27 June 2007

TB->GB: that Blake's Seven Series Three feeling

Today, when looking at Gordon Brown's first speech as PM, I had that Blake's Seven Series 3 feeling.

You know, the one where one of the two main characters has left the stage and suddenly it's a one man show.

Blair, like Blake, started off with the best of intentions, but many people died as a result of his actions. He believed it was worthwhile, in the pursuit of freedom and the war against terror (represented in the series by 'The Federation').

Meanwhile, Brown as Avon... brilliant, yet strangely aloof, ambitious but not a natural leader. However, Avon got better scripted lines than most of what I've heard from Brown... so far, at any rate.

David Miliband would make a good Orac.

Was Iain Duncan Smith Space Commander Travis?

And who is Servalan? Maybe Patricia Hewitt?

A more serious post on Brown when I don't have to work 16 hours a day to finish this bloody report I'm writing for work. That'll be in about two weeks, then...

(p.s. this post won't have made any sense to those of you not acquainted with Blake's Seven. In which case I can only recommend that you do get acquainted with it. In the meantime, "indulge me"...)

22 June 2007

"Classic Britannia"... another classic

I end up watching TV more Friday evenings than I'd like to admit, simply because the pubs in London are so damn busy on Friday nights that it's the last time you'd want to go out for a beer, and people we know locally in Essex never seem to be around on Fridays. Usually it's absolute cack, but BBC4 will often throw something exciting into the mix, and so it was with Classic Britannia. This was the first in a series of three hour-long programmes that look at classical music in Britain between 1945 and the present day. This one covered the period up to the early 60s and featured a lot of Benjamin Britten (whose work I know to some extent), William Walton (who I was clueless about), the tail end of Ralph Vaughn Williams's career (a Benny Voller favourite), and early works by Harrison Birtwhistle and Peter Maxwell Davies (reassuringly avant garde.) The surviving composers were all interviewed specially for the programme and this was combined with a lot of good archive footage including Britten's War Requiem (which I was lucky enough to pick up as a vinyl box set from a charity shop in Clacton last year), at its premiere in Coventry Cathedral in 1964. Anyway the programme was brilliant and follows hot on the heels of Jazz Britannia, Soul Britannia and Folk Britannia. All we need now is Barber Shop Britannia and we're done.

Seriously though, BBC4 is an oasis of quality programming in a sea of cack. Many people don't like the licence fee but I think just this channel on its own makes it worthwhile. Perhaps I'm an awful elitist? Who gives a f***. Benny V, you need to watch this program as soon as you can (I'm sure it'll be repeated. Nice Pink Floyd post by the way son. So what did happen to the Post War Dream?

See y'all down The Proms next month.

18 June 2007

Bemard Manning dead?

...it's a fucking disgrace.

I don't believe it for a second... it's been made up in a newsroom... by sick bastards.

Shove the paper back in their face and tell them to f*** off.

Posted by guest reporter Ted Maul, who is doing his best Hal impersonation.

14 June 2007

Hal goes AWOL, but the garden's doing great....

Barney with news on why the posts are so damn infrequent at the moment...

Greetings all, and if you're reading this as regularly as I think you are, I hope you're enjoying 2008. We've been a bit slack at giroscope of late... formula posts every week or so, a touch of the boxtickers about it all.

Partly it's because Hal has disappeared off the scene completely and we're worried about him. Since a rather random post on the topic of widescreen TV on 3rd June, Hal has not been seen on the web apart from a comment on a dilate.choonz post today. If the truth be told, Hal's never been happy with the role of a sports reporter, and yearns for the grit of the political coal-face once again. Anyway if you're reading this, Hal, do get in touch. We miss you...

So in the meantime what's Barney been up to? Gardening, mostly. We've got a good collection of stuff growing in the garden now: turnips, kohl-rabi, courgettes, squashes, onions, broad beans, beetroot, sweetcorn... all very exciting. I would have taken some pictures tonight but the heavens opened and the plants weren't in their best light so that's a project for the weekend. In the meantime, I've found a lot of good allotment blogs out there; I like the ones with the really bland titles like Dave's Allotment and Mike's Allotment best, as they seem to have the most exciting content. Suddenly, pictures of (for example) squashes being planted out start to look quite exciting when you're trying to do it yourself. Or maybe it's just me...

I must reserve a special mention for the compost heap which is going great. Got a very good mix of 'greens', 'browns' and 'activators' (nettle leaves), and the bin itself, which we made out of 4 pallets we got from some very kind neighbours who were doing their house up, is just brilliant. I'll post some pics of that as well. There are some good composting blogs out there - this one looks good, for example. But what we really need is a mechanism which takes old, abandoned blogs full of verbal rubbish and converts them into useful words and phrases you can insert into your blog to pep it up a bit. I've not seen such a device yet but I live in hope. Anyone got any ideas?

08 June 2007

"one"... everybody do the Chivers Chase

Join the fight to track down an elusive rail boss...

The Essex Chronicle is probably not the most exciting local paper in the country (in fact it's amazing how, in many people's eyes, putting the adjective 'local' in front of anything is enough to elicit sniggers and damnation in equal amounts. Think about it... local paper, local radio, local government, local shop for local people, local loop unbundling... you know you don't like any of 'em. A sad and sorry state of affairs...)

But the Chronicle is fairly good at pointing out the deficiencies with the ludicrously named 'one' railway... every months or so the crapness of the rail service provokes a headline. This time it was 'one hell of a train service' which is very similar to the giroscope post title from the last time I talked about this topic. I don't come back to it that often because it's too easy a target and nothing every really changes - the trains are always crowded, there aren't enough at peak times, they get slower and slower as more 'long term speed restrictions' are added in, and the fare increase is always more than CPI. The bastards just get more and more smug and unreachable. However my interest has been piqued by the sheer unreachability of new 'one' managing director Andrew Chivers.

Chivers took up his post in January and apparently agreed to meet a reporter from the Chronicle to discuss the inadequacies of the service. However, after this initial agreement in principle, requests for an interview date were never answered. At the start of April, the Chronicle's assistant editor wrote to Chivers personally requesting an interview. Several weeks later Chivers's PA called to say she was unaware of any previous interview requests but said it would be fine if a Chronicle reporter called to arrange an interview. He left 'numerous messages on her answerphone' over the next few weeks, none of which were returned. As the Chronicle reports,

more than six months after Mr Chivers took over, we are still chasing that elusive appointment.

Whilst the story is highly amusing, and an indictment of 'one', the aforementioned journalist and assistant editorChronicle seem to be unimaginative lame-asses - or maybe they're just on a tight budget. 'one''s address is at:

Olivers Yard
55 City Road
London EC1Y 1HQ

[These guys might not be able to run a train service but they can sure grab a fancy postcode, eh?]

All the reporters have to do is get on a train up to London (admittedly it's quite expensive and I don't know if regional journalism pays at all well) and take a newscrew from the local BBC or Anglia News with them (there is very rarely anything interesting on the local news here - for example, the headline one day was a piece about 'rats on the roundabout' at Ditchingam in Norfolk - I kid you not). Then do the most basic imitation of Michael Moore: go to reception, ask to speak to Andrew Chivers, and if he isn't there, blockade the entrance/exit for the day until the guy has to go home. (Best to turn up in the afternoon probably). For extra man/womanpower they could take some of the long suffering commuters with them. I'd certainly turn up. And voila! Instant headline story. I'm going to write to Watchdog with the story about Mr Chivers's reticence in any case - it will be highly amusing if it gets on TV.

I will also try writing to Chivers, although it's unlikely to do any good. I wrote to a previous managing director, Tim Clarke, a couple of years back. All I got was an identikit response from some poor bastard working in the 'customer services' (ahem) department which managed to be both patronising and incoherent at the same time. The only employee there who has ever responded to queries personally is Theo Steel, who was the 'Projects Director' (what on earth does he do I wonder?) but he is now retiring. I wish him all the best and it's probably a good time to leave. I wish I could... (i.e. stop commuting), and maybe I will. Just walk away from the f***er... I've got a dream about buying some land (like Gerry Rafferty said on Baker Street. But prices weren't as high relative to incomes in 1978, y'know.)

Anyway let's bombard this wanker Chivers with audio-visual assaults. Maybe it's time to do a Michael Moore on the bastard. I might take matters into my own capable hands. As Morrissey (and King Crimson) once said, "We'll let you know"...

p.s. I would have linked to the Essex Chronicle website for this story, but their write up of it was so pithy that I couldn't be bothered. Their site is bloody crap. Obviously they have no money for a decent web designer as well as train tickets!

p.s.2 - In the course of my research for this post I found an informative and entertaining blog about being annoyed about trains here.

p.s.3 I can't afford one of them yet and I would be crap at the games even if I could.

03 June 2007

Respect going out to people who can't use their widescreen TV properly

because Hal likes a laugh at the expense of people who are techno-illiterate...

Not being able to face a post on the Labour deputy leadership campaign due to its extreme dullness (oh, for the excitement of the 1981 campaign! Why can't Hilary Benn be more like Tony?) I had a choice between writing about recent gardening work I've been undertaking or a post that caught my eye on IDWID. This is the blog that the guy who does the Jammer's Reviews TV sci-fi reviews site does in his spare time (or maybe he does Jammer's Reviews in his spare time. But anyway they are complementary.) The post was about people who get the aspect ratio wrong on their widescreen TVs and display 'full screen' (4:3 aspect ratio) programmes using the full 16:9 ratio screen, which means everybody looks very fat. Anyway the post is a hilarious and cutting exposé of the widening gap between the capabilities of modern TV equipment and the audience's capacity to use them.

It's not all the audience's fault, however. Manufacturers and broadcasters have to shoulder some of the blame for the fact that there are a load of people watching 4:3 programmes in widescreen. One of the pins on a SCART cable (the standard audio-visual connector in Europe until high-definition came along) is designed to carry a signal which 'switches' the TV between 4:3 mode and 16:9 mode. This works OK provided that:

  1. the TV manufacturer has wired the SCART input to recognise the signal;
  2. the DVD/set-top box manufacturer has wired the SCART output to produce the signal;
  3. [for TV broadcasts] provided the broadcaster includes the signal to switch the aspect ratio as part of the programme broadcast data.
This is the set of conditions that needs to hold for the consumer to be able to enjoy the right aspect ratio on all TV programmes even if he/she is completely clueless. In practice, there's no consistency as to which manufacturers/broadcasters observe these standards. And so we're left with a situation where a lot of people are watching distorted fullscreen pictures on a widescreen telly.

I hate SCART anyway. The idea of a single, two way A/V connector seems good in principle but the manufacturers often don't implement it properly, a good quality SCART cable costs about fifty quid, and they fall out all the time. Part of the reason we had to get a new TV was that the SCART connectors stopped working on our previous one which was only 6 years old. OK, so it was an el cheapo 4:3 CRT set but so what? You shouldn't have to change your TV because the bloody input socket has stopped working! It's like Neil Young said - a "piece of crap." Anyway, that's all for now on the subject of people who can't use their TV, which I have pretty much exhausted - for now. Next stop'll probably be a gardening post from Barney Ruddle, 2007's answer to The Lawnmower Man.