Thursday, October 18, 2012

Today's English Lesson

People are pressured, NOT pressurised.

This is a person under pressure.

This is a person who has been pressurised (probably).

Journalists, TV reporters etc., please, please, please get it right.

I thank you.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Eat the Rich (whatever that means)

Our politicians are frequently heard to say we must tax "the rich" more. They must "pay their fair share" they say. "Those who earn more must pay more" is their constant mantra.

Of course those who earn more do pay more. In a system where tax is calculated as a percentage of your income, those who earn more always pay more. In a system where the more you earn, the higher the percentage of your income you pay in tax, not only do those who earn more pay more - they pay increasingly more. It's not difficult to find statistics illustrating how much more of the overall tax-take is paid by higher earners.

Those who earn more tend to take less as well. They are unlikely to require welfare payments or other state benefits.  They may educate their children privately, they may pay for private healthcare, they will probably put money aside for their retirement. So not only do they pay more in taxes but they tend to expect less in return for those taxes. Some might argue they should actually get a discount.

"The rich" that our politicians talk about is deliberately a very nebulous term and has different meanings to different people. To many people a rich person is simply someone who has more money then them. It's that imprecise and subjective and this is what politicians rely on - they talk about "the rich" without quantifying who "the rich" are because very few people actually think they are rich. Most people think the country is full of people richer than they are with the consequence that most people think politicians are talking about somebody else when they talk about "the rich".

I suspect a lot of people who do not consider themselves rich (who does?) are going to get a surprise when they discover where politicians draw the line. Whilst politicians' rhetoric may imply their  definition of "the rich"  is bankers quaffing champagne on their yacht moored at Monaco, what it actually means is a swathe of above average earners whose wealth is very easily quantified. These people are soft targets. Easily found and easily taxed. What politicians' pursuit of "the rich" will not easily entrap however is the people whose wealth is much more difficult to assess and who have spent a lifetime studying how to obfuscate and hide their assets and barely pay any tax anyway.

Finding those people is extremely difficult and getting money out of them if you do find them usually costs more than it is worth. Every high profile multi-millionaire tax evader that is caught will have occupied the time of dozens of people for months, possibly years. If they have to be taken through the legal system then whatever return you hope to get at the end will certainly be lost. Our current difficulties are not going to be solved by finding these people however evil you may think they are. It's simply not cost effective whatever politicians might want you to think. The bar will have to be set considerably lower than that and cover a much broader group of people.

The eternally disillusioned electorate of France are quickly realising that electing a president who declared "I don't like the rich" might sound like a good idea but it has already become clear he has little else to offer other than a resentment of people who have got more in their back pocket than him. Governments the world over have found themselves engulfed in a mountain of debt and few, if any, have come up with a credible way of getting out of that debt.

This is not a defence of "the rich" - other people having more money than me does not consume me with rage in the way it seems to affect some people. Not being in debt to anyone keeps me happy on a fiscal level. I accept in our society that some people will have more than others and that inequalities will always exist. Some people get rich though inheritance, privilege or connections - c'est la vie. The rest do not instinctively aspire to richness but simply hope to achieve security through their hard work but if they achieve too much are then often villified by politicians for doing so.

Political rhetoric then determines it must address those inequalities. Politicians seem to want to encourage people to improve their lot in life through their hard work and industriousness but then seek to attack those same people if they rise too high. I can think of nothing more crushing that the thought that however hard you try to improve your position  that a government might decide its role is to level everybody off again by whatever means they think fit. That's been proven to be a busted philosophy.  

Politicians the world over desperately try to find terminology that they hope everyone will relate to whilst also hoping nobody notices how meaningless it is. They also realise that as long as they do not qualify who "the rich" are they are in no danger of alienating the people they might actually be talking about.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Words Fail Me

The leadership of many countries in the world are rarely short of an opinion on how other countries should run their affairs. Sometimes they're right, sometimes they're wrong and sometimes it's none of their business.

When you read something like this where a country seems to think that 50% of its population is not worthy of an equal education then you have to question the merit in anything they have to say.

 On 20 August 2012, an announcement was made by Iran's Ministry of Science, Research and Technology that 36 universities in Iran would be cutting 77 fields of study from the female curriculum, making them male-only fields. The fields chosen include most sciences and engineering, among others. The curriculum change is to begin being implemented for the 2013 school year and the fields of study limitations for women have been added to the university "leaflets".[7] Universities like the Oil Industry University have completely barred women from attending, citing the "lack of employer demand".[8]

The announcement came soon after the release of statistics showing that women were graduating in far higher numbers than men from Iranian universities and were scoring overall better than men, especially in the sciences

This reasoning was echoed by Isfahan University, which stated that from those that obtained mining engineering degrees "98% of female graduates ended up jobless."[9] The disciplines related to agriculture were also regarded as "unfit" for female students.[8] Therefore, as a consequence of this move, women will not become engineers, nuclear physicists, archaeologists, business graduates and computer scientists in Iran.[8] Additionally, they are also banned from attending the departments of English literature, translation and hotel management.[8]

The second paragraph is perhaps the most telling and only illustrates that some men appear to feel genuinely intimidated by the prospect of educated women taking an active role in their society. Sufficiently intimidated that they're prepared to actively sabotage their country's prospects for intellectual advancement. The arguments presented in favour of this policy are so simplistic and ill-conceived they do not even merit discussion.

Hotel management????? Words fail me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My Olympic Experience

Sorry, this blog post is far too long.

Just under two years ago I started off the process of becoming a Games Maker for the London 2012 Olympics. The media was full of stories about how London had bitten off more than it could chew by taking on a project as massive as the Olympics. There were numerous articles about how the city would be gridlocked, the organisation would be terrible, the venues would not be ready on time and it would be the dream target for terrorists. At that point I decided if London was going to be so disrupted it would be barely habitable the best place to be was in the thick of it all. One of my better decisions. Here I am in my lovely uniform. We were even supplied with shoes, socks and a wristwatch and quite a few other bits and bobs as the event progressed.

I went through the selection process (250,000 applicants, 70,000 selected) and found myself assigned to the Technology Team because of my IT background. It was made clear to us that the chances were it would be a back-office role (where technology belongs) and that being a volunteer was definitely not a short cut to free tickets or a cushy job in the Olympic stadium

The build-up was managed through a series of training days and I found myself assigned to the taekwondo event. A sport I knew close to nothing about.

In December last year we were required to attend a test event and I was assigned a role I had not expected at all. I would be operating one of four video cameras in the arena that was used to record all the action. In the event of a disputed score in the bout, judges would use the video footage we recorded to review the action and decide if the objection was valid. Quite a responsible role (I like responsibility) and not something I would have expected to be delegated to unpaid volunteers. We were actually seconded to Omega who are the official scorers and timekeepers of the whole of the Olympics

The test event went well and I made some new friends. Everyone (and importantly Omega) seemed happy with our work. We enjoyed it as well and I learnt a lot about taekwondo. Team photo here. 

Last week I had just about the most enjoyable five days of ‘work’ I’ve had in a long, long time. Tuesday was our final training day where we got to see the inside of the venue the day before the four day taekwondo tournament started. We received final training on the equipment which was different to the cameras we’d used at the test event. This is the venue the evening before the competition started.

I had been assigned four day shifts (Wednesday to Saturday) from 7am to 6:15pm each day. On the Thursday I’d also been offered an extra evening shift meaning on that day I would start at 7am and finish at around 11:30pm. With a 2.5 hour round-trip commute, we worked long days.

Our little team of six had to operate four cameras in the arena. Two cameras were on the arena floor filming the action at ground level. These were remote control cameras which we operated with a joystick and small monitor while sitting at a desk. The other two cameras were positioned in one of the stands and were normal tripod mounted video cameras which gave a view down onto the action. The judges also had access to TV footage and there was also a static camera in the roof of the venue pointed directly down on to the action. A new development was that the footage was also replayed to the 8,000 people in the audience on giant TV screens so they could see how the judges made their decision. We took a small amount of pride when it was our footage that decided a crucial point and the audience cheered if they favoured the decision.

This technology is relatively new to taekwondo and it was hoped it would lead to more transparency in the judging process which had been somewhat controversial in Beijing. I’m led to believe taekwondo’s  place in the Olympics was under threat and it was hoped that the introduction of this level of technology would secure their place in future Olympics. 

Sorry about that rather long and boring introduction – I hope you’re still with me. The next four days of competition were great fun. The venue looked spectacular and being on the arena floor surrounded by 8,000 spectators who were encouraged to make as much noise as possible by the announcer was incredible. The London 2012 audiences have been incredible. They cheered all competitors from all countries but when a GB competitor was in the arena it was deafening.

On the Thursday (my extra long shift) one of the GB competitors was Jade Jones. A promising nineteen year old who it was hoped might be in with a good chance of a medal at the end of the day. She wasn’t considered our best medal hope but the GB team were having a good Olympics and hopes were high. There are no certainties in taekwondo. It’s a fast explosive sport and it’s not unusual for a good player to be beaten by a lesser opponent who can spring a few surprise moves and catch the better player unaware. Our best medal hope was knocked out of the competition the next day in the first round. She was distraught, as were about 7,500 other people in the arena. 
Jade breezed through her early rounds and was soon in the semi-final. I was working on the arena floor that evening and being on the arena floor filming the action was just about the best seat in the house. That it was a GB competitor who was competing for a medal made it all the more exciting. What can I say…Jade was an absolute star and won the gold medal and I WAS THERE! At the end of the evening was the medal ceremony which again took place right in the middle of the arena and I was still there at my desk. A huge privilege to be on the arena floor watching an Olympic medal ceremony from only a few metres away.

On the Friday, Lutalo Muhammed, another GB competitor, got a bronze medal. Go Lutalo! Through no fault of his own, he became mixed up in a controversy where he was selected for the Olympics instead of Aaron Cook who many believed was a better competitor. He was under enormous pressure to perform and deliver and a bronze medal was a great achievement.

The whole Olympic experience has been incredible. The organisation was perfect and London for the last two weeks has been completely transformed. All the cynics who were salivating at the prospect of things going wrong were stunned into silence the moment the opening ceremony was revealed. The more magnanimous of the critics even admitted to being wrong and switched sides and became enthusiastic supporters. The rest fortunately just shut up. 

Ninja – if you’re still reading, I sadly only saw the closing ceremony on TV and didn’t get to see up VB’s dress. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Olympics Update...latest news....

250th blog post. Who'd have thought it!

Here's a picture of me operating one of the instant replay cameras located in the stands at the London 2012 Olympics taekwondo event today.

I'm in a team of six. We either operate two cameras in the stand or two cameras down on the arena floor. The stand cameras are just normal tripod-mounted camcorders like you see in the picture above.

Down on the arena floor, we sit at one of two tables and operate a joystick which controls a remote camera above us. The footage we record is used to check disputed points. You can sometimes see us at the back of the TV shots sitting at our tables staring intently at the small monitor in front of us..

A new development since the test event I worked at is that the footage we record is now played back to the arena audience on giant overhead TV screens. It's kind of satisfying when your handiwork is chosen to be shown to 6,000 people to prove/disprove the disputed score.

Pleased to report the audience are creating a great atmosphere for all nationalities competing, especially the ones who go out to entertain. Tomorrow we get a few GB competitors which should increase the volume even more.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Eighty Six Year Old Great Grandmother is the New Bond Girl

For those of you that missed the most talked about segment of the Olympic opening it is again.

After you've hit play, double click to go to full screen or the right side is truncated.

To watch more, visit

I'm not sure it was my favourite part of the ceremony - but it's difficult to decide what part was my favourite. I liked the humour, the ideas, the imagination and the spectacle but I was also stunned by the logisitcs. The transition from the countryside scene to the industrial segment was remarkable. The light show which was controlled through LEDs mounted on every seat in the arena was remarkable and I don't think this was fully captured by TV. You really had to be there for that.

A lot of people seemed to think it was important our ceremony was better than Beijing 2008. I don't think it should be a matter of being better - it should be a matter of being different. We would not attempt a display like the Chinese and similarly they would not attempt something like ours. It's important just to be distinctive and unique and I think that was achieved. Comparison and oneupmanship are not the point of these things. In the unlikely event the Olympics ever went to Pyongyang I'm sure the North Koreans would produce something remarkable that nobody else would attempt.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Let the Games Begin

Last night was one of the unexpected bonuses of being an Olympic Gamesmaker - an invitation (along with 70,000 others) to the final rehearsal of the opening ceremony in the Olympic stadium.

Like most aspects of the Olympics, the opening ceremony has been the subject of much speculation. The naysayers have said it will either be an extravagant waste of money or, in complete contradiction, that it will look cheap because we won't spend enough.

I'm not going to give away any secrets about the content of the opening ceremony. The organisers
asked that we resist the temptation to Tweet and Facebook about it. That is a lot to ask of I guess about 150,000+ people who have attended the two rehearsals but it appears that request has been mostly well-respected.  

What I can say is it's big, it's spectacular, it's quirky, it's surreal, it's a little bit mad and has a fine dose of British eccentricity thrown in as well. Danny Boyle - I salute you.  

On the night before, the country is like a nervous bride, anxious that something will go wrong on the big day and the subsequent 16 days of competion.  Certain aspects of the media appear to be salivating at the prospect of failure. I think it's about time they stopped and just got with the program. I think the Olympics are going to be spectacular.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Olympic Update

I had another Olympic volunteer training day today.  The venue I'm working at, ExCeL London, is starting to really look the part. Along with the usual Powerpoint presentations, we also had a fairly informal guided tour of the hall where we'll be working which is currently in a fairly advanced stage of construction. It's very impressive.

It was also interesting to see the large number of military personnel handling security matters. Overseas readers may not be aware of a recent development where the major contractor who was arranged to provide thousands of security staff for the Olympics just announced last week that they would be unable to supply a significant number of the people they had promised.

After the usual flurry of recriminations and politicians frantically trying to work out who to blame, it was decided the military would have to step in and make up the numbers.

I have to say they were doing a great job. Even though we're part of the workforce, we still have to go through security checks to get to work. This means that x-ray machines, bag checks, security checks etc. were mostly carried out by impeccably turned out chaps in camouflage kit.

 Having spent half my life going through security checks at airports and various other places, I've never felt more reassured than by these guys who've been dropped into doing an unfamiliar role at the last minute.  They were thorough but brisk, courteous, friendly and efficient. None of these things I would associate with normal security staff who are usually surly, bored and you always suspect, not very good at their job.

Critics say having the army doing this sort of work is demeaning to them. That may be true - I don't really know.  But there was not a hint from these guys that they felt remotely demeaned by what they were doing. They were throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the job and I hope, showing their private sector counterparts, how well this sort of thing could be done. It was good to have them there and I think they improved the whole "security" experience significantly.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Road Rage

After finishing work (working from home) this afternoon I took the 10 minute walk down to my local shops to pick up some milk. I was just walking along the main street when I became aware of a disturbance across the road. Voices were being raised.

A white van was parked and just a little way ahead and stopped in the road was a small silver car (a little Fiat or something). The two drivers were shouting threats at each other.  It was difficult to tell what they were saying but I suspect it was a disagreement over a parking place. You see these now and again. I stood and watched from the safety of the other side of the road - as one does.

As the two drivers shouted and threatened each other, two female passengers got out of the silver car and shouted to their protagonist. He looked around and started heading back to his car. At this point one of the women pulled a sledgehammer, yes a SLEDGEHAMMER out of the car and passed it over the roof of the car to the driver. He then returned to the fight flailing the sledgehammer wildly at the other driver.

The other driver was a much younger man but I still think he did a pretty good job of avoiding serious injury. Sledgehammer man was swinging his weapon wildly and white van man was dancing backwards to avoid the blows. After no more than 5-10 seconds of this I think sledgehammer man realised he was unlikely to catch the other guy - if he could have, I think he would have carried on.

Sledgehammer man headed back to his car and he and his passengers got in. The younger guy was not going to leave it there. He reached into his van and pullled out what we generally just describe as "2 by 4" - a piece of timber, about a metre long and typically 2 inches by 4 inches - hence the name. He then ran up to the other car almost reaching sledgehammer man before he'd closed his door. He then made a few threats to hit the car with his piece of 2 by 4. The silver car then left very quickly with a lot of squealing tyres.

Road rage - that's what we call it here. Motorists getting into silly fights over parking places or because somebody pulls in ahead of them at a junction.  You see it periodically and just  gawp at the childishness of supposedly grown men.

What I was shocked at by this incident was the apparent ease with which both drivers were able to produce weapons. The silver car was a little hatchback, not the kind of car that usually contains a sledgehammer as part of its toolkit. This guy obviously drove around ready for incidents like this.

The van driver I guess might have a reason for having timber in his van but the speed at which he seemed to produce this suggested he kept it in a convenient location for circumstances just like this.

Finding one person who can produce a weapon for an incident like this is pretty nasty. Finding two people who are "tooled up" suggests to me that quite a lot of people drive around ready for something like this. Many more than I thought. How depressing.

Monday, July 02, 2012

All That Scratching is Making Me Itch

I play golf. There, I’ve admitted it. On hearing you’re a golfer it occasionally provokes strong reactions in some people. I don’t really know why. It’s an inoffensive enough pastime. It does not dominate my time and I don’t bore people about it unless somebody REALLY wants to know and then I’m rather reluctant to explain it as they invariably say it’s silly and pointless. I don’t knock your hobbies, unless perhaps you were to tell me you’re into astrology in which case I might suggest what you’re doing is equally silly and pointless. Please don’t knock my hobbies, especially if you’ve never tried them and most critics of golf haven’t. To be fair, I haven't studied astrology that closely either.

It’s a bit like when I tell people I ride a motorcycle. They tell me they could never do it because they would be scared of falling off. I’ll let you into a secret. Most successful motorcyclists are also scared of falling off. They avoid doing it at all costs. In fact, rule one of the motorcyclists unwritten code is DON’T FALL OFF. It will probably hurt and you will also damage some terribly expensive machinery. Trust me, I’ve done it.

For me, golf is a good long walk with some additional swinging of arms and flexing of a few muscles. Good exercise for a chap with a sedentary occupation such as mine. If you’re lucky, you will do it in agreeable countryside with agreeable companions and the weather might be nice as well. As well as the much needed exercise I also do it for the challenge. Despite what some people think, it’s an extremely difficult game to be good at. And I’m not very good at it. That’s because I don’t play enough.

Anyway, last week was the annual golf holiday. I and a group of friends have been going for over 20 years. Always to Scotland which is the spiritual home of golf and it also has a lot of good golf courses to choose from as well as beautiful countryside and hospitable people.

Scotland has sometimes rather capricious weather but we like that. Usually you're ok. The following picture is the main road bridge from England into Scotland. The picture was taken from the sunny English side. You get the idea?

This year we were based in the Scottish Borders which is just across the border from England – hence the name. We were based in a small town called Melrose and each day we travelled to a different course in the area and played golf all day. Yes, ALL day. 

It’s a very regimented holiday. Every day follows the same path. Get up early. Leave house. Get into car. Drive to golf course. Play golf all morning. Have some lunch. Play golf all afternoon. Return to house. Shower. Go to pub. Drink a modest amount of beer. Eat dinner. Feel very tired. Return to house. Go to sleep. Repeat six times.

Hmmm I hear you say. That all sounds rather silly and pointless. Yes, I suppose it does, but we like it. 

This year for the first time we encountered a phenomena we had not experienced before. The midge. 

Scotland is famous for its midges but these are generally found on the West coast or Highlands and we were definitely in the southern lowlands. 

Midges are tiny insects about 1mm long. They tend to thrive in damp conditions – lakes, marshes etc. -  and are at their most dangerous – yes, dangerous – when the air is still and free of wind. Being only 1mm long they tend to be susceptible to the slightest of breezes and are unable to attack walkers, golfers and other innocents who are only there to enjoy the outdoors. 

If the air is still then they can attack with the precision of laser guided missiles and they do . If you happen to be in area in which they are congregating and you stand still for more than five seconds you start to feel them on every area of exposed skin. They are on your arms, your face, your neck. You can feel them on your eyelids and in the corners of your eyes. You feel them crawling into your ears. It’s a horrible sensation. And then they start to bite. 

By the end of Monday (the second day of our holiday) we were all covered in dozens of tiny but excruciatingly itchy bitemarks. Yes, there are creams and lotions and repellents (if you are expecting them and we were not) which offer some relief but basically you are now in a world of intense irritation. The itching wakes you at night. You flail around in bed trying to find a cool area of bedding on which to put your burning arms. It’s a little like being sunburnt but itchy as well.

One week later and the itching has almost subsided. I have scratched the bites – you end up doing it almost subconsciously and you therefore just aggravate them.

I expect the rest of the world has midges as well as many other dangerous and bloodthirsty creatures that I can barely imagine. But the native Scottish midge is pretty scary if you ask me. 

So that was my holiday. We’ll be back again same time next year. Where will you be going for your  holidays.

Friday, June 22, 2012


I'm off to Melrose and its environs in the Scottish Borders for a week or so. Lots of rain forecast. Not sure if I'll be online which suits me. If you need me, I'll be here...

Welcome to the Tweedmount by M Burnett in Melrose, Scottish Borders. Brought to you by TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals, powered by TripWow!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Come to London!

Of course this is exactly how it still looks as I step out of my front door each morning...

This is the extended version...


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Camp Jammin' and Dreamin' Wild

Field of Dreams is an underrated my humble opinion.  It's somewhat tainted now because people just seemed to turn on Kevin Costner after making Waterworld which was seen as rather indulgent. I think he and his back catalogue have been unfairly treated since then (let's just not mention The Bodyguard).

Anyway, this post isn't about KC. It's about an extraordinary (and true) story I just came across courtesy of The Word that sort of reminded me of Field of Dreams.

Back in the seventies Washington farmer Don Emerson decided to encourage his two sons in their musical ambitions. Most people would probably buy their kids a guitar or pay for extra piano lessons. Not Don.

He decided that he would convert a substantial amount of their family farm into a concert venue and recording studio exclusively to showcase the talents of his two sons. He decided to call it Camp Jammin'. This included a ticket office, green room, public toilets and snack concession stand. Not content with that he also started a record label so his sons' recording work would be released.

What you're probably thinking is that the sons were borderline average or worse still, talentless, and this was just an over indulgent parent but in fact they worked hard at their music and produced an album - Dreamin' Wild. Dont judge that cover too much - it's of its time. There were many worse covers produced on a far greater budget.

Photo from here

Even in the seventies, for a record to gain recognition you needed a substantial distribution, publicity and marketing machine and the Emerson boys didn't have that and pa's money wasn't limitless. The record didn't sell far outside the immediate neighbourhood. The boys, Donnie and Joe, made other careers, Donnie in the music industry and Joe as a farmer.

But now, over thirty years on the record has reappeared. It got onto the radar of a few people in the industry.

Douglas McGowan from Yoga Records said "The album looks so goofy that you almost feel sorry for it - and then the music is basically perfect."

Folk music devotee Ariel Pink said "The track Baby has been a staple on just about every playlist and mixtape I've assembled in the last three years. It is nothing short of sublime." 

Camp Jammin' still exists and the boys played there for their father's 80th birthday. His faith in his sons has never dimmed although building Camp Jammin' and trying to get his sons a future in the recording industry almost cost him his farm and livelihood.

Dreamin' Wild is going to be re-released by Light in the Attic Records on 2nd July. It's not really my cup of tea but it's a great story.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

How European finance is currently managed...

The Spanish banks have said they need 40 billion Euros to avoid becoming insolvent.

The European Central Bank (ECB) don't trust them so would prefer to give them 80 billion.

The financial markets don't trust the ECB so think 100 billion would be safer - to maintain confidence.

Financial services institution JP Morgan estimate the final figure needed could be around 350 billion. 

Does anyone actually know what they're doing?

Words fail me.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Was it like this in the war?

Summer has arrived in the UK. We're basking in temperatures in the mid to high twenties which is about as good as it gets in the UK. Fortunately that's about as much as I want. Any more and I start to wilt.
There are a few signs of summer that regularly appear. I get a recurring visit of ladybirds in my spare room. Cute, I hear you squeal. Not so. In some years there are dozens every day. They congregate in the corners of windows and leave a sticky residue. Then they die and I find the little dried out husks of their bodies all over the floor. Some days I just go in there and vacuum them up - dead or alive. It's a known problem.

Another sign of summer is the distinctive thrum of vintage heavy bomber aircraft cruising overhead. I've already had one flypast this year.  I seem to live on their flightpath taking them to and from  wherever they are based somewhere north of London.

It now seems every year there will be a couple of events in Central London that require some sort of commemorative display of aircraft. They used to bring them out every time the old queen mother lived to see another birthday - remind the old girl of the war and the good old days.

This year I'm expecting a few - the Queen's Diamond Jubilee I'm sure will bring them out as I hope will the Olympics...

The Red Arrows will certainly make an appearance...

And being a nostalgic sort of country we'll probably have Spitfires (watch this!)....

or Lancasters ( I just love the sound they make)....

and if we're very lucky, maybe a Vulcan....

I love it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sweatshirt Sunday

Children....beware of strange men in yellow hoddies offering assistance/sweets/directions/film advice.

Rather overdue pictures of me in my Sundance hoodie...taking pictures of yourself is not much fun.


I hate picture of myself. Don't let anyone tell you it's cathartic. It's not. It's traumatic.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Buttocks Humanoid

Somebody- well actually probably several people - have spent years on this. This is going to be  their path to fame and fortune.

I think it is time well spent. You can tell this man really loves his work by the way he caresses his creation.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Inside Looking Out, Not Outside Looking In

So, I spent the weekend as a volunteer at the first ever Sundance LondonFilm and Music Festival. The Sundance Institute decided to take some of the films (14 out of 120) that were originally shown at the main Sundance Festival in the US in January and run a four day festival in London.

I'd heard of Sundance many years ago but had never considered or really even known of the opportunity to volunteer for something like this. Just by chance, a blog I follow mentioned Sundance were in London and looking for volunteers and having enjoyed my Olympic experience so far I thought I'd give it a go. It would be wrong of me to suggest I'm a natural volunteer (but I'm rather catching the bug) - I'm just interested in being a part of something like this and I often find the view of things from the inside looking out rather more interesting than the view from the outside looking in. I enjoy films and documentaries and am pretty bored with Hollywood blockbusters - being involved in a film festival which champions independent and less commercial films and documentaries is right up my street.

The selection process was straightforward - I applied online a few months ago and soon enough, I was being interviewed over the 'phone by Patrick from Sundance who told me I'd be a good candidate for the “The Theatre Team”. My Olympic experience seemed to help here as Patrick had also volunteered for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002 - we bonded on this. I met Patrick at the festival - lovely chap.

It started on Wednesday evening with training at the venue - the O2 in South East London. Our roles were explained, we were shown around the venue and met the people who'd be managing us for the next four days. We were also given our uniform - a bright yellow hoodie which we were all very proud of - several customers were desperate to acquire one - they're pretty exclusive. Watch this space - in true Gimcrack tradition I will model it on for you on Sweatshirt Saturday.

For the next four days (4pm to 11pm), and as part of the theatre team our immediate responsibilities were handling the queues, checking tickets at the door and looking after the audience during the film. You can probably guess that any normal cinema already has the staff to do this sort of thing and the Cineworld multiplex at the O2 is no exception. As Sundance volunteers though, we're also trying to create an atmosphere - helping to make patrons feel they're part of a festival rather than just going to see a film. This involves being available to answer questions, chatting to customers about other festival events, helping out wherever we can and just generally trying to create a buzz.

The O2 is a massive entertainment complex, not just a multi-screen cinema so Sundance volunteers were scattered across the whole venue. This was also a music festival so there were several other locations being used apart from the six cinema screens.

Each film shown had a brief introduction from Sundance and at the end there was a Q & A session with people involved in making or starring in the film. We also did the running around with microphones so the audience could ask questions to the panel onstage. Our duties sound pretty simple and they are but when you’re doing something for the first time it’s still a novelty and you’re keen to do it well. And I’m a big believer in the statement that no job is so simple that it cannot be done badly. It was fun and my fellow volunteers were a great crowd of people. We were all into the Sundance idea and all working together to make sure people had a good time. And, of course, there are perks to being a volunteer.

Each day of the four day festival we were entitled to a ticket to any film we wanted to see outside our work shift. In addition, if you were on duty inside the cinema you got to see the film anyway.  We also got the hoodie and a few other goodies. Regrettably, no chance to take photos - as volunteers we were understandably expected to concentrate on our work.

The festival had a great atmosphere. There were quite a few volunteers from the US who had come over at their own expense just for the fun of working at the London festival. The customers were great as they also seemed to understand the whole Sundance festival vibe.

My particular high spot? Being there for the introduction to Harmony which was presented in person by Robert Redford and Prince Charles. I wasn’t expecting that when I volunteered all those months ago. We all love Mr. Redford

I saw six films over the four days all of which I’d recommend. I would have loved to have seen all fourteen of them - it just wasn't possible. A special mention goes to the two music documentaries I saw - Under African Skies and SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS which were both excellent. Under African Skies was such a moving piece of work it almost (*whispers* it did) brought me to tears. 

Working at Sundance and the time I've spent on the Olympics so far has given me the bug to do more things like this. It's a lot of fun and I'd encourage you to try as well.

Here are the films I saw.