Sunday, 30 September 2012


After a couple of pretty idyllic days in Ann Arbor I was both looking forward to and also slightly nervous about going to Detroit proper,  From everything I'd read and from some of the conversations I've had I had developed a mental image of the City as some kind of western-Beirut.  Of course it wasn't going to be as bad as that but it's certainly a city with some real troubles.  

I headed off first thing on Saturday to the Eastern Market which is a Detroit institution.  I was interested to see that the majority of the customers there looked and sounded like they were relatively affluent suburban-ites rather than locals taking advantage of the incredible variety of (cheap) food that was available.  This kind of links to my earlier post today which talks about the concept of a Food Desert which may or may not exist in Detroit.  The food available look delicious and there were some great bargains to be had.  

After that I headed closer to the city centre and paid a visit to both the Detroit Institute of Arts and also the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.  The exhibits were ok if not hugely inspiring.  I liked a couple of bits in the DIA including some great murals of Detroit's industrial heritage which you can see some images of here.  

I then walked down Woodward Avenue into the city centre.  It was about 4 o'clock on a Saturday and part of where I was walking was the financial district, but the thing that struck me the most was the sheer emptiness of the place.  Of course there are the desolate and deserted housing blocks and the buildings that have been razed to the ground but more than that there was the fact that there were simply so few people around.  But other than that it was a pleasant enough city - I felt very safe and secure.  Feels odd that 30 or so years about the population would have been nearly double and presumably a much higher level of activity.  

Have been thinking about what else to do when I'm here - obviously the car manufacturing museums are on the list but also pondering the possibility of a trip either up to Lake Michigan or over to Canada. 


In the UK I'm a member of USDAW - the shopworkers' union.  So when I knew that I was coming to America I asked the team there to see what contacts they could get for me in the US union movement.  They put me in touch with the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers) union in Detroit, Seattle and Chicago.  I made an appointment in Detroit for 10am on the Friday on the basis that I was arriving in Detroit late afternoon on the Thursday.

What I hadn't banked on was the hilarious journey from Cincinnati to Detroit - what should have taken about 4 hours took over 12 featuring delayed then cancelled flights and my bag being delivered to a different terminal than the one I arrived in. Still, I got there in the end and was made very welcome by Janet and Jeff, my Servas hosts in Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor is a university town about 40 or so miles west of Detroit.  Janet in particular was a fount of knowledge about the area and things to do.  I went out for a drink with their son who is about my age and currently studying to be a lawyer at the university.  One of his friends is currently the deputy campaign manager for a candidate for the Michigan Supreme Court (we agreed that electing judges was a bit mad!).  The race has been enlivened by a campaign video made by the cast of The West Wing - you can see it here.

Tired and a bit dislocated I didn't really want to drive the 50 minutes to the UFCW Local 876 offices in Madison Heights (located north of the City).  But I'm really glad that I did - it was a fascinating morning.  I met with Rick Blocker, the Secretary-Treasurer and also Roger Robinson, President and their team and asked them for their views on the current political situation nationally and locally and what this means for their members.  They also took me out to lunch at a local restaurant which was beyond the call of duty.

A few thoughts / ideas from the discussions I thought worth capturing;
  • There's more to Detroit's current economic woes than just historical racial tensions and recent economic issues.  I had assumed that the City's decline had started back in the late 60s with the racially motivated riots and been compounded by gradual white-flight and then the issues with the auto manufacturers in the 2000s had been the final straw.  What I learnt from the team at the UFCW was the role of corruption ("graft") in the intervening years.  I'd not picked up on the multiple scandals involving ex-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick but it looks like he's culpable to a certain extent for the trouble that Detroit finds itself in now. 
  • There are huge powers available to the State Governor to appoint a 'Emergency Financial Manager' who can override any sort of negotiated agreement or contract with the Unions no matter how carefully negotiated or finely balanced to move forward to a balanced budget.  
  • Another Detroit Mayor, Coleman Young, as well as being responsible for the (slightly hilarious) People Mover seems to have been a driver for the White Flight out of the city (or at least not working to prevent it) back in the 1980s. 
  • We also talked a lot about the concept of a Food Desert in Detroit.  There are limited numbers of grocery stores in the City and that, coupled with a limited public transport network and a reliance on food stamps for food purchases means that the urban poor often end up eating junk food rather than nutritious sustenance.  
All-in a well-spent morning and one that has given me a useful context for my time in Detroit.  I'm planning on going back to meet the UFCW team again on Monday to see some of their work supporting Obama and fighting to protect the right of Collective Bargaining which is the subject of a ballot initiative in November - Proposition Two as outlined here

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

I'm delayed by about three hours leaving Cincinnati to get to Detroit via Chicago so thought I'd do a few lines reflecting on the baseball game I went to the other night.  
(I make no apologies for the hackneyed blog title.  I entered into the whole baseball experience fully embodying all the cliches available to me...)

I'd pre-ordered my ticket from the UK so picked it up from the box office the day before.  It didn't look like I needed to as the ground was only about 10% full at the start of the game.  I spent some time before going into the seating area checking out the stadium - it is absolutely massive and very impressive.  

I was prepared for some of the ceremonial stuff and enjoyed the fact that there were two ceremonial "first" pitches...

It wouldn't be an authentic baseball experience without some terrible mass-produced beer so I wandered down to the concession stands to see what was available.  I've become used at this stage for being asked for my ID all the time when buying alcohol and the production of my UK driving license usually confuses people (and not just because the photo makes me look like an axe-murderer...).  However, the reaction I got from the guy at the bar in the ballpark was the best yet.  He looked at me with total amazement and then said in a voice of wonder and curiosity, "You're from another country!?".  I didn't really know what to say to that other than confirm it and again ask for my beer.  He seemed in a daze for the rest of the transaction. 

The team mascot for the Reds made an appearance at this stage -  have fallen in love a little bit with 'Mr Redlegs' so it was good to see him in person...

At this point the national anthem was about to be sung and played - I was a bit conflicted about this moment - it's obviously not my national anthem so didn't quite know what to do.  However, when 18,000 people all stand up, put their hand on their hearts and sing along you don't stay sitting.  I have to say I felt a bit moved by it - we're not very good at that sort of collective public experience (Olympics aside) in the UK so I like that other countries can do it so easily. 

The game now started proper and I was pleased that I actually understood a good 70% of what was going on.  All the stats left me a bit confused but I basically understood what was happening and even predicted that one of the Milwaukee players was going to try to steal a base (unfortunately so did the pitcher and he was quickly out).  

The rest of the evening was enjoyable enough - but given that people say that a day out at a cricket test match is boring (I totally disagree) I wasn't totally enthralled by the play all the way through.  There was however loads of stuff going on around the ground and on the big screens - including: virtual three-card-monte to win Skyline Chili; a standing ovation given to an army veteran who was attending the game; a live "kiss-cam" where if the big screen camera focused on you you were obliged to kiss your partner and the 'seventh-innings-stretch'. 

Cincinnati easily won the game and showed no mercy to Milwaukee - there was no sportsmanship on display - booing the opposing team getting a run is apparently totally acceptable...

An authentic America experience ticked off the list.  Later in the trip I'm going to the Rice Owls play football in Houston - can't wait!  A few final photos of the view from the stadium.  

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

City of Contrasts

I've been in Cincy now for a couple of days and I've gone through a range of emotions about it.  The Monday morning (after the Oktoberfest admittedly) I was surprised at how quiet the city was - there was almost nothing going on for a Monday morning rush-hour - certainly compared with New York of course but even for a comparable UK city it was eerily still.  My earlier post covers some of what I did the rest of the day which certainly give me a different physical and social angle on the city.  I could definitely live in the Mt Adams area of the city

For yesterday I decided against my original plan of going to an outlet mall - I've already brought far too many clothes so decided I didn't really need any more - and planned on exploring more of the city.  I first went up the Carew Tower - a hidden gem if ever I saw one!  It was hard to find out how to actually get up the tower and I was somewhat sceptical of the rickety lift and handmade signs directing me up to the 49th floor.  On arrival and once I had paid the extortionate entrance fee of $2 the views from the blustery observation deck were fantastic.  An attraction that in any other city would be hugely publicised and probably be five times more expensive.  A couple of sample pictures.


It looks like a prosperous and thriving city which at times it certainly feels like but as you see below at other times it definitely doesn't!  There is an exhibition in the lobby of Carew Tower which gives a really interesting context to the building. The design is classic 1930s French Deco - which was trendy in the US for about 18 months.  The speed that the building was constructed at meant that it was the height of fashion for a very brief period of time.  The building has gone through a series of different uses and fortunes over the years but retains pretty much all of its charm and style - including some excellent glazed porcelain decorative arches from Rookwood Pottery - a company established in the city in the 19th Century and still trading (albeit with a number of different locations and owners over the years). 

I then decided to walk up to Findlay's Market in the north of the city.  Again a historic organisation (and a good place to get lunch) but I was also interested in seeing how the neighbourhood would change as I moved north of the city centre.  I wasn't disappointed.  From is a socially and racially mixed and fairly vibrant city centre I quickly moved into an almost exclusively Black neighbourhood and one that obviously is struggling.  Some obvious signs of decay and also something of a renaissance but at times it didn't feel like the best of places to be. 

This old pool hall has obviously seen better days...

And there are a number of 'missing' houses where there were obviously so decayed that they've had to be knocked down. 

The interesting thing is that on the wooden picket fence you can see in the photo there is a sign for the Cincinnati City Centre Development Corporation who are evidently working hard to transform the area. 

From a strict economic point-of-view of course, reducing your building and housing stock (especially when they are dilapidated) increases property values and encourages use of the neighbourhood in new ways.  The Development Corporation is based directly in this neighbourhood and surrounding their (pretty plush) offices there already seems to be some gentrification going on.  Their website here directly talks about land-banking and assembling plots for redevelopment.  Ed Glaeser talks very helpfully about this kind of regeneration activity in his book, 'Triumph of the City' and I've covered 'Planned Shrinkage' before along with my thoughts on Nottingham's own areas of urban decay.

The area I walked through (which I think is known as 'Over-The-Rhine' - Cincinnati has a large German population, dontchyaknow) could be great: some historic (and huge) buildings and great access to the city centre.  And various bodies are putting a lot of effort into trying to transform it.  I hope they're succesful. 

The Market itself was a little disappointing - very quiet and not a huge range of food on offer.  I even managed to resist the Belgian waffle stall...

The walk back brought me through Washington Park and the frankly incredible Music Hall.  Again, a clear influence from the German population in its architecture. 

Just so my day wasn't all architecture and urban regeneration I popped into Nicholson's Scottish (!) pub in the afternoon - it claims to be Cincinnati's first gastro-pub: a dubious claim to fame if ever there was one!  Some reasonable beers however. 

A pretty packed day and I still had the baseball game at the Great American Ball Park to come - a report on that later today I hope. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Queen of the Mid(West)lands

The Nottinghamians amongst people reading this will know that Nottingham is sometimes called 'The Queen of the Midlands'.  I learnt today that Cincinnati (finally cracked how to spell it!) is known as 'The Queen City'.  Tenuous nomenclature links aside, the cities are similar in population size (c. 300,000) but not a lot else - it's been a really interesting day or so exploring the city and drawing comparisons. 

I arrived late afternoon yesterday and popped out to the Oktoberfest.  I was intrigued to see what the American version of the German beerfest would look like.  It was a great show - a reasonable variety of beers, lots of food and a real family atmosphere.  The ratio of food and entertainment to beer was skewed to food rather than beer - and I'm not sure that Nottingham CAMRA would approve of Bud Light and Miller being included in a beer festival. I sampled a number of the local brews - including some from Samuel Adams, Great Lakes and Magic Hat.  As per my post here on beers, it was good to see some of the craft brewers in America getting out there and encouraging people to try their products - but the number of people still sticking to their traditional low-taste volume brews was a bit disappointing. 

Monday morning brought a slight hangover and also a meeting at Proctor & Gamble.  The buildings the company occupies really dominate the city centre as you can see in the below photo. 

I had arranged to meet FD Wilder, P&G's Vice President for Global Market Strategy and Planning.  I was a little nervous going in to visit someone so senior in such a huge organisation but FD was highly engaging and very generous with his time.  A really interesting discussion about how P&G's 'promote from within' culture both supports and can hinder their push for innovation and creative thinking plus some great details on how P&G engage with their host city.  

On the latter point FD was able to talk to me about how the company deliberately invested in downtown Cincinnati as an act of enlightened self-interest: back in the early 2000s the city was not in a great place, including some horrendous sounding riots and a significant level of white-flight to the suburbs.  This was causing recruitment problems for P&G as ambitious young graduates were not willing to move to the city.  I can confirm that just over 10 years later the city centre feels a million miles away from the events described above - I felt very safe and saw a variety of races and backgrounds mingling together. 

FD also gave me some really interesting perspective on both the Boots/Walgreens merger and also the global retail market (P&G see that there are 24m stores worldwide that sell products in categories they participate in; 6m of them they have a presence in but only c. 200,000 are part of a chain - the rest are 'mon-and-pop' independents, often in the developing world). Oh, and that Google have a model of a dinosaur at their Silicon Valley HQ - to remind everyone that works there that even the most innovative company can become obsolete if you don't guard against it. 

I came out of the offices to some welcome Midwestern sun (it had been very cold first thing) and decided to walk up from the city-centre to Mount Adams - the suburb of the city that overlooks the main city and hosts a number of artists and other creative types in some very desirable housing.  The climb was certainly a stiff one but the view was absolutely worth it, as were the couple of pints of Hop Bomber beer from Rivertown Brewery I had at the City View Tavern in Mt Adams. 

Just to be clear that I've not spent the whole time drinking, I also went over to the Cincinnati Reds stadium - the Great American Ballpark to pick up my ticket for the baseball game I'm going to see tomorrow evening.  Might have one or two pints at the game of course...

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Swing State Project

(The title is a reference to a now defunct website that was big back in 2004/8 for the Presidential Elections in the US - it's now part of Daily Kos which is still probably the best clearinghouse for American politics)

Today I'm leaving Connecticut after 4 days and heading to the Midwestern state of Ohio - a classic bellweather swing-state in American politics.  I'm excited to be heading into one of the centres of political action in America but also really sad to leave Connecticut.  It's an incredibly beautiful state and one that I feel I've barely scraped the surface of.  As outlined in my post the other day, part of it are essentially commuter-belt for New York but where I was staying in Glastonbury, near Hartford, it's lush and verdant and felt like a place I could easily live. 

I headed off early this morning to get to Providence airport and was very glad to hand back the enormo-car that I've been driving the last four days.  Given I hadn't planned to do that much driving on this trip I'm a bit frustrated that I've covered 700 miles in those four days.  Some of that was necessary trips to and from the airport, but I also made an unplanned trip back to NYC (necessitating a drive to New Haven to catch the commuter train) and then a 6 hours round-trip to New Jersey (more on that below).  Still, at least I've seen some of the country!

I've been staying the last few days with Michele and her husband Gary via Servas.  Gary works as lawyer and Michele is part of an organisation fighting for access to healthcare for all residents of Connecticut.  It was fascinating to hear about the challenges of healthcare for Americans first-hand.  For example, Michele and Gary's family pay around $800 a month for healthcare insurance but even that hasn't saved them from around $12,000 in un-insured costs so far this year.  It puts any gripes we might have the NHS into real perspective.  Michele and Gary and their two children (Garrison and Vivian) were excellent hosts and I really felt lucky to be able to spend some time with them in their home.  I'm only sorry that I had two very early starts and finishes when I was there so didn't get to spend much time with them.  

The trip to New Jersey was set up for me by the Boots USA to meet one of the Regional Managers for the products that we have in Target stores here in the US.  Rachel was a great host and very tolerant of me being over an hour late for our meeting.  (The journey should have taken two hours and took four and quarter in the end thanks to an accident and then roadworks.  Not fun).  We took in a couple of Target stores and also visited Ulta and a CVS pharmacy.  It was odd to see such familiar brands as No7 and Botanics on the shelves in a country thousands of miles away from their home but it was heartening to see women responding to the brands in much the same way as they do in the UK (see my thoughts here on that).  It was also great to spend some time getting to know Target as a retail organisation.  I hadn't realised that they also sold normal groceries and were also branching out into some high-end electronics and other equipment.  

Some photos of one of the Targets - some ideas for the Baby team back in D90 I hope.  

The thing I found hardest to enjoy was the physical layout and transport we had to navigate.  As discussed here, I think that transport defines a place for its residents and the way that the transport options (or lack of) defined this part of New Jersey wasn't to my taste.  Two things that really resonated for me;
  1. There's no defined centre of anywhere - it's strip mall followed by strip mall with a short drive to the next strip-mall.  One of the places we went was actually called, 'Bergen Town Centre' but is obviously wasn't the centre of anything - a very dislocating experience.  
  2. People too the driving to ludicrous extremes - we got into the car at one point to go to the next store and I thought we were going up the road for a while.  Nope - we drove a total of 300 metres to the next shop and parked up again.  It look longer than walking would have done!  Insane.  And don't get me started on the drive-through cash-machines and off-licenses!
So I was glad to get back in the car (I appreciate the irony) and return to rural Connecticut.  I'm writing this in Providence airport waiting for my flight to Cincinnati where I'm looking forward to experiencing an American Oktoberfest, taking in a baseball game and also meeting with colleagues from P&G who are a major employment presence in the city

Friday, 21 September 2012

Tri-State Area

When I was in Norwalk, CT with the Boots team this week the people I were speaking to all kept referring to 'the City'.  I was confused by what they meant so in the end I asked.  Turns out they were referring to New York.  Geographically I guess that makes sense as it's only 50miles and an hour by train to get there but I hadn't really clocked that residents/workers in this area would look to New York as their major city.  It makes loads more sense when you look at it on the map.  I mentioned this at another meeting I was in today and this then led to a discussion of the 'Tri-State Area' - ie NY, CT and NJ - and how most of these areas look to New York as their centre.  An interesting summary of this here.  Again, makes loads of sense when you think about it but it reminded me of my blog on the boundaries of Nottingham and how boundaries influence policy and peoples' perceptions of where they live.  I guess I'm grasping at something close to a 'travel-to-work' area which is used a fair bit in the UK.  

This all became very relevent for me today (Friday) as I needed to go back into New York from where I am staying in rural Connecticut for a meeting.  This involved a pretty early start and a drive to New Haven, CT (45mins) to catch the train (90mins+) into New York's Grand Central Terminal.  From the people I've spoken to this isn't an unusual commute and the fact that the Dunkin' Donuts (love!) concession was open from 4am at New Haven station probably confirms this!  

Somewhat bleary eyed I made it to Vanderbilt Avenue, just next to Grand Central for a meeting at the New York offices of British America Business.  This is a non-profit organisation designed to foster positive business relations for UK companies operating in the US (and vice-versa for the UK offices on Brook Street in London).  The meeting was really interesting - it's an organisation I've not heard of before but they were able to engage with me about the sort of challenges that UK businesses face when setting up in the US and also had some interesting context on what New York in particular is doing to attract start-up technology companies (trying to lure them away from Silicon Valley is a big challenge!).  

A good discussion but then I had to get back on the train back to New Haven and then drive back to where I'm staying.  Tiring - don't think I could do that every day!

The saving grace was again the hugely warm welcome from my Servas hosts and the view below from the balcony of their very comfortable house.  

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Boots USA

I've spent the day with the Boots USA team - these are the guys that are charged with distributing and marketing certain Boots branded products in the US - products like No7, Botanics, Expert and Extracts.  They're based in Norwalk, CT so I jumped into my enormous minivan hire-car this morning just before 8am to do the 90 minute drive down. 

I stayed last night with a great family in South Glastonbury in rural Connecticut.  I found this place to stay through
Servas (you can read a bit more about this at my previous post - A Place To Lay My Head).  Lisa and Wayne are my hosts along with their teenage son, Noah.  They are so warm and welcoming, I couldn't have asked for more from them.  A great chat over dinner and bottle of wine about the latest political happenings in the Presidential race (Romney's "47% comment" is getting a lot of play here - I wonder if it is in the UK?).  

Anyway, the day with the US Boots team was incredibly inspiring.  I met pretty much the whole team (which is only perhaps a dozen strong) and I was really impressed with the way that they represent the Boots brand so passionately and clearly when they're based thousands of miles away from Nottingham and the home of the brand.  A few randoms thoughts that I jotted down during the day;

  1. If you've got a brand that is truly customer-centric then it can easily cross borders - womens' beauty needs are pretty universal
  2. The passion that I saw came from experiencing the using the products - none of the people I spoke to knew about Boots before they started working here but could all talk from the heart about how great the products were and how important the trust and heritage that the Boots brand represents are.  
  3. Someone said to me before I came on this trip that the American people are generally, 'hard-wired to help' and I really experienced that today - a whole fay of meetings and interactions set up for someone they'd never met before and who they had no expectation of anything back in return.  
The US focused website is here - gives a good flavour of the way that the UK marketing materials are translated to a similar but different audience.  

The driving to get to and from Norwalk was OK - the minivan I'm driving hasn't got a blind-spot so much as a blind-entire-side: you have to crane your neck into the most ridiculous contortions to make sure you're not about to side-swipe someone when changing lanes.  That aside and some brief slightly sticky traffic it was pretty smooth.  

I'm back to NYC tomorrow for a meeting with The British-American Business Council which should be interesting.  If I've got time I will pop into the New York Public Library which was closed at the weekend when I was in the city. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Kayaking with FDR's Grandson

When I first applied to the Nottingham Roosevelt Travelling Scholarship I imagined that I would have some interesting experiences.  Well, kayaking down a river in Massachusetts with the grandson of President Franklin Roosevelt is done and in the bag...

I'm staying with Haven Roosevelt and his wife, Bunny in their holiday home in Dartmouth, Massachusetts.  It's a beautiful part of the world with a pristine beach and fantastic scenery for miles around.   The neighbours are all pretty much just summer residents with the exception of one couple who live here year round.  I would live here forever if I had the chance!  

Haven is a very keen kayaker (makes his own boats) and I asked if he would be able to take me out for a trip. Based on having been kayaking once about 15 years ago I was a little nervous but it went ok.  We did about an hour on the Slocum River which is tidal and opens out into the Atlantic quickly enough - we didn't go that far!  The houses that line the riverbank are enormous - a real ostentatious display of wealth in some cases I'm sure.  We also saw lots of great wildlife - kingfishers, herons, turkey buzzard and ospreys amongst others.  

Other things of note is the huge number of Scott Brown vs Elizabeth Warren lawn-signs, TV adverts and radio spots advocating one side or another in a very competitive Senate race here in MA.  Warren has pulled ahead of Brown in the latest polling so fingers crossed that that continues through to Polling Day.  I'm loving be in the middle of the election campaign (and pleased that Obama looks like he's pulling ahead) - it's so much better experiencing it live, first-hand and reading papers like the New York Times to see how it's being covered. 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Leaving New York

I'm writing this in the Amtrak waiting room at Penn Station in New York. waiting for my train to Providence where I'm meeting Haven Roosevelt to stay with him and his wife for a couple of days.  I've absolutely loved New York - I was fully prepared to be a blase about it (having been a couple of times before) but I fell in love all over again.  

The pace, energy and vibrancy go without saying but I've also been surprised by the feeling of some of the places outside of the main centre - the brownstones in the West Village / Meatpacking District where I stayed the last two days are as attractive as they are portrayed in films but also have a peace about them that is a huge contrast to the bedlam of places like Times Square.  I went up to the top of the Rockefeller Centre yesterday morning and yes, it was early on Sunday morning but the thing I was most struck by was how quiet it was.  The views were of course stupendous but I also hung around for an hour or so up there reading my book (the absolutely brilliant 'This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You' by Nottingham (and Lincolnshire) author Jon McGregor) and things felt very peaceful despite being right in the centre of a huge city.  

Amongst other things I popped over to the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market which looked like it was going to be a disappointment until I got to the very last stall and found a collection of lead movable type of the sort that I've been looking for for ages.  There were several complete alphabets available and were it not for the fact that I'd have to had carried them around for the next two months I would have bought them all.  Instead I restricted myself to just a handful of letters - a bargain at $1 a piece.   

Also went to the 9/11 Memorial over at the site of the World Trade Centre attacks.  Wasn't quite sure how to feel about this and looked like most the people there were similarly conflicted - it wasn't clear if people felt they should be reverential or celebratory - there was a strange mix of silent contemplation and people posing for grinning tourist snaps.  Either way the memorial itself was very impressive - the huge metal blocks with the names of every victim carved into them line two huge pools of water on the exact location of the Twin Towers.  

I'm sad to be leaving NY but looking forward to exploring some of New England and meeting with the Boots USA team later this week in Norwalk, CT. 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Early Night In The City That Never Sleeps

After only the briefest of "christ, what have I done" moments I made it to Heathrow for 7.30 this morning and then through to JFK with relative ease.  Even my great unspoken fear of being turned away from immigration because my passport photo looks nothing like me (think: much fatter, shorter hair, glasses...) proved to be unfounded.  The security procedures at immigration are impressive - electronic fingerprinting plus a photograph ("smile for Obama" the officer told me.  This caused me to ask him what he thought of Obama vs Romney.  Unimpressed is probably the most family-friendly summary...). 

The AirTrain from JFK is very efficient and I made it through to my hotel quite a bit quicker than I thought I would. I took the opportunity to go and check out The High Line - and I wasn't disappointed.  It's an elevated strip park created on the raised bed of an old railway and it's a real accomplishment.  Loads of people strolling in the late afternoon sun, eating, drinking, reading and seeing their city from a different angle.  The photo above is from an art installation (of which there are a number along the way) called 'The River That Flows Both Ways' by Spencer Finch.  It an attempt to represent the many colours that the river water will go through as it flows.  It's absolutely stunning with the sun shining through it - my photo doesn't even come close to doing it justice.  

I like the idea of old industrial heritage being re-purposed and it looks as if High Line is genuinely regenerating this old transport corridor too - all the flats and apartments along the way were boasting of their proximity to the park so it must be a draw.  I think also there's a certain neatness about what was a core piece of industrial infrastructure (a primary industry) now becoming a part of the leisure industry (a tertiary industry) - it's not great that manufacturing and industrial jobs have more or less left the area but the shift to the service economy is a fact of life so it's a neat enough switch.  

A quick pint of Hurricane Kitty IPA (can still taste the hops!) and I decided to pop over to the New York Public Library.  I had been feeling quite smug about my transport success so far - no issues coming from JFK and then walking around the Meatpacking District I'd not got lost either.  So obviously when I needed to get somewhere on a deadline before it closed it would all go wrong.  I now know why the New York Subway has such a reputation for being confusing!  Got there in the end but meant that I couldn't go inside which was annoying but still worth seeing from the outside.  

Very tired as it's been a long day so going to sign off now - tomorrow I'm off to Top Of The Rock and the 9/11 Memorial

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Photos of Nottingham

As I posted earlier in the week, I've taken some shots of Nottingham to share with people that I meet in America to give them a sense of where I live.  I haven't properly sorted them out yet, but thought I'd post some of my faves here.  It’s a tough job – I know that people will want to know about my city but I could go on about for hours so wanted to just have a handful of images that capture the sense of the place.  And I tried not to be all trendier-than-thou about it by only including my favourite obscure places, there’s room for the Council House Lions and the Robin Hood statue in this collection! 

I remember when this noticeboard and sign went up people came up to me and asked what the point was, it'll get vandalised within a week.  I'm really proud of the fact that it's still there, undamaged after nearly two years. 

This is Woodthorpe Park - a great green space near to where I live - it's well used and loved by joggers and dog walkers alike and has two great features - a 18 hole pitch-and-putt course and a cafe run as a social enterprise by Framework, the homelessness charity.  

The Lions by the Council House are such an iconic part of Nottingham - I love the lore and tradition that's attached to meeting at the 'Left Lion' - so much so that Nottingham's great free listing paper is named after it and someone's even set up a twitter account for his neglected mate.  

Nottingham's history and heritage as a lace manufacturing city talks to my 'Company Towns' research theme and I always enjoy taking people to walk down Broadway in the historic Lace Market area.  There are some great explanatory plaques there and the contrast between a quiet Sunday morning and a buzzing Friday night is one to be seen to be believed!  

Finally a quick shot from the balcony of the Castle - how green does the city look from here! 

Sunday, 9 September 2012


Despite doing my usual thing and totally forgetting about Heritage Open Weekend I’ve had a brilliant final weekend in Nottingham.  At the Roosevelt Scholarship Annual Dinner back in June I was blown away by one of the previous scholars, Deborah Stevenson and her presentation on her time taking street poetry around America.  One thing that she said that really stuck in my mind was the exhortation to, “be a tourist in your own city”.  I took this to heart this weekend and tried to look at the city with the eyes of a stranger.  It was helped by it being a gorgeous late summer day but I was reminded by all the great things that this city has to offer and what I’m going to miss whilst I’m away.  I also took the opportunity to take some photos to show people that I’ll be staying with to share some of what Nottingham is like. 

Stuff that I’m blasé about and take for granted are cast in a different light when you see them for the first time, so I made sure that I captured some things like the Council House and Market Square, some of my favourite Watson Fothergill buildings, the Robin Hood statue, The Olde Trip to Jerusalem etc etc.  I’ll post some of the shots I took later in the week once I’ve had a chance to sort them out. 

But it was the time that I spent just after breakfast on Saturday around Sherwood where I live that I enjoyed the most – it’s a great neighbourhood that I love living in (and am proud to represent).  I popped into Woodthorpe Park and could barely move for joggers and dog-walkers taking advantage of the early morning sun.  I also got a bit sentimental at seeing a father facing into that rite-of-passage by teaching his son how to ride a bike – I remember those sessions with my dad in the back garden when I was growing up and love anyone being introduced to the freedom and health benefits of being a regular cyclist.  

I’m writing this with the sun on my back sitting out on the terrace at Sherwood’s newest eating venue – Kiosk.  Tucked away on the street corner at the end of my road it opens up into a surprisingly large space and the food is excellent.  I had a Mexican themed breakfast of hash browns, spicy egg, refried beans and flat bread – a total bargain for £5. 

But I’ve got to get back home shortly and face into the final preparations – think I’ll do a dry-run of packing today so that I avoid the last minute job that I specialise in which usually involves forgetting various critical items of clothing (like trousers).