Thursday, 26 February 2015

How to hold your breath @royalcourt @acgrayling @ZinnieH @maxinepeakenews

A little group of us met at the Royal Court to see How to Hold Your Breath, written by Zinnie Harris and with Maxine Peake in the lead role.

Before the play, we attended the related Big Idea talk, 'How to find the Good' presented by Oxford teacher of Philosophy A.C. (Anthony) Grayling. He defined ethics and morals using classical stories to espouse ways to answer the Socratic question of how should one live one's 1000 months well. Grayling promotes humanism, whilst drawing in this talk mainly upon the gods and philosophers of Greece to illustrate his points.

I like his ideas around secularly finding one's own path although there needs to be a basic supportive context in which to achieve this. He talks of resisting habits which simply consume living without creating high points and of the need to spend the most productive 250 months well. In 45 minutes he was able to open many lines of thinking. A spike to add to my life collection. If we all light up we can scare away the dark.

And then, after pause for refreshment and chatter, I took up a front row balcony seat as the devil had a one night stand with Dana the customer relations expert. Now the devil doesn't like being in debt, but his attempts to pay Dana were rebuffed and led to a ratcheting spiral of descent for Dana in what became an increasingly fractured Europe.

This devil has a Mephistophelian scar across his chest where his soul has been removed. Unlike in Faust, we see Dana apparently having an upper hand because of the debt. In Goethe, Faust is trying to find the essence of life (ahah, an AC Grayling connection) and Mephistopheles manipulates the world to help him see it. In this we see equivalent manipulations as the devil attempts to extract the 45 Euro debt repayment from Dana.

And this devil plays hardball. After low-key initial attempts, he just keeps increasing the pressure. We see the ruin of economic Europe, personal tragedy and horror as the play unfolds.

There's some set-piece staging too, with interventions from a difficult librarian who mainly seems to stock 'how to' guides. There's also a Greek chorus of interviewers for what could be Dana's next job.

Maxine Peake's performance is extremely strong, and the immediate accompanying cast of her sister(Christine Bottomley), the devil(Michael Shaeffer) and librarian(Peter Forbes) all play well. Other characters are less developed and are there chiefly as instruments of the production. In a play that mixes together a wide range of plot-lines, Zinnie Harris creates many themes to deal with in the 2 hour continuous run-time.

When we chatted again afterwards, I said I was really pleased to have seen this - which has been written with quite some ambition. It wasn't what I was expecting, and because of the many different strands, we could take away different elements from the production's ideas. Like Grayling suggested, it's important to have the right personal character to take away the right action from a situation.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

chilli and the art of proportion

Yet more potentially dodgy dealings revealed from various politicians over the last couple of days. We were talking about some of it in the Cluny a few days ago, over bowls of chilli and maybe a pint or two of Ouseburn Porter.

The current largely two party system evolved back in the 1885s and was supposed to ensure that stuff got done. A multi-way split was considered to be something that could slow down legislation and progress.

Perhaps in a different way than that of the time wasters like Philip Davies, MP for Shipley with landlord interests who stopped the revenge eviction bill, Christopher Chope, MP for Christchurch who delayed the Turing pardon and the floccinaucinihilipilificate Jacob Reeesss-Moggg, who proudly 'talks out' Bills not for, but against, Britain. It'd be interesting to know how many of the electorate actually know what some of those folk get up to?

The First Past The Post FPTP system ensures that, with the right political boundaries, only the Conservatives and the old Labour Party can statistically ever be the main options at an election.

I've taken a the most recent data I could find from election and produced a quick comparison table. It's too early to get a full prediction, but not too soon to show the different leverage of voting percentages across the main parties.

Both Conservatives and Labour get around 8.4 to 8.7 seats per percentage point of the vote. The SNPs get an amazing 11.8 seats per percentage point. That's probably a Conservative strategy to help reduce Labour probabilities, too. Everyone else gets between 3.6 seats and as low as less than 1 seat per percentage point.

We can look at how this plays out.

I've taken a mid-range result, with generally balanced Conservative and Labour outcomes, neither of which is enough to hold a majority. The other three bundles of parties SNP, Lib-Dem and 'Others' are enough to control the votes.

We'd have a kind of quasi-Belgian situation. Their hung parliament lasted leaderless for 535 days, despite students stripping to their underwear and handing out free chips, giant lions and roosters snogging in the street and a national Belgian shaving strike.

For the UK it could mean that the SNP (Scottish) vote controls the balance of power and could tilt the results even on matters only affecting England and Wales, a curious outcome after the Scottish Referendum.

Just for entertainment, I thought I'd recut the graph to illustrate Proportional Representation.

I've simply allocated the seats on a more or less balanced format, which is representative of the way the electorate has chosen to vote.

Many comfortably appointed MPs wouldn't stand for this, of course. Curiously, using the raw stats from my tables, the two main parties lose a huge number of seats and the other five parties combined would hold the majority. They'd never all vote together, of course and it would make getting anything done quite a challenge. Maybe that's the point of the Victorian model and Duverger's law.

It probably means that we'll still get one of two bad choices, perhaps without the surrealism of Belgium. Something to put in the pipe, I suppose.

Monday, 23 February 2015

time to catch up with the live Eastenders action

Adam...Whose line is it?

I don't normally watch Eastenders, but was around whilst a catchup version of the live week was being watched, back here at rashbre central.

The normal game during the unremittingly bad times of Eastenders is to spot how many scenes use expressive eyes instead of dialogue to convey meaning. Sometimes it can be a whole row of scenes and camera angles.

The setup needed to be different for the live shows. For a start they had a big jib crane camera, so they could show the distant Canary Wharf in some of the wide angle shots. Later, in case you missed it, they used a burger joint parked on some wasteland across from the Dome, just to be sure that the viewers spotted the soon to be Qatari owned skyscraper complex (although I didn't notice the HSBC logo).

But, you see, I am getting distracted from the storylines. Because I don't really watch the series, I was under strict instructions to refrain from out loud comments about the to-ings and fro-ings of the most dangerous square in Britain. No wonder it hasn't seen gentrification price rises and rows of parked Porsches and left-hand-drive European cars, no one would dare to live there.

It was sensible, if predictable, to underpin the main narrative with a wedding. The live camerawork could be used during these type of crowd scenes and some over-panning and excess zooming wouldn't look too out of place. It also gave the characters a chance to dress up, which meant that the live scenes inside the Beale household could be filmed in the style of an am-dram play, albeit with slightly more camera angles.

And hats off to Adam Woodyatt, who played the Ian Beale character and acted as a sort of engine to keep the plot driving forward. Sometimes other actors would be woodenly stuck in best Crossroads/Acorn Antiques moments, but Ian Beale kept things on track. I'm still not clear why he looked so drenched wet throughout the show though?

Also fascinating to see that even with all the cameras, there were still bits of the live action with blocked angles and the challenges of filming live, but in ways that you'd not normally see in the crafting of modern soaps. That was until the episodes clicked across to a pre-recorded insert, of which there seemed to be several. Each time the framing would go solid, the actors wouldn't look nervous and I assume behind the scenes the live actors were running around the set.

I'll confess I didn't watch all of it and missed what I presume was the actual wedding, when I gather that Barbara Windsor turned up? If truth be told, there were a few other characters that had re-appeared after sometimes lengthy or even deadly exits, but this was lost on me as a casual viewer. I had to be told that 'Kathy', sighted at the burger bar, was missing presumed dead, but apparently she is now returning.

For regular viewers this would all be great telly, with a proper knees up both inside the Vic and also in the Square. Regular viewers would also say that there's never been a happy wedding in Eastenders and this was no exception, what with a new dead body, a Exorcist-like child killer and even another semi-dead body that has now gone missing. Did one of the ruffians make mincemeat from the one left in a pool of petrol in the bottom of the pub cellar? I doubt it; the arsonist was one of the dancing celebrities from Strictly.

I must admit to a 'things to do in Denver when you're dead' thought when they needed to get rid of the first inconvenient new body and did say out loud 'they need an undertaker' when, amazingly, it turned out that there was actually one having a pint in the Vic! Talk about lucky.

The pan-shots across to Docklands also raised another interesting point. We had Dot doing a Dixon of Dock Green style voiceover part way through across the deserted Square, which usually marks the outer bounds of the show. But not so for the flashback episode. I'd expected the flashback to have been an optional episode, like those More4 programmes, but this was a key component of the denouement. Not only that, it wasn't live - it was on location. A proper location episode with real buses and everything! I don't watch enough of the regular show to know how often they use location scenes, but it immediately added some realism to the proceedings. As an experiment in episode types, I'd pick location over live, even if some of it is just a B-reel team getting some footage. That's what the Americans do, with soaps using short location inserts to add grounding.

But I suppose it's all written into the Eastenders Charter or something. That characters are only allowed to go wild if they move to Australia, Cardiff, Canada or an alleged crime-intensive resort.

I probably won't be watching what happens next, but I can say that I did get some genuine laugh out loud moments from the shows, which is probably a first. Corry is still the show with a sense of humour.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Choirplay and Breakfast Hearts @livetheatre

Along to see a couple of excellent and thought-provoking plays at Live Theatre this week. Written by Robin French and directed by Melanie Rashbrooke.

Choirplay presents a wry dig at consumerism. Society’s individuals were blended to become a chorus of voices as they searched for fulfilment of true happiness.

It's a cleverly arranged piece, which has a sort of flat pack format, where the words and sequencing can be re-arranged to suit the situation.

Indeed, as audience, we were asked to fill in little forms with those stubby pencils, like the type you get in a furniture warehouse, to add our own modest component to the production.
An ensemble cast of Steven Blackshaw, Glen Collier, Jessica Dawson, Amy Foley, Chris Foley, Zoe Hakin, Stan Hodgson,Katie Powell and Alex Tahnée riffed from one another. Parts were in unison, others individual and some of the phrasing sliced into individual words spoken around the group.

Despite this unusual delivery, it was clear to understand whilst packing many consumerism and lifestyle related ideas into a short duration. Some of the thoughts take longer to process than the play's speedy pace. I'm still musing some of it 24 hours later, but I guess that is a good thing.
I'll happily see this again, and thoroughly enjoyed the liveliness brought to the piece by the cast.
Breakfast Hearts was an altogether different kind of play, using a stark minimal set and a kind of hyper-reality to describe a series of situations.

There were some ideas across from the first play that slid quietly into the second one, but this only added to the fun of what was a very dark comedy exploration of human nature.

Reminding me of that Beautiful South track, two couples slice across one another in a dark and offbeat comedic exploration of the need to be loved.

The casting for this was a subset of the earlier cast comprising Alex Tahnée, Stan Hodgson, Katie Powell, Steven Blackshaw, Chris Foley and Amy Foley.

The four main characters pinpointed recognisable human conditions, deploying whacky situations to illustrate varied life moments. Even the amateur magic was a metaphor and took the interactions to whole other places. There were many bursts of laughter and recognition from the audience as erstwhile domestic situations played out.
Notable also was the gusto of the cast as they handled both parts of the evening. There was a sheer energy to both the shows which Live Theatre should be pleased to be cultivating with this type of new production with its different edge and ascending talents.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

life coaching for free range humans

Life coaching for free range humans
Walking along the quayside today, I spotted what looked like two large cardboard boxes walking along the other side of the road.

They recognised me, and asked if I'd help with the accompanying flat pack chairs, on their way to the Broad Chare.

Once inside the venue, I could see the enormity of the task ahead, requiring extensive home assembly furniture knowledge as well as an understanding of glitter and twinkly lights.
Yes, it was the get-in for the first performance of Choirplay and Breakfast Hearts, at Live.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

most of the day in the car won't be good for my step count

Back to the North again today. Google is hedging its best and estimating between 5h20 and 6h34 for the journey. I'll go with the slower time as my own estimate.

For those in this week's fitbit challenge, I think I'll be losing a day's step count over this, nosediving from second place to somewhere in the lower part of the pack.

At least my destination is hilly, so maybe I'll make up with some climbs.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

in which we we star spot at the what's on theatre awards

Entertaining to see Tom Hiddleston, Josie Rourke and David Tennant amongst the stars out on Sunday evening.

Yes, a quick wander along some comically densely surrounded red carpet to the What's On Theatre Awards at the Prince Charles Theatre, which was taking a night off from Book of Mormon.

The awards were hosted in suitably raucous, irreverent and sometimes chaotic style by Mel Giedroyc (of Mel and Sue and that cake show on telly) and Steve Furst (Made in Dagenham).

Miss Saigon claimed a huge stash of awards - including Best West End Revival. Actually Cameron Macintosh didn't do so badly in person, with a couple of awards to collect on stage.

Other shows claiming awards included A Streetcar named Desire, Great Britain, Memphis, Oliver, Wicked, Sweeney Todd and to show that Shakespeare is alive and well Coriolanus, Richard II and Shakespeare in Love.

Most were present to claim their awards but Billy Piper as the phone hacking editor from Great Britain had a dialled-in iPhone acceptance in full snapchatty wobblecam.

And some said that David Tennant's hair extensions from Richard II should have won their own award.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

i spend ten minutes fixing a new timer to the dualit toaster

Thrills as the new bit for the toaster arrives. Ordered one day, arrived the next.

Our Dualit toaster makes lovely toast. Except that after about twelve years the little clockwork timer dial stopped working reliably. I've just received and fitted the new one, which cost about £15 and took about ten minutes to swap over.

I idly looked in the local supermarket a couple of days ago when I passed the toasters aisle, and I noticed that there were new toasters crazily on special offer for £4.50. I picked one up and noticed that the thin metal prongs to hold the bread were already bent out of shape.

But that's the dilemma. I can have my 'Crafted in Britain' toaster self-service repaired for £15, or buy another boat-ballast 'Made in China' toaster for a fiver.

I'm still much happier with the shiny Dualit which, despite its recent glitch, again makes fresh toast with just the right amount of crunch and feels like something built to last.
a bit of a toaster

Friday, 13 February 2015

silkily locking a few secrets away

The wheels on the bus go round and round and people still stay that London buses come along in twos and threes. I'm less convinced of that last point, with the 137s and 452s coming along at nicely spaced frequent intervals.

I'll settle for some of the current political scandals coming along in twos and threes though. Not that it will be easy to work any of it out. Now that Prime Minister's Question time has become Prime Minister's Evasion time, or even Prime Minister's Distract and Blame The Others time, its almost impossible to get a straight answer in anything.

The current interest could be in the various Grey Enterprise Holdings and their off-shore frolics as they find ways to save tax and aim political donations towards gaining influence, power and honour.

Why is it in twos and threes? We see Conservative and Labour caught up amongst the donors. We see knowledge of the events from around 2005 (Labour) and then repeated in 2010 (Conservatives and Lib-Dem).

But in case this all seems to be about Switzerland as a tax haven, let's not forget the other locations like the Cayman Islands. Is it too old school of me to mention Luxembourg? That's another two or three. If I decided to go with just British options I suppose I'd have to resort to Cayman, Jersey, Bermuda, Guernsey, British Virgin Islands, Isle of Man, Gibraltar and maybe Anguilla. That's their order in the Financial Secrecy Index, last updated in 2013. In fairness, only 5 of them are in the FSI Top Twenty and the UK itself comes in at number 21.

But that all leads in to another set of twos and threes. This is the banks themselves. The current focus is on HSBC, which was the one mentioned in the recent Swiss leakage of information.

So let's pick one of the other places on the list and have a quick look. Cayman Islands sounds very John Grisham novel. The sort of place that Christian Grey might take Anastasia to on a private jet for some privacy.

Hmm. Barclays have reduced their number of subsidiaries in the Caymans. From 181 to 134. Only 134 subsidiaries on that island with a population of 57,000? But wait. A couple of the part Government-owned banks have some interests too. RBS has around 37 companies in the Caymans and Lloyds Bank around 24.

Presumably there's more than two or three Grey Enterprise Holdings style organisations and Christian Grey type people around to need that kind of support?

Okay, so Christian is completely fictional. The Prime Minister appears to blend both fact and fiction.

His own family have dabbled in creative tax management too. Blairmore Holdings Inc was set up by his father, and then another fund based in Jersey and a third in Geneva. David was still at Eton when Blairmore Holdings was started.

The Blairmore Prospectus makes interesting reading: "The affairs of the fund should be managed and conducted so that it does not become resident in the United Kingdom for UK taxation purposes."

Blairmore's original registration is in Panama, its principle trading office shows in the Bahama, yet the Smith and Williamson Investment Manager is in Moorgate and the Simmons and Simmons Legal Advisors in Ropemaker Street, both London, EC2.

I suppose the respectable London connections made it convenient for British investors to get signed up. Blairmore's opaque structure also makes it difficult to see where the money has gone.

So let's summarise:
  • Donors to both the biggest parties can be implicated in off-shore tax matters.
  • Other banks than HSBC (including those part-owned by the UK Government) appear to operate tax avoidance processes.
  • The UK itself has various related sovereign states with tax avoidance operations.
  • The Prime Minister's statements could appear to blend fact and some less factual points during an increasingly distracted and more Punch and Judy based question time.
  • Blairmore and its related implications may be worth some clarification?
I realise I've spent more than my usual 10 minutes writing this post. Longer than I'd normally wait for a bus of whatever colour.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

uno mijo nacho hero jello

Saul Goodman's prescience regarding his future after Breaking Bad was baked into the opening of Better Call Saul. So much so that I genuinely thought I had selected the wrong show or that Netflix was having a meltdown.

Okay, about a minute later I worked it out, and was then pleasantly surprised to see that the series won't just play for laughs, as some had originally predicted.

The show is set six years prior to Breaking Bad, and notwithstanding the Nebraska monochrome, it is still splashed in the supersaturated colours of Albuquerque.

I'm waiting for Episode Three now and actually relieved that they are giving the plot and characters a time to develop rather than rushing straight into 45 minute episodic bursts. There's already a slew of hooks and unanswered questions developing, so I'm expecting this to be a good series.

And my own self-preservation rule about Cinnabon is to only eat them in America, despite the high-calorie tourist venue in the Trocadero.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Shaun the sheep visits the Big City

Ever since I saw the Shaun the Sheep 'switch off your mobiles' trailer in the cinema, I've had it on my list to see the movie.

It's crazy capers as Shaun and accomplices visit the Big City looking for their missing farmer. There's so much detail packed into every scene, I'm sure I could watch it another couple of times to try to pick up on other jokes.

Sheep don't speak English (although some of them can understand the written word) so the film doesn't really have human dialogue. Even the doctors speak in bad handwriting.

There's also a recognisable Britain in the town scenes, with shopping centres of closed dry cleaners and charity shops, busy elevated road sections and realistic looking bus stations. I slightly found myself thinking "Ooh, is that the bus station at Chichester and is that the hospital in Southampton?"

Of course not. It's all plasticine and models. In some scenes you can even see the fingerprints.

But its crafted with a real heart and some delightful story telling.

A lovely movie and not just for kids.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

better call Albuquerque?

Excitement today as the first couple of episodes of Better Call Saul landed in my in-tray.

I see there's even roadside bill-boards for the prior Jimmy McGill version of 'Saul'.

Time to re-immerse in the baked lands around Albuquerque.