Tips for Travellers: GB Cafe and Restaurant, Nottingham

GB in name, Great Breakfasts and more besides in nature.

The concept of Great Britain or GB in these Brexit fuelled times can be a particularly contentious one for many people, opening up as it does questions of nationality, culture and identity. There’s nothing quite like debates about food and who eats what and why and when. What we don’t eat exercises us as much as what we do.

The beauty of the GB cafe in Sneinton Market is its tolerance for a wide selection of tastes. It has a diverse offer of meals at some very satisfying prices and in an atmosphere which is warm and welcoming, if not a little heavy on the GB theme. Big pictures of London are all very well in London, but in Nottingham it would be great to see something a bit more of a Nottingham focus – which isn’t about Robin Hood.

But it’s a real find down in the up and coming Sneinton Market area and something to visit at any time of day.

Tips for Travellers: Epoca Restaurant, Craiova, Romania

If you’re staying locally in a hotel which will remain un-named at the moment, you will soon get fed up with their potential promises of restaurant food and head off to an actual restaurant which actually serves real, high quality dinner where the promise of potential is not only reached but surpassed.

This is a superlative dining experience, made even better by the waiter’s introduction of their home made Țuică (Romanian Rakia) – a pure pleasure.

A colleague and I braved the wintry conditions (minus 15 degrees and a biting wind) to find Epoca and we didn’t regret it for one minute. The only regret was the thought of returning to the un-named hotel which promised so much potential but delivered so little on the actuality front.

Tips for Travellers: Hotel Plaza and Restaurant, Craiova, Romania

.. as it hides a myriad of sins. The Hotel Restaurant Plaza has an impressive front and beneficial location. It has a hard working staff and a large spacious restaurant in which you might imagine all kinds of wonderful meals would be served up. Its bedrooms are warm; its shower-rooms come equipped with everything you think you might need for a comfortable stay. “It has potential!” as an estate agent might say when they show you a dilapidated town house whose ceiling is falling in and whose water pipes refuse to stop clanging when you turn the water off.

However, the Hotel Plaza’s reality has a long way to go before it meets its potential.

True, its front is impressive: but it is just that, front and nothing behind it. Seriously, hardly anything. True, its staff are very hardworking: they have to be as there only ever seem to be two of them on duty and they’re rushed off their feet most of the time, tending to several different duties all at once.

Breakfast is a variable experience and a bit of a lottery: one morning there’s a bit of cooked food which is over an hour old and no-one to serve anything else; the next morning the breakfast is much busier and staff who are only too happy to help and get you anything you need.

On the last night of my stay, our work group saw one poor member of staff taking food orders, drink orders, rushing in and out of the kitchen, back to the reception, back to the bar, and probably all points in between trying to find a cork screw. She found one eventually but it took a while. As did my meal, which, by the time it had arrived, was over cooked yet cold and consequently inedible.

True, the shower-room is decently equipped: but it takes for ever to get a decent running shower, by which time this traveller had to give up as he had a schedule to meet and hanging around for the shower to make up its mind and fulfil its potential was no longer an option.

Potentially, this hotel could be a real asset to the city of Craiova but with one member of staff openly admitting that she had no idea why people would visit the City, let alone the hotel, there’s a long way to go before the hotel can consider itself on the assets side of the cultural balance sheet.

The hotel management need to take a long hard look at how to invest in their staff and premises: otherwise that impressive front will soon falter as other more attuned hotels offer what customers actually need, not the promise of its potential at some time in the future.

Tips for Travellers: what’s for breakfast at Gray’s, Leicester?

What’s for breakfast?
Tea and toast? Well…
Fry up? Er…
Organic muesli and yoghurt? Hmm.. not sure.

All of the above plus lavish helpings of the most idiosyncratic contemporary music around complete with references to Delia Derbyshire, Kevin Coyne, Flaming Lips and all points bezerk? Ah yes, that’s for me, definitely.

If you’re one of those people who need an aural fix in the morning alongside their habitual brew, then Gray’s is for you. Snuck in off one of the main precinct streets in the City of Leicester, right in the heart of its cultural quarter, Gray’s is open from 8.30 and is guaranteed to open up your sound and taste buds from the off and get you in the swing for the day.

It’s a heartening change to the diet of greasy spoons and predictable chains that are scattered through the rest of the city and consequently is one of those businesses which defines Leicester’s character. And you get a decent bacon barm into the bargain.

Can we provide an excellent cultural education without involving schools?

As Nigel Molesworth might have said in Back in the Jug Agane ‘any fule kno’ that trying to involve schools in anything but their core business of delivering the national curriculum like milkmen used to deliver the daily pinta, teaching to the test, climbing up the league tables, providing full wrap around care 247, being the complete corporate parent, struggling to make their budgets balance, and avoiding, adapting or falling for the next policy imperative is a pointless task these days as they’re pretty busy already. Never-mind adding in things like additional sport, additional support, additional lunchtimes and additional adding up sessions. No wonder there’s no room in the school timetable for anything remotely cultural.

Most arts organisations experience schools ultra-busy business with something approaching despair which sometimes gets transformed into some ingenious ruse designed to get an artist in front of some youth come hell or high water.

But it’s no longer enough for a theatre company to promote themselves as having a riveting production of Pirandello’s 6 Characters in Search of an Author which all young people should experience before their hormones kick in. These days, any theatre director who wants to introduce young people to the work of Pirandello and simultaneously demonstrate their cultural education credentials, has to ensure their production of Six Characters in Search of an Author isn’t just a riveting theatrical experience, but that it meets many different curriculum objectives not only in literacy but also in numeracy, bio-physics and what was fondly called back in the day, domestic science aka cooking and ironing.

Not only that, but the riveting theatrical experience will probably have to accommodate a sponsored trampoline bounce half way through act one in order to generate the funds to pay the costs for the aforesaid riveting theatrical experience.

Budgets being what they are, schools can’t even begin to think about taking their charges out of school to experience riveting theatrical experiences in their natural homes i.e. theatres, let alone invest in the military logistics required to bring the outside world through the hallowed gates, hostile gatekeepers, barbed wire and booby traps that await any unsuspecting AOTs (adult other than teachers) who find themselves on school premises harbouring the delusion that a school might be delighted to have a theatre company join them for the day to help engage and shape the lives of the young people in front of them.

No, these days, the notion that a quality cultural education should be left to schools is something that has been well and truly buried by an age of austerity, academisation and neo-liberal accountability which knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

The sooner our producers of Pirandello realise this and generate some other ways to engage with the cultural life of the child, the happier they and our young people will be. Schools will also be relieved to get on with their core business of implementing government policy and will be much the better for it.

Tips for Travellers: how to capture your intimate moments

Capturing trains kissing is a precarious business. Watching it happen is all very well but if you’re a certain type of enthusiast, you want to share that moment with your peers, if not your nearest and dearest who may just look at you with that upturned eyebrow that interrogates you: just why would you want to?

Sharing will inevitably mean capturing the moment and this will involve a camera which has the facility to take short busts of images in a mini movie moment. Trouble is, there’s no guarantee you can capture the exact kissing moment if you randomly strike a pose on a platform and point and shoot.

More often than not, you’re going to get the pre-coital or post-coital kissing moment – and not the moment itself. To get the exact moment, you’ll need to know the net rate of approach of the trains (particularly complicated if one is decelerating whilst the others accelerating), the image capture rate of your camera and factor in the time at which you lift your camera to shoot. If you knew all these things, chances are you’d get the exact kissing coital moment.

The great unknown in all this though is the effect that the train timetable has on your calculations. It’s all very well knowing the net rate of approach if the trains are doing what they’re supposed to. But we’ve known since 1830 and the launch of the first intercity train between Liverpool and Manchester that the lack of punctuality is built into the rail network’s DNA – a late train is a normal train and the extent of that lateness is always 100% unpredictable.

So, for all your calculations of rate of approach, shutter speed and platform position designed to give you the optimum chance of capturing the coital train kissing moment, the behaviour of trains and the railways will always thwart your best intention. You may just as well curl up with that pre or post coital cigarette in resignation rather than stress out at your inability to capture the moment two trains kiss.

Tips for Travellers: find your train’s kissing point.

Train enthusiasts frequently get a bad press given their perceived tendency to loiter on railway platforms, camera in one hand, thermos in the other; but what the un-enthusiastic don’t know about the enthusiast is their ability to understand train behaviour in ways in which ordinary Joe or Josephine Commuter never sees in their normal hustle and bustle to work and all stations to Bletchley. Take a train’s kissing point for example.

A train’s kissing point is when two trains pass each other and their noses almost – but don’t actually – touch. You can see the kissing point best at railway stations when two trains travelling in opposite directions are scheduled to arrive at more or less the same time. If the northbound train arrives slightly ahead of the southbound train then the kissing point is towards the north end of the station, and vica versa if the southbound train is first.

If they’re timetabled to arrive simultaneously then the kissing point is around the central point of the platforms.  Most frequently kissing points occur at the end of platforms, hence the location of the enthusiast there, camera in one hand, thermos in the other.

If you’ve not had the chance to see two trains kiss then you should find the time and enjoy what enthusiasts have known for nearly 200 years: there’s nothing as romantic as watching two trains approach each other, giving the impression initially that they’re about to crash into each other, only for them to gently glide by each other, having exchanged a tender kiss in the process.

This is why you hardly ever see enthusiasts at the side of the railway track deep in the remotest part of the country: not because it’s dangerous to get close up and personal to a Virgin Pendelino rocketing along at 150mph (although of course it is – very) but because its kiss with its oppositional cousin equates to no more than a smack on the jaw and a kiss to forget. Enthusiasts may wear ill-fitting anoraks and dirty brown loafers but they know a good romantic train moment when they see one and waiting patiently next to the high voltage line for two West Coast Pendolinos to cross each other isn’t one of them.

One of the most famous railway romances of course is the story of Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson in the film, Brief Encounter, which was filmed at Carnforth Station in Lancashire. All repressed emotion, unrequited love and surging Rachmaninov, Brief Encounter is nowt but a B movie to the full time enthusiast. They know that the real romance of the railways lays in the moment when trains kiss: moments of heightened suggestion brushing gently against thwarted reality which linger long into the memory well after the 17.47 to Bletchley has trundled on up the line to meet its maker.

Tips for Travellers: Green’s Mill, Sneinton, Nottingham

Green’s Windmill in Sneinton Nottingham has all the appearance of being an irascible monument. It’s being refurbished at the moment and apparently some builders got injured in the process so they too are now undergoing some kind of physical refurbishment to their own bodies and souls.

You can’t help but wonder, if the windmill had a mind of its own, would it have taken kindly to being crawled over by scaffolders intent on acts of refurbishment? Perhaps it would have preferred to have been allowed to gently fade away and its brick work continue to crumble? Perhaps the need for the refurbishers to be undergoing their own refurbishment is the mark of a monument irritated by its place in the world?

Fortunately though for the casual tourist and local resident, the windmill’s desire to deny its role in the world has been thwarted by a local group of enthusiasts, skilled experts and Nottingham Council. The restoration and refurbishment which has been going on for many years now imaginatively draws you into what it would have meant to be living off the land with nothing but a sharp north-easterly to grind your wheat into the finest organic flour.

The windmill can’t help but be interesting, whatever attempts it might surreptitiously make to present itself as unworthy of the visitor. Whilst it might want to resemble the battleship windmills of Holland, or the industrial machinery of Don Quixote legends, flailing at imagined heroes and mobsters, its more modest role to serve the local people of Nottinghamshire with the provision of flour, ground out by its heavy stones, cogs and gears means that its role is assured in the heart of the community and wider city.

It’s a place to visit which nurtures the soul by providing the very physical stuff of life. I for one am glad that it’s being nurtured for a longer life, despite its irascibility.

Tips for teachers: It depends how you count ’em.

“It depends how you count ’em…” has been a constant refrain through the cultural education exchange visit in Finland this week. Whether it’s golf courses in Espoo (7 or 8), municipalities in Helsinki (4 or 14) or lakes in Finland (187,888 plus or minus), it all depends on how you count them. For phenomena you might think are pretty unequivocal (when is a golf course not a golf course?), it turns out that there is a lot more to a thing than meets the eye.

Walking along the coast line of the Tooivo Kuulas park this morning you can see why. One moment the lake looks like an impressively large pond; the next it stretches way off into the distance and it conjures up memories of Balaton Lake in Hungary; and soon enough you find out that it’s not a lake at all but just another link in the supply chain to the Baltic Sea.

It struck me that the same case could be said for student attainment. How can a country’s education system said to be performing well? Through its ratings on the PISA scale? Numbers of students who graduate into work on completion of their undergraduate study? Aggregated ratings on a mental health scale of well being? Like the lakes in Finland, it depends on how you count them. My top PISA rating may be nothing more than a drop in your Baltic Sea when it comes to evaluating the relevance those ratings have on students lives.

Whilst it’s temporarily startling that Espoo has a disputed number of golf courses in its territory, it is comforting to think that if we can’t count golf courses with confidence, we can confidently be a little less confident about the value of numbers when it comes to understanding the effects of cultural education on our children.