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Archive for October, 2006

Rock ‘N’ Roll

We went to see Tom Stoppard’s new play Rock ‘N’ Roll.    It is quite a long play all about Prague and underground Rock and Roll bands like Pink Floyd.      The text is really dense and like Stoppard’s many other plays, demands that the audience works pretty hard to follow what is going on.

The acting was very good, with Rufus Sewell outstanding.   I was less convinced by Trevor Nunn’s direction which seemed a tad uninspiring, which was a pity.   One important scene in the second half almost was notably unconvincing.    

The set was a clever revolve, aided by some nifty lighting.    The video projections became rather irritating by the end:    soundtracks with words in various fonts was very unadventurous.     I felt like placing a bet on which corner the year date would come flying in from.    They could have been used to help clarify what was going on in Prague for those of us a little rusty on Czech history.   Or perhaps that would have been spoonfeeding us too much.

It must have been good though, bceause we were all talking about it for hours afterwards.

I would love to see this taken on by a regional theatre.

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I was in London last weekend, and as I was going to be doing some travelling, I bought an Oyster Card.   For those not familiar with this, an Oyster Card is like a credit card that can be topped up to keep it in funds – at a station, in some shops and online.  

If you go on the tube, you simply pass it over the card reader at the start station, and again at the finish station.     On busses, you simply do it once, as journeys cost the same.    It is really convenient – no messing about with ticket machines and looking for change.     You just tap and go.    Indeed, the only way to access the cheapest fares is with an oyster card.

But having used my card on day 1 for several journeys, and topped it up successfully in a shop, on day 2 the card suddenly became unreadable.   Not handy at all.    Especially when going to Heathrow to catch a plane.  

The procedure is to go to the ticket office (queue) where you get a form.   You take it away and fill this out, and queue again.   You need your top-up receipt, and have to estimate the value on the card.   You need photo ID to get the balance transfered onto a new card.   It all takes an unbelievably long time to sort out.

When I bought my card, a lady in front of me was being issued with a “card unreadable” form.     So it must happen often.   Transport for London, the Oyster Card people should have these forms downloadable from their website.   That way, you could carry one filled out, and simply have to put the balance on it.   It would save one queue, a few tempers and a lot of hassle.

 The Oyster Card website  

oyster-card.jpg

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Many companies and public agencies use 0870 phone numbers for the public to contact them.    These numbers are expensive, and too often, the company you are phoning gets a cut.

Very often, there are alternative numbers that staff can use etc. which go to the same place as the 0870 numbers.    These can be geographic area codes, or 0845 numbers, which are generally national rate, or even 0800 numbers, which are free.    Sometimes the organisations give out a number to phone from abroad beginning with +44 and all you have to do is remove this and add a zero.

A brilliant person has pulled this together in a website called saynoto0870.com where alternative numbers are shown, and you can add your own.

I phoned up a national government agency using an 0800 number instead of an 0870 number.   It was a call centre, and it felt rather good to realise that working my way through the options and listening to the ‘on hold’ music was costing them, not me, for a change.

Highly recommended.

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One of the most popular household purchases made recently was a DAB radio which we use every day in our kitchen.    Not only do you get lots of extra channels, but there is a remote which changes radio stations TV style.   We listen to a lot of radio.

But I do have some reservations:    the sound quality is not always as good as FM – even on the main BBC stations received at full signal.    Strange, because I thought that digital was supposed to be pretty perfect soundwise.     Turns out it is to do with bandwidth, and there has been a whole debate on the  BBC Radio 3 website about this.   

Also, nobody has thought of a standard to synchronise the broadcasting of DAB radio.    At the moment, if you have FM radios turned on all over the house, they all play at the same time:   the pips all sound together.    If you have two DAB radios in the house, they both play at different rates – even receiving the same signal.    And of course Freeview broadcasts at a different rate again.    I don’t know about Sky.

Time was when you could put on Radio 3 for last night of the proms and it was in synch with the TV.   Not a chance now.   Terrestrial TV and freeview TV are also at very different rates.

Which begs the question …….. which set of time pips are the correct ones?    The National Maritime Museum has an interesting article on this.    Apparently the delay can be as much as 7 seconds between receivers.

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The weather has been so mild that I had to give the grass “another final cut” today.    Even although the cutting height was raised from the summer cutting height, masses of stuff came off.    Piles and piles of grass clippings, and the first of the sycamore leaves.

The sycamore is quick to drop its leaves, as is ash.    First decent frost and they are down.   Unlike the oaks that hold their leaves for ages – they are still green as leeks, although the beeches are turning now.   

Today was warm and sunny.    Outside cutting the grass in a T shirt.   It is October 18th.

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This is being posted as a Diary for today on History Matters.

I am sowing winter oats on my farm.   I am also planning ahead of an annual general meeting and Conference which I have to chair in November.

6.55 Radio 4 Today program weather – vital info for today.   Up, walk dogs get paper from post office.

7.30 Seeder and plough drivers arrive.    Discuss plans for the day.   We should finish the job if we don’t hang about.    I move the large trailer of seed  to be nearer the next field.    The plough is a 6 furrow reversible and the seeder is a 4 metre one pass system.   My own plough is a 4 furrow reversible.   The seed rate is 2 cwt of oats per acre.    The oats sown today will be harvested in the second week of August 2007 and hopefully go to Quaker to make “Scotts Porridge”.    It is getting late for sowing oats.

8.15 Breakfast, check e-mail and post.    Reply to e-mails.    Set up a business meeting for Monday.    Sort out a meeting report that I was at last Friday.    Speak to Trade Association secretary about AGM matters.    Keep an eye on the seeder and plough.

11.00 Go and plough the endrigs (edge bits) of a field just finished.    The seeder is now in the last field, but will come back and sow the bits I am ploughing now.    

13.15 Lunch.  Soup, cheese and fruit.    Return a couple of phone calls.

13.45 catch seeder driver to check that he will have enough seed to finish.

14.00 Go and inspect a fencing job which is on a march fence to check that a wall is not being removed on the quiet.    Meet another neighbour and have a quick catch-up on news.

15.00 More office work and reports.

15.30 Mend a flap on central heating boiler.   Our house is fuelled by wood alone.

16.00 Final check on seeding operation.   It will finish today.   More phone calls and e-mails.

17.00 Eat supper as my wife and I are taking a friend out to the theatre in Edinburgh.

18.00 Pick up friend in Perth and drive 50 miles to Edinburgh.

19.10 Park and walk to The Lyceum.    Have coffee in the bar.

19.45 The Merchant of Venice – what a good production.   Absolutely engrossing from start to finish – studied this at school a good while back, and have seen a few productions of it since.    Jimmy Chisholm as Shylock was outstanding.    Not a comfortable play though, and its ‘happy ending’ belies a deep unease about how we deal with outsiders.    With the current front page debate that has been raging for the past week on the Islamic full veil in Britain, the play could not be more appropriate to today if it tried.

22.30 Play finishes – walk to car, and drive 50 miles back to Perth.   drop off friend, and drive home.   

23.45 Coffee, take dogs out for a last pee.

23.55 Quick peek at News 24 for tomorrow’s weather, shower and bed.

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The Tempest

The Tempest at The Tron in Glasgow promised much, with Paddy Cunneen directing a top Scottish cast. 

In the end, it was something of a disappointment.   Minimally set in, on and around a beached sea container out of which spews a grand piano, the actors tried their best to bring this to life.   Hampered by doubling parts and direction that paid scant attention to telling the story, there was far too much attention paid to excessive shouting and stage noises.

It could and should have been better than this:    a play to celebrate 25 years of theatre at the Tron.

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Scottish Opera

Still haunted by the Rosenkavalier production seen in Glasgow.   

Interestingly, David McVicar returned to his home town to direct this revival.      In an interview with The Herald he explains about how he works with each new group of singers individually, rather than fit them into the old template.     Each group of singers brings something new, and requires bespoke direction.     He enthuses about the current cast, and how special they are.

He also talks about Scottish Opera, and is furious that his country can build a massively overbudget parliament, yet allow its own opera company to be reduced to the level of barely functioning.    When Scottish Opera does a good production, it is truly world class.   McVicar should know, because he travels the world directing operas.

He is right.     Scottish Opera’s Ring Cycle is still held up as one of the best in the world in recent years.    Rosenkavalier this time round is in this category.

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Rosenkavalier

Expedition to Theatre Royal in Glasgow on Wednesday to see Scottish Opera’s revival of Der Rosenkavalier.     I have seen this before twice (this is the second revival), and each time has been very good, but the singing this time round is simply wonderful.   And not just the singing – the acting is amazing.   

 Towards the end of Act 1, the Marschallin sings about coming old age “like a silent hourglass”, and about how her young lover Octavian will sooner or later leave her for a younger woman.    It is thrilling, haunting and overwhelming moment, sealed on the memory as Octavian leaves without a final kiss.     The Marschallin sends her servant after him, but too late!    He is off on his horse and away.

There is so much more:   the large orchestra plays with a passion.   And the trio at the end of Act 3 is to die for.    I did not want it to end.

Every so often, a production comes along that must not be missed under any circumstances.   This is one of them.    The Guardian agrees.

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Airline Ticket Prices

It is always amazing how a “cheap flight” suddenly does not look so cheap at all.

A £4 flight and a £34 flight.    Two passengers return Edinburgh to London, £76.    Looked a not bad deal.   But what’s this?   Taxes, Passenger Surcharge and Insurance Surcharge £93.40.     Now it comes to £169.40.   But there’s more:   a Credit Card surcharge of £4.95.   That’s almost 3%.    Don’t the airlines know how to get a deal with the credit card companies then?    

I suppose even at £173.35 or £87 each it is still a reasonable deal.   It is just the lack of being up-front about it that grates.

Better than those daylight robbers on the East Coast Main Line who don’t have any reasonable tickets at 3 weeks notice, leaving the minimum return £186 – each.     Railway ticket pricing is even more of a nightmare than airlines.   Buying singles being cheaper than returns, or buying two separate singles for part of the one journey being cheaper still sometimes.     Sheer lunacy, and should be stopped.

All this is not helped by the fact I would much rather go by train.   I really hate flying (but do it now after years of refusing) and I find airports with their security and queues really depressing places.

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