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It has been a rich year in the arts in Scotland, although the  exceptional has remained elusive.

23 plays seen.    In Perth, the year kicked off with an excellent adaptation of Tam O Shanter, and took in the tour of Be Near Me.    With a good cast, Silver Darlings promised much but never quite produced a sum of its parts, which was a disappointment.       In Glasgow, at the Citizens, we enjoyed Ghosts, and a pre-Edinburgh festival production of a Rona Munro’s new play The Last Witch.   At the Tron, we liked That Face, and White Tea.    In Edinburgh, Gregory Burke’s latest play Hoors was not a patch on Black Watch, or Gagarin Way, but we liked The Dark Things a lot.     National Theatre of Scotland’s big autumn production of House of Bernara Alba was interesting, but just did not quite work.   For consistently good theatre in Scotland, Dundee Rep is punching way above its weight exemplified by a really excellent Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? which gets my best of the year vote.     There was also a very good production of The Elephant Man, directed by Jemima Levick  – the incoming assistant director, who also directed a touring production of Baby Baby (seen at Macrobert), which was enjoyable, but had rather weak material.   Dundee also put on a really special version of  A Christmas Carol.   Nationally, we enjoyed Ken Stott in a View from the Bridge when it came to Glasgow, Theatre de Complicite’s Shun Kin at the Barbican in London, and Inherit the Wind at the Old Vic.       We missed Sub Rosa, at the Citizens which was a pity.   

9 Operas.    RSAMD opera school continued to entertain with The Love of Three Oranges and the Tales of Hoffman.   Scottish Opera produced another set of five fifteen minute operas at Oran Mor, and will have a third set in May 2010.    Main house, Scottish Opera has had a good season with solid productions of Cosi, Manon, the Elixir of Love, and the Italian Girl in Algiers.    Concert performances of operas don’t do it for me usually, but there was a one performance only of I Puritani at Glasgow City Hall, which was outstanding.    We enjoyed the new opera Letters of a Love Betrayed which had one performance at The Traverse.

We have been to quite a few Youth Orchestra Concerts this year, which we have enjoyed.   The Scottish Ensemble continue to tour with well thought out programmes and general excellence.   In Perth, we heard Theatre of Voices with Bang on a Can playing Steve Reich pieces and David Lang’s co-comissioned (Perth Concert Hall with Carnegie Hall in New York) Little Match Girl Passion.     But outstanding performance of 2009  was actually caught on holiday in Krakow where the Wroclaw Symphony Orchestra played a stunning Mahler 9.

We did not get to much by way of dance this year, but enjoyed Michael Marra and Frank McConnell’s Wee Home from Home – first performed 20 years ago , and revived by original director Gerry Mulgrew with new designs by Karen Tennant.

2009 was a memorable year for film, and we liked the genuinely unusual Slumdog Millionaire, the quirky 35 Shots of Rum, Katalin Varga’s smouldering revenge, Jane Campion’s Bright Star, Cannes winner White Ribbon, Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, and even Opera on the big screenCosi fan Tutti (Salzberg festival production).      I was less sure about Moon, the sci-fi film from Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son).   An Education and Let The Right One In were special highlights.

We visted the Anish Kapoor exhibition in London – great dods of bright red wax being fired out of a cannon every 20 minutes  into a corner of a room – lots of other stuff too.   Highly entertaining.

2010 has some interesting things ‘coming soon’, and the New Year’s resolution is to write about them here in more detail.

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Straight off, I like Red Nose Day – people doing something funny for money and raising funds for good causes.    It captures the imagination of the UK, and many ordinary people as well as celebrities do daft things.     It is a genuinely laudable initiative, and many people benefit from the considerable sums raised every two years here as well as abroad.

I tuned into BBC post watershed and watched the coverage.   I was hoping to be entertained, but in fact was assaulted (and there is no other word for it) by weepy presenters showing footage  of children actually dying and their coffins being put into the ground.    It was genuinely shocking, and perhaps that was the point.    I just felt very unprepared for, and very uncomfortable with the emotional blackmail.     I was being backed into a corner, and not entirely convinced by the explanations given that money would solve the huge problems we were being asked to get our heads around.     Aid solutions are very much more complicated, and I needed to know more detail.  

I can’t say I am happy about feeling this way, but I don’t think I will be the only one .    I just feel very used as a viewer.

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Use of English

There has been quite a debate recently about use of English, and about spelling in particular.    I know that communication is much more dynamic than it once was, and different styles are called for in texts, e-mails ….. and blogs!

But for public consumption, grammar and spelling matter.    A serious message written badly with inaccurate spelling will not only reflect poorly on the sender, but will actually devalue the message itself.

I have just had to return two draft press releases written by professionals in the tourism marketing and promotion world.    They are a small and experienced team, but their grasp of how to write is, quite frankly, terrible.

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Up All Night

Up All Night is a live radio show which runs from 1am through the night on Radio 5, or Five Live as I think we now call it.   It is good listening, because you never know what will be on it.    There are regular slots for films (good), as well as phone ins about soccer in North and South America (boring), but lots in between – we get the Gabby Cabby from New York at weekends, and the lively presenters keep things moving.     Sometimes it covers breaking news, like when Princess Diana died.

In Scotland it broadcasts on the BBC Scotland FM band.    Or it did until this week.    I tuned in last night instead of getting something interesting and informative got……. Robbie Shepherd and his Scottish Dance music.   

I have nothing against Robbie, or Scottish Country dance music.   But not on my radio in the middle of the night for goodness sake.    Just shocking.   

What’s going on?

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Oh my goodness.

Last night, Newsnight (UK) was right in the think of it, doing a great job trying to make sense of the situation in Georgia.    Difficult, but important interviews, and the presenter was not afraid to challenge both sides.    It was really good viewing.

But at ten to eleven Newsnight Scotland came crashing in, right over an interview.    Newsnight Scotland is supposed to start at eleven pm, but they must have set their watches a bit too early in Glasgow.   After about 15 seconds of an item about the Fringe Ticket fiasco, they realised their mistake, and we rejoined the interview.

At eleven o’clock, again, in mid interview, Newsnight Scotland came back in and restarted their Fringe story.    No apology or anything.

There must be a better way of doing this.    Really, there must.

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The loss of normal Newsnight last night, and the complete absence of anything relevant to Scotland in the entire The World at One program on Radio 4 yesterday lunchtime has got me thinking about the news in Scotland.

The Times newspaper in Scotland has dedicated coverage to Scotland, with pages that the rest of the UK simply don’t see.    Yet this regional coverage is not available on their website, while the UK stuff is.    And of course, there will be other stories which Scotland does not get because there has to be room for the Scottish pages.

It has all become a bit messy.    I like a UK, and indeed a worldwide perspective on things, yet like to know what is happening in Scotland too.     I would like to think that those living outside Scotland would be intested in what is going on in Scotland.     Perhaps there is a bit of ‘having ones cake and eating it’ about this, but it needs sorting out, and I am not sure whether a ‘Scottish 6’ (campaign for a Scottish 6 o’clock news) will improve things.    Probably not – we already have Reporting Scotland on the BBC which does OK, and the early evening mix of national news at 6 and regional to follow works as it is.

I like Newsnight, and I tolerate Newsnight Scotland – tolerate, because the program is too rushed, the technical presentation is typical BBC Scotland (not as good as it should be) and the presenters don’t exactly set the heather alight.    I also resent being deprived of the last Newsnight story every night.

 The BBC were taken to task recently for not covering important regional stories in the National News.    I agree with this, and the organisation will have to get smarter about how it handles stories from around the UK.

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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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