Grand Designs: The Water Tower

In last nights Grand Designs (Channel 4 9.00pm) the excellent Kevin McLoud presented the unusual story of a project to refurbish and use a turn of the century Lutyens designed concrete water tower into a home.

The original building, on land owned by the occupiers of an rural cottage, was not attractive.   The thought of turning into a home seemed fanciful.   The owners felt very protective towards it and having sold their house decided to try and find a way to live in this huge, concrete monster. They moved into two caravans on site, one for them and one for their four dogs, until the water tower was converted.

Original water tower

The planners were open to persuasion so they approached an architect who came up with a bold, uncompromising extension in metal, glass and concrete.  The owners were keen to keep the original structure visible so the new house is threaded between the legs of the water tower.   This particular aspect of the design works very well.   The additions are obvious, but allow the orginal structure to be clearly visible in concrete as a contrast to the steel and zinc finished addtions.

The main living area rises out of the ground on steel stilts, matching the tower’s skinny concrete posts. The walls are built out of insulated steel panels, clad in either weathered zinc or patinated copper and there’s a glass bubble in the roof to let in extra light. Full height windows can be opened like doors to create the feeling of standing on a balcony.

A new staircase runs through a glass stairwell up the outside of the tower leading to the bedrooms. New windows have been cut into the concrete tower to give fantastic view over the surrounding countryside. The crowning glory is the master bedroom suite at the top of the water tower which will have stunning views in all directions.


The final result is stunning as they have created an incredible home and saved what is probably one of the earliest concrete structures in England from a less happy fate..  Full details and images are here.


Car Trouble

Seems there is trouble at TVR.   A spokesman announced they will be closing the Bispham factory later this year and have laid off 71 staff.    Is this the end of the famous Blackpool marque?

Apparently not, although sales have halved since the heady days of the late 90’s when TVR sold over 2,000 cars a year, they are searching for new premises and are looking at overseas component assembly to cut costs.

Seems the issue may also have something to do with the dispute between former owner Peter Wheeler and new owner Nikolai Smolenski.   Guess who owns the Bispham premises?

Yup.   And I have a feeling he is not enamoured of the changes that the russian has made.

Crazy Phenomenon

Every now and then a new song pops into the charts and captures everyone’s imagination.   Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’ is such a song and will surely be on everyone’s 2006 playlist.


Garls Barkley

The sparse, insistent bassline, the gospel choir, the soaring chorus… If you are reading this within earshot of a radio, the odds are that you’re bobbing your head to it right now.Crazy is a playlist phenomenon.   Everyone, regardless of musical taste or creed, seems to be infatuated with it.

Which explains why Crazy was the first song to reach number one before it was available in the shops – thanks to 31,000 internet downloads.   Surely the future of retailing singles?

Strangely enough, very few of Gnarls’ devotees know who he is.   So I did a little research.  Well, it is not he, it is they.

Gnarls Barkley, a pun on the name of the former basketball player Charles Barkley, is an enigmatic front for two of hip-hop’s unsung heroes: producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton, who collaborated with Damon Albarn on Gorillaz’ Demon Dayz), and his fellow Atlantan, the rapper/singer Cee-Lo Green (Thomas Calloway).

Now, I’m very much of the view that these hip hop guys are generally responsible for putting the C back into Rap music.

I’m making an exception for Crazy.   I love it.  What about you?   Comments welcome…..

Bird flu preparations

Admittedly down on the farm we have done very little in terms of preparing for the onset of bird flu.

We’ve had a chat to the chickens about coop hygeine and advised them not to fraternise with any migrant swans etc. but we drew the line at providing them with individual masks like this:

Can you imagine the ribbing up in the top field:

“Hey, Malcolm, what’s with the facial jewelry?”
“S’not jewelry Dwight, it’s to protect against Avian Influenza”
“Really?   How’s that then?   How long you been a bird?”
“I’m just taking precautions”
“Sure…. you still look a dork though…”

Really.   Some people will go to any lengths to get themselves on this blog.

Happy Birthday Ma’am

On the occasion of of her 80th Birthday in the 54th year of her reign I am delighted to wish our Queen a very Happy Birthday

From the Telegraph today:

Her Majesty the Queen today becomes only the third sovereign in our history, after King George III and Queen Victoria, to reach the age of 80. King George was mad and Victoria’s powers were failing – both were just over a year from death. Happily, our Queen shows no signs of decline.

No one should be surprised by the affirmation of her cousin, Mrs Margaret Rhodes, that Her Majesty has no intention of abdicating. Nor should she have. With her appetite for work hardly reduced by the years, and her constant and visible presence as head of state, she has become iconic not just of her country generally, but of her generation. She epitomises the robust long life and vitality more and more familiar among the elderly: and, if her late mother, Queen Elizabeth, is any judge, there are abundant years ahead yet.

There is a danger, after 54 years on the throne, that her people might take the Queen for granted. Despite being our most prominent public figure, she is also the most genuinely self-effacing. She has always been the perfect constitutional monarch: no one is sure of her views. What Bagehot called the “dignified” function of the monarchy within the British constitution is sublimely represented by her. But so too has she always represented the wider purposes of monarchy. In her consistency and demeanour she embodies the continuity of the institution, and its stability at the heart of the nation.

This is all the more remarkable for the turbulent times through which the Queen has lived. Although both her father and grandfather had Labour prime ministers, neither Ramsay MacDonald nor Clement Attlee, for all their radicalism, quite changed the tenor of society in the way that the social revolution of the 1960s did, or in the way that the New Labour project has sought to do. Nor was the upheaval caused by the economic restructuring of Britain under Margaret Thatcher something to be regarded casually. Yet the head of state has taken all these changes in her stride, and successive prime ministers have testified, without needing to resort to flattery, to her wisdom and good sense. The continuity of our national life, over decades of change, is not simply due to the function of monarchy, but also to the constructive influence of the Queen in particular.

Her Majesty’s greatest trials have been the crises in her family, and their effect on perceptions of the monarchy. The fact that three of her four children’s marriages ended in divorce was regrettable but not, sadly, unique in contemporary society. The failure of the Prince of Wales’s marriage, and the tragic end of his ex-wife’s life, were harsh blows to the credibility and popularity of the entire Royal Family.

These events were seized on by republican elements to further their own agenda, and magnified in their unpleasantness beyond their true import. By the time of her Golden Jubilee in 2002, five years after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Queen showed herself to be as secure as ever in the affections of her subjects. Without having to resort to the type of public relations stunts favoured by celebrities and politicians, the Queen, simply by getting on and doing her duty in the painstaking and dedicated way that she has made her own, rebuilt the public’s loyalty not just to her, but also to the institution of monarchy. In an age when most people seem to enter public life for personal gain, the Queen, who had her position thrust on her, continues to define the concept of service in a gold-plated fashion.

On her first overseas tour, to South Africa in 1947 with her parents and on the eve of her marriage, the then Princess Elizabeth made a broadcast in which she dedicated herself to her people, at home and abroad, for the rest of her life. It is not the least of her utterly admirable qualities that she has kept unswervingly to her vow, though an empire has gone and the Commonwealth is a shadow of what it was designed to be. Her adherence to her Coronation Oath, similarly, helps to explain why abdication is incomprehensible to her. Such dedication is why Her Majesty is revered not merely here, but all over the world. In America, she is, despite competition from other foreign sovereigns, “the Queen”. When the French refer to “la Reine” or the Germans to “die Königin”, they do not bother to add the name of her realm afterwards. Unlike so many others who enjoy global fame, her position has been earned by service.

Our nation and its people have been blessed by a devoted and wise sovereign during times of great change. Amid all the disruptions, there is much to rejoice about: that God has saved the Queen all these years, and in such fine health and spirits, is foremost.

Long to Reign Over Us.

Ryton Closing

A sad day for the British car industry as the closure of Peugot’s Ryton plant is announced with the loss of some 2,300 jobs.   And why?   Because the model run (206) is ending and it is too expensive to tool up for a new model when they can concentrate resources elsewhere in other plants (France), where they have excess capacity.

And the other reason, although they don’t say this, is because it is possible to close a business here, whereas it is prohibitively expensive in France.   Legislation there is so restrictive that to make staff redundant costs almost as much as keeping them employed for life.

This sounds great if you are an employee – until such time as this complete lack of ability to compete means your employer goes bust – but it is not good for industry.

Listening to Tony Woodley of the TGWU on Radio 4 was interesting.   He thinks the rules here should be more employee focussed.   More generous.   More like France.

No Mr Woodley, you miss the point.   The fact that we have 10 car manufacturers in this country – Ford, Honda, Nissan, Vauxhall, Jaguar, Land Rover, BMW, Toyota, Rolls Royce and Aston Martin, not to mention the smaller producers like Morgan, Bristol, TVR and Lotus, means we do have at least a business environment that is better than in France.

The UK accounts for about 10% of EU car production and France about 20% which, considering the comparable sizes of our countries, suggests we are doing prety well.   How many foreign car manufacturers make any cars in France?   Two.  Smart (who have just about stopped making cars anyway) and Toyota.

Why?   Because, as anyone who has done business in France knows, it is simply too expensive.   In a country with a 35 hour working week, a venture that does not succeed is too expensive to close, which dissuades inward investment in the first place …which is not good if you are an employee in a country with one of the highest unemployment rates in the EU at 8.9% and with youth unemployment nearing 25%.

Wake up and smell the blue mountain Mr Woodley.   We don’t need to become more like the EU…..

On Champagne

I’ve always liked quotes.   Which is why I thought I would share a few…. on an occasional basis that is…starting with a few on Champagne:

I drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.   Madame Lilly Bollinger

Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!   Dom Perignon, at the moment he discovered champagne

Champagne and orange juice is a great drink. The orange improves the champagne. The champagne definitely improves the orange.  Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

A single glass of champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced, the imagination is agreeably stirred; the wits become more nimble. A bottle produces the contrary effect. Excess causes a comatose insensibility. So it is with war: and the quality of both is best discovered by sipping.   Winston Churchill

Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!  Winston Churchill, WWI

My thoughts entirely.

Back to business

All back safe and sound to dear old England after a fabulous ski trip.   Two feet of snow in the last 4 days is a record for us and the conditions on Sunday morning were perfect.   Smooth, soft, light ego snow.   Wonderful   We’ll be back.    If only to drink the two cases of wine we left in the cellar – but that’s another story.

Well, at least the sun is out today…and the long list of e-mails is nearly sorted.   Re-energised and invigorated it’s time to plan the next holiday….the Three Castles Rally in May and then Cork Week in July.

Happy days.

Back to business

All back safe and sound to dear old England after a fabulous ski trip.   Two feet of snow in the last 4 days is a record for us and the conditions on Sunday morning were perfect.   Smooth, soft, light ego snow.   Wonderful   We’ll be back.    If only to drink the two cases of wine we left in the cellar – but that’s another story.

Well, at least the sun is out today…and the long list of e-mails is nearly sorted.   Re-energised and invigorated it’s time to plan the next holiday….the Three Castles Rally in May and then Cork Week in July.

Happy days.

French or English?

Sitting in the BA lounge in Vancouver yesterday I spotted this gem in Time magazine:

Ernest Antoine Selliere, the french head of UNICE, the European employers group, openened his address to the EU spring summit with the words “I am going to speak in English – the language of business”.

In protest at this perceived slight, French President Chirac walked out.

I like Ernest Antoine Selliere already.