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Archive for May, 2008

Superfast Ferry

Sad news today that the Superfast Ferry between Rosyth and Zebrugge is to be axed from 13th September.     It seems that the Euro exchange rate and high cost of oil is making this unecomnomic to run.

This route is very valuable for bringing visitors directly to Scotland from Europe, and with their cars.    But, even although there are plenty of them, tourists alone are not enough to pay the bills, and from the very beginning this route has always needed freight to make it viable.

I remember the official launch in 2002 when Chancellor and local MP, Gordon Brown accompanied by then First Minister Henry McLeish toured the boat and made speeches on board.

We used to have a boat every day, but now it is every other day.   It is possible that another operator might be found to run this route – let’s hope so.     It would be a shame to lose it after so much hard work was put into getting it set up in the first place.

Indeed, there has been recent talk of developing more ferry routes using Rosyth, including a route to Norway.

Rosyth Ferry

Rosyth Ferry

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We have had no rain to speak of for quite a while, and have been stuck in a rather cool east wind for weeks, although the sun has been shining for the most part.    The crops are badly in need of water, and the fields are very crunchy when you walk over them.

We had a simply stunning bank holiday weekend with dawn to dusk sunshine, while the south of the UK had very wet and windy miserable weather.    This time of year, the sunsets swing right round to the north-west, and Monday evening this week had a really stunning sunset.

However, it was our turn for the rain today, and very welcome it is.    Everything smells fresh again, and there are no more clouds of dust flying out from behind traffic on the farm road.    It has to remember to stop of course.    Farmers are never happy with the weather.

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Fuel Prices

Having just filled up at the local pumps, this fuel price business is getting out of hand.   Diesel at £1.24 a litre here today, and I know it is more in other places, and lots more in far flung places like the Western Isles.     No wonder the lorry drivers are upset.

Interestingly, the hauliers are not united in protest, with the bigger players like Eddie Stobart notably staying well back from the demonstrations.

On the farm, tractor diesel (like heating oil) has now more than doubled in price in 12 months, and nitrogen fertilizer has also doubled.    Compound fertilizer (N:P:K mix) has gone up even more than 100%.    Certainly, cereal prices are better than they were, but it looks as if we are going to need all of this to make any sense of the job financially.

I am hoping for a dry harvest, as the grain drier runs on tractor diesel.   

 It is going to mean some tough decisions for next year though.

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Bad Communication

The following really happened:

Bluedog:  Hi, I’m Bluedog and I am wondering if you could please let me have your Chief Exec’s e-mail so that my organisation can send him a newsletter.

Public Sector Organisation (PSO) with large responsibilities in 2009 in Scotland:  Can we do this by post?

BD:  Well, we like to communicate by e-mail when we can and when it is appropriate.

PSO:  I am sorry, but we don’t give out e-mails.

BD: Well, our organisation is over 30 years old, and in the same industry as your PSO.   We communicate directly with the heads of many organisations, as well as directly with the Government.    (BD gave examples).      I can’t actually believe that you are blocking me from communicating directly with your Chief Executive.   We are in the same industry and should be communicating.

PSO:  You are taking a very agressive stance.    I am sorry, but we still don’t give out e-mails.    I could put you in touch with the Chief’s PA, and if he is interested, he will look at your newsletter.

Bluedog:   No, I would like this to be a personal communication.    Let’s just leave it for now.

PSO:  OK.

Oh my goodness.    If this particular organisation decides to grow up and start communicating with the rest of the world  in a normal way, we might just have some events organised for the extra visitors Scotland is expecting in 2009 to attend.      With this sort of attitude, it is really not looking good.

Digging up weeds is a very theraputic way of cooling down.

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English Touring Opera have been visiting Perth for a number of years now, and it is the final date in their spring tour, which began in Hackney in March.   Perth Theatre seats about 500, and the orchestra squeezes in front of the stage, and overspills into the two boxes on either side.

So, Mozart performed in an intimate setting rather than a large opera house, is always promising, and when the performance was as good as this, was genuinely thrilling.    Mozart is extremely difficult to perform well and from the start, the small orchestra conducted by Michael Rosewell really let the music breathe.   There was some stunning playing, particularly from the strings.

The singing was uniformly excellent.    Roland Wood’s Don Giovanni and Jonathan Gunthorpe’s Leporello put in solid performances, and had lots of fun with the roles.   Julia Sporsén singing Donna Anna has a wonderfully pure strong voice, and I hope we get to hear more of her in the future.   Laura Parfitt and Russian Ilona Domnich as Elvira and Zerlina sang well, as did Adrian Powter as Masetto.    The ensemble singing  was particularly moving.

Soutra Gilmour’s fixed set of metal lattice panels round the stage with hidden doors and windows worked well, and allowed for some interesting lighting effects by Guy Hoare.   The English translation was a little clunky in parts, but the words came over well, by and large.

Jonathan Mumby’s production seemed to set this in Franco’s Spain complete with fascist salutes.    The ‘blindfold’ masks were certainly very sinister, as was the point where all the party guests realised they were locked into one room by Giovanni, and beat the walls with chairs to try and get out.    Good job the set was solid.

That’s three good operas in a week.    Looking forward to The Carmelites at RSAMD and The Martyrdom of St Magnus in June.   And Scottish Opera have just announced their new season.

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This new production of Falstaff was Domenic Hill’s first main stage opera production, although he has directed a small scale touring Macbeth opera as a taster.    I have enjoyed Domenic Hill’s work at Dundee Rep and have big hopes for him in his new role as artistic director at The Traverse.    So, how did he do?

In short – very well, and this was a very entertaining production.   The two set piece scenes where Falstaff gets his come-uppance were especially well directed- one sees Falstaff being bundled out of a laundry basket into the Thames, and the other, being surprised by a troup of ‘spirits’ in a wood at midnight.

Peter Sidom sang Falstaff well, and among the others there were no weak links, but Lucy Crowe as Nanetta was outstanding – I remember her from Rosenkavalier last year, and she is one to keep an eye on.     I did have a problem with Peter Robinson conducting in the pit who produced a particularly dull account of a score that should normally sparkle, which was a pity.

And although Theatre Royal was reasonably busy on Saturday night, it really should have been busier for what is a popular and mainstream opera.      Under 26s can get in for a bargain £10.     As they say, those who were there really enjoyed the night.

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Scottish Composer Judith Weir’s breakthrough work was A Night at The Chinese Opera, first performed at the Cheltenham festival in 1987, and now performed in Scotland for the first time, by Scottish Opera.   In 1986, a young Sian Edwards stood in for Simon Rattle and made her operatic conducting debut with Scottish Opera performing The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogany, and she returns to Glasgow to conduct this opera.    Director Lee Blakeley returns to Weir, as he directed the Opera School performance of The Vanishing Bridegroom across the road at RSAMD not so long ago.

The story is a 13th century Chinese Fable about the Chao family.    In essence, Chao Lin as a baby is abandoned by his parents who are fleeing invaders.   The child is brought up by neighbours, and becomes a renowned canal builder under the new regime.    He chances upon a group of actors and sees a play performed, which for him has renonances about who he is.    He travels up a mountain to where the original exiles have since tried to eek out an existence, and comes down again, ready to take on the invaders, but is caught and returned to the city.

Musically, this is very accessible, with some interesting scoring for a pared down orchestra, particularly for the woodwind and percussion.    There is singing and spoken words as well, and often rhythmic unison is used, producing a strange effect – particularly when the counter-tenor Military Governor and his personal soldier a deep bass sing together.   

The singing was good for the most part, with Damian Thantrey as Chao Lin and Philip Salmon as the Nightwatchman and Marco Polo in excellent voice.    Special mention to Rebecca de Pont Davies, Sarah Redgwick and Stephen Chaundy for the three ‘actors’ in the play within the play for putting on a memorable and entertaining performance. 

Visually, this was convincingly Chinese without overdoing it, and director Blakeley, designer Jean Marc Puissant and  Jenny Crane on lights came together as a team.    This is the first opera in English that I have been to which had surtitles, and it did actually help.    Some of the singing was a little light and occasionally the orchestra covered the voices.    Having said that, I really enjoyed Edward’s animated conducting and the orchestra’s performance.

But all in all, this was a good night out, and short and sweet at 2 hours running time.    I am still not quite sure that I followed all the detail of the story, particularly in the second half, but this was a good example of modern opera done well.    Surprisingly enjoyable.

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We have become used to CCTV cameras everywhere these days, even although we may not be too happy about them.    Our mobile phone logs into the nearest base station every so many minutes, effectively tracking its location.    As we drive along roads, number plate recognition is used to monitor traffic flows, but increasingly to track criminals.    Our supermarket knows exactly what we buy.    How we choose to live our lives is becoming more and more in the public domain.

But now the government in its Communications Data Bill is proposing that ISPs have available all of our e-mails for the past 12 months as well as how much time we spend online and a record of where we go when online.   

This is really a step too far.    It is exactly equivalent to the government asking the Royal Mail to open, photograph and have available for examination, every piece of mail we receive (or send too).    There should be a massive fuss about this.

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Farms are interesting places.    On the face of it, we farmers all do a similar job to one another, and fields of sheep or wheat look much the same to the onlooker.    But look closer, and every farmer has their own way of doing things – customs and atttitudes which are often passed down the generations.    There are tidy farms and scruffy farms;   there are farms with gleaming new machinery and farms making do with older kit.    Farmers are rulers of their own small worlds – the family and others who may be  living on the farm and staff they employ.      The isolation of farming only adds to the impenetrability and misunderstanding from outsiders.

The vast majority of farmers get along with eachother as they are in the same business, and often work with one another helping out.    They meet at the market to catch up on news and chat.    Sometimes things do go wrong, and the effects can be felt for generations.   I have worked on a farm where one brother ran the livestock and the other brother ran the cereals – both had their own separate staff and separate machinery ……….. and the brothers talked to eachother as little as possible.    It was genuinely difficult.    I also know another farm where the son in his 50s was not entrusted to write a cheque, as his father in his 70s wanted to retain financial control.    And another farm where a son was bullied by his father way into adulthood and who eventually took his own life.      Fortunately though, most farms are happy but hard working places.

When we look at human relationships, we always say that one never knows what goes on behind the bedroom door.    For farming, the equivalent is what goes on behind the farm gate.

And this is where Drawer Boy starts.    Michael Healey has based this three hander play on a theatrical exercise in Canada in the 1970s, where urban drama students visited farms and returned to college and used their material to produce “The Farming Show”.    In Drawer Boy, Miles , a theatre student played by Brian Ferguson is visiting a farm in Ontario to get some first hand experience to take back to his college to produce a piece on what living on farms is all about.     So we are on a very isolated farm, run by friends Angus and Morgan where things are done just so.    Angus, played outstandingly by Brian Pettifer, is clearly very simple, and Morgan (Benny Young) is obviously in charge of all the day-to-day work, as well as caring for Angus.    Like quite a few farms, it is a strange, yet stable working and living relationship.     Miles’ presence slowly builds up trust between he and the two men and gradually the background to the odd living arrangements is revealed.    Angus starts to remember the past more clearly.     And we get to hear the story – the one about the tall girl and the taller girl.

For the most part, this is a gentle comedy, with much amusement as Miles, a rural ignorant, learns about farm life with much leg-pulling.    But when the real story is revealed about why the two friends find themselves running an isolated farm, it is a completely shattering and moving revelation.     It is powerful stuff, and the three top rate actors work brilliantly together against Hazel Blue’s attractive big sky and plain farmhouse kitchen set.

Drawer Boy was first performed in Toronto in 1999, and has won many awards, been translated into several languages and toured the world.    It is new to Scotland and is incoming Tron director, Andy Arnold’s choice of first play to do.    He says that he wants to see modern challenging drama in Glasgow, and this is an auspicious start.

Drawer Boy is a strange story which takes us on a journey.    It is haunting and beautiful.     For me, this is definitely going to be a contender for best theatre of 2008.

Here is a trailer

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Educating Agnes is a new play from Liz Lochhead who has adapted Moliere’s School for Wives into rhyming Scots.    It is a knockabout farce, and very well tackled by Graham MacLaren and his team from Theatre Babel.

The story is fairly simple:   Old git Arnolphe (Kevin McMonagle) has been keeping his ward, Agnes (Anneika Rose) out of harm’s way until she is old enough to marry him – so he thinks.   But of course things don’t work out that way at all, and Agnes has her eye on a suitor Horace (John Kielty).   

There is a huge amount of fun:    the language is mostly archaic Scots, but Liz Lochhead throws in modern words and phrases occasionally to great comic effect, and to underline that this story does not just belong in the age in which it is set.    The actors are on top form and the stagings are excellently timed.   Two servants, played deadpan by Maureen Carr and Lewis Howden add lots to the comedy, but it is really McMonagle’s show, and he turns out a great performance.

Well worth catching.

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