Archive for February, 2008

Curling Weekend

Our club had such fun two years ago celebrating our 175th year that we decided to celebrate out 177th year in similar style.

So 14 curlers and some friends booked a bus to Aberdeen and had a great time.     Curling Saturday afternoon, a Dinner on Saturday evening and curling again on Sunday morning before coming home on the bus.

The Saturday had something of the whisky olympics about it.   Lots of fun and nonsense.     Something that’s good to do from time to time.

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Today is the first day that sees tolls being lifted on the Tay and Forth Bridges.    

There used to be a charge each way on both bridges, but economics showed that tolling just one way produced similar results, so while Dundee has been free to enter for a while, you have been charged to leave ………. until today.

We actually crossed the Forth Bridge at 10.30 last night, and there were armies of people in yellow jackets sorting out cones.    One yellow jacket was taking a photo of the last toll collector in her booth.    It is a bitter-sweet moment because although traffic now flows free, I imagine most of these people won’t have jobs today.

I am just old enough to remember the old ferry across the Forth which we used to cross to see our grandparents  in Edinburgh.    I remember my grandmother saying at the time that the people who worked on the ferries (which stopped in 1964 immediately the bridge opened) were to be given jobs as toll collectors.    They collected half a crown each way – that’s 12.5 pence in today’s money.

It really is the end of an era.

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The Scottish Ensemble was joined by clarinettist Michael Collins and the London Winds group for their February concert tour.    The program was a real mixture of Stravinsky, Francaix, Martland and Mozart.

The Stravinsky Concerto in D gave the Scottish Ensemble a flying start to the evening, and this was followed by Jean Francaix’s Octet, where the Ensemble were joined by Michael Collins and a horn and bassoon from London Winds.    I had not heard of Francaix before, and the audience appreciated his “music to be enjoyed”.

And then to a commissioned piece:    Eternity’s Sunrise by Steve Martland, being performed for the first time ever.    Written as a companion piece to a dance composition, the work started in stark octaves but soon developed a rhythmic semiquaver pulse.     A huge challenge for the players, who play much of the piece in rhythmic unison, the Scottish Ensemble arranged themselves with violins on either side and violas and ‘cellos at the back.    We were sitting near the front, and the concentration within the group was electric.     I might have been a bit ambivalent about this piece if I had heard it on the radio, but to see it being performed was thrilling.

Audience comment in the interval was decidedly mixed.    A school music teacher (no less) proclaimed it a ‘waste of good musicians’ time’, and several people said ‘now that was a real challenge’ – which is well known code for ‘I really did not like it much at all’.     The Perth audience can be terribly conservative at times.    It was not a difficult piece to listen to.   

So it was left to Mozart’s crowd pleasing Clarinet Concerto with Michael Collins playing  basset clarinet to put a smile back on the faces of the traditionalists.    And what a performance this was.    Michael Collins gave a virtuoso performance on this unusual instrument, which allowed the low notes to sound in the correct octave rather than being played an octave higher.    But the Scottish Ensemble and London Winds gave a wonderful performance themselves, producing some really exquisite Mozart.

The Clarinet Concerto is shrouded in mystery, with the original score never found.    Perhaps this performance with pocket sized (and stand-up) chamber orchestra and early and unusual clarinet was the type of performance Mozart would have heard himself.    It made compelling listening.

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DAB Radio

We have had a DAB radio in our kitchen for a while now, and have been very pleased with it.   I do have to say that our radio listening habits have not changed so very much though, although we do have a couple of favourite stations when there is not a lot on BBC radio stations.    We find early Saturday afternoons a particular radio desert – Radio 4 repeating Any Questions, Radio 3 Early Music Show (which is OK sometimes), Radio 2 with some not very funny comedy.

But I was astonished to find so many stations have completely vanished of the DAB system.    Some we never bothered with, but some we liked, like “The Arrow” from Newcastle – great for Sunday morning when Steve Wright begins to grate a bit, and you really can’t face ‘The Archers’ on R4, or a big political discussion on Radio Scotland.    So what’s going on?    Is Digital Radio not profitable any more then?

I do wonder if digital radio will be taken over by Internet Radio?    You can buy the boxes already seemingly and these work with your WiFi connection.

I am certainly not convinced by the sound quality of most Internet Radio, which can sound as if the programme is coming from under water.    And I am not yet convinced about DAB sound quality either.   

This is getting a bit too technical for me, but I wonder what the professional sound people think is the best way to receive radio?    There is a big choice now:   Satellite, Freeview, FM, DAB or Internet.    And they all broadcast at different times:   whose set of pips are correct these days?

Better stop, or this will end up on Feedback.

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Now I know that there are lots and lots of people out there who have not got round to planting their daffodil bulbs, simply because of the large number of visitors finding their way to this Blog by keying in ‘late daffodils’ or something like that.

I have planted late daffodil bulbs for a couple of years now – i.e. planting them in January and February when the bulbs themselves have begun to sprout.    It is probably not recommended practice but they have all come up OK.      

True to form, I was out planting more at the end of January, and I found 5 bags worth in my cool-but-not-frosty store.    Now, on the bags was a special offer of 2 for 1, so I knew that there must be another bag somewhere, but I could not find it.    We had a massive clear out of old newspapers and magazines to the recycling place this week, and hiding within the pile of magazines was …..well you can guess.

I’ll get them in this week, and keep you posted on progress.

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Salmond Throws out his Rattle.

We have a crucial vote this week in the Scottish Parliament on approving or throwing out the SNP budget.    The number of votes is on a knife edge, and Salmond and the SNP need to have the Tories and the Greens onside to get it through.

This puts the minority parties in a powerful negotiating position, and already there have been concessions made to both to secure party votes.

But Alex Salmond has upped the anti this morning by saying that he will quit if the budget is not approved.     This would in all probability force another election if it happens.    

Salmond is threatening to throw his rattle out of the pram, and behave like a spoilt child is he does not get his way.   He might like to call it brinksmanship.   I call it unstatesmanlike behaviour which won’t win him any favours.

And are we to see this tactic used again when the going gets a little tough?

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Blackbird Behaviour

We have a male blackbird who has been attacking his reflection in a window here for the past two days.    He is making quite a racket and has made the window absolutely filthy.     Yet he persists.   It is mating season, and clearly his reflection is seen as a rival.

We have tried shining a light out from the window, scaring him off from inside ….. and outside, but he is still going at the window hammer and tongs when he gets a chance.

Our latest tactic has been to hang an old pillowcase outside the window.   He is still in the tree outside, looking mighty puzzled.    At least the noise has stopped for now.

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American Elections

I am getting really fed up of the wall to wall coverage of the American Elections in the media.    Last night there was rolling news coverage on BBC News 24, Sky News and Radio 5 live.     So much so, that there was no other news at all.    And this was ahead of the polls closing in New York, and hours ahead of them closing in California.

Yes, it is an important election, and yes, it is interesting to see how the electorate treat a woman, a black and a very old candidate in particular.   

But why are we spending so much time on this?    We don’t have blanket coverage of elections in Canada, Australia, France, or even Ireland in this country.    So just why is so much air time and newsprint being devoted to USA?

And the American election is such a long drawn out process, quite unfathomable to most of us in the UK where we are used to about 6 weeks of campaigning and a very busy 24 hours on election night itself.

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Saw this at the Director’s Preview.    Perth Theatre has rather lost its way recently, but this production assembled a very strong Scottish cast and tackled an important work head on, and very successfully.

I can’t remember when I was last at a play with a Full House at Perth, but it was a long time ago.    This Director’s Preview was packed, certainly helped by (well behaved) school parties or two who are studying this for their Intermediate 2 or Higher English.    

Steinbeck’s play is all about the ‘dark side of the American Dream’ and Jimmy Chisholm and Liam Brennan really got their teeth into the two pivotal roles of the itinerant farm hands on the run from their last employment.   The action follows them as they start in at a new ranch.   

Set in the depression, this is directed intelligently by Ian Grieve, and with highly effective sets by Robin Peoples, there are good performances all round.     The tension builds menacingly through the piece, aided by a guitar and harmonica played live by black-hatted and caped Stuart Graham.

Perth really needs to be creating more plays like this in-house.    I hope that we can look forward to more good drama like this in the coming season.    Unfortunately, there seems to be very little home produced material at Perth in the near future, although a couple of touring productions might be worth a look.

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