Friday, August 28, 2009


One of my birthday presents was a book about the Titanic, which some of you may know is one of my obsessions. For those of you who are interested, the book (The Sinking of the Titanic: The Mystery Solved by LM Collins) is written by someone familiar with sailing in ice infested waters and calls into question some of the accepted facts of the Titanic’s story. It is worth reading although it can be a bit dry and it definitely isn’t one of the many conspiracy theories currently on the market.

This post isn’t about the Titanic, however. I’m only going to make a small observation about the migration of words and how it happens in only a short time. It has been less than 100 years since the Titanic sank but in that time the word “log” has changed in its meaning quite significantly.

One of the testimonies of the survivors mentioned the ship’s log, which I thought meant, as probably did you, something like a large diary detailing significant events on the ship. We use the word now to mean exactly that. This blog, or webLOG, is little more than an electronic diary on the web.

The log referred to by the Titanic survivor is actually a device for measuring the speed of the ship through water. Not the record of the speed but the way in which it was measured.

Isn’t that amazing? In 98 years the meaning of a word has transferred from a device to the recordings of the device to a general record of any sort. Captain’s log, weblog, logbook, error log.

I vaguely remember that the reason the device is known as a log is because it actually used to be a real log – a bit of a tree – that was trailed behind a sailing vessel and used in some way to measure the speed of a ship.

Imagine that!

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Buxton G&S Festival 2009 

I have just spent a week at the 16th International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Buxton. I loved it.

I won’t review the shows here. I saw too many and have left too long a gap since I saw them before writing this to do any of them justice. I will mention one or two in passing among my general impressions of the week. Besides other people have written some excellent reviews that can be found easily on the web. Just look.

Another note before I dive into this … although I have seen quite a few G&S productions in the last decade, I still consider myself very much a G&S neophyte. I can’t sing and I believe I am almost musically dyslexic, which combined with my almost paralysing self-consciousness in front of any crowds larger than six people means that I could never take part in any amateur G&S production. I content myself with watching the shows and enjoying them but that’s about it. As a consequence, I don’t know the shows in as much detail as many of the fans. Most of them appear to have taken part in at least one G&S show in their lifetime and therefore know everything.

Anyway, back to the festival …

The shows were consistently excellent with every cast demonstrating energy, talent and, very importantly for me, excellent diction. Being able to hear the words makes a huge difference and turns a confusing mass of music and costumes into a real story.

My favourites during the week have to include the Opera della Luna productions of The Sorcerer and Parson’s Pirates and, of course, this year’s show from Festival Productions Ireland, The Gondoliers.

Festival Productions are always outstanding and have won awards galore in Buxton ever since they first took part in the festival three years ago with their version of The Mikado. This year was no different and Gondoliers was to the same very high standard with an exceedingly enthusiastic chorus and marvellous principals. It was another multiple award winning performance.

Parson’s Pirates is not, strictly speaking, G&S. It is essentially a play about the casting session for a production of Pirates of Penzance in the first half and a truncated Pirates in the second half. Like all Luna productions, however, it has a very small cast with lots of doubling of roles, giving ample opportunity for humour. It also has a non-existent fourth wall with the audience apparently attending as if they were auditioning for the production’s chorus. We had to sing along with the Mikado song “Tit willow” – half the audience had to sing “willow” and the other half “tit” prompted by some very dubious looking characters. There is something delightfully silly about having to repeatedly shout “tit!” in an opera house.

The Sorcerer brings me to the subject of the fans. I have previously mentioned how G&S fans are very similar to science fiction fans. I am one of the tiny minority of people who have been to SF conventions and the G&S festival and I can tell you that there is very little difference between the core fan groups.

The demographic of the average G&S fan is, however, a little bit older and much more conservative with a tendency towards scandalised conversations at breakfast. The hardcore older fan knows what he or she likes and it isn’t change.

Last year there was a production of Ruddigore that transferred the action to a village cricket match. I have seen a few versions of Ruddigore and thought that this one was very innovative, funny and rather well done. You should, however, have heard the gasps of horror at the hotel the following morning. It had not been done the Traditional Way, the Right Way. All that had changed, however, was the set and some of the words both in the dialogue and some of the songs. I’m not sure how that is wrong, to be honest, as there is a well-established tradition of contemporising some of the songs. The Little List song in The Mikado, for instance, is always “adjusted” to pet hates of the day such as people talking too loudly on their phones or MP’s expenses fiascos.

This year’s Sorcerer provoked a similar reaction. It was set in the 1960s rather than the nineteenth century. The set, the costumes and some of the dialogue had changed to reflect the times but not very much. There were two other changes which I will have to explain after describing some of the normal plot.

The regular version of Sorcerer concerns the desire of a couple deeply in love to have their entire village share in their joy. To this end they enlist the help of a local sorcerer, John Wellington Wells, to provide them with a love philtre which they administer to the village in cups of tea. At this point the entire village falls asleep, the curtain falls and we shun the overpriced ice cream in the foyer.

Act two opens with the villagers waking and they fall in love with the first person they see who has also drunk some of the love potion. There are some very odd pairings but the experience is viewed by the young couple as a huge success – so much so that the young woman wants to take the potion at the same time as her young swain so that they can remain in love forever. He’s not so keen on that but she takes the potion anyway and falls in love with the vicar. The mess is eventually sorted out and people pair up with the ones they are “meant” to be with.

The Luna production had two relatively minor yet radical changes. Oddly only one caused tongues to wag.

The first was that the reaction to the potion caused its victims to be a bit spaced out before they fell asleep. They looked happily drunk to me but the opinion of the blue-rinse fans was negative: “oh – it was all about drugs!” What utter rubbish! One scene with a euphoric reaction to a love potion and apparently the whole village is on heroin. I don’t think so.

The second change was that it was the man who wanted to take the potion to make the couple’s love permanent and it is he who falls in love with the male vicar. Amazingly, I heard no tongues wagging about that. I like to think that it’s because the world has moved on and no-one finds same-sex love that difficult but it’s more likely that the nay-sayers were so scandalised by that they couldn’t even speak about it or that they viewed it so terribly wrong that it didn’t even need articulating. Or maybe they held their tongues about that one when talking to a gay couple.

One final point and it isn’t about the fans or the shows but about manners. During one of the performances a woman and her husband saw fit to chatter all the way through. No amount of shushing or glaring (from myself, David and the man sitting between me and the woman’s husband all at once) stopped them. Nor did the presence of the usherette in the next seat. They just chattered away without a thought.

I gather that we Brits are unusual in our dislike of this sort of thing. Other countries don’t seem to mind people talking (or worse) throughout performances. I don’t think we are wrong in this. If I pay to see a show, then it’s the show I want to see and hear and not some stupid woman with verbal diarrhoea blabbering away as if she were sitting at home watching some mindless sitcom. Also, to my mind, the people on the stage have put in a great deal of effort and it is only fair to give them our full attention.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Georgia Nicolson 

Who is Georgia Nicolson?

Georgia is the heroine in a series of books by Louise Rennison, The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson. I have written about them before on this blog but, in short, Georgia is a teenaged girl suffering all of the usual stuff that girls of that age suffer. Boys, parents, make-up, dubious little sisters and over-seed cats. The usual.

The series is incredibly funny and at times rather touching. Georgia often comes across as a rather arrogant girl who knows it all but, in reality, we know she doesn’t and, more importantly, so does she. She also loves her family dearly, especially her little sister, her ferocious cat, and her parents although she would never admit it. She also has a hidden heart of gold and ends up, almost secretly, doing the right thing.

Rennison has, through Georgia and her supporting characters, a remarkable talent for inventing new words and phrases: poo-parlour division, nippy noodles, basoomas and nunga-nungas to name but a few. There’s the snogging scale and the having a hump scale (no, not that sort of hump, you dirty mixes!).

David buys me the latest book in the series for my birthday each year. As yesterday was my birthday I now have the tenth in the series, ‘Are these my basoomas I see before me?’

Unfortunately, it is also the last.

I am almost reluctant to read the book although I know that when I start I will read it obsessively and finish the thing within a day. Will Rennison end it on a high?

Will Georgia see the light and drop Massimo the luuuurve god, forget about Robbie the sex god and finally realise that she belongs with Dave the Laugh?


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Friday, August 07, 2009

Can I borrow your pen? 

Last night on the train home, I was trying as ever to complete the Soduko puzzle in the London Lite. I gave up, put my pen away and fished out my iPod to play a game or two of patience.

Then I noticed the guy across the aisle was trying to get my attention.

“Can I borrow your pen?” he asked. He was clutching a mobile phone and a newspaper. I assumed he needed a pen to write down a phone number or something like that.

“Sure,” I answered and passed it over. It’s not a greatly valuable pen - I bought it as part of a pack of 10 I found in a shop in Kowloon – but I like it. It’s small enough to fit in my trouser pocket without stabbing me when I sit down.

The guy took the pen and then started to work on a WordSearch puzzle in the paper.

I was a bit perturbed by this. Should I say something at this blatant cheek?

I did the British thing and kept quiet although I did leave one of my headphones out of my ear. Quite what good that would do, I don’t know. Perhaps I was worried he would start eating my pen or make a quick get-away at the next station.

All was resolved when he found the WordSearch as difficult as my Soduko and gave my pen back a few minutes later.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009


At the end of April I made a complaint to ING Direct about not being able to close an account. I wrote a letter of complaint that sounds frothing-at-the-mouth mad as I read it now but it got the facts across. I perhaps shouldn’t have used so many capitals but I was excessively angry.

Basically what happened was that I had an account that had a notice period but when I rang to give notice to close the account I was told to call back the next day. I did and I was told that it was all sorted out. A month later the money was still in the account and when I called to ask why I ended up speaking to some patronising woman who told me I should have given notice and that I would have to wait six months for the next exit window before I could get my money out.

So I wrote my letter. I didn’t expect anything to happen. I just wanted to vent my anger. However, every so often I would get a letter back from ING to say that they were looking into my complaint. I thought nothing of that. Form letter, I thought.

Then on Friday, I got another letter from them to say that they thought my complaint was quite just and were closing the account now (two months before the next exit window) and giving me my money and £30.

I just checked the account online and they have done as they said. The money is out of the impossible to touch account and in my regular savings account.

I did say in my complaint that I was going to close the savings account as I was so unhappy with their service but now I’m not so sure.

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