Dr Nick Owen MBE PLUS

Working in and on the Business of Cultural Education


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The Ratcliffe-on-Soar Boss Bike Ride: navigating the elusive volcanoes.

Dan Lamoon from Colab Creation and I set off on our Boss Bike Ride from Nottingham train station in pursuit of some conversations about transitioning: not our own gender re-identification issues on this occasion, but reflections on what identity challenges our respective businesses were facing up to in the months ahead.

Dan was puzzling out about how we transition into a new way of working and how what ‘hybrid working’ really means these days when the novelty of WFH has well and truly worn off and the pleasure of back to back Zoom calls has long since lost its sheen.  What are we now aiming at in this transitioning world we wondered?

We decided to set ourselves a quite straight froward target for this ride: the cooling towers at Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station.  A regional monument to the days when Coal was King, the towers have always offered me a welcome home signal, whenever I’ve travelled back to Nottingham from some distant location.  A few years ago, one of those journeys was marked for ever in my memory by a young girl who remarked to her mum as we passed through East Midlands Parkway, ‘Look mummy, the volcanoes!’  What an evocative, natural world description of power for something so obviously modern and industrial.

Whilst they weren’t smoking on the day Dan and I rode out there, there is something about their elusive behaviour that conjures up a fog of political smoke and mirrors at work.

You’ll experience that elusive behaviour if you ride out to those towers as they show some very strange behaviour en route: one minute they’re directly in front of you, the next they’re on your left, then they’re behind you and before you know it, in front of you again.  

It’s a bit disconcerting and doesn’t help you orientate yourself too easily as you’re riding along.  It’s made worse when you think you’re nearly there, only to see them having shifted way off into the distance again.  And yet whilst you think they’re still miles away, lo and behold, you blink and there they are again.  You’ve inadvertently crept up on them and they’re there in all their volcanic, industrial magnificence.

This elusiveness echoed itself in our chats on the bikes.  Whilst we thought we had plotted out some clear transitions and targets for our businesses, in reality these are quite difficult things to navigate at the moment.  Many of us are trying to steer a path through the fog of Brexit, Covid, the cost-of-living crisis and the deep fog of the unknown unknowns that the Ukraine-Russia war is generating.  One minute you’re looking at your targets face on, the next they’re behind you and then before you know it, they’ve metamorphosed into something completely different. 

The cooling towers are supposed to make their own transition to closure by September 2024; but whether their future is also as elusive as their presence remains to be seen.  We’re taking bets on whether they’ve seen their last days or whether the current fogginess of the world’s economy might just reconfigure that future and we’ll see them fired up and supplying the region with coal fired power, just one more time.

You can support The Mighty Creatives Boss Bike Ride Campaign here.


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Annihilating time and space in Lincolnshire. By Bike.

Back in 1850, the Stamford Mercury was so impressed with the impact that train travel was having on the journey from Lincoln to Boston (reducing it from a tedious six hours to just over eighty minutes), it proclaimed in a hyperbolic frenzy that rail travel now made possible the ‘annihilation of time and space’.

Now, we’re quite used to the press stoking up the frenzy on a daily basis in this part of the 21st century so we shouldn’t be too surprised that they were at it in the mid 19th either. What makes this particular brand of hyperbole really interesting though is the fact that the notion of time and space as a ‘thing’ wasn’t really invented until 1908 when the mathematician Hermann Minkowski proposed the space-time continuum as a way to reformulate Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity.

So, how was it possible for a lowly reporter at the Stamford Mercury to report on the annihilation of a thing that actually wasn’t a thing until 58 years later? Had s/he mysteriously encountered a warp in the time space continuum on the banks of the River Witham which enabled them fall 58 years forward and gain prior knowledge of theoretical physics well before anyone else got a look in? Was train travel that good?

Given the state of the nation’s trains since then, I think this is implausible: but huzzah for the Stamford Mercury and its hyperbole. May it continue until the end of time. Or time-space. Or something like that. We could all do with some time-space annihilation at some point in our lives, and if it takes to riding a bike to experience it, when once only a train would do, then so be it.

I look forward to some time space warp adventures around the shire in the months to come.

More about Boss Bike Rides here.