31 March 2011

Morethanmusic with John Watts

John Watts is probably still best known in the UK as the front-man with Fischer-z who had several popular albums and singles between 1979-81. I was lucky enough to see them live in '79 and have been a fan ever since.

After Fischer-z, John's solo career has continued but mostly in Western Europe (NL, BE and DE). His UK appearances have been rare and the London appearances even rarer. The last time I saw John was in late 2007.

So when I heard about the UK launch of his latest album, Morethanmusic, it was an easy decision to get a ticket.

There were some logistical problems to overcome. It was on a working day when I would normally wear a suit and tie to the office but I could lapse in to smart casual if the evening demanded it. But I also had an event at the Slovak Embassy earlier that evening which suggested a better suit than usual as well as a late arrival to the gig.

In the end the dress code dispute resolved itself in favour of a good suite and clarification of the start time of John's set meant that I could attend both events that evening without too much hassle.

I got to the Borderline with about fifteen minutes to spare before John took the stage for a short solo set.

I didn't take notes for this but my recollection, and the copy of the much-amended set-list that I got, suggest that he played about half a dozen songs from across his career.

Most of these I knew and I was singing along to things like What a Time and Face to Remember.

And that is the essence of John Watts, songs that you want to sing along to.

John was then joined on stage by his band, a fairly typical combination of keyboards, bass and drums, to play the Morethanmusic album.

The songs were still very much John Watts, we would all have been disappointed if that were not the case, and the addition of the band made the sound rockier and bouncier. It reminded me a little of the way that Neil Young has acoustic and electric sections within his performances. The same songs with the same feel but with a different delivery.

For the encore we were thrown back joyfully to the Fischer-z era with a small selection of songs that included Pretty Paracetamol, Red Skies over Paradise and In England. All rumbustious crowd-pleasing stuff. Who could possibly stop themselves from singing along to the chorus of Red Skies (Down in their bunkers, under the sea, Men pressing buttons, don't care about me)?

As long as John Watts writes music like that then I'll keep buying it.

Hopefully the next album will be updated versions of Fischer-Z songs which fans can commission by buying exclusive items which will also help a kids' charity. You know this is a good idea.

30 March 2011

Slovakia in History

I don't recall ever being to a book launch before. I've been to several private viewings at galleries and the like but never a book launch. The book that broke this enviable record was Slovakia in History and I was invited because of my Czech/Slovak interests.

Though, to be honest, I accepted the invitation more because it was being held at the Slovak Embassy than anything else. This meant that I was guaranteed to see some familiar and friendly faces and also that the associated reception would be worth the trip.

The launch took the form of a speakers' panel with the three editors, Mikuláš Teich of Robinson College, Cambridge, Dušan Kováč, of the Slovak Academy of Sciences and Martin Brown of The American International University in London. Martin is a BCSA member and is a regular speaker at our events.

The three editors each gave us a perspective on how they approached the book and told us something of its history; the idea of doing a history book on Slovakia in English was first mooted some fifteen years ago.

The first problem encountered is defining what is meant by Slovakia in the context of history. Slovakia is firmly in Central Europe and its changing borders have been part of several large empires over the centuries, notably the Austro-Hungarian.

Similarly the Slovak people and their customs are not so easily defined with their close relationships to their Slavic cousins in the neighbouring Czech Republic and Poland and to the Hungarians to the south.

One word of caution though, this is an academic book and is priced accordingly.

To complement the book we had a music interlude of Slovak folk songs arranged for piano and violin. That went down very well.

After the speeches and a Q&A session came the reception and once again the Slovak Embassy put on a good show.

I love the building with it's main reception room that has glass doors to the garden on one side, a mezzanine floor, a strange glass light and lots of lovely rough concrete.

The space is also quite flexible and was arranged very differently from the previous visit just the week before. The layout also encourages you to flow around the room and to mix with other people, which is the main point of receptions like this for me.

A simple, pleasant evening with a fond concoction of history, culture and conversations. This is why I go out at night.

29 March 2011

"Majority Support" is an AV myth

The proponents of the Alternative Vote (AV) make several exaggerated claims for the system that are myths, at best. The biggest of these are around the claims that it delivers MPs with "majority support".

This claim fails on both the micro and macro levels. Let's pull it apart at the detailed level first.

The problem with "majority support" is that "majority" does not mean majority and "support" does not mean support in any normal usage of these words.

Clearly the majority referred to is not a majority of constituents as a high percentage of people don't even vote. Amazingly this claim is still made by some people - and they say AV is easy to understand!

Nor does it mean a majority of voters as many people will only vote for candidates that are eliminated before the final round of counting and so are not included in the final result. For example, if I vote Green then Labour in Richmond Park I am not included in the final run-off between the Conservatives and Lib. Dems.

What it actually means is a majority of votes that are left in the final round of counting. At this point calling it a majority is meaningless.

It would be just as sensible to carry on the reallocation of votes from the lowest candidate in each round until there is only one candidate left and then claiming that MP had unanimous support. This is clearly ridiculous but the claim for majority support under AV is equally so.

And "support" is a problem too. If I vote Green then Labour it's reasonable to suppose that either of those parties has my positive support but if I then vote Conservative to keep the Lib. Dems. out then it is hardly fair to say that I support the Conservatives. Hating one party slightly less than another is not the same as supporting them.

A simple way of dismissing the majority support argument is to just think about what voting actually does. Voting tries to measure our support for candidates, it does not, of itself, determine that support. That is we feel the same way about each of the candidates irrespective of how we then vote for them.

So under FPTP we get MPs elected on a minority of votes but under AV we get mostly the same MPs elected but now we claim that they have greater support than they had before. This is clearly madness but, sadly, is exactly the confused thinking that most AV proponents are guilty of.

AV tries to fool people in to thinking that it will deliver more popular MPs when all it does is redefine what "popular" means. It's an AV myth.

27 March 2011

Adolf Loos exhibition at RIBA

The Adolf Loos exhibition at RIBA hits a lot of my sweet spots.

I like architecture exhibitions. I always go the one at the V&A when I am there and I look out for other ones to go to. The exhibition in Brno Castle is a recent fond memory.

Adolf Loos was Czech so this also fits neatly in with my Czech/Slovak interests.

The exhibition is being staged at RIBA which is both convenient to get to and an interesting building in its own right. I was last there a few years ago for a Gurteen Knowledge Cafe and had broken several promises to go back.

There is a large public space on the first floor which is mostly a cafe and a restaurant but there is also a gallery which housed part of the Loos exhibition. The rest of it was spread thinly across small spaces on the next two floors and in the stairwell.

The exhibition takes us chronologically through some of Loos' major works going in to each one in some details with the story of the commission and particulars of the design approach and materials used.

These works date from the early 20th century and reflect the move towards modern styles with clean uncluttered lines.

There are lots of photographs to show you the interiors and some of the colour schemes are certainly quite brave! I'm not convinced that I would want a room with a green floor and bright orange pillars.

The colours come from wood and marble veneers, to which Loos paid a lot of personal attention to ensure that he got the final look that he was after.

Part of the exhibition shows how some of these buildings are being restored to their original glory, working from original documents, drawings and photographs. Through this painstaking work we can see how these rooms and buildings looked when Loos was working on them and so can appreciate them that much more.

Most of the exhibits are pictures and texts, original and contemporary, but there are a few objects too.

The picture above shows some of the tables and chairs designed by Loos but my favourite object is this model.

It is of the Villa Müller in Prague from 1928 to 1930 and is simply magnificent.

I like the common design of all the older buildings in Prague such that you cannot tell if a building is a block of flats, a school an office or a hospital. Only the people going in and out of it give you a clue.

This villa is a single property but could just as easily be a block of flats for several families. Because of this many of the mansions in Prague do not stand out against their lesser neighbours.

What does make the Villa Müller stand out is not its size but its modern design with clean lines and no decoration. A sharp contrast the the flowering Baroque excesses that fill most of old Prague.

Prague was the last stop on Loos' career, as featured in the main part of the exhibition, that started in Pilsen before moving on and up to Brno and then to Prague. The Villa Müller was completed just a couple of years before he died.

Moving up to the fourth floor we can see some of his work in Vienna for which he is more famous.

Principle among these is the Goldman & Salatsch Building overlooking Michaelerplatz in the heart of Vienna. This is acquired the name "Looshaus" such is the impact he and the building have.

From the same period and place we have an unexpected American Dinner which clearly drew of Loos' three years in the USA but which is equally clearly his work.

The exhibition runs until 3 May and I might well go again before it closes.

25 March 2011

Debating the Alternative Vote (AV) at the LSE

I find LSE events bit of a mixed bag but a debate on the Alternative Voted tempted me out for the evening. Or rather, to stay out, as I was spending the day doing bits and pieces in London anyway.

As with the recent debate at UCL, it was held in an impressive lecture theatre, this time it was the New Theatre in the East Building. A change for me as I'd previously only been to the Old Theatre and the Newer Theatre (real name the Sheikh Zayed Theatre).

I arrived just a little early so I sneaked in to the student bar, The 3 Tuns, to celebrate Paddy's Night with a £2 pint of Guinness, about half the usual Richmond price. That's what I call a good deal!

The debate took the usual format with two speakers each for and against the motion, Should we say Yes to AV?

In favour of the proposition were Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, and Helen Margetts, Professor of Society and the Internet at the Oxford Internet Institute.Opposing them were Mark Wallace, experienced political campaigner and former Campaign Director of the Tax Payers' Alliance, and James Forder, Fellow at Balliol College Oxford.

Our chairman for the evening was the LSE's Professor Simon Hix. More on him later.

With such a high-powered set of speakers I had high expectations for the debate.

These were soon dashed.

Katie Ghose opened the debate with the usual bland promises, such as AV would make MPs work harder, but with no evidence or even a reasonable hypothesis as to why this might be the case.

We also heard the old deceit about AV producing majority support for MPs.

In response, Mark Wallace, calmly and comprehensively demolished every pro-AV argument that we had heard and summed this up well by calling AV a false promise.

And that's the real problem. Lot's of people want AV for all sorts of reasons, like hard-working MPs, and they will all be disappointed if we get AV as it can deliver none of these.

Helen Margetts gave us a PowerPoint presentation that tried to explain why FPTP is no longer suitable and while there was some merit in that argument there was none in the subsequent claim that AV would fix the faults. For example, we will still have a high proportion of very safe and reasonably safe seats where MPs will have a "job for life".

My hero of the evening, James Forder, took an analytical fact-based view of AV's faults. He even used some of Helen Margetts' presentation to make his points, replacing her flawed reasoning with something logical.

Our chair became bit of a problem. Professor Simon Hix made it clear early on that he was for AV and he intervened in the debate on that side. I was seriously tempted to write to him complaining about his behaviour but I got my revenge when I found this video on YouTube, where, just a few months ago, he explains why AV is a poor substitute for FPTP.

Some other good points were made against AV during the debate.

AV would deliver beige MPs as all three main parties, already fairly similar, will move even closer into the safe territory in the middle, scared to offer views that could be considered extreme buy either Left or Right.

By treating all preferences equally AV tells us nothing about how voters actually feel. If I vote Green then Labour, is my Labour second-preference vote a strong left-wing vote or a tactical anti-right one?

The pro-AV vagueness aside, this was a good debate conducted in good spirit and was fair use of a spare evening.

That evening got even better when the No to AV camp won the debate on a show of hands at the end.

22 March 2011

Kew Tropical Extravaganza 2011

I got to Kew's Tropical Extravaganza in its final days. The penultimate day, actually.

A prompt start got me to the gardens just as they opened at 9:30. The small queue looked just like you'd expect a queue for a gardens to look and I hope that I looked out of place there.

As with last year, flashing my annual membership card (what a good buy that was!) got me quick entry and I headed straight for the Princess of Wales Conservatory to see the orchids before the small children arrived, as they always do.

The centre piece of the conservatory is a water feature surrounded on all sides by plants, stuffed full with fish and encircled by concrete walkways and steps.

This was also the centre if the display with clumps of orchids colonising the water and, above them, more orchids sweeping down from the upper level. Colour was everywhere.

And colour is what orchids are all about.

That and shape.

A closer look at the flowers reveals the subtlety of the colours and the intricacy of the shapes.

The conservatory was getting busier by then but it was still quiet enough to be able to pick the best places to stand and to have the time to compose the shot.

Once again the Canon Ixus did all that was asked of it.

While I make no great claims of it as a machine or myself as its operator, I was very pleased with the sixty or so photos that eventually found their way on to Facebook. Of course there were also quite a few that got quietly ignored!

I'm not a great fan of the exterior of the Princess of Wales Conservatory but the interior just works thanks to its different sections, levels and paths connecting them.

And so going through a door always opens up new possibilities, new perspectives and new plants.

The cacti had retained their control of one end of the conservatory but the orchids had claimed the centre and the other ends which meant that there was plenty to see and enjoy.

I must have spent something like ninety leisurely minutes in there.

From there it was off to The Orangery for a coffee, a slice of Dundee cake and a short rest before heading back to the Victoria Gate via the Alpine House and the Rock Garden.

And so ended yet another successful visit to Kew and my first year of membership. I'll be renewing.

21 March 2011

Permitted developments

Nothing gets the members of the Kingston upon Thames Society going more than a development they do not like so a speaker from the local planning office was bound to attract their attention and interest.

Except it is not called Planning any more, because nobody does any planning. Now It's Development Control and even that veneer of control is pretty thin.

What we were there to hear about was permitted development, that is official acknowledgement that a development does not require planning permission because it fits objectively within the development guidelines.

This could be seen as "planning lite" allowing developers to skip around the regulations but our speaker, Nicola Smith, was quite clear and firm that the rules on permitted development are tight and unambiguous.

These rules date all the way back to 1948 and have been frequently updated since then to meet changing requirements and fashions.

The talk and subsequent discussion exposed some of the problems with the planning system. It relies heavily on people knowing that they need to apply for permission and for others to notice when applications are submitted or when developments are made without them.

One of the big problems is that councils (and RBK is no worse here than others in this respect) make so little effort to inform residents of applications in their area. This information is held in IT systems and could be made readily available but they don't do it. There used to be a useful independent service called PlanningAlerts.com but this has ceased.

Technology can help in some areas and aerial photos are now widely used to help enforcement errors to spot developments that have been made without permission.

As expected, the meeting rather degenerated in to a winge about specific developments that the people there did not like but that did not eclipse the important fact that this was an interesting and informative talk given by somebody who knows her subject well.

20 March 2011

secondSight back in Croydon

Amazingly it is almost three months since I last saw secondSight when they rocked the Scream Lounge in Croydon at the end of December. Deep in to March they returned, and so did I.

The routine worked well last time so I repeated it this; wore smart-casual to work, went to The George for a beer and some food before hand, went for the Nachos and walked to the venue early to get a good seat.

Then I turned tradition on its head and went to the right of the stage instead of the familiar left.

My main motive for this was to take get a different view of the stage so that I could photos from a different angle and of different band members.

Unfortunately Julian Veasy (keyboards) anticipated this and moved from his usual front-left to back-right where the lights could not get to him and so my point-and-press camera could not get any decent close-ups. I'll get you next time Julian!

The other advantage of being on the right is that I could see lead singer, Chris Baboon, without having to peer over the music stand he uses to remind him of some of the lyrics.

The only problem then is to try and catch when he is not moving too much, which is not easy. I have lots of rejected photos with blurred head, arms and legs. But that's fine, I'd much rather an active hard-to-photograph front-man than somebody in the Val Doonican mold.

On the far right you can just about see Norman Leader on lead guitar, sadly playing his last gig with secondSight before moving on to other projects.

That leaves the flamboyantly dressed Nick Loebner on bass at front-right and Mike Lane on drums in his new position behind him.

The minor tweaks to the staging were echoed in the set with one small change making quite a difference. Gone was the one Yes song, Siberian Khatru, to be replaced by another Pink Floyd song, the marvellous Wish You Were Here. It is a great song but it made most of the set a battle of the bands between Genesis and Pink Floyd (Pink Floyd won!).

The battle was broken up with songs by King Crimson, Radiohead, Jethro Tull and The Cardiacs. Of these The Cardiacs song, The Whole World Window, is the one that I know the least, though it is becoming more familiar. It also got the most positive reaction from the crowd who needed no encouragement to sing along.

Oddly, the same people were equally enthusiastic about Supper's Ready.

The final surprise of the evening was the guest appearance of a saxophonist for Money. Good plan!

One of the best things about secondSight is that they play some of the less expected songs of the famous bands.

So, for example, the Pink Floyd numbers included Dogs and Echoes. We had Money and Comfortably Numb too, but nobody is going to object to that.

Add to the evening the opportunity to mix with the band, to be part of an appreciative audience, the opportunity to catch up with some other fans and you have another great night out.

The only disappointment was having to leave very promptly at the end to catch my train to Clapham Junction, which I made with just a minute or so to spare. So even that worked well.

I'm not sure what happens next with secondSight with Norman's departure but I hope that they get back on stage before too long. And I hope that I'm there too.

17 March 2011

Reading Hebron at the Orange Tree

Reading Hebron tries to describe some of the Israel/Palestine issues by exploring one event, the Hebron (or Cave of the Patriarchs) Massacre of 1994.

The play tells the story of Nathan Abramowitz, an American Jew, who is keen to learn more about the event to understand what it means to Jews in general and to himself specifically.

The (overly) simple starting point is that the massacre (and it's possibly cover-up) was a major crime and Nathan wants to know if he shares any of the guilt.

As Nathan researches the incident he learns more about the event, its context (e.g. the suicide bombing of that time) and it's history (the first Hebron Massacre was in 1929 and then Jews were the victims).

Nathan is central to the play which makes the actor David Antrobus central too. David is an Orange Tree regular and always delivers fine performances.

I tend to judge actors the same way that I judge the furniture on the stage; if it works well then you do not notice it, it all just seems natural. Actors only grab my attention on those occasions when they are stunningly good or, rarely, stunningly bad.

Here are five actors did what you wanted them to do, i.e. deliver convincing performances that did not pull your attention away from them as characters to them as actors.

This was no mean feat at the other four played multiple roles usually with just a minor clue in the dress or accent to guide you. Just as an extreme example, Amber Agha plays a young boy at one point.

This was a very effective device and allowed the story to include many witnesses to and viewpoints of the incident and the issues around it.

I did read somewhere that one of the actors was criticised for not sounding authentic enough as a Jewish mother but that misses the point completely; the Jewish mother was a minor role and all we needed was to know was that she was one from what she said and how she said, and that we did.

I may rank actors alongside the furniture but I'll stand up for them when I think they are being unfairly criticised!

As always, the other strength of the Orange Tree is the staging.

The set was simple, a desk and a few chairs, which morphed in to several different rooms throughout the play just as the actors morphed between characters.

It all worked very well.

The frequent changes keep the story moving quickly along for a hundred minutes without a break, as seems to be the modern fashion. That was two plays in four days and no ice-creams.

Through the play we see that the issue, like most others, is more complex than it might at first seem and their are many viewpoints and many histories. We also learn quite a few specifics about the Israel/Palestine situation and about Jewishness.

Another cracking production from the Orange Tree that confirmed, if confirmation was needed, that I am right to go and see everything that they do.

There was a little after-show plus as well. Having retired to the Sun Inn around the corner I was delighted to see one of the actors, Esther Ruth Elliott, come in. This gave me the opportunity for some unashamed fan worship and to say a few words about how much her acting in Once we were Mothers meant to me.

16 March 2011

Celebrating twenty years of the Visegrad Group

The Slovak Embassy certainly knows how to put on an event.

The occasion this time was a celebration of twenty years of the Visegrad Group, originally composed of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary but now grown to the Visegrad Four with the formation of the Czech and Slovak Republics.

The first meeting of the group was, oddly enough, in Visegrad which is little more than a small town on a river in Hungary. I've been there and there's not a lot to see.

The exhibition was a collection of photographs and text descriptions of the regional centres in the four countries. These are taken from a book, V4, commissioned for the anniversary by the cultural and foreign affairs sections of the Slovak Republic.

It's a good book, I've got a signed copy from the evening, but the presentation of the photographs was rather unimaginative. Lucky then that the pictures themselves made up for the way that they are presented.

The towns were displayed like a travel brochure and conjured up ideas of extravagant tours to see as many of them as possible. There are 56 towns in the book and I've only been to 7 of them. Plans are being made.

The food and drink we had to fuel us as we walked around the exhibition were exceptional. I'm sure it was all very ethnic but I mostly stuck to the English tradition of cheese and wine.

There were lots of people to speak to too, including colleagues from the BCSA, contacts from the Embassy, a colleague from work, the author of the book and some new people.

With good people to talk to, an exhibition to prompt conversations and some food and drink to keep energy levels high we had all the ingredients for a good evening.

So it was with some reluctance when we stragglers were politely kicked out around 9pm. Luckily there is a nice pub just across the road.

15 March 2011

In a Forest Dark and Deep

The main reason that I was interested in this play was because I could get cheap tickets through work where we regularly take advantage of group bookings. A good enough reason to try something new.

I sort of knew of the lead actor too, at least I knew he was a lead character in Lost. Even if I never really watched the show and could not remember his name his presence added a little cache, as big names always do.

The brief billing promised a dark comedy and that was the clincher. I like dark and I like comedy and I really love dark comedy.

The theatre was new to me too.

The Vaudeville sits quietly on The Strand almost opposite the Savoy where I saw Legally Blonde a few months ago.

More years ago than I care to remember now, i.e. something like twenty five, I stayed for a few months in a small squalid hotel on The Strand (I was paying with my own money) and walked along there most days on the regular trip between Pizza Hut (remember that?) and The Lyceum (that's the Sam Smiths pub, not the theatre). I'm fairly certain that the Vaudeville was not there then, I'd have noticed!

Inside the Vaudeville is much like any other outdated and shabby Victorian theatre. Not much going for it at all.

The play does, however.

For ninety minutes or so two people talk while packing things away ready to move out. Think of Waiting for Godot without an interval.

Through their conversation we learn that they are brother and sister, have never really got on with each other and have led very different lives; he's a carpenter and she's a professor.

And that's it really. As they talk we learn more about their pasts, his two failed marriages and her sexual excesses as a young woman. And as we listen in on their conversation our knowledge and interest grows and we are enmeshed willingly in their lives.

Then the play takes a slow turn. As the conversation turns to the more recent past, including the reason for the move, a shocking mystery slowly appears, which I won't spoil for you, and the story reaches an unexpected end.

It's a simple story which helps to make it the more believable and this is helped by the natural pace with which it develops. The acting is simple too in that there is nothing particularly dramatic happening but it is also completely believable, and that's all it has to be.

This was my first exposure to Neil Labute and would quite like to see some more of his stuff.

Altogether it was simply another good night at the theatre. Recommended.

13 March 2011

Pictures in a gallery

Somehow this was my first ever visit to Tate Britain.

It's not that I'm a stranger to art galleries, I've been to Tate Modern many times and the National Gallery several times, but never to Tate Britain.

I'll blame its location for this. Tate Modern has a prime position on the rejuvenated south Bank, the National Gallery is on Trafalgar Square in the heart of London but Tate Britain hides among the mansion blocks of Westminster a safe distance from any tube station.

I discovered where Tate Britain is, and how to get there, in my regular morning walks to work from Vauxhall Station and that's the route I took this time, over Vauxhall Bridge and then a right-turn towards Millbank.

The first stop was the busy and slow cafe for my usual latte that was just about worth the wait. The cake helped the mood too.

Tate Britain offers a map but it's a quid and there's only one main floor so how hard could it be? With no particular objective in mind I headed upstairs and into a room promising Blake and Physiognomy and then just moved on to whatever room looked most interesting.

One of the first pictures to catch my eye was Edward Wadsworth's Bronze Ballet with its fresh colours and clean lines.

 I also like the low vantage point, high horizon and the ships in the distance.

Next up was Winifred Knights' The Deluge.

Here it is the figures that I like.

The sharply angled poses and the definitive hand gestures make this look like a scene from a modern ballet, not that they had modern ballet in 1920 when this was painted.

The anguish in their expressions also reminded me of Nick Cave's Weeping Song.

The lack of colour adds to the bleakness but, somehow, despite the negative subject and portrayal, it's a very attractive picture.

The Pre-Raphaelite section was especially popular and was thronged with visitors.

One of the more famous pictures here is Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais.

The river was painted from real life in Kingston. It's part of the Hogsmill that joins the Thames in the town centre. Ophelia was added in later, probably using PaintShop.

I love the Pre-Raphaelite thanks to the comic artwork of Barry Windsor Smith who was clearly a big fan too. It's the magic and the mystery. There's a story in every picture.

Tate Britain houses a large collection of paintings by Joseph Mallord William Turner and it's easily worth visiting just for that.

They can be found in the Romantics exhibition, but not easily due to some renovation works. Perhaps I should have bought that map.

The exhibition covers all of Turner's career and it is interesting so see how the traditional early works morphed in to the later abstracts for which he is most famous for.

This picture is called Sun Setting over a Lake, but that hardly matters. Love it for its colours.

And this story ends as it began with William Blake.

One of the Romantics galleries has a series of small book illustrations by Blake drawn with watercolour and ink on paper. These were originally done in just ink and the colouring was done much later.

This is a plate from The Book of Urizen written by Blake in 1794 which is a parody of the Book of Genesis.

The style is definitely Romantic and brings another comics illustrator to mind, this time it's P Craig Russell.

I'm not sure how much of Tate Britain I got to see in the end (I should have bought that map) but there is plenty left for another visit. Soon hopefully.

12 March 2011

Trollope in Barsetshire at the Riverside

The Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, much like the Orange Tree in Richmond and Jacksons Lane in Highgate, is a small theatre with an exciting mix of eclectic shows that I find so much more interesting that the traditional fare unimaginatively presented by larger theatres in Kingston, Richmond and Wimbledon.

And so just a few weeks after seeing the joyous, frivolous and jolly Salad Days I was back there to see Edward Fox's one-man show on Trollope in Barsetshire.

It's probably some twenty five years since I feasted on the chronicles of Barsetshire, the six connected novels on church life, and was looking forward to being reminded of them and also to learning a little but more about them too.

My interest in this was mostly fired by Barsetshire but clearly it was a big plus that telling the story behind the stories was Edward Fox who needs to further introduction from me.

He played that part of Trollope looking back at writing the novels and quoting some passages from them to illustrate some of the point.

And so the show starts with Trollope explaining how Barsetshire grew in his mind from a collection of places he visited in his role at the Post Office. Barchester had many parents, the most important of which was Salisbury.

Trollope is in his library and we feel that we are there too. To keep energy in the performance he moves between the two comfortable chairs and he goes to the large bookcase behind him from time to time to get a book to read from.

That may not sound like a lot of visual stimulation but it certainly beats having just a talking head and it actually works very well. There is just enough to keep the eye interested and to allow the ear to focus on the words.

As Trollope takes us through his books he mostly tells us about some of the characters and not so much of the events that they are involved in, but that is an honest representation of the books which are all about character and the story is just there as a device to show of the characters.

This come across also in the correspondence that Trollope receives from fans that is all about wanting to know the fate, or to suggest a fate, for their favourite characters.

Despite the passage of twenty five years fond memories of those characters were teased back by Trollope's stories and readings. We heard about Septimus Harding, Archdeacon Grantly, Bishop and Mrs Proudie, Doctor Thorne, Lily Dale and John Eames.

Possibly the most moving excerpt was the death of Mrs Proudie from The Last Chronicle of Barset. In life she was the power and authority behind the Bishop and her passing brought mixed motions of relief, guilt and sorrow.

Edward Fox delivers his long monologue with charm and Victorian passion and what could sound dull, "man reads Trollope for ninety minutes", is actually an engaging and enthralling evening and was a lot more fun. Simply good theatre.

11 March 2011

Water and wood

Richmond Park is not may favourite place to go for a walk because large sections of it are busy and featureless but it makes up for this in its size which lets you spend a lot of time well away from cars.

One of the park's main attraction is Pen Ponds which is located somewhere near the centre.

You are never that far from a car park in Richmond Park (I'd close the lot of them) but the nearest to Pen Ponds is a couple of hundred meters away, and it's uphill all the way back, so most of the people there are out for a serious walk.

The wild fowl know that people mean food so they cluster enthusiastically in the corner of the upper pond where it means the path from the car park.

Clearly many walkers cannot wait to get rid of any bread that they have bought with them and feed the birds at the first opportunity that they get rather than walking on a little to somewhere quieter and prettier.

Composing the picture to avoid the clump of bird feeders is easily done and provides a view that is devoid of people. This I like.

Much of Richmond Park is scrub land thick with ferns that flash green and brown as the seasons change. Not very interesting.

Raising the spirits are gangs of trees gathered together for mutual comfort and support.

Here the paths get lost under a carpet of leaves freeing the walker to head in any direction and I like to emerge from one not quite knowing where I am. What's the point of going for a long walk if you don't get lost?

Again the damp grey March weather has kept most people away and the countryside illusion is successfully maintained. All to soon the sun will come back and the hordes with it and Richmond Park will lose its magic.

6 March 2011

Space Ritual at The Borderline

Somehow I only got to see Space Ritual twice in 2010 so it was good to see them again early this year.

The last time was back in May when I wrote that I thought of the 100 Club as their spiritual home but due to changes at that venue that proved to be their last show there.

So welcome to The Borderline just round the corner from Foyles.

This was my first event there and I took an immediate liking to the venue. Where the 100 Club is a simple flat rectangle with a bar at one of the short ends The Borderline is more like a bar with different levels, different areas and two bars in the centre of the action.

The only down side is that lack of a decent bitter, and no Beck's either, so I was reluctantly forced on to the American Budweiser which I normally avoid as a mark of solidarity with the Czech Budvar.

The bottle of beer secured I claimed a place next to the stage. Picking where to stand is always an issue with Space Ritual as they fill the stage and this time I chose to go to the left next to where Mick Slattery would be standing, but you've probably guessed that.

Also there were Facebook friends Pete, Adrian, Robert, Nick, Melissa and Joanne. Space Ritual gigs are social occasions too.

Space Ritual always have an issue with arranging themselves on the stage due to their numbers and the need to leave space for Ms Angel to dance in. They solved that problem this tie by adopting a strict 4-4 formation.

The front line (L-R) was Chris Purdon, Mick Slattery, Nik Turner and Thomas Crimble (facing forwards for a change). Spread across the back were Sam Ollis, Terry Ollis and new boy Gary Smart. That left a narrow corridor in the middle for Ms Angel to strut her stuff in.

Gary Smart's arrival on bass allowed this new formation as he does not sing at all, unlike Jerry Richards, so has no need to come forward. This allowed Thomas Crimble to face the front rather than to sit side-on and created the space in the middle for Ms Angel.

But that was the only noticeable change and musically Space Ritual were more or less as expected. I did take a photo of a set list at the start but they did not keep to that so I'll have to work from unreliable memory.

The set list they actually played seemed to be similar to that from last year with less of a reliance on some old favourites (e.g. no Orgone Accumulator or Spirit of the Age), a fair clutch of songs from their last studio album, Otherworld from 2007, and all songs played with extended funky riffs.

It really worked.

The crowd, helped I think by the layout of the place, really got in to the music and their was a manic mosh pit towards the end and some crowd surfing from Ms Angel.

Pleasingly it was their own song, Otherworld, that got the most positive reaction.

The last section of the set got a little weird. The band were joined by several more musicians including two French horns and a clarinet for a sequence that included a Charlie Mingus song. By then the crowd was so happy that even that was received rapturously.

Brainstorm ended the evening, as it should, and sense and order were resumed.

This was Space Ritual on absolute top form and reminding me just why I go to all of their gigs that I can. They are still very special.

4 March 2011

LIKE 22: What is Knowledge Management - really?

LIKE returned to its roots in February with a discussion on what we mean by the term Knowledge Management.

It may seem like a well worn road with little prospect of discovering anything new but more than forty people thought otherwise and the meeting was soon oversubscribed and had a waiting list.
Those lucky enough to get a place started to fill the upstairs room at The Crown Tavern on Clerkenwell Green, the new home of LIKE and a decent pub in its own right, particularly if you like real ale as much as I do.

I was beer and juice monitor for the evening which meant I was allowed to wear a LIKE badge. As always the badge had the last laugh and pricked me viciously despite my attempts to restrain it in a spectacles case.

It was during these somewhat less than onerous duties that it was suggested that I top and tail the discussions. Bit of a surprise but no problem.

At 6:30 we were politely asked to break up our conversations and to take our seats. These are arranged by meal selection so I found myself back on the leather sofas with a (mostly) familiar selection of veggies. We're a good crowd.

Leading off the discussion were Matt Walsh, Linda Woodcraft, James Andrews and Katharine Schopflin who each spent just a few minutes telling us what KM means in their organisation.

Introductions over, it was up to me to summarise the talks and then set the tables off on their own discussions for twenty minutes or so before bring them all back together again for a group summary.

As usual my notes from the evening are few and unstructured but are offered here as an indication of what we covered.

KM can mean sharing, indexing, easy retrieval, connecting people, collection stories, finding experts, taxonomies, standards, gate-keepers, meta-data, social networking, supporting processes, wikis, recommendations, adding value, questions, searching, ...

There were many themes and ideas suggested and shared and while there was no great consensus on a definition of KM (not that we were really trying to get to one) but a couple of points that were made did get general agreement:
  • The role of the KM practitioner is to understand how knowledge brings value to an organisation and how it can be exploited.
  • KM is now accepted as a real thing and not the hype, or vapour-ware, that it was generally though to be just a few years ago.
Dinner and more drinks arrived on schedule at 7:30 but that did little to halt the conversations. After the food the mixing started and the room was still pretty full of people and talk when I finally forced myself to leave some time after 9pm.

Simply another great evening at LIKE.

3 March 2011

Liberty shirts are always in fashion

Liberty remains my favourite shop on the planet.

I wear a Liberty tie to work every day and a bow tie to the opera, sometimes with a matching handkerchief in the jacket pocket. I used to wear those to work too but fashions change.

I have a fond collection of casual shirts for the weekends that get reluctantly relegated to wear-when-gardening pile when too worn for public consumption.

I was in heaven when I worked just 100m away but times move on and I have fewer opportunities to get there these days; but it's still fun when I do.

I had one of those opportunities recently and it was good to see lots of Liberty fabric shirts as in some periods they have been rather thin on the ground. Sadly they now cost £150 so I'll need a pretty good excuse to buy some more.

In the meantime I can look admiringly at them and dream.

1 March 2011

Big Ideas on work

The prospect of discussing "Is Work Central To Being Human?" drew a heaving crown to the upstairs room of The Wheatsheaf in Fitzrovia for the February meeting of Big Ideas.

I've got in to the swing of these meetings now and was at the pub early for a beer and cheesy chips before heading upstairs a good half an hour before the scheduled 8pm start to secure a seat at a table. I was not the first person up there either and it was soon packed with standing room only, and that in the corridor.

Undaunted by the large crowd, Dr Nina Power led the discussion with some suggestions on what we might mean by work and why that matters. Themes tossed in to the mix included, payment, purpose, activity and convention.

Once opened up to the eager audience the broad theme or work was stretched in various directions purposefully and amiably as various pet ideas (including Marx, of course) and some new concepts emerged.

As usual I was too intent on listening to and participating in the debate to take many notes, though I did manage to swap tweets with Danny sitting next to me. so what follows is a summary of a précis of a synopsis of the rich debate that swirled and looped and danced around the room for an hour and a half.

Most of us now live in some sort of perpetual fear of unemployment now that the jobs for life have gone.

People are meant to feel depressed and unworthy if they are unemployed and to be desperate to get back to work. Somehow this does not apply to the idle rich.

Marx's views of the four alienations of the worker include that of the employed against the unemployed who would like his/her job. It makes us competitors rather than collaborators.

The main purpose of work seems to be to make ourselves rich enough so that we do not have to work. Most of us want to retire as early as possible even if we then carry on doing for free what we used to do for pay, in which case it stops being work in our eyes at least.

Work can give us an opportunity to express ourselves and to do something meaningful. Other jobs, in contrast, just force us to conform to somebody else's idea of how we should behave.

Work is where people are. And it's the people that makes people work who do not need to for financial reasons.

Far from work being a part of human nature, work separates man from nature.

Richard duly called a pause at nine thirty which was time to grab another drink and then to continue the conversations. The throng was still pretty lively when I left around an hour later.

I found the previous Big Ideas meeting a little bit of a disappointment but this meeting was a triumph on many levels. Just the sort of exercise my brain was looking for.