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.