Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Travelogue 1 - Derby

At the start of 2012 I promised myself that I would try to see more of the great country I live in. It seems that February really kicked started this goal, with a series of trips all over the UK in my diary.

The first was a visit to Derby to write an article for Disability Now magazine on the photographer Rei Bennett's Beauty from Damage project, which will be in the next issue of DN. I have been to Derby a few times in the past but as a singer with various bands, as it is a great place for live music. The only problem with seeing anywhere when you're touring is that you don't get to see it. You arrive, sound check, have something to eat, do the show and retire to a hotel for drinks and passing out. The next morning you're back on the road with a place name ticked off your tour itinerary, but with no actual knowledge of what that place is like. So I wanted to experience what Derby had to offer, and with this in mind I booked a hotel room for my wife and I the night before the interview.

We stayed at the Cathedral Quarter Hotel in St. Mary's Gate, which was a great choice. It's a really nice high quality hotel, that came at a very reasonable price. From the minute we arrived outside it was obvious that the Cathedral Quarter was going to be accessible too. While it is an old building, the Old County Offices, it's wheelchair accessible through out. Our room was nice too. Not massive, but superb for the price paid and very swish. The bathroom was very accessible too, with a walk in shower and handrails galore. The whole hotel was a superb combination of designer chic and historic features, including stained glass windows on the sweeping stair case in the lobby. The staff were really helpful and very friendly.

In fact everyone we met in the city were friendly and chatty. So much so that it made the whole visit even more enjoyable. It's funny how your experience of a place can be so heavily influenced by it's people, but it only becomes clear when you visit somewhere where everyone is so nice. But not only has Derby got great people, it's also a really great place.

At this point I must mention the thing about Derby that really impressed both me and my wife... just how accessible for disabled people it is. In fact it is so accessible that I would say that Derby should be a shinning example to other towns and cities. In the past I have always given the example of Barcelona as proof that a anywhere can be made accessible, but Derby equally proves it and is here in the UK. Derby really is that good. It starts with the pavements, with large areas being pedestrianised. I know that many people find the idea of shared spaces frightening, but Derby demonstrates that these fears are unfounded. The changes from pavement to road area are marked with noticeably different coloured paving, and have a small dip to make sure people with visual impairments are safe, while ensuring a smooth surface for us wheelie types. Pretty much all the shops had ramped access, and everywhere had lifts and toilets. They had even made most of the cobbled areas accessible by smoothing off the surfaces of each cobblestone. Anyone who uses a wheelchair knows how truly evil cobbles are, but Derby has cracked the whole issue. Keeping the historic nature of the cobbled areas while making them usable for all people. If you are disabled, a trip to Derby is a must if only to witness how accessible it is.

When you are a wheelchair user like me, how accessible a place is can really effect how you experience what is on offer when you visit. I have lost count of the number of holidays and trips out have been ruined by crap access. With Derby being so accessible it became clear that our one night was not going to be enough. We arrived early, as I am a sticker for time keeping, and after we unpacked in our room, we went out for a walk around. I love shopping, and in Derby I could feed my addiction very nicely. We did pop into the Westfield shopping centre briefly, but much preferred the myriad of shops outside. Something that is noticeable about Derby is how many of the shops inside the centre are repeated outside. Thus saving shopping centre phobics, like my poor wife, from the horror of being stuck in the unnatural environment of Westfield and the like. On top of the usual high street fair, Derby has loads of little boutiques selling high quality items. From local designers to designer labels there's something for everyone. I found some great jewellery shops too. Hmm, that's good shopping.

While I love to shop, Diane loves to stop for a coffee and watch the world go by. Derby has many lovely coffee shops and restaurants, catering for all tastes. Top quality gourmet food, local produce and high street chains are all there. We tried out a couple of little coffee places, a cheese and bread place just next to the hotel and Pizza Express. All yummy with great food and really great staff.

Even if you don't fancy shopping and eating (are you still alive?), you can easily enjoy just wandering around the city. Being an architecture buff, I found the many architectural styles of Derby fascinating. It has spans the most of industrial history, from Georgian and Victorian grandeur through 30's and 60's modernism to recent new developments. Definitely visit Waterstones. It's a glorious old building with loads of original features, with an amazing 30's building opposite, currently housing spa. In most of the centre of the city I got to combine my love of shopping with sight seeing lovely buildings, especially in the side streets off St Peter's Street. Check out Pictures of Derby to see what a treasure chest of buildings the city is. I'd also advise a walk down by the river. Romantic and beautiful.

If you haven't been, I would advise you give Derby a try. I fell in love with the city after one day and know I want to go back, soon. I know it has a thriving arts scene for one thing, and I want to taste some of the creative offerings Derby has to offer, as well as it's other delights.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

London Edge - Feb 2012

Earlier this week I made my way to this season's London Edge trade expo, at Olympia in London. I reviewed a previous event for Sinzine and many of the companies that caught my eye that visit were here again. None of them let me down, although Miss Katie was obvious by her absence.

I thought in this review I'd focus on the key themes and stand out trends for Autumn/Winter 2012. Yes, even the alternative fashion scene do have them. One of the big ones was a revival of Punk style Tartan. Many of the companies have added tartan to their catalogue, for both sexes. The punk influence didn't stop there though. Most clothing stands featured bondage straps, zips and safety pins, whether on leather bike jackets and original style canvas gear or updated raver gear and lollita style frilly things. This winter is going to look like 1977 all over again in Camden.

Another big thing for the next cold season is going to be really great boots. New Rock have excelled themselves this season, and have a range of real stunners for all sexes that will have you reaching for the credit card. Alongside these industry leaders, other companies are coming up with designs that means anyone currently thinking of shopping for boots should wait a while. Pleaser really stood out and their Demonia range is available via www.demonia.co.uk, although they aren't cheap. In fact great shoes and boots were all over the show.

Alongside the punk revival, I noticed a growth in Goth influences within designs that pushed the style's envelope. One that really caught my eye was the new range from Hexagon who have managed to combine their usual raver orientated themes with Gothic flavours to great effect. I know my wife and I are planning to visit their shop once the new stuff hits the shelves in their Camden store. I would advise you all to watch their website closely.

A couple of companies that are taking the Punk ethos into the 21st century are personal favourites of mine. Charles of London's stand was superb as usual, and Red Mutha offer a bespoke service where they Punkify any jacket of other item of clothing that you send them, as well as a great range of printed t-shirts and other items. A company that also appealed to me, with their range of t-shirts with old school synth prints was A-Non, and I have my orders in with them already. Bus Stop, another t-shirt and jeans company from the US have a range of rock and roll influenced designs that will appeal to everyone, from Gothettes to B-Girls. They are currently looking for UK distributors, so keep you eyes peeled in your area. You can even wear ultra cool t's when you're a young'un, thanks to Rockabilly Kids.

One of the stand out companies for me was Phaze, who have been going as long as the scene. They haven't always had the image of being that high quality, either in design or manufacture, but trust me things have changed up there in Newcastle. Their fashion show was a highlight of the day, and their stand was packed full of new designs and real cutting edge ideas as well as all the usual scene standards, all with a real high quality feel while still maintaining great prices.

If I was to give you one stand out theme above all others it would be Quality. Everyone at the show had raised their game, not only in design but in the quality of manufacture and of the materials used. I made a point of touching everything that caught my eye, and was blown away by the quality of fabrics every time. It was all felt tip top, and when you combine that with some excellent designs, this season will be one to make sure you hit the shops.

A company that truly demonstrated this quality increase was the German Re-Agenz. Their stand only had the highest quality fabrics and designs that combine the alternative ethos with a designer feel. I am sure that their outfits would fit in equally well on the catwalk as in a small dark Goth club.

All in all, visiting London Edge made me understand that the alternative fashion industry is playing for keeps now, and we as consumers are going to benefit from this. The forthcoming season is going to be one of those high points in the fashion of our scene and many of the items we buy in the later in 2012 will live in our wardrobes for many years to come.