Saturday, December 31, 2005

Compliments of the season...

...and a very Happy New Year to both of my readers.

It has been a bit crazy these last couple of weeks with another RSL, very busy at work and fighting off a cold (now at the tail end of a nasty bout of Tonsilitus and double ear infection).

My last antibiotics tomorrow, I might enjoy a glass of port on Monday!

Following on the theme opf the last thread, blokes who micturate "hands-free"...

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Things that get on my Pecs...

Every now and again, the selfishness and stupidity of of peoples actions remind me that I should make a list. They are generally minor things but they will make me briefly bristle.

Here are a few of them, feel free to add others in the comments section.

People who.....

-Throw cigarette dimps out of the car window when driving, especially at night

-Finish packing their shopping away before getting their money out to pay

-think that parking bays are advisory

-leave their mobiles (with tedious ring tones) on their desks

-answer the phone with "hello?"

-have a voice mail message dated days (or even weeks) ago

-assume that if there is more than one "To:" address on an email they don't need to action it

-never bother to acknowlege any form of message so you don't know if they got it or not

-think that I would want prescriptions, penis enlargement or to help them get a large sum of money out of Nigeria

-think that I'm stupid enough to worry that a Bank I don't bank with would need me to confirm my account details.

Monday, December 12, 2005

City Challenge

Every now and again, when I'm having a sort-out, I come across some photos and a report for a very memorable residential course I went on in the late 70s when I was still a student.

It was run by the Outward Bound Trust but it didn't tax your muscles with hiking & trekking, instead it taxed your mind with social situations. The course lasted a couple of weeks and we spent a few days doing different things in the community. Our first stint in our group was in a geriatric hospital where most people were bed-ridden and many had also lost the will to live as well. The second stint was in an acute Ward of a Mental Hospital. We also spent time with the Salvation Army hostel, doing household jobs for the housebound with Social services and also a few unusual social events, including a Disco with the Mental patients and clearing up derelict common ground. I was also surprised to find that a garage-like structure I passed every day was a shelter for the particularly destitute in Coventry.

During the course I saw many things that upset me and made me think. One was a blatently racially motivated punishment by a rather twisted senior nurse. Another was the indifference of many of the care workers to their "customers". A third was the utter futility of getting old when the body is clapped out, too old to rock & Roll, too young to die.

During the course, I also made some long lasting friends, many of them Girls, but I also earned the respect of a couple of Borstal lads. I received special praise for loaning my Disco to the course after the first week (it was held in a residential school over the Summer), & also got into a bit of a kerfuffle by taking the flirting of one of the tutors the wrong way. (I was young and impressionable, not realising she was what in impolite circles gets called a teaser, and not of firecats!)

I revisited the geriatric hospital as a volunteer for a couple of days that Summer and quickly realised that what I had gained the most was the shared experience with the staff and course members rather than the actual relating to the people which proved very difficult. I also found out that the hospital was a 2 mile walk to the bus so rain stopped play on day three! One of the Girls lived in Cheltenham and she had also been motivated to get involved, she was a visitor at a half-way house which she took me to on one occasion. It was a very happy place & she had certainly made a difference to their lives.

I did think that later in life I would have liked to participate in City Challenge again, this time as a tutor. However, it seems that City Challenge folded a number of years ago, although Outward Bound itself continues to flourish.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Broadcasting to the

Morley FM goes live again on Tuesday and I'm heavily involved of course with all sorts of challenges to sort out. The biggest one has actually been IT. Rather than rent a phone line and get broadband for something that would only be used a few weeks a year, instead our helpful landlord offered us connectivity via the school phone system and internet access via their network (so that we could stream to the world).

Unfortunately, their phone system is IP based, i.e. it is modern & high tech but we can't plug it into our studio kit which is designed to interface to regular lines. They have given us an IP phone but the power supply hasn't turned up yet so it isn't working at the moment, indeed we don't even know what phone number it will be as the wheels of education grind slowly...

The interface problem we resolved by obtaining a device called an ATA- it is what you use when you want to put a Fax on a hi-tech system. Unfortunately, however, it does need one of four software builds on it & it seems to be straining the capabilities of the support team to know what to do to get it working, especially as we bought it on eBay rather than purchased through the normal channels. We know it works on the phone side as we can get it to speak its IP address through the studio mixer. Unfortunately, however, that doesn't suit the presenter who wants to play "two word Tango" with listeners, as "IP" and "press square to exit" don't quite cut the mustard for entertainment value.

As for the streaming & internet, the streaming works when it shouldn't do, but only for a few minutes at a time. Our PCs can see the various network devices (via pings, a very Pythonesque name for a network test)but can't see through the proxy unless they are part of the school domain. (Doesn't IT sound like a mixture of elections and fantasy war games?) But, to be in the domain, the machines must have XP Pro and our account password hasn't come through anyway. Maybe we should have just rented that phone line with Broadband.

We also found out that our transmitter wasn't legal, as it isn't CE marked. Well, actually, it is, but only the power brick. It seems that Veronica never got round to CE emissions approval & have been flogging transmitters to Pirates (& proper access radio stations) without OfCom wising up. Methinks it is the upsurge of pirates in London that have caused OfCom to get heavy.

Now that they have, it isn't worth while for Veronica to submit the no-doubt extensive & costly approval paperwork for a niche product, so they now simply sell them outside of Europe. It seems that one of their biggest Customers overseas is the British Forces who use them in Afganistan and Iraq.

Kafka would have been proud...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Remembering The Idiots

The YWCA in Dougdale Road, North Kenton, was my first experience in show business other than a brief appearance as a Knight in a Primary School performance aged about 9, my Dad persuaded one of his friends with a DIY shop (Foy/McGeary) to knock up a hobby-horse. I recall galloping in and then being slightly nonplussed by one of the audience bursting into tears…

I don’t particularly remember joining the concert party known as “the Idiots”, our club leader must have eased us in to it in such a subtle way that it just seemed right. The troupe must have existed previously as there were costumes and props upstairs in the loft. However, I don’t recall it being active before I started to take part. The show consisted of songs interspersed with sketches and it was targeted at the older audience, i.e. Old Peoples Homes & drop-in centres. We sang quite a mixture of songs and I generally got the soppy sweet ballads, having the voice of an angel, albeit a specky four-eyed one! I can certainly recall singing “Answer me” (popularised by Barbara Dickson), “Edelweiss” from the Sound of Music and “Where is Love?” From Oliver. There was another boy who got the comedy songs, he was rather short and one of his efforts was to mime to “I went to your wedding” played on a gramophone, dressed in top hat and tails.

We went on a bit of a tour, I can remember doing the show in old peoples homes and church halls. During one show, a member of the audience decided to go back to his room, which involved shuffling through the middle of us mid-show, much to our amusement. Doug always played the Piano (he read music but wasn’t not perfect by any means and had to vamp it to events of course.) whilst backstage, a Mum or two generally helped out with costumes and getting us on-stage. Our big finale was wearing silk-like blue and white tops/slacks & I can recall dire warnings from a mum to make sure we shook well so that we didn’t have post-toilet patches!

One visit was to somewhere called St. Hildas which was an approved boarding school for wayward girls ran by nuns and Doug gave us a good pep talk to be on our guard from predatory females. Ironically, I heard several years later that he was a predatory male but that was after my time and may of course just be an unsubstantiated (although multi-sourced) rumour.

At St. Hildas, I ran into a bit of a problem. Whenever I approached the footlights to sing, I started coughing, although I was fine in the chorus. Doug was wise enough to go into “shipwreck chorus” when he realised I was strugging and I eventually twigged that the footlights were making a chemical smell, the “Cinemoid” colour filter was touching some of the lamps and scorching, a smell that was catching the back of my throat. I was cornered by a couple of girls after the performance backstage but their interest was benign curiousity and I escaped still chaste…

We were at our best singing in the club. Two curtained-off areas were created either side of the stage as wings and we had to be careful to exit on the correct side as there wasn’t a crossover passage. Lighting consisted of a heat & light bulb (a very common 275w blown glass reflector lamp) as general wash from inside the proscenium and a follow-spot worked from the top of the loft staircase. The follow-spot was some form of motorbike headlamp in a swivel assembly and a yellow glass filter could be clipped to the front of it. I was tolerant of open white but many of the other boys were not and so the glare was lessened slightly (& the beam made a little more diffuse) for the sufferers of Kliegl-eye. Needless to say, the lighting cues were managed by two older boys & whoever worked the flood had the raw deal as he was trapped stage left by himself whilst we mostly spent the time between numbers stage right (where there was a fire door if we needed to make an entrance from the back, not that I can remember doing so). Doug’s Piano was also stage right in front of the curtains so that problems could be communicated to him in whispered tones if necessary. When we did perform, the club was converted into a passable cabaret bar with the addition of candles on tables.

I can remember being nervous of my Dad coming to a Club show and seeing me sing for some reason, although in reality he was very proud of me, of course!

We did get to appear briefly in a “proper” show, at the Gosforth Civic Hall. It was some sort of Charity special and our role was to be an amusing filler. Doug had warned us it was a real theatre (it wasn’t!) and that there would be VIPs there (there were, the front rows looked like Penguins!) and all we had to do was a spoof fashion show. I was first on in some two-piece old biddy number and then the rest of us paraded on in increasingly gaudy outfits from the dressing-up box, with the short lad on last in some exotic ballgown or other. Standing in the wings, I experienced the worst bout of stage-fright I have ever had in my life. Despite re-assuring myself that I didn’t even have any lines, I felt the primeval waves of hind-brain dread building up to the point when I thought I wouldn’t be able to go on. Fortunately, I overcame the irrational fear, got on there and enjoyed the experience. I can’t say that it lit any spark of latent TV urges I later life, although I do remember that the audience thought it was hysterical with Doug’s tongue in cheek commentary over the PA system.

To give a taste of the quality sketches we performed, here is a three-parter we used to do:

(Boy A on stage, reading a paper. Boy B crosses the back with a briefcase).

Boy A: Where are you going?

Boy B: I’m taking my case to court.

(Later- Boy A on stage, Boy B enters the other way carrying the briefcase at chest height.)

Boy A: Where are you going now?

Boy B: I’m taking my case to a higher court.

(Later- Boy A on stage, Boy B enters without the briefcase looking forlorn.)

Boy A: What happened?

Boy B; I lost my case!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The windmills of your mind...

In the Summer, I posted about wind turbines on the tops of some blocks of flatshere. Since then, I developed a theory about them. One always turned at a constant speed, the second more slowly, the third not at all. I decided that the first one was probably actually motoring ratehr than generating, the third being jammed up solid. I developed a routine going to and from work where I would glance at the turbines, then look across the road at some flags to work out if my theory was correct. However, the results remained inconclusive.

Last week, they were all stationary and the flags hung limply. Today, the wind was up and all three rotated at about the same speed. At last, they seem to have commissioned & oiled them!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

It's fun to play at the Y, W, C, A...

When I was ten, we moved to Kenton Bar in Newcastle and in due course I came across a youth club nearby. The building was the Young Women's Christian Association and despite the title had a Saturday evening Boy's Club.

It was run by a youth leader called Doug and had the usual things to do, like ping pong, a tuck shop and a record player. For a while, it even had a Juke Box. Most of the time, we spent playing team games & enjoying ourselves.

The building was a simple construction, looking somewhat like an overgrown Nissen Hut with a curved roof. As you entered, there was a TV lounge on the left (full of old Sofas), Doug's office and toilets on the right and further along on the left was the kitchen, with a hatch through to the main hall, which had a platform at the far end and fire doors at the far end of the left hand wall. Above the smaller rooms was a loft with a wooden staircase, also a matching door for getting stuff in & out at height above the hatch. The loft was a treasure trove, with all sorts of mysterious things in it. One year, I recall it being turned into a sort of grotto for a Christmas fair, with a cod recreation of Callers window walkways with plastic sheeting, populated by Santa's helpers behind (other schoolboys!)

I also went on holdiday with other boys & Doug in a Caravan for Summer breaks a couple of times & had a great time then as well. I was trying to work out why I stopped going & it eventually occurred to me, we moved house when I was 12 and it was a bit too far to wander there on a whim any more.

The club also did afternoon mixed clubs & there was a period of it being a film club as well. The most memorable thing there, however, as an entertaining troupe which Doug formed for touring old peoples home & the like. I had a sweet boy soprano voice and would sing the ballads whilst the others would sing more robust stuff with gusto.

I don't specifically

I shall blog about my treading the boards at another time, however, the name of the troup was memorable...

..."The Idiots!"

Monday, November 14, 2005

Sheddy stuff...

I had a brief trip to London this morning, visiting Chelsea Football Ground at Stamford Bridge for an event about Server Management. (Oh, what an exciting life I lead!)

The only thing I knew about Chelsea was the legendary "Shed" and I was pleasantly surprised to find a very shiny looking stadium. The retaining wall for the original shedis still in-situ, commemorated with a plaque- and a Sports Bar!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The weasel poll

The results are in for what Scott Adams describes as The fourth annual exuberantly non-scientific Weasel Poll. I particularly liked the weaseliest behaviour topics.

On Scotts Dilblog, I also particularly liked the comment:

I hasten to remind you that the Weasel Poll is enthusiastically unscientific and thoroughly invalid. And it doesn’t reflect my views. I have no coherent political views of my own. The only thing that makes me special is that I’m aware of it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Jingle bells...

Our very own Morley FM boy wonder, Danny Mylo Superstar, will be helping turn on the lights in Morley in a couple of weeks time. He has also blagged doing something for the Castleford Switch-on.

I'm hoping to see Santa on the night- I'm going to have a word with him about all this spam he is sending me...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Post nominal nonsense...

Every now and then I get a business card from someone that shows the owner is very proud of the letters after their name, showing how studious they are and how many learned societies they belong to. I've always regarded it as a bit of pomposity outside of a CV although I can see the point for someone selling themselves, as a self-employed Consultant for instance.

Reflecting upon what I could have suffixed had I continued to fork out for the various societies, mine would now look like:

Cllr. Ian Michael Grey TEng, IEng, G6BXG, MIEEIE, MDipT, DipCCM, ADipNSM, MCMA, MBCS, CITP

and I liken them to:

Arnold J Rimmer, BSC, SSC

(Bronze swimming certificate, Silver swimming certificate....!)

Monday, October 24, 2005

More radio days...

I went to a conference all about Community Radio this weekend. It was held at Urbis, the landmark glass wedge shaped Manchester Museum that looks a cross between a futuristic ship and the lid for a cheese board. I’ve been to Urbis a couple of times now and have mixed feelings about it as a space. For all the dramatic styling, it is also rather bland internally with its plain white finishes & shopping centre ironmongery once you grow accustomed to the scale and layout. I much prefer the Lowry Centre with vibrant use of colour and the fact that it is performance space, which I always find more exciting than display space. Not that I am decrying the Urbis museum aspects- the City displays are fascinating on the various levels through the building and it is currently free as well so definitely worth at least one visit. They do encourage you to visit the first floor gallery (that isn’t free) and the motivation for that has to be the contents. It is currently photos and artefacts of the rock scene by a photographer called Nick Rock and only time prevented me on this occasion as the teasers looked very interesting.

Urbis has a conference suite on the ground floor and this was the main venue for CommunityFM 2005. However, the event was targeted at a number of different streams of community radio activists, from complete beginners all the way up to fully fledged existing stations looking to increase their sustainability, so there were a number of parallel sessions billed as workshops. To accommodate this, the nearby Cathedral visitors centre was pressed into use which had four meeting rooms of various sizes. It was a short stroll away from Urbis, close enough to be convenient but far enough to become tedious traipsing back and forth for coffee breaks and the like.

What were my overall impressions of the event? A curious mixture of both elation and despair. Elation, because I met a number of people who I found highly motivating. Despair, because the mindset from the attendees mainly seemed to revolve around collectivism rather than individualism. A session on funding talked at length about various sources but most of them were government agencies or quangos who redistributed taxation according to perceived merit (generally driven by flavour of the month). A strong element of getting a community radio license is demonstrating something called “social gain” but the more you scrape away at the surface of this the more it looks to me like “social engineering.” One session on programming put up a list of people that should be included in Community Radio, which looked like a local authority political correctness sensitivity training course. My flippant comment that we therefore exclude everyone else not listed got a big laugh but some thoughtful looks as well. There was an unchallenged assumption that the private sector were big bad bogeymen out to derail anything the community sector did. Something else I gradually became aware of was that many of the attendees got their take-home pay from the community sector rather than being unpaid enthusiasts and that the volunteers weren’t really in the driving seat.

All is not lost, however. A toolkit was launched with some very sensible advice in it about not getting sucked into the requirements of the various social agencies and turning output into some horrible manifestation of Town hall FM. I met at least one individual who recognised that the cap in hand model to the government wasn’t sustainable and that they would concentrate on fund raising across a range of different approaches. I found out buckets of information about things I hadn’t appreciated or investigated, not all of it what I wanted to hear…

I'll be taking a blogging break for a few days, more of the conference and other matters in due course.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Rather tyred...

I took the motor into an ATS to get the burst one replaced, which was stinking out the boot with cold burnt rubber. (Why do I think of Billy Connolly? Oh yes, his stated objections to Condoms) You will put the new one on front offside, worn one in the boot and check the torque on the wheel I changed? Yes sir, of course Sir. ...By the way, the front offside is wearing down, it is still comfortably legal but you should be aware of it. OK, I'm not too bothered if it is the spare. Yes, we'll see to that...

later, it struck me that the new tyre didn't look particularly new. There was a good reason for that, it was because it was actually in the tyre well in the boot. Now I wonder, did they even check the torque on the front nearside or just put the hub cap back on?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The smell of burning rubber...

I had a high speed blowout tonight on the motorway. Not a crash & burn one, more a bang!- what was that- it can't be the tyres, the handling hasn't changed but I'll ease off anyway hmm, getting a little lumpy! type of blowout.

I was close enough to my exit junction to slowly exit on the hard shoulder with hazards going, but by a few hundred yards I needed to pull in. After having a look (front nearside, I had assumed it was back nearside due to keeping control) I rang the AA & as they said no more than 75 minutes, had a go at changing the wheel myself. Last time I tried I couldn't get the nuts off, but that was alloy wheels, these were more straight-forward. The AA man then rang me as his directions weren't clear, but I was able to tell him he wasn't needed any more. The local tyre change garages were all closing, so it looks like a job for tomorrow.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

War in the North...

I can highly recommend the exhibition at the Imperial War museum North which looks at war from a local (i.e. Northern England) perspective.

Their own description sums it up:

Focusing on the highs and lows of the Home Front, The North at War explores the impact of both world wars on men, women and children living in the north of England. The exhibition starts with celebration and moves on to examine experiences of loss, pain and threat, culminating in the hopes and aspirations felt by many as war ends and peace begins. With an engaging mix of objects and personal stories, this will be one of the highlights in the 60th anniversary commemorations of the end of the Second World War.

The Special Exhibitions Gallery is an extraordinary and compelling space, unrivalled in the UK. One of the largest temporary exhibition galleries outside of London, its unique design provides a powerful setting for a diverse range of major national and international exhibitions.

Of particular poigniancy are the visitor comments written on an old style "clock card" and tied to a frame for all to read. We have added one, it turns out that my Mum in Law brought an unexploded incendiary device into the house from the garden & put it in a drawer...

One downer today- the lift up to the viewing platform on the "air shard" was out of order today, 161 steps up, my thighs still ache!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

also in memorium...

...Coppersblog, that has gone off the air other than a holding page, after massive exposure in the Mail on Sunday last week.

I don't know if the grief is from his ISP, his Bosses or the secret squirrels, but he was bound to be rumbled eventually.

His blog banner says: A Journey into the mad, mad world of the British underclass and the Public sector, where nothing is too insane for it to be written down and copied in triplicate. VIEWS EXPRESSED PROBABLY DON'T REFLECT OFFICIAL POLICY. "This blog will do more to put people off calling the police than anything, other than actually calling the police."

He painted a picture of policing for the dull reality it probably is.. very frustrating at times, careful what you say for all the professional victims, endless form filling, echelons of non-jobs and knee jerk initiatives to jump on Government bandwagons etc.

His closedown will cause waves in the blogosphere, 131 comments on his holding post and counting...

Sunday, October 09, 2005

In memorium...

...I have heard news of two people I knew from the past who have died recently.

The first was Phil Rose, the Factory manager at CCT Theatre Lighting and an old-timer from Strand Electric in the days before Rank Strand. I spent many an hour sitting with him talking about why things were the way they were in the Stage Lighting world, both old and new. Pride of place on the wall near his desk were original lighting rig plans for the London Palladium in the 40s that I recognised as an illustration from one of Fred Bentham's Stage Lighting books. The last time I saw Phil was at Fred's Funeral and we promised to keep in touch, but other than swapping a couple of emails we were both somewhat remiss. Apparently the funeral will be on October 13th near Fleet, Hants and Jim Laws should have the details.

The other person was Bill Furness, the Stage Manager and eventual Chief Projectionist at the Newcastle Odeon who I remember well from my teens, as recounted here. His Son, Roger Furness, tracked me down & left a comment on the blogpost and also took the trouble to email me directly. The funeral is tomorrow at 11am in Blyth.

Friday, October 07, 2005

New studio equipment

The Hesh (standing) and Martin Green (seated) try out the studio...

Another week in Morley...

...we had six new faces to a Morley FM open evening. One of them was someone's mum, though, and possibly doesn't count!

...The Town Council met. I complained about decisions being referred to Council without any significant background information or justification, just a sentence or two in Committee Minutes. Are we supposed to scrutinise ourselves or just rubber stamp everything?

...I also complained about the Mayor deciding to make mini speeches during debate. In his role as Chairman, I feel it is important that he ensures fair debate in the chamber and keeps his own views reasonably quiet. The views weren't anything off have told us we have to stick to ten watts.ensive but I think there is a principle here, it is a position of privilege which could unduly influence others.

All of the studio bits have now arrived from the supplier, we can now trigger the computer from the mixer via a little game port adapter device. We push up the fader and the computer thinks someone has pushed a joystick button!

I am refining my "First kata" at karate. Now that the pattern and the moves are committed to memory, comes the realisation that higher grades are much more expressive and elegant in performing what is essentially a style of performance Ballet.

The Radio station has also had an expression of sponsorship interest from a local double glazing company, an offer of cheap corporate membership from a local gym for our (non-existent) staff, then finally OfCom have told us we will have to stick to 10 watts for our December broadcast. They have very kindly sent an expected coverage map though...

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Big Bin Brother...

Last week, Leeds City Council fitted our recycle bin with an RFID tag, a little passive device that spits out a unique number when interrogated electronically. A team descended on the close, following a well ordered drill. The first bloke drilled a hole in the bin with a battery operated power drill, the second popped the device in the hole and the third recorded the house number on a hand-held device with a large aerial. I happened to be out at the time, collecting the black bin when this all happened. Us having two bins caused a momentary problem for them as a) there isn't a house number on it, and b) it appears to be unusual to have two green bins (although the council are happy to let people have as many as they want if there is a need.

We had been forewarned that this was happening by a letter a couple of weeks ago- also giving the reason.

"This is being done in order for us to ascertain the weight of materials being collected and will help with future management decisions."

I thought the phrase sounded slightly sinister, as it might herald taxation by quantity. Will we get chastised for producing too much, or not enough? Will we get snotty letters saying green bin number 2 has little in because we don't evenly distribute the stuff between both of them? When will they trill and fit the black bins?

Of course, these schemes always have unintended consequences. My parents used to put household waste in the street bin as they ran a shop and would be charged extra if the business bin was insufficient (which it was). I can see us distributing garden waste around town down our trouser legs as per the great escape...

Friday, September 30, 2005

And the bunfights continue...

My "pseudo friends" the Morley Borough independents continue to fight political warfare with the local Labour Party through the pages of the local rag. This time, the issue is over the non-reappointment of David Dewhirst, a School Governor who is also the Chair of the Body I serve on. I was surprised to read that he had not been re-appointed as a local authority representative at the end of his term, although I have to admit that I wasn't aware his time was up, having had Town Council clashes with recent meetings. I also wasn't that aware (or interested) what type of Governor he was as it shouldn't actually make any difference to how the role is carried out. He is a well known Labour Party Activist and somewhat of a political animal in his views, although he is also a Head Teacher in the day job and makes a good Chair. He stepped into the role after the original Chair stood down last year after a long stint, there being no obvious candidate at the time. Over the last three weeks and several letters, The political bun fighting implied that this whole business had thrown the school into disarray and there were various accusations of lack of communication on both sides, neither of which sounded totally convincing. The alternative appointee is young Gareth Beevers who certainly lives close to the school but he is no intellectual heavyweight and doesn't have the years of Educational experience the former incumbent has. It seems to me that the appointment was political, although I'm sure it probably was back in 2001 as well- that's what City Councillors tend to do when they are in control. There was the suggestion made that if DD still wanted to be a Governor there were plenty of opportunities at other schools, but the idea of GB taking up such an opportunity wasn't mooted.

Anyway, my Minutes of the last Governor meeting turned up this week and it seems that this had all been predicted and planned for last July- the Governing Body was keen for him to re-stand and in the event of him not being re-appointed by the LEA he was going to be co-opted before election of Chair so that he could carry on in the role. This annoyed me somewhat as this was not mentioned in any of the correspondence- after all it deflates the spin considerably and doesn't make Finnigan & Co look quite so cruel and uncaring when looked at in context. Who writes these letters from local Labour party people, is Alistair Campbell still on the payroll?

I was vaguely tempted to write in but why bother, that is simply sinking down to their level and it is rather stinky down there, in amongst the fag ends, leaves and dog turds. Instead, I can vent my spleen and blog about it here, knowing it won't get edited or omitted, but probably unread and/or ignored!

By the way, if anyone is concerned that I may be betraying confidences, whilst Governor meetings are generally closed meetings, the Minutes of the meetings are public documents and are readily open for inspection by the public (other than confidential Minutes related to items such as salary etc.)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

PCs not too PC...

I was at an event for Town & Parish Councillors last night, organised by the Police Authority. A number of senior Bobbies pontificated on concerns close to the audience's hearts, namely Anti-social behaviour, Neighbourhood Policing and Response times.

The subject of travellers inevitably came up. I was slightly stunned (and rather pleased) to hear a particularly robust explanation of a particular approach to policing based on intolerance of crime rather than the normal softly-softly wait for the court order approach. The senior officer described what sounded very much like borderline harassment through intense scrutiny of the travellers (who she deliberately referred to as "Gypsies" several times)- frequently visiting, checking for documents, tax discs, making them pick up fly tipping etc. and advising them that the farmer who owned the land had filled his muck spreader with pig excrement and was happy to take his tractor round the field. It seems it was successful, they upped and went.

When I say pleased, I don't mean that I was pleased the Police were harassing particular members of the public with a different lifestyle, more that I was pleased that the Officer didn't feel the need to use the woolly phrases of left liberal speak such as protected minorities, human rights, dignity and that really scummy one- appropriate behaviour. (i.e. what the speaker considers acceptable).

Unsurprisingly, a Councillor savaged the Officer verbally later on, saying she had Gypsy roots in her own family and it was an outrageous slur on an oppressed minority, at which point two or three others in the audience clapped vigourously in approval. However, there must have been another fifty of so in the room who remained indifferent to her outburst. The Officer pointed out that this was not general West Yorkshire Police policy for all Gypsies, many of whom do not cause trouble. That one particular encampment it seemed had been particularly anti-social...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

New radio studio for Morley FM

I've been a bit busy in my spare time since Monday, when the collection of four large boxes resulted in finding that our new studio was a voyage of discovery rather than the plug & play solution promised in the blurb. Sharp words have been sent via email concerning all of the various missing bits & the apparent lack of testing although most of it seems to be working fine so far, touch wood.

I can see my weekend being rather busy soldering up temporary cables for specialised bits not supplied that should have been- a relay-switched 12v on-air sign triggered by a jack plug closure and a three jack plugs to joystick socket for triggering the computer playback.

This is the second thing I've bought from them and I currently have a 50% satisfaction rate, although the first thing was an RDS encoder board (in a jiffy bag) so they would have been hard pressed to cock that order up.

By the way, RDS is Radio Data System, the thing that makes your Radio say "MorleyFM" if you happen to be in the area on December 13th for 12 days...

Another by the way...the MOAS panto will be Snow White, 9th-12th February at Morley Town Hall. There were two letters of praise for last weeks show in todays Obtiser, I'd be more convinced though if one of them wasn't from the Hubby of one of the Soloists!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Morley entertainers

The MAOS (Morley Amateur Operatic Society) have been running a 5 night musical extravaganza this week in the Town Hall. They normally do an annual Panto there (in February, it's a Yorkshire thing) and another show in the Leeds Civic Theatre, however, the Leeds Civic is closing (to be relaced by a new venue) and the Society presumably decided that it was safer to come back to Morley this Autumn.

The Alexandra Hall is by no means an ideal theatre venue, being a concert hall with platform stage and no wing space. There are staircases down either side of the platform with a crossover passage behind. A further staircase leads down to two dressing rooms and the platform of the smaller Morleian hall which doubles as additional dressing room space for shows. The society has a fit-up stage made from scaffolding, dressed with red borders, proscenium pieces and a gold front Tabs (which looks rather lacking in fullness when in (i.e. the curtains are closed). With wing pieces and cloths, it makes a passable stage but it must be an absolute pig for the performers getting on and off in the cramped space beyond.

Another thing that lets the venue down is the lighting- all energy lamps and fluroescent fittings which have to be switched off in a number of visual jerks. A sound and lighting rig are imported though, which do their job admirably- the performers are brightly lit and clearly heard.

The Society has a number of talented performers and many of the numbers were very well done indeed, particularly the South Pacific, Fiddler on the Roof and Oliver! numbers. The kids performed well, with just the right mix of enthusiasm without the sickly fixed smiles of the precocious stage school starlets. The set was simple (a sort of leafy abstract jungle) and it was nicely reinforced by a Powerpoint presentation that was informative visually without being too much of a distraction.

The show wasn't perfect, by any means- some singers were flat or struggling on occasions and one or two of the props went wrong, including a broom head during the matchmaker routine which amused the four dancers without them actually corpsing. The choreography mostly worked well & the energy of all the performers was excellent.

The blanks of Annie's Gun (the Wild West Annie, not the one with the dog) made everyone jump and the finale of Barnum! numbers brought the house down, there were even some circus skills in evidence (although the harlequin clown appeared to be juggling with only two balls, a detail that probably passed most of the audience by).

I'd like to recommend that everyone goes to see it, but alas, all good things come to a close. However, they will be doing a Panto in February!


I'm also pleased to see that they make a (small) surplus on their turnover of circa 25k, although their accounts appear to be late!)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Institutional racism?

In case the reference of one extreme to the other was a bit oblique, in 1982 I swapped a very cold Norway for a very hot Saudi Arabia, although it has to be said that society was also diametrically opposite as well!

Saudi struck me as what I initially took to be a very racist place. The Arabs were top of the pecking order, with Yanks trailing second place. Canucks were third, Brits were fourth, followed by white europeans. Filipilos did most of the practical graft and at the bottom of the pile were Koreans who appeared to make up the road gangs. There didn't seem to be too many Indians (or Pakistanis) although I later discovered that they tended to work in the Countries with former British influence, where you were likely to find Cable & Wireless.

I eventually realised that Aramco was not strictly racist, they just chose employees to meet their skill requirements and paid the going rate according to the home economy (which hurt when I found that Canadians were earning twice what I was, but that is market forces for you). They quite happily gave a new Indian employee Bachelor accommodation on site in with my Brit friends because he was a Brit according to his passport and the colour of his skin was irrelevant in the decision.

There was one genuine bit of institutional racism they could be accused of, however. If we weren't Muslims, we were infidels and all second class citizens, or maybe third class, as Muslim women were of course second class by culture but probably technically had rank over us...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

From one extreme to the other...

...I spent most of 1982 in Saudi Arabia, working for Nortel as a "Consultant" on Contract to Aramco in Dhahran on the Eastern province. It was a year of frustration as the job wasn't quite what it was meant to be, I was effectively on 1st line maintenance with another American who didn't actually need any assistace most of the time. He was called Barry Hensley and he was a good egg. He came from Nashville Tennessee, he had even fixed Tammy Wynette's phone system when he worked for the Telco there. He had his family over living on-site and I had a pleasant three weeks house-sitting for him later in the year.

I lived in the Aramco Construction Camp, known as A.C.C. Dhahran North. I had my own room (with sink) and shared a toilet and shower with another room, never actually seeing the resident during the 12 months. The block was built from portacabin-style buildings and had 24 rooms. These were the luxury ones- the next type down had 36 rooms with communual showers/toilets sinks. Then there were the 72 bed twins and the 144 bed blocks where they were bunked four to a room. The higher density blocks were the same size as the 36ers, just more bodies.

I probably wasn't entitled to a 24 room type room but some strings were pulled as there was a phone in the room (which my predecessor had occupied).

The camp had several dining halls, two of which served western food. The smaller one had American fayre which included a lot of Mexican specials. The larger one was more Brit-based and did a lot more curries!

There was also an indoor cinema, an outdoor one, a couple of recreation halls & a ball park. It was rather bleak, however, and had 10,000 residents.

Saudi seemed a bit crazy back in 1982. I recently stumbled on a Blogger from Saudi with a robust view of the Kingdom, I'm surprised how little has changed over the last couple of decades...

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Hot, sweaty & breathless...

...but now I have a Karate yellow belt. The grading for adults is considerably more stringent than for kiddleywinks and so it should be.

The hardest bit I found was doing the kicks in a 4-stage slo-mo, e.g. knee up, kick out, leg back, knee down for each leg in four directions (front, side to front, side, back). There were the same number of instructors as students and I was relieved to see that quite a few of them wobbled as well as me whilst attempting to balance.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

It is heritage weekend...

...and once again, many interesting (& probably a few dull) buildings outside the Capital are open for visits from the general public free of charge, from the obsessed to the merely curious.

Today, we went to Halifax, for a chance for me to go inside three buildings that I've seen hundreds of times over the last seven years.

Our first port of call was the Magistrates Courts in Blackwall, just up the road from the Halifax Head Office (as was pre-HBOS) and just down the road from Provident Insurance. We were shown round the three main courts as well as the state of the art cell block. Whilst it was good to be guided by practicing Magistrates, their spiel was rather dull, being lifted from a potted history document. When they veered off-script, however, they became much more interesting. Time and "modernisation" haven't been too kind to the building but it still bears the hallmarks of competent design and construction that I doubt the courts in the centre of Leeds will share in the 22nd Century.

One particularly incongruous modern addition is the secured dock, bullet proof glass and strong mesh ceiling in court 1, with a similar floor to near-ceiling arrangement in the much smaller court 2 which is more chapel sized compared to the more imposing court 1 which is a substantial space. Interestingly, the larger court has been internally reversed through 180 degrees but retains the style & woodwork to the extent that it is not at all obvious other than some unaccounted for space at high level beyond the Bench which presumably was the original public gallery. One visual coffee stain that would pass by the untrained observer is the shadow of the roof space catwalk above the Art Nouveau laylight inserted in the ceiling panel presumably at the turn of the last century.

The cells are a modern re-work of the upper level block (the lower ones being abandoned for prisoner use) but whilst clean and bright are extremely bleak indeed. All they have inside is a long bench on the far wall and that certainly isn't a place I'd wish to visit in anger, so to speak.

Our second stop was the Town Hall, designed by Sir Charles Barrie best known for the houses of Parliament. Again, this building has been mucked about with internally, although the ornate schemes remain. It has a very large internal hall that we would now call an atrium, although it doesn't let in too much light from the very peculiar multi-domed ceiling glazed in deep blue starred stained glass. Despite being fairly brightly lit it feels dismal and gloomy, the effect of the high-bay Sodium lighting & the green-ish colour scheme. The Council Chamber was inserted into a rather loft court room in 1901 and is slightly sombre with dark polished mahogany but a well designed and intimate space. The current Mayor's Parlour is a vibrant room and an antidote to the more sombre spaces elsewhere.

The grand staircase is marred somewhat by a picket-gate style unusual lift (with two entrances at right-angles) that is a period piece in its own right but does distort the openness and balance of the staircase visually. Another much larger glazed dome is above, beyond which is the tower and huge spire complete with an extremely busy facade and statuary worthy of closer study. The clock has a Westminster Chime although the bells sounded slightly sharp to me.

David ensured he sat in the Mayor's chair of course, a pastime of his in Public Buildings!

Our third and final visit was to Somerset House, a much mangled and almost forgotten Georgian Mansion House in the centre of the Town. It has one remarkable surviving large room with absolutely stunning rococo plasterwork. I took two snapshots of the detail (actually six, with three combinations of flash setting) and here they are below. They are available light so aren't pin sharp, however the flash ones are much flatter and don't do the bas relief justice. If you click on them, you can see a much bigger image. You can place these shots in context by following the hyperlink above. It also seems from this picture that there is concealed cornice lighting, although it wasn't lit on our visit.

This is Britannia above the Mantlepiece. Note the date, 1766.

This is Neptune on the ceiling in the centre of the room, viewed from the entrance door side facing three double height bay windows.

David put up with the visits but would have preferred less talking by the guides and more sitting in the various seats...

Friday, September 09, 2005

What was that book again?

In my youth, I spent some time doing acting type stuff with other youngsters associated with the Tyneside Theatre Company of the University Theatre in Barras Bridge. They had a rehearsal rooms practically under the High Level Bridge, known, rather unimaginatively as "The Warehouse", because it was.

It was generally devoid of anything beyond basic furniture, however a paperback book once appeared in one of the rooms. When it was still there months later, my mate Keith decided to take it home to read. He passed it on to me and I enjoyed it as well.

It was a sci-fi book about an inventor who had designed a futuristic town then managed to get run over by his own automatic lawnmower. The Town Hall Computer (in the basement) whisch seems to control everything is actually a crock of junk, booby trapped and made from random electronics, including a Norden bombsight. Beyond, they eventually find a room where the real power lies & it seems the Town mayor was fiddling things. I also recall this was my first exposure to the word Cupola.

Why am I typing it here? Well, one day, someone else will glide past and tell me what the book was called and who the author was, so that I can read it again.

If I don't post this up, I'll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of my life. Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of. I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of fat middle aged eccentrics don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that. Now, now... Here's looking at you kid.

(exits gracefully, singing:- You must remember this / A kiss is still a kiss / A sigh is just a sigh / The fundamental things apply / As time goes by. / And when two lovers woo, / They still say, "I love you" / On that you can rely / No matter what the future brings-...)

(This post was brought to you by random thought processes...)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Want to understand about ID cards?

Click on this link to be informed about the benefits of ID cards to Society.

From, the people that brought us the cute singing dogs, a tribute to the Home Secretary.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Thursday, July 14th 1983...

...started like any other. I rolled up to the office of Northern telecom (UK) Ltd in Maidenhead, visited the coffee dispenser for a mugful, checked my faxes for anything important, then ripped June 13th off my desk calendar.

This wasn't any ordinary calendar, however, it was Polyunsaturated PEDIGREE NOT 1983 (with ADDED QN7), a spin-off sheet-per-day merchandise product of the then defunct Not the Nine O' Clock News, designed to cash in on the Christmas trade. (Dilbert hadn't been invented then so Engineers latched onto anything funny or surreal).

As was my want, I read the back of the outgoing sheet before putting it in the bin. Occasionally, I would chortle and show it to one or two others if it was particularly funny.

That day, I made the mistake of drinking at the same time and the result was a coffee spray and lots of coughing & gurgling. A colleague of mine picked it up, read it then started howling with laughter. Another took a look and fell off his chair. By mid day, practically everyone with a sense of humour had been to the photocopier.

What had amused us so much? Well, by the miracle of eBay, I am able to reproduce it below. It is written in the style of a ladies' comic quiz such as found in Woman's Own or Woman's Realm. (Or at least, it starts off that way!)

(I have to forewarn you that it contains a word or two not used in polite circles. To avoid upsetting Corporate firewalls, I have shuffled the letters up. Perservere with your pencil, and you will be able to unscramble it, although make sure you have some smelling salts to hand if you faint readily. Although a walk in the presence of builders or schoolchildren will find such words used as punctuation these days...)

How romantic is your chap?

Complete the quiz below and find out just how high he scores in the romance stakes!!!

His favourite name for you is...

a ( ) Sweetness, prettiness, honeypie, petal...
b ( ) Babe, baby.
c ( ) Bunny, squirrel nutkin.
b ( ) Cnut.

He wants to make love to you, he says...
a ( ) Nothing - but he tells you with his eyes, his hands.
b ( ) Hey babe/baby - lets get down on it.
c ( ) Kissy kissy.
d ( ) Get your frock off, cnut.

You're in the midst of a blazing row, you're most likely to end the evening...

a ( ) Laughing and hugging.
b ( ) Sharing a joint, injecting each other.
c ( ) Over his knee getting a good spanking.
d ( ) Unconscious/told to kcuf off because you're a cnut.

His favourite part of you is...
a ( ) Every little bit of you.
b ( ) Breasts, buttocks
c ( ) Your funny little nose.
d ( ) Cnut.

Afterthought... We received a shared account into the Nortel Corporate WAN a couple of days later. Alex, the Software Specialist, solemnly announced that the password was set to "FROCKOFF", which we revitalised every time the system would let us...

Monday, September 05, 2005

Only on the web...

I read a number of blogs when I can spare the time. It doesn't totally match up to my Blogroll but I synch them occasionally. Brian Micklethwait is worth a regular read and recently posted two items which made me look, the first about optical illusions to do with shade and colour, the second about items known as "Dilettos". I didn't make the connection until I clicked through, it puts another twist on the phrase all of our products are personally tested by the management...

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Beside the seaside...

We had a trip to Blackpool to take advantage of David's last free weekend- swimming lessons and Kid's clubs start again next week.

David particularly wanted to see Mystique which has a "PG" rating. The semi-naked nubettes washed over his head but he was somewhat upset by a dancer being impaled at the end of the first half and Richard De Vere (the Magician) being sawn in half towards the end of the second half. His real disappointment was the lack of Schnorbitz- the massive St. Bernard dog that used to belong to Bernie Winters (I'm not surprised he didn't appear in a way, I worked a panto season in 1975 & Schnorbitz was there so he must be at least 150 years older by now!)

It seems that whilst he may an old dog, he remains a horny one as he became a Dad ten weeks ago & to prove it Richard De Vere produced "Schnorbaby" who whilst still a Pup was almost as big as a fully grown Labrador!

No new ride innovations for David, although he did go on the Revolution by himself although he wouldn't brave Trauma Towers. Having season tickets for the Plesh has dragged us down there a lot more than normal to get our money's worth, although it is unlikely we would fork out again next year as you can have too much of a good thing. It is also a pain having to queue up at the main entrances (which are of course the busiest ones) and collect the cards again afterwards.

Gripe of the day- we tried to book tickets for Mystique before the main park opened (which are free with a wristband admission, but it is worth paying a bit more for better seats) but we were told we had to actually have been issued with the wristbands, our season cards weren't good enough. Then on returning afterwards, the wristbands were not scanned or anything, we were just asked if we had them & she only glanced at mine. What did that particular bit of burocratic stubbornness achieve other than to annoy us? (& also to ensure that we got worse seats as they had
presumably sold quite a few in the intervening hour.)

We saw perhaps half a mile of the illuminations from the Sandcastle car park up to the southern finish on the way out. I must say that they aren't worth sitting in Prom traffic for 2-3 hours.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Things going wrong...

I've noticed recently that quite a few things have gone wrong and stayed that way for much longer than anticipated. Two of the lifts at work have needed special parts, my UPS has gone into a sulk and I've had to rebuild my PC & Microshaft don't recognise my license code.

Besides all this, Morley has been without the Town Hall clock until recently, stuck on 4:15pm so as someone rightly pointed out in the paper, it is right twice a day!

It would seem that it is probably cheaper to replace the mechanics of the clock (which is the original 1895 mechanism although it does now have an electric winder) with a modern electronic mechanism which would keep much better time, ring the bells and be flexible enough to silence it at night or when concerts are on in the Hall. It would be a shame to lose that bit of history but at the moment it is a curate's egg- even the staff are barred from visiting it, let alone horologists.

The Town Hall is a Grade 1 listed building so fixtures and fittings should be preserved where possible. Some forward thinking local authorities have preserved their mechanisms in museum displays or even street level ornamental clocks but it costs money. Better an enthusiast to tend or rescue it methinks- if he can fit up the "manhole" to access it- I'm told I'll probably struggle!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

I have a cunning plan...

Sitting on the Town Council Planning Committee gives an insight into things likely to happen in the town, although the gap between seeing the plans and the skips being delivered to the premises can be a long time (if they ever happen at all- there is no obligation to implement the plans, although they will lapse within 3 years or so if not actually started).

In amongst the comparative routine of the minor extensions, conservatories and changes of use, every now and then something big or unusual may come along. A large hotel was recently proposed which is to be welcomed even if it is rather bland by the standards of some.

Another scheme was the conversion of a former chapel to flats, simple in itself but it was going to "blight the townscape" by a "hideous carbuncle" in the words of others. I wasn't overly bothered by it myself but I thought that the florid prose and architect's drawings oversold something rather dull and it was rather rough on the adjacent houses whose bedrooms would be overlooked by the roof garden. As it happened, the developer came up with a much less controversial scheme but another one made me wonder. An extension to an end-terrace was going to have a flat roof forming a balcony in order to enjoy the view of a hillside opposite. However, the said residents could then also potentially overlook the gardens of the other terraced houses as well, which would invade their privacy. I did point out that anyone could quite happily stare obliquely out of their own window which was perfectly legal behavour but it seems that doing the same in the comfort of a chair with drink in hand is much more hienous and to be objected to. Not even the fallback of obscured glass would sway the opinions.

My libertarian view is that is their own house and simply constructing it that way should be their own choice, their actions being the ones to object to if they actually do dump on others. Having said that, this reeks of individualism, a trait to be discouraged by Town Planners in these enlightened times.

So, however did we manage in the dark old days before the Town and Country Planning Act, when anything went and the buildings were of poor quality? Well it might surprise many to find that it was only introduced in 1947. Since then we have replaced the dreadful technique of town evolution based on usage (going back to roman times) with are much more elegant central planning, the schemes that gave us Coventry, Milton Keynes, Peterlee, Welwyn Garden City and Harlow.

Equally delightfully, we have been able to replace those dour twiddly victorian, edwardian and between the wars horrors with such wonders as Arndale Centres, Centre Point style concrete blocks and those workers paradise high rises that every local authority cherishes.

Er... just run that by me again?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Kids & water...

We took another trip up to the Alnwick Garden on saturday, 12 months since we visited and it was a bit of a building site then.

There is still a lot of construction ongoing for a new pavilion to replace the tented restaurants & portaloos, however the serpent garden is a particular delight, full of water features that amuse, entertain and intrigue. My particular favourite was the whirlpool, a variant on an exhibit at Magna where a bowl shaped structure is progressively filled then allowed to empty. This one is allowed to overspill, however, cascading down the sides of the stainless steel, but not before splashing onlookers with random waves. Had David brought a change of clothes, the Torricelli tower would have ensured he got soaked. (A description of the sculptures can be found in this press release)

We also saw a street theatre performance by Avanti, doing the same show they performed last year, Mr. Lucky's party. This appeared to be a fluke on our part, as they have a bigger repertoire and only appear occasionally, the Garden having a wide range of performances over time. This is a very wet performance, water is a recurring theme in the gardens, although it all pales into insignificance compared to the grand cascade.

One thing slightly disappointing was the Poison Garden, more non-latin names would have been useful as most of the plant we hadn't heard of. A few were contained in large cages, including a Cannabis plant which appeared to be growing very healthily. It seems they have guides but we went in there first thing in the day & they were busy.

The treehouse is a splendid structure, although it has to be said that it seems to be built in amongst trees with the occasional protrusion rather than requiring structural support for them. It has a couple of wobbly bridges delighting young and old alike and is also a rather novel setting for a restaurant. The Cherry & Chocolate toasted bread was very pleasant and also rather unusual! You could also walk upo spiral stairs to "the nest" right at the top of the building, as well as watch an informative (but somewhat PC) video on giant plasma screens in "the roost".

Even to people like us to whom cutting the grass is a chore, a visit to Alnwick is a joy and is highly recommended.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Factor "X"

I got sucked into watching X factor on Saturday, I have to say that it is strangely compelling, the occasional talent in amongst the ungifted and the whackos. However, I got to thinking. If 75,000 people auditioned and they spent an average of two minutes with Simon, Louis and Ozzetta (the three celebrity judges), that is 78 eight hour days so it is implausible that everyone gets to see them... although that is how it comes across on the box.

The reality, however, appears to be a lot more mundane. Teams of production judges do first (& sometimes second) interviews before anyone gets anywhere near the celebs (& serious filming). They then get sorted into very good, really, really terrible and characterful fruit-loops, all in the name of good television.

Thanks to the X factor forum for the insight, and of course, Google for pointing me in the right direction.

I wonder if it can solve the rumours about the Chuckle Brothers?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Messing about in boats

During the mid eighties, I went on a number of narrowboat trips with two other lads that Digger the lodger used to refer to as "the choirboys". I had met them both at Maidenhead Eighteen Plus and we were drinking buddies for many years. Alan was the odder of the two, still living at home and with an unhealthy interest in public transport & terrible puns. However he was very knowlegable about pubs & beer as well as being happy as the designated driver. Chris was more down to earth (although he also still lived at home) & we tried to avoid ganging up on Alan, although the temptation was always there.

The thing about narrowboating is that it is basically a very long, thin, museum of industrial archaeology. There is always something interesting to look at and there is the occasional lock or tunnel to navigate and break up the journey. The other thing that appeals to blokes is the large number of Pubs, most of which do food as well. We'd merrily chug along at 3mph, comparing the view to our Nichonson Ordnance Survey guides, with a short(ish) stop for liquid lunch and timed arrival for a pleasant tea. There would be the odd location where we'd have to break out the emergency rations (i.e. breakfast food) because the pub no longer did food or had closed down but mostly our planning worked out well and we must have enjoyed it or we wouldn't keep doing it.

I don't recall the last time we holidayed, although it was probably 1986 or '87. Needless to say, we developed other interests. For Chris & myself, it was girls and travel, for Alan it was Routemasters...

Anyway, today the Grey family had a brief canal trip, although it was only 500 yards into a tunnel. However this wasn't just any tunnel, it was the highest, longest, deepest & probably dampest one in Britain, the Standedge tunnel which is on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal that crosses the Pennines to reach Ashton under Lyne. The visitor centre is near Marsden, otherwise known as Skelthwaite in TV's Where the heart is. You can catch a 15 seater narrowboat (which will actually seat more than thirty as it has seats in the front and back cockpits) but if you are not in the cabin, the god of health'n'safety decrees you must wear a hard hat (in case the tunnel collapses on you, but only in a way that would otherwise protect you from head injury of course, you are perfectly safe in the glass roofed main cabin as it is obviously brick-proof...)

The tour boat is actually a sideline, the main function is to tow narrowboats through the tunnel on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Westbound in the mornings and Eastbound in the afternoons, £6 one way trip. The flotilla is shadowed by someone in a vehicle driving through a nearby (disused) railway tunnel who will rendezvous at several key points on the journey, as the tunnels are interlinked with cross-gangways en-route. It is £2 for the trip & well worth it, the guide makes it come alive & the time flies by.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Theatre in the round

I was browsing in Halifax a few weeks back & took a look in an old-fashioned non-chain record shop in the Borough Arcade. It is the very antithesis of an HMV, with a very 70s feel (other than vinyl being replaced by CD of course.) It reminded me of some of the alternative stores in Newcastle of my youth, particularly in the Handiside Arcade and down the West Road.

After an appropriate rummage, I bought a Janis Joplin greatest hits album, although I wasn't entirely certain why. Eventually, I placed the reference...

At the top of the Pavilion Building in Piccadilly Circus, used to live an exhibition run by Madame Tussauds, known as Rock Circus. (now sadly extinct).

After visiting the various set pieces, you made your way upstairs (up the Stairway to Heaven, no prizes for guessing the background music there!) You were then ushered into a revolving theatre for a remarkable animatronics show hosted by Tim Rice and starring the Beatles, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, a couple of others, and... Janis Joplin.

The first time I saw the show, I had no idea who she was and this must have been very common, because next time I visited, her name was projected using Gobos so there was no doubt. She was sitting on a park bench (with hedgerows either side) and after a brief talk, she hauled herself to her feet & sand a bit of "Me and Bobby McGee" accompanied by authentic 60's style hippy lighting. The tune has obviosly lurked in my subconscious for the last decade or so, enough to buy an album on spec all these years later. Assuming Tim Rice had a hand in the content, he may well be a JJ fan. I'm not certain I am yet...

Two other memories of the rock circus- the preparatory music was "Song for Guy" whilst you took your seat (bench) and they played the guitar riff from "Peaches" as they rotated the auditorium between the three major sets then back to the original position for the Beatles to perform (& recreate) Sargeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's club band.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

24 hour drinking

I have been listening to debate on this for a while now and decided to put forward my own views. Then Sean Gabb beat me to it with a piece from his free life commentary that says it so much more eloquently, coherently and forcefully than I ever could have. Whilst I'm not in the habit of regurgitating or me-too-ing posts, on this occasion I reproduce it below...

The Reform of Alcohol Licensing in England:
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
by Sean Gabb

Next Monday, the 22nd August 2005, I have been booked to
go to Birmingham for a television debate in which I shall
put the case for there being no restriction on the hours
during which alcohol can be sold in this country. As is
always the case, I have no idea how long I shall have to
make my case, nor what points I shall be able to raise. So
I will now write out in brief what I regard as a
libertarian response to the Licensing Act 2003.

Before the 20th century, there were no restrictions on
when and for how long public houses could open in England.
Anyone who wanted to sell wine and spirits had to obtain a
licence from the local magistrates. The Beer Act 1830,
however, effectively deregulated the sale of beer, ale and
cider. Anyone who could pay two guineas (£2 2s) could as
of right buy a licence; and this fee was later abolished.
Restrictions began with the Wine and Beerhouse Act 1869,
and were strengthened by the Intoxicating Liquor
(Licensing) Act 1872, and by the Licensing Acts 1902 and
1904. These gave magistrates much greater control over the
number of licenses granted and over the conduct of
licensed premises.

Controls on how long public houses could open were
introduced during the Great War under the Defence of the
Realm Act. It was claimed that the working classes were
spending too much of their overtime pay on drink, and that
restriction was needed for the sake of "national
efficiency". Drinking hours were limited to 12pm to 2:30pm
and from 6:30pm to 9:30pm. This limitation was kept in
place after the War, and, with a few relaxations, has
continued to the present.

One of the stated aims of the Licensing Act 2003 is to
allow public houses - if their owners wish - to remain
open all day and all night, or for any shorter period.
Though the Act was passed in 2003, some of its provisions
have yet to be put into effect, and the reform of opening
hours will come into effect next October. It is this
potentially unlimited extension of opening hours that has
been the most controversial feature of the Act, and is the
feature that I shall be discussing next week.

Now, on libertarian grounds, any relaxation of opening
hours is to be welcomed. It is not the business of the
State to tell consenting adults where, how and when they
should enjoy themselves. If someone wants to walk into a
supermarket at three in the morning to buy a bottle of
wine, or to go into a bar and buy a pint of beer, that
should be his unquestioned right. To deny this right is an
act of petty tyranny.

Of course, there may be attendant circumstances to the
exercise of a right that compel some limitation. But these
attendant circumstances are always fewer than is claimed.
And where the sale of alcohol is concerned, there are none
whatever. Consider:

First, it is claimed that if people can buy alcohol at any
time of day, there will be more drinking. This is true.
But so what? If people choose to drink themselves
paralytic, that is their problem. No doubt, excessive
drinking is bad for the health. Again, so what? As said,
it is not the business of the State to tell people how to
live - that business is to protect life and property from
attack and to defend the realm. It does not include
protecting people from their own weakness or stupidity.
Moreover, it is unlikely that the only barrier to mass
drunkenness is the limitation of opening hours. Anyone who
claims otherwise will have to work hard to justify his
belief in universal adult suffrage.

Second, it is claimed that if people are drunk more often,
there will be more public drunkenness and disorder, and
that this is a matter affecting third parties. This is a
false argument. Most disorder related to drink is caused
by the fact that the public houses all close at the same
time, and throw all their drinkers out into the streets.
If they could close at different times, or not at all,
there might not be any great increase in the total amount
of public drunkenness. But that drunkenness would be more
evenly distributed, and less likely to result in disorder.
Even otherwise, it is both stupid and dangerous to try
preventing crimes by trying to regulate the states of mind
in which they are committed. We need effective punishments
for attacks on life and property and violations of the
public order - punishments that take drunkenness into
account as a severe aggravating factor. Make the
punishments heavy enough, and even the most inebriated
will be more inclined to creep home than to pull out a

Third, it is claimed that even private drunkenness
adversely affects the interests of third parties. For
example, a married man who drinks all day is hurting his
wife and any children. This is true. But such harm does
not fall into the category of evils that the State is
entitled to prevent. To say otherwise is to grant a
principle under which a man could be prevented from
leaving a well-paid job to start his own business: after
all, that might put his dependants into just as much want
as if he were to keep his job but drink away the salary.

Fourth, it is claimed that people who drink excessively
place a greater burden on the National Health Service, and
that is the right of other taxpayers to ensure that this
burden is minimised. This is one of those claims that is
made again and again in radio studios, regardless of how
often it has already been answered. I doubt if it is a
claim ever made nowadays in good faith. Look at the main
heads of the answers. First, let us take the - probably
inflated - costing made by the Institute of Alcohol
Studies (,
that the health-related cost of excessive drinking is
£1.6bn. Balance against this the £12bn in taxes collected
on alcohol every year, and we see that drinkers more than
pay for any increased burden they place on the National
Health Service. Second, if we accept that lifestyle may be
regulated for the sake of reducing the health budget, why
not ban homosexual acts and rugby and eating Indian food?
These are all associated with illnesses that are expensive
to treat. Third, if the answer to this is yes, it would be
better to abolish the National Health Service. It was set
up, after all, supposedly to keep us healthy - not to make
us into slaves.

Therefore, the arguments against the principle of longer
opening hours fail. Though I am not myself much of a
drinker, I want to live in a country where adults can go
lawfully into a kebab shop at any time of day and by an
untaxed bottle of gin. As Dr Magee, the Bishop of
Peterborough, said in the debates over the 1872 Licensing
Act said, "England free better than England sober".

Sadly, in spite of its stated aim, the present Licensing
Act is unlikely to take us practically towards such a
world. One of its provisions transfers the granting of
licences from magistrates to elected councillors. These
are more likely to be pressured by the health fascists,
and so the effect of the law may be more to limit opening
hours than to relax them.

Then there is the increased complexity of the licensing
system. The cost of getting a licence has risen, and there
has been a great increase in the paperwork needed. The
process of applying for conversion and variation of
existing licences was supposed to be straightforward.
However the Government did not publish the forms until the
last minute and then redesigned them. The guidance notes
accompanying them are ambiguous, and no guidance has been
issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on
its website.

Not surprisingly, few present licence holders have applied
for renewal within the time required, and we face either a
further delay in bringing the relevant provision into
effect or the closure of thousands of public houses next

No one should be surprised by the probable effect of the
new law. The function of government in New Labour Britain
has moved decisively from providing common services to
providing jobs, income and status for those in the
Establishment and for their various clients. The greater
complexity introduced by the present Licensing Act is not
a sign of government incompetence. Rather, so far as is
opens up new excuses for the employment of officials, and
creates advantage for those businesses big enough to buy
their way through the regulations, it is a notable success.

But this takes me beyond my present intention, which is to
defend the principle of unlimited opening hours for pubic

Monday, August 15, 2005

The crazy world of Telco power struggles

Energis was formed in the mid 90s as the third carrier to take on the BT & Mercury Duopoly. Its unique selling point was that the network mirrored the national grid- the fibre optic cables are wrapped around the earth wire- the one at the top that links the pylons together.

I actually spent half a day working for Energis when I was at Nortel, I had a trip down to their main Network Operations Centre opposite the redundant Bankside Power Station (now Tate Modern). Their problem was that the network switching infrastructure was in place but they had hit some contractual hitches with rolling out the fibre, in the form of Wayleaves, a Telco construct for compensatory payment for utilising and getting access to land for running cabling etc. (the obligation to cooperate is enshrined in statute, an explanation of Wayleaves & Easements can be found here (towards the bottom). It seemed that the existing Wayleaves with farmers that covered power did not include any form of telemetry above and beyond that required to support the electricity network so haggling was required.

Whilst it was being sorted out by the lawyers, the launch date loomed, so to meet their pre-order committments, they were building a smaller scale network- using private circuits from BT & Mercury as a stop-gap measure!

My job only lasted half a day as I was "loaned" the the Energis project by a friendly Director with the best of intentions as a troubleshooter, but all they actually needed was an administrator.

Energis went down the pan a couple of years ago and managed to survive after a rather dodgy pseudo-adrministrative semi-receivership where bankers bailed the Company out, but at the expense of the shareholders. It has kept going but has been somewhat under-capitalised.

It recently emerged that Cable & Wireless (the owner of Mercury) had made a bid which was being considered but Energis were holding out for more. Today, th deadline for the negotiations, the sector was stunned to hear that Thus (the former Scottish Telecom) put in a counter-bid. Energis turned it down somewhat quickly as it was for £600m cash & £200m shares, when the total net worth of Thus is only thought to be £200m (& C&W had offered more cash).

The rumours are that C&W have been successful. I know staff in all three Companies involved so it will be interesting to see how the market develops.

I wouldn't personally invest in a Telco, they are going to blink one day and the ISPs will overtake them, already Tiscali are shaking up the Business DSL world with more powerful, more flexible offerings. It is a dilemma for BT because they will lose business from their legacy products (i.e. leased line access either as direct Private Circuits or links into Frame/ATM services), so they are walking the thin line between losing customers to other Operators and keeping them but on much less margin.

An interesting take on this can be found on my website here which i have mentioned previously in a previous posting.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Fifty Years New

We are back from holiday, a week spent at Ribby Hall near Blackpool, entirely unremarkable apart from an unexpected discovery in "Ripley's Believe it or not" on the Blackpool Pleasure Beach sea front.

We finished our holiday with a day trip to Scarborough and a rather special one-off show called Fifty Years New, a five night commemoration of the Steven Joseph Theatre.

Housed for the last nine years in the former odeon, I had the pleasure of visiting it very early on after opening on a trip organised by the ABTT, an organisation I have sporadically been a member of since my schooldays. The celebrated Sir Alan Ayckbourn himself took the trouble to tell us about the building & the Company. We also arranged to see a performance of "By Jeeves!" and I was so taken with the show that Karen & I returned a couple of weeks later to catch it again and we also saw it when it ran in the West End for a Season.

The show was held in "the Round" which always struck me as a bit of a daft name as it is actually square! It refers to "in the round" where the audience surrounds the stage on all four sides. Whilst I enjoy that type of staging for its intimacy, I actually felt that By Jeeves! worked better in a proscenium setting.

Something else unusual about the Round is the ceiling- the clutter of lighting & roof fixings are semi-hidden behind a mesh grid which is strong enough to walk on. I have indeed done so (wearing a Hard Hat) and it is a strange experience, colloquially referred to as a Trampoline Grid. The minor downside is that the lights splodge pools of light on the mesh to show up their beam shapes but it doesn't affect the beam quality on the floor to any particular extent.

Lighting in the round is tricky as there is the need for the actors to be seen from all four directions without the light spilling onto the audience from both the intrusiveness and the glare. The standard wash comes from 36 barn-doored fresnels (soft-edged variable spread spotlights with flappy bits on the front for rudimentary beam shaping) covering nine areas lighting in all four directions. There are numerous additional light fixtures up there (referred to by traditionalists such as myself as "Lanterns") used for specials and the use of colour etc. so it is rather busy aloft. There is a central bit of the grid that doesn't have wire, this is a convenient point for getting gear up & down, as well as for simple flying effects, such as lowing a Mirror Ball.

Last night's show consisted of reminiscences by Sir Alan interspersed with readings from a number of plays from the last decade. (the fifth reading was from Miranda's Magic Mirror, a kid-centric piece that kept David's attention. The interval was announced with him being presented with a drink in a novelty illuminated glass on a silver salver, which he described as a commemorative cocktail. We bought one (for a fiver, mainly because David wanted the glass!), it was a very sharp grapefruit lemon base.

On returning after the interval, practically everyone in the theatre had a glass and we all rose to toast the Theatre, something that had become a tradition over the five night run (& I got the impression that most of the middle-aged audience had been there each night).

We were then treated to the first (& probably last) performance of a fragment of something called simply "untitled farce" that involved an MP, visiting guests, romance, intrigue and a lot of trademark Ayckbourn humour. Something that particularly tickled me was the MP meeting his new Wife shortly after the death of his old one who had urged him on her deathbead to remarry- he actually met her at the Crematorium...

So what was the remarkable discovery in Ripley's? Almost entirely un-noticed in one of the galleries, was what looked like some sort of Organ-like musical instrument. It had one keyboard (with strange use of colour and black note positioning) and several rows of cinema-style stop keys in a rather splendid wooden cabinet. It wasn't labelled like the other exhibits, although there were still Dymo labels over the stop keys announcing items such as STAGE, ICE and FRAME.

I immediately recognised it as I had seen it a few years earlier in the Pleasure Beach visitor's centre and was disappointed to see that it was no longer there. What was being exhibited was a Strand Electric LIGHT CONSOLE, that particular (small) model having originally been installed in the Ice Arena, home to the Hot Ice shows. If you follow the link, the Blackpool design is similar to the Caracus University one (third photo) which is small compared to the massive ones at Drury Lane, the Palladium & the Coliseum. The single manual version was also made for the Royal festival Hall in a much neater compact layout and the style was once described as a "light harmonium".

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Death of a King

I have written previously about my time working in Norway back in 1981. I have had a vague inclination to also write about the following year spent in Saudi Arabia but it would take up several articles and I’ve misplaced my round tuit. However, the death of King Fahd this week transported me back to June 1982 when King Khalid died whilst I was working in the Kingdom for Aramco (The Arabian-American Oil Company, although it was 100% Saudi owned by then) as a (Nortel) vendor Consultant.

The first clue that something was wrong was that both of the Aramco radio stations were playing the same output, from what I recall it was somewhat sombre classical music. A check of the Arabic stations brought forth just chanting from the Quoran, a fairly regular occurrence for prayer time but unusual in its ubiquity. The news gradually filtered down that the King had died. Whilst there is not an Arabic tradition of formal mourning, the majority of Saudi Nationals drifted away later in the day in order to say prayers in their own Mosque.

The day passed reasonably normally, although it was somewhat like a Thursday with the lack of faces. (The Arabic week runs from Saturday through to Friday, with the staff weekend being Thursday and Friday. Friday is the holy day on the same basis as the European Sunday used to be. Contractors generally worked a six day week so Thursdays were known as “ServOrg Sunday” on the basis that not too much work got done by the Service Organisations with the Bosses out).

Aramco had its own TV channel, receivable across most of the Eastern Province. Every day, there was a fifteen minute news programme in English, although it was particularly Saudi-centric with world affairs getting a very minor look-in. It tended to be somewhat formulaic, starting with the arrival of important dignitaries. That particular episode struck me as somewhat surreal to the extent that it sticks in my mind some twenty-three years later.

The presenter was male, (of course, females don’t work in Saudi Arabia), British, well dressed and well spoken. His delivery was always flawless but you sometimes caught a glint in his eye which conveyed the unspoken thought in the back of his mind, something along the lines of “who writes this crap?”

The programme started with the announcement that the King had died. It then showed all of the dignitaries arriving at the airport in their private Jumbos and entourage, being greeted by members of the Saudi Royal family with the traditional embrace & triple cheek kiss. Each dignitary received air time befitting their status and the TV order appeared to be based on order of arrival when there was any doubt as to protocol. Needless to say, death of a King brought all of the Gulf neighbours over along with other Countries that had an Islamic system. As there wasn’t too much for the presenter to say after the full titles of greeter & greetee, military brass band music was generally played to fill the gaps.

There then followed a rather clumsily edited footage of the King’s final journey from the morgue to the grave via the Mosque. The royal family are based in Riyadh, the inland Capital City and the King had probably died in the King Faisal Hospital there. He was transported by ambulance and the Saudi version of an ambulance is like the American version, i.e. more akin to an oversized hearse in Range Rover style rather than the casualty room on wheels. On arrival at the impressive Grand Mosque, the King was unloaded on a stretcher and carried in with a large throng. Saudis don’t use coffins but I was rather surprised to see that it looked like the body was wrapped in a burlap sack. I was later to find that it was actually a robe, or more likely, several of them as he was completely shrouded from head to toe (& he was a big chap, as most men who live a life of luxury tend to be).

The Saudi traditional national dress is a one piece long sleeved garment called a Thobe which is shirt-like above the waist and dress-like below the waist down to the ankles. They tend to be white cotton (for summer use) but I even saw tailored pin-stripe versions. They also wear a small skull cap called a Tagiyah, a square tea-towel-like garment called a Ghutra (often white or red gingham check) and a sort of double-rope black hoop thing to keep the Ghutra in place called an Agal. The clothes are incredibly practical for hot weather in the desert and are much more comfortable than western garb, I did buy a set to bring back home for fancy-dress but have lost them in the mists of time. The garb is similar throughout the Gulf States but there are interesting variations, for example, Bahrainians have tassels on the back of their Agals.

Whilst the Royal family wear similar clothing (although much better tailored as befits their wealth) they tend to distinguish themselves by the use of sweeping capes (often with delicate golden embroidery tracework) which does make them look particularly regal.

Back to the funeral, and King Khalid is being carried shoulder high on a plain stretcher by the throng. I have vague recollections that he may have been on an ornate carpet, of the style known as a Persian rug (although not in Saudi, where the term Persia was being tippexed from history, the Persian Gulf being renamed the Arabian Gulf). He was taken into the Grand Mosque (which was indeed very grand on the outside) and the cameras followed. At first, it was difficult to see what was going on but the camera slowly made its way down a side aisle to the front. All of the people inside were going through the ritual of prayer (which all Muslims do five times a day) and were facing towards Mecca (which is west of Riyadh). The western wall of the Mosque was comparatively plain, with frosted windows and a row of rather incongruous looking air conditioner units below, the sort of self contained ones that remove the heat from inside and dispose of it to the outside in the same way that a fridge does. I then realised that the King had basically been dumped on the floor in front of the worshippers whilst they went through their abolutions. My memory may be playing tricks, but I seem to recollect that he may have even been wrapped up in the carpet as well.

The next step of the process was to collect him again and put him back in the ambulance. After he was slid back in, the bearers started to pile in with him and some even hung onto the back of the tailgate in a scene reminiscent of a Keystone Cops movie played backwards. A couple of the final boarders were wearing western jackets and I noticed that one of them was armed, his jacket swung open, exposing a pistol holder, presumably part of the Royal Bodyguards (King Faisal had been assassinated in 1975 by another family member so they were always conscious of security).

The ambulance arrived at the graveyard which was to be the final resting place of the body. He was carried aloft, with a large crowd clamouring to touch him as he passed. The burial was very quick and straight-forward in an unmarked grave. The Gulf states traditionally bury the dead before sundown, presumably because this was the only practical course of action for nomadic tribal desert dwellers which are the origins of the area.

Of course, the news was far from finished. If the arrival of the dignitaries was the first course and the funeral the main dish, we were finally treated to the dessert, namely everyone important flying back home again with due recognition, accompanied by Colonel Bogey and the Liberty Bell (the Monty Python theme tune), both of which were inspired choices.