Remembering September

A staff industry update residential by the Business School@UCB tagged Liverpool and Manchester with the onerous task of keeping us informed and entertained for a couple of days.

Armed with Enterprise, Regeneration and Digital Innovation themes, these two major cities ticked all the boxes for our team building and bonding sessions.

First up was a tour of the Auto Trader premises, which followed a talk on the challenges of running an online commercial business.


The Auto Trader magazine was published weekly in a number of regional editions with circulation peaking at 368,000 in 2000 but soon dropping down to 27,000 by 2013. It was in this year, 36 years after it began, that the final magazine was printed before the company concentrated on its online business.


First and Final editions


Autotrader.co.uk was launched in 1996 and is the UK’s busiest automotive web site with over 10 million users per month.

So many stats and numbers so here’s a little unrelated fun fact: the founder of Auto Trader in the UK was John Madeiski, who went on to take over Reading Football Club.

After a presentation, we ventured through the offices, spread out over wide floors with shiny cars scattered everywhere and not one in need of a polish.


In accordance with its adoption of agile ways of working, Auto Trader’s offices include hot desking spaces, informal breakout areas, walls that can be scribbled on, touchscreens, and ‘war rooms’ for teams to attack various problems.


Some walls were decorated with graphics from the well-known Haynes manuals, which could be coloured in if the mood took anyone but the most striking element were those cars – a series of iconic vehicles that were chosen to represent different decades in Auto Trader’s long history.


Before these were brought into the offices, staff were given the opportunity to drive the cars around the old offices as a tribute. Afterwards, the engines were removed, and the cars coated with a special paint allowing them to be written on. Some were also adapted into little meeting dens – making them the perfect jotting pads!






Lunch was scheduled at Pokusevski’s, a Mediterranean style deli in the heart of Media City. Suitably shored up, the team took a tour of Media City, part of the recently regenerated Salford Quays and home to a whole host of BBC channels and programmes such as Match of the Day, Blue Peter, A Question of Sport, Mastermind, BBC Breakfast, Radio 5 Live, CBBC, and BBC Sport, to name but eight.





Sian with Dave and Derek the Daleks (Dave always stands on the left)

The team was treated to an exciting interactive radio drama experience with all participants performing impressively. Four of them were immediately signed up for the next series of Downton Abbey.


Visits to the BBC Breakfast studio, Radio 6Music studio (where Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe were jabbering away) and the BBC Sport studios were next up.


The team were given the chance to see and take part in innovative digital broadcasting channels and there was no shortage of volunteers with several of the team stepping up to read the news, forecast the weather and play Question of Sport.










An exhausting but enjoyable day saw us depart Manchester for Liverpool where we booked into the Nadler Hotel. This unique hotel – once a warehouse and print works – is situated in the centre of Liverpool’s authentic, urban cool Rope Walks village.

Dinner was taken at the Old Blind School, a restaurant that had previously served as a school for blind children, a police station and a trade union headquarters.

Drink was taken at the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, which is slowly becoming my local, it seems.

With a continental breakfast to help us on our way (a paper bag with muesli and yogurt neatly stuffed in the fridge), our first call was the Museum of Liverpool.



A presentation was given by Tracy McGeagh, the Director of Marketing Communications, on Innovative Digital Practice and Audience Engagement.

A swift tour of the museum followed and then it was off for a ferry across the Mersey.

An Indian festival joined us aboard the ferry, making for a lively cruise along the river, which offered sweeping views across Liverpool’s iconic cityscape whenever the blustery wind wasn’t keeping our eyes closed.



Afternoon tea at the Hard Day’s Night hotel rounded off an excellent couple of days, with cakes and sandwiches being served in the Blake’s Restaurant (Peter Blake being the sleeve artist for the famous Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album).

PS: For more about Liverpool and some sunnier photos, just scroll down to last month’s post (Robust August)…


Nature Notes Warning

Having done Manchester on Thursday and Liverpool on Friday, I did Norfolk on Sunday – a full weekend and more! It was the start of the birdwatching season and we made our way to Titchwell.

It’s not always necessary to see stuff when visiting this reserve – just enjoying the wide expanses of water, reed beds and sandy beaches under blue skies generally does the job.


However, amidst the usual array of Titchwell specialties, there was a new tick – a couple of Black Terns flying low over the sea.



Otherwise, it was business as usual with Ruffs, Yellow Wagtail, Little Stints, a Garganey, Whimbrel and various ducks, grebes, geese, swans, plovers, snipe, waders and whatnot milling about to confirm Titchwell as a truly premier reserve.


Then there was the fell-walking club’s not-quite-fell-walk around Hopesay in Shropshire. This walk also turned up about six Red Kites, picking through a recently ploughed field for wormy delights.

Here’s Paul with the details, in case anyone fancies doing a gentle amble through some fantastic countryside – weather helps, of course, and it was fantastic on the day too!

Map:  Explorer 217 The Long Mynd & Wenlock Edge

Start Point and Parking: 

Stokesay Castle. The car park is to the rear of Stokesay Castle and the church. It is An English Heritage car park and you pay at a machine.

Grid ref: 435817 – Postcode for SatNav: SY7 9AH

The Walk:

We follow the Shropshire Way via Sibdon Carwood to Hopesay Common. This gets the climbing out of the way and is worth it for the wonderful views from the top. We then descend to Cheney Longville and cross the River Onny to Wistanstow for lunch. The pub is the Plough, which is the tap house of the Woods brewery, an independent brewery since 1980. Probably best known for Shropshire Lad.

Following lunch, we head SE crossing the A49 and the Quinney Brook, then S along the Onny valley, back to the start.










To conclude the cultural element of the month, the Flat Disc Society fired up a new season with a screen showing of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.


This little blurb from the Michigan Theatre Facebook page pretty much sums it up:

This influential German science-fiction film presents a highly stylized futuristic city where a beautiful and cultured utopia exists above a bleak underworld populated by mistreated workers. When the privileged youth Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) discovers the grim scene under the city, he becomes intent on helping the workers. He befriends the rebellious teacher Maria (Brigitte Helm), but this puts him at odds with his authoritative father, leading to greater conflict.

This film was the Giorgio Moroder restored version, which threw in a synth-rock soundtrack including Freddie Mercury, Bonnie Tyler, Pat Benetar and Adam Ant and is, quite possibly, the first ever disco remix of an entire movie.


Finally, to round off October – an enjoyable evening was spent at the Birmingham Rep to see Dead Sheep, a play about Geoffrey Howe’s bloodless revenge on Margaret Thatcher.

Here’s the poster from the Rep, and a review from Birminghampress.com by Richard Lutz:

To put this play and its title in context: Labour heavyweight Denis Healey once hilariously called being attacked by Tory politician Geoffrey Howe akin to “being savaged by a dead sheep”.

Howe, Maggie’s right hand man, was indeed placid, quiet, monk-ish and he maybe deserved the quip from the sharp-tongued Healey as they sparred across the Commons back in the eighties. But this play is about when Howe turned from dead sheep to a wolf. When sidelined by an increasingly rigid out of touch Thatcher more than a quarter of a century ago, he resigned from government and delivered a vicious attack on the flailing anti-Europe Prime Minister. She resigned soon after.

Ex BBC reporter Jonathan Maitland re-creates this episode, throwing in the delightful sub plot of Howe’s liberal wife Elspeth tangling with Maggie every time they met – like “two wasps in a jam jar” quips louche MP Alan Clark at one point. She comes across as half Lady MacBeth, half St Joan.

Paul Bradley pulls off the humbled figure of Howe to a tee – even when he wakens from his subservience to launch his fatal assault. Carol Royle is Elspeth Howe… assertive, in love with her cowed husband and still an enigma as to what part she actually played in perfecting the fatal verbal blow against the woman she detested.

As for the Maggie herself, here’s a surprise. It’s taken on by Steve Nallon who voiced the Spitting Image Thatcher three decades ago. He/She comes across as a bit of caricature, the face rigid, humourless, the gait stiff and awkward, the voice perfectly pitched. But sometimes it is a panto dame in what is a fine dark comedy play coloured by superior acting.

A trio of actors valiantly portrays some of the main players from that era: the aforesaid Alan Clark, Neil Kinnock, Downing Street spokesman Bernard Ingham, Ian Gow, Nigel Lawson and even an hilarious impression of Brian Walden, the TV front man who never could pwonounce the full wange of the alphabet. Too bad, though, there was no Denis Thatcher (only an offstage voice) or the Tarzan-cum-elephant in the Tory room, a certain Michael Heseltine.