29 June 2010

Clay Shirky's shaky launch of Cognitive Surplus

Clay Shirky has been making noticeable waves in the internet world since his 2008 book "Here Comes Everybody" and now he is making waves across London for the launch of his latest book "Cognitive Surplus". I joined in the wave at the LSE and was looking forward to hearing Clay give a longer talk than the ones I had heard at TED etc.

I had been to talks at the LSE before but this was my first time in the impressive New Academic Building. It lacks the character of the old building but it more than compensates with its comfort and facilities.

I went straight from work expecting there to be bit of a queue and was pleasantly surprised to be ushered in to a second row seat about half an hour before the talk began. An opportunity to read a little more Mark Twain.

After a brief introduction, Clay spoke for about half an hour opening with his theory on Cognitive Surplus using the Wikipedia story as an example.

Other stories followed on how the internet is enabling the motivation and time that people already had to create things of communal, public and civic value.

They were good stories and were well received by the (mostly student) audience but they were old stories familiar to those of us who have dabbled in web2.0 in recent years.

They were also disconnected stories and it was not at all clear what hypothesis they were trying to prove, if any.

New book, old stories, no insight.

27 June 2010

Space Ritual rock the 100 Club

I've seen Space Ritual play in various venues in recent years but I think of the 100 Club as their spiritual home so it was good to see them return there after an absence of something over a year.

Some time may have passed but they eased in to a familiar routine embroidered with a few juicy twists.

They seemed to have found some extra space on the stage and were able to spread themselves wider thus making all the band visible, even Tom and Jerry who usually lose out in the fit-an-eight-man-band-onto-a-small-stage game.

While that is great for the band it does rather mean that when standing in the front-row, as usual, you have to pick who to stand next to, and I went for central-right to cover Nik, Terry and Jerry.

I also hoped that meant that I was far enough away from Nik to be spared the embarrassment of Sutton where I had to sing along to Silver Machine.

The band arrived to the accompaniment of Sam Ollis' decks and the show was on. The set-list had one or two surprises and the music had one or two more.

Most of the sixteen songs listed were much loved regulars but there were also two new songs, Cerberus and Hello Boyz.

The songs bounced, buzzed and bopped along nicely and delivered just what we expected and wanted. So much so that I soon dropped my plan of taking notes (I already had a photo of the set list).

Then things started to change.

Reefer Madness has been a Space Ritual stalwart for as long as I can remember and it has always been delivered the same way, right down to the props used by the Fabulous Ms Angel but tonight it morphed in to something fast and furious. Still spacey but with a harder edge.

Spirit of the Age, probably my favourite Hawkwind song, got a similar treatment.

Other changes were the two new songs, both instrumentals, Jerry stepping forward to do more vocals and the disappearance of Otherworld. I did miss Otherworld but something had to give to make way for the new songs and the new extended plays and that was a good swap.

I do like the 100 Club but the venue does have flaws; two pillars severely restrict the view and the movement of the audience and it does tend to attract more drunks than other venues, one of who was determined to reach the front oblivious to the fact that I was standing directly in the way.

But I don't want to focus on the negatives, these are what you expect when you see lively bands in small venues and it beats getting sprayed with beer.

It was an exceptionally good concert where all the band performed well individually and as a group, treating us to another wonderful evening of space rock that mixed familiarity and novelty in a way that encourages you to come back for more.

26 June 2010

Seven pubs in Brentford

The point of the evening was to go make the most of the warmth and the late light to go for a long walk through Brentford, and that's what we did. Obviously we stopped at one or two or seven pubs along the way.

A long walk starts with a single step and our first one was to The Greyhound on Kew Green. This won the honour of being the starting point for the epic journey as it was left out of our previous tour of Kew on the grounds that it was closed for refurbishment. Talking to the barmaid, it transpired that this refurbishment was inspired by a fire.

The Greyhound has emerged much as it was before, in fact we struggled to think of a difference. At some point the clutter of the front bar was cleared out to provide the open space we expect to see in pubs these days and this helps to make the most of the beautiful windows.

The barmaid was a little dippy, somehow she heard "Ord-in-ar-y" as "Wa-ter", but when the Young's arrived it was very drinkable and, propelled by the warmth, soon disappeared.

From there we walked over Kew Bridge and headed left to Brentford. We were selective on which pubs we stopped at and walked past a few for about 1km until we came to The Old Fire Station.

Going in to The Old Fire Station is a bit like walking in to the Tardis, you cannot quite believe that the inside is related to the outside.

Here the gorgeous period exterior gives way to a modern bar with low square tables surrounded by low square red fluffy seats. As with many bars (as opposed to pubs) there is no real ale or bitter of any kind on tab but the Japanese lager was fine, if a little cold for my taste.

The Magpie and Crown was very different.

This looks like a traditional English pub inside and out and everything lives up to this image. It was the busiest pub we went to that night (not that that says a lot) and the public bar had the alluring sound of conversation.

It also had one of the best selections of real ales that you could ever hoped to see. I chose one unfamiliar to me (Bear, possibly?) and it was good.

Even better, when I went outside to take the photo the Landlord joined me for a conversation about the history of the pub and his approach to beer. A good locals' pub.

The Six Bells was the only Brentford pub that I had been to previously and that was five years or so ago when somebody I knew used to play in a band there once a month.

It has changed since then, but not for the better. The cosy bar has been replaced with a confusion of cloth and wood that conspire to make the bar as bland as possible.

This part of the evening was salvaged by two lads from Brum who were happy to engage in conversation which helped to make the time it takes to drink a pint pass measurably well. The beer was as bland as the pub to the extend that I cannot even recall what it was.

O'Brien's of Brentford was a welcome step up.

The bar is small, cosy and welcoming and as two strangers we were convincingly treated like regulars by staff and punters alike.

Cannot recall what the beer selection was like as our eyes were drawn to an unusual collection of spirits which we thought was the wiser choice after the pints before and the walking to come.

We had something approaching JD on ice that did the trick nicely, if a little too quickly, and so we moved on happy with what we had just experienced but wishing it had been for a little longer.

The George and Dragon was the last port of call on this stretch of the walk and we soon wished that we had missed it out altogether.

Inside and out is is designed for the World Cup and for the sort of people who like to go to pubs to watch it all. A bit chavy you might say.

Two swift halves and we were out and on our way.

At that point we started to retrace our steps, turning back towards the Brentford town centre that we had walked through and past. From the town centre we caught a bus to the north side of Kew Bridge, not far from where the journey started.

And the reason for stopping there was the Express Tavern that sits proudly on the busy and confusing road junction.

Sadly its geography made taking a decent photo of it in the dark rather problematic as the ideal place to stand is in the middle of five lanes of traffic. I settled for a poorer picture taken from a pedestrian refuge!

Because of its convenient location, the Express Tavern has featured in many previous walks and we were happy to go there again to have one for the road. You just feel comfortable there.

Overall it was a very successful evening. The walk went well in that we got the exercise that we were looking for and we also found a few good pubs to add to the itinerary for future walks.

25 June 2010

LIKE 15 - "Everything we work on is batshit insane"

The Open Rights Group (ORG) has an important role to play in campaigning for our digital rights and so it was brilliant that LIKE 15 was a talk on Protecting your bits by Glyn Wintle of ORG.

Glyn's enthusiasm and knowledge of the subject were infection and the conversation that he started at 6:30 was still going when I had to drag myself away at 10pm.

A lot happened in the middle from Dalek knotting patterns, why chip-and-pin is a con, the UK government's attempt to block access to Wikipedia, why you can go to prison for not giving a policeman all your passwords, and various top-secret projects that I am not even supposed to think that other people think that other people think might exist.

It was a roller coaster of a ride through the evening going in all directions at bewildering speeds with stomach churning changes of direction but if you sat back to enjoy the ride a couple of themes came to dominate; copyright and surveillance.

Most of the copyright stories are familiar to us in the industry, e.g. Sony's crude attempt to stop CD copying by secretly installing software on people's PCs, but they were none the less worrying for that. Particularly as the Digital Economy Act was passed earlier this year despite being seriously flawed.

Digital surveillance is a big worry as it is so secretive. When Pc Plod stood in shop doorways taking photos of people on protest marches everybody knew and could see what was going on. Now PC Plod has a telecoms or statistics degree and is doing incredible things with your call traffic. And Pc Plod does not have to tell anybody that he is doing this or account to anybody for his actions.

Gloomy tidings indeed.

Thankfully the things that make LIKE an unmissable event each month rose to the occasion and managed to dispel some of the gloom. The friends old and new, the chunky chips and the Wainwright bitter all conspired successfully to lift the spirits despite what the brain was being told.

23 June 2010

Connecting our knowledge to make a difference

The recent TFPL Connect event was very different in that it was trying to make a real difference to people's lives. Adding a good cause to an already healthy mix made the evening immensely rewarding in several ways.

The good cause was Depaul UK, a charity that helps young people who are homeless, vulnerable and disadvantaged.

We were given an introduction to the charity's work, and the role of Knowledge Management in this, by its CEO Paul Marriott. From this it became clear that Depaul, like many charities, are based almost entirely on knowledge, in their case the knowledge how to help young people to find accommodation, get a job, stay safe, be healthy, learn skills, be an active member of their community, etc. etc.

This points to one of their problems, simply accumulating, validating, sharing and updating this knowledge. The difficulty is magnified by their geographic spread, fairly high turnover of staff (and volunteers) and the need to respect client confidentiality.

The introduction over, Paul set us six challenges and each table then spent the next forty minutes or address one of these. Some slight structure was added to the process in that we had a simple template form to fill in that captured our ideas and identified the possible barriers and benefits. I found that this structure helped as I had come out of some table discussions previously having had a fun conversation but with nothing tangible to take away.

The time simply flew past and we were soon in the plenary session where we shared some of the key ideas from each table with the whole group.

But the story does not end there. TFPL are taking the output from each table and will be working with Depaul to produce a report of the event with specific recommendations in it. Hopefully some of the things we discussed will help to make a difference to some young people's lives.

I am looking forward to the report to see all the ideas that were generated but the one thought that grabbed me at the time was the possible use of ultra-low tech to help the young people to help themselves. For example, each centre could maintain a simple book or file where they could share tips such as where is the cheapest place to buy bread, who has offers on at the moment or anything else that they feel is worth sharing. If this was built on web2.0 technology we'd call it a wiki.

After the main session came the familiar wine, nibbles and many more conversations as networks were grown and strengthened.

I finally left around 10pm happy, invigorated and looking forward to the next stage of the story. An excellent evening indeed.

20 June 2010

Two Richmond gardens

The open gardens season is in full flow and in order to make the most of the opportunity this offers it is sometimes necessary to go a little out of your way to see some of them. So it was that I came to be cycling around Richmond one afternoon.

First up was St. Margaret's, an area I know little about. I chose to avoid the easy route due to the traffic and crowds and went a more interesting route through Teddington and Twickenham instead.

St. Margaret's itself is cruelly bisected by the ever-busy A316 and the garden was just the other side of it.

As garden goes, it was very much in the family home category and while it was not that large every corner was bustling with interesting shapes and colours, such as the round wet bed with a curved wooden path over it.

But it was the business of the garden that really impressed with no corner left unplanted so that there was always something to enjoy wherever you looked. Definitely worth the ride.

Back across the river towards the centre of Richmond and a different garden altogether. There is no way past it, the garden at The Trumpeter's is simply huge, magnificent and enchanting.

There are several sections to the garden each with its own character and reason for being there. Just off to the side of the main lawn at the font of the house is a more formal cultured lawn with a sweet line of trees to lead you through it.

Other parts of the garden house thick rich borders, a large pond, a secluded water feature, a wild flower woodland, classic statues, a mock castle and some doves.

This variety draws you deeper and deeper in to the garden until you find yourself miraculously next to the river that you thought was a long way away. It is only then that you realise just how far you have walked from the house and how big the garden really is.

19 June 2010

Tense double-bill at The Orange Tree

The Orange Tree season ended with a double bill of tense dramas, one old and one new.

Opening the show is the new play, Tom's A-Cold by David Egan.

Here we meet two men from a failed polar expedition sitting in a lifeboat, ravaged by hunger and haunted by their memories.

The story of how they got there and what happened to the fellow travellers slowly unfolds. Gradually the gruesome story of cannibalism emerges.

Before that we are shown aspects of their lives back in distant England, their hopes for the future and how, with just two of them left, rank and class are still important.

The play takes a further twist when one suddenly asks the other, "Why did you eat me?", and the situation is exposed as a fantasy.

And also a mystery as having had one premise overthrown we are then left to doubt the reality of anything we have seen or head.

While the subject matter is tense and gloomy, and the portrayal gritty and raw, there is, somehow, a positive feel to the play and I emerged invigorated rather than despondent.

Perhaps that's just me, I found the ending of Billy Budd happy too :-)

After the beer break, or "interval" as the luvvies like to call it, we went forward in time in a older play. Joe Orton's The Ruffian on the Stair (his first play) is set in 1960's London.

Joyce is in the flat alone during the day while her partner, Mike, goes off to do things when a stranger, behaving strangely, knocks on the door and reveals that he knows some of the mysteries in Mike's life, mysteries that Joyce was unaware of.

One of them is that Mike murdered the stranger's brother in what have may have been, in today's parlance, a contract killing or an inter-gang dispute.

The stranger is scary, Joyce is scared and Mike pays little heed to her until the stranger forces his hand and the play reaches its dramatic, if expected, conclusion.

Despite the violence and the language, this was the lighter of the two plays and it was also the more traditional in that it had an ending but, for me, Tom's A-Cold was the more satisfying feast.

The Orange Tree Theatre now goes to sleep for the Summer but the excellent season that has just passed means that I'll be queueing up for tickets again in September.

18 June 2010

Friends of Ham Lands

Ham Lands is the name given to the wild stretch of land between the River Thames and the houses as it sweeps round the long way from Kingston to Richmond. It's a lovely wild area where the presence of man is well hidden and I delight in walking there and taking photos of it for my other blog.

Recent events locally led to the birth of the Friends of Ham Lands (FoHL) which, while I had to muss their inaugural meeting, I've been quick to get involved in via their web site, forum and facebook page. And this week I had the chance to go to a meeting too.

The group having been established at the first meeting the committee was already in place and was sitting formally at the front of the room with the rest of us facing them lecture room style. This was no real surprise but it was hardly the best arrangement to encourage participation and involvement.

There was an agenda and we may even have followed it at times, e.g. I recall a Treasurer's report to account for the £100 or so spent to date, but we spent most of the evening discussing the committee's pet topics, which seemed to focus on getting rid of undesirables from the area. This was not a Ham Lands that I recognised as in my many years of walking through the wilder and more secluded places I have never had any trouble of any sort.

There was also a lot of enthusiasm for signs to tell you where you are, i.e. to label the different sections of Ham Lands, in case you needed to phone the police to report these undesirables. This struck me as a very last century solution as the easiest way to find out where you are these days is to ask your phone.

That said, I do like the idea of useful maps that show you were to find the different flora and fauna that take advantage of the wilderness.

On balance, the meeting was just about OK and I felt that some gentle nudging could get them to take a structured and informed approach to making changes. This is what I get paid to do at work after all.

But the real highlight of the evening was going to the Ham Brewery Tap afterwards. I had heard rumours from several sources of it's recent rise to respectability after its years of notoriety and they proved to be true. It is now a cosy locals pub that sells a decent pint of Young's Ordinary and I am one local who'll be going back there soon.

15 June 2010

When Logica was cool

A chance meeting in an underground station a few weeks ago led to a conversation on comics that, in turn, reminded me of when Logica embraced the media to promote its annual report.

That was back in 1988 and it took a lot of effort to find a copy! Logica itself only has two and I mangled one of those under a photocopier to rescue some of the better pages for electronic posterity.

The cover sets the scene well with the familiar Beano logo topping a collage of comics greats including Ian Gibson's rendition of Judge Dredd and Asterix the Gaul's companion Obelix, both fairly well know in the UK.

And I really like the way that international comic characters are used too, such as Astro Boy, who is even older in me!

The rest of the report is decorated with scenes from more comics from around the world and one day I'll find a way to get decent copies of all of them.

Perhaps there's still a copy of the report in my study somewhere ...

14 June 2010

Chelsea Flower Show 2010 - more than flowers

I had been half-tempted to go to the Chelsea Flower Show before but never enough to actually get around to doing anything about it. The difference this year was that somebody at work organised a group booking, and a good discount too.

Expecting the place to be busy I aimed to be there soon after opening time, 8am, but laziness conspired against me and I did not get there until around 8:30 by which time the crowds were streaming in but not yet in such numbers to make the experience unpleasant.

My expectations were very much set by years of watching the extensive coverage on BBC TV and so I knew about the show gardens.

More than that, it soon became apparent that I knew all of the show gardens as there are not actually that many and they had all had plenty of air time.

But seeing them in the flesh, so to speak, was so much better than watching Alan Titmarsh walking through them.

The gardens varied greatly in concept and design to it is impossible to pick one as being typical so I'll pick my favourite instead. The still water and white stone reminded me immensely of China but with a gorgeous modern twist.

As well as the show gardens there was a stupidly wide range of things that you could buy to put in your own.

There were the expected pots, sheds, summer houses, benches and classic sculptures but there was much more than that.

I loved a lot of the modern art that would fit in the home just as well as it would in the garden.

Among this was a collection of large artificial flowers which I could just about imagine sitting on my front lawn and a tall statue of two mermaids with long tails, that reminded me so much of Rusalka at Glyndebourne last year, which needed a larger garden to adorn that I could offer. I probably could not afford it anyway!

There was a surprise, and it was a pleasant one.

I knew there was a marquee with flowers in it but I did not realise just how big or sumptuous that would be.

As with the gardens, it is impossible to pick a single photo that is typical of the floral displays but here's one that I like from the two hundred or so that I took in just a few hours.

The rain taunted the day forcing people in to the marquee at times but did not do enough to ruin the day. But it's a big site with plenty to see and eventually tiredness won and so after a happy five hours I headed more for a cup of tea, some jam sandwiches and a little rest before Dr Who.

Chelsea was a lot of fun and I am delighted that I finally broke my flower show duck but I think that I'll go back to just watching it on the telly next year.

12 June 2010

Gardens by the river

My garden explorations have been a little more adventurous thanks to growing confidence in cycling in London and the seductive and suggestive powers of the National Gardens Scheme website.

And so it was that I found myself in the unknown quarters of Chiswick Mall on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

The journey there was a little challenging due to the scant regard most of London pays to the needs of cyclists which means that the routes are shared with unsympathetic people or even more unsympathetic cars, detour around developments and disappear altogether.

I blame the bumping around West London for the destroyed rear inner tube that meant a very uncomfortable ride. Luckily the gardens made up for this.

Four gardens were on display but one was about the size of the proverbial postage stamp so that left three to stroll through.

Chiswick Mall has grand period houses on the river so envy is an understandable response until you realise that the constant drone is the nearby A4 on a quiet day.

The common themes of the gardens were high walls, long borders and separating the large gardens in to smaller areas with their own character and purpose.

Also common were the high steps that remind you that the Thames rolling gently past the end of the garden can become a powerful and acquisitive beast that can climb small steps and sweep through unprotected houses.

But with the river peaceful, the A4 just a gentle annoyance and the sun bright and hot, the gardens were able to show themselves at their best and they rose to the occasion admirably.

I also loved the way that all the gardens had that lived-in feeling, presumably because they were all lived-in rather than just grown for show.

The gardens over, the next challenge was to plan a route home fit for a broken bike. This sort of worked but the shared path along the river was bike hostile so I took to the road instead, and the tow path by Kew was closed for more building works.

So bit of a curate's egg sort of day but the puncture was not Chiswick's fault and the gardens certainly were so I could just make it back there one day.

11 June 2010

LIKE 14 - Transliteracy

I went in to the LIKE meeting not knowing much at all about transliteracy but that did not matter as all it needed to be was a prompt for good conversations. And it was.

The formal definition we were given to play with was, "a unifying perspective on what it means to be literate in the 21st Century [including] the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks". This definition comes from Professor Thomas and was given to us by Susie Andretta, our facilitator for the evening.

As usual, the conversations wandered wondrously and unpredictably around the topic with each participant nudging it a direction of interest to them or reacting to something that has been added to the mix.

My notes from the evening, also as usual, are a odd mix of things that struck me as we wandered through the evening. One of the reasons that I write these blogs is to allow me to reassess these notes for my own benefit and to give them some sort of structure. This is some of what I wrote, but not in the order in which I wrote it.

Transliteracy, i.e. being literate across many media, is a recently problem. Not that long ago people got all their information from one newspaper and the BBC.

When new media first arrived it was treated like old media; think about how your local library filed videos and tapes.

The literacy skills in the various media and both different and similar. For example, comprehension differs but authenticity is similar. I would like to see further research in to transliteracy explore these differences and similarities to help us all to understand which skills we can transfer and which new ones we need to learn.

While I understand the term transliteracy I am not sure whether it actually helps to use a new word that only a few academics understand. Perhaps something like multi-media literacy, or even just multiliteracy, would be more accessible.

I was pleasantly surprised to find myself quoted in a paper on transliteracy given at a conference of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).

With the arrival of the food and more drinks the conversations wandered even further off topic and my remaining notes are on KM chats on Twitter, Dulwich Picture Gallery and EHICs.

This was another very successful evening and I cannot overstress how useful I find LIKE meetings to my continual learning as a consultant, my intellectual stimulation as an, er, intellect, and my social interactions as a human being.

7 June 2010

Popping in to the Tate Modern

Working close to the Tate Modern is magic!

I loved the building when it was the disused Bankside Power Station and its sympathetic restoration has made it one of the jewels on the South Bank along with the Oxo Tower, National Theatre and South Bank Centre.

I have made the pilgrimage from London Bridge to Waterloo many times but it still excites me every time.

Even on a quick dash for a sarnie from the Rosie Tate Cafe (cheap, cheerful and recommended).

The building's impressive beauty comes from the indomitable dark brick, long sleek windows and the little touches of decoration that belie its strictly industrial heritage.

I want to live there.

On the longer lunch breaks I get to look inside too.

It's normally a quick visit to just one or two galleries. This quickness whets the appetite but does not completely satisfy so it's worth revisiting the same galleries a week or so later.

My usual destination is Level 3 and headlong in to modern paintings, such as the room filled with vast canvasses by Cy Twombly with loops and swirls of dripping red paint. Vision On meets Dexter.

I also like the monochrome (or mostly monochrome) paintings by the likes of Barnett Newman whose 1950 piece Eve is solid blood red (again!) with a sliver of burgundy down the right-hand side. Simple but gorgeous.

It can be easy to take London's treasures for granted at times, in a way that tourists don't, but when they are as close, accessible and rewarding as the Tate Modern then going there easily becomes a habit.

6 June 2010

Chces pivo?

I've been using the meetup website to try news things and meet new people so it's no surprise that I've used it to meet up with some Czech and Slovaks, or rather some people who like to talk in Czech and Slovak.

An added attraction was that the venue for their monthly drinks night is The Falcon next to Clapham Junction. Not only is this on the way home but, because of its convenient location, I've been there a few times before and liked the place.

The Falcon has, apparently, the longest continuous bar in England and it curves its way through a mix of areas that in olden days would have been public bars, lounge bars, a snug and a jug and bottle. There is space for every mood and everybody.

But what I like most about the place is the beer. It has the best selection is real ales that I can recall outside of a beer festival. Choosing one was very hard but in the end I went for the RCH Pitchfork and the Purity Pure Ubu. Both proved to be good choice but I do wish I had time to try some of the others too. Maybe next time.

And there is likely to be a next time as the meetup went well. There was one person that I knew there, which helped a little with the ice-breaking but the other half dozen or so people that I got to speak to were all new to me. As with the BCSA socials, there is no agenda, no plan and no rules; just a group of people with at least one common interest being in the same place at the same time. And it works.

As with most low-key socials, we spoke about nothing in particular and nothing of great import, though I do remember a discussion on family planning in West Africa.

All too soon the two hours that I allowed myself passed and it time to take the steps up to the station and the train home. But I think that I will be back there for more of the same next month.

5 June 2010

Billy Budd at Glyndebourne

Booking for the Glyndebourne Festival is a delicate matter of balancing friends' interests and availability and this year we are taking people to Macbeth, Don Giovanni and The Rake's Progress.

All very good but I wanted to see Billy Budd too so we decided to go on our own. This meant a slight deviation from the normal plans as, without company, there was no point in spending the whole afternoon there or in being too elaborate with the picnic. Instead the plan was to arrive there with just enough times for a Pimms before the start of the opera and, despite a bit of traffic trouble, the plan worked well.

Billy Budd was my third Benjamin Britten opera at Glyndebourne having seen The Turn of the Screw in 2007 and Albert Herring in 2008 so I had high expectations.

Billy Budd takes place entirely on board an English battleship HMS Indomitable during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1797.

The oppressive staging magnificently conveyed the darkness, crowding and brutality of life below decks and set the tone for the story perfectly.

Not surprisingly it's an all male cast and that works surprisingly well as it maintains the tension and drama.

There are several principle roles but it was the ensemble singing that I enjoyed the most. But all the singing was crystal clear, even from the cheap seats (£100 each!) at the back and the sur titles were largely redundant.

The plot is slight but moves along at a steady pace and there are some rich characters too so there is always something to grab your attention and the evening whizzed by in unseemly haste. It also ends in strangely positive mood despite Billy Budd's demise.

Billy Budd was a good example of all the things that Glyndebourne does consistently well with great staging, direction, singing and acting.

1 June 2010

Brompton Cemetery

I had only been to Brompton Cemetery once before, and that was as a short-cut from Earl's Court to Stamford Bridge around ten years ago, so it was long overdue a revisit. The excuse this time was the Arts Link Meetup Group who arranged a day of sketching, photography and general exploration.

Felling brave, I chose to cycle there and that worked pretty well with a large part of the journey being through Richmond Park and the few main roads that I had to use were quieter than usual thanks to it being a Bank Holiday weekend.

We met, around twenty of us, in a cafe where I refuelled with a late breakfast or early lunch of pitta bread with a pumpkin and chilli dip. It did the trick neatly.

Apparently lots of famous people have been laid to rest in Brompton Cemetery but I'm not that interested in history or biographies. My reason for being there was the masonry.

A lot of this is the typical angels and it was impossible to get Dr Who out of my mind. I'm sure I blinked once or twice but I got away with it. This time.

The cemetery is tightly packed, reflecting the London around it, and has a nicely cluttered and unkempt feel to it. It helps that it is a Royal Park.

The long straight walk north to south through the centre of cemetery uncovers an eclectic mix of crosses, headstones, family mausoleums and statues ranging from a small bird to a preposterous lion. Walking slowly and carefully lets some of the subtle detail get noticed through the sea of grey stone swimming on a tide of long sharp grass and it's this detail that makes Brompton Cemetery so attractive.