29 December 2007

Travel 2007

Like a few of the bloggers that I read, I have used the Great Circle Mapper to show my main trips this year. The cities I visited include Helsinki (3 times), Dallas (2), Dubai (2), Cairo, Tunis, Casablanca and Kiev.

27 December 2007

Is Knowledge Management dead?

In the ten years or so that I have been working in/with/around Knowledge Management there has been a complete change in the relationship between KM and IT:
  • In the early days any software vendor that had a tool that did anything with information, collaboration or communication used the KM label to try and give the tool some credibility
  • Now KM consultants, gurus, and experts add the KM label to any software tool they can find (particularly in the realm of social networking) in an attempt to justify the continued existence of KM as a discipline that they can be consultants, gurus and experts in.
While the various KM camps (IT, cognitive science, etc.) were arguing amongst themselves over the true path to KM enlightenment, people and organisations solved the problems for themselves without any leadership or direction from the KM community so there is a real question over whether that community has a role to play in the modern networked world.

26 December 2007

Local walks

One of my favourite activities is to go for local walks which I do for the exercise and to learn more about the area that I live in. The walks often include a local pub too! I take lots of photographs on these walks, many which I post on my Ham Photos blog. It's almost twelve years since I moved a couple of miles up the road to Ham and I still love the mix of open spaces, lovely buildings and good facilities.

24 December 2007

Steve Punt really does live in John Lewis

Steve Punt said at a recent recording of The Now Show that he was so middle class that his passport gives his address as "care of John Lewis", therefore it was no great surprise to see him in John Lewis, Kingston today.

Steve proved to be very approachable (as he was when we last spoke) and what started as a quick "hello" from me developed into a conversation on the outsourcing of BBC ticketing to Capita and the unavailability of things we really wanted to buy people for Christmas.

Sadly an immediate appointment in a pub meant that I had to curtail the conversation but the brief encountered gave me a good boost after failing miserably at shopping. The pub helped too!

22 December 2007

Ultimate Iron Man returns

Lots of good comics this week to keep me going through the Christmas holidays, including two new Hulk comics (Warbound and Aftersmash), but the one that I am looking forward to reading the most is Ultimate Iron Man II by Orson Scott Card. All I need to do now is to get the Christmas shopping out of the way so that I have time to read them all!

21 December 2007

The last in the current series of The Now Show

For the second time in four days I went to a recording of The Now Show at BBC Broadcasting House in Central London. The ritual includes a pizza beforehand at the Pizza Express just the other side of All Souls Church in Langham Place, joining the queue early enough to get into the bar area before the show (several rooms are used to hold waiting punters but being in the bar means access to drinks and being best placed for seats for the show), thinking hard about the response to the audience question, and successfully manoeuvring for a seat in the front row.

The show followed its usual format too with the studio audience being treated to Hugh Dennis' warm-up, a much longer show than gets broadcast, interplay between the cast and the ad lib stuff during the retakes and podcast additions.

Now I have to wait until Friday evening to see if my joke that was read out on the evening (in French!) makes the broadcast version and until the end of February for the next series.

20 December 2007

Hawkwind Christmas Concert is a great success

Sadly, Hawkwind do not play that many gigs these days so I usually only see them once a year at their traditional Christmas Convert at the Astoria. The good news is that the concerts are always excellent.

The lead-up to the concert was fun too. My Sensational Alex Harvey Band t-shirt started a short conversation with somebody who was also at the recent Southampton gig. I met the Fabulous Ms Angel in the queue for the concert. My friend unexpectedly had his 14 year old son with him and the pub refused to let me buy a coke for him so we got one from Starbucks instead. The support band were Prime Sinister who were a bit Neanderthal but OK with it.

The Hawkwind set was every thing that you would expect it to be. The music covered their full career and included songs like Master of the Universe, Damnation Alley, Inferno (from a Bob Calvert solo album), Silver Machine, Orgone Accumulator, Robot and Lighthouse. Many of the songs were significantly different from their original versions which added interest to familiarity. The light and stage show more than made up for the fact that the band do not go in for stage histrionics.

I've chosen this picture from the forty or so that I took as it captures a lot of the features of the show; Dave Brock (far right) is in change, there is a robot on the stage and just to the left of this you can see Tim Blake who joined the band for the evening (hence Lighthouse on the set-list).

The Hawkwind Christmas Concert is a once-a-year event and I'm looking forward to next year's already!

18 December 2007

The Now Show, in reverse!

There are only six shows in this series of The Now Show. The final show goes out on Friday 4 January but was recorded on Monday 17 December!

I was there (yet again) and was in the front row (yet again) so was able to take this shot of most of the cast (Mitch Benn is off to the right and Laura Shavin is cut-off on the left).

Being Monday, rather than the usual Thursday, meant that Marcus Brigstocke was able to do the guest slot, and that is always welcome.

Show 6 looks forward to 2008 and they read out my reply to the audience question and now I have to wait a few weeks to find out if they use it on air.

After they recorded show 6 they recorded show 5! Show 5 (to be broadcast on 28 December) looks back over 2007 and is basically a greatest hits collection for which they recorded some links to string them all together. They also read out my reply to the audience question for this too :-)

Show 4 is being recorded on Thursday (and broadcast on Friday) and I will be at that also!

14 December 2007

The TFPL Bath Club has ceased to be

The Bath Club, organized by TFPL, has been my favorite work-related event over the last few years. Building on TFPL's work and contacts with information and knowledge managers in the public sector, we have had a number of excellent speakers and the opportunity to follow-up the main events with further discussions over wine, biscuits and some rather wonderful cheeses (I must find out what that one with the red fruit in it is!). So it is sad for me that the Bath Club meeting this week was the last one.

But hopefully this sadness is eclipsed by the joy at the creation of the new TFPL Connect events that combines various TFPL activities into one event (as the old demarcations mean a lot less these days) that lasts a whole afternoon, rather than squeezing into a small late afternoon/early evening slot.

The Bath Club was very good and TFPL Connect promises to be even better.

13 December 2007

Max Maxwell was Framed

I know that Max was Framed because he told me, and a few others, that this evening at the Islington Academy.

This was the penultimate date on the Sensational Alex Harvey Band's Hail Vibrania tour and this was a special show that featured the Framed album in its entirety, albeit with major updates to most of the songs. This was something of an experiment but it worked really well.

The music was all you would expect from a band in form and even the sequence of slower songs (Buff's Bar Blues, I Just Want To Make Love To You, Hole In Her Stocking and Big Louie) rocked.

It helps that Framed has some seriously good tracks that have remained part of SAHB's live repertoire throughout the years, i.e.Hammer Song, Midnight Moses, Isobel Goudie and St. Anthony. Isobel Goudie has long been a favourite of mine and tonight's performance of it was just magic, and the way that the band adjusted to the technical problems at the beginning of the song showed how in control of things they were.

It was a barnstorming performance from the whole band but I must single out Max Maxwell for a special mention because of the passion, drama and excitement that he put into the songs. I can't even recall any of his trademark mistakes with the words! Max has matured as the front man this year dropping some of the sillier things (like the Indian head-dress) and has the confidence to deliver the songs without these props for support. Max is Max now and is not trying to be somebody else.

I have seen the new incarnation of SAHB something like ten times in the last three years (this is waaaay less than some of the familiar fans that I spoke to at the gig) and this was their best performance yet. My only regret is that I cannot get to the SAHB Xmas Party in Glasgow on Friday.

11 December 2007

Do you want a drink in your ice?

The Absolut Icebar London, in Heddon Street off Regent Street, is a bar with a difference, ice! The bar, furniture and drinking vessels are all made out of ice brought from Sweden. The room is chilled to -5 centigrade to stop the ice melting and customers are given warm overcoats to keep them alive. And you are only allowed in for 40 minutes to stop the cold from becoming too discomforting. The only problem is holding the ice cubes containing the drinks in your bare hands. The cocktails are good too, at least all the ones that I tried were!

10 December 2007

Only seven drifted back from the otherworld...

Otherworld is the superb new CD from Space Ritual and it does exactly what you would expect it to. The sound is pure space rock, the songs are science fantasies, there are a few passing references to Hawkwind, and quite a few songs with Michael Moorcock lyrics.

The later includes The Black Corridor, from the Hawkwind album Space Ritual, which is a good version bravely done given that the original was sung by Bob Calvert.

Many of the songs have been part of their live set for some time now, including Bubbles, Walking Backwards and the sublime title track Otherworld, from which only seven breezed back from.

9 December 2007

Hail Vibrania!!

I made what is becoming a regular trek down to The Brook in Southampton to see the Sensational Alex Harvey Band in concert on their Hail Vibramia tour and even though I have seen them several times in the last three years they still managed to surprise me in delightful ways.

The first surprise was the change in formation from 1-1-3 to 0-0-5 with Ted McKenna on drums moving from centre back to right wing and cousin Hugh McKenna moving from right midfield to the the left wing to join Chris Glen, Max Maxwell and Zal Cleminson in an attacking formation. And attack they do.

The set still starts with the crowd pleaser Faith Healer but now this begins with the dance mix that was played pre-show last year before bursting into its full-blown bombastic familiar form. Also in the set are another five absolute hard-core classics, Isobel Goudie, Chef, Tomahawk Kid, St Anthony and Dolphins, the last of which is new this year. There are lighter, but not that much quieter, moments with songs like Dance to your Daddy, Framed and Delilah.

The music was fantastic, but other things made the night good too, like getting nods of recognition from the band, meeting up with other SAHBsters (e.g. Bob, Chris and Ian) and buying the new tour t-shirt. I'll be wearing that at Islington on Wednesday!

8 December 2007

Two Pints Series 7 is coming soon

It has been a little while but it looks as though Two Pints Series 7 is going to be worth the wait judging by the episode that I saw being recorded last night.

There are some cast changes this time, as can be seen from the cover of the programme shown here. Johnny has gone, Munch is back and there's a new barman at The Archer. There have been some major changes to some of the characters' lives but that does not really change things, it's the characters themselves and their interactions that make the humour.

Watching show recordings is always fun because of the insights it gives you on the actors and their characters. Gaz/Will messed up and play-acted the most (as usual), Louise/Kathryn was flawless and Donna/Natalie called us all something very rude beginning with "c" for sympathising with Gaz's wish to see more of Corinthian!

There were quite a few retakes last night and little pre-recorded material (only one short scene was shot on location) so the 1/2 hour show took over 2 hours to record, which meant all the more fun for us the audience. I just hope that I get tickets to go again in January.

7 December 2007

Chains at the Orange Tree

Chains is a play about the triumph of the monotony of a steady (but poorly paid) job over the hope of a new life in the colonies.

A young single Edwardian man manages to escape to Australia, which is generally seen as madness by everybody else but one man (married) and his sister in-law see the attraction and he makes plans to escape too.

The play is an emotional tale, with very little action, that takes place over just a few days in the sitting rooms of two houses. It well acted (mostly, the mother-in-law I found to be unconvincing, but that could have been the direction) and well staged but lacked that certain something to make it memorable.

I also found the frequent use of music by Philip Glass rather incongruous as it was written well after the period of the play. If it was meant to represent monotony by its constant repetition then that's not a metaphor that I agree with, I love Philip Glass' music!

6 December 2007

Heroes lives up to expectations

Those of us still stuck with UK terrestrial TV had to wait until this week for the series 1 finale of Heroes and we were not disappointed. The heroes triumphed (i.e. they saved the world) but several of them dies to do so. The story line ended conclusively (unlike Lost, Prison Break, Invasion, etc.) while still allowing a second series to follow seamlessly. Buffy also did this well.

Much has been said about the links between Heroes and comics, such as the creators, the themes and the structure; and all of this is true (as it was for Buffy). But comics has been doing these sorts of stories well for years and TV has only recently, and less consistently, got this right.

In stark contrast, two of the leading current BBC dramas, Spooks and Robin Hood, are so laugh-out-loud bad that I am hoping that their heroes will be killed and the plot of Heroes (a sci-fi fiction about people with super powers) is far more believable than the UK dramas based on real people and real organizations.

4 December 2007

Talking about buses

Kingston Area Travellers' Association (KATA) meets once a quarter, usually in the Druid's Head in Kingston Marketplace, for an informal chat about buses, bus stops, trains, fares, and anything else to do with public transport in Kingston upon Thames and the surrounding areas. These discussions complement the detailed information in the excellent KATALOG newsletter (this alone justifies joining KATA).

Last night we talked about a range of things including the new iBuses (these announce the next stop), national Freedom Passes, changes to bus routes, bus times and bus furniture, London Overground livery and getting to/from Heathrow.

I always enjoy these two hours talking to other public transport enthusiasts, particularly as the other people there know far more about the subject than I do.

2 December 2007

Arthur Brown and Nick Pynn in Twickenham

I go to every Arthur Brown concert that I can and have seen him in some unusual places this year (including a cafe in Soho and the ICA) and I was certainly not going to miss a concert on my doorstep. The line-up was the same as the recent concert at the 100 Club, i.e. Malchicks, Arthur Brown/Nick Pynn and The Pretty Things, and the concert was for the Mayor's charities.

I did not pay much attention to the Malchicks at all as I was unimpressed the first time I saw them. Spent most of the time in the bar or at the back chatting to friends. As soon as their set ended I went straight to the front and was a little surprised, and very pleased, to get next to the stage.

The set started with a solo piece by Nick Pynn, Badtooth from his Afterplanesman CD. A good start.

Arthur then came on in his usual black outfit with a black cloth over his head and a staff for Hard Rain.

The set contained most of the expected songs, including Spell on You, Fire Poem/Fire, Voice of Love and Devil's Grip, which closed the set.

Arthur made the best use of the good space on the stage to dance, prance and cavort through an excellent performance.

I hope that the photograph gives some idea of the passion he put into the performance but you had to be there to really appreciate it.

Nick Pynn deserves a mention, as always. I was right in front of him (deliberately) and the joy just beamed from his face. I am still amazed by how he manages to accompany himself and keep track of all the things that he is doing at the same time. He makes it look easy but I am sure it is not.

I moved away from the stage for The Pretty Things having been disappointed by their three-man acoustic set at the 100 Club and let their fans claim the space. Their set was a lot better as a five-man electric band and was worth staying for even though I was not into it as much as their fans obviously were. I could not help wondering why more of these people had not made the short trip to the ICA or 100 Club for their other gigs.

That was my fourth and last Arthur Brown/Nick Pynn gig for 2007 but I hope that it is not too long before I can see them again. Live they are magic!

1 December 2007

The Now Show is using my jokes again!

This week saw the welcome return of The Now Show to BBC Radio 4 and I was at Broadcasting House to watch the recording of the first show.

As usual, live the show lasts about an hour and it gets edited down to the half hour that is broadcast. This alone makes going to the recordings worthwhile.

It's also worth being there to see the actors and the expressions they make during the sketches and to each other.

Hugh Dennis' warm up routines are legendary and we were treated to the familiar ski jump (must put that on YouTube) and the new gymnast recovering from a bad landing.

And you have to be at the show to be in the show.

They ask an audience question while you are waiting to go in to the theatre and they read the best ones out afterwards and a few of these also make the broadcast show. I am delighted and rather surprised, to say that my reply made the broadcast show for the second time in a row. Perhaps I've missed my vocation!

28 November 2007

Sparks "tour" 2008

Most bands when they do a tour visit several venues and play much the same set every night but Sparks are going to play the same venue for 20 nights and will play a different one of their albums each night.

Then on the 21st night they are moving to a bigger venue and will launch their 21st album.

The concerts are in May/June next year and went on sale at 9am this morning. So far I have bought tickets for Propaganda, Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins, and Balls.

I am so looking forward to this :-)

26 November 2007

A very small step forward for deprived children in Kingston

The working party of the Kingston Schools Forums that I have been on for about a year has finished it's work and our proposals will be going out to schools for consultation soon. The result of our deliberations will see a small shift of funding away from the majority of schools towards the handful that have relatively high levels of deprivation, as measured by the eligibility of pupils for Free School Meals (FSM). I have problems with both the amount of funding being redistributed (you can only give to some schools by taking from others) and the approach taken by Kingston Council to funding deprivation.

Schools that have high levels of deprivation need funding to cover four main areas of cost:
  1. Addressing social problems within the families, such as attending meetings with Social Care and the Police. This can be almost a full time role for a senior member of staff.
  2. Addressing learning difficulties arising directly from deprivation, typically speech and language skills. Usually this means employing additional staff so teach small groups of children.
  3. Making up for things missing from home life, such as having books around and visiting places of interest. Basically this means schools paying for things that parents of wealthier parents normally pay for.
  4. Making up for the reduced donations from parents. Some schools get tens of thousands of pounds from their parents whereas others get almost nothing.
The proposals in Kingston go nowhere near addressing these costs. The most that any school will gain is under £100k but the costs are easily twice that.

Kingston Council recognises two types of need at pupil level, deprivation and Special Education Needs (SEN). The funding for SEN is needs based and each SEN child gets an amount of funding based on their assessed need. However, deprivation funding is quite different being based on a pot of money which is allocated between the children eligible for FSM. If deprivation goes up, each deprived child gets less.

Because of the reasons given above I am very unhappy at the way that Kingston is planning to fund deprivation and the battle will continue in future years, it has only been ten years so far!

Sadly, in one way this is actually a relatively positive outcome. A very small step in the right direction contrasts with all the steps taken in the wrong direction in previous years. So the situation overall is bad but it is slightly better than it was.

25 November 2007

A roar for powerful words!

My thanks to swenglishexpat for passing on this award. He said, “Those people I've given this award to are encouraged to post it on their own blogs; list three things they believe are necessary for good, powerful writing; and then pass the award on to the five blogs they want to honour, who in turn pass it on to five others, etc etc. Let's send a roar through the blogosphere! The image above can be copied and pasted onto other blogs. Also, a small size of the award for sidebars can be found over at the writing circle site.”

The approach I take to writing this blog is (sadly) is the same that I use at work as a management consultant adapted to try and recreate a pub conversation feel, so my three rules are:
  1. Understand who your audience is and what they want to get from reading your words.
  2. Make sure that your piece is well structured, e.g. it as a beginning, middle, and ending (though not necessarily in that order).
  3. Entertain! Just because you are writing about a dry subject does not mean that you have to use a dry writing style. Humour and passion and good things!
In passing the baton on to five others I have picked those blogs that I most enjoy reading not just for their content but for their style. I read lots of blogs (using Bloglines) but many of these are fairly technical and while they are informative they are not usually fun to read.

So my chosen few are:

Czech Mate?
Tony started writing about his pending move from the UK to Prague and now writes on his life there. His pieces are quite long but are a complete joy to read. Sadly he is doing far too much teaching these days and his blogging is suffering a bit as a result. I hope this will be a spur to him to be more active!

Shelly's Comic Book Shelf
I read several blogs on comics but I picked this one because it’s like talking to another fan but one who has an interesting different perspective because they tend to read different comics (Shelly favours DC whereas I favour Marvel) and they are female.

E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez
I was initially tempted not to nominate this as it is quite a famous blog in the KM but then I decided that it was unfair to exclude it on those grounds, so here it is! Luis writes about all aspects of KM technologies with an enthusiasm that is infectious.

Blimey! It's another blog about comics!
I like Lew’s blog because he is a comics professional, fan and historian and so he covers lots of interesting stories in interesting ways.

News Dissector Blog
This is my daily does of news and analysis of American politics and society. It’s often a depressing read (because of the news, not the way it is presented) but I probably learn more from Danny's blog than any other.

22 November 2007

Arthur Brown and Nick Pynn on top form

Earlier this week I went to the 100 Club on Oxford Street to see Arthur Brown supporting The Pretty Things.

I like the venue because it is fairly small and it feels like the band are playing in your front room. The stage is low and there is no barrier so you can get right up close. This also makes it good for taking photos!

As with the other Arthur Brown gigs that I have been to recently, the only accompaniment came from the multi-instrumentalist Nick Pynn. But he does more than just play a range of string instruments, he also does some amazing things with his feet that, for example, enable him to record himself playing one instrument then to repeat that recording as a rhythm track while playing another instrument as the melody.

I was pleased to see that the set was opened by Nick playing one of his own compositions while he was on the stage alone.

Arthur Brown performed a relatively short set of established songs, I think that he performed all of them at the ICA earlier this year, but that did nothing to lessen the magic.

I use the word "perform" deliberately as Arthur does much more than just sing, if that was all there was to it then I would just sit at home and play the CDs.

Hopefully this picture shows the drama that Arthur puts into his performances. This was particularly evident during that old crowd-pleaser from 1968, Fire which he preceded with Fire Poem.

Other very old songs played were Spell on You and Devil's Grip (his first single from 1967 reprised on the new album). We also had the title track from his current album, The Voice of Love, and another old song reworked on the album, the classic single Kites that was a hit for Simon Dupree and The Big Sound also in 67.

Arthur Brown is a must-see performer which is why I am seeing him again next week :-)

19 November 2007

A night out in Soho

These are the rather jolly Christmas decorations in Carnaby Street which I walked under when going from drinks at The Clachan to a meal at Aperitivo.

Aperitivo has become my default restaurant when eating out in London because the atmosphere is good, the food is excellent and the service is better. I had not been there for a couple of months but the manageress remembered me and, more importantly, remembered the wine that I ordered last time and wanted again. I'll be back before too long.

18 November 2007

Sex Pistols at Brixton Academy

The offer of a ticket to see the Sex Pistols at Brixton Academy was one I could not refuse. I was at Southampton University when punk burst on to the scene and while I did manage to see The Stranglers live then there was little more that I could do that listen to John Peel and buy the records. I bought all the early Sex Pistols singles and the Never Mind the Bollocks album the day that they were released.

Thirty years later I saw them live. The show was much as expected as they have a limited back catalogue to fall back on but that was fine. The Sex Pistols started losing their creditability the first time round when they did some ludicrous covers just to get material released. (My Way was a worthy exception to the failures).

We were treated to all of Never Mind the Bollocks and just a couple of the stringer covers, e.g. Iggy Pop's No Fun and Jonathan Richman's Roadrunner, which was a surprising second encore. The four early singles still stand out as the strongest songs and I particularly liked the first encore of Bodies and Anarchy in the UK.

The crowd was more subdued than I expected, though I was sprayed with beer quite a few times. There was an odd mix of fans from the 70s and young kids and it was the oldies who tended to lead the way in the mindless body hurling that passes for dancing these days.

Overall it was a very good evening and I'm hoping that they'll tour again before too long.

13 November 2007

Jim Starlin continues a Jack Kirby legend

Anybody who has even a basic knowledge of recent comics history knows that the superhero era was started at Marvel comics by Stan Lee and Jack "King" Kirby.

Between them they brought us The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, The Uncanny X-Men, The Mighty Thor, and many other major characters.

Stan Lee stayed at Marvel but Jack Kirby moved to DC comics in the 1970s and invented a new set of characters including Kamandi (probably my favourite), OMAC, Sandman and the New Gods.

Now, some thirty years later, the New Gods have been brought back by one of my very favourite writer/artists, Jim Starlin, the genius behind Warlock, Captain Marvel, Dreadstar and so many other cosmic stories.

This is going to be good!

12 November 2007

Little hope of fair funding for needy children in Kingston

The review of deprivation funding in Kingston upon Thames is drawing to a close after almost a year having made very little progress. Back in March I showed how funding for schools is not related to deprivation but the proposals under consideration are no better.

The proposals for the secondary sector do at least broadly match deprivation (i.e. the bars follow the line) but the different proposals, shown by the differently coloured bars, are too similar and most of the schools are well below the line, i.e. the schools at either end of the scale are proportionately much higher than the others.

The picture in the primary sector is even worse. Here there is less correlation between the bars and the line and while the most needy schools are more or less on the line there are many less needy schools that are well above it, i.e. they are getting proportionally much more funding.

These graphs show the situation quite clearly, as mine did eight months ago, but nobody (apart from me!) seems to be interested in diverting funding to the more needy children.

11 November 2007

Teenage Kicks with Ade Edmondson

Teenage Kicks is being filmed at Teddington Studios which is just a short walk away so I thought that I would go and see and episode being filmed.

Vernon (Adrian Edmondson) has moved in with his teenage kids after a spectacularly nasty divorce. He is genuinely excited about living in their student flat. A rebel in his youth (or so he thought), it is his chance to be young again. Naturally, his kids are bloody mortified.

The ITV announcement mentions "madness" and "mayhem" but this is just an average tv sit-com, think My Family. So not a great night out but worth going to see none the less. On a more positive note, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for tickets to Two Pints Series 7 which is coming up soon :-)

10 November 2007

Real life is good enough - thanks to John Watts

I have been a big fan of the music of John Watts / Fischer-z since I saw them play a student union event at Weymouth Pavilion in 1979.

I have bought all the albums (vinyl then CD) which has been bit of a challenge at times as John is now based in Europe and not all of his stuff has been issued here.

But I had not been able to see him live because he plays so few UK gigs and the one or two there have been in recent years have proved impossible for me to get to.

So it was with immense joy that I managed to see John play at The Fly in London this week.

This was a solo acoustic set (as most of his work now is) that consisted almost entirely of songs from 95's Real Life is Good Enough.

Any fans wanting to hear old songs like The Worker or Remember Russia (early singles and still favourites of mine) would have been disappointed but all the fans that I spoke to there were, like me, very very happy with the set he played. Bizarrely, John did finish with an old song, Fischer-z's very first single, Wax Dolls.

As if the music itself was not enough, I also had the opportunity to have a few words with John (which may lead to more things later) during which he said that the album he was most proud of was Thirteen Stories High (recorded as J M Watts) from 97, so I am off to give that a few more plays.

8 November 2007

Forty years of good work by BACEE

I have been a member of the British Association for Central and Eastern Europe (BACEE) for a few years and have enjoyed their lectures and been impressed by their work in helping the less developed European countries in developing their capability in areas like commerce, justice, and independent media.

Sadly, after forty years, this work has had to be put on hold as the funding from the FCO has been cut and then removed. The FCO now has other priorities globally and seems to think that the job in Europe has been done - not that today's news from Georgia supports this!

BACEE will stay alive in some form, ready to flourish again when needed, and this break will also provide the opportunity to trawl the archives to find material to produce some worthy documents on BACEE's history.

Hopefully I will have more to say on BACEE before too long.

2 November 2007

The Archers is now available as a podcast!

The excellent range of BBC Radio 4 podcasts now includes The Archers, which surely is why podcasting was invented in the first place! No longer do I have to try and piece together the story from the odd fragment of programs caught at odd times on odd days. Now the episodes are delivered to my iPod Nano (I use my iPod Shuffle for music) six times a week and I can listen to them when I please, which is normally when everybody else has gone to bed and I am doing something brainless on the PC. Thanks you BBC!

A dramatic night at the Orange Tree Theatre

Once we were Mothers is the current production at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. It tells the story of three mothers concurrently, these are three separate stories that do not interact, except through the use of the flexible props in which a step ladder in one story becomes a hill in another.

The mothers all face challenging (but very different) situations, one has a daughter with Down's Syndrome and a heart problem, another gets caught up in the Yugoslavian civil wars and the third has two daughters, one of whom goes shopping for sweets one day and never comes home.

All three stories are poignant but the despair of mother who loses a daughter is particularly gripping, particularly as it is so well acted by Esther Ruth Elliott and, being the Orange Tree, you are so close to the drama. It is like being in the room with her when she goes mad.

This may not sound much like entertainment, and there are few jokes in it, but the intensity of the drama in all three stories makes this an excellent night at the theatre.

27 October 2007

Roman ampitheatre at Carthage

One of the main reasons for picking Tunisia for our late summer holiday was the Roman settlement at Carthage, which is now a northern suburb of Tunis. 

It takes around 20 minutes to get there by train from Tunis Marine station and costs less that £1 for a return first class ticket (not that everybody in the first class compartment would appear to have a first class ticket).

There are several Roman sites in Carthage and one ticket covers them all for less than £3. The amphitheater is the furthest from the town center, being about 1km north of the railway station (Carthage Hannibal - there are several stations in Carthage). 

The other sites are clustered around the station and include a theater, museum (on the site of the forum), villas and baths. All this makes a full day out and we went there twice to see everything at leisure (cynics would also say that the first trip was shortened by the unexpected rain!).

The train journey back is an adventure in itself. It does not seem to matter when you travel but the train is always full and mostly with students aged around 16. 

A common sport for the lads is to hold the train doors open while the train is moving and to lean out of the door while hanging onto the outside of the roof of the train. This is of no concern to the other travelers who are obviously used to this behavior and normally the doors are opened before the train stops and are closed after it moves off with the train being stationery for only a brief moment, which makes getting on and off interesting!

22 October 2007

Exploring Tunis Medina

The old town of Tunis, the Medina, is fascinating.

There is a warren of narrow paths that contain a mix of shops, workshops, houses, mosques, former palaces and probably all sorts of other things all masked by the plain facades.

It varies from the Medina in Casablanca in that the paths are narrower (no motorcycles here!) and the shops are more concentrated in the few main streets, and it differs from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul in that it has more than just shops.

The place it reminds me of the most is Venice which has much the same mix of uses and the same confusing maze of paths.

And it also has the hidden gems that you come across unexpectedly, like the courtyard shown here.

19 October 2007

I want a holiday in the sun

The holiday started with a taxi to the airport at 4:30am which was a bit brutal but which has proved to be worth it as it meant that we were at our hotel in Tunis around 11am and so were able to start enjoying our holiday on the first day.

The hotel is in the heart of the new town with its heavy French influence that includes a wide boulevard that has lots of cafes and restaurants.

At one end there is an impressive clock tower that is surrounded by fountains that keep changing their shape.

We did little other than walk up and down the boulevard and have a few drinks and a couple of meals but that was plenty to reassure us that we had picked a good place for our vacation. We also think that we have sorted out which train to catch for Carthage and we plan to go there tomorrow.

18 October 2007

What a waste of money by Kingston Council!!

Kingston Council is proposing to make most of North Kingston a 20mph zone and is planning lots of signs and road humps to enforce the scheme. Sounds reasonable in principle but in most of the roads that they plan to introduce the new lower limit, speeds of 20mph are impossible anyway so this is all a waste of money.

I made this point, and other similar ones, to one of my local (Conservative) councillors and he agreed with me! Apparently (Lib Dem) Kingston Council would rather waste the money being given by TfL for road improvements than not spend it at all.

But it is all tax payers' money at the end of the day so Kingston Council is wasting my money and I am not at all happy about it.

16 October 2007

Am I really?!

I am not a great fan of self-asessment, particularly against somebody else's framework, but I am happy to share this one in the interest of honesty etc.!

What Kind of Blogger Are You?

11 October 2007

Running a Communications Workshop

I am in Dallas to run a Communications Workshop for my current client. My objective for the day is to show them how to produce a Comms Kit (messages) and Comms Plan (delivery) for one of the projects I am responsible for and to enable them to produce them for the other eight projects in this region.

I was asked to lead the workshop because it is closely based on the Guide to Change Management and Communications that I wrote for the program. The process we will follow is fairly simple, which is a strength, and has a logical sequence. As it is not specific to these projects, i.e. it is a general approach, I thought that I would share it.

The process consists of these steps:
  • Identify all the changes being made by the project
  • Identify the stakeholder who are impacted by, or who can influence, these changes
  • Document all the messages that need to be delivered to these stakeholders in the Comms Kit
  • Determine how best to deliver each set of messages to each group of stakeholders, taking account of the complexity of the message and the degree of commitment required from the stakeholders
  • Summarize the communications activities in a Comms Plan
  • Deliver the Comms Plan
Simple but effective.

Back in Dallas

This blog was never meant to be all about travel, but then I was not traveling very much when I started it a year ago and now I seem to be doing rather a lot of it!

This week I am back in Dallas for just a few days, mainly for a communications workshop on Friday but it is also a good opportunity to catch up with people who I last met in August. Some are coming up to me with hard questions which is not part of the plan!

This is the hotel that I am staying in and is, depressingly, the most interesting photo that I have managed to take so far. Still, it has free beer and snacks in the evening, which is all I need for my evening meal, and free wi-fi access in all areas.

6 October 2007

My Prague

I do believe the maxim "you can never go back" but, just this once, it worked!

My plan for my one full day in Prague was to walk around all the places that I liked best from the time that I worked there (1992 to 94) and to take lots and lots of photos.

Of course I have photos from the time but these were the dark days of analogue photography so I only have a relatively small number of photos compared to the places that I have travelled to in recent years.

My hotel was just to the east of the town centre and during an early breakfast I decided that the best way to see everything would be to walk clockwise around the edge of the city to the west side and then walk back through the centre.

My route took me to Zizkov, Jiriho z Podehrad, Namesti Miru, Vysehrad, Smichov, Mala Strana and Hradcany, before I walked across the Charles Bridge to explore the old and new towns.

Along the way I walked across the rather scary footpath alongside the railway bridge at Vysehrad, took the funicular railway up the hill in Mala Strana, climbed to the first observation deck of the small Eiffel Tower copy at the top of the hill, and climbed the towers at both ends of Charles Bridge.

The afternoon was a less organised ramble through the old and new towns that took in the Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square and various shops that mean something to me such as Maj (I refuse to call it Tesco) and Kotva.

Along the way I bought some more crystal tumblers as they get used a lot at home and are gradually getting broken.

I took a few trams too, including a short trip back to the hotel to recharge batteries (mine and my camera's).

And tram journeys in Prague always remind me of this R.E.M. video. There is even a glimpse of Kotva about four minutes in.

There have been many changes in Prague since I first went there but the place is still largely unspoilt.

The beer has doubled in price, it is now around 50p a pint, and the food has got a lot better so eating out is an easy and cheap pleasure.

I am looking forward to my next trip there!

4 October 2007

Prague in a day

I took advantage of a business trip to Kiev to break the journey home with a stop-over in Prague.

There I managed to spend a day revisiting many of the places that I know well from time working in Prague for the Czech Savings Bank (Ceska Sporitelna).

For me, this is where is all started.

The tower on the left was the Forum Hotel and I stayed there for the first few months before moving out to a flat in Malesice in the eastern suburbs.

The houses in the middle of the picture are in Vysherad, which is one of the many pretty parts of the city, as you can see. The concrete bridge that stalks above them carries the main road south and the "C" line metro. It is also quite a scary walk for those of us who are not very good at heights!

30 September 2007

A last look at Kiev

On my last day in Kiev I had a little time to do some further exploring and shopping. A chance turn off a road that we had walked a few times before took us into a park that covers the slopes of the steep hill that leads up from the riverside to the top of the town. The park is spacious and has lots of interesting features, such as avenues of trees, statues, pathways, flowerbeds, views over the river, places to sit and a funicular railway.

After leaving the park, we took some random turns to walk down roads that looked interesting, including the one pictured here. This is a fairly typical view of Kiev with baroque architecture and trees which combine to make the place both attractive and peaceful.

With elections on the Sunday, there were signs of campaigning wherever we went, and that meant lots of flags.