Saturday, April 30, 2005

The sitting MP writes...

A letter in the post today from Colin Challen.

Letter from Colin Challen, sitting MP

On ID Cards- the theme is basically come on, give it a try, we are only piloting it voluntarily, if it flops we'll abandon it. It will help prevent identity theft. Really? Identity theft is based around someone else pretending to be me. How can me having an ID card make a difference for "card not present" cases? What about the database Colin? Carrying the card might start off as a voluntary measure but the really scary bit is the vast bucket of data that will be collected about everybody and anybody.

On the world's smallest quiz- he has to draw the line at third party questionaires. I can empathise with that, but it is still a cop-out

Friday, April 29, 2005

The postman catches up with the election...

...Five leaflets waiting for us at home today on the mat, one from each candidate. Four were non-specific, however the Labour leaflet was addressed to Karen.

There was also an election feature in todays' Morley Observer, although the BNP man didn't manage to get his Biog in before the deadline. That'll teach him to go away on honeymoon when there is an election on!

There is also news in both papers this week that the two papers are going to become one, the Morley Observer & Advertiser (which it has been for a couple of years but everyone has kept up the pretence that they were in competition, despite moving into the same office).

The launch issue of the Morley obtiser is May 18th so it appears to be every Wednesday. It is going up to 30p but that is 22p cheaper than buying both of the old papers & they won't have to keep track of which story appeared in what edition any more.

As an aside, the South Leeds freebie paper had an advertising feature on Morley yesterday, they really should check their copy more frequently, it talks about Peel Market which has been closed for many years (it became an exhibition centre and is now a sort of Tat shop called "B&M Bargain Madness".)

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Two more prospective parliamentary candidates get in touch...

Nick Vineall, the Tory one, dropped me an email yesterday.

Re ID cards:

"I am opposed to ID cards, at least in the form described in the Bill that
was before parliament, and am generally pretty sceptical."

That is a fairly positive no there, but a certain amount of bet-hedging.

Re the world's smallest political quiz:

"I tried the "quiz" but I thought the questions were pretty ambiguous and am
not at all sure the "score" would reflect where I am on issues generally."

The quiz has ten questions (five on individual freedom, five on economic freedom). Have a look here and decide for yourself how ambiguous you personally feel the questions are.

Sorry Nick, I'm not swayed, I feel that I'm still an honorary member of the 1952 Committee.
1952 Committee

I've also had an email from Colin Challen MP (as was & probably as will be), whom it seems does have an email address (I had to send my original email to the party office, as per the BNP).

I quote his essay verbatim:

From: Colin Challen (Colin Challen's email removed)

Subject: your e-mail

Date: Thu, 28 Apr 2005 09:39:50 +0100


Please would you advise me of your postal address

Oh dear, the short, sharp treatment. He must have read my unfavourable review of his speeches!

I'll watch the post, & look out for chaps in dark glasses...

In the meantime, here is the opinion of backingBlair on his chances.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

30 reasons not to vote Labour

This is about the Labour flyer I received from Colin Challen, the sitting MP.

I've never actually met him, although I have been at several events that he has also been at. He doesn't seem to be the sort of MP who "works the room". My first encounter was at an "angry parents" meeting at a nearby school which had an admission cap at a rather unnatural 45 kid intake, despite being popular and in demand. The event was being run by teachers and some local Councillors were in evidence, Bryan North (former Lord mayor of Leeds) and another one whose name escapes me now. Colin came and sat down next to me but didn't acknowledge anyone other than Bryan North. He eventually stood up to speak- as the prospective parliamentary candidate replacing John Gunnell.

The next time I saw CC was at the Leeds City Council election count in 2003. He spent most of the time on the mobile phone looking worried, a routine he repeated even more vigourously in 2004.

He recently spoke at a special event for Joseph priestley College, who celebrated 50 years in Morley Town hall. He "ummed" & "erred" a lot and I felt that he managed to make an interesting topic rather dull through a somewhat bland delivery. (The speech is on his Website here). He sends out a newsletter to interested constituents (that we call "Colin's Chat") and it unwittingly sends out the message of how banal and irrelevant the life of a Backbencher can be regardless of who is in power. There was a speech printed almost verbatim about how successful his diet had been that went on at such length that I assumed that he must have been filibustering.

The other downer is that he claims the glory for all sorts of things. His "I convened a meeting" translates from the other parties as "We invited him to a meeting".

Here is his flyer, "by Colin Challen", although no doubt there are hundreds that look and read very similarly all over the Country. It is basically the old "the Tories are going to cut money" scare tactics.

Labour flyer

On the back, are thirty positive reasons why you should vote Labour. It is actually 29, the 30th being that CC supports them, well hoop-de-do. I was going to come up with an alternative list to match the title, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to emigrate.

Labour flyer

The BITS are FREE once you have paid for the PIECES

I mentioned last week that I had been to see Malcolm Matson speak. He is a founder of an organisation called the OPLAN Foundation and OPLAN stands for “The Open Public Local Access Network” which he describes as a 4th utility for the information age. This disruptive concept blows the incumbent Telcos out of the water & they don’t like it up ‘em, Mr. Mannering…

I have been in dialogue with him sporadically since last summer and he recently gave me the password to get into, which I won’t divulge although Malcolm will presumably let you have it if you email him (I assume they are limited in bandwidth). In this site there a fascinating document, which is creative commons public domain. I can’t justify putting it up in my own webspace at the moment as it is over a Meg of pdf but it makes most of the points of his roadshow elegantly and with a lot of humour.

One eye opener is the concept that if the canal owners had been put in charge of the railways they would have introduced the tracks alongside the towpaths in order to pull the narrowboats along. In many ways this is currently being repeated with the idea of 21st century Networks which are replicating the PSTN rather than being genuinely disruptive.

There is a very similar document to his current one on a Danish site called Citynet, which has a lot of useful information about Municipal networks (a lot in Dutch, however). You can find the OPLAN document at the bottom of this page.

Footnote on Tory Boys- it has been pointed out to me that I am confusing my camp comedians. “Shut that door!” was of course Larry Grayson. John Inman’s catchprase was “I’m freeeeeee…..” and he is also remembered for having very little interest in Mrs. Slocombe’s pussy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

On the radio...

I visited Radio Leeds today, with some young people from a VI Form. They have a live webcam in every studio, it was all rather spooky!

Curiously, they also seem to have a fan site as well.

We were also shown the TV studio Gallery (the production control room) which looked very hi-tech blade runner...until they found the light switch! Galleries used to be located above the studios (hence the name) but in this case it is a bunker underneath.

I was surprised to find that the target audience for BBC local radio is 45+, not intentionally, it just works out that way.

I will contrast this hi-tech silicon heaven with studio shots of Morley FM, once we have installed the kit.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Our own Tory boy...Nick Vineall

Although I haven't officially had a leaflet yet from the Conservatives, here is the one I scrounged last week off chief Morley Tory, Cllr Paul Jamieson.

Conservative flyer

This appears to be the front. Pick a local issue, yup there it is, post office closures. Promote family values, there he is with three strapping clean looking kids and a Tory Wife. I imagine this is a template as there is a lot of blue space to the right of MORLEY at the top.

I was also curious to notice that his promoter is a Mr. J. Inman..."Shut that door!"

Conservative flyer

Here is the back. A national issue- tuition fees, with a nice picture of Leeds university. Another local issue- "Tingley Travellers". Conservatives would make traveller trespass a criminal offence- why stop at travellers? Much of Morley ASBO behaviour revolves around civil trespass & the owners can't do diddly squat.

Appeal for help- nice photo of Nick with the Jamiesons, "we are a friendly bunch". Yes they are, I've enjoyed deep (but probably incoherent) discussions curtesy of Bacchus with them.

Finally, a cut out & keep poster- "Tony Blair, your time is up". We can but hope...

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Not a dragon in sight...

Today was St. George's day in Morley, with not a dragon in sight (Karen was at a work event, he says taking cover!). I did spot three PPCs at the Rugby club, although the Labour one (who is our sitting MP) didn't seem to be making any effort to make eye contact when his entourage swept past me. The Lib Dem one may have been there but I wouldn't know him if I fell over him at the moment. The BNP one is probably still away on Honeymoon, or if he is back then he may have been down in Nottinghamshire for their Manifesto launch.

Rather than wax lyrical about the event, you can see a number of photos at the Town Council website.

That bloke with the full garb looked strangely familiar... then I realised it was Bill from the Needless, where I have lit the fireworks in previous years.

I wonder how he got the job as St. George? "I've got my own chain mail..."

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Morley pride

I've had a very satisfying week. It started last Sunday when David went for his Karate Yellow Belt grading. It was impressive to see two hundred children (guided by twenty-one black belt instructors) go through the ritual and routines collectively and obviously with considerable satisfaction.

It was held in the small(ish) hall at Rothwell Sports Centre, a room distinguished by having an unclimbable climbing wall. Yes, the footholds have been chipped away or filled in with mortar, presumably to satisfy the angry god of healthandsafety.

During the week, some challenges at work have been overcome. I joined David at Karate class last night, I'm sure he is delighted he has more seniority than me. What he forgot was that it is a double-edged sword me being there with him, I'd be able to see him messing round!

Today, the Morley Town Council schools concert, with lots of talent and enthusiasm in abundance. Outside the Town Hall, Robert Finnigan (Independent Morley & Rothwell) giving away green election balloons. It seems his Agent overlooked the need to have printer & publisher details on the printing, so every one had to have a sticker attached to the ribbon!

Tomorrow, the St Georges day parade. Lots on, so much to do, so little time...

Friday, April 22, 2005

Contacting the candidates

I emailed all five Morley PPCs last night asking them their views on ID cards and how they were rated on the worlds smallest political quiz.

Robert Finnigan responded today, he tells me he scored as a Liberal (in the American sense).

LIBERALS usually embrace freedom of choice in personal matters, but tend to support significant government control of the economy. They generally support a government-funded "safety net" to help the disadvantaged, and advocate strict regulation of business. Liberals tend to favor environmental regulations,defend civil liberties and free expression, support government action to promote equality, and tolerate diverse lifestyles.

His comments on ID cards? "I disagree with ID cards as they are expensive and do not work and you can't trust this bunch with the information given."

Quite. How very perceptive of him.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

New Bishop of Rome appointed...

The Pontiff's choice of name reminds me of our friends the Whites who live down on the south Coast. They had a daughter called Elsbeth quite as long time ago now and a few years later they had a Son whom they decided to call Benedict. (They are religious in a sort of fish on the back of the car way, C of E but they don't just write it down on forms.)

Anyway, at Benedict's Christening, Elsbeth caused great mirth running around the garden telling everyone about "BendyDick"...

They are at the starting post...

Five PPCs have been announced. You can see it in the online version of the local press here

Letterbox Leaflet count:

Labour: 2 (one via Post Office)
Conservative: 0 (although I blagged one off Morley's chief tory Boy)
Lib Dem: 0
British national Party: 0
Independent: 1

There is a snippet in yesterdays Morley Advertiser about Chris Beverley (BNP) having got married in Gretna and now being away on Honeymoon. The best bit of Wedding planning since Charles & Camilla...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Open mouth, insert foot

John Prescott is in the news again, being arrogant to reporters.

I used to have a colleague who had been ex-army, senior rank. When we first heard he was joining us, we expected him to be a bit aloof. He dispelled that illusion in our first management meeting, when he introduced us to the phrase "Wanks for England".

Curiously, that phrase only yields one result on google, navy related.

Of course, now there will be two, as Google spiders crawl over

Wireless Wanderings

I was down to London Olympia today for a meeting starting up a Mobility Special Interest group for the CMA

I travelled down by GNER, who had managed to put out all of the reservation tickets in a random order in my coach, causing a lot of confusion and consternation. They also didn't seem to feel the need to heat it either, although it was just about passable being somewhat full.

The train arrived at 10:21, a few minutes early, which was interesting in that my ticket forebade me to arrive in Lundon before 10:20! I take it they don't enforce it on trains arriving early, or maybe the situation has never arisen...

I knew that Malcolm Matson was doing a keynote session and was keen to hear him speak, haven thoroughly enjoyed his presentation at an awards dinner last summer in the impressive setting of the natural history museum (the new bit, the one with the rocks, not the bones). I joined the event half way through another speaker, Tony Fish, who presented a very thought provoking view of the future. Unfortunately, his website is broken without using IE6, apparently he blogs within something called wireless.ecademy but I don't know if free registration gets you there.

I managed to get an early train back but the only seats left were up front with the snoutcasts so Karen will no doubt tell me I smell like an ashtray.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Virgin on the ridiculous...

I’m not a frequent train traveler, although I do visit London several times a year on business, via GNER (Great North Eastern Railways) from nearby Wakefield. These journeys are generally uneventful (apart from occasional delays & problems with the Buffet facilities) & I while away the journey reading.

Because I book my train tickets over the Internet (or via the Company travel team), there is normally a seat reservation made and a paper “reserved” ticket in place so that others don’t take my seat. Occasionally, delays mean that GNER struggle to turn the train around quickly & it strikes me as pragmatic to dispense with putting out the paper tickets if it means the train hits the tracks faster.

GNER are good at customer service, their “train captain” keeps the passengers informed over the tannoy & apologises on behalf of the Company for any shortfalls. He or she might not actually mean it deep down but at least they make the effort and are obviously trained to do so.

Enter Virgin trains stage left. I’ve flown Virgin Atlantic several times now to the extent that Karen & I are “frequent Virgins”. Their cabin crew customer service is very good although the planes do seem to have frequent problems with the on-board entertainment & information systems that often need resetting or fiddling with.

Saturday was my second experience with Virgin Trains and was rather an odd one. I traveled to Edinburgh (& back) entirely uneventfully about 18 months ago on Virgin & was impressed to see power sockets & headphone outlets next to the seats on their very smart fleet, even in steerage.

My journey down to Birmingham was fairly uneventful. The train was a little late & I’d had the forethought to pay the £10 supplement to travel First Class (Virgin call it Club Class in Coach A) & it was a good job I had as the regular coaches were heaving with football supporters & people sitting in the lobbies.

My first challenge was the on-board entertainment. Virgin run two types of trains, Voyagers and Pendolinos. This was a Voyager and it had a fairly simple system based on three buttons, namely volume up, volume down & channel change. A look in the rather confusing multi-system instructions in their in-flight magazine revealed that there were four channels to listen to, one of which was Radio Four. What it didn’t say was what order they were in! I spent some time trying to reconcile them with only partial success. I eventually realized there were two things conspiring against me. Firstly, the system occasionally randomly invented a fifth channel (that beeped quietly) to keep me on my toes. Secondly, despite the Magazine being April-June, the songs listed did not reconcile to the songs played…

I was entitled to a free coffee as a Club Class passenger so I wandered down to the Buffet in Coach D where I also bought a very tasty Cheeseburger that the label informed me was made from Aberdeen Angus beef. I noticed that the staff wore the same uniforms as the Virgin Atlantic crew, which is a nice touch.

Looking out of the window as we neared Birmingham, I was surprised to see another Virgin train being hauled by a Virgin Locomotive engine, amusingly called Thunderbirds FAB 1. I saw another couple like this so it would appear that Virgin do have reliability problems with some of their fleet.

After my meeting (held in the splendid Shakespeare Memorial Library Room) we retired to a nearby Pub where we indulged in some fine ale & sparkling conversation before the journey back. Three of us (Paul & Mervyn) walked back to New Street and two of us boarded the Virgin train, which was waiting at the far end of platform 9 (& the platforms are very long at Birmingham).

I suggested to Paul that I would come down & chat to him on the journey but he said not to worry about it as he had been traveling since 6:30am & would probably doze most of the way back. He lives in Halifax, which isn’t too far by road but via Public Transport would appear to be rather more problematic.

The first hitch was that there was someone in my allocated seat, indeed there were three blokes who were obviously together. I then noticed that the digital displays above the seats were showing a message informing passengers that the computer had failed & the reservations could not be shown. It would seem that Virgin don’t have a plan B! I was quite happy to sit elsewhere as the coach had plenty of room but didn’t relish the thought of others possibly claiming my seat & playing a game of musical chairs. When this happens on GNER they do announce the problem to avoid confusion but not on Virgin (or at least not on that day).

I plugged in my headphones but all I got was a loud white noise hiss on all the channels. We hadn’t actually set off yet and it could well have been that it had yet to be turned on so I didn’t worry too much and got my book out.

In the meantime, other passengers turned up, including a large woman who bore a passing resemblance to “Millie Tant” the radical feminist from Viz comic. I actually became slightly concerned for her health as she was pulling a wheeled case behind her and stood by her seat leaning on the backrest and panting for several minutes.

From where I was sitting I could actually see the driver’s cab window as the pass door was open & I found myself thinking back to various flights over the years where it was policy to keep the flight deck door open during take-off and landing, something that is a definite no-no these days. I was mildly curious as to whether they allowed small boys (or indeed big ones) to see the cab so decided to ask the policy when the staff came round. After the usual announcement about stops & catering a member of staff entered the coach to start ticket checks. As it was a lady & the announcer had been female I correctly surmised that she was in charge and asked if she was the train Captain. She informed me that she was the train service manager (or some such similar title), was the boss and definitely in charge of the whole train. On enquiring about visiting the cab I was told absolutely not due to health & safety, the driver had to concentrate on signals and no-one else was allowed in the cab whilst the train was moving. It wasn’t a terrorism issue, as it seems that drivers can let passengers have a quick look between stations at their discretion, which was probably the best bet for my Son on a future journey.

The train journeyed on, although progress was relatively patchy as there seemed to be delays ahead of us. Coach A was fairly quiet, although the sounds of distant revelry drifted in as the doors open with people passing through. I was quite happily engrossed in my current book read so was fairly oblivious to the comings and goings.

After a while, I decided to go and claim my free coffee and investigate the catering as I was getting hungry. On the journey to coach D, I was surprised to see Mervyn on the train and sat down to talk to him. It seems that he was misdirected to the wrong platform for the direct train and this was his second choice. We chatted for a while and then the ticket inspector (whom I will subsequently refer to as TSM) reached our seats. Mervyn put his pompous voice on and suggested that she and myself had probably already been introduced and he could vouch for me. She confirmed that she had already checked my ticket, saying that we had already spoken at great length!

After talking for a few more minutes, Mervyn started to nod off, possibly because he had a head start on imbibing, having been to the Pub before the meeting as well as afterwards (and had even set up a Tab there).

I took this as my cue to continue the journey to the Buffet, where I stocked up accordingly. I chose another Aberdeen Angus Cheeseburger as they didn’t obviously have anything else hot & I had enjoyed the earlier one. Whilst waiting for the microwave, the train pulled in to a station and I was surprised to find my ankles being licked. I looked down to find a large black Labrador making friends with me. It seemed to belong to a young girl & an older woman who looked somewhat bewildered but they appeared to be being shown the way by TSM. The train started up again and TSM dashed into the buffet to grab the phone & make an announcement. She had probably seen some behaviour she didn’t approve of as she admonished passengers not to put their feet on the seats in what I took to be rather a stern way. The Buffet server and I exchanged glances & he looked a little sheepish. I caught her eye as she swept past, gave her a big smile then looked back to the man and said “your boss can be quite bossy!” She had gone to look through the door window into the Coach, presumably to see if the miscreants had taken any notice. She replied to me that some people were ignorant and needed to be told. My private thoughts to this were yes, but probably not quite with that approach, as had Vic Reeves & Bob Mortimer been on the train they would have clutched their handbags and went “ooooooOOOOoooooh!” after her last announcement.

I returned to my seat & started to prepare my coffee. I decided to check out the headphones again and they were still hissing. Looking around, I couldn’t see anyone else in the coach wearing any so didn’t know if the system was down. Just then, TSM passed through the coach so I asked her if there was a problem with the system. She suggested it might just be the radio station off the air but I assured her that changing channels didn’t make any difference. She asked if she could borrow the headset (which by coincidence was a Virgin Atlantic one, the first one I picked up at home) & fiddled about with the controls on the seat opposite. After a brief pause she confirmed that she could hear Robbie Williams or some such. As that appeared to be the problem resolved from her body language, I reflected that it was my seat unit at fault and enquired as to whether she would be making a note of the seat number for maintenance. At that point she became rather brusque, and said that despite being a woman, she was perfectly competent at her job. As she swept away I reflected on what she had said and begged to differ. She had made me feel uncomfortable and apparently judged me to be a sexist. The fact that she was a woman hadn’t even occurred to me as being even slightly relevant to the problem, which was that the headset didn’t work and she didn’t seem overly bothered by it.

I continued with my tea and started to eat the Burger. This one was even tastier than the one I had eaten at lunchtime and I looked inside it to see why. The answer was immediately obvious: this one had onions in & the other one had not. Come on Mr. Branson, consistency needed.

After I had finished eating and cleared up, I still felt uncomfortable about my encounter with TSM who had glared at me each time she passed through the Coach. Eventually, I decided to talk to her again, the outcome of which would either clear the air or result in a Customer complaint. I asked if I could have a word and when she stopped and looked at me (or glowered would be a more accurate description) I quietly said that I had felt patronized by the last thing she had said to me. Her reply was that she had felt the same way by my remarks. We discussed this for a few sentences but we were not getting anywhere & we were both starting to raise our voices. I told her about the Burger and her reply was along the lines of what did I expect her to do about it, she didn’t cook the food. Despite her having told me at the start of the journey that she was in charge, it seemed that she was unwilling to accept that any bucks stopped with her. Eventually I said there wasn’t any point in talking about this further as she wasn’t going to do anything about it but that I might decide to progress it as a complaint. She refused to tell me her name (her first name was on her badge) and then insisted that I gave her my name. I pointed out that it was in their computer (which was of course broken) but that I wasn’t prepared to give my name without knowing hers. We swapped names & wrote them down. I offered to give her a business card but found I didn’t have any

Shortly afterwards, I heard her on the phone to someone describing a fracas and asking for platform assistance. Something was obviously going down with the singing footballers and it seemed that I may have missed an incident of some kind whilst I was at the other end of the train. When we reached Sheffield the scuffers were there in force and they escorted a number of lads off the train. They took the names and addresses of people who wanted to make a complaint in our coach (& there were quite a few of them) and eventually we were on our way. We hadn’t gone far when we stopped again and after some delay we were advised that an ambulance had been called to the train in front of us and we wouldn’t be able to move until the incident was resolved. At this point everyone groaned and reached for their mobiles. I was conscious that Karen would be on the way to Wakefield with David and I wanted to let her know I’d be late and to put him to bed as I could always get a taxi. Unfortunately, however, I had put my phone on charge before I went out & left it there so I was mobileless.

I asked the Millie Tant lady if I could borrow her phone to ring my Wife offering a £1 coin towards the cost. She said that normally she would have done, but she felt that my behaviour had been so appalling that she chose not to. This surprised me somewhat, but I acknowleged that she was entitled to her opinion.

What had been so shocking? I hadn’t sworn at anyone, lost my temper, stamped my foot, hit anyone, shouted or even been abusive. I had, however, committed the cardinal sin of not putting up with being brushed off by surly staff. I had argued with a member of train staff as a customer about differing perceptions of what passed for service that I certainly would have found unacceptable if it had been one of my own staff talking that way to one of our internal Customers. Would Millie have cared quite so much if the TSM had been a man?

I went to find Paul who happily loaned me his mobile and waved away the offered money. He had seen Mervyn lurch off the train at the right station so that was sorted. I couldn’t get hold of Karen, though.

When we eventually got to Wakefield (perhaps 45 minutes late) Karen told me she had noticed a member of staff in an air hostess type uniform trying to sort out a dazed woman with a child and a black dog…

After the weekend, I decided that I wasn’t going to complain to Virgin about the TSM. She obviously had enough on her plate with other incidents happening on the journey and if she had important things to sort out rather than my minor grumbles she should have told me so in an assertive manner and I would have quite happily accepted that.

Dealing with the “great british public” is often frustrating. People can say and do stupid things, be argumentative, ignorant, rude, hostile, critical, obnoxious, misguided, bigoted, incoherent, judgmental, opinionated, arrogant and inept. They can also be charming, refreshing, pleasant, helpful and a pleasure to deal with. People in the front line have to develop defence mechanisms to all this, by being assertive, not taking the criticism personally, taking ownership, cutting through the symptoms to the root problem, calming down the complainant and resolving the issue. People who are good at this are a boon to any Company, because they leave the Customer feeling as though their problem mattered. Virgin didn’t make me feel as though my problem mattered, they made me feel as though I didn’t matter.

I wasn’t going to even blog on the subject, then it occurred to me that I might now be on the “do not fly” list equivalent for the rail network so I thought I should leave an audit trail. This morning, I had a conversation with a vendor that I don’t know particularly well who asked me if I had a good weekend. Yes, I replied, apart from a dreadful train journey. “Don’t tell me,” he said unprompted, “let me guess. It wasn’t Virgin Trains by any chance, was it?” Q.E.D.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Blogging with the big boys...

Those nice folks at Samizdata have very graciously agreed to put up my piece about "Election Bribes" from last Friday which I felt was deserving of a wider audience than the small (but perfectly formed) regular readership that drop in here.

As an update on the story, I spoke to someone more senior from Soexho today who assured me that their online calculator was wrongly coded and there was no dip in the entitlement. (It is a surprising coincidence that Accor's calculator was also wrong, which suggests either poor testing or poorly documented DWP guidance.)

The calculator now gives different figures to yesterday but it still dips.

I also asked in passing how the scheme was funded for a Company such as theirs. The Government don't give them anything apparently, the Employers pass on some of the Employer NIC savings. The margins are small, however it must be nice to have a few million slushing around the system in transit between employees and childcare providers, no doubt playing the money markets brings in a few bob.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The independent PPC speaks...

Well, speaks to me via the medium of word & image. Here is his leaflet, a light green photocopied A4 flyer. If you click on it you can read it for yourself.

Independent flyer

What are his themes? Down the left, selling the concept of how Independents are good for Parliament, also the poor showing by the Labour people at Morley Police Forum meetings. There is a little white lie there, I have been to two and he was late for one of them (due to meeting hopping). It might be a 100% tick in the box but he obviously didn't attend all of the mettings recorded by duration rather than by event.

Down the right hand side, tough on crime & yobbism, thumbs up there. It also mentions he has a manifesto, a slightly meaningless concept for a one man party based on the wikipedia definition snip:

political parties prepare electoral manifestoes which set out both their strategic direction and outlines of prospective legislation should they win sufficient support in an election to serve in government.

Robert is never going to form a Government of course, but could have influence in a hung Parliament.

Let us move on to the flip side.

Independent flyer

"No free ride" is a go at those who don't contribute to society, although he bundles developers in with yobs and itinerants, or trespassers which is the PC name for them. I'm not quite certain how developers are getting a free ride by ignoring local resident's views as it is their own property they are developing and whilst it makes sound business sense to talk to your neighbours, I think Robert's views may be coloured by various local schemes that have involved arguments over land allocation. Morley is a desirable place to live (because of location even if local amenities are sometimes lacking) but it is land locked by zoning & green belt so it is inevitable people will make best use of the land they can build on.

He also makes the case that voting independent is the only way to beat Labour. That has certainly been the case at Local Government level but parliament is a different kettle of fish.

On the pledge about work related education, he talks sense about education but fails to explain how he can deliver the programme proposed. As an MP he can mither Government departments and speak his mind (in the same way that he does on Leeds City Council) but he could be a voice in the wilderness. Of course, politicians from any party are voices in the wilderness to a greater or lesser extent and are less able to speak their mind through fear of damaging their party career. The ones who make it to Ministerial level do have significant influence but they then have to abandon their constituency work, something I can't see Robert doing.

He makes a policing pledge to get more Bobbies - but by soaking the rich. Come on, read the Economist. Tax take goes down when you do that. Unfortunately, invoking the green eyed envy of socialism politics probably goes down well in Morley which traditionally votes Labour anyway (or used to up until a few years ago).

His final remark is pointing out the "Tory Boy" is a London Barrister. He does it factually rather than scathingly & I know it is true because the PPC told me himself at the Mayor's Ball last week.

I gather Candidates are entitled to get the Post Office to deliver one item of election material free of charge but that is 47,984 leaflets you need to get to them & apparently they have a vetting team who dictate what they will and won't accept. This will be old hat to the long standing parties but I imagine it is a voyage of discovery for Robert & his campaign team.

Judging from previous MBI campaigns there will be at least one more leaflet in Morley delivered via legwork.

The trouble is the Constituency is Morley & Rothwell, over in Rothwell the voters won't know him from Adam.

I wish him well, but if he does get elected (which is possible but fairly unlikely) then Morley FM is going to lose a good Chairman & there will be more gardening to do around the Town.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Heart of England

A pleasant day out to Birmingham today, albeit with some hiccups on the journey home.

The public Squares in the city centre were thronged with protestors demanding the Government Re-nationalise Rover & give them all their jobs back. Whilst I can empathise with anyone who loses their job, did they not realise that they were an anachronism and we don't actually make anything any more in Britain?

Still, there is likely to be an upsurge in Public Sector opportunities in the Brum South area as they are bound to need more stress counsellors, outreach co-ordinators, diversity facilitators etc. Indeed an astute Government could invent a new tax or benefit & then set up a large department based somewhere like Rubery to manage the scheme. The jobs might just be short term until they get the IT systems right, say about fifteen years...

I've had two sets of election correspondence so far, the first from Cllr Robert Finnigan (Independent), the second (addressed personally) from Colin Challen MP (Labour). Strictly speaking, he isn't an MP at the moment. I recalled a fracas at the last election about Anne Widdicombe's "Widdiweb" which apparently should have been taken downduring the canvassing period, so out of curiousity I Googled across to our Col's site at

There, I was treated to a Java popup alert box which said:

This website was established when I was a Member of Parliament. As Parliament has been dissolved, there are no Members of Parliament until after the election on 5th May 2005. This site is made available during the election period as an historic record of my activities whilst an MP prior to the Dissolution of Parliament, and is prompted by D Langham on my behalf, both at 2 Commercial Street, Morley, Leeds, LS27 8HY and hosted by Politico\'s Design Limited, 610 The Chandlery, 50 Westminster Bridge Road, London, SE1 7QY.

Prompted? What a strange phrase, indeed the grammar for the whole paragraph is rather odd. D Langham runs his constituency office, I believe.

I shall deconstruct PPC leaflets I receive as the whimsy takes me. I don't imagine I am likely to get phone polls from party leaders as Morley is considered a safe seat. However, it might be a lot more marginal on May 5th, only time will tell...

Barry Beelzebub supports the loons...

This journo is a must-read!

Friday, April 15, 2005

People make places...

Morley received some very favourable comment recently from an American visitor who visited the town last year and took in our stunning Town Hall.

The local press don't seem interested so I will circulate it here instead.

(An email received on the Town Council Mailing List)


I am from the USA and while visiting my friends in the area, I visited
Morley and the Morley Town Hall. I wanted to say that I found it to
be one of the most beautiful buildings I have had the pleasure to
visit. I have visited other cities/towns in England, however, I found
the hospitality and character of Morley to be unique.

The town is beautiful in the summer, however, during the holidays,
there can't be another town that is more festive and welcoming. I know
it takes the work of committees who put in hard work and long hours to
make it all work. However, all towns have committees who work hard,
but, Morley's fine people shine right through and thats what sets this
town apart from all others. Its the people...its always the people
that make the difference.

I must say, while I was in the Town Hall.. I met some of the employees
and they were most respectful and helpful. The men who maintain the
building should be commended for their hard work and for their
diligence in keeping the Town Hall looking so clean and inviting. I
met Colin, Gerry and Tony...3 hard working men who should be commended
for a job well done.

I hope to visit Morley again soon...and when I do I'm sure that I will
be met with the same friendliness that I have received in the past.

Keep up the good work! Your efforts are well received! The people of
Morley are very lucky to have such a strong 'heart' to their
I said, its the people who make the difference...and your people are
the best....your staff extended hospitality to me...and I was quite
touched by it.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to post my message. Never
take for granted what you have....people make the difference...and
your people have pride and believe me, it shines like a beacon!

All the best,

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Veritas update

Those nice folks at Samizdata have a link to the orange tanned egotist otherwise known as Veritas here.

Surprisingly, there is some good stuff in there, particularly about freedom. (when you cut through all the conservative hang 'em & shoot 'em stuff, that is). I also like the purple colour scheme! ;->

More prospective parliamentary candidates

To add to the list from a couple of days ago, I had a sniff around the web to see if I could find any more hopefuls.

UKIP? Nope, not yet. Veritas? I can't find their website. (I heard him on the radio getting sworn at in Derby, I guess there just aren't enough tangerine clones to fill all the seats). Monster Raving Loony? Contesting Sedgefield but not Morley. Respect? The nearest one is Bradford North. Monty Python's Silly Party? Kevin Philips-Bong has retired from politics.

Hold on, what's this? Local man takes on the big boys? Our very own Councillor squared Robert Finnigan of Driglington has announced he is standing for Parliament.

I was wondering which one of the six were going to be the one and 'tis Robert himself. He is also chairman of the Morley Community Radio Society and in the highly desirable (but unlikely) event of him being elected, that might be a small blow for Morley FM getting on the air this summer because I reckon young Robert might be rather busy the next month.

Robert works hard, cares about the community and is a powerhouse for getting things done. However he is somewhat of an unreconstructed statist and the loose coalition of independents that became the Morley Borough Independents have fallen slightly into the trap of becoming that which they most despise - a political party that puts itself above the people that form it.

Robert is ex-labour (a long time ago I imagine) and apparently left acrimoniously, the local labour party still try very hard to rubbish him in the press but he is a big boy and can take it.

I did give him a ring to find out how a radio meeting had gone, his agent tells me he doesn't intend to kiss any babies as that is unlikely to be a pleasant experience for them. He also drives a French inverted pram which is giving him trouble, his regular printer's machines have packed in and the Post Office are telling him how to lay out and fold his election literature. He still finds time to fit in Leeds City Council meetings but I imagine it is going to be a chaotic time until May 5th.

I've offered to deliver some leaflets for him (as he was one of the many who helped me last Summer) but haven't made such a promise for my pencil cross as that is between me and the ballot box (& MI5) of course.

Election Bribes

Through a remarkable coincidence of timing, families are being encouraged to save lots of money on childcare courtesy of that benevolent Labour Government of ours, launched & promoted during the General Election.

Within the Grey household, we are fortuitous enough to have both a private and a public sector employer providing our household income stream and both of them have decided to jump on the employee benefits bandwagon of offering childcare vouchers.

The way it works is that an employee agrees to take some of their salary as vouchers (to a maximum of £2,600 a year, i.e. £50/week) and this sum is free of Tax & NI. (The incentive to the employer is that it is free of Employer NI as well). The vouchers can be paper or electronic, they are given or allocated to the carer who redeems them without penalty to the parent and everyone is happy. Or are they?

Well, I’m not. I’ve read the forms & there seem to be some ambiguities in the process, which is somewhat convoluted. What happens if I want residual money back because I don’t need childcare any more? Not covered. What if I want to pay some on one & some on the other? In theory yes, but the forms I have will not cope with this scheme properly. What happens when the third party scheme management Company makes a pig’s ear of the payments to my Son’s nursery (& they will, think every other Government IT project managed by third parties)?

What is even more interesting are the online calculators provided by the service providers, the two of which I have looked at being SodexhoPass and Accor.

Supposedly, the scheme is simple. To quote Accor,

You will save £816 per year if you elect to take £50 per week with paper or electronic Childcare Vouchers and are a standard rate taxpayer. If you are a higher rate taxpayer you will save £1,066 per year.

Sounds good, yes?

However, if you input random salary figures (assuming contracted out to get these results) then £20k salary and £50k salary do indeed give these figures (with maximum £2,600/year vouchers). But, if you input figures in the £32-37k range then there is a dip in the curve, the benefits fall to only £598. Also, the ramp-up figures between the two models are different!

Why would the Government penalise people on £35k? Maybe it is an unintended consequence of the transition into 40% tax. Or maybe it is a way of penalising the poor old middle classes (quietly & discreetly) by ensuring that they don’t benefit quite as much as the core labour voters at one end of the social scale and the Senior Managers, Directors and successful self-employed at the other.

Maybe they don’t penalise anyone at all and the website implementers just didn’t understand the rules. It doesn’t bode well for them implementing the scheme properly though! My HR team tell me they think it is a quirk of the Tax & NI thresholds but they aren’t completely sure. I talked to one of the providers, the front line chap was about as useful as a chocolate teapot in giving the answer but promised to refer it on.

Who pays for this scheme? Well, we do. Not only does it reduce tax take to the Government (by letting us keep a little bit more of our own money based on social engineering), but whilst the employers get to save some money there are implementation costs as part of introducing such a scheme which could be relatively trivial or horrendously expensive depending on what payroll package they use. The third party providers aren’t doing it for nothing and therefore if the parent, carer and employer aren’t paying for it, it means the Government is. Which of course means that we are, as the only way Governments get money is by taking it off us in the first place.

Then there are the unintended consequences. Whilst the whole scheme is notionally optional, suddenly childminders are going to find that they are going to lose business from parents if they don’t comply. Some schemes are paperless which means the childminder is going to have to get online whether they want to or not. Informal relationships loosely based on co-operation between parents are going to crumble because to get in on the scheme the childcare needs to be registered &/or approved. Some nursery providers are going to regard this as another nail in the coffin of intrusive, punitive compliance, shut their doors and do something else. Some small businesses are going to have to implement it grudgingly to keep staff which is more time and effort for the owner who wants to manage & win business rather than spend increasing time in the office learning & implementing the increasing compliance burden.

Where does it all lead to? The Minister standing up in Parliament in five years time telling us that the voluntary option has failed? ASBOs on Grandparents who look after their Grandchildren? Another Child Support Agency IT “partial success”?

Maybe there was a simpler answer. Maybe the Government should have simply worked out the total cost of ownership of the scheme & simply put it onto child benefit/guardian allowance instead. Or even better, just not taken the money off us in the first place. Regretfully, however, such schemes don’t win elections…

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Enforcing Motorway speed limits

I heard with interest on the radio this morning that Police were going to start enforcing the national speed limit on the M4 in the Bath area using automatic cameras.

This was supposedly the first time this was to be done outside of road works restrictions, but I beg to differ.

A day or two after New Year 2003, we went for a trip to Jodrell bank. The roads were very quiet & I didn't daudle.

A week later, I received a standard threatening letter telling me I had been caught on camera doing 87 mph in a 70 mph limit. The location was simply listed as M62 Swinton which struck me as odd because the motorway is actually the M60 there. The only cameras I had noticed were in the Manchester Ship Canal area and that was 50 anyway.

If I wanted to progress it further I could do so but the tone of the letter made it clear that it might prejudice my case. Anyway, it was a fair cop, I drive to the road conditions and would have certainly gone faster than 70mph on occasions. It annoyed me though, £60 & 3 points, an otherwise unblemished driving license of 23 years plus blotted.

When I got the license back, to add insult to injury, the endorsement was hand written in biro. Probably by the man in the cat detector van from the Ministry of Housinge...

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Meet the lovely Erica

I happened to look at a web site today for Internet via Satellite at from Hughes Network Systems. There, I was interested to find that you could contact their lovely Erica, who was available 24 hours a day.

Here is a tantalising glimpse of the tasty tecchie...


Disappointingly, Erica is actually an expert system, an acronym for the rather contrived Electronic Response and Interactive Customer Agent. No matter how carefully I question her, (& it does encourage you to interact and chat like a friend) she won't admit to being blonde or pretty, or even female. She does seem very interested in my equipment though.

She can't be married, as apparently Erica is not particular about grammar, letter case or punctuation & spouses always find any excuse to pull their hubby up. Maybe she is actually Waynetta Slob.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The newt fancier writes...

I received a road tax reminder today. Included in the envelope was a handy guide to paying the London Congestion charge.

I live in Morley, a suburb of Leeds.

I find it hard to believe it makes more sense to include the leaflet for everyone in Britain than just target the South east.

Of course, why should they worry? It is only taxpayers money, after all.

Lest we forget...

I give below a reprint of a number of postings made to Tabslist about the death of Fred Bentham, a name uttered with (mostly) reverence in stage lighting circles.

It is coming up to four years since he died. I was going to repost it on the anniversary but sod it, this is my blog. If you don't like it you can go and read something less arcane.

Date: Fri May 18, 2001 11:24 pm
Subject: Re: Ninety Years of Light Work
Send Email Send Email
Ban Author
--- In tabslist@y..., grangehouse wrote:
> There will be a celebration of the life and work of Fred Bentham at
> London Palladium (Courtesy of Really Useful Theatres) at 12.30 on
> Thursday 28 June 2001 (Doors Noon) and afterwards in the bar! All
> welcome.

A good choice of venue, maybe they'll let us stand in the SL Circle
slips with the Tabs in for a few minutes reflection. I'm on holiday
then (in Filey, of all places!) but have been given a pass out & will
try to get down. I might even make the Cremation but it has been on &
off for me more times than an Avolites Rolacue! (Joke, don't sue me

> The Bentham Family have been touched by the tributes posted on the
> list. Please keep them coming. Some of them will be used on June

When I joined CCT in 1988, I was delighted to find that there were
still a number of people working there who were approaching
retirement or getting on a bit but had been at Rank Strand or even
the old Strand Electric pre Rank days. I used to ambush them and get
them to tell me stories about what it was like then, why things ended
up the way they did & especially about Fred & his way.

It did a Deja search on fred Bentham (now owned by Google) & didn't
found too much, what did amuse me was a posting I had made myself in
>I am a British Ba (Hons) Theatre Design student and as part of my
>examinations I have an oral exam. The titles are as follows:
>Fred Bentham`s Light Console

I don't know a great deal about Svoboda but FPB is another matter.

He has written several books as well as editing and contributing to a
number of technical journals. A good starting point is his 1992
autobiography, "Sixty Years of Light Work", published by Strand
Lighting, ISBN 0 902277 02 2. If you go along to the ABTT show in
on April 10th/11th members of the archaeology committee (and possibly
even Fred himself) will be delighted to talk to you.

I have actually touched a real working light console in a real
the 216 channel Drury Lane one with 10 piston memory combinations
and a
rather poor view of the stage from a room down stage left in the splay
wall. Unfortunately, I was only 14 at the time, it was 10.30 in the
morning and the racks were switched off. There are a selection of
wonderful machines preserved by Jim Laws Lighting of Suffolk (who has
two huge barns full of lighting and control equipment). The above
mentioned Console took another bow at the ABTT show last year.

Hope this helps...

_____________Telecommunications and Theatre Technology_______________
|Ian Grey Voice (0113) 252 0662 Fax (0113) 252 4205 Mobile 0973
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~"We may be TaTT but we're not cheap!"~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I must confess to having plagiarised The signature line, someone I
knew as a Stage Manager from my Rock & Roll days went on to set up a
small TV production company called Colin Rowell Productions, his
strapline was "We may be Crap bet we're not cheap!"

Just to prove I'm not making this up, if you can be arsed have a look
at's.htm but I've noidea how old the site is,
they don't seem to respond to their emails. (Or maybe Colin remembers
that he once promised me a pair of Tannoy Reds & is terrified that
I'd actually turn up one day with the back seat of the car folded

Anyway, back to Fred. Was he 89 or 90? anyone got his Biog handy?
A substantial crowd made it to Mortlake to pay their last respects to
Frederic P Bentham. Here are my impressions of the afternoon.

The Service commenced with Fred's son outlining Fred's wishes for the
proceedings which he had articulated and documented many years ago.
It was to be simple with no money wasted on extravagence (underlined
in red!), it should have no religious content as that would have been
hypocritical in the extreme, the music for the start & finish had
been selected (Bach, although I can't remember the exact pieces, Fred
had suggested a Crematorium sound system probably wouldn't be up to
much but Mortlake has a pipe Organ), he wanted two particular
writings, of which more anon. Fred also wanted a good sendoff- there
was a technical cue for the committal. He talked a little about Fred
the man, Fred the father and how his childhood was steeped in Strand
Electric & Theatre. He then called upon Roderick Ham to say a few

Rod recounted memories of Fred at the Palladium demonstrating his
Light Console, Fred at 29 King Street and Fred on the ABTT planning
Committee. He particulary mentioned his acerbic wit and ability to
cut through pomposity and hypocrisy at all levels, something that
Architects can be prone to!

Francis Reid then read out Fred's last Editorial in Tabs (from memory
issue 101 in december 1973), an apt choice as Francis then took over
the editorial reins of Tabs in its new A4 format for a couple of
years and his first contribution as Tabsman was called "Thank you,

I don't have the editorial readily to hand but hopefully someone else
can scan & OCR it in (Mervyn, perhaps?)

There was an opportunity for a short moment of reflection for those
of use who wanted any private thoughts, secular or otherwise.

Fred's son then read a passage from "The Tempest" by William
Shakespeare, which on reflection had inspired Fred in his editorial,
as the phrase "Leave not a rack behind" had been referred to in the
closing down of 29 King Street, a delightfully corny pun.

The organist then played the closing piece (extracts from what I
think was probably Bach's Fantasia in G Minor (BVW542), a Midi file
of which can be found at,
although it seems Bach wrote several Fantasias in different keys. I
can't be certain this is the right piece as the organist only played
the melody line of the first part a little hesitantly & single
handedly (& the action wasn't brilliant), not probably being called
upon to vary from the house selection too often.) There was a
distinct change in the piece from scalar to chordal harmony at which
point the big button was pressed under the lectern, the tabs slowly
and inevitably came in down the sides of the Catafalque and finally
closed off our view of Fred's Coffin as the music solemnly ended.

I think this was the passage...

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

These are tremendously powerful words and I can see why they appealed
to Fred so much.

(I like the Pageant reference too!)

Advert.....(as handed out by Roger Fox)

90 years of light work- A celebration of the life and work of Fred
Bentham will be held at the London Palladium on Thursday 28th June at
12:30 and afterwards in the theatre bar. Doors open at noon.

All welcome. Please distribute this invitation to all who knew Fred,
or knew of his work. Further details will be advertised nearer the
date. (Or call 020 8878 6626)
A sad day for me, but also a very happy one.

Ian Grey
I notice that IE5 makes the link clickable but the comma on the end
blows it out.

> The organist then played the closing piece (extracts from what I
> think was probably Bach's Fantasia in G Minor (BVW542), a Midi file
> of which can be found at

should work. Of course I'm going to look a little stupid if that
wasn't the music!

> Francis Reid then read out Fred's last Editorial in Tabs (from memory
> issue 101 in december 1973), an apt choice as Francis then took over
> the editorial reins of Tabs in its new A4 format for a couple of
> years and his first contribution as Tabsman was called "Thank you,
> Fred!".
> I don't have the editorial readily to hand but hopefully someone else
> can scan & OCR it in (Mervyn, perhaps?)
In obedience to Ian's command:
from TABS December 1973 Vol. 31 No. 4 p.136

The Third Act

One of the things that struck audiences in the London Coliseum during
the visit this summer of the Chinese Acrobats and Jugglers was the
endearing modesty with which the wonders were unfolded. Marvel succeeded
marvel of dexterity right up to each climax without the usual
tarradiddle on the snare drum or a roll or crash on the cymbal. It is
true that the orchestra and the music are Chinese but, even allowing for
the custom we attribute to them of doing things the wrong way round or
upside there were no ultra pianissimo passages as a signal. No, the
music continued its steady rhythmic burble or rather twangle. The
communication between stage and audience was that they seemed as
surprised and as pleased as we were that each item had been carried step
by step fully to its unnatural conclusion. A lesson to us also was the
attachment of a safety line w hen necessary so that no blood-thirsty
element should pep up what was an exhibition of pure skill and balance.
How far removed from Chu Chin Chow or Doctor Fu Manchu of our younger
The acknowledgement by the Shanghai company of the applause at the end
of the performance was equally charming. We have always approved the
Russian custom where those on the platform or stage applauds the
audience which applauds them. The mutual hand-clapping is a visual
expression of that fact which the French recognise so well in their
expression assister à une pièce. The show and the audience are one in
live performance.
Where's this leader leading you will ask! Your Editor is seeking a
formula to make his last bow - a farewell that has to be under-played on
the one hand and dramatic, of the theatre, on the other.
Stemming, we hope, the cries from all sides of "Good God, I had no idea
that old Fred was so near retirement age", it has to be said that it is
not a case of age but of a change of Rank policy.
It is not the intention of our new managers to close down TABS but to
change it. It may well increase its format to A4 and have more colour
photographs, but it will be different in content and the way it is
presented. It must be, otherwise the present editorial team would have
continued. It may well be that those who want to know about stage and
theatrical lighting, and that is what Rank Strand make, will be better
served by the new TABS.
A larger page would help the publication of actual lighting layouts for
productions, for example-something we have had to fight shy of in our
small pages.
As we go to press my successor has been announced-Francis Reid. TABS
readers who know the articles he has done for me, and who doesn't, may
feel that this appointment does not presage a great change of style!
Maybe he has decided to turn over a new leaf and forsake sallies for
sales, the soft sell for the hard stuff-we shall see.
By now our Covent Garden Demonstration Theatre, the home of TABS and of
Strand Electric, and a habit for so many, will be but a memory. The last
of many parties will have been held and the content of our excellent
cellar sunk without trace. The last hangover will have hung up and
except for the odd "cirrhosised" liver here and there not a rack be left
But is this so? Of course not, for there were unbridled as well as
unbottled spirits abroad through the years. Without wishing to be
sadistic, it has been gratifying to hear of the genuine anguish with
which our news has been received.
The various well lit up mourning crowds have all tried to express what
we have done, and indeed under Rank were still doing. TABS, it is
generally admitted, has never been better than in the five years since
the takeover. It was left to John English to put his tongue on the exact
word, to sum all up and send a warm glow rushing our veins. Another rush
took us to the bookcase* and under "Gropius" there it was-the word
BAUHAUS. As long ago as 1936, Nikolaus Pevsner wrote of that unique
" was to become, for more than a decade, a paramount centre of
creative energy in Europe. It was at the same time a laboratory for
handicraft and for standardisation; a school, and a workshop. It
comprised, in an admirable community spirit, architects, master
craftsmen, abstract painters, all working for a new spirit of building."
And if you read it again carefully, substituting the word "lighting" for
"building", I think you may agree that English had a word for it too.
FPB celebration last Thursday

I got up at some unearthly hour on Thursday morning to do the
Filey/London run. Here are my slightly weary recollections of the

The Stage at the Palladium was set very simply, a lectern DSL with a
small table nearby for water jugs. A starcloth formed a suitable
background and the elephantine archways, statuary & house dressing
for "The King & I" gave the auditorium a Hippodrome feel, something
familiar to Matcham.

On arrival, we had been handed a simple programme and I noted with
satisfaction that the cover was a clever composite illustration of
the stage viewed from behind the Light Console in the Circle slips
(PS), the actual tableau being the Tabs players taking a bow as per
the 50th issue and the initials "FPB" on the Tympanum.

There must have been 250-300 people in the stalls by the time the
house lights dimmed & Roger Fox opened proceedings.

The following people spoke about Fred, the man and his life:

Roger Fox (Jack of all trades & master of quite a few!)
Francis Reid (Lighting Designer, ex Tabs Editor)
Brian Legge (Ex Strand, reputedly retired)
Alan Luxford (Ex Strand, still works for Strand Lighting)
Bob Anderson (Ex BBC/Freelance, reputedly retired)
John Watt (TV LD, still writes for L&SI)
Richard Pilbrow (Ex-Angry young man, Theatre Projects/TPC)
Ilse Bentham (Fred's 2nd love after Strand Electric!)

I won't attempt to distill what people said, although hopefully it
went onto a tape or mini-disk. I enjoyed all the speakers, especially
Ilse, a lady I had met twice & heard speak once! There is a brief
review on the Plasa site at the following URL:

As a grand Finale', the stars faded out and Roger welcomed the
special appearance of the 216 way Drury Lane Light Console that
trucked downstage to the accomplement of the (presumably reel-to-
reel) recording of Fred's last Colour Music performance at the Strand
Electric Demonstration Theatre, 29 King Street, Covent Garden.

Whilst the console was brightly lit and tracked via some moving
light heads on No. 2 bar as proceeded gracefully towards us, it
couldn't compare to my own memories of the occasion back in 1973 when
the Maestro performed his magic on the house DDM with his
surprisingly small rig lighting the famous shadow set.

As the music finished and the King Street audience applauded (along
with the Palladium one) Fred said a few words. He talked about a
teacher telling him at one performance he was "fixated", an entirely
visual joke that would lose a lot in the telling but there might be a
photo around that makes the point (or rather two points) succinctly.

It was very spooky sitting there hearing that distinctive booming
voice & remembering the original event as though it was last week,
rather than 28 years ago. His final words were a suggestion to
adjourn for a drink in the bar, something Roger came back on to
sheepishly tell us that was the cue to do the same courtesy of the

I didn't have a chance to talk to too many people afterwards as I had
to get back, the London/Filey run. Good job really, I was driving &
the drink seemed to be flowing rather freely.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Prospective Parliamentary Candidates...

I'm watching the Morley & Rothwell election with a strong interest, as whilst it is regarded as a safe seat, on the local scene Labour have been progressively turfed out from the Town and City Council in the Morley South & North area.

I'll state my position right now- I want Labour out big time, they are the most manipulative, arrogant, bullying, unpleasant, illiberal, intolerant political party we have had for as long as I can remember. When you take stock of the erosion of our civil liberties since 1997 then you suddenly realise that we are little green frogs in a cooking pot and we haven't really noticed how hot it is getting. I want to turn the gas off!

But... I don't want the Conservatives back in, they are almost as bad. The lib Dems seem to change the story according to the audience. I don't want a choice between slightly different flavours of big government where the state is king wasting our money whilst we progressively stifle all our businesses with ridiculous rules and regulations.

If I don't want Labour or Conservative to win that means a hung parliament. This is anathema to the political parties as that means no overall control & control is what the multi-headed hydra craves most of all.

So, who do I have a choice of voting for?

Well, the first PPC announced in the local rag a month or two back was Chris Beverley of the BNP. I find many of their policies rather unpleasant, however I find the anti-BNP campaigns by the unions just as bad because it is based on stifling their right to free speech when the correct approach (or at least mine) is of course polite indifference. I had a very good conversation with one of their senior guys on Town Council polling day last year and he was perfectly charming & made his arguments well. He also gave me his perspective on the TV expose' that had happened a week or two before (he had been in it for one sentence). I have only exchanged one sentence with Criss Beverly personally as we shook hands after my election (he came second & Labour third) & I could tell that he was gutted but he was polite and congratulated me. I can't see an obvious Biography for CB online, although I did enjoy watching their patriotic pride downloadable video where all of the candidates look very photogenic, unlike some of the clan drinking outside the Queens in Morley last Summer (it looked like a convention of nightclub bouncers).

The second PPC announced earlier this week was Nick Vineall for the Conservative Party. An affable enough chap with an impressive CV & I was surprised to find myself sharing a table with him at the Mayor's charity Ball last night. There was a certain amount of good natured ear bashing went on and my parting words were "Good luck... but don't hold your breath!"

No mention yet of our sitting MP, Colin Challen, although a dip into the Labour site confirms that he is indeed their selected PPC. Maybe you ought to let the Morley Observer know Colin? (He probably has, but it may have been bumped at the last minute to cover a local story about a missing tortoise or something).

Nothing heard from the Lib Dems, although their website gives a Stewart Golton as their PPC.

I don't know yet about Respect, UKIP, Veritas & Monster Raving Looney (& frankly can't be bothered to find out today as I was up late last night).

The question of the day is whether the local independent fraternity are going to spring a surprise candidate upon us. I know there is likely to be one, as I was asked if I would be the 10th signatory on a nomination form. My answer was yes, although I did point out that who I chose to put the pencil X next to on the day was of course between myself and the ballot box (& of course the Security Services IT systems). It costs a deposit £500 for a candidate to stand, the PPC gets it back if they poll enough votes (5%).

Are you thinking what we're thinking?

The Tories' latest strapline.

Trouble is, every time I hear or see it, I think of Bananas in Pyjamas.

(Internet health warning- link to Video RAM file that might take ages on a bit of string)

Friday, April 08, 2005

Bread & Circuses

(This letter appeared in the Morley Observer on Friday 8th April, surrounded by some particularly pompous examples of that which I am decrying)

Letter to the Editor

A few months back, the Morley Mayor circulated a magazine article to all Town Councillors on the topic of effective communication. One point made was that using the local paper letters column as a base for personal attacks and rubbishing the opposition was counterproductive. I am bemused that some of my colleagues (of all parties and none) have not yet recognised this somewhat obvious conclusion.

The article also suggested setting up an online diary (known as a “Blog”) as another means of being more accessible to constituents, something I tried as an experiment during my election campaign and have since restarted. It is useful as a means of expressing opinion & encouraging discussion without the constraints of editorial space.

Now that the General Election silly season is upon us, no doubt this letter is surrounded by others trying to score partisan political points through unsavoury methods, a practice I feel reflects badly on both the individual and their Party.

I have blogged on the topic of how revealing it would be if letter writers making political (and/or religious) points were required by Editors to declare their personal and prejudicial interests along with their opinions. Here are mine:

Political affiliation: None
Political inclination: Moderate Libertarian/classical liberal
Religious Affiliation: None
Morality system: Christian common law values in an agnostic context.

Cllr Ian Grey
Morley Town Council

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Raising Hell

I intervened in the Council meeting rather a lot last night to everyone's surprise, including my own!

It was triggered by the reporting of "expert advice" related to the previous topic Standards in public life advising us that whilst we had failed to follow own own rules re standing orders, we shouldn't worry about it, should basically put it down to experience and do it properly on future occasions.

Well, I can only say that I blew my top, the scary way where I remain cool, calm, collected and angry. This was fallacious logic and totally made a mockery of procedure. I certainly wouldn't want that organisation to defend a case of wrongful arrest. "We know now that you didn't do it Mr. Grey, but you have got used to prison now and it would be easier for all of us if you did your stretch..."

I have subsequently seen the advice and they have given a simple pragmatic answer to a simple question, something that did not reflect the reality of the situation, which was somewhat more complex.

I think that there was the assumption by the Town Clerk & the Mayor that it would be nodded through without discussion (when there are logical errors in the clause) and it very nearly was. My point of order words were "Mr. Mayor, what did we just decide?"

I made the mistake at the time of challenging the sentiment (that we should punish Members by punative fine as though we were magistrates) rather than logical fallacy (that Members pay the fine even if they have been given permission by the Chairman), the appropriateness of putting the rule in standing orders in the first place (when we have a perfectly workable document about Councillor decorum that it could have been easily included in) and the procedural incorrectness (that we even discussed it at all beyond being seconded). I knew all this & blew it but then again, I didn't expect the Mayor to not follow procedure, ESPECIALLY WHEN I HAD POINTED OUT THE STANDING ORDER RULE TO THE TOWN COUNCIL OFFICE OVER THE PHONE SOON AFTER I RECEIVED THE AGENDA.

I did make the point last night that if we were to take our Standing orders seriously, I would point out every occasion during the meeting that our actions contravened them.

It was like shooting fish in a barrel! Some Councillors got rather upset at the lack of progress (although I was happy enough to point out ways round the molasses we quickly found ourselves treading in) but I also received praise from unexpected quarters.

{There is an error in the original posting I made, the original mobile phone motion was actually seconded from the floor but I didn't hear it. My hearing isn't top form & it wasn't reflected back from the Mayor or Clerk verbally.)

Health & Safety

I recently volunteered to be on the premises Committee of our school Governing Body. Yesterday, a couple of us went for a walk around the school with the Head, looking out for hazards. Real ones, you understand, not cotton-wool cladding for rampant bottom covering nanny-stateism.

On our rounds, we passed through David's year Group and he gave us all a wave.

Later on in the day, I picked him up & was driving home when we asked what I had been doing at the school. I explained it was a health & safety visit.

"Well Dad, it wasn't very healthy after you left"

"What do you mean?"

Well, it wasn't very safe either, because the board fell down."

"What, The blackboard?"

"No, the whiteboard. It went all wobbly then went with a bang & broke the light as well."

"Gosh, was anybody hurt?" (knowing how small the classrooms are).

"No, cos we had all ran away by then!"

David is 7, going on 42...

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A Geordie Omnibus...

With a remarkable bit of timing, the Prime Minister calls a General Election on the same day that a Judge is reported to have commented about levels of electoral fraud that would disgrace a banana republic. This doesn’t seem to have shocked anyone to much, because deep inside we know that we are indeed living in a third rate quasi-police state region of EUrope, even if we are not producers of Musaceae Musa monocotyledonous plants.

The Judge also said that the government is in denial about the potential for postal abuse, probably because postal voting favours the Labour Party, particularly if it is raining on polling day.

If Parliament wanted to actually gain some credibility on this matter, it would enact emergency legislation to suspend postal voting for all but those qualifying under older schemes, i.e. they would have difficulty getting to the polling station on the day due to being elsewhere or handicapped in some way. Of course, they will use the excuse that there is insufficient time to enact anything, which not being a national emergency is probably realistic.

I’m no expert, but Statutory Instruments seem to be a (much abused) method of getting partially scrutinised law through in a hurry, particularly if there is enabling legislation to prime them. One that said that anyone with a prejudicial interest in the outcome of an election is not allowed within fifty feet of an exposed ballot paper (with an outrageously punative outcome as punishment for transgression) might go down well with voters.

Another approach would be for the Police to serve ASBOs on all Members of political parties. Stranger things have happened!

What does this have to do with Newcastle buses, I hear you ask? Well, in the days of the Tyne & Wear Passenger Transport Executive the joke used to be:

What is yellow and comes in bunches?

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The 1812 Overture

When Tchaikovsky wrote the 1812, it included music for sixteen cannon bursts late in the piece, an initial salvo of five, then a full scale battle of eleven. A friend of mine actually makes a living performing this from a pyrotechnics perspective and I have occasionally helped out, having performed myself at the Birmingham Symphony Hall (which was a partial success) and the Royal Albert Hall (although the percussionist (actually the triangle player) pushed the buttons on that occasion)as well as being 2nd fiddle elsewhere around the Country.

My first experience of this was as a schoolboy, when I had a job at the Newcastle City Hall; first as casual CSI Op(Limebuy)/humper, then showman house electrician. I recounted the story of this on Tabslist (which I administrate, declaring a personal interest) some years ago but I decided to track it down from the archives and repost it here for a (potentially) wider audience.

(A Maroon is basically a large banger type firework that is fired electrically)

SUBJECT Re: [tabslist] Re: Flash Bang!

On Tue, 1 Oct 2002 18:31:33 EDT, wrote:

>Second, the wiring may not be very robust. It often needs to be
>hidden. Batteries are much safer. Even dry cells, in sufficient
>quantity, will set off something like this, although I should go for
>a thinner wire.

I remember watching with amusement (and increasing concern) an 1812
Overture in the mid-70s which involved a number of new galvanised
dustbins, some fairly beefy maroons & a jerry-rigged mains firing
control. The practitioners were well known to the organisers for
lighting, but it became apparent that pyro was not their Forte'.
When it blew 13A fuses, they wrapped fuse wire round the plug fuse so
it blew the ring main fuse instead. they then wired it to the 30A
stage sound feed. When that went after a couple of bangs, they tried
it on a phase of the 200A lighting temporary supply which was
perfectly happy, although I wasn't as they were basically using a 2.5
mil TRS tail into the TPN box. Realising this was a little dangerous,
they went out and bought some slightly less dangerous flat twin &
earth cooker cable that must have cost them more than their fee, but
they were philosophical about it as it would "come in useful".
The bins were on sale or return and they probably only managed to
take a few back at the end of the day. They were located in a stair
well that led to the choir stalls at the back of the stage. After the
first detonation they discovered that putting the bin lid on wasn't a
good idea. At the dress rehearsal they realised that a) not having a
mesh over the bins resulted in flying shrapnel that could gouge
chunks out of plaster, and b) having more than one maroon in the same
bin wasn't successful as the first one blew out all of the bell wire.
It was also pot-luck as to whether the bins split on the seams or

Getting back on topic, as this comedy of errors proceeded, I
eventually twigged how clueless they were and asked whether they were
sure they needed mains to fire the maroons as in my (limited)
experience battery detonators did exist (although this pre-dated
LeMaitre systems so the humble mains flashbox was de-rigeur). As the
maroons seemed to have very thin wires coming out of them it seemed
bizarre that you had to stick 30 Amps plus up them and there just
might be a possibility that a PP9 may have sufficed. At this point
after some thought they agreed that this might be the case, but
unfortunately they only had 16 maroons left out of the 40 they had
brought and they couldn't actually spare one to prove it as then they
would be one short for the show.

Needless to say, the performance went without a hitch, although the
stairwell needed re-decoration.

Some shows just stick in your mind for all the wrong reasons, if you
ever have the misfortune to meet me in a bar, buy me a drink and ask
about Blue Oyster Cult. (If you have 20 minutes to spare).


As a postscript to this, I actually found two maroons in a box after the performance when clearing up so they weren't actually short of them after all. Whether they were also innumerate, suffering from stress or were victims of dark-holing I can no longer recall. These two maroons were discharged in subsequent years (one with spectacular results) but that can also be another occasion.

The wedding Woof

This was a little big woof, i.e. it caused uproar on our table & quizical looks from the rest of the guests.

My long standing friend (& best man) Dave Domoney, claims to retell this story at public speaking engagements. Knowing him, he probably adds a lot of embellishment and panache to it whilst remaining seriously cool thoughout.

Scene- a hotel on the south coast, Wedding of Dave (slap-headed smart bloke & all round good egg but a bit Dwayne Dibbleyish) and Liz (nice but scary dominatrix, eater of the backs of other people's easter eggs). Guests have had the aperatif and have now taken their places for the sit-down meal. Soup is served and we all start eating. Grey then notices something unexpected on the top table- there is a vacant chair to the right of the bride and a portrait sized picture frame at the place setting. It appears to be a middle aged man in uniform.

Grey nudges Domoney & points this out, asking whether Liz's father has departed this earth. Apparently so, he had died a few years back. Short discussion on this and how it was a nice personal touch that a full place had been set for him and the chair left vacant. Short reflection. Grey says "So I suppose that means he is here with us in spirit looking on proudly, although he won't be able to enjoy the meal". After a moment of introspection and an extra pause for comic timing, out comes the innocuous remark:

"Do you think he would mind if I had his bread roll?"

Cue sprays of soup!

Saturday, April 02, 2005

In search of the big woof:

The title of today's tome comes from a stand-up comedian expression where something that is said (or even a look or gesture) really strikes a chord with the audience & they laugh much louder than normal- they laugh at each other as well & it rises into a sort of wave of hysteria through the audience. You certainly know when one happens but both the Turn and the Punters need to be on top form. When big Woofs happen, it is absolutely spine tingling as a shared experience for the audience and must be a craving for a wordsmith with a microphone.

It has nothing to do with dogs!

We mere mortals occasionally generate big woofs ourselves in shared company & they actually seem to work better without the aid of alcohol, when people are half cut it dulls the senses. (Comeny needs a lot of attention from the listener, or at least the non-Norman Wisdom kind does).

Now I am known as a bit of a dry, droll type who can say funny things dead-pan. People who know me well also know that I have a wicked sense of humour and if I am on form I can be very witty. (Although Karen says "if wit was shit...")

I can remember a few Woofs I have created over the years and I'll recount one of them.

It happened at my first (and only) Red Dwarf Conference in Northampton a long time ago, called Dimension jump 1992. Hatty Hayridge (who played Holly, the airhead computer) was telling us about some of the roughest gigs she had played, the worst of which was at a large, bleak club in Essex. (I've seen it but the name escapes me now). Also on the bill was someone who had done a bit of TV ads, most recently for Walkers Crisps. (It may have been Arthur Brown.). It seems the audience were on bottom form- rude, abusive, heckling, hostile. & that was just the bar staff...

Anyway, after a few minutes of indifference, Holly told us, watching from the wings, the punters started throwing bags of crisps at him!

At this point in the event, someone said something that made the room go quiet. They said:

"It's a good job Claire Rayner doesn't do standup".

There was a collective intake of breath then the room erupted with shrieks of laughter. I was also shocked to realise that the person who said it was me. After Holly regained her composure (which took a while as these things run in waves) she thanked me for the ad-lib and said the might incorporate it into her act.

(For those who don't know what the gag was, Claire Rayner was an author and agony aunt who had a spell advertising stick on pantie pads that she poured blue water on & pointed out the benefits of "Wings". It became such a running gag that when she appeared on an ITV Telethon the MD played "You are the wind beneath my wings" and apparently got into trouble for it!)

I'll get round to Heinrich Von Bollock & Liz & Dave's wedding some other time...

Are our prospective political candidates Moronic Bastards?

Vernon Coleman thinks so.

He advertised his book in the Prvate Eye recently so I went and had a look at the hyperlink. Under politics, there is a marvellously acerbic article about how to make your vote count using the non tactical voting approach of choosing Independent MPs.

There is so much in this article that resonates, although I can find much to disagree with elsewhere on his site.

I commend this article to the House. (Well, my house, although the other occupants are somewhat indifferent to politics.)