Monday, August 30, 2010

Going home

There's more to come about Fringe stuff but I'm too tired & grumpy to write it at the moment. We had a quite pleasant trip back to Sheffield, most of the way. It was a glorious day, bright and sunny with just a hint of autumnal chill in the brisk breeze. Through the train windows the whole of the farming community was out harvesting the golden fields of wheat. What happens to all those combine harvesters for the rest of the year? Two to three weeks of flat out work a year and the rest in store? 

It was an idyllic view, if crowded on the train. It was a four coach train, Glasgow to Plymouth. There were people standing from Edinburgh and people sitting on bags but there was still room to turn round. At least one of the toilets was out of operation. The guard kept telling us we could get off our train and get on the Reading train behind if we wanted a seat. And then Leeds. There was a festival in Leeds. There always seems to be a festival there at August bank holiday. It's not really a surprise. At least this year the poor crushed together cattle were not slathered with mud. And the fact that the toilet was broken meant that some people could stand in there as well (you wouldn't want to sit on that slightly awash floor). We managed to get off at Sheffield by starting quarter of an our early so that we could squeeze past all the standees and completely demolish then rebuild the luggage storage because, of course, our bag was buried. Never mind. We, Sally and I, were home. Jack should be getting into Oxford any time now, having waited for a cheap train.

So my question is, on the day most people travel home from Edinburgh and the festival in Leeds breaks up would it not be possible to find an extra couple of carriages and make sure all the toilets work?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

First day of the Fringe (with kids)

We travelled up to Motherwell on Thursday evening. Sally and I met Jack at Sheffield station (he having travelled up from Oxford) and took the train up. Callum, my sister's son,  joined us at Leeds and we settled in for a fairly dull trip, sat at a table for four. I got out the jacket I am knitting and sewed up the raglan sleeve seams then picked up the stitches around the neck to knit the collar. All was relatively quiet until Darlington when the boys got on and sat at the table across the aisle from us. The problem with knitting on a train, apart from making me look like a granny according to Ian, is that people talk to you. What are you knitting? How long have you been making that? And so on. The boys were three men, Gaz, Gary and Dave, going up to Edinburgh for a weekend of male bonding. Apparently they've been doing this in various cities since they were 30ish. They started with a trip to Blackpool. After that the only way was up. They're in their forties now and still doing this once a year. This year they were going to join the rest of their party of eight in Edinburgh. 
It's amazingly expensive for an apartment in Edinburgh, they complained. 
That'll be because of the Fringe. 
The what? 
You don't know about the Fringe?
So the fact that huge numbers of performers, students and audiences pack into Edinburgh for the month of August had passed them by. As Jack commented, in a couple of weeks they could probably have got the same apartment for half the cost. Never mind. They were halfway through a hefty number of cans of lager and they didn't care. They'd each got £200 for the weekend, they said, £20 for food and the rest for booze. Each of them teased and was teased about their wives and kids and each, sooner or later, wandered off to tell their wife they loved her and to say 'night night' to their kids. They entertained us all the way up to Haymarket where we kicked them off the train. Their bags were much lighter and they left a stack of empty cans, despite a regular search for a bin to put their rubbish in.

So, on Friday, an early lunch at Equi's then Ian drove us over to Edinburgh. I'd booked an additional show, Out of the Blue, on Alex's recommendation so we had four shows. The first thing we did was book another show for Saturday (an Oompah band at the GRV) then we parked up and made our way through a lovely little public garden to the C Plaza where we had a coffee and waited for our show.

I love a cappella music. Much as I like other types of music, the human voice, particularly in harmony, is what moves me. Alex is always recommending a cappella shows, and flamenco and generally culture sort of stuff, but Ian cleaves to comedy passionately, stubbornly. Never mind, I'd got him a ticket and he was prepared to give it a go. The show was put on by Oxford undergraduates, all male and with lovely voices. The choreography was amusing and energetic although, to be honest, they could have stood perfectly still for me and allowed me to concentrate on the music. They started with 'Don't You Want Me Baby' and bounced through a familiar songbook to finish with an encore of Pokerface. Callum identified it. Good job we had someone along who has some idea of the Zeitgeist. Ian had had to leave to save the car from predatory traffic wardens or I'm sure he'd have known Pokerface too. 

My favourite arrangement was Billy Joel's Lullaby. They didn't allow themselves to be distracted by the traditional mobile phone ring in the quietest section. They're good! Later we wondered how you fall into this sort of thing. We guess they were all choir boys in a previous life. That would explain the sometimes over pure tones and unconvincing sensuality in the dances to the 'raunchy' songs. On the way out I bought a CD. It's lovely but a cappella loses something in electronic format. They're just songs; the wonder of the performance is lost.

We dashed from there to Rainer Hersch being Victor Borge. I very much like Rainer and I have fond memories of Victor Borge. The story of his life was interesting and engaging and I think that these snippets of classical music are ideal for me. I love them when surrounded by anecdotes but I don't generally have the concentration or appreciation for an entire piece. 

After Rainer we split up. Callum wanted to see Rhod Gilbert but Ian, Sally and I had seen his show, 'The Cat that Looked Like Nicholas Lyndhurst', at Nottingham Playhouse relatively recently so we sent him and Jack to see Rhod and we headed over to the Underbelly to see Susan Calman.  (The picture at the top of this piece is Sally, already exhausted by the culture, waiting in the Underbelly bar for the show.) We first saw Susan a couple of years ago when she seemed promising. Since then she has appeared on the News Quiz and was sufficiently amusing that we thought we'd have another look. She's much improved, even in the dank warmth of the Underbelly.  Sally loved the show, laughing all the way through. I like Scottish women comedians, especially those from Glasgow. Susan used to be a lawyer but gave up the glamour and money for a dank cavern in the Underbelly and a life of semi-poverty. Good! I'm glad she's turned from the dark side. 

In the same way, Mickey Flanagan has recently come to our attention through Radio 4. Having moved up from the East End of London through a social science degree into teaching he has also turned away from a career of horror into comedy. Susan is very short and Glaswegian, Mickey is tall and cockney. It seems like a theme. The stories were very funny. I loved his definition of doing fuck all and his assertion that the 'Chicken Children' of today have completely lost the art. They may be wasting time but they have lost the ability for complete indolence. This was a show very much based in his own life and experience, a man who has made the transition from working class to rather smart middle class, marrying a long suffering multitasking woman who perfectly complements his persona of idleness. This was a splendid finish to the day. Ian complained that he'd heard most of the material on the radio show. Luckily I'd been too lazy to iPlayer it so it was suitably fresh and funny for me.   

Last day of the fringe...

So, yes. I'm back in chilly Scotland with the kids and still haven't finished the last lot of reviews. Sigh. I blame work. So, just for completeness...

Ian and Julian had a cunning plan. I had been supposed to go to the flamenco show on Saturday with Alex but he hadn't got round to buying the tickets so J&I decided it would be better for me to see the show about Ian Dury, 'Hit Me!' They were right. Whilst Ian waved Julian off at Edinburgh Waverley I climbed the long twisty stairs to the top of the Teviot to wait for the show, being given a £10 of Waitrose voucher which has already paid for the show.

Hit Me! was fab. What can I say? It was a two man show based on Dury and his friend/helper, a big man with a criminal record and a strong sense of right and wrong who seems to have kept Dury from being a bigger dick than necessary. Dury's somewhat self-destructive life, his huge ego and his similarly huge talent were powerfully portrayed. The songs were, as always, wonderful. The staging consisted simply of a pivoting unit; one side a scummy bedsit, the other a more upscale living room which appeared as the show progressed and Dury moved up in the world. Obviously, the size of the unit and the feel of the action remained cramped apart from when Dury escaped out of it to stand, singing like a man possessed, in front of projected Blockhead images. I'm not sure the final scene worked for me. Recently dead, Dury, in white top hat and tails, dances onto stage with graceful ease for a final song. I guess the religious would  see this as a happy release from a damaged body and a redemption of sorts. To me it was an upbeat ending that was unnecessary. Dury's flawed life and towering achievements are sufficient. 

Ian met me out of the show and confirmed that he'd put poor broken Julian on the train home and we would get updates as the journey progressed. I was sad to see Julian go. He's the easiest companion imaginable, mainly by, as he claims, just not caring. He goes along with just about anything as long as he is allowed an occasional visit to a bookshop and he amuses us very much. From now on we will just have to make do without him until Novacon.

We went to our final restaurant, the Nile Valley on Chapel Street, a Sudanese cafe which, as always, provided us with delicious food very quickly which let us make it to the next venue early enough to catch the act before the one we were aiming for. Fine. This was our foray into the FreeFringe and was well worth the visit.

We managed to squeeze, last comers, into the tiny hot room at the Counting House. Lewis Schaffer, a New York jewish comedian living in London, is 'Free Until Famous'. I enjoyed this show very much, especially as I was sitting next to the fan. Lewis spent the hour commenting on how rubbish we in the UK are which strangely endeared him to us. Ian commented he reminded him of Greg Proops. I liked him more than that.

We adjourned to the bar whist the next act set up and tuned her guitar then trooped back in for another miserably hot hour with Lara A King. She had been recommended by Fascinating Aida on Friday night. She'd been their warm up act for their last tour and they spoke well of her. It was a strange hour; a combination of stand-up and serious songs. Most of the comedy left me cold; as someone who only turns the TV on for Doctor Who and the new Sherlock Holmes, comments about daytime TV and current advertising campaigns, no matter how apposite, meant nothing to me. The songs, on the other hand, were worth going for on their own. I'd have liked back to back songs really. Never mind. I took one of the free-but-a-donation-would-be-appreciated CDs when we left but it doesn't have her last song. She finished with Summer with Monica, one of my favourite Roger McGough poems set to music. As a sing along. I'd turn up for that anytime. If she put the whole book to music I'd be even happier. Many years ago at Freshers week at Sheffield Poly, Roger McGough read from Summer with Monica at the Psalter Lane campus, the one SHU have just demolished. I'm feeling old as they remake Sheffield around me but Summer with Monica is still lovely.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Reporting the environment

Ian recently sent me a link to an article on The Register. He often sends me links just to annoy me. I usually read them, feel a bit grumpy, then forget them. This one, though, just about hit my tolerance limit. It's a fabulous example of bad reporting, drawing conclusions that are unwarranted from the information.

The piece is titled, 'People have NO BLOODY IDEA about saving energy' and subtitled, 'Those keenest to be green are most ignorant - survey.' I guess they provide fair warning in their titling that this is not an objective report. It is, however, based on a fairly interesting piece of scientific research and the Register were good enough to provide  a link to the original paper

Having read both the Register's article and the original paper, 'Public perceptions of energy consumption and savings', I can agree what the Register reported was not incorrect but the spin they had imparted to a sober little paper was so strenuous it is probably still reeling. 

What the original article says is that people are not fully aware of the energy used by their various activities, appliances or embodied in the products they use. From the information presented this is true. 

I will even admit, sheepishly, that the contrasting embodied energy costs for glass and aluminium surprised me. I hadn't really thought about it but it seems fairly obvious that this would be the case once I had given it some thought. The melting point of aluminium is around 660C, for glass it is at least 1400C, depending on constituents. From this the Register concludes that 'as a true eco-person, you shouldn't be recycling glass, you ought not to be using it at all.' Well, yes. And no. Unfortunately, at present I am unable to find the sort of wine I want to drink in aluminium cans. Given that I am unlikely to stop drinking wine in the immediate future it is still better for me to send my glass bottles for recycling than not*. 

The article continues, 'Again, when asked what the single most effective thing they could do to save energy, the most popular response in the survey was to turn off lights. In fact lighting accounts for a relatively small proportion of the average person's energy use and almost all of us could save far more juice (and carbon) in other ways - for instance by turning the heating down as little as a single degree, something which many extremely keen lightswitch nazis** refuse to do.'

I have an issue with this paragraph. I am not disputing that turning the heating down will save more energy than turning off lights, but there is also no reason not to turn lights off in a room not being used. The Register seems very keen on either/or choices. It might surprise them but it is quite possible to turn the heating down by one degree and turn lights off in unused rooms. 

They go on to quote the original paper that states 'participants estimated that line drying saves more energy than changing the washer's settings (the reverse is true)'. My concern with this statement is twofold. One is that I always wonder when I hear such loose phrasing. 'Changing the washer's settings' could mean anything from reducing the temperature by 10 degrees to reducing it from 90C to 30C or more. Looking at the paper's Figure 1 it is quite possible that, depending on what that phrase means, line drying may be a better saver. Difficult to tell; the graph is small with a logarithmic scale. My other concern again is, what does it matter? Both of these are potentially high energy saving. Change the washer settings and line dry. 

Never mind though, the Register goes on from this paragraph to state, 'Perhaps the killer revelation from the survey is that it is, in fact, the very people who are keenest and most active about reducing their energy consumption who are the most ignorant.' Despite the exaggeration and emotive language this is, in fact, the conclusion of the paper. People are optimistic that what they are doing is having a positive effect. Their perceptions are not as accurate as they could be. This is a problem if for example, you comfort yourself that the impact of your flight to Australia will be offset by turning the lights out and recycling your wine bottles. It may also be a problem if, as a Register reader, you can only take one action at a time so rather than turn your thermostat down, line dry your clothes, boil only as much water as you need and cycle to work you unplug your phone charger. 

The lesson the Register takes from the information contained within the paper is, 'In other words, ignore that earnest friend of yours who recycles religiously, turns off the lights all the time, and unplugs the telly every night... They quite literally have no idea what they are talking about.' Well no, that's not what the paper said. The original paper suggested that better and more accurate information would help to reduce emissions and public information campaigns should focus on behaviours that could have a greater effect - forget the phone chargers and turn down the heating.  They conclude, 'It is therefore vital that public communications about climate change also address misconceptions about energy consumption and savings, so that people can make better decisions for their pocketbooks and the planet.'  The Register, on the other hand, concludes that we should 'ignore the many worth organisations - for instance the Energy Saving Trust here in the UK, which you pay for through your taxes - which have made us all so ignorant.' I took a quick look at the EST website. The top ten tips did indeed include the admonition, 'Don't leave appliances on stand-by and remember not to leave laptops and mobile phones on charge unnecessarily'. It also, however, suggested sorting out dripping hot water taps, fully loading our washing machines, boiling only as much water as needed, changing to low energy bulbs, turning lights off, closing curtains at dusk and draught proofing, turning your water thermostat down (also reduces the risk of scalding small children) and turning your central heating thermostat down. The information on the site would be improved if each tactic was rated on energy saving effectiveness but the tips given were all generally good and do not seem to me to be making us ignorant. The worst that could be said is that it is not as informative as it could be.

I wonder what the Register gains by subverting a worthy piece of research. It makes no sense to me. Unless the author of the piece is still living with his parents who keep turning the lights out on him.

*Ideally glass bottles should be reused. My milkman very kindly takes my glass milk bottles back for reuse. It doesn't need vastly more energy to take them back because he was coming to my house to deliver anyway. 

**As a rule of thumb, use of the word nazi in an article not talking about the german fascist movement of the mid 20th century is an indicator of a lack of objectivity.   

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The penultimate Fringy day.

It's over a week ago and I didn't take notes so this will be a little sketchy. 
We only had two shows on Friday but they were once I was very much looking forward to. The first was Fascinating Aida at the Assembly Rooms.  If I could only go to one show this would probably be it. The girls are Adele Anderson, Liza Pulman and the truly fabulous Dillie Keane. They were only appearing for a week or I'd take the kids on the last weekend as well. The big room did not appear to be sold out although fairly packed and we sat near the back. Juilan, Ian and I were joined by June Strachan, my oldest fannish friend, and her boyfriend Nick Mills. 
We were told that Fascinating Aida had been asked by the Assembly to help celebrate its 25 years as a fringe venue. They were asked to provide a best of show, from their more than 25 year old back catalogue. I would imagine that this can be a little difficult for comedy songs. As the context disappears so, often, does the humour. I think the decision to concentrate on more recent songs was a good one, especially as their latest album is my favourite. Their shows are always good. Their voices are lovely, the 'dances' are amusing with Liza drawing the eye particularly, Dillie plays a spirited set on the grand piano and, of course. the songs are very funny. These are generally co-written by Dillie and Adele. Ian thinks Dillie is a comedy god and, for once, I completely agree with his pronouncement. In the hour they played three of my favourite recent songs; Lerwick Town, The Markets and Dogging. If you haven't come across Fascinating Aida before you should acquaint yourself with them immediately. Buy the CDs, DVDs, see the show. Don't let them retire again!

After queuing for ten minutes to escape the venue we made our way to Cantina Mexicana on Rose Street. This was excellent, freshly cooked yummy food and jolly nice cocktails. We, of course, ate far too much. Julian & I hung around after we finished while Ian took June and Nick on to their next show then we retired to the Dome to digest quietly whilst we waited for our 23.30 show. What were we thinking? I wanted to go to sleep. It was alright though. We finally trekked into the Purple Cow to see John Cooper Clarke. He's painfully thin and, like all of us, looking older but he was well worth staying up for. Julian was almost bouncing with enthusiasm. Well, for Julian. 
Ian has just looked up the jokes of JCC, most of which we heard on Friday. It was last updated 1998. It's good to hear familiar friends again. We particularly liked JCC's haiku. 
To convey one's mood
in seventeen syllables
Is very diffic

We put Julian into the car, happy but broken and ready to go home.

(As I was (slowly) writing this Ian has been reading out the jokes. He tells me that the site he is reading is advertising an upcoming gig in Nottingham, November 2005.) 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Another fab link

Courtesy of Ian, this is a BBC website (beta at present) showing the comparative size of things centred over whatever postcode you enter. I particularly like the environmental disaster section. Wow! The Gulf oil spill, the toxic cloud from Bhopal, the radioactive cloud from Chernobyl and, very worryingly, the Eastern Pacific garbage patch. Go have a look!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A jolly fine link!

But really only for the fans - Fuck me, Ray Bradbury. Funny on SO many levels!
Too tired to continue the Fringe write up - a day in Melton Mowbray introducing environmental awareness to 11 lovely builders in a room that would comfortably seat 8. My feet are hurting and the 4.30 start (& 1/3 bottle shiraz) leaves me strangely lacking motivation. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thursday at the Fringe

We missed a day on Wednesday. Because it wasn't Fringy I didn't write it down and now I have no idea what we did, other than eat. Lunch at Equi's Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlour. I had real food but Ian and Julian both had enormous ice cream sundaes. If you are ever in Hamilton you really ought to make the pilgrimage to this wonderful place. The ice cream at Nonna's in Sheffield is excellent but Equi's make Dime Bar Crunch, and apple pie ice cream and lemon curd ice cream and the sublime cranachan ice cream. I had a tiny cone of dime bar crunch, just so I wasn't resentful of the boys. Dinner was at Pintxo in Glasgow which has been refurbished to fit more tables in but was as wonderful as always. I love tapas (and meze and thali and etc) and Pintxo does the best tapas I've tasted in the UK. Julian ate until he could hardly move. We didn't have pudding. Then I, cautiously, drove home. Hardly driving these days results in a certain amount of nervousness but Ian was starting to complain about never being able to drink at restaurants.

Thursday we had a late start and a very gentle evening. First, however, we took Julian to see the Pineapple. Here's the Pineapple in all it glory:

Full details of this remarkable, beautiful and rather silly building can be read online here. Ian never buys me a present like this. I am faintly resentful, although what I'd do with this delightful place without the associated fortune and a four wheel drive car I don't quite know. It's a long commute to Sheffield.

Here's a picture of Juilan's face when he saw the fabulous structure:

From this revelation we made our way through South Queensferry into Edinburgh where Julian and I did a quick raid on Transreal. The rather reserved guy who runs the shop looked quite pleased to see Julian but was probably desperately disappointed when Julian restrained himself from his usual spending spree. Travel by train means restricted luggage. I only bought four books myself, three planned and a Diana Wynne Jones novella which was rather sweet. 

We rendezvoused at Under the Stairs for a cocktail and to make a table booking for later then dashed off to meet Lilian at the Stand to see Andy Zaltzman. This was a tremendous show. Andy is one of our favourites. I was originally introduced to him the year he was jilted by John Oliver who heartlessly abandoned him for Jon Stewart. He was good then if a little lost. Since then we have seen him each year and got a regular fix from the Bugle podcast. What can I say? His description of his delivery of his son was magnificent. He surely isn't as incompetent and unsupportive as he suggests or there probably wouldn't be two children in the family. He would have been jilted again, long since. The rest was, as always, both funny and thought provoking.

What did I eat Under the Stairs? Pitta and dips, because I always do, and cauliflower cheese. Both yummy. I shared a bottle of Viognier with Lilian and then we up and dashed back to the Pleasance to see Emo Phillips. He is a very odd comedian but well worth seeing again. His delivery is slow and idiosyncratic but worth concentrating on. Sadly I didn't take a notebook and it's been almost a week, so if you want some examples have a look at the vids on his website.

Now I'm going to bed because I've got a ridiculously early start tomorrow and I've got to edit the presentation into shape on the train, so I'd best be awake enough to do it. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tuesday at the Fringe

Not this Tuesday. I'm running behind. But only by a week. That's not a lot.

So, whilst I can remember, this is what we did. When I say we I mean Julian and Ian. Alec abandoned us to our low-brow comedy and went to watch Spanish tap dancing and similar cultural stuff. 

We started our low-brow day with Simon Callow's 'Shakespeare. The Man from Stratford'. It will be on tour after the fringe and is well worth seeing. I've recommended it to my Mum. As you might expect, a one man show retelling the life of Shakespeare, as far as it can be determined, beautifully illustrated by words from his plays and poems. It was very powerful and, in places, moving. Julian was most pleased that Shakespeare's words from the play, 'Sir Thomas More', written at the end of his life in an editing role. I'd love to include the speech but Julian hasn't sent me the copy he promised.

And now he has. Good boy!
Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding tooth ports and costs for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I'll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.

This first item was billed as and hour and a half and we had a had a fairly short time to get from the Assembly Hall on the Mound to the Pleasance for our next item. The show, of course, overran and we ended up scurrying out as the first round of applause commenced. How rude! Ian jogged down the hill and hailed a taxi and we stumbled into it. By this time it was rush hour but Pleasance One was running late and we arrived before the queue started in. Gyles Brandreth,  author, broadcaster, actor, entertainer and former conservative MP was starring in his one man show. Witty and urbane, Gyles was wonderful company for an hour; an engaging raconteur, he kept the audience laughing, sometimes in disbelief that he would say such things. What are the two worst things about being an MP? Raffles and constituents. I assume that he has retired from the political game but, even so, his stories were so self-deprecating that I wouldn't be put off voting for him despite knowing that, as a constituent, I may be the butt of a joke. Of course, I would be put off by his political allegiance but that is another matter. The more I look at politics the more I despair; are they incompetent or corrupt? The fact that Mr Brandreth could completely win me over demonstrates the charm of the man. My heart, in this area, is given entirely to Clement Freud but, Clement no longer being with us, Gyles will amuse me for a while.

We trudged over to the Teviot via Home Bistro, one of my favourite Edinburgh restaurants, and so convenient and friendly. Celebrity Autobiography is a nice idea. The publicity for the show notes, 'Michael Urie ('Ugly Betty') and George Wendt (Norm in 'Cheers') head the cast of this New York hit comedy where superstar memoirs are acted out live on stage.' It was very well done, reading from the autobiographies of various celebrities. My favourite were the duets. The Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor readings amusing, with different points of view of the same events. Miss Taylor, though she may have 'won' the men, came over as a less than sympathetic character. Perhaps monstrous wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration. The Jordan and Peter Andre books were another amusing juxtaposition. Who knew that Peter Andre could appear so intellectual? In comparison of course.  At the end of this reading I just felt very sorry for both of them. 
I've often wondered why B-list celebs splash their pathetic tiffs and insecurities across the media. Is it really worth it? There is a sort of perverse fascination in hearing these stories, like watching a very mundane and inevitable catastrophe unfold - these stories, read for comedic effect, are very real tragedies, rooted in the imperfect personalities of the people. As the actors made very clear, these readings were written and published by the celebrities themselves. It was all self-revealed not extracted under duress. It's all out there and available for piss-taking. Of course, the readings were carefully selected to show the stars in the worst possible light but still, what can they expect? I guess I feel a little ambivalent about this show. It would have been funnier if it weren't so inherently sad.

Our final show was Greg Davies; 'Firing Cheeseballs at a Dog'. I loved this show. It's avowed intention was not to be deep and meaningful but, if you were so inclined, there was much deep meaningfulness in it. We ignored that, though, and just laughed and laughed at the series of supposedly autobiographical stories of fear and depression. We all have such stories in our lives but few embroider them to such hilarious effect. There was a lot of stuff about his family and childhood, always a rich seam for comedy, but his years as a teacher of drama produced the characters that will stay with me. The boy who piped 'beard' (a derogatory word in this context) in answer to every question or statement, the naughty boy who freely and guiltlessly admitted to each of his wickednesses and Karen, the 13 year old with the mannerisms and vocabulary of a rather nice middle-aged woman from between the wars and no sense of direction; these wonderful characters made the show something very special. Greg Davies is a very clever man and very, very funny.

And then Ian drove us home and put us to bed. Thanks Ian!

Back to work

So it was back to work with a vengeance today. Nose to the grindstone from 9 to 17.30 with five minutes for my PB sandwich and Questionable Content. Still, due to there being little to eat in the house I left on time so that I could get to Wayne's greengrocers before he shut, to purchase eggs and yogurt. I came home and opened the fridge to find half a monster yellow courgette (they get away so quickly if you don't pick them). It seemed a perfect opportunity to make potato and courgette soup. There were enough potatoes under the self-'seeded' potato plant in the garden and a lovely soup resulted from this garden bounty. 

Whilst wandering around the internet after eating I came across this somewhat alarming story about the end of the effectiveness of antibiotics. At work we had been talking about the upcoming wheat problems, and the potential for further recession under the austerity budget/s but had come to the conclusion that the world would not end this week. There do, however, seem to be an alarming number of bubbling problems. We will reassess the timescale for TEOTWAWKI after the October budget.

To cheer myself up I wandered onto Casaubon's Book for my regular fix of Sharon's good sense. She was writing about how few of us know how to cook from basic ingredients any more. I've been interested to see that there are organisations in Sheffield offering basic cooking courses. Many years ago I used 'The Pauper's Cookbook' by Jocasta Innes but in these vegetarian days, when I'm hungry but poor (back from the Fringe way overspent) I look into Rose Elliot's 'Cheap & Easy' which quite wonderfully provides advice on how to cut her family-sized recipes down for two or one lonely person.

All this was just passing time before going out into the dusk on a slug hunt but when I emerged by lovely neighbours were sitting out on their decking eating barbecue with a bottle of wine. I didn't want to interrupt their romantic meal with the squelch of popping slugs so I thought I'd blog instead.

It's very quiet in the house without Sally who has abandoned me and the Guinea Pigs for a trip to see her school-friends and Dad. Before I arrived home she had vacuumed the downstairs and the stairs, cleaned the bathroom and washed the dishes. I was dead impressed. I guess I have to keep it nice now.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Linkled blow

We're sitting here, Friday afternoon, with the boys trying to reconstruct the few jokes they missed. They have just accused me of reading depressing environmental blogs. They can tell, Ian says, by my linkled brow. Deeply corrugated, he says. In fact, I'm just trying not to listen to them.

Tonight we are heading into Edinburgh to see Fascinating Aida, John Cooper Clarke and June & Nick at a Mexican Restaurant in between the two shows. John Cooper Clarke will be the final show, other than Alba Flamenca with Alec tomorrow, before bringing the kids up for the last weekend. 

It occurs to me that I ought to make a note here of what we have done and who we have seen. I'll do it in bits. Monday was a four show day. We saw Helen Keen do her low tech and utterly charming show, 'It is Rocket Science'. If she ever tours with it you really should make an effort to see it. Most of her life she temps in London, saving to afford to bring her wonderfully eccentric shows to Edinburgh. This one is a history of rockets from the earliest days with stories, masks and high tech visual imagery.

The second show I saw was 'Poem Without a Hero' which was quite lovely although I'm not sure I understood it. A simple show, readings from the master work of the Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova. The words are very beautiful and left me moved but uncomprehending. I may spend some time reading the poem and trying to understand the context. This is one of the joys of the fringe to me, finding a whole new area of interest. I have to thank Alec for this, and Ian for making the standard Fringe booking error. Damn those shows with different times for different days. On weekdays Alba Flamenca is at 8pm. On weekends at 3pm. Which is why I'm seeing it on Saturday and why this unexpected show was seen.

Whilst I was seeing this Ian & Julian went to see the Ian Dury show. Apparently the best show of all those Julian has seen so far. Maybe see it some other time.

We went to Pink Olive for dinner. This is a jolly nice, stylish little restaurant which is still in my mobile phone as Phenicia. The food is lovely but, unlike Phenecia, the restaurant that used to be in this building, it has a limited set of dishes for a vegetarian and so we will only visit once this Fringe. 

The third person we saw was Toby Hadoke with his show, 'Now I Know My BBC'. We first saw Toby some years ago when, in the noisome caves off the Cowgate, he told us about his childhood obsession with Dr Who and how, with the revived doctors he has finally been vindicated and his son, geeky as he, had become cool. It was a lovely story for all us fans and had Julian weeping shamelessly. We saw it again at the Lescar in Sheffield but some of the sparkle and passion had dissipated through endless repetition. It is a dangerous thing to open you soul, take out the fragile emotions, build them into a work of art and then perform it day after day for years. 
To some extent this new show will not cause the attrition of the soul that 'Moths Ate My Dr Who Scarf' did. We all rather feel that Radio 4 is what makes Britain great but Toby looked way beyond this at Grange Hill, at Newsround, Vision On and many of the TV programmes that defined our youths. It was a lovely, if slightly under-rehearsed, with enough personal detail to make it interesting but we came out wondering whether, if he has married his childhood sweetheart, what has happened to his geeky child? 

Then Tim Vine. Jokamotive was very much Ian's choice and was everything that he loves. I was a little reluctant but the ticket had been purchased. An hour chock-full of one liners and puns. It was a fabulous, high energy, jokamotive, bearing down on me as, tied to the rails (wedged into horrid bench seats) I struggled to escape, but eventually had to succumb to the Joke. It was marvellous. Then the boys spent the trip back trying to work out the punchlines to the ones they'd missed. SIGH!

At this rate I'll never catch up but I think I'll write about Tuesday later/tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I said don't get me started on trains. It turns out to be unnecessary because David Mitchell has done it for me. I'm always impressed by Mitchell's rants; he is thoughtful, rational and wonderfully, grumpily liberal.
See here and here.

Some thoughts inspired by Inception

This year we're taking it easy at the Fringe. We haven't booked a flat in Edinburgh and we've only got three days of shows booked. This is the most lightly programmed Fringe we've done together. 

Having woken up a little late on Sunday and lolled around in our dressing gowns for most of the morning we conceived a plan. We would wander over to Hamilton and eat a late lunch at Amigo's with salty margaritas then go to see Inception. Julian had already seen Toy Story 3, our first choice, and Sally had recommended Inception. Martin Easterbrook had too, but my vote was swayed by Sally. And the fact that it was skiffy.

So. Inception. I loved it. A nested thriller that communicated unease and terror amazingly well. How scary to have a technique that allows someone to enter your dreams to take information or, worse, to implant something that isn't so. 

Once in the dream, time passes more slowly so that the operators have time to achieve their mission. It is possible to enter a dream within a dream, which is complicated, much deeper and has another slowdown of time passing. Wonderfully, what is happening in the dream level above the one you are in affects you, so when in one level the sleeping bodies are falling, in the waking dream they are in free-fall. 

In the big operation central to the film a set of four nested dreams were planned. It had been established at the beginning that if you die in the dream you wake up back in the real world. Somewhere, though, in the early stages of the big operation it is revealed that the technology and choice of drugs means that this time there is no safe release from the dream. With the time extension afforded by the dream the protagonists could be lost in the underlying chaos state for decades. This change increases the tension many fold. 

I am fascinated by the nature of reality - one of the worst things you can do, in my faith system, is to hide truth from someone. This is a huge betrayal because it doesn't allow a person to make reasoned decisions based on reality. (Whilst I'm typing this Alec states, 'An engineer might steal your wallet, sleep with your wife but he will not lie to you on technical issues.) 

We all do hide truth, of course, mainly to protect our own fragile ego. Last week, for example, Sam came to look at my house because I have some work that needs doing. I thought about spending every evening of the week cleaning and tidying so that, as I told Ali, he wouldn't know what I was like. The two things that stopped me were not moral principles, of course, but laziness and futility; should he spend any time at my house the thin facade of tidiness would end up on the floor with all the other detritus and half-read books. 

Well, yes, Inception was a film that I was expecting to find morally bankrupt but, surprisingly, it was a supremely intelligent thriller that made the danger of this manipulation concrete and clung hard to the need to reattain reality. The most moving moment in the film was when the central character abandoned the dream of his wife and determined to return to his children and responsibilities. And that was the other strength of the film. The characters had some depth and I cared about how it turned out for them.

There were moments reminiscent of 'Better than Life'. There have certainly been times when I have why anyone would ever step outside that game. The Red Dwarf crew certainly had no responsibilities to ground them in reality. Perhaps I'll dig the DVDs out and re-watch them. 

Later, we spent the evening watching last week's and then this week's Sherlock Holmes. I'm sort of thinking that I might make it the other reason to turn  my TV. Other than Dr Who. The new Sherlock Holmes is a Moffat & Gatiss idea that brings the stories into the 21st century. Sherlock is both beautiful and monstrous and Watson is the only truly sympathetic character. Unlike most of fandom I've never read any of Conan Doyle's books and the films I've seen have never made me want to, but this update has tempted me to reconsider the books that are, again, all about discovering the truth.

It occurs to me that following the rules of the Inception world you could 'live' almost forever if you submerge yourself in deeply nested dreams. This would, however, require you to have a completely happy subconscious so you don't undermine your world, a bloody good imagination to people your world with and/or a fully compatible companion, and someone to keep your body maintained in the real world.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The 3, a sorry tale

I've received replies from South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE), First (the bus operator) and Ian Auckland, the Cabinet Member with responsibility for transport in Sheffield City Council. The answer is, 'sorry, nothing we can do'. It's a commercial decision. I guess that since the Arts College on Psalter Lane has closed the income from the route has fallen. I'm not sure why we continue to think of it as public transport.

When you get a group of older people together in Sheffield they often hark back to the golden age, an age where buses were cheap and deregultion (curse that buggering woman*) had not yet happened. A time when cars were few, congestion was low and herds of ham sandwich coloured buses trundled, belching clouds of particulates, through the narrow canyons of Sheffield's streets. A time when buses were so cheap that only posh and/or stupid people drove their cars into the town centre. A time when it was feasible for the ticket machine to be a mini photocopier. These days, with £1.30 fares to go less than a mile, the ticket could easily be 6 foot long (130 x penny width and a bit for spacing). Oh those happy days!

In these deregulated days there is a fight to run the lucrative routes nut no-one wants to run the necessary but sparsely populated routes. You would think that on the popular routes, with two companies competing, the service would be excellent. There are two reasons why this does not work. One is that the two operators seem to run at the same time, leapfrogging each other through the too narrow roads, causing traffic safety problems and leaving passengers waiting twice as long as necessary. The other reason, of course, is that the popularity of bus services has fallen due to high costs and lack of reliability, which means more cars on the road increasing congestion and reducing reliability still further; a positive feedback loop.

The problem with our current 'public transport' is that some routes pay well and others pay poorly but are necessary to the people living along those routes. In the days of regulated public transport the 'profits' from the lucrative routes subsidised the rest. These days the bus companies   can make their money on one route and let another languish on the grounds that running more regular buses would not be commercially viable.

From an environmental point of view, attracting people onto public transport would both reduce carbon emissions and congestion, resulting in improved journey times for everyone and better local air quality. This is not something that will happen due to market forces. For this to work public transport needs to be provided that is truly public. I'd vote to re-regulate our bus service.
And don't get me started about trains...     

*to quote my Grandad

Saturday, August 7, 2010

What was I thinking?

I'm sat in Ian's house, listening to Ian and his friend, Alec, grumbling and bickering and punning, waiting for Julian to arrive, late and grumpy. Then we'll be ready for a week of Fringe fun. During all the time I've been coming up here I have never been the only woman on the team. This year Julia has abandoned me to go to Worldcon in Australia, leaving me with the three stooges. I may survive. They may survive. I'll let you know.

OK! So Julian has arrived and things have livened up. We've chatted about Ponyo (the mother arguing by Aldis lamp is particularly nice) the Fermi Paradox and Old Jews Telling Jokes. It's mildly amusing.   

OMG They're whistling the theme to Zed Cars. It's related to a comment about Brian Blessed. No idea. I'm still not sure we can survive the week. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Interesting link

No really. Worth looking at. I regularly browse through a very few blogs and websites. Generally there are a fair number of things of interest which keep me coming back again and again. I look at Ran Prieur's blog daily. He doesn't write huge long posts these days but what he says is often worth reading and he is my best source of fascinating links such as this one titled 'Places to Intervene in Systems'. I know it's on a software site (which is why I love Ran's links - I'd never look there myself) but it is a fascinating look at how systems work. Systems? Why would you be interested?

We all live inside systems. We live inside ecosystems and societies and we work within systems called companies or local authorities or schools. I make my living helping organisations put together environmental management systems but this is only a formalising and regularising of an already existent system and part of a bigger organisational system. When we try to change a system we have to think about how it operates at the moment.

Wikipedia defines systems thinking as 'the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organization healthy or unhealthy.'

The article referenced above was written by Donella Meadows and talks about how we look for leverage points where we insert our lever and push. Unfortunately, as she notes, we usually seem to push in the wrong direction. She identifies 10 leverage points and orders them in effectiveness from numbers (taxes etc) to the power to transcend paradigm. It may sound a little dry but have a look. Just a taster, from material stocks and flows: 

'When the Hungarian road system was laid out so all traffic from one side of the nation to the other had to pass through central Budapest, that determined a lot about air pollution and commuting delays that are not easily fixed by pollution control devices, traffic lights, or speed limits. The only way to fix a system that is laid out wrong is to rebuild it, if you can.
Often you can't, because physical building is a slow and expensive kind of change. Some stock-and-flow structures are just plain unchangeable.'
I particularly liked the example given, in the goals of the system, about Ronald Reagan. Go look.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Ian and his friend Alec are having fun in Ian's ephemerally tidy house, ploughing their way through a box of Chocolate Club indulgence with cruel glee and being generally horrid and I RESENT THIS!
I'll probably feel better once I can think of some suitable revenge. Other than drinking Ian's reserva pinot noir all on my own. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A very English barbecue

We had a barbecue after work on Friday. Follwing a sunny intervals kind of week, Friday had a glowering look. Inevitably, as packing up time approached, the drizzle settled in. Cunningly I had failed to finish my presentation (BREEAM* awareness and rather a struggle) so I let the more efficient people faff. As the rain intensified and the light levels diminished (heading for dreach) a flurry of emails drifted into the right hand corner of my screen. Should we cancel? I hacked away at my presentation, reducing the 187 slides to 80 (still too many I know), whilst the bodging began. When I finally left the post-operative remnants of my presentation the building was eerily empty but there was a substantial jolly racket outside. The double doors of the garage had been opened and a huge blue tarpaulin stretched over the yard, held in place by straining bungee cords. Two barbecues were tended by the inevitable men; Tom, one of our ecologists sported a woman in underwear and stockings type of apron (sartorial elegance for BBQs) and John, Shona's chap, was togged out most attractively in a red and white spotty pinny with layers of ruffles. At the back of the garage, among the accumulated rubbish, a tiny MP3 player was attached to a set of speakers and pumped cheerful music out into the gloom whilst geoscience's coolboxes, only slightly grubby from carrying soil samples, had been filled with ice and beer. 

You can probably imagine the rest. Billows of smoke, burnt sausages, toddlers splashing in the puddles, increasingly loud chatter, intensifying rainfall, darkness gathering and a huge amount of fun. Oh, and someone, usually Catherine, occasionally emptying the accumulated rainfall off the tarp to avoid collapse. The beginning of the break-up came as toddlers got increasingly grumpy and were carted off to their beds. We stacked chairs, let barbecues cool, finished up all the open bottles and wandered off into the night. Ed and Ali kindly gave Sally and me a lift home through the deluge. The young ecologists set off for the pub and then probably the clubs.

Would it have been so much fun if it had been a sunny evening? Well yes, probably. But the adversity was fun too. We're quite good at that.

* BREEAM - building research establishment environmental assessment method

Now with additional apron photo - sorry about the blurriness - it was taken on Catherine's phone.