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Archive for May, 2007

Freeview Boxes

I am seriously unimpressed with the reliability of freeview boxes.    Freeview has been on the go for a while now, and so far we are now on our third.   Our first box, a (not cheap) Nokia died a while back, a second, a Phillips,  can still just operate when it is feeling in the mood to co-operate – literally – on bad days it freezes, and on better days it takes ages to actually do anything, and on good days it works a treat.   

Of three Daewoo DS608P boxes, two are now dead, although just around two years old.   OK, these are cheap and cheerful, but they should still work.    I have been investigating these, and apparently replacing a capacitor (cost £0.95p) can bring them back to life.    You have to replace these every three years apparently.

Time to look out the soldering iron – I’ll keep you posted on this.

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A visit to the Capital in the rain yesterday, and it was looking pretty shabby.

Charlotte Square, which includes Bute House, home of the First Minister and possibly one of the most elegant squares in Europe has grey railings with flaking paint along its south side.      Perhaps this is all part of a refurbishment, but it looks really terrible.

Ot the corner of Hope Street and Princes Street there was a wooden staging to advertise the Rugby 7s.   Unfortunately not robust enough for Edinburgh drunks, as someone had smashed a hole in the top.

All this on a day when Prince Charles was paying a visit.

At the other end of George Street, in St Andrew Square, there is bad and good news.    The bad news is that the gardens are full of diggers and contractors and Herris fencing;   the good is that this is part of a refurbishment, with Melville’s Statue being renovated at the same time.   The even better news is that (say it quietly) this garden is to be open to the public – quite shocking for a city more used to locking up its green spaces for residents use only.

Waiting for a bus in the good weather back in April, I wandered looking for a green place to sit, and found one, but with difficulty, as the top of Princess Street Gardens was being re-turfed – once again – following the mess created by the market over Christmas.    I did think about Edinburgh’s closed green spaces then – Queen Street Gardens, Heriot Row Gardens, Doune Gardens, Charlotte Square Gardens, and wondered if it was time to open these up to visitors as well as residents.

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It looks like the tolls we pay to cross the Forth and Tay road bridges may be scrapped.    It is in the SNP manifesto, and will probably attract enough support from other parties to get this through.    The Greens will be pretty angry though, and they are supposed to be in partnership (though short of a formal coalition) with the Nationalists.

This will be a popular move with bridge users, but it does raise some important questions.     We already know that the bridge is needing costly repairs, and that unless corrosion problems in the main cables can be addressed, the bridge will have to close, first to lorries, then all traffic.     Replacing the main cables is an option, but as this has not been done before, we are in unknown territory in terms of feasibility and cost.    One thing is certain – it won’t be cheap.

The bridge has only just been fitted out with a massive new Toll Plaza costing millions.    This is trialling cashless systems at present, and there have also been trials with cameras that can tell how many passengers a car has inside, with a view to charging less for a well-filled car.     The new Toll Plaza could well become a very expensive white elephant overnight.

Making it free will raise other issues:   how will removing the tolls affect congestion?    How many jobs will be lost?    Will we still need traffic control at the south end of the bridge?

If this goes through, there will be the big question of how to pay for the massive maintenance bills.    The current resurfacing of the northbound carriageway is costing over £3 million.   There is the recent investment in the Toll Plaza to be explained away, and presumably redundancies to handle.   The bridge employs over 100 staff.

This is before we consider a new crossing (please let it be a tunnel).

There are certainly two sides to £1 coin that we car drivers currently pay to cross the river Forth.

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It is the 20th May today, and some ash trees are still not in leaf.   I really cannot remember them being so late before.    It is very odd.

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Every Perth Festival, there is a Festival service in the lovely and very ancient St John’s Kirk.   In recent years, Perth Youth Orchestra provide the music, and today was no exception.    They were amazing as usual, and a credit to their conductor and tutors.   They are off to Poland on tour in a few weeks, and will be great ambassadors for the Fair City.

The acoustic in St John’s Kirk is wonderful, and it was thrilling to hear a really big orchestra letting off steam.   The acoustic in Perth Concert Hall is pretty good, but I think I prefer the church, uncomfortable though the seating is.   

New Provost Dr John Hulbert read the old testament lesson – probably one of his first duties.    The choir, augmented with a few voices from Perth Choral Society had a bash at Easter Hymn from Cavelleria Rusticana – it wasn’t a bad attempt by any means, but this piece is a “big sing”, and the forces were really struggling a bit in places:   sopranos with the top notes, and the tenors were too few.

There was a man along the row of seats from us who must have been tone deaf.   He sang the first two hymns, and quite honestly, it was like a dog howling.    Thankfully, he did not seem to know the second two hymns.    It was a shame, but what does one do?    He was obviously a keen churchgoer, as he had his bible with him.    For many, hymn singing is a very special and inclusive part of a church service.   Perhaps someone needs to suggest politely that he sings a bit quieter, but it is a really difficult one.

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A packed Perth Concert Hall for this concert.

This orchestra was interesting in terms of the numbers of string players:   there were about 25 violins, 10 violas, 7 ‘cellos and 6 double basses.     I would have expected more violins and more ‘cellos, but the balance was actually OK.    They were a well rehearsed band.   Paul Freeman was conducting and while he was very slow to get in and out of the hall, and was not particularly dynamic (he conducted the Bruch sitting on a stool), he coaxed the orchestra into a really good performance.

First off was Dvorak’s Carnival Overture – a very workmanlike performance.    Next was Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, with Chloe Hanslip solo violin, and what a star she was.    Only 19, but an international player, she gave a really outstanding performance.   Her technique, like other young starry violinists, was very dynamic – she needed lots of room to play as she clearly liked the dramatic gestures.   Technically brilliant, she returned to play Chaconne from The Red Violin as an encore.

The second half was Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony, and the long extended movements gave the orchestra the chance to really shine.   We got a Dvorack Slavonic dance as an encore.    What a treat to get to hear a first class visiting orchestra.   Perth gave them a good reception.

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John Martyn

John Martyn performed a great set at Perth Concert Hall.   I last saw him about 30 years ago in his Big Muff solo tour at The Capitol in Aberdeen, and he has certainly been through the mill since then.   Now wheelchair bound (he had to lose a leg recently) he revisited 1973 by performing his Solid Air album.    Now, I can’t say I am very familiar with the album (apart from “May you Never…”) but the music stands up really well after all this time.   

Martyn leant back in his chair, and stroked his guitars into life.   The voice sounded more gravelly than ever, and perhaps rather drowned by the band at times, but the performance was sound enough.     4 new material numbers set the scene, and showcased a very tight band:  really inventive drums, sweet fretless bass, guitar, keyboard and a sax player who brought out his clarinet on occasion.   And then we were into Solid Air itself – relaxed and extended tracks.    It was all over too soon, with some genuinely exciting moments, and an encore of Rock Salt and Nails rounded things up.

A packed Perth Concert Hall got to its feet in appreciation of a great rock legend who can still certainly do the business despite everything he has been through.

30th Jan 2009 – sadly John has passed away.   What a legend.   Obituary.

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Aalst

This is a play about the case of the Belgian couple who murdered their children in a hotel bedroom in Aalst in Belgium in 1999.  It was originally put together by Pol Heyvaert and Dimitri Verhulst from original court and other material and performed in Flemish, causing protests, even although names had been changed.   Duncan McLean was commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland to produce this English language version (in Scots).

The play presents the couple, sitting about 2 metres apart facing the audience.   There is a carpet, and a white curtain backdrop.    The couple are asked questions by a third (unseen) man, and answer into microphones.   It is a very very disturbing evening.    The couple look straight out at us, not at eachother.

The stories of both emerge over the 70 minutes.   Both were from very very poor backgrounds.   She said that she was sexually abused by her father, who also had a string of live-in partners.   He had already been convicted for numerous robberies.   Both had spent time in care, and both clearly never been loved by anyone.   He was very violent.     She stayed with him because there was nowhere else for her to go, and she claimed to love him.    Both had a very very low IQ.   She was not even able to meet the qualifications to become a cleaner.

And in the disturbed twisted logic of the most unintelligent minds, we get a glimpse of possibly why they murdered their children.   It was deeply uncomfortable to witness, and in this sparse setting, there was no hiding place.   The audience was under constant challenge.

Which brings me to question the whole point of the play.    I became less and less happy about it over the duration – why dramatise this for us to be voyeurs into such a desperate world?   I don’t think I really learnt anything new, and I am not sure what the playright was asking us to take away from this, apart from the fact that there are some very desperate people out there who could and should receive more help from those of us more fortunate.   I felt that this couple were beyond help though.

Kate Dickie and David McKay gave extraordinary performances as the couple.    It must really take it out of them to inhabit these roles every night.    The run and tour ends on the 19th, and I am sure they will be breathing sighs of relief.

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There is a rather worrying list of stuff that you can’t turn off, because there is no OFF switch.   

We all know about standby status on TVs, where the wee red light glows, but when you arise from your sofa you can go and turn the TV off (as you should).     Videos and DVD players have standby modes – well, something runs the clocks on these, so these don’t go off completely.

Freeview boxes cannot be turned off, likewise Modem Routers.    And I wonder how many phone charger (and other) transformers are left plugged in and turned on (guilty on that one).

OK, standby modes don’t use a lot of energy, but add it all up, and it gets a bit worrying.    Most of the problems could be sorted by a simple change of design …………. and a change in behaviour.

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Good job Freeview boxes are coming down in price, because they are proving one of the least reliable pieces of kit in the home.       Did you know that when you buy a piece of TV kit, you now have to give your postcode by law.   This is then handed over to those TV licensing people in Wales, who match it up with your TV licence – or not, as the case may be.

I have a Hotel type licence here which covers a number of sets, but the snoopers charter only seems to understand domestic arrangements.    I had an increasingly nasty stream of letters a while back from officials who did not seem prepared to accept that my postcode was in fact valid.    It got sorted in the end of course, but it took way too much effort. for something quite simple. 

 But …. big brother is watching you even more than I thought.   Well, those folk from TV Licensing are.

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