Saturday, 20 December 2014

fir tree now indoors, awaiting #alexpolizzi decoration fix

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Back down south again in that ground rush of the last few days before Christmas. I'm told that today is the Day To Avoid Visiting The Shops, because of all the last minute purchase mayhem - 'Panic Saturday'.

I can be slightly smug because I've already been out to collect yesterday's parcel from the sorting office plus a side visit to the mysteriously deserted supermarket.

"Calm before the storm?" I asked.

"Maybe," answered the checker-outer, "We were open all night but only had one customer after two a.m."

I noticed everything was being replenished yet I still managed to accidentally buy bread with a best before date of today. Grrr. A despicable placement of the oldest stock right in the middle of the most convenient shelf. Yo Ho Ho.

The Christmas tree is now indoors. Needles are mainly intact, except for the inevitable skirmish as I brought it (yes still wrapped) through the back door. I won't trouble to vacuum the loose needles yet because there will be even more as we start the lighting.

Like in that telly program with Alex Polizzi, I'll be banned from the actual conversion of the tree from mere forestry into a work of festive charm. And yes, repurposed paperclips made S-shaped will be used as hooks.

At least I got to light outdoors (soft white - another Polizzi tick in the box), although there was a tricky moment when the man with the chain saw came around to prune the already lit apple tree.

Friday, 19 December 2014

All I Want @livetheatre

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I mentioned the visit to see Hope at the Royal Court a few days ago which is the topical play about Council cutbacks.

Another newsworthy play I've just seen is 'All I Want', by Kirsty Housley and acted by Jon Foster. It's just finished its run across London, Newcastle and Leeds.

I saw it just before the BBC broadcast about conditions of work in some of the high-technology factories in the Far East. This was also part of the theme of the play, which illustrated a modern Christmas, with its internet ordering and then fulfilment by timed and tracked 'pickers' in vast centres spread around the U.K. A good proportion of the goods are created in huge factories in the Far East.

Our story followed a Lego depicted Chinese girl (see her balanced on the bus in the picture above). She's leaving her rural pig farming community to travel some 700 miles to a vast complex where she could earn money to support her whole family. Also illustrated with Lego people, we had another family set in Wales, where a massive distribution centre provided fulfilment for tens of thousands of individual items.

The play took a comfortable 'sitting on cushions around the Christmas tree' setting and then projected the implications of our gift giving onto a wider global context. The difficult point showing that in some economies the already low wage is subject to a range of corruption. In China there's alleged to be many forms of worker exploitation - long working days, mandatory overtime, rammed dormitories, exhaustion... the list goes on. There's more at Chinawatch.org - indeed far more than the stories covered in the recent Panorama broadcast.
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The second picture further along the narrative shows a replica of the inside of a small part of the huge Chinese factory. There's nets around the side. You can just make out the blue aproned woman worker standing on the roof. The security guards are looking up. The sun glints from her glasses. Later she'll be joined by others holding placards "我们不是机器人 / We are not robots"

The Welsh fulfilment factory raised further points. Alongside comments about zero hour contracts, there's the question around extensive UK grants.

In the case of Amazon, the Telegraph reported that they filed for £2.4m tax in 2013 and received £2.5m in grants. Not to mention the special subsidy to build their centre in Wales (£8m) and the further EU subsidy to create the new road to it (£3m). The road's name? Ffordd Amazon, of course.

The real Welsh warehouse is a bit bigger than the one we saw in the Lego model. Geoff Robinson has some other photos. Could the one in Peterborough be larger than the one in Wales?

Anyhow, as well as Swansea, there's another six of these big ones around the U.K. plus the 210,000 square foot office in Holborn, spread over 12 floors. After all, in Black Friday discount week, they expected to process 4 million orders.

Not directly discussed in the play, the U.K. subsidy situation is really the tip of a corporate welfare iceberg. Kevin Farnsworth from Sheffield Uni did some work on this last year and published it back in January. We all have opinions about the strange state of U.K. banking. This paints a wider picture across other forms of U.K. industry and services, where various forms of subsidies and capital grants are used to keep things sweet.

There could be a whole further post about adversarial capitalism and the need for businesses to contribute to the corporate welfare bill. Instead, I'll congratulate the whole production team of 'All I Want' on creating a good piece of thought provoking and immersive drama.

And to keep thinking about how to build a better structure from the Lego pieces.
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Thursday, 18 December 2014

Christmas Carnival @Livetheatre

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It all looks so innocent doesn't it? A seasonally festive clown as part of the excellent Christmas Carnival at Live Theatre. Anyone who has attended one of these Trashed Organ events before will know that it could never be that simple.

For starters, in this Lee Mattinson written play "Missing Toes and Spine" (you know - like the Cliff Richard song), we had three Geordie women getting ready for a cracker of a party. They are also on the lookout for...men.

Stumbling in through the door comes the clown and a Russian cat-tiger. The cat can only be understood by the clown, of course. The party preparations continue with varied levels of -er- sparklingly graphic tinsel revelations.
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I can't tell the ending, but let's just say the cat seems to be the only one smiling. Schastlivogo Rozhdestva! (That'd be on 6th January for the cat).

Of course, no trashed event would be complete without some poetry, and here we had the lovely Christy Ducker with Tyneside poems including her enthusiastic ode to the foot tunnel under the river.
Christy Ducker at Christmas Carnival Live Theatre
Add in some moody thoughts from Tony Williams, who blended Midland sentiments with a distinctly North Eastern outlook.
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It all gave us plenty to think upon before it became our turn to create some new literature. Well okay, maybe in my case some hastily assembled doggerel. Not sufficient for me to win the treasured Trashed Laureate prize.
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But before the prize ceremony, we were treated to fine songs and guitar from The Lake Poets. A fragment has been captured below, using my patent beer can tripod.

We'll have to wait a full year before another one of these carnival events, but I see that the Mixtapers will be starting again in the new year at Live. Booking early is advised. This event was sold out and I suspect the tickets for the Mixtapes will go fast too!
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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

sage moment

Sage afternoon
Back in the North East today, after an early start and a late breakfast in Leeds.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Enjoying the Late Turner Show at Tate Britain

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I somehow missed that movie about JMW Turner, where Timothy Spall played the painter in his later life. I'd heard mixed views about it ranging from 'great' to 'lacking', and my moment of hesitation means I'll now have to wait for the DVD.

I'd anyway thought it would be good to see the Late Turner show at the Tate Britain. To be honest, I wasn't that sure of the chronology of some that I really liked, and was relieved to see that they had been included in the show.

The Londoner joke about the show is that you get a free painting set at the end of the exhibition (you don't) - and that's because of the tag-line used on the posters and advertising - "Painting set free"...
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The area of the gallery showing the Turners was bustling with people, including quite a few using those mini chairs so that they could longer at some of the pictures. I was on a schedule and had to graze my way around, so my impressions might be different from those taking longer to consider every brush-stroke. My big gallery strategy is anyway to be drawn to things I like rather than necessarily look at everything.

Some peoples' agenda for this show is to look for the point where Turner's style lapsed as his eye-sight and alcohol self-medication interfered with his painting.

Let me say that I thought that some of his later pictures including a whole series of watercolour samplers were terrific. They would have been among his last paintings, but there was a colour palette that looked wonderful. The samplers were A4-sized pictures used as a way to attract attention towards the commissioning of a new large scale works. Apparently, there was some kind of new paint system from Switzerland(?) that he used for these later pictures and I enjoyed walking around them as much as looking at some of the bigger and more well known works.

Earlier in the show were some of his blockbuster pictures. This is where I'm more divided in my view.

I think Turner's seascapes and pictures which incorporate something mechanical can be spectacular, with light, water, skies, haze and clever impressions of the central items. A favourite of mine is the Sol di Venezia going to sea, with the picturesque bragozzo against the backdrop of an initially almost indiscernible Venice, which appears more as you stare at the picture. There's a premonition of doom accompanying the picture too, with a warning about the dangers at sea.
Turner Sol del Veneza going to sea
Likewise seeing another favourite of mine - Rain, Steam and Speed showing Brunel's Great Western Railway with a Gooch Firefly class broad gauge locomotive crossing the Maidenhead Viaduct outbound from Paddington.
Rain, Steam, Speed
So I should probably remain quieter about some of the ones I'm less keen on. Vast canvases depicting mythical scenes, with shafts of light and billowing clouds.

Although some of these were still show-stoppers, I found less for me in this category, perhaps because there's such a number of paintings to view and undoubtedly a matter of personal taste.

Another thing that struck me was the way the lighting of the gallery and the frequent golden frames lifted the perception of the larger pieces. I've a couple of illustrative pictures in this post where I've boosted the perceptual colour. The train picture always has a yellow glow in my memory and the ship has some reds which somehow don't come through in a flat photo rendition.

Turner's pictures also had some humour, with little two or three brush stroke animals and other focal points added sometimes, to me at least, almost whimsically. I'd like to think it was Turner's little aside to the viewer of the work, alongside the majesty of the main pieces.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Hope at the Royal Court

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We were at the Royal Court to see Jack Thorne's newly penned "Hope".

It's a kind of agitprop story about the state we're in. Big cuts now and then relentlessly on into an oh-so-mortgaged future.

Before the main play, we watched another small workshop style production: the New Order - three newly scripted party political statements - entertaining and thought provoking. The Inner Child Party. The 'Career Politician' Party and the I.G.N.O.R.E Party. It illustrated part of the agenda for what was to follow in the main show.

For Hope we had a northern local authority faced with £66m of cuts to be spread over 3 years. The recovering alcoholic deputy leader had to decide whether to make a stand and we saw the consequences of his actions play out after the intervention of Whitehall spread-sheeters "Sorry I'm late, I had no idea it was so far".

Like the earlier workshop playlets, there was a "can't win" aspect to the way immediate events played out. No-one actually said 'squeeze them in the wallet', but they could have. Whatever gets saved just moves the problem to another equally needy place.

Much later, a counterpoint of 'hope' when the prior-council leader tooted a spliff, whilst the schoolboy son of the current deputy council leader articulated dreams of a better tomorrow.

Well-acted with a strong point of view, I still felt the production needed some improved directing.

In places the script could have been tidied. A few over-signposted moments slowed the dialogue. The staging in mostly a municipal hall worked, but stage direction created a laminar look, reminding me of one of those toy children's theatres with cardboard sliders for the actors to enter stage left and right.

So alongside the action, I found myself thinking this was a slightly under-worked production, which included strange but under-committed surreal moments. Stage calisthenics, random ukulele playing and an incomprehensible piano interlude. It wasn't clear (to me) what this added, because it didn't really magnify the messaging or our sympathies for the characters.

I understand the idea to make serious points without going into a 'Thick of It'/'2012' peep inside the machine. There's the topicality of half of the UK councils not positioned to meet objectives and the inevitable cuts to services.

The elder ex-council leader made good points about the demise of protest since the banking recession. Not quite 'where have all the riots gone?' but along those lines. We need more challenges than televised Russell Brand vs a heavily expensed beer drinker, but somehow the establishment manages the agenda.

Still worth seeing and providing a welcome voice of challenge, it came across to me as something of a work in progress.

A bit like trying to sort out the state we're in.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

rounded up the tree - its in the garage

Tree stashed in garage
Yes, I'm just slightly ahead of the weekend rush for trees, so there was still a good choice. The picture only shows the top part. I particularly wanted one with those surrounding mini branches at the top.

The people in front of me were buying two, and taking a long time to choose. My ex-greengrocer tree spotting skills came in handy, whilst they were fiddle-faddling around.

Our one has a serial number 00017 this year. I'll find out where it's from when I eventually unwrap it. At the moment it's in the garage, sitting in a big bucket of water.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

time for a glitchy anti-selfie #slmmsk

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Time for a few experiments as I start to think about an end of year photo video.

The last few years I've taken a few snaps from throughout the year and dropped them onto a music track.

I used to use pummelvision, which did it automatically, but that app sank without trace, so for the last couple of years it has become a manual task.

I need to export about 1,000 photos to make a 3m30 music track. In film-edit speak most individual snaps get about 6 frames (or 3 to make it move really fast).

I'll just drop them into iMovie or Final Cut when I'm ready. One year I did the whole thing with Ken Burns effect transitions, but I'm thinking it'll be straight cuts this time. It will be a good test of Lightroom 5.7, which I've now been using as my main picture store for about three months.

Before I start, I'll need to add a couple of new selfies to the mix. This time I'll probably use anti-selfies and I'm swayed to use that SLMMSK App.
Testing anti selfie
It's a slightly scary App to download, stylised to look like something from a part of the internet not recommended for normal folk.

anti-selfie app from RunetThe link to the App store is via a site with a rather ominous countdown (currently at 61 days).

The app starts up in Russian, with an occasional drift into Arabic. All part of the Glitché artwork of the originator Vladimir Shreyder who also describes SLMMSK as a cypher.

I think it as a part of Runet, the name given to the Russian-language internet, which is made of rabbits taking showers instead of the traditional internet which we all know is made of cats.

There's about 10 different effects, but I can't help thinking that the broken video tape effect I've used above can be re-assembled into the original picture with a bit of pixel sliding.

But back to the plot.

Last year I used a pop-tart selfie. I guess it will still be useful this year, although I really need to stand further back from the pop tart.
pop tart selfie 2014
And I'll dig out the old 2013 video as a reminder of just how much gets jammed into a year.

And, okay, here's a really deep dive right back to the ancient history of 2011.

And, as always, there is fun going forward.

Monday, 8 December 2014

home along the lanes of the skyline*

Battersea Power Station
Well, I just flipped over the 4,000 miles of cycling this year. Usually I'd do an extra few miles to be sure, but when I checked, the Garmin Calendar showed exactly 4,000.

And, if I'm honest, my legs were a bit creaky afterwards. I'll blame it on the colder weather rather than the surfeit of mince pies.

I'm switching from outdoor to an increase of indoor cycling on a turbo at this time of the year too. Sometimes the roads can be particularly yucky, and I'm not too keen when there's little puddles of ice around.

I have a few standard routes and some of them change continuously with the seasons too, even in an urban landscape, where there's both natural and man-made changes to the view.

Battersea Power Station is a case in point.
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The whole area is due for a make-over that has been discussed for about 30 years. Margaret Thatcher was the first politician to dig a shovel into the ground. More recently it's been Boris, who flew to Malaysia to launch the latest phase, which will include the new Malaysia Square as a centrepiece.
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My picture leaning across the window of a BA flight shows the area of ground being dug up and there will soon be a series of new developments all along this part of London, from the new Embassy Square for the replacement American Embassy all the way west to Chelsea Bridge. Even the chimneys on the power station are getting a makeover.
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* I know my title isn't quite the line from the Elton John/Bernie Taupin skyline pigeon song but it's the best I could do.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

tomorrows modern boxes arrives with suitable analogue delay

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I skittered around the radio channels this morning to avoid certain programmes that I don't like, but even BBC 6 Music was playing something so dire that I had to switch it off.

An opportune time to play the recently arrived Tom Yorke LP instead.

Nowadays I'm mainly a digital listener, viewer and reader, but I make exceptions for things I'd buy that come with some sort of artistic attempt. So for music it has to offer something more than a PS'd packshot of the band/singer and a top thirds titling stripe.

Tomorrow's modern boxes is such an artefact. I ordered it so long ago that I'd actually forgotten what it was that I was expecting. I think the download was announced and appeared in about ten seconds back in September, so there's a kind of humorous aspect to the analogue delay in getting the physical product into one's hands.

The Radioheads have long been good at referencing Target Markets and Waste, even away from their proper pop records, and this seems to fall into that category too.

White vinyl, a label without descriptions, a card inner jacket printed with the useful non-revolving information. An outer sleeve and even a dust bag. The kind of ziplock dust bag that an be used to preserve a specimen of something. I expect that is the point. I wonder how many copies get physically played rather than purely downloaded? My copy has already had a stylus through its grooves. I know there's a separate download code, which ensures there's also an easy way to get it into my digital library.

The very act of putting a stylus onto it has no doubt destroyed its resale potential as a modern collectable. I see they are already one of the most expensive vinyl albums on eBay.

But what of the content?

Squelchy and glitchy cushions for intense Thom Yorke vocals. It was somehow on the right frequency for my solitary early morning listening.

At one level it flibbles around with sequencer autopilot settings, but I think that is it's deception. If I run a sequencer and synth I can make some passable sounds, but Thom Yorke clearly trips into an altogether higher level of refinement.

Brian Eno came up with the ambient techno app that could play Eno-esque music for ever. The first one was Bloom and then Air lived on my iPhone taking a Music for Airports vibe and making it infinite. Add in Scape and Oblique Strategies and there's Eno's set of 'music like structures for modern boxes'.

I'm guessing Thom Yorke is playing around with some similar ideas between Radiohead projects. After all, it's over 20 years since Radiohead said that anyone can play guitar.


Saturday, 6 December 2014

sun in eyes, waiting for the carpenter to arrive

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I haven't completed my bike riding annual target, although Sunday is looking good. Another 30 miles to go.

Today, instead and probably unwisely, I'll be shopping whilst we have a carpenter around doing things to the stairs.

We removed the old hand rail a few years ago, and finally decided it's time to get a replacement. Kind of safety and all that. The replacement will be a mop rail.

There's a proper carpenter's joke in here. He won't make a pig's ear of it.

Someone actually said that. No, really. You had to be there.

Friday, 5 December 2014

I've finished the #ArtOfAsking and gifted it to a living statue


Today I've got a version of Kurt Weill/Bertold Brecht's Pirate Jenny running as a background soundtrack.

I've recently finished Amanda Palmer's book called 'The Art of Asking' and it has reminded me of the need for an occasional Dresden Dolls binge.

I've followed Amanda Palmer (even in a pre-twitter sense) for long enough to recognise quite a few of the stories that she uses in her recent book. It is sometimes described as self-help, but is more a sort of abbreviated and quite heartfelt autobiography, with advice and tips as well as examples of what can go wrong.

Amanda can be a bit full on (in a good way), so there's some great and inspirational sections but occasionally I'd go 'Oww, not sure about that!' And I'm sure she knows that in the way she's written it.

More than about 'the art of asking', it seems to me it's about the power of networks and connecting with people, and I think that is where it really shines.

There's sections describing her adventures as a living statue mainly around Boston Square, before she started to gig with Brian Viglione in what became the Dresden Dolls. Then the various stories of people in her life, around her home town and much further afield.

The Dresden Dolls and her later guises have travelled the world on tour, involving their fans and friends in just about every aspect of the gigs, from where to sleep, what to eat, how to get around and where to play additional ninja gigs.

There's the story of a bad record contract (actually I liked the Leeds United video just the way it was), the eventual split allowing her to become indie and her later Kickstarter project. Along the way she has relied upon the fans, building the base almost one person/connection at a time. For me it'd include seeing impromptu gigs around Camden, or seeing Amanda personally selling the CDs at the end of shows. I was there for the one-off post-Icelandic volcano dust Evelyn-(Evelyn) show too, where she linked to the other half of Evelyn-Evelyn for a duet by video link.

It's that giving/gifting as much as any asking that the book is really about. Amanda gifted flowers to passers by when being 'The Bride' in the square. One can see how she learnt and nowadays passes on how the connection made and the impressions created have persisted.

Amanda's viewpoint presents an opposite to some of today's corporations who inertia sell bad deal renewals (loyal customer? sting them when they renew). She references her old record company who didn't appear to care about the loyal 'followers' and saw everything as purely transactional. Today's UK story illustrates how far this can go, with regular suppliers to big organisations like supermarkets and food providers being expected to 'buy' their continued place on the procurement list. They call it 'Investment' although bribery and extortion spring to my mind when I see this.

Amanda's married now, to Neil Gaiman, the author. He's someone else I've sort of tracked across the years. The first book I bought of his was American Gods, which I picked up when it was new from a small cafe and bookstore in Stone Mountain, Georgia, whilst I was on some kind of road trip. It seemed to fit perfectly with my travels at the time.

I gifted my finished copy of Amanda's book to a living statue in London. He looked surprised, but it somehow seemed like the right thing to do.