30 June 2008

School meetings

As the school year draws to a close it is time to tidy up a few loose ends, which means a few more meetings than usual.

The main event was an internal workshop that we held on the effectiveness of the governing body. This was done using a self assessment framework developed by Kingston Council.

It was not always obvious that what the Council thinks makes an effective governing body is what we think it is but it was a useful, and positive, meeting that identified a few actions that we can take to improve the way that we work.

As usual, the constraint is people's time as all governors are busy so we will have to limit what we want to do so that it matches what we have the capacity to do.

And also as usual, I took a few actions myself having gone to the meeting with the intention not to.

The other meetings were less interesting but necessary. They covered topics like reviewing the school's budget, which is always difficult given the poor way that the Council's finance systems report information.

The school meetings are now over until September but there are lots of actions to complete before then.

29 June 2008

Top telly

It's season end for several dramas and they are all coming to an end nicely. The Daleks are bit of an easy clue that one of those dramas is Dr Who. The finale has been well publicized so we all knew that we would have the Daleks back, this time with their creator Davros, and that many of the characters from the four new series would be joining the Doctor, but that was just the icing on the cake of a cracking story. Sadly I have to wait a week for the final part and even sadder that is the last series of Dr Who for a couple of years.

Also about to close is Heroes 2. Somewhat curtailed by the long-running writers strike in the USA, this is still proving to be a confusing and compelling story. The novelty of the first series has gone but the new series is flourishing without this advantage, And like one of the main characters, Professor Suresh, I still have no ideas who are the goodies and who are the baddies!

The final series coming to a close this week is House which has now provided four series of rich comic dialogue that more than makes up for the fact that I have no idea what is going on each week with the medical diagnosis; lupus gets mentioned most weeks and I still do not know what it is!

The thing that connect these three programmes for me is that they all know what their respective strengths are, and they are all different, and they play to them strongly. They are all very good television programmes and will be missed.

27 June 2008

BCSA word cloud

I love word clouds and so when other blogs mentioned Wordle I just had to give it a try. This is the word cloud for the BCSA website, www.bcsa.co.uk.

26 June 2008

Rhino at Ormeley Lodge

Thanks to the National Gardens Scheme, I was recently able to explore the garden at nearby Ormeley Lodge, home to the Goldsmiths.

The garden is segmented by large hedges and is criss-crossed by paths which makes it a fun garden to explore.

One of the surprises that the intrepid explorer comes across is this rhinoceros lurking in the tall grass in the wilderness at the back of the garden.

Luckily he only eats children so I was safe!

25 June 2008

Fun at the BCSA Garden Party

This year's BCSA Garden Party defined the pessimistic weather forecast and was a wonderful afternoon.

The attractions included a generous buffet prepared by the chef at the Czech Embassy, plenty to drink though I stuck to the Budvar, Slovak music and dancing from Karpaty, a barbecue and a very popular raffle.

But the main attraction was the other guests with around 200 people to talk to.

I went with a friend that I worked with in Prague almost twenty years ago and we mixed like troopers. Several people there had been to one of the BCSA socials at West Hampstead so we were easily able to talk to them, and to their friends, and their friends' friends, ...

Somehow it was suddenly 7pm and time for the Garden Party to end. A small group of us moved the short distance to the pub across the road and then a smaller group of us moved on to the nearest Italian restaurant where we stayed until almost the midnight hour when I took an interesting route home that involved three 28 buses!

I'm already looking forward to the BCSA Annual Dinner at the end of November.

24 June 2008

A glorious day in London

I am trying to live up to my mantra that we pay for being in London through our house prices etc. and so we should make the effort to reap the benefits of London that we have paid for.

So last weekend I took the scenic route to the BCSA Garden Party which started, predictably enough, at the V&A. This is always a joy and always offers up unexpected pleasures, mainly because the whole place is such a delightfully confusing mess that you always find yourself somewhere that you are pretty certain was not there the last time that you looked.

This time I caught the new construct in the garden (pictured), buzzed around the architecture section, marvelled at the section on 100 years of structural engineering, and skipped through the section on iron work which was not on my original plan but would have been if I had know that it was there and what was in it.

After that I took a stroll along Exhibition Road that was filled with artefacts and people,but no cars. Being a happy tourist for the day, I took a few photos for the scrap album.

23 June 2008

Last Train to Nibroc at the Orange Tree

The last play in the season of plays by female authors was the Last Train to Nibroc by Arlene Hutton.

It was very different from anything else that I have seen at the Orange Tree as it had a cast of only two and was played without an intermission.

Performing non-stop for 90 minutes must be quite a challenge for the actors but not for the audience that was kept enrapt by the drama.

The staging was minimal, even by the Orange Tree's standard, consisting of little more than a dais and a bench. As usual the acting and the dialogue more than compensated for the lack of props.

The play was a light, almost whimsical, view of a romance that starts with a chance meeting on a crowded long distance train and ends with the couple falling into marriage in a triumph of convenience over passion.

As the romance develops we learn much more of the woman and what she does but little of the man. This makes the woman very much the focus of the play and puts even more attention on the performance of the actress Heather Saunders. And this extra attention is well rewarded as she performs marvellously.

The Orange Tree is closed now for the summer but opens again in September with the much anticipated Vaclav Havel season.

22 June 2008

Thames Landscape Strategy

The topic of the latest meeting of The Kingston upon Thames Society was the Thames Landscape Strategy and it was introduced by Jason Debney, the Strategy Co-ordinator.

The whirlwind overview of the work done, or planned, as part of the strategy was a mixture of encouraging, worrying and disappointing.

The encouraging projects were generally those that improved urban environments, such as the approach to Hampton Court and the area between Canbury Gardens and Kingston Town Centre.

The worrying part of the talk was on flood planning which has become more important because of the climate crisis. Key facts are that the Thames is now tidal beyond Teddington Weir (up to Mosely Lock) and that the Thames Barrier will no longer be used to manage floods as it has too much to do in managing high tides.

The depression came from the projects in rural areas, like Ham Lands, where the projects are making these more urban, going against the stated aim of creating a rural paradise (Arcadia). The most shocking images were the "before" and "after" pictures of Melancholy Walk where what looked like a country path has been replaced by a runway. Very sad.

20 June 2008

David Davis for Freedom

The new David Davis for Freedom campaign is interesting for the way that embraces new technologies. From the main website you can sign up for an email newsletter, follow David Davis on Twitter, connect via Facebook and go to the YouTube Channel. The main site has a nice clean look to it too.

19 June 2008

From Atoms to Patterns

I was in the Wellcome Collection building for a Logica meeting and took the opportunity afterwards to browse the collections there. From Atoms to Patterns looks at the way that designs for the British Exhibition in 1951 were influenced by the latest understanding of molecular structures. The striking patterns shown here are based on haemoglobin.

18 June 2008

Tereza Buskova - Rituals

I came across Tereza Buskova a couple of years ago, through my Czech connections, and have been a fan of her work ever since. I have one of her prints in my living room.

Her latest show is Rituals at Gallery one one one in Central London.

This is a small show consisting of a video, four prints and a construction, the crown used in this print. The prints look rather like stills from the video which makes the show feel like one piece of work that happens to consist of six parts.

The subject matter and style of the work is familiar territory for Tereza (see examples of her previous work here) but I think that Rituals is a more satisfying work.

The two things that really really like are the use of colour and the representation of depth, as demonstrated by this picture (and by this one).

The background colour is gorgeous and nicely graduated. This sets the scene for the colours in the hat and on the body. And the shadow on the body gives depth to the picture. The overall effect is just luscious. Rituals is on until 23 August and I will be going again.

17 June 2008

Welcoming George Bush

On Sunday evening I joined a demonstration against George Bush's foreign policies, particularly with respect to Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran, but not forgetting his other indiscretions, such as Somalia and Palestine.

We convened in Parliament Square next to the Houses of Parliament, which you can see in the background here.

Parliament Square is on the tourist bus route so we had a succession of open-top buses going past full of intrigued tourists taking pictures of the demonstration. All publicity helps.

Once assembled we were treated to a number of rousing speakers, including the surprisingly (to me) effective Bianca Jagger. Another surprise was the loud cheer of support given for the actions of the Conservative MP, David Davis, for resigning his seat so the he could fight an election on the one policy of this (Labour) government's increasing restrictions on civil freedoms.

And we soon got a taste of those restrictions when we were refused permission to march down Whitehall past Downing Street. We tried anyway, of course, and a few people got hit on the head by the police for their efforts. I saw three people with bleeding heads moving away from the front line.

But this was not a group of agitators looking for a fight. There were lots of older people and women there as well as the more bumptious students. I spent some time standing next to a 30s something pregnant woman in a Liberty dress. She and I are now on the police video.

The announcements made by Gordon Brown following his meeting with George Bush show that he is as supine as Blair was and that we were not listened to. But we had to try.

16 June 2008

Memories of a free festival

Greenfest 2008 was a jolly event in a pleasant location, Furnivall Gardens by the river in Hammersmith. There was a wide range of stalls on environmentally friendly living, including cycling, yoga, recycling, vegetarian and vegan food, public transport and improvements along the Thames.

I had a good time looking at the various stalls and came away with a cloth shopping bag, shoelaces, a CD and several leaflets. Sadly I did not win the raffle for the folding bike.

But the real reason that I went to Greenfest was to see Instant Flight play.

I saw Instant Flight play with Arthur Brown a couple of years ago and liked their late sixties psychedelic vibe. At times they sounded a bit like early Pink Floyd (e.g. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun), which is no bad thing. The prominent keyboard also suggested Keith Emerson in her playing style; another positive.

The layout of the temporary stage meant that you could get very close to the band as they played and could also walk behind them. I took the opportunity to get up close several times and it was fascinating to watch, for example, the keyboards being played from a distance of about 1m.

A good crowd, more than you get at pub gigs, sat around on the grass to enjoy them play for about an hour. A few brave souls even danced but the less said about that the better! Instant Flight were a little troubled by feedback but that did little to spoil what was an excellent set played with obvious enthusiasm, despite having flown back from Paris that morning.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating and I shall be eating more Instant Flight from now on, starting with their CD which I have just ordered.

14 June 2008

Sparks: Exotic creatures of the deep

The last month has flown by and suddenly we are at Sparks' concert #21 of 21, which started with a performance of their latest album, Exotic creatures of the deep.

Musically, it is similar to the last two albums and makes use of Apple-powered multi-tracking.

Sparks make few concessions to this when performing live and use pre-recorded tracks to augment the sound of the band. But this is not a pretence and it also frees Ron to join in the show.

Here, during Photoshop, Ron is pretending to play a keyboard displayed on the screen that is being moved and manipulated by the software.

Other theatrical highlights included the women who came on stage pushing shopping trolleys, pretended to be pregnant men and posed as renaissance angels. And for the elongated finale, Likeable, we saw a display of the 21 album covers in sequence being burnt leaving us with Exotic creatures of the deep.

The second part of the set we were treated to a collection of rare songs, some (all?) of which had appeared as encores in the earlier shows. By then the already very happy crowd was dancing, cheering, clapping and singing with pure joy. Far too soon it ended and Sparks got a long and very enthusiastic reception from the crowd.

The encore opened surprisingly with the final two tracks, Batteries Not Included and Whippings And Apologies, from their second album A Woofer In Tweeter's Clothing (1972). I particularly liked this as they were the first two Sparks songs that I ever heard, played on the radio by John Peel, of course. This was followed by a rocking version of Change, a stupendous crescendo to the evening.

But that was not it. The cheers, claps and stomps brought Sparks out for a second encore which just had to be This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us.

So that's it, all 21 concerts have been played and while it was a phenomenal success it is unlikely that anybody will trying anything quite like that again. I am just very glad that I was there when Sparks did it.

13 June 2008

Another good BCSA social

The (fairly) regular BCSA socials and the Czech and Slovak National House in West Hampstead are proving to be successful with a small hardcore there most months (myself included) and a few new faces each time.

This mix of the old and the new means that the conversation starts easily and that we have both familiar and unexpected things to talk about. A highlight of this week's meeting was the story about a young woman's visit to Michael Winner's house for an interview. I'll leave what happened (or what somebody tried to make happen) to your imagination, but you won't be far wrong!

One of the newer faces is proving to be fun but possibly dangerous as she persuaded some of us away from our usual Pilsner Urquell on to the Slivovitch.

We will all be meeting up again, this time with a lot more people, at the Annual BCSA Garden Party on 21 June. It will be a blast!

12 June 2008

The five ages of technology

The second TFPL Connect event was titled "The future of work - technology" and looked at how technology will impact the how, when and where of work in the future.

As usual for me, the learning points from the event will slowly simmer with everything else that I have learnt to form unexpected relationships that bubble to the surface years later to provide useful insights to a specific issue that I am working on.

The two notes to myself that I made during the event are the result of the same process.

In my working life I have gone through four ages of technology and can see that we are entering a fifth:
  1. No technology; my career in IT started by writing programs on paper
  2. Work technology; I had computers in the office to do basic tasks like word processing and to run applications like time recording
  3. Work technology at home; I got a PC to do the sort of things at home that I did at work, e.g. write letters and send emails
  4. Home technology; now I use more technology at home than I do at work with sophisticated web applications (Facebook, Blogger, etc.) and cool hardware like my iPod touch.
  5. Home technology at work; people increasingly want to use the tools they use at home to communicate and collaborate at work where the current tools are (generally) much less effective.
The other note was quite different and was about choice. We increasingly have more choice over when we work, where we work and how we work (e.g. face-to-face, email, IM, voice, etc. etc.) and we need to think carefully about what is best for any given situation but we also need to respect people who have made different, but equally valid, choices.

9 June 2008

Sparks: Balls

Sparks' 21 concert marathon started drawing to a close with Balls from 2000, their 18th album.

Balls was some five years after their previous album of original material, Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins, but it has much the same feel to is. Which is a good thing!

Performed live, the songs bounced along happily like a primary school outing, but without adults in charge to anybody from being too silly.

This was the first time that I had heard most of these songs but, as with Music you can dance to, several of the tracks stood out on a first listen.

One of the most memorable songs was It's a Knockoff, originally written for a Jean Claude Van Damme film, which is hardly the most auspicious genesis for a pop song.

I'll soon know all the songs a lot better as I've just ordered the album from Amazon!

8 June 2008

L'incoronazione di Poppea at Glyndebourne

My first, of three, trips to Glyndebourne this year was to see L'incoronazione di Poppea by Monteverdi.

As usual it was stunning and for the usual reasons; the singing, the music and the staging.

Glyndebourne goes for simple but effective staging that allows the music to dominate, as it should.

Here the main prop was a large red curtain that moved to create different shapes for different settings. This was usually complimented by a single item such as a table (pictured here), a bed or a bath. They also used a large red drape to great effect as bedding, clothing and flooring.

The opera has a complex story that is conveyed by the singing and so there was relatively little for the orchestra to do. The fact that they went largely unnoticed should be taken as a compliment.

The story has a happy ending of sorts, the coronation of Poppea, but the only really nice person, who represents virtue, is the one casualty and so it is hard to rejoice when the two main protagonists get the outcome they wanted.

The large cast all played their roles admirably in both their singing and their acting which made the long opera a joy from beginning to end.

7 June 2008

Sparks: Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins

Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins is not only a great name for an album, it is also a great album so I could not miss the opportunity to see Sparks perform it live.

This was concert 16 in the series of 21 and it brought us up to 1995 with a bang.

Sparks are never really in the limelight, and never really out of it either, but Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins can be seen as a sort of come-back album.

It demanded attention through majestic, dance-along, songs like When Do I Get To Sing 'My Way', (When I Kiss You) I Hear Charlie Parker Playing, and Frankly, Scarlett, I Don't Give A Damn (pictured here).

Played live these songs had us all bopping from the very start to the very end and even though most people there had been to several Sparks concerts over the last couple of weeks, we were all left wanting some more. In my case that's on Sunday!

6 June 2008

KATA quarterly meeting

Kingston Area Travellers' Association (KATA) meets informally once a quarter to chat about anything to do with public transport in the Kingston upon Thames area.

A lot of the conversation at the last meeting revolved around buses as we heard the latest news about, and discussed the implications of, changes to bus routes and timetables, positioning of bus stops, location information displayed in buses (the new iBus system), problems with access ramps, and freedom passes.

The reason for this is understandable as the bus service locally has improved dramatically over the last few years with more routes, more buses per route and an increasing number of 24 hour routes.

Sadly, we were less optimistic about the future now that the man responsible for most of these improvements, Ken Livingstone, is no longer Major of London and has been superseded by Boris Johnson (BoJo).

5 June 2008

Strawbs, Half Moon, Putney

At the request of friends, I have gone to a few concerts recently where I had heard of the band but did not know their music that well. Strawbs was the latest example.

They opened with the only song that I recognised, their '72 hit single Lay Down, after that I was in the musical dark.

Strawbs sounded much as I expected, i.e. early 70s rock, except for being a bit less folk and a bit more prog.

My favourites were two lengthy prog rock songs (no idea what they were called) with extended riffs that made full use of the three guitars, keyboards and drums line-up (played mostly 1-1-3 but with the bass coming to the front occasionally, as shown here, to make it a flat 1-4 formation).

Srawbs provided a lively night out that was heartily enjoyed by the packed hall, but, for me, while there was nothing wrong with the evening at all, and I am glad that I went, there was nothing remarkable enough to make me want to see them again or to try out their back catalogue. I don't do stars but if I did then this would get 3/5.

4 June 2008

Sparks: Music That You Can Dance To

Sparks' 14th concert in their series of 21 was their relatively obscure album Music That You Can Dance To from 1986.

The concert was a bit of pot-luck for me as I did not know the album at all, nor did I make any attempt to, and I simply relied on the ability of the Mael brothers to deliver.

They delivered.

The music was of it's time and, as the title suggests, was music with a strong dance flavour. There was also a clue in the title of the last song, Let's Get Funky.

But it was definitely Sparks too and it bounced along joyfully for an hour or so. I was hearing these tracks for the first time but a few impressed immediately; enough to want to buy the album but that is proving to be difficult and it only seems to available from obscure sites in the USA.

Another mystery about the album is the track listing. The discography on the official Sparks website includes the track The Armies Of The Night but not the single Change that is on the version of the album available from Amazon where the title of the album is given as The Best Of Sparks - Music That You Can Dance To.

In the end we got the best of both worlds as Sparks performed Music That You Can Dance To as described on their website and also gave us Change as a well deserved and much enjoyed encore.

And just to make the evening complete, I treated myself to the tour t-shirt which I will be wearing to the three Sparks concerts that I am going to in the next ten days :-)

3 June 2008

I'm a real photographer

It had to happen eventually and now it has!

After littering hundreds and hundreds of my photographs all over the internet on places like MySpace, Facebook, Flickr and Blogger, somebody has finally reused one on their site.

A photograph that I took of Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen appears in the new version of the guide Scandinavia - Attractions & Landmarks.

2 June 2008

Firefox 3 is coming soon

Download Day - English
Firefox is my preferred browser, mainly because of the many really useful add-ons like TwitterFox and ScribeFire, and it's about to get even better :-)

Firefox 3 will be available soon and I've signed the pledge to download it on the day that it comes out to help set the record for most software downloads in 24 hours. Software this good deserves to set records.

1 June 2008

Silence In The Library

I had high expectations for this week's episode of Dr Who, Silence In The Library, and it more than lived up to them.

The expectations were high because the episode was written by Steven Moffat who wrote some of the very best episodes in the Dr Who revival, including The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances in the first series and the multiple award winning Blink in the third.

The expectations were met as there were all the familiar elements of a Moffat script, including genuine terror (being consumed by your own shadow), plot complexities that keep you guessing (how does the girl's doctor know that the library is real? - I have my theory!), and genuine character development (we even found out things about the expendables).

Swap the terror for comedy and you have Steve Moffat's Coupling (first broadcast in 2000) which was the first time that he came to my attention - and script writers have to be good for me to notice them!