Building for life

Wednesday saw a gala launch of the “Building for Life” scheme in Nottingham, a voluntary code of practice from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment that encourages house-builders to up their game, and deliver individual excellent schemes of housing rather than boiler-plate plans that could be anywhere.

Building for Life is a set of 20 questions to ask about any new development in the hope of grading it objectively. The list of questions is here, and currently, my favourite is “Do buildings or spaces outperform statutory minima, such as Building Regulations?”  In planning committee, I have been asking this question about sustainable technologies included in buildings from day one.  Since we adopted a form of Merton on all large developments last year, builders have a responsibility to include at least 10% of energy from sustainable sources.  Unfortunately it appears that many are seeing this as a target to be met.  In fact, it’s a minimum.  People should be aiming to do as much as they can, not sticking to the low target.

The launch event in Nottingham was interesting and I’m glad I went.  It was a seminar with a buffet and all sorts of house building practitioners, including development control councillors which is why I was there, then town planning professionals, builders themselves, and architects.

Speeches came from various people, but the most striking was given by the MD of Barratts Homes (who I had met previously at an estate in Chesterfield where they had built houses with solar panels).  I’m not sure he’s terribly used to public speaking but he used his time cleverly, I think.  His speech started off with the planning professional’s bon mot – “good design shouldn’t cost any more” – and asked “any more than what?”  He then proceeded to list every various bit of the policy framework that surrounds housebuilding – every housing act, every change to building regs (there are quite a few in the coming years), every bright idea from a think tank about changing buildings like EcoHomes, PassivHaus, Buildings for Life, Lifetime Homes and so on, every environmental audit like bat studies, flood studies, newt assessments.  He managed to make his list last over ten minutes. He very effectively pointed out that house-building is far from an unregulated activity.

Then we ate and chatted amongst ourselves, answering the seminar question “what are the barriers to good design?”  My input was limited, because it was interesting listening to the planning and housebuilding professionals on my table, but my main point was that of the various schemes that had been shown during the afternoon and lauded as good design, many of them are the sorts of things that loads of people write into the Evening Post about to complain. (Eg The Pod)

Other interesting things I learned:

  • 80% of new build in the Midlands in the last few years has been judged as “poor” or “average”, and nearly 40% should never have received planning permission
  • an argument could be made that the planning system is the only reason people still live in cities (if you could build on any available acre in the countryside, how many people would prefer to do that than stay in a crowded city – even if it meant a commute?)
  • social housing is built to a much higher standard than private housing estates – and yet Joe Public prefers the latter.

Garfield minus Garfield

Sorry if this is old hat for you, but a link from that nice Joel Derfner points me at Garfield Minus Garfield, which is hilarious and disturbing all at the same time.

Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life?
Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against lonliness and methamphetamine addiction in a quiet American suburb.


Just felt a terrible earthquake shuddering through the house and setting the whole heating system in motion, with the hot water cylinder behind me shaking alarmingly.

Then nothing.  All went quiet.  No-one out in the street.  A few car alarms going off.  P waking up violently and asking what the hell it was.

Then phone goes off, and for a good twenty minutes, Twitter scooped the 24-hour news channels.  It’s clear that it’s big – I expected to hear from Troubled Diva the other side of town, but to hear from Alan as well – in Manchester – means it’s pretty damn big.  For a while, all the news from Twitter keeps us pretty informed, but before long, it’s on the telly and internet as well.

Here’s my twitter record – not including all the extra ones that come up because I’m tracking whenever anyone anywhere mentions “Nottingham” – and in reverse chronological order.

  • alexfoster   Sky news lady pulled a really funny face when caller mentioned animals, including “ducks in the house”
  • miketd Sky News lady really couldn’t give two shits, could she?
  • miketd 4.7 = “Light”, which is quite boring really:
  • alanfleming Community reporting in:
  • alexfoster Laffing at Sky lady’s face as she tries to be empathetic
  • miketd 4.7 on Richter scale:
  • alexfoster Map on internet says epicentre nr Cleethorpes, felt from York to Bristol + London. Never felt one like that!
  • alexfoster Cats still majorly spooked
  • miketd @alexfoster: Yeah, it was our heating system that did most of the shuddering as well. BBC News and Sky News still saying Midlands only?
  • alanfleming Quake confirmed: 4.7:…
  • alexfoster @miketd we thought our dodgy back wall was falling off. Whole heating system shuddered. Sky News finally reporting.
  • miketd Shall I make everyone a nice cup of cocoa, before we all toddle back off to bed?
  • miketd I thought it was the washing machine going onto spin!
  • miketd @bob: Yeah, fine thanks. Twitter Public Timeline full of reports of the same thing.
  • alanfleming no info yet but report say was felt in London, my guess is 4.7.
  • miketd The “most read” story on the BBC news site is about an earthquake… in Kent… in April 2007. Half the country must be using Search!
  • alexfoster Cripes – twitter suggests the earthquake we just had was felt in Manchester too!
  • miketd K and I still both shaking. I felt it on the ground floor, he felt it two storeys up. FUCK. Never felt anything like that before.
  • miketd WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK WAS THAT? I think we’ve just experienced an earth tremor. Whole house shook, alarms going off outside.
  • alanfleming fucking hell – that felt like an earthquake. not small either.

Organ donation

I’ve just registered as a potential organ donor on an NHS website.  I’ve never minded in principle being a donor if I’m unfortunate enough to find myself in the position where I’m no longer using my organs, although by and large I’d rather hold onto both of everything I was born with two of…

I’ve just assumed for the last umpty-ump years when I have been sexually active as a gay man that I wasn’t allowed to.  Since I’m not allowed to donate blood, I was working on the assumption that they wouldn’t want me to donate anything more serious either – including sperm, bone marrow and organs.

However, since I am a medical drama TV junkie almost as much as I am a crime drama TV junkie and a legal drama TV junkie – I’m currently watching E.R. from the George Clooney years onwards – I have actually seen rather a lot of organ transplants.  I have seen nervous doctors talking to upset relatives, I’ve seen gung-ho surgeon trainees desperate to have a go at a full heart/lung transplant, I’ve seen scrubs-clad doctors getting into helicopters to fetch organs in little cool-boxes, and so on and so on.

Yesterday we got a mailshot saying – become a donor – and it had a phone number on it, so I phoned up in an idle moment and got through to a bright cheery operator almost immediately and put the blunt question “can gays be organ donors?”  She was a bit taken aback, or didn’t hear me, and made me ask twice, but as soon as she was clear what I was asking she replied immediately that it was fine.  Different rules apply. Gay people can be organ donors.  Which is nice.  I’ve filled in the forms online, and now I’m getting ready to do the slightly trickier bit and have the conversation with my nearest and dearest so that they know my wishes.

If you haven’t already, and you’re not strongly anti, sign up now!

PS who do I phone re sperm and bone marrow?

Art in Nottingham

Two new art galleries are currently under construction in Nottingham – one nearly finished and one still a while off.  They are CCAN, the Centre for Contemporary Arts Nottingham, and the New Art Exchange in Hyson Green, which bills itself as the only centre for black art outside London.

Thing is, both have slightly silly names.

A twitter message just arrived which says CCAN is going to be called just “Nottingham Contemporary” which sounds like it has something missing.  And also brings up loads of false positives when you google it.

And info about the New Art Exchange comes from an email address on the domain which took a while to parse.  I first read it as Thane Wart Exchange, which seemed to be a good way of getting herpes from MacBeth rather than a centre for art excellence.

Amazing sunset tonight

There was a peculiar orange tint reflecting on the buildings in the city centre, but driving mostly eastwards on my way home I didn’t see the actual sunset, a really striking blood red, until I turned into my street


The photo is OK, but it barely does the natural colours justice.