Saturday, October 28, 2006

Strange but compelling...

The Theremin is probably one of the strangest musical instruments around and was a mainstay of Music Halls for those who could play it well (who are few and far between).

Thursday, October 26, 2006

At last... it's Mike Elliott!

Mike & I have shared a Pint or two together. He was a regular at the Lindisfarne Christmas shows & I played Mastermind with him once backstage at the Coventry Theatre. We also booked him for an 18 plus ANC (unbenownst to me) & after sharing several beers after his set, he was asked to do an unexpected second half!

He briefly had his own TV show and even released two albums, "Out of the brown" and "At last...".

Last I heard he was a Radio DJ in the north East. The band on this clip is a Lindisfarne pre-reforming. They were called Pakamax, but Mike referred to them on air as the "Dole Wallahs".

Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)

YouTube is a window on the world. Once you wipe off the flies & roadkill, you see some sights.

This song reminds me of seeing "10" in an open air cinema in Saudi Arabia. I probably missed lots of it due to the censor's scissors though.

Song title features in blog post title shock!

I've mentioned this video before...

Possibly one of the greatest funky instrumental breaks ever... 2 minutes 20 seconds onwards. (Longer on the album though).

It is Steely Dan... My old school.

Common as muck...
LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Into the valley...

We've had a couple of days off as it is half term. Yesterday, we went up to Lightwater Valley, near Ripon. It describes itself as the ultimate family day out but what what you get in amongst a couple of gems is a selection of moderately clapped out fairground rides and fast food that arguably contravenes the Trades description Act (as far as the word fast applies).

The oddest ride there is something called Toad Hole which is a sort of watersplash from inside a cave down into a pond below on a rope tethered carriage. It wasn't working yesterday though...

My favourite ride of the day was the Twister, a spinning wild mouse style ride very similar to the one on the end of the South Pier at Blackpool and which was bought new a couple of years back. Their headline ride is called the Ultimate and is a very long coaster that used to be the longest in the world. It looks like a Woodie with two large wooden lift hills but is actually of steel construction. The lift hills are excruciatingly slow, particularly the 2mph chug round the top of the second hill. It then enters a very fast undulating run curving & banking fiercely through trees , swooping through two tunnels and giving you a good bone rattle until eventually sauntering back into the station some seven minutes or so after you set off. Consequently the throughput on the ride is very poor, with only six trains an hour and some of the back seats not available/water ballasted yesterday (apparently due to the lap bars being faulty). The ride didn't open until mid-day (we queued from 11:55 and boarded at 12:28). It had what looked like 40 minute queues every time we walked past the station so we couldn't be bothered to ride a second time. They can run two trains but the crew would have to work twice as hard and why should they bother? They have your gate money already...

They have an in-the-dark coaster called the Sewer Rat that has a particularly well themed entrance route where you walk through sewer pipes and down rusty stairs surrounded by the sound (& sight) of rushing water. The Coaster itself is rather mediocre and would look particularly unimpressive with the lights on in its underground bunker but the inability to tell what is about to happen next does bring the element of surprise when you suddenly find yourself dropping like a stone.

They were promoting a ride called the skyrider as being new for 2006. It is a giant swing ride where the chained seats spin as the central support rises then it swoops as the upper structure tilts and counter-rotates. I'm sure the ride itself isn't new and was there last time we visited. What is new is the theming- it has been painted with musical motifs and the control hut is covered in Feux posters for Rock groups. Previous to this there was another swing ride which was much bigger but somewhat simpler, not having the swoop motion. What it did have, however, was an enormous moon-like structure which counter-rotated so that it looked interesting. It was all painted green and there were a couple of rectangular hatches missing on the surface of the moon to give it that uniquely British look of negligence.

A large yellow swing ride looked interesting- the Eagles's Claw. This was a circle of 24 inward facing seats on the end of a pendulum, a smaller version of Drayton Manor's Maelstrom and apparently an earlier design. Regrettably, I was too big to ride, but David got a go (and didn't like it as he didn't realise why I couldn't).

Is it worth a trip there? Yes, if you don't go with high expectations of it being Disneyland or a major league Uk theme park. Also, be on the lookout for discount vouchers, we managed to get in for £5.95 each with a coupon out of the Manchester Evening News that a Gran had supplied. Don't bother if it is raining though, most of the park is out of doors and the grass was very squelchy. The shops are worth a look at the exit (which can be visited without having to enter the park) and the home made fudge in the courtyard gift shop is sensationally sticky!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Christmas is coming...

You know that Christmas is on the way when the annuals, selection boxes and Terrys Chocolate Oranges start to appear in ASDA. I don't think that they are bringing the season earlier in particular, it is just that since they expanded the store the warehouse ended up correspondingly smaller so we now have visible storage areas in the seasonal aisles. There is about 50 yards worth of Halloween tat which will no doubt disappear very quickly on November 1st, to be replaced by Xmas tat.

The Morley Christmas lights are up but fortunately not yet lit. I imagine that the Council gets Morley out of the way before tackling the much more ambitious Leeds Lights, a sort of mini-blackpool round the City Centre without the smell of candy floss and sick (apart from Giro day, of course).

Top tip for enjoying the Blackpool Illuminations- Park in the South big car park and catch a tram from near the Pleasure Beach or the Sandcastle at about 45 minutes before the published switch-on time. You want to travel to the Cabin, but if you arrive with time to spare get off at Bispham and walk back past the Tableaux to where they start (just slightly after the Cabin.)

The lights will start more-or-less at the appointed time and you will be travelling in the opposite direction to the crowds. Once you have enjoyed all of the tableaux, hop on a near-empty tram and enjoy the lights all the way back to the Pleasure Beach. (The LED sphere light tree on a real tree in the centre of the Gynn Square roundabout is particularly pretty). This has worked on both occasions in recent years, any other deviation from this plan will be somewhat fraught, e.g. driving along the Prom or trying to board a tram anywhere along the route in the first few hours after switch-on.

This year was slightly marred by the double decker tram windows being absolutely filthy and also some Burberry Boy behind us assuming that we all shared his taste in mobile phone music. (It might have sounded fine through a hi-fi rather than a half inch piezo speaker but I still wasn't interested in being subjected to it without discussion). However, the mood was lifted when we saw the Green Machine tableau complete with solar panels and windmill working overtime- a fountain effect at the top right became instantly recognisable as a MacDonalds Golden Arch as it went through the sequence, something the Greenies would have been aghast about had they spotted the symbolism. It wasn't yellow but even david spotted it!

Back to Yorkshire, I have heard that the Morley Switch-on is on November 23rd at 7pm which is a little over four weeks away so that we can start working ourselves up to a frenzy in anticipation. Hopefully Morley FM will be involved again, we understand that our very own Charlie Keith may be hosting it but there are conflicting reports about whether Real radio will be participating again.

Another sign of an impending Christmas- Spam starts to turn up about Santa!

By the way, Morley had another Continental Market at the start of October but I don't think anyone noticed...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

(Lack of) Pleasure Beach

Blackpool Pleasure Beach continues to pull in the crowds but it is now horribly expensive- £29 for a wristband, £72 for a family of three. When we went recently, the Big One was closed (probably due to high winds) and the Spin Doctor & Flying Machines were also posted as out of action, possibly for similar reasons.

The Plesh isn't too big on background maintenance. I don't mean that they compromise safety, only that lots of trivial things often don't work. The noah's Ark walk-through ride has a bit where stepping on a floor area sends a blast of cold air down your neck. This time, however, it was blowing all the time at reduced pressure. A bouncing staircase didn't bounce, an infinity mirror effect was spoiled by a large amount of accumulated grime. Animatronics didn't animate, wooden horses were wrapped in hazard tape, roller coaster seats had sandbags in them. The Valhalla water ride is full of disappointments- effects still there but rarely working. (Talking Norse Head, snow machines, pop-up monster, rotating tunnels, water vortex, gas flame effects, even the flakey lame lightning van der graff generator (which has now been replaced by a rather lame strobe light that flashes in the cage where the generator used to be).

What really takes the pleasure out of the pleasure beach, though, is the creeping health & safety mentality. Rides which spent the first fifty years without any restraints whatsoever have gradually acquired lap bars and now, sadly, seat belts. The rides are perfectly safe if riders hold on and act responsibly. However, due to the risk of people frigging about (standing up, leaning out etc.) the rest of us have to endure being strapped and clamped in to the detriment of the ride experience. The Grand National now has individual seat belts, high seat dividers and clamp-in lap pads that swap the joys of woodie airtime for the unpleasantness of being bashed about whilst clamped with a vice like grip. Even that most gentle of rides the Roller Coaster has a shared seatbelt, although it doesn't impact too much on the ride. The Big Dipper still has its shared lapbars of old but I'll give it another season or two before that too falls to the gods of 'elfansafety.

The other impact of these new safety features, of course, is that it knackers the ride throughput. It takes much longer to check all of the cars on the train and even running two trains, the despatch is worse than what it used to be with one train, or it certainly feels it as your train has to sit there waiting until the old train has arrived back at the station. The Nash doesn't have any blocking areas after despatch, there are only final approach trim brakes and two sets of platform brakes. The Big One gets round this by having intermediate brake zones & being able to stop trains on the lift hill (& of course, starting them again with the pullup chain). The Nash now has modern fin brakes to replace the original wooden side brakes, but even that comes at a price. Our train was definitely winning the race (being several car lengthjs ahead) but as we swept under the final approach bridge and hit the trims, they burned off our excess speed & the other train overtook us and pipped us to the post as their braking wasn't as fierce. Bah, humbug!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Putting on the Ritz

I took a trip over to the Ritz Brighouse on Sunday to attend an Organ Concert. The Ritz is a former Cinema which is now a ballroom. It also stars a large Wurlitzer- a 10 ranker formerly in the Oldham gaumont amongst other places (even as close as Pudsey).

Organ concerts are slightly odd events. They tend to attract the silver haired brigade (who generally remember the organs in their original cinema homes) and all over the Country people go along to hear a number of accomplished players do the rounds. Some of the audience play themselves, some are organ anoraks. Many simply go to enjoy an hour or two of gentle light entertainment and indulge in nostalgia.

Well, now, with the aid of a PC and a simple sound card, you can have your very own Mighty Wurlitzer emulator in your own house. You don't need three phase supplies, several rooms of pipe ranks, electro-mechanics, blowers, toy shelves, percussions and swell shutters. You don't have to store your massive organ console in the conservatory or garage or even excavate a pit lift to make it rise and fall. With Miditzer, you can download a free program and practice till the cows come home without having to worry about the caretaker wanting to lock up or noise complaints from the bowling alley.

Download the software and enjoy yourself. You can fiddle about using your keyboard but to make music properly you really neead a Midi Keyboard, a piano like device you hook up to the PC. The hard bit is in making it sound good like an accomplished player is able to. However, you can have fun with the bird whistles, kettle drums & klaxons. If you download their trial version of the three manual nineteen rank Miditzer, a real monster of an Organ. You even get tuned sleigh bells and a swanee whistle!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Flying the flag

I've put up a link to 18 Doughty Street in the toolbar. It is an interesting new venture which is intended to offer an alternative to the mainstream media, free of the nonsensical shackles of OfCom which say that broadcast news has to be balanced and can't have a point of view. Tell that to the Biased BBC crew...

They launch on October the 10th and I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Morley Literature Festival

Well, it has been and gone and can best be described as a "partial success"- lots of events but not so many bums on seats other than for Gervaise Phinn.

Perhaps people didn't quite grasp what it was all about- someone referred to it as the "Morley Literacy Festival".

Maybe next year, we should concentrate on numeracy and invite Carol Vorderman?

School in Crisis - days 3-5

On Wednesday morning, I noticed on my mobile that I had been left a voice mail the previous evening. I rang in and was stunned to hear that the school was going to remain closed until further notice. Despite the power being back on, the fire alarm remained unserviceable and the batteries had expired on it. The staff were uncomfortable with reopening the school without a fire alarm as they would have to set up fire wardens to patrol the building and it would increase the risk to the children. Karen was extremely unhappy with this and expressed the term "lightweight" several times. After all, every classroom has an exit directly to the outdoors, the fire evacuations happen very quickly and what was wrong with bells & whistles? That got me thinking to my primary in the 60s, I don't recall that having bells, they just used to use the playtime handbell for fire drills. (I once recall traipsing downstairs during a drill to find a chair at the bottom with the word "fire" on it and we all had to go up, across and down the other staircase).

So, Karen managed to organise two days holiday but both of us had meetings on for the Friday. They tried unsuccessfully to go swimming that day but during term time, baths are either closed for school children, or in the case of Wakefield Lightwaves- randomly closed anyway. They resolved that by a trip to Blackpool Sandcastle on the Thursday and they both came back bruised & scraped from the "MasterBlaster", a rather manic roller coaster in rubber rings.

On Thursday afternoon, Karen rang the school and talked to the Head who still didn't know the score abour Friday opening. A new alarm had been fitted but it was incompatible with the detectors so they were still on the case. Karen was very firm about this being very difficult for working parents, especially this time of year when they may be low on remaining holiday. Thursday evening, we rang the school ansafone to be informed that the school was still closed on Friday but for working parents it would be possible to bring their children in on the understanding that they would all be in one part of the school and... (the other Ts & Cs were not passed on as the message cut off abruptly. The school phone system is an odd beast- it answers the line and plays strange ringing noises to your for quite a while before it deigns to answer your call with a greeting. It is possibly something to do with fax detection but it is rather shite at it- most fax detectors do so in a few seconds and many can start to play an announcement whilst listening for fax beeps.

So, we took david in to school on Friday via the normal childcare. However it transpired that a number of parents were told they had to collect their children at lunch time and David told us that there were about 10 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon. We weren't contacted (or didn't appear to be). Could that be down to me being a Governor and Karen standing no nonsense?

He enjoyed himself playing Internet games most of the day and as we had packed him a lunch that morning in case the Kitchen was closed he was told he had to eat it even though other children were fed.

The school re-opened on Monday as normal and there was a very apologetic letter from the acting Head explaining the kerfuffle. There was a training day scheduled for the Friday and they decided to continue with it as it was a Morley Family of Schools joint event- if it had been internal to the school they would have had no hesitation in cancelling it. Of course, teachers are obliged to hold five non-contact days a year so it still would have gone ahead on another occasion.

What surprised us most of all about the whole debacle was that there didn't seem to be any obvious form of crisis management plans in place, either by the school or the local authority. It was also a classic creeping disaster where it always seemed to be close to being resolved and hours turned into days. If the place had burnt down then no doubt the council disaster recovery team dust down their Portakabin contact sheet, or maybe they don't...