Saturday, February 25, 2006

Poor old Ken...

Ken Livingstone, the newt loving keen spender of other people's money, has been suspended on full pay for four weeks for being rude to a journalist. This "punishment" has been imposed by the Standards Board for England, an increasingly discredited unelected quango that ensures that those in public office behave themselves. Unfortunately, however, it has become victim to the law of unintended consequences, as it has become a stick for political parties to bash their opponents for frivolous and vindictive complaints. Morley Town Council has an entry in their database and I thought there had been another case as well involving others but can't find it, perhaps it pre-dates their web records. There are also a handful for Leeds (I can't hyperlink directly, but type Leeds into the third box here.

Why is it so easy to be a vexatious litigant? Because Councillors are expected to treat everyone with respect, which is one of these multi-culti nonsense things that old people think means to defer to others, whilst youngsters think it means something you show to someone who intimidates you, I subservience based on fear.

The reality, of course, is that no-one is entitled to respect, only a basic level of tolerance. Respecting someone may be very difficult if you are of the opinion that they don't really deserve much, through their behaviour, unpleasant beliefs or ignorance. However, the God of political correctness says that you must be blind to the faults of others, especially if they are thought of as "victims". This God is a false god and needs to be eradicated, principally by ridicule. Tolerance is good manners, respect is earned. By being bound by a code that says you are not allowed to say what you think, the Councillors code leads to self-censorship and people saying things they don't actually think. Was Red Ken wrong to offend a Jewish journalist? Possibly, but I wasn't there so don't know the full story or the background. Has he broken the code of conduct? possibly, depending on whether you think he is on duty all of the time or not, but it shouldn't be a crime to say what you think, even for holocaust deniers live David Irving.

Who should decide to discipline the London Mayor? let the voters decide...

Monday, February 20, 2006

Journey into Space... and slurry...

We had a trip out down to Leicestershire on Sunday, or “Adrian Mole Country” as the County signs ought to proclaim in celebration of Sue Townsend’s anti-hero.

Our destination was the National Space Centre which is a Millennium Project funded museum located just north of Leicester. The most prominent feature of the building is a large tower which looks from afar as though it is made out of air filled packaging, there is a certain inflatable feel to it.

It is rather expensive to visit, £9.99 for adults, £7.99 for kids. There are certainly some fascinating exhibits but much of the detail is not of interest to primary school kids. There are diversionary items for that age range, however, with assorted tunnels and rubber gloves for smaller kids to interact with, as well as the ability to build soft play rockets and watch videos of Mr. Sunshine in an under 5’s area.

The main attraction in the museum is the space theatre, which is a cross between a Planetarium and a Cinema where you sit in comfy recliners under a huge dome not much smaller than the Madame Tussauds in Baker Street (which apparently has now abandoned planetarium shows in favour of entertainment videos.) We saw a show called “Big” that attempts to put the size of the Universe into perspective, i.e. absolutely massive and enough to shake a religious person’s belief somewhat. Lets face it, in the scale of things mankind is absolutely trivial and if there is a God/Allah/Jahweh/Grand Architect/Great Green Arkleseizure, the likelihood of them being interested in the antics of individual carbon based lifeforms is a total nonsense and the ultimate conceit of mankind.

The show is well made and includes humour in the form of animated plasticine figures as well as stunning views of other galaxies, although it could have done with being somewhat louder, especially with a couple of ignoramuses behind me discussing something I wasn’t interested in during the show. The use of LCD projectors to cover the dome is well done and whilst not entirely seamless (the joins do show as slightly darker areas forming a giant fuzzy tent frame) and not too bright strike the right compromise between being of Cinema intensity and spoiling the effect of the starfield and milky way.

The tower houses two large rockets, as well as various other artefacts and items, including a replica of Sputnik, the first Satellite to be launched. The tower is indeed inflatable, with a triple skinned pressurised membrane giving the bulbous look beyond the concrete core. The promised views of Leicester were lost in fog somewhat as it was a very misty day.

There is a gallery devoted to training for space missions that is interactive with probably the biggest queues, being the newest addition. It includes a simulator that seats 17 (five rows of 3/4/3/4/3) and bumps you around whilst you visit Jupiter and one of the moons (possibly Europa). You get to wear 3D specs for this ride and it is nicely done, but not to Disney standards.

I personally enjoyed the living in space gallery the most, where you learned about astronaut food, exercise and hygiene, including space toilets…

…next to the museum is another one, the Abbey Pumping Station which is basically a tribute to excrement being the remains of a former sewage works that pumped the slurry onwards after being sand filtered. (The Space Centre is built on brownfield land, literally so!) The displays aren’t just about sewage, however, there being items about trams, Victoriana and even a mockup of a vintage cinema projection room. The crowning glory is the pump hall, where four huge magnificent beam engines sit cold and static in an ornate Victorian Engine Hall, but fully restored and in steam on special occasions. The biggest interest to children, however, is a demonstration flushing toilet and associated drainage plumbing, complete with plastic turd to see how it works!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Fair wrestling...

There are two posters in most of the Morley shops at the moment. The first one is for the Valentine's Fair which happens this time of the year and goes from strength to strength. We had a quick look on Saturday afternoon & there are two monster rides there, a giant mouse type roller coaster and a wild river rapids, remarkable for a touring fair, at least in Britain. There were also old favourites from my childhood Hoppings like the Outer Limits (that involves an egress on a conveyor belt) and the Rotor, when you are spun round and stick to the wall. David tried that and didn't really like it as it made him very dizzy, not knowing what to expect. We also went on something called the toboggan, you are shoehorned into the car which rises vertically up a shaft then careers round the outside in tight spirals topped off with a dip & some bunny hops.

David also wanted to do a couple of boot shaped fun houses but having taken him in when he was pre-school, they are a waste of money. We let him go on the triple decker fun house though, as well as an old fashioned simulator shaped like a rocket which bucks & rurns a bit but not like the modern ones on hydraulics. This was a long tube with a screen at the front, this type used to use film projectors but this one had been upgraded to an LCD projector, which unfortunately did not have a rear projection mode so the writing was back to front! (The movement was correct though, otherwise it would have been very disturbing...)

The other forthcoming event is American Wrestling at the Leisure Centre. I well remember Saturday afternoon UK style wrestling on ITV in my youth, with the famous names like Jackie Pallo, Giant Haystacks, Mick McManus, Big Daddy and my own favourite, Les Kellett. The latter used to act all groggy & disoriented, letting some up & coming young Turk think they had the upper hand. then, lulling them into a sense of false security, it would be a last minute double fall or even submission so that he would win again.

As it happens, my first "paid" gig at the City Hall in Newcastle was wrestling. I had visited that morning to suss out the lighting rig for our forthcoming school prizegiving and the Stage Manager was happy to let me help him rig the traditional boxing ring light & stay on for the show. (I wasn't paid but i got in for free- my first real paid gig was for the Sensational Alex harvey Band a few weeks later when I humped gear and also worked one of the CSI follow-spots.)

Wrestling was a fairly regular occasion in the City hall over the next couple of years & I was on friendly terms with the promoter, one Brian Crabtree(right in photo). Brian was the brother of Big Daddy, who had the rather unlikely name of Shirley Crabtree. The wrestling was never televised from Newcastle, apparently Tyne Tees TV didn't have enough OB gear to do both the horse racing at Gosforth Park and a wrestling event so it ws held in the evening. It was never packed out but generally attracted several hundred and the bar did good business as well!

When it was in the city Hall, the ring was placed in the stalls (over the seats, we took a couple of backs off but left the rest in-situ) and punters could choose to sit on the Stage Choir Stalls if they chose. There were a couple of old grannies who were regulars, could swear like troopers and sometimes gave wrestlers a right good handbagging if they worked themselves up into a frenzy!

Was it fixed? I'd have to say yes, and no. The wrestlers certainly played to the crowd and made sure the punters got their money's worth, it was certainly show business but not scripted like the American WWF obviosly is. I can recall one wrestler getting properly hurt on one occasion- he misjudged his positioning slightly and caught the top rope right across his windpipe. He immediately went down on his back and started gargling & choking and the ref and his opponent immediately realised this was for real and stopped the fight. Fighting must have hurt- that ring was just a few pieces of canvas over hard wooden boards and if you were unlucky enough to catch the rope hooks with the guard pad out of the way (as tag teams frequently moved it when the ref wasn't looking) it could be very unpleasant indeed. If you fell out of the ring in Newcastle to the sides you had a good chance of landing on seat backs and breaking ribs.

The Movie Rollerball was released in 1975 during my tenure in Newcastle and it struck me that there was a connection- Wrestling did serve a social purpose, it vented anger in a harmless manner without having to hate anyone for real, unlike joining a political party!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Sprituality, sub-sonics and disgraced pop stars...

I stumbled across an older BBC article recently suggesting that notes too deep to hear on a church organ can induce a feeling of wierdness. Landing on that page was inspired by a strange Internet St. Vitus dance where I was trying to work out why the Plaza Compton heard at the weekend didn't have a real tub-thumping deep note to it.

Thinking back to the big Organ in Newcastle City Hall, that had two very deep stops, both thirty-two footers. (Organ pipes halve in frequency when doubling the length and vica-versa so the ranks tend to be expressed as 8', 4' 2' etc, each an octave apart. Obviously only one pipe would actually be that length, generally the lowest C note in the rank.) One of the 32' stops was a wood (a double open wood) about a foot square and the height of the casement. When playing the rank, the bottom 3 or 4 notes were felt rather than heard. Indeed the c# could cause all sorts of sympathetic rattles to start in the organ casement which had numerous hinged access panels which would clatter noisily. The other 32' stop was a metal pipe (a Double Ophicleide)and basically sounded like blowing extremely loud, deep, raspberries!

I'm delighted to have stumbled across some details and photos of the Organ here and here. It has been thirty years since I saw the interior but I immediately recognised the innards and could even visualise (or is that olfactorise) what it smelt like, namely dust with the smell of timber and leather. When Churchill & Churchill came to tune the beast twice a year, it took them three days to do it. The apprentice sat at the console whilst the master within communicated via electric buzzer. Like piano tuning, a dull process but often satisfyingly rounded off with some unexpected playing for job satisfaction. It seems the Organ is in a sorry state now, rarely played and out of tune with some faults on it and cyphers (stuck notes).

I can remember the day an organist turned up for a show (the summer of 1973?) and was shocked to find that most of the stops wouldn't stay out at the morning rehearsal, we worked out that if you pulled them out and held on to them the Organ spoke correctly but as soon as you let go, most of them were sucked back in. A panic call to the repairer & his subsequent rooting around inside turned up the fault- a fractured pipe feeding wind to the console for the pneumatic action. It was actually Garry Glitter's fault (well, his crew!) GG's stage set included backing flats and a fireman's pole he slid down for a grand entrance- they had been tied back to the casement innards but one of the ropes must have been round the feed pipe rather than the timbers. Fortunately, it was very quickly fixed with some Gaffer tape and of course, the artist got his come-uppance in the end...

(If the above sounds like gobbledygook, look here for a "user guide" to organs. The specification for the City Hall Organ is here).

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A Grand day out

(I have not yet found my trip report to the Plaza mentioned in a previous post. However, this is an ABTT write-up of a Blackpool trip held back in 2003. The ABTT is the Association of British Theatre Technicians, an organisation I have recently relinquished membership of as I am in too many societies!)

ABTT North had organised a Blackpool visit for Thursday 3rd of July, starting at 11am at Funny Girls, the former Odeon in Dickson Road. Unfortunately, a rescheduled rehearsal meant that access to the venue was not possible, however Neil Bohanna, the ABTT North Chairman, had pulled a rabbit out of the hat and managed to arrange a last-minute visit to the Pleasure Beach.

Thirty minutes later, the party re-assembled outside the casino building after having used cars, buses or trams (but no sign of the donkeys!) where we were met by two of the Stageworks staff who whisked us round to the Globe.

(This report is a little cursory on technical detail, as it has been recalled from memory rather than from notes.)

The Globe is a large tent, constructed in a way as to be mostly column free. This was originally leased to Peter Jay as a Circus venue and eventually taken on by Stageworks, Blackpool Pleasure Beach's Production Company headed up by Amanda Thompson. (The park is still privately owned by the Thompson family).

The Technical Director explained something about what the show was about. Eclipse is a performance using Circus skills but more collectively coherent than a regular circus and with thematic elements to pull it together as an experience rather than just an event. Think Cirque Du Soleil & you will get the idea, although BPB are keen to point out that the resemblance is only superficial. (Well, they would say that, wouldn't they, as Christine Keeler once said!) The star of the show is Vladimir, a sultry hunk of a bloke reminiscent of Disney's animated Tarzan, even down to a fur loincloth. His coup de grace is to wrap straps around his wrists and to launch himself out into the audience, swooping in graceful circles.

The tent seats about a thousand and is an end stage configuration with a circular thrust. There are large numbers of conventional and moving lights, although they are as high up and far back as possible to maximise the space for aerial ballet. The rear of the multi-level set has numerous entrances within the scenic elements, including a large ramp that lifts right up to allow the setting of a full size trampoline.

We were shown a number of lighting states as well as two impressive special effects- a water curtain that encircled most of the thrust , followed by pulsating balls of flame also around the front of the stage. Jack Watling (who was sat in the front row) commented that he was worried about losing his eyebrows!

BPB is no stranger to flame effects, the nearby Valhalla water ride needed a larger mains feed to provide enough gas for the final scenes which provide welcome warmth after the soaking you get.

We then moved on to the Horseshoe bar, home of the Mystique illusion cabaret show. Whilst not actually horseshoe shaped, it takes up nearly a third of the circular Casino building on two levels and has a pronounced curve. The stage is comparatively small (& the original stage little more than an alcove beyond) but there is a large square forestage lift where most of the action happens (due to sightlines). There are less moving heads here due to space & height constraints but still a substantial rig for the space.

The third venue is the Ice Arena, a short walk away towards the centre of the park, near the ghost train. It has recently had the foyer extended as a cafe bar similar in style to the Globe, and indeed many modern stylish Pubs in City Centres, think Ash wall panels, pastel furniture and designer luminaires.
Inside the arena itself we took in the ambience. Again, it is a thrust shape, the main slab being rectangular capped with a semi-circle so that the banked seating sweeps round three sides of the ice. There is a shallow stage in the fourth wall with flying facilities and it also has a permanent ice surface, although the back third of the stage is taken up with plumbing for a dancing waters installation. The main lighting rig consists of a number of stalactites that are actually lowered to ice level for the skaters to weave between at the start of the second half. There are also a large number of lanterns facing out above the Pros, with a 6x8 vertical Par Can array used for a special effect in the style of "the Matrix" (not having seen the film that went over my head). The venue is the home of the Hot Ice show that has a reputation for spectacular costumes and routines.

As well as the usual vomitories for entrances, there is also a ramp anchored high up in the SR Pros return wall, which can be lowered to ice level. This was apparently original to the 1930s construction, as well as the ability to square off the curved end of the rink for ice hockey events by removing blocks of seating (no longer done due to the effort involved). We were also treated to a demonstration of the skimming machine, merrily melting, scraping and hoovering up the slush to restore the ice to pristine condition after a public skating session.

Time was getting on, however we had the opportunity to visit the Paradise Suite back in the Casino building (mostly now used for corporate events). We also watched a short video of the Eclipse show before thanking our guides and heading back up to the Town centre for our next port of call.

The Grand Theatre is practically in the shadow of the Blackpool tower and is probably the best building in the town. Designed by Frank Matcham in 1895 (with a few minor tweaks in the 1910s) the Auditorium is a riot of fibrous plaster. Built on the cantilevered principle there are very few columns and they do not impact on sightlines, being constrained to the rear cross-aisles on the four levels. There are only two boxes in the splay walls at dress circle level but there are a further eight boxes in the dress circle slips, one of which is the temporary home for sound (with a mixing desk bigger than my office desk). Lighting is at upper Circle level, in a space that was originally a toilet and will be returned to one in due course when the control rooms are eventually relocated to the back of the stalls at some future date.

The stage was being set up for a Radio Broadcast that evening and we were able to see a cloth that consisted of a number of well known seaside saucy postcard scenes, as well as outlines of the Tower and the Grand buildings.

Neil Thompson had initially met us in the Matcham Bar and had given us a briefing about what the Trust was about. Neil told us about the recent £2m restoration project and what had been achieved. The most obvious visual change was to the ceiling- the paintings looked vibrant and the detailing very clean and rich. The Circle & Box fronts had also been restored, although the comparatively low light levels and the swamping effect of a Sodium working light made this a little less apparent. Having not seen the auditorium for at least a decade I did not entirely appreciate how much the auditorium had been improved until watching the restoration video afterwards. If you are interested in how the artisans painstakingly rolled back 100 years of grime, varnishing, painting out and insensitive improvements then this video is a fascinating 45 minutes and well worth the Tenner.

Neil explained about the huge platform that had been rigged to work on the ceiling (& proscenium top) without having to go dark & the various trials and tribulations about funding, listing approvals & officialdom that had to be overcome along the rocky road to completion.

The proscenium was of particular interest. It has twelve lozenge shaped projections around the top of the arch as well as delicate plaster flowering branches at the apex. Underneath the chocolate paint on each of the lozenges was a small rectangular painting dedicated to the twelve months of the year, which are now in full view again.

Onstage, the counterweight sets are gradually being replaced and various Chariot style towers & clamp-on short wired bars were in evidence from M&M, based on Socopex inputs and CEE17 outputs. There also appeared to be projection ports in the back wall, suggesting a time of mixed variety & cinema use before Cinemascope came along. (The Grand was a Bingo Hall for many years before the Trust came into being and it returned to live use).

Whilst the Auditorium is now looking splendid, there is still a lot of work to be done. Some of the exit staircases in the Gods are looking very decrepit with peeling paint, although hopefully the damp problems have been eradicated. FOH is somewhat cramped as is typical for a building where the design brief was for less than 20% of the audience allowed into the foyers due to our legacy class system. There isn't really anywhere for the theatre to expand into at present as it is surrounded on three sides by roads. (The SL road has a huge wrought iron canopy which is overly high due to the insistence of it being a highway by Lancashire CC, despite the fact that it only leads to the dock doors!) The building is mostly of somewhat uninspiring brick, although it does have a monumental corner entrance with an impressive green beehive dome above, although the impact is much reduced now by the subsequent build-up of nearby properties.

Two other things caught my eye internally. Firstly, the ventilation system is somewhat intrusive, there being visible ducting evident above most of the side aisles on all levels. There is a huge duct visible in the stage house above the fly floor (with an enormous silencer unit) but fortunately high enough to not be particularly in the way. The auditorium ducting has been painted out but being a cream colour it is all too apparent.

The other surprise was the steelwork above the stalls, the main girders that the pillars were supporting being visible, along with a lot of rivet heads. Whether a lath ceiling has been removed at some stage or Matcham realised that it would be a trendy effect at the Royal Court a Century later is unclear! Again the beams were painted out but still rather obvious.

There were a lot of things to see and there was an offer to visit the nearby studio. We eventually finished up with Coffee in the Matcham Bar, where there was the opportunity to buy videos (at least two were sold) as well as chat to the staff and other Members.

Thanks to the organisers & hosts for such an interesting day.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Who are all these people?

I went along to an Eighteen Plus re-union with Karen on Sunday afternoon. It was being held in the Stockport Plaza and somewhere I have a write-up of last time I visited that fine venue.

As part of the deal, the venue laid on teas & coffees, biscuits, opened the bar and made the circle lounge available to us. In penance, we had to sit through a short speech, a Organ interlude and some film snippets on the big screen. Obviously, I was in Cinema heaven, but Karen found it rather bizarre...

The Plaza has a three manual eleven rank Compton Organ situated slap-bang in the middle of the orchestra pit, with the pipe chambers in the proscenium splay wall to the right of the audience. The Organ has an illuminated glass surround, too angular to be called a jelly-mould but it chugs through a slow sequence on automatic or can be set to give a particular colour using stop keys by the organist. (The red lamps looked suspiciously like orange fireglow lamp colours to me so producing a good purple would be unlikely). A sniff on the Web tells me this was known as a Sunburst design.

For the film footage, we watched the 1966 World Cup final highlights on Pathe news (in Wide screen ratio, i.e. 4/3 telly shaped, followed by a trailer for Mrs. henderson Presents, currently on release. (It looks interesting, being about the Windmill Theatre!) Then the tabs closed and opened again to a cinemascope size for snippets from The King & I, Star and Hello Dolly, preceded by an overture from something that wasn't immediately obvious.

There was a downside to this, the auditorium was a bit nippy, I was glad I had brought my fleece with me.

Afterwards, there were some naff speeches related to the reunion and not knowing anyone, I busied myself with the Plaza displays rather than talking to people older than myself about how good 18+ used to be in the olden days.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Plastered again...

I've just returned from the CMA Annual Conference, held again at the Plaisterer's Guild in the City of London.

Our speaker at the Dinner last night was Trevor Bayliss, legendary inventor of the clockwork radio and a very entertaining showman. More on our interactions anon, in the meantime, enjoy his website.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Paramount Pictures

We went to see Chicken Little this afternoon. For a change, rather than a Multiplex we went to a proper Cinema- the Penistone Paramount. There was one small hitch though, when the film started there was a 2' black circle at the top of the screen as the Pantomime Crew had forgotten to de-rig the mirror ball hanging from the advance lighting bar! The projectionist did come round the audience to apologise in the interval, two things you don't experience at a multiplex, intervals or apologies...

The Cinema also boasts being "Home of the mighty Compton", it has the original Compton Cinema Organ from the Birmingham Paramount which was re-installed there in 1999. Click here for a look at the pipes under-stage.

Sadly, Morley no longer has a cinema or theatre (although two buildings remain) and fit-ups in the Alexandra Hall don't really count in my book.

Send in the clowns...

David went to see the Sandow Clowns in the Morleian room of the Town Hall yesterday. He loved it, as did all of the kids. I found it OK but preferred to read my latest book in the back row as David was fine on the mat at the front. It was a full house and they actually had to turn people away. The performing troupe appear to be Father, Mother and Daughter, with the Dad doing most of the hard stuff, including stilt-walking and tray balancing. They give profits to a Cancer charity and whilst not exactly Blackpool Tower, is certainly a goood afternoon out.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

ASDA Morley gets personal shoppers...

No, it isn't power dressed attractive women giving you fashion tips around the George clothing area like you get in Debenhams, Personal shopper is your electronic buddy that helps you shop quicker. What you do is to self-scan and pack your items with your very own scanning gun which speeds you through the checkout- or so the theory goes...

The first inkling something new was happening was when a team of installers spent quite a bit of time fixing strange rubber ring affairs to all of the trolley handles several months ago. What were they for? You could get a small bunch of flowers in them, or maybe a rolled up copy of the Dandy, but other than somewhere mildly inconvenient to hook clothes hangers, they were without proper purpose.

Then, a few weeks ago, the pods arrived. Two keyboard/VDU affairs either side of an entrance pillar, each surrounded by columns of star-trek phasers. PC printed notes told us that Personal shopper was coming although the promised dates came and went.

Then finally, they were there and for the trying. Being an early adopter, I went through the sign-on rigmarole, registering my phone number, name, address and a secret PIN. (Wot, another one?) The unit then released one of the hand held phasers, although I didn't immediately twig it had done so and had to read the screen several times until I noticed a large black arrow pointing to the right and one of the devices lit-up to show it was unlocked.

I then merrily went round the store for my mid-week shop, happily clicking and scanning each item. It instantly told me what it was and how much it cost, along with a running total of items and spend. As it seemed unlikely that each hand-held knew the description and price of the 30,000+ product lines ASDA probably carries, I correctly surmised that it must use Wireless technology to do the item query. I also twigged that it wasn't doing the three for two type offers, as that required the main computers actually keeping track of what you were buying when it was easier to simply do that at checkout. There was a mechanism for removing items if you changed your mind and also an info button which appeared to simply give you name and price without totalling it, although it seemed to work erratically.

Was it a success? Well, for a simple shop, mostly yes. I didn't have to separate any items that needed weighing or security tags removed which could get to be a mess on a big shop unless you commandeered the bit at the front (which is where the pop bottles and cans go in our approach). You did have to press the trigger button on the gun every time and it didn't really fit too firmly in the rubber thingy so it was a bit of a faff finding the barcode and positioning the item just right. (Barcodes are mostly placed for the ease of Checkout operators, which may mean on the bottom or side, something that passes most shoppers by).

When I got to the checkout, the assistant had been out the day before so had missed the training so I was able to witness a bit of one on one rapid training from the supervisor. The system asks for a number of items to be rescanned, randonly chosen by the colleague (It chose five in my case, which sounded a lot but I was a first time user so it may vary it). They also asked me to confirm my name and address (or in my case, asked me if I was Ian Grey living at my address, d-oh!) then processed the sale as normal.

Is it a good idea? Well it should speed up the checkout process but there isn't a dedicated one for it so if they are all busy it is less of an incentive unless it gets particularly popular. You can go to the basket only aisles (well I did, and they were geared up for them). I think I saw it described as speedy-shop on the behind the counter bumf and it doesn't replace staff the way the self-scan checkouts supposedly do (although I imagine they are regarded as an alternative rather than a replacement.) It slows down the actual product selection process for the customer somewhat, having to scour the packaging to play hunt the zebra.

The biggest concern for ASDA has to be the worry of increased shoplifting, by people packing things they haven't scanned. Will they? I've no idea. Obviously it is straight-forward theft if done deliberately and I'd no more consider doing it myself than taking money off a church collection plate but some people do like to gamble and the odds are probably fairly long that if you've just one extra thing it won't be the one re-scanned. I'm sure ASDA have worked out very carefully the balance of inconvenience against loss prevention and in retail apparently most of the theft is internal, euthamistically called shrinkage but what the scuffers more accurately call fraud.

Would I use it again? Certainly, as it avoids the tedium of unloading then re-loading the trolly. I do have one concern though- it insisted that a pack of medallion steaks were actually roll-mop herring, albeit the same price. I don't want their personal profiling systems thinking I'm some kind of vegetarian...

follow up note- I had a look on the web to find out if there was an image of the kit. I did find images of colleages on the Morley Store page at, none of whom I recognised. That seems to be because they work for every other store as well, it gives you a random person every time you refresh!

I also thought it was a teensy bit amusing that the address of the store is given as Co-Operative Road!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

D'ye hear there...

I attended an event on HMS Belfast today. This was the first time I had been on board (although I had been aware of numerous 18 Plus events there over the years. I had a very quick trip round the major and ancillary spaces which left me determined to visit again for a more leisurely exploration.

The event was held in the Wardroom which was comfortable officer country, unlike the utilitarian other areas where the services are visible like some kind of technical exoskeleton. It was like a small town, with more than 940 men serving at one stage. Of course, towns need services, so there was a laundry, mail room, dentist and even a sort of onboard radio station, called the SRE or Sound Reproduction Equipment room.

My Dad was an Engineer in the Merchant Navy and I can distinctly remember visiting him on a tanker when I was about four. My Mum tells me we did it several times but I only remember the once. He showed us round the upper areas of the engine rooms and wanted to take us down to the lower level but my Mum declined. I remember it was very hot & noisy & the handrail was very hot as well. I had assumed it was a pipe but he told me in later years that everything got very hot despite the strong ventilation so it was probably just a handrail but a rather hot one!

A trip round the Belfast adds the killing dimension of course, my Dad's tankers didn't have weaponry and attack defences, or indeed armoured bulkheads. I was amused to read that the two large gun turrets on the forward deck are targeted on Scratchwood Servics (now London Gateway) on the M1 some 12.5 miles away. I'll bear that in mind next time I stop there to use the toilet!

Talking of toilets, there was a "night Head" not to be used during the day (although it wasn't obvious why). There was also a big poster telling you what advice you could get from your commanding officer. He couldn't help with getting a girlfriend or family planning though, although I recall from subsequent reading that ship issue condoms were available in later years (Belfast was de-commissioned in 1965).

By the way, the phrase "D'ye hear there..." preceded Tannoy announcements from the Captain, something I read about in a book written by a ship's surgen (in the style of Gervais Phinn & James Herriott). I'd completely forgotten about it until I visited the bridge when a recorded dialogue triggered that memory.

One thing missing from the Bridge (or more accurately, the Compass Platform) was a tiller or ship's wheel. That is because the ship was actually steered from the steering position six decks below (and an emergency position aft as well). The ship has considerable amounts of engineering resilience which is essential when you consider the purpose of a Frigate, critical points of failure are weaknesses.

I also saw the Mayor of London's palace nearby, which was smaller and less impressive than I was expecting, a bit of a letdown really, not unlike one well known occupant!