?

Well, for the two couples I spotted outside the city’s Tourist Information Centre, it’s more a case of what is to like, because as Easter (and arguably, the core visitor season) gets into full swing, the doors of the TIC are locked. As they will be on Easter Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday. You couldn’t make it up.

  
The first couple I meet are from Wales, and are studying the “Welcome to Nottingham” map. “You are here,” observes the man. “But where is here exactly?” Thanks to its medieval roots, Nottingham doesn’t have a convenient grid system of streets. Roads wind and merge into Old Market Square, where a few finger posts suggest routes to other attractions. But if you’re here on a Bank Holiday, the Information Centre remains closed. So why?

In days gone by, when Robin Hood wasn’t a dirty word, facilities were provided by the City Council. But some years ago both the city and county authorities put all of their tourism eggs into one basket, funding the much heralded visitor company Experience Nottinghamshire. It didn’t exactly start well. The firm controversially spent money developing a new logo, which became known as the “Wonky N”. This was soon dropped for another emblem, but not a mention of Robin Hood. 

That was eight years ago. Today the City Council put £250k into Experience Nottingnamshire annually, with the county contributing just short of £120k. The company prides itself on bringing in visitors from outside the county, and beyond the UK. And you can’t fault glitzy marketing campaigns like this one seen on the London Underground.

  
So why, then, are those making the trip here met with locked doors on a holiday? There is simply no excuse. And another thing – the only attractions and accommodation you’ll ever see featured on EN’s website are those that pay a membership fee.

What’s more, Experience Nottinghamshire is itself getting a rebrand and expanding its remit as a “Place Marketing Organisation”. A council report suggests that our local authorities will pump in £1 million per year over the next three years. Along with tourism, the new company will be resposible for attracting conferences and exhibitions.

It saddens me as a resident and taxpayers that my home city – a place I dearly love – can’t seem to get the basics right on this one. The new, larger organisation will inevitably eat up more money. One of the greatest “triumphs” – according to an Experience Nottinghamshire document – was the “sold out” Ashes Test at Trent Bridge. Did we really need to spend half a million to achieve that? I think not.

It’s time to make things simple again. Robin Hood at the heart of everything, fewer noses in troughs, and a tourist information centre which is actually open when the tourists are here.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2016 in Nottingham, Travel Stuff

 

Bus-ted

2014. The year when I’m trying to fool myself that I’m getting fitter. No, seriously, I am. I’ve started walking to work most days. Well, when I’m on a day shift, that is. And only to work. Because I’m fundamentally a bit lazy and don’t like hills much, I get the bus home.

But travel, by whatever means, broadens the mind. And it’s got me thinking recently about how Nottingham is a modern day Tale of Two Cities when it comes to public transport. I should emphasise that these are strictly my own views.

The current tram works in Nottingham have brought about certain challenges for bus operators. Okay, that’s a vast understatement, as any road commuter travelling south or west of the city will testify. Because at the moment, it doesn’t matter whether you’re on public or private transport. On many days, you’re screwed.

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This evening’s journey was particularly interesting. Because of the football, inbound traffic was as snarled up as much as that going outbound. Anyone taking a bus west was going to have to wait a lot longer. And then – not for the first time – there was reason to smile when the Trent Barton Indigo finally pulled up at the Broadmarsh bus station. One driver got off, a waiting driver got on, and declared “free rides!”. This extended to anyone getting on at a city centre stop.

Of course, technically, Trent Barton could be hauled before the Traffic Commissioner for failing to keep services to time (although exceptional traffic is always a reasonable defence). And as a regular passenger, you might well think “I should bloody well hope it’s free. I’m entitled to it!” But here’s the thing. This bus company hasn’t won multiple customer service awards for nothing. Despite being late, stressed and probably as hacked off as the passengers, the drivers are always polite. There’s always a “hello” or a smile. Every time.

And if you’re not using a smart card, there’s always change.

Contrast this with Nottingham City Transport. Customers contacting NCT by Twitter always get a prompt reply, but it’s often putting further barriers in the way. Literally. Someone asked last week why their drivers couldn’t be as friendly as Trent Barton’s. The response (paraphrased) – they should be polite and please tell us if they aren’t. But (and get this) the Perspex screens often create a barrier to communication. What? They stop you smiling?

Of course, much of the perceived dourness comes through the insistence of using exact change. And NCT aren’t shifting on that, no way sir. Again, a recent Twitter conversation gleaned just about every excuse, including (paraphrased again) – we run more frequent services and it allows us to load passengers on more quickly.

Really?

Well, I guess there’s some truth to that. A double decker holds more than a single decker. And if you promise a service every 6 minutes at peak time you have to shift the bodies as fast as you can. But should this be at the expense of basic politeness – or the courtesy of drivers handling cash? Yes, it’s true to say that many cities have similar, unfriendly arrangements – London being a notable example. But why does that mean that Nottingham must follow suit?

The irony of the current commuting frustration is that Trent Barton are inadvertently part of the problem. It’s part of the consortium building the tram extension – so I guess the free rides are almost a form of social compensation for the passengers. You could argue that City Transport have no such incentive. It’s also true to say that NCT largely runs a very efficient service with one of the most modern fleets on the road.

But their drivers could smile. Just occasionally. And maybe offer a free ride.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2014 in Nottingham, Travel Stuff

 

There Goes The Neighbourhood

It’s hard to believe, but I’m about to enter my tenth year living in Raleigh Square. It can’t be that bad then. There’ve been lots of changes down the years, but one thing has remained a constant in my life. Or rather it did until it suddenly closed down.

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The Sir John Borlase Warren was, for many years, a main fixture on the Canning Circus pub trail. In fact, for much of the past decade it was arguably the best fixture on the trail. Great beers, a huge garden with decking and greenery which defied the traffic and generally a bloody good atmosphere.

So when I saw the place plunged into darkness at the back end of Christmas, I didn’t think too much of it. Everyone deserves a holiday. But when it was still closed after New Year, my worst fears were realised. The Sir John was gone.

You see, to me it’s more than just a great pub. It’s a decade of great memories for me. In the summertime the place was often a second home. Sunning yourself on the deck at 4pm was an ideal start to a Friday evening. And Sundays. Well, Sundays were so special that me and my mates invented a special drinking club. Which is so special I can’t elaborate any further.

The Sir John was the place where we played one of the shortest ever games of Monopoly. Partly because half the pieces were missing and partly because one of my pals threw a strop, and the board, all over the sofa. It was the place where we rewrote Katie Melua’s classic song to read “Q Is The International Symbol For Pork Scratchings, And That’s a Fact.” It was also the place where the aforementioned bar snacks were the perfect way of shifting vegans from the comfy sofas.

So what went wrong?

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Well in the words of a fellow hack : “The neighbourhood got better. It didn’t”

Simplistic, but true. But also perhaps a sign that the locals didn’t look after their lovely pub when the last management stopped looking after them.

The Sir John was historically run by a landlord who knew his stuff. He refused to stock alcopops, but he also refused to stock fizzy keg bitter. The brewery delivered some anyway, and asked why the following week he’d sold none. “Because my customers won’t drink it.” And he was right. He was backed by a cast of regulars behind the bar, who gained loving nicknames like “The Happy Goth” and “Pedantic” – who would not only offer you a slice of three different fruits in your G and T, but a choice of ice from the Arctic or Antarctic. It was that level of detail which kept the crowds coming.

But Graham left, to be replaced by a succession of managers who tried so desperately to reinvent the wheel, that the wheels eventually fell off. The garden was unloved, the lights were rarely dimmed. Worst of all, the beer tasted a bit off at times.

Coupled with the arrival of The Hand and Heart on Derby Road and the Organ Grinder on Alfreton Road, the Sir John didn’t stand a chance because it couldn’t stand still.

The owners, Everards, are promising a temporary manager imminently, and have advertised the lease, which at least shows some long term commitment. But what it’ll really require is commitment from the community – students and professionals alike – to start supporting what should be the best pub in town.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2013 in Nottingham, Travel Stuff

 

A Ropey Encounter

One of my favourite films of all time is Anchorman. It wasn’t ground breaking. It had no outstanding sound effects. No evocative storyline. But it did contain the unforgettable line from weatherman Brick Tamland : “I love lamp”.

Although to be fair, I first said it in The Ropewalk two full years beforehand.

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The futuristic, silver lamp was one of the bar’s original fixtures and fittings. And it’s still there today (look closely at the right hand side of the picture). Every time I see it, I’m instantly transported to days and nights of japes and drinking that would make Ron Burgandy and his team seem like a bunch of wimps.

I even plotted to steal it, concealed beneath a giant coat. This was in between such fun games as “vandalise the Boggle”, “attach the clipboard to your earlobe”, “erase letters from the wine list blackboard to create rude words” and “attempt to tie two Kettle Chips bags into a perfect knot, with no holes.” Yeah. We knew how to live.

It’s amazing what a simple bit of furniture can do. But that was the Ropewalk back in 2004. Transformed from its former life as a yellow-clad “Scream” student bar, the Ropewalk suddenly became, well, rather quite good. Run by managers who knew their audience, this was the place for a decent pint, a cheap bite, some indie/retro music at an acceptable level and some great views from the giant windows over the vista of Canning Circus.

Fast forward eight years, and the Ropewalk has hit one of those reality check moments. Around a year ago there was a decent selection of well kept real ales to compliment the mix of Carling, Amstel and Peroni. These days, you’re lucky to find one drinkable brew on sale. In fact, a recent visit disappointed to the point that even the Guinness had to be sent back. Twice.

Not even everlasting mysteries like “the permanently flooded gents” or the “what the hell is that smell anyway” retain their original charm.

The Ropewalk was once a funeral parlour. Perhaps a theme bar could be the only way forward.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2012 in Nottingham, Travel Stuff