Friday, 6 June 2008

My Antiques Roadshow shock

The following might come as a shock to anyone who regularly watches The Antiques Roadshow.

You know the big reveal - the bit where a keen collector is told the broach he found buried in his garden is actually worth a five figure sum? That doesn't actually happen.

Not in the way it appears on TV anyway. In actual fact the antique's owner has already been told how much their prized artefact is worth, often by the same person who 'reveals' it to them and the TV audience.

Having spent an afternoon observing a filmed section of the show in picturesque Bolton Abbey in North Yorkshire with my girlfriend's family, I can now reveal the somewhat shocking truth.

As TV scandals go it's not quite up there with the Blue Peter cat-voting fiasco or Queengate, but it certainly surprised me.

As it turns out the middle England, tea-and-scones world of the Antiques Roadshow is actually a lot more hustling and bustling than you would imagine.
Posh-sounding Oxbridge types hurry round waving clipboards while antique owners sit around nervously sit around nervously waiting for their pride and joy to be evaluated. A disturbing number of (mostly male) people also seem to be there purely to see Fiona Bruce, the BBC2 Sunday tea time equivalent of Angelina Jolie.

One item brought along by my girlfriend's father garners a lot of interest, and after much waiting around he was ushered in front of a camera crew, with the other members of our party lined up in the background.

Our job was to look shocked and surprised when the value of his medal was disclosed, perhaps even gasp a little. Given that we had already been told its value, we didn't produce the look of shock that was required of us and were asked to do it again.

I'm not sure we did any better the next time round, but given the traditional perception of Yorkshire folk being less than animated the viewer at home probably wouldn't notice anything amiss.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Will I ever get my hands on Glastonbury tickets?

Is anyone else out there in Glastonbury ticket-buying hell? I only ask as a little communal whingeing might make me feel better as I tear my hair out in pursuit of a pass to this year's festival.

It's now getting on for midday on Sunday - for the last three hours I have been clicking my mouse and pressing redial on my phone to the point of repetitive strain injury.

Things are not going well.

Demand is expected to be lower this year, due to the near biblical weather of last year's festival and a lack of really show-stopping headline acts.

But the £160 tickets are still proving harder to get hold of than a suitcase in Heathrow's Terminal 5.

For a few shining minutes at around 10.30am, I thought I might have cracked it. After finally getting through on-line through Seetickets.com I was able to put in my registration and debit card details in.

But after progressing to the final screen I was told my registration details had already been used. WHAT? How could this be? Had I drunkenly passed my registration code over to someone while on a night out - or perhaps someone had hacked into my account?

The most plausible explanation is some kind of IT error. I needed to press 'back' at one point on my internet browser, perhaps this tricked the overloaded ticket booking system into thinking I had already bought mine.

Essentially, this means the on-line option has now been ruled out for me. All that is left is trying to phone the hotline with one phone while trying to get through to the Seetickets helpdesk with the other phone.

This probably hasn't done much for my chances of staving off a brain tumour in later life, but there's no going back now.

Anyway - back to it. During the time I have spent writing this blog another thousand tickets have probably gone. Another 200 or so redials and I might actually hear a human voice.

1.15PM UPDATE: I finally have my tickets! Like an unfit man staggering over the finishing line of the London Marathon, I feel exhausted but with a strange sense of accomplishment.

It turns out that when the website told me my registration details had already been used, it was actually telling me I had just bought the tickets. I later got through my phone and got another pair just in case - this way I can get a refund if I actually bought two sets by mistake.

If nothing else, the whole experience has taught me the merits of persevering. But reports on the radio seem to indicate that there aren't too many left - if you're still without you'd better get redialling.

Are you trying to buy Glasto tickets? Let us know how you're getting on here.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Homeless hostel could be anyone's saviour

One conversation with Darren Maltby was enough to show me how easily any of us can fall through society's cracks.

Smartly dressed, well groomed and articulate, he could easily be mistaken for a busy professional as he relaxed in his flat in Daybrook.

But just a matter of days ago the 40-year-old father-of-two was living on the streets.

The flat in question is one of 21 provided by homeless charity Framework at a total cost of £2.1 million. People referred by council officials in Broxtowe, Rushcliffe and Gedling will stay there on a short-term basis to help them back to independence.

On my visit to the Elizabeth House facility this week I learned that cooking and budgeting classes are included for the service users. Darren, a qualified basketball coach and former school governor, doesn't need any educational support. What he does need is help getting his life back on track.

Two years ago his marriage broke up, with the resulting stress meaning he lost his job and quickly found himself without a place to live. He spent three months living on the streets in Nottingham before finding lodgings in Gedling borough - but after seven months there someone else needed the room and he was again homeless.

"I became very introverted," he said. "Having come from what I thought was a normal family with a normal job in the community being homeless was like nothing I ever envisaged."

I found it hard to credit that someone like this could have ended up with nowhere to turn.

But if his example shows anything, it's that even those with everything going for them can quickly spiral into darkness. Most people, including myself, would struggle to cope with such a dramatic change of circumstances.

It's precisely for this reason that Elizabeth House exists. It was not universally well-received - in January residents submitted a petition in protest at possible anti-social behaviour as a result of the site being located next to a children's playground.

Only time will tell how well grounded their fears will be, but there's no question about the importance of the service the hostel provides.

What do you think? Is Daybrook the right site for the new homeless hostel?

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Do we take driving dangers for granted?

It's ironic that, for all the attempts to raise our road safety awareness, it can take a near-miss to realise how we take our own lives in our hands every time we get behind the wheel.

3,172 people died in road traffic accidents in Britain in 2006. Despite this fact, myself and many other motorists feel safe in our cars - protected from the risk of accident by a combination of the latest safety technology and our own presumed invulnerability.

Though I see and hear the effects of road accidents on a near-daily basis in my job, it's all too easy to drive just a little too fast or too close to the car in front.

But a few days ago I had a wake-up call.

Setting out from my house in the dark, the ice had not entirely cleared from my windows as I approached a junction in Mapperley. With nothing coming in either direction I pulled out, only for an unseen cyclist to emerge from my right and be thrown over the bonnet of my car.

The cyclist was fine, though a little shaken. But having failed to spot him - perhaps because of a lapse in attention and the lack of visibility - the impact on me was, I hope, more long-lasting.

After seeing the damage that could be done by a car travelling at low speeds, I'm now taking steps to reduce the risks of any further accidents. Aside from driving a little slower and keeping more distance between myself and other cars, it's a matter of being ready for the unexpected lane changes and corner-cutting that characterise city centre motoring.

This week's report by the World Health Organisation - predicting that road accidents would cause 20m deaths worldwide between 2000 and 2015 - should have been a chilling reminder to motorists of the dangers of driving.

But in reality those who saw it in this weekend's papers would barely have acknowledged it.

Even the regular tales of road accidents and their horrific consequences barely register, happening to other people and not ourselves.

Driving a car is arguably the most dangerous thing we do on any given day. No matter how careful we are, a momentary lapse of concentration could have disastrous consequences. But would I be so careful if the Mapperley cyclist had driven past me 30 seconds earlier?

What do you think? Do Notts motorists drive dangerously?

Posted by Rob Parsons on March 25 2008.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

A decent costume is a bear necessity

It's always nice to learn something new, even if that something means exposing yourself to humiliation. My lesson this week? Entertaining children isn't as easy as you would imagine.

As part of Nottingham Castle's attempt to stage a world record gathering of Robin Hoods on March 8, I was invited to come and dress up as Robin Hood along with Heart 106 DJs Sam and Amy at Bluebell Hill Primary School in St Ann's.

Pupils at the school, who had been given Ready, Steady, Cook-style voting cards for the occasion, would then choose whose costume they liked the best.

Getting hold of a costume was hard enough. The internet company I bought my outfit from didn't tell me they had visited my house to deliver it, so I was forced to make a last-minute dash to a fancy dress shop in town.

Even with the finished outfit on, I still had my doubts about whether I could win over a hall full of children in the face of competition from Sam and Amy, who are clearly two showbusiness pros. But then, an epiphany.

Remembering I had an old bear costume in my wardrobe (the reasons for this don't need to be discussed just now, but involve a fancy dress wedding) I put it on and wore my newly-bought Robin Hood outfit over the top.

The result looked like something from a rejected Noel's House Party feature - but would at least give me a fighting chance in the vote. Everyone likes fluffy polar bears, don't they?

In reality, it possibly wasn't such a good idea. The down sides of a giant polar bear outfit are numerous, heat and an inability to see where you are going being just two. But actually the main problem was that my feathered Robin Hood hat kept falling off my head.

It must have been the heat that prompted me, when asked to tell the Bluebell Hill children why I should win their votes, to promise a "special polar bear dance" if I won.

In the end I didn't win - but had to do the dance anyway. Being unable to see wider than 20 degrees in either direction meant I couldn't tell how well my comical flailing was going down, so I carried on regardless.

My consolation for not winning was that at least my outfit proved popular with the pupils, who were only too keen to wave at me and give me high-fives as they walked out of assembly.

And my respect for the likes of Mr Blobby and his pratfalling peers is now higher than ever.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Robin Hoods dress for world record success


Breaking world records is a funny business. Based on my experiences of watching kids' television in the 1990s, it normally involves doing something so pointless or unpleasant that those are more to be pitied than praised.

"158 consecutive hours in a bath full of congealed baked beans, with just a hug from Cheryl Baker and a badly-made medal as a reward?", I remember thinking to myself as a cynical teenager. "Not likely."

At first glance, you might think something similar about Nottingham Castle's efforts at assembling the biggest ever gathering of Robin Hood impersonators.

But the practice of dressing up as Notts' favourite son with hundreds of like-minded people actually has a long (ish...well actually less than a year) and glorious tradition in the county.

Nottingham Building Society set the ball rolling with 165 in April, though several months later Ravenshead Primary School's improved mark of 307 was recognised by the Guinness Book of Records. The current record of 606 was set in October.

Thanks to the power of social networking site Facebook, news of the latest attempt on March 8 has spread like wildfire among Nottingham's student community.

Doubtless many Evening Post readers have their own plans for the day, so why not let us know by e-mailing here? Any particularly impressive or zany attempts might well earn you a place on the Evening Post's website.

For my part, I'm putting myself forward for potential humiliation by getting dressed up as Robin Hood for a pre-event costume challenge in a couple of weeks. But more on that later...

Given the anticipated numbers for the event and the relative scarcity of green tunics, green tights and hats with feathers in them, I'm starting to wonder if the mass deluge of Robins on Nottingham city centre might have some unexpected consequences.

Sales of Robin Hood outfits on eBay could go through the roof. The market value of companies which make green felt could explode, stunning stock brokers in the City.

I suppose taking advantage of this astute financial insight might constitute insider trading, though now I've mentioned on this website I'll probably get away with it. But don't be surprised if Nottingham's charity shops are busier than normal between now and March 8.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Spoiling for a fight over housing plans

Communities across Notts are up in arms at the possibility of housing development on green belt land in the county. At the first public meeting to protest the plans, Rob Parsons assessed the mood.

It was standing room only at the Watnall Women's Institute building as the campaign against new houses gathered speed.

In fact, there was barely even that much space. Residents, councillors and other interested parties squeezed themselves in and hastily found spare chairs and even a piano stool to sit down on.

They gathered to hear the latest news about housing plans for Watnall after the Evening Post revealed large chunks of land near the village were earmarked for possible new homes.

Despite the wealth of other options available on a Saturday morning, as many as 100 residents came from Watnall and the surrounding area wanting to be part of it. With two minutes to go until the start of the meeting, those wanting to be inside were still queuing out of the door.

Council officials urged residents not to panic earlier this month - saying many possibilities were being investigated and analysed before a shortlist of preferred sites was produced.

But judging by the turnout at Saturday's meeting, few of them were assured by this.

Locals have experience in this area. In 2003 plans emerged for 750 homes and a business park on nearby green belt, only to be removed from Broxtowe Borough Council's local plan after widespread opposition.

And among the attendees on Saturday there were a myriad of reasons for objecting to any more housing around Watnall this time round.

Some worried the green belt might disappear under a carpet of concrete, others about the impact on traffic and public services. Finding myself stuck for half an hour getting out of the village after the meeting, I could certainly sympathise with the latter.

But the prevailing concern was that Watnall, which considers itself distinct from Greater Nottingham's suburban spread, could find itself submerged into nearby Hucknall.

The meeting itself was organised by the Broxtowe Conservative group, and unsurprisingly given the importance of the subject there were a few attempts to gain political capital at the expense of the Labour government.

But in general all present were unified by their common purpose. Having seen off housing plans just a few years ago, many were keen to try and do again.

The women's institute building - more used to painting classes and cake sales than high-octane debate - was bulging at the seams. A nearby log cabin was prepared as a standby just in case, but nowhere in the village was there an available building big enough to comfortably seat 100 people.

And in essence that tells a story about why development around Watnall is so widely opposed.

Conservative councillor Philip Owen noted that people come to live there because they don't to be part of city life, preferring instead a village existence. If Watnall's boundaries start to blur with those of Kimberley to the south and Hucknall to the north, that village identity will be threatened.

There's a long way to go in the process of deciding which sites in Notts will feed the ever-increasing demand for new homes.

But if all communities in the county are able to mobilise themselves the way Watnall has, it's a safe bet that the inevitable wave of new development won't go through without a fight.