20 October 2014

Catching up on Original Sin and other Marvels

The long train journey from London to Barcelona, via Paris, was an excellent opportunity for me to dig some inroads into my comics backlog, and that was an opportunity that I took full advantage of.

I had around fifty comics on my iPad, possibly more,and I leapt in to them devouring titles like Trees, Uncanny X-Men, All-New X-Men and Daredevil. These were mostly Marvel comics because they do the buy the paper copy and get the digital one for free deal which, for a reader who also collects, is the ideal combination. The other titles, like Trees, were from Image comics and these I have only digital copies of.

One series that I read in its entirety was Original Sin, an eight part story from Marvel about the murder of The Watcher.

The writer was Jason Aaron who I knew from his involvement in titles like X-Men: Schism and Avengers vs X-Men. It was a functional script if lacking in surprises and it also included a few impossible machines like Nick Fury's flying car that could travel to the Moon in 5 minutes and the Black Panther's vehicle than could both drill to the centre of the Earth and fly in to space. Not even Thunderbirds could do all that in one machine. That silliness apart it was a very readable story.

What raised the standard was Mike Deodato's exceptional artwork.

I had also come across Mike's work before, notably on The New Avengers, but this time is blew me away. Photo-realism is one of his things these days and that shows here, especially in the Moonscape. What this double-page spread also shows is his ability to construct a page in exciting ways.

Original Sin was never going to set the comics world alight but it managed to do far more than a standard superhero comic does and that was enough to keep me gripped through all eight issues.

19 October 2014

Lovely Love Story at the Union Theatre

I certainly had more important things to do on the Sunday afternoon but none better.

With an early start to my holiday the next day, and things to clear before doing so, there was plenty to do at home but I had enjoyed the first part of the Howard Goodall Season at the Union Theatre, the dreaming, so much that I was determined to see the second part and this was the only performance that I could get to. So I went.

The Union Theatre has the advantage for me of being a short brisk walk away from Waterloo and so I could get there and back fairly quickly to minimise the time lost to important chores. I had to make some allowance for the Sunday timetable and possible delays but in the end I got there just after 2pm. I though that was early but I was given ticket number 25 so quite a few people had tried harder then me to get one of the best seats.

I used the spare half hour wisely by supping a Becks.

The Union Theatre loads people in groups of ten so I was in the third group. I was first in of that group and that won me a front row seat in one corner of the stage. That was plenty good enough.

I know that I had not seen the film and am I pretty certain that I did not read the book either but some of the plot had seeped through to my consciousness, something to do with ice hockey,  death and love means never having to say you're sorry. That relative ignorance was bliss and I was able to sit down and let the story take me wherever it wanted to go.

Howard Goodall had taken a fairly standard approach to the music with an opening song for the whole cast that was echoed at the end and with plenty of pretty catchy tunes in the middle some of which were also repeated to help them to stick in the memory.

It worked, as it had at the dreaming, and I caught several people humming tunes at the break and at the end.

The story impressed me less. The man was rather unpleasant toward both his family and his girlfriend/wife. I was hoping that it was him who died so I was even sadder at the ending when it wasn't.

The production was neatly unobtrusive. It used props sparingly and these were sometimes swapped in one corner of the stage while the action happened in another. That helped the story to flow which it needed to do.

This was a simple love story with only two parties so the musical relied a lot on their skills and they were both good. Perhaps it was because I cared for her more but the woman, Victoria Serra, was the heart and soul of the show for me. The couple were supported by a small and very able cast that sang beautifully and acted tenderly.

Love Story was never going to be my sort of story, even less so when the wrong one of them died, but the music and the singing more than made up for the plot and I left very happy and vindicated in my decision to sacrifice a busy afternoon to see it.

16 October 2014

Trimmed but neat Three Sisters at the White Bear Theatre

This was my first visit to the White Bear Theatre in Kennington and my third time of seeing Three Sisters in the last two years. So I knew what to expect in some areas and had some surprises in others.

White Bear Theatre was conveniently close to Kennington Station in a part of London that I had bussed through several times but had never visited before. I found it a strange place and the best evidence for that was that the best option that I had for pre-theatre food was a prepacked sandwich from Costcutter (another first for me) which I ate on a dark bench in Kennington Park.

The pub was nice enough but it did not do food. It did do a nice pint of Young's Ordinary at the ridiculously low price of £3.05, I was paying £3.60 in Kingston the night before and thought that was reasonable. I celebrated by having a few through the evening, helped by the theatre's policy of allowing drinks in.

The theatre was "L" shaped with two rows of seats in the "L" and the stage in the rectangle formed by those two side. I was prompt enough to get a seat towards the middle of the front-row of the long side. I did not count the seats but I guess that there were around forty and they all looked to be taken.

At £14 the ticket price was ridiculously low too.

The first things I noticed was that we were in a British territory and not a Russian one and that we were in current times not the 19th century. This was the same transposition that the Southwark Theatre had gone for.

The biggest change took a while to dawn on me, this version was abridged. The story rattled along faster than I was used to and some characters were missing, notably the family maid who linked the two generations in the original story.

That was not a problem, I just tried to forget that this was Chekhov's Three Sisters and just watched the play on its own merits. And it had lots of merits.

Despite the cuts, many of the original themes remained with the three sisters and their brother going through some ups and downs, mostly downs, as they were buffeted by events mostly beyond their control.

The acting was much better than it has any right to be in a venue this small and that was a big factor in making the story engaging and believable. It was quite a large cast too as even cut to the core Three Sisters has nine significant roles. They all did well and the two that most caught my attention most were Annemarie Highmore as Emily/Masha and Nigel Fyfe as her older married lover Alexander.

As with the original, this Three Sisters ended with all three of them confronting significant set-backs (if you can call a death and a departure merely set-backs) and resolving to face the future positively. It's almost a happy ending.

This production of Three Sisters wrung all the emotion from the main themes in the original to make a dramatic and intense drama that thrilled a very happy audience of seasoned theatre goers.

BBC Bias: Saying something important has happened when it hasn't

Pretending the something important has happened is the most obvious and common way that the BBC shows its pro-Tory bias. There were two very good examples of it today.

In the morning a sacked minor minister Owen Paterson called for Climate Change targets to be dropped and, despite being a nobody with no influence, managed to get plenty of time on the BBC to put his point of view. Liam Fox is another ex-Minister (and do not forget why he had to become an ex) who only has to speak to have the doors to the BBC open for him.

But the story that I wanted to give as an example was David Cameron doing nothing about immigration.

All that happened was he said that something needed to be done about immigration, which he had said many times before, but the mere fact the he said it was enough for the BBC to give it top-billing on their News page. This gives the false impression that something is being done and that Cameron is doing it.

The Conservatives would love to be able to buy publicity like this, and perhaps they are.

15 October 2014

BBC Bias: It is how you present the story

One of the most obvious ways that the BBC shows its pro-Tory bias is the way that it presents stories and so, effectively, defines what the story is.

There are many example is this, here's one from today.

The real story here is that Tory Minister Lord Freud suggested people with disabilities could be paid less than the minimum wage as they were "not worth the full wage".

That is a damning insight to the private thinking of a prominent Conservative.

But, by presenting the story as his apology the BBC manages to make the villain of the peace something of a hero and hides the crime for which he has had to apologise for.

14 October 2014

BBC Bias: It's the words that they use

The way that the BBC most clearly shows their pro-Tory bias is in their choice of words.

For example, the Bedroom Tax is now the "so-called Bedroom Tax" simply because the Government did not want it called that. Normally it is common usage that defines what words mean and what things are called, and everybody except most (not all) Conservative politicians call the Bedroom Tax the Bedroom Tax.

Often the words that the BBC chooses to use are taken directly from the Tory press release and so immediately reinforce the Tory viewpoint, such as in this case today.

By choosing to echo the Tories' word "freedom" the BBC is already telling us that this is a good thing.

But freedom is not always good. The banks were given too much freedom, also known as "light-touch regulation", and that plunged the world in to a deep recession.

And there are very good reasons why people were not given the "freedom" to take their pensions early before. Put simply, this was to make sure that people had the money to look after themselves in their old age rather than having to call on the State to do so.

It does not matter which side of this argument you are on, the point is by describing it as an issue of "freedom" the BBC has already decided that it is a good thing and so implied that there is no argument here to be had. The simple word "changes" would have been more accurate.

13 October 2014

Kingston upon Thames Society Committee: October 2014

October's Kingston upon Thames Society Committee Meeting started to address the wave of significant planning applications that we knew were coming.

As always, these are my personal notes of the meeting, they do not cover everything that we discussed, I've reordered the items, I've added some additional comments, and they are my views (and errors), not the Committee's.

Student Accommodation

The very brief summary of the Society's meeting with the University was that they were unable to provide accommodation for their students and they had to rely on the private suppliers to do this but they are not generally happy with what is being proposed. They have objected to some schemes, such as that in the High Street, on the grounds of their unsuitability.

We accepted the need for student accommodation, and welcomed the freeing up of former family homes that could happen as a result, but had concerns about some of the locations and the quality of some of the proposals.

With the University playing no role in the location, size and number of student blocks this was left to RBK to decide through the planning process.

I offered to write to RBK to establish which policies they had on this.

Heritage Opens Days (HODs)

HODs had gone well with more places open and more visitors.

The later closing date for submissions (set nationally) had caused us a problem with getting the leaflet out in time and we will take this as a lesson learnt for next year.

Organising the Committee

We discussed the yearly calendar that I had prepared. The initial purpose of this was to schedule the Townscape awards so that we allowed proper time for consultations with members and to make the final formal decision in Committee, but I had added to this and had included all of the Society's activities (Public Meetings, HODs, Newsletter, etc.) to try and show how they could all hang together. This was based on similar calendars that I had developed for The Mount Primary School and for the British Czech and Slovak Association when I was on their governing bodies.

This was generally well received and it was left to the new Committee that would be formed in January to use and enhance it. I was happy with that.

The pursuit of a new Chairman had produced a few names but only one of them felt that they could commit themselves sufficiently to the job. And that was me. So I'll be the Committee's nomination for Chairman at the AGM in January, other nominations may be made.

Section 4 Changes

RBK were proposing to ask the Government for permission to require proposed conversions from commercial to residential in some areas, e.g. town centres, to require planning permission. A recent government change had removed this requirement and while the change was seen as useful way in bringing some empty buildings back in to use it also meant that some commercial areas could lose facilities, especially the sort of small offices required by start-ups, to the detriment of the local economy.

The proposed change would not stop the conversions, it would simply require them to seek planning permission so that each could be assessed on their own merits.

We agreed to support RBK's proposal though we were sceptical over their chances of getting it approved by the Government.

Tesco site in Tolworth

Having given up on the idea of building a supermarket on the site of the Former Government Offices site in Tolworth, Tesco were now consulting on a large residential-led scheme.

The most obvious feature of this is the large tower, mirroring the famous Tolworth Tower on the other side of the A3.

This was only an initial consultation and so we only made some broad comments. We will go in to the scheme in more detail in the next stage of the consultation (if there is one) and when the planning application is submitted.

We felt that residential use was appropriate for the site, were happy with the tower and we liked the open spaces between the blocks. We wanted the site to have good access to public transport (Tolworth Station was on the edge of the site but buses needed to be considered too) and we also wanted the public provision to include a school.

The members of the Committee were to send me their comment on the proposal so that I could respond on behalf of the Society.

Tolworth Girls' School (14/10306)

Tolworth Girls' School was an unusual site, as the map shows.

It sat on the north side of the A3 which automatically meant that traffic would be an issue.

The site itself had three zones; the school (grey) was next to Fullers Way North which provided access to the site, the playing fields (green) sat behind the school, and the area of land bounded by industry and housing (yellow) had been left unused for several years and it had a distinctly unloved look when compared to the managed playing fields adjoining it.

The school was proposing to make some changes to the school buildings and to pay for this by selling of the unused area of the fields for housing.

We had mixed view on this but after some healthy, and polite, discussion we reached a consensus.

The changes to the school buildings consisted of demolishing some parts and building others. We agreed that a popular school should be allowed to expand and that selling (genuinely) surplus land, while regrettable, was an appropriate way of funding this.

Our concern was with the proposal for the new housing.

This would bring extra traffic on to Fullers Way North which already had a traffic problem due to it's access from the A3. We did not like the way that the access road to the housing was a narrow track that curved around the school. We were concerned that this would be the only access road to the site which would put it at risk of being isolated if there was, for example, an incident in Fullers Way North. We would rather have seen either the existing access Chaffinch Close used or a new access route built through to Selbourne Avenue.

We also felt that the developer was being a little greedy and was over-packing the site.

I took the action to submit our views to RBK.

Ashley Motors, Penhryn Road (11/12942)

This was a proposal to demolish an existing garage and replace it with a block of student accommodation.

As the site was adjacent to the University we agreed that student accommodation was an appropriate use for the site.

We also quite liked the look of the building.

But we did not like the scale of it, both the height and the bulk were significantly out of scale with its immediate neighbours, as this elevation shows.

We agreed to oppose this application on the grounds of over development of the site.

The Old Post Office

This was the second round of consultation on The Old Post Office site, following the first public consultation in July.

We discussed the scheme only briefly as the developers, St. George, were presenting at our Public Meeting later that week and we would have the opportunity to comment and ask questions then.

The one comment that I did make was that much of the publicity focused on the small public space in the north-west corner of the site and, while this looked reasonable, I was concerned about the dense, impenetrable and tall housing proposed for most of the site.

BBC bias: Hide the story

One of the more subtle ways that the BBC pursues its pro-Tory agenda is to hide stories that suggest that the economy is not doing as well as the Tories would have us believe.

That's why, for example, most people think that the deficit is falling when it is actually rising again; it's up 6% this year.

Part of the reason for the rise is that Income Tax income is less than expected and that is because many of the much heralded 2 million new jobs are low paid and so pay little Income Tax, as the latest figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) show. To quote them, "many new jobs were low paid or created through low-paid self-employment."

This is clearly big news as it shows that the Government's economic plan is not working (the deficit cannot be reduced without tax income) but you'd struggle to find it on the BBC News website - it's second from bottom in the list of minor stories at the bottom of the page, and it's not even visible at all until you scroll down the page.

The story is also missing completely from the Politics page. The BBC is treating it as a Business story though it has little to do with business and everything to do with politics. Putting the story on the Business page is just another way of hiding it.