Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Old Rockers

Well it’s true we are getting on a bit, but perhaps rockers is a bit of an exaggeration.   We both enjoy a range of music including rock, The Better Half, having been an Elvis Presley fan for most of her life and a Meatloaf fan for half her life, is not unfamiliar with rock, whilst I have a wide range of musical likes too, from Mike Oldfield to The Killers.   We are not regular concert goers but have had our moments and amongst other shows, we have been to a Pink Floyd tribute concert and more recently we went to the Genesis Turn it on Again concert at Twickenham.

 Genesis Turn it on Again at the Twickenham football ground

 On Monday we went to London to see The Trans-Siberian Orchestra perform at the Hammersmith Apollo.   The train we used to go to London was due into our station at 15.29 but did not arrive.   We did not want to catch another train because our tickets were concessions and had to be used on the specified train or pay an excess fare.  So we waited and waited, watching other trains arrive and leave without us, wondering if we would have to board a later train and pay the difference just so that we could get there in time. We had allowed ourselves enough time to travel and dine before the show so it was not yet urgent and that option would be a last resort.
Eventually our train did turn up at 15.50 and we were whisked off to London amongst the mobile phone conversations and frantic texting that seems to be de rigour for train passengers today.   

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra are not well known in the UK and are a kind of cross between heavy metal and a Symphony orchestra and have a range of shows that often feature a Christmas theme.
This was their only appearance in the UK, so we decided we could not miss the opportunity to see them live.
 What we went to see was Beethoven’s Last Night.  This is a fantasy composed by Paul O’Neill.  It is set on the night in 1827 when Beethoven died. The story supposes that he has just completed his tenth symphony and on the point of death is tempted in various ways by the Mephistopheles, who claims to own Beethoven’s soul. 

This is performed with a narrator telling the story and a mix of Beethoven’s music and heavy rock and songs, accompanied by a modern rock style light show.   Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea but I like their sound and have been hooked on their versions of well known music.   To check out one of their songs, follow this link.
Most shows nowadays find it hard to keep out cameras, because they could never stop everyone and remove their mobile phones, so they allow compact cameras in and I have been able to snap a few pictures. The one above having captured some of the light show effects.

Most modern rock concerts have excessively loud music, well above the safe levels of sound that would be allowed in any work environment.  Having knocked about in the electronics industry for many years and in the process worked in music studios and indirectly worked for one or two rock bands, I knew that if you go into any real music shop that sells modern instruments, you can always get professional earplugs there.  Not the great big ear defenders that look like overlarge headphones, but small discrete things that sit inside your ear.  These defend them from excess decibels but allow speech and music to pass through clearly at reduced volume.  Many professionals working in the live music industry use them because they would soon go deaf otherwise.  We always take these whenever we go to a concert now because we value our hearing.  It is actually much more comfortable listening at a reasonable sound level, even if the seat and floor are vibrating noticeably from the unreasonably huge sound that people seem to think is required at a live venue.

The only two shows that we have been to recently where we did not need to use the ear defenders were Phantom of the Opera and Stomp.
No doubt most people have heard of the Phantom, but in case you have never heard of Stomp, it is a fabulous show, where all the sounds are produced acoustically on all sorts of domestic equipment and the performers perform with such a huge amount of energy it is really exhilarating.   I thoroughly recommend it.

In terms of high sound levels, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra are no exception but with our earplugs inserted, looking a bit like a pair of deaf oldies, both with some kind of hearing aid, we were able to enjoy the concert knowing our hearing was safe and we were not going to go away with a headache.
The show was brilliant and very well done and at the end, the TSO went on to do a medley of other music from their repertoire and some other well-known songs.  We left a little before the end of the show, because we had to be back at Paddington station in time to catch the very last train home, so we missed the finale, which was a pity but not a disaster.

Another snapshot of the show
We took a taxi to Paddington station and the taxi driver conversationally asked us where home was. On discovering our final destination, he rather disturbingly pointed out that there were now three high profile murderers in custody who had been taxi drivers, the most recent murder and taxi driver suspect being in our home town.  However, he did not take us to a quiet side street and murder us but took us to the station, so we made the train with a comfortable amount of minutes to spare and did not have to fork out for accommodation. 
Whilst the trip out had been delayed by a train mysteriously held up just outside the station, the trip home was quiet and uneventful. 
I have one question about First Great Western trains, who on earth decided that the seats should have a pink plastic thing on them that looks like a giant ear stolen from Mr Potato head?

I have for some while been considering buying a new mobile, as my ancient one is starting to crack and the camera does not work any more.  So I have been looking at what is on offer.  I have eliminated most smart phones because you cannot use them in bright sunlight, and since many of them have no physical keypad, this means you can only use voice dial and so if it is sunny you cannot call someone you have not programmed in already.   I thought the blackberry may be a nice compromise and had been looking at it since it has a physical qwerty keyboard which allows it to be used for texting, emails and of course as a telephone, even in bright sunlight. 
At Reading a young lady got on the train and sat in front of us.  We were behind her but the gap in the seats allowed me to see that she took out a blackberry and for the rest of the trip was chatting to several friends on Facebook, I think.  Both her thumbs were flying over the keypad at about the best speed that I can type using the fingers on two hands.  Great I thought, this could be the phone for me, but I suddenly realised that the text it was using was tiny. Being the gentleman that I am, I had not been attempting to read what she was typing, but even if I had I would not have been able to read it. It was using about a six point font and I would have difficulty reading this even if I was holding it up to my nose, so the Blackberry seems to be eliminated too.
Oh well, perhaps I will just get a phone that just makes phone calls with a proper keypad and no gps, no apps and no internet, how boring. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Press a little button

This will only mean something to those of us who watch British TV.  In the UK, to receive TV and radio signals you require an annually renewable TV licence, a peculiar system used in Britain to fund the non-commercialised BBC.  Not having a licence is an offence and you can be fined if found to be using a TV without one.    Recently there has been a campaign to persuade people to renew over the Internet and it has the most annoying earworm as a jingle which goes through all the reasons people press buttons on various gadgets in modern life. 
Generally speaking this brain washing by the BBC has partially achieved the desired effect on me because whenever this jingle come on I press a little button as quickly as I can, the MUTE button on the remote, but it has prompted me to adapt the jingle to this parody.

You press a little button to save your sanity,
You press a little button on the T V,
You press a little button to change the channel
Then you watch ITV

Friday, 18 March 2011

More spring pictures

I have just bought myself a new camera and of course I have been learning how to drive it. It has more menus than a four star restaurant and there are at least one hundred more functions than I will ever need but I have found out how to take pictures with it, the reason I actually bought it, so I have been snapping everything in sight.
The spring flowers have been coming out hourly over the last few days so they are the natural candidates for photos and here are some.

A pair of ring necked doves enjoying the spring weather

The sky has been blue and not a cloud in view with a pale moon high in the sky

Encouraged by the previous day's sunshine I persuaded TBH (The Better Half) to come to Birdlip which overlooks Gloucester, in order to snap some long shots of the view we get from there.  Normally you can see the river Severn and Wales in the distance, but instead of brilliant sunshine it was hazy and indistinct, and this was the best shot, just the boring old A417 dual carriageway leading to Gloucester.  For anyone from the USA viewing this page, Gloucester is pronounced Gloster - don't ask me why it is spelled like that, after all the most famous river in England is spelled Thames and pronounced temms not they-mes as you would expect.  Still that is nothing compared to Featherstonhaugh and Cholmondeley. Can anyone, who does not already know, guess how how these names are pronounced?