Sunday, September 30, 2007

High School Musicals

I mentioned recently that I was surprised to be played an interval advert for a forthcoming show. We decided to go and see it- an Amateur Production of We Will Rock You.

Written by comedian and author Ben Elton (Blackadder, The Young Ones) in collaboration with Queen members Brain May and Roger Taylor, We Will Rock You is a fantastic stage experience.

Set in a tongue-in cheek dystopia where the Earth is ruled by commercial forces and everyone uses the same computers. Rock music is forbidden and evil mega corporation Globalsoft are tapping into people's thoughts.

However, resistance is growing and the rebel “Bohemians” strive to restore freedom of thought, fashion and music! Join them as they bravely begin the search for lost instruments of rock 'n' roll as they encounter the dreamer Galileo, misfit Scaramouche and ageing hippy librarian Pop. The Bohemians are here to bring back rock n’roll!

The show was very well done but the plot can best be described as contrived, being a device for linking most of the Queen back catalogue. It will come as no surprise, therefore, to know that characters include Killer Queen, Scaramouche and Galileo, traveling to the seven seas of Rye. Being written by Ben Elton it has lots of tongue in cheek song references.

This show was "produced with the kind permission of Schools Will Rock You" and it seems that the Production is being made available to Schools cheaply and easily (£120 license for 7 shows in 18 months). I suspect that this was actually a technical tryout of the package as it seemed true to the West End Production (from what I can see here- with a bit of scaling down to fit theatre and budget) and had a full backing track. (The Musical Director appeared to start the songs and then conduct). It didn't use the schools logo above but something similar to the West End one.

Expect it in a High School near you in 2008...


Last August, Redcar in Cleveland became a mammoth movie set for the filming of Atonement. (It is extensively documented by the Council HERE). David has cousins there and we visited a few days before filming started, walking along the beach and marveling how it had been turned into a war torn Dunkirk.

Returning again today, there are two residual elements of the Town's brief flurry with history. One building still has the French treatment (although the bombed out upper floor set has gone) and there is also a rather good sculpture that was installed to co-incide with the regional premiere at the local Regent Cinema which became part of the set. It has a rifle, ammo boxes, a helmet, a seagull, books, and a Director's chair. Thoughtfully, it is surrounded by squashy tarmac as it is crying out for children to climb on it. More here and here.

Redcar is also famous for the Lemon Top. I'd given this one a lick or two before remembering to snap it!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Election Balls

This story below appeared in the local rag last week.

GOVERNMENT minister Ed Balls, MP for Normanton and Labour's parliamentary spokesman for the new Morley and Outwood constituency, has officially opened his new campaign office in the town centre.
Mr Balls told party supporters at the official opening of the office, in Station Road, to be ready for a general election "whenever it comes".
"I'm really pleased to have opened a new office in Morley, not least because I want to be in touch with local residents about their concerns and priorities for the area," he said.
"Since I was selected as Labour's candidate for this new seat in March I have met many local residents and community leaders. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be meeting many more local residents, business people and community leaders to hear first hand what issues we need to tackle together in the future.
"Until the election I am committed to working hard for everybody in my Normanton constituency. But, if I am elected in Morley and Outwood, I will work hard and stand up for everybody in the new constituency, whether they live in Morley, Outwood, Wrenthorpe, Tingley, Stanley, Robin Hood or Ardsley. It's up to the Prime Minister to decide when to call the general election. But our local party is now on a campaign footing because we must be ready for the election whenever it comes."
People can contact Mr Balls at his office by calling 0113 2539466 or emailing:

"Hmm" I thought. A new campaigning office? Labour own Unity Hall in Morley and the MP office is in there. Why does he need a new campaigning office? Is an election in the offing?

Around Morley with a Fridge

Our Fridge is a sort of instant photo album, places we've been and brought back a silly souvenir.

Hat tip Welshcakes, (meme) and Tony Hawks (title).

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Kosmic Krew

Most journeys to and from work are uneventful and unmemorable. Ordinary cars mixed in with vans and juggernauts from the distribution sector. Occasionally an unusual load draws interest, or perhaps the signage of a smaller business I am familiar with.

Today, I found myself behind a large black van, with this odd pastiche logo reminiscent of Fuzzbox performing "International Rescue" with the cast of Return to the Forbidden planet.

It turns out that they are a theatre company who tour schools. Their website is a hoot, especially for me the bit for adults where they justify their alignment with the national curriculum. (It is my cynical former Governorness showing through).

(A blogpost challenge for James Higham- write a justification for curriculum benefits of something without educational merit or considered inappropriate, e.g. Poker. I know Max Bygraves did it with Deck of Cards.)

The Kosmik Krew had a visually attention grabbing well decorated van and a Freefone number on the Driver's door, however their memorable URL was what helped me remember it. I don't think I'm ever likely to see their show, it could be really well done or a bit naff. They certainly have a well developed image though. You can see a snippet of them here in a single promo, they are certainly polished in their dance moves.

Chilldren's shows vary considerably for the adults- Singing Kettle is very good, whilst Wheels on the Bus was really terrible, its direness only relieved by the rather lurid movement of the saxophone's horn which made a lot of us chuckle.

Gnash gnash...

I was surprised to hear my name on the Radio 4 Obituary show this afternoon. It turned out that it was Ian Robertson Gray, who worked for DC Thompson on the Beano and invented Dennis the Menace's dog Gnasher.

P.S. You can buy the figurine (and many others) here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Overdoing it

Our school (nearly) did a production of Jesus Christ Superstar back in 1974. We were on a run- Joseph, Rock Nativity, Godspell. At the full dress rehearsal, as Jesus stood dying on the symbolic cross, I lit the theatrical smoke pellets to show up the light beams for the resurrection.

One would have been more than enough. Two was way too much and the rehearsal quickly ground to a halt as the musicians couldn't see their music. They then couldn't see the exit as everyone coughed their way out of the hall!

Then the bombshell- we didn't have musical clearance, wouldn't be able to get it and were told we couldn't perform it. (If we had gone ahead we would have been prosecuted).

The music teacher was gutted. So was I- I had a tube of pellets left & now knew they were far too smoky! I stuck to flashes and dry ice after that.

It wasn't immaturity-just lack of experience. (H/T James)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blogpower Roundup

Ian Appleby over at Imagined Community will be hosting a round-up of the pick of September's posts by Blogpower members. If you've enjoyed a post on a Blogpower blog, why not send the URL to Ian at Nominations need to be received by 5pm on Sunday 30th September and you don't have to be a Blogpower member to put a blog forward.

Modesty* prevents me from suggesting one of my posts, although there are nearly fifty of them to choose from!

(* OK so I lied.)

Youthful enthusiasm

As a kid, I wrote to a few businesses over the years and was bowled over by their going the extra mile. Three examples stick in my mind:

-I was given a board game by a friend called Scoop! that had a major piece missing (a sort of cardboard telephone/randomiser device). It was a great game but not the same playing it without the random factor. I dropped a line to the John Waddingtons Head Office and got a nice letter back saying that sadly, it was no longer in production but that they would have a rummage round and see what they could come up with. A week or so later, a parcel arrived with the piece enclosed.

-I discovered that venerated lighting Company Rank Strand Electric had a free quarterly house magazine called Tabs!, available on request. The first or second one I received was their hundredth issue and I dropped them a line asking if they had any back issues for sale. Again, a week or so later, a large jiffy bag arrived with about forty issues enclosed, some going back fifteen or twenty years. They had rummaged around their oddments and effectively given me one of each of all their spare copies.

-On knowing that I was going down to London with my Dad for something, I wrote to the Manager of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, asking if it was possible to visit backstage. I got a lovely letter back telling me that whilst they didn't normally organise visits for individuals, if I went to the Stage Door at 10am and asked for someone by name (I think it was the Master Carpenter), they would give me a quick look. He also apologised that he wouldn't be able to meet me that day as he was elsewhere and finished off the letter with a P.S. paraphrasing my own- "Stage struck for thirty lovely years!" (I think I had claimed three...)

Today, this sort of thing is called giving excellent customer service , but it isn't quite the same thing when you are disputing your gas bill. On these occasions, I would have come across as young, naive, polite but somewhat ignorant of business. However, I also would have conveyed buckets of youthful enthusiasm for the subject and someone else being genuinely interested in what you do has a great feelgood factor.

I also had this effect on adults in the flesh as well. My Mum had an Offy (Off License, a beer & Wine Store) for a couple of years and I would help out at weekends and holidays. The Tudor Crisps man once gave me a number of free bags for helping him carry the boxes in, checking the reject stock and being interested in how crisps were made (and why they didn't always get packed correctly). They were all plain though, as they only carried a surplus of plain bags for shortfalls & faults. He told me to swap them for my favourite flavours from the shop stock!

On that trip to Drury Lane, the Master Carpenter wasn't actually in so I was reluctantly taken onstage by the Stage Manager, for a "quick look". I ended up staying a couple of hours and being taken up onto the Grid by the Flyman as well as being shown all the mind boggling stage machinery.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Bronx Cheer

Tim Ireland's response to the UK media.

(He's back on a temporary blog)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Cash for consultations

Great strapline for a rather shocking post from Dizzy Thinks. (I read it on Iain Dale first though).

Meanwhile, outside the Labour Party conference...


(There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch...)

Has anyone seen my keys?

Looking at some photos from my trip to Saltaire, this American toy reed organ jogged a memory. I used to borrow my school friend Stewart Weston's Bontempi, something rather similar to this. It had a regular polyphonic keyboard (i.e. each note would sound individually) and a cluster of buttons to the left. Each button played a chord with the white buttons playing major ones, black buttons minor ones. This organ is slightly confusing in that it uses regular (if truncated) black and white keys with a non-logical layout and the keys are numbered rather than showing the note. On reflection, I think that Stew's was similar in labelling, suggesting that they may have come with some kind of method songbook.

I fixed Stew's a couple of times as he had a younger Sister who also played with it and it got chucked in a cupboard when it was in the way. Opening it up, it was surprisingly simple inside, a number of mouth-organ type reeds covered by the keys and a fan arrangement underneath. When you pressed a key the corresponding reed was uncovered and it sounded. For the chord buttons, they uncovered a reed assembly with three tongues to play the harmony. For duff notes, the normal symptom was that a reed had shaken loose and was lying around in the innards.

You could also make it fart- you pressed all the keys at once and it audibly sagged.

I did ponder why the keyboard was laid out the way it is (five black notes in a group of two and three for each octave, being twelve notes before the sound repeats itself higher at double the frequency) and the more I looked into it the more I discovered that music theory is really complex. Indeed I can can recall a professional musician saying that it is like peeling an onion grasping the complexities of how key transposition works, especially when non-western music is studied that uses other scale structures. The language quickly becomes arcane and the lay person (i.e. me) gets lost.

Then you catch sight of a keyboard like this. It is known as an enharmonic harmonium and uses a tuning called 53 equal temperament. Rather than a semitone between notes making the twelve steps, there are very small increments making 84 steps. This is known as a generalized keyboard and just reading about it does my head in...

This keyboard, however, would do a musician's head in, making no musical sense at all. That is because it is used to control lights and the black keys are for colour change equipment.

(I've played with the Drury Lane Theatre Royal one when it was still installed, but unfortunately the dimmers were switched off at the time.)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Round and round the garden

A few weeks ago, we received an invite to a garden party with Prince Charles. It was being held at Alnwick Garden as a special event for the Friends and looked good. There were a couple of problems though- the date clashed with the Morley Musical Spectacular, you had to pay for tickets, and... our friends membership has lapsed. (You can't always justify a two hour trip to visit a garden at least three times a year so we decided to go pay as you go this year).

However, it was a timely reminder, so we headed up there today with a Grandma. The new entrance pavilion has been open for over twelve months now (the white roofed building) and gives a great view of the cascade as you enter. The building fixtures & fittings still look new, although we noticed some bent forks when we dined!

The treehouse is starting to mellow into the woodland setting. This is a big building and there can't be too many that boast a pair of spiral staircases.

(Eat your heart out, Dean Friedman!)

The bamboo labyrinth has now matured sufficiently to give you a fair chance of getting lost or disoriented

Designer sinks in the toilets gracefully change colour from blue to green.

The cascade continues to impress, although I noticed one or two nozzles not squirting. A new book informs on the eighteen large pumps underneath and you can even get a post card of the pump house (although it is closed to the public, the room I'd most like to visit of course).

David particularly likes the Serpent garden which has interesting water features. This is Waterglass - Two unbroken membranes of falling water in a circle that you can enter. (Unbroken when David isn't sticking his head in it, that is!)

This is Torricelli - A celebration of the intrigue of hydrostatic pressure. A firm favourite with children, even when 19 degrees and overcast.

From the Press Release:
Torricelli, an Italian mathematician of the 17th century was fascinated by the properties of hydrostatic pressure that is to say the pressure derived from the ‘head’ or distance between surface and points below. Using these principles a central mirror-polished stainless steel column and three smaller transparent, acrylic columns surrounding it fill with water from the overflow of an elevated pond nearby to a point where the central column overflows down over the outer surface of the cylinder. Once full, a motorised valve opens, releasing the hydrostatically pressurised water into a circular manifold that feeds ninety vertical jets which slowly subside in unison with the dropping levels visible in the acrylic tubes.

My lawyer's bigger than your lawyer...

Us bloggers don't like bullies.

(Hat tip & sidebar graphic lifted from nourishing obscurity, cartoon from the cartoonist)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sartorial Eloquence

Clothes have never been very important to me. I tend to wear dark trousers and white or blue short sleeved shirts most of the time, rather Homer Simpson-ish. I don't remember taking any interest at all in what I wore until the First Year Christmas Party at Senior School back in 1969. For that I chose (or my mum chose) a purple shirt with a collar that would have suited Harry Hill, a psychedelic kipper tie that was about 10" wide and a pair of platform shoes with 4" heels. I felt like a million dollars and looked like a right twat.

The party discos were during the day for lower school so the oil wheel projectors didn't show up very well, I had to wait for the third year before I could appreciate the light show. (& by the 6th Form, I was doing the school Christmas parties myself).

I can remember getting a fairly awful purple suit a couple of years later from C & A which looked suspiciously pink in daylight but the first genuine choice of mine was a black velvet jacket, in the mid 70s they were the height of cool, particularly with Denim jeans. I can recall buying a cut away vest/T shirt with the Southern Comfort logo on for humping (get-outs, not hanky panky!) and was given a "Lay Chix not Eggs" T shirt for my 18th by the girls in the VI form, organised by a girl called Jackie Powton. (My mate Wally got one as well as we had a joint party and they also had DORIS on them in large friendly letters. Doris was a bit of a VI form catchphrase, along with Ahoo!, Shitpit and Tierra Del Fuego). I probably had a half a dozen or so T shirts given by tour managers or band crew, I can recall SAHB, Osibisa, Manfred Mann, Sounds (the Music Paper) and a Supertramp one. (I got more singles and albums than clothing though). Moose & Colin (the non-concurrent resident staff) generally did much better, sometimes getting much coveted tour jackets.

My First Dinner Jacket probably wasn't until I started going to 18 Plus AGMs in the mid 80s (semi formal dance in the evening) but I am probably onto my fourth now and it is rare I go a year without wearing it at least once. Nearly every man looks good in a DJ (Tux for our Merkin cousins), my mum says every man does but I did once see a bloke who was so shabby that he didn't. (If you are British ald old enough, think Michael Foot...)

After I got into Disney (i.e. the last ten years or so) I have acquired various theme park clothes items. Alas, my favourite one is only fit to be a duster...

I can vividly recall in the mid 80s my old Boss, Richard Moore, commenting that I was great at my job but sadly lacking in sartorial elegance. (I think it was more a case of lacking a steam iron!) I'd occasionally let my girlfriends choose clothes for me as I like to feel that it stamps them with a sort of seal of shaggability. Somewhere I have a pink tie that was in fashion for several hours back in 1988...

So, I dress to impress no-one really, apart from at interviews as it is sort of expected. I don't change jobs very often. Do you think I'm giving the wrong impression?

Note that not all of these illustrative photos are of me! To finish off, here are a couple of Elton John songs back from the 80s, Little Jeanie followed by Sartorial Eloquence. (Tom Robinson wrote the latter).

Friday, September 21, 2007

Sax and the City

Another classic track featuring Saxophonist Raphael Ravenscroft.

Shades of (infra) red

I was trying out a thermal camera at work today. It belongs to another department but they were happy for me to borrow it (provided I fixed the software first!).

It gives you a fairly low resolution (128 x 128 pixels) picture and there are lots of tweakables for the display style but it is easiest to set it to auto-ranging.

I took this picture below of a colleague looking at some computer equipment down an aisle in our Data centre. (you can see the heat of the equipment to the left). He certainly doesn't qualify as a Doreen Slater (the stick insect girlfriend of Adrian Mole's Dad) but this picture makes him look like a Weeble.

When i showed him it he was struck by the resemblance to Mr. Stay Puft the Marshmallow man.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Stockport performances

We went to a family wedding recently, a daughter of Karen's Cousin. I didn't know them at all, although I knew their Grandparents. It was held in three venues in Stockport, all within walking distance. The wedding was a Civil Ceremony in the Town Hall, followed by a blessing in a church and then the wedding "breakfast" (i.e. the Reception) in something called the Stockport Masonic Guildhall..

The wedding was actually held on the landing of the ceremonial staircase with the audience sat in the lobby below. It is very ornate with rich marble and worked well for a marriage (it wouldn't in Morley, the staircase is a bit too dismal and the hallway too shallow) but it felt a little odd because you knew that it went off to some other grand rooms beyond. What it did work very well for was the striking arrival of the Bride from above and the photo opportunity afterwards (as below).

Their cake was also a picture. From afar it looked oddly proportioned and plain but up close it had this really delicate butterfly motif icing work.

Stockport is also famous in entertainment circles for the Plaza Super Cinema and Variety Theatre, run by a Charitable Trust and complete with Cinema Organ & trimmings. The Plaza has a huge facade on Mersey Square and is extremely unusual in being built deep into a hillside. Note the large concrete staircase to the right of the picture.

As you climb the stairs, the fly tower comes into view, but it does look rather shallow and not particularly tall either.

From behind, the fly tower is only about six feet deep. Does the venue really have such a shallow stage?

The answer is surprising. The theatre has a 23' stage. 4' in front of the curtain, 6' with full flying height and then a further 13' with limited height actually under the pavement behind. So why is only a third of the stage equipped for flying? Well it was constructed as a Cinema-Theatre to present Cine-Variety, i.e. performances in between the movie showings. So the flying height is essentially to be able to raise the screen (and associated loudspeakers nowadays) clear so that the stage was available, dressed with drapes rather than scenery. From memory, I've only seen one other venue like this- the Lewisham Concert Hall in Catford, now known at the Broadway Theatre.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A walk through Barcelona- More on *that* church...

The Sagrada Familia dominates the skyline from afar. This view is from Park Guell to the North- tall spires and cranes.

Walking to it, you can't actually see it up close until you are a few blocks away.

Here we are at the Metro exit. Now for a quick walk round.

This is the Eastern side, known as the Passion Facade. The bells are in these spires and the carved figures are stark in their styling. The wording repeated on the spires is very vibrant and colourful in the flesh, with biblical glory words like Sanctus.

The southern facade isn't actually built yet, it will be known as the Glory Facade.

The Western side is known as the Nativity Facide. It looks almost organic and is so busy that it looks a bit of a mess in this photo but I have seen professional shots that show up the detail as being stunning.

After a while, you notice that there is a huge Christmas tree at the top!

The northern side is the Apse, or dome. I think that this is where the Altar will be.

We are now back at the corner between the Apse and the Passion Facade. When you look closely, you can see stone snails slithering down the walls.

As I said, it was just a brief visit. I'd like to go back but I'll be long gone before it is finished (and it might even fall down anyway).

There is a good photo review of a visit here.

Going down like a lead balloon

Lead is in the news again in Morley. Thieves have stripped various more roof flashings, including the Salvation Army. Also, drain grids are going walkies. (Previous local news stories here and here.).

It seems that the demands of China for copper and lead to feed their rapidly expanding industrialisation are squeezing supplies. Indeed, our Data Centre power system supplier told me today that one battery supplier has just bumped up prices by 15% and introduced an unspecified "lead surcharge" chargable on delivery at whatever cost they want to stick you with. (Data Centres have systems that protect the mains supply to the computer systems by switching over instantly to batteries during any fluctuation).

I had a look at the website of the London Metal Exchange today, out of curiosity. The graph below shows the price over the last five years, the laws of supply and demand in action. The website stats make interesting (if arcane) reading and looking at market analysis, apparently demand has outstripped supply five years running and UK tracked stockpiles have shrunk to only two days supply. (This explains why we have to wait several weeks for our order!)

The deep discharge batteries in our uninterruptable power supplies have an internal construction that demands the use of new lead rather than recycled lead so I can rest assured that the Morley scratters having a trip down to the scrap yard won't end up in me inadvertently receiving stolen goods.

I still chuckle at the Latin name for Lead that we were taught in Physics at School (If you have forgotten, it is Plumbum) and considering how toxic it is I balk on reflection at how much we used to handle it, melting it in a pan over the stove and casting fishing weights. (I wasn't a fisherman, I used them in my model theatre as counterweights).

No doubt our children will be agog at us using aluminium pans.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Number please...

Our holiday hotel had an unusual ornament in the lobby near the lifts: the old manual telephone operator switchboard. (This style was very common in the 60s and you could still buy them in the 1980s). It had now become a curiosity for children and many of the jack cords were damaged. (I saw systems like this in the 70s, mainly during the course of replacement by electronic ones. Here are some typical UK systems)

I also took a trip up to the top floor in search of good camera angles. Spot the Croc...

Monday, September 17, 2007


Something new in the sidebar- Blogrush.

It sounds good, time will tell.

Hat tip: Beaman.

Dreaming spires

Reus was the town in Spain where Gaudi was born. They have recently opened a museum there called GaudiCentreReus.
The modern facade jars somewhat with the older buildings in the square but let us face it, designing a building that contains a homage to one of the world's most famous architects is a tough act to rise to and any form of pastiche would be scorned.

Inside is a strange mixture of both fascinating and dull exhibits, an unusual combination! I drew David's attention to this colourful object as he would be seeing it the following day in Barcelona.

After a bit of a hint, he suddenly spotted them- the capping stones for some of the spires on the remarkableSagrada Familia. Regrettably, we didn't have time to visit the Church interior and it wasn't quite enough of a draw to go back during the holiday. I did persuade David and Karen to circumnavigate the (building) site though for a number of snaps. I was disappointed that the sun had gone in then as I was hoping for a sparkle off the mosaic work up on high.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Don't tell Titus

Today we went to the Saltaire Festival. Saltaire is a Model Village and a world heritage site to boot.
It was built by Victorian philanthropist Sir Titus Salt for his mill workers in the 1850s and is now associated with the artist David Hockney who painted the picture above found in the permanent exhibition in the former mill. (Have a look at their website and find the dentist chair in the 1853 gallery...)

I was slightly taken back to see who I first took to be Colin Campbell propelling this contraption called a Flatulator.

In the Victoria Hall, one room is given over to a harmonium museum, the only one in Britain. An organist was playing a number of the instruments as part of an informal recital. This is basically a room in one of the wings of the former institute with a large number of Harmoniums squeezed in, ran privately by proprietors Phil & Pam Fluke and free for the day.

Sir Titus didn't approve of the demon drink and about the only local amenity he didn't supply was a Pub. (He did fund a stunning & now grade 1 listed Italianate Church though, surprisingly ornate for a non-conformist building). This Pub/wine bar in the main street has a rather tongue-in-cheek name!

I asked David afterwards what he liked best, his answer: The knitted cakes! (He was holding the chocolate one out of shot).