A Pointless Rant About Trains

I am not shocked at the mediocre service. I am not shocked that the staff on board couldn’t care about the confused passengers. What amazes me is that I took two trains and for the majority of both journeys the trains were full.

Today’s illogical rant follows in a moment. Do not be alarmed. An emergency exit is located here and here.

Virgin Trains have made a big deal about the investment in new trains. And the trains were very nice – the airline style at-seat audio was a nice touch. But the service was still below par. On the way north last weekend¬†¬†the train had been changed and so seat reservations were no longer valid (yet our seat numbers were still there). They seems to have removed the at-seat buffet (which is handy on a full-train so you don’t lose your seat) and the train terminated early.

I am not shocked at the mediocre service. I am not shocked that the staff on board couldn’t care about the confused passengers (are you in my seat or not?). What amazes me is that I took two trains and for the majority of both journeys the trains were full. And by full I mean people were sitting in the parts between the carriages, on the floor in the cold, draughty bits (as an aside, how come it can be so draughty and ventilated and the toilets still smell?). Every train I ever take is full. To work in the morning. Home in the evening. North to visit my parents. South to visit PY’s parents. So why do we always hear about the lack of money in the railway system?

What’s Your Pointless Obsession?

What’s your pointless obsession? It’s got to be pointless and yet take up lots of time that really you would be better spent working in a soup kitchen or raking the leaves. Mine is PIM (and I am not talking about the drink).

What’s your pointless obsession? It’s got to be pointless and yet take up lots of time that really you would be better spent working in a soup kitchen or raking the leaves.

Mine is Personal Information Management. Somebody invented the concept of PIM and they set in motion a train that would mean I would spend hours searching for ways to the same thing over (and over) again. The goal is, as always, a reasonable one: to synchronise calendar & address information between the office and home (including my Treo using different calendars. It should, in theory, be easy but it’s not. I’ve moved the criteria recently to search for an online WAP-accessible calendar which means I could have a smaller, cheaper ‘phone than the Treo for times when it’s not really appropriate (or practical) to take it with me.

The plan was to use Yahoo Calendar as the gateway between home and the office – synchronising all – but it doesn’t quite work. I find the Yahoo-Outlook synchronisation causes too many errors when synchronising (although it’s fine to overwrite). Yahoo won’t synchronise my Palm Desktop at home (although it will sync with the Treo). I can export my Palm address book via a file upload to Y Calendar but the date book option fails every time. Yahoo Calendar’s WAP implementation works so it would satisfy that criteria if it would hook into everything else properly. I wonder if anybody really does use it or if it’s just a nice ‘we have’ gimmick?

Now, I’ve spoken about all this before. It’s pointless and really very unnecessary. I really can’t see my address book and/or calendar options are any more demanding than anybody else on the planet: I might be trying to be a little sophisticated with my use of them but I don’t think my uses are different – I’m just trying not to have multiple out-of-date copies of things. Of course, it’s a geeky thing to want and it’s frustrating that nothing out there does what I want.

But (in my best Points of View voice), why-oh-why do I choose this as my time consuming obsession? Am I alone?

I Found Some Of Your Life

Interesting site with somebody’s photographs.

Alright, it might be months old but I never mentioned it!

I Found Some Of Your Life: In my possession is one memory card from a digital camera. This memory card was found in a taxi in New York City. I have no idea who the owner of the camera is.

Fascinating and slightly scary, don’t you think but interesting nonetheless. One of the more interestings possibilities resulting from the rise of digital photographs [via Photo Matt].

Maybe Hewlett-Packard’s “privacy protection system” for cameras would have been useful [via Tom].

Thanksgiving 2004

Happy thanksgiving to those passing by.

I trust all my American friends and colleagues enjoyed their Thanksgiving. In previous years I have looked at what Thanksgiving really is all about (see here) but this year I thought I would look how you were all celebrating by checking the Flickr tags. All the tags representing Thanksgiving seem to be about food or family – which I think seems like a pretty good notion to me.

Another Grid Lock

Traffic From Hell would make a great name for a TV show. Have they already done that?

PY and I had some errands to run which partly entailed us driving to Heathrow airport. Then we went onto High Wycombe to do some shopping. And yet again we were stuck in traffic for hours. I think it may be time to consider alternative forms of transport. It seems no matter which way we go, south or north, we’re going to get stuck. Now I don’t enjoy being stuck in traffic but PY hates it and lets his frustration show. Maybe I should let him select the music from now on!

Grid Lock

Traffic hell on the way home from a nice weekend on the south coast.

So I spent the weekend in Brighton: it was a fantastic idea for a last minute get away and I am really quite pleased that I went. The weather was cold and crisp but very sunny and PY and I had a fantastic time roaming the shops, walking the pier, drinking coffee and doing all sort so of good things.

We left earlier this afternoon for the hour car ride home only to end up stuck in four hours of non-moving traffic at the end of the M23 (where it joins the M25). Sitting in a car, going nowhere, starring at the rear brake lights of the vehicle in front (and watching people dart form lane to lane to try to move 100 metres forward) was a very depressing way to end what had bee, until then, a relaxing weekend. It’s such a shame our transport system means I am now more stressed than when I left the office on Friday night (it also means we’ve just eaten a stack of take away junk food but that’s another story).

Maybe I should start looking forward to the week ahead!

More Producing

I suspect I may be a lone voice in expressing a little (and just a little) disappointment.

Following up on my previous review of The Producers, I’ve had a little more time to think about it and earlier I posted this to Gay Boy Musicals Fans UK at Yahoo!

Having read the positive reader comments on the BBC’s story about The Producers I suspect I may be a lone voice in expressing a little (and just a little) disappointment. I hadn’t read many reviews but I did know about the reception it had received in the US and the praise heaped on Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

I haven’t seen the film which, judging by the number of people sitting around me who had, means I was possibly one of only a small number of people in the audience who hadn’t. I wonder if that made a difference?

I saw it a week or so ago and it was good but not as good as all the raving would imply. While Nathan Lane’s talent, comic timing and performance cannot be faulted I did find weaknesses in the show. I thought some of the musical numbers in the middle were slow and the Ulla character was not engaging at all – in fact she was positively irritating. James Dreyfuss was camp (which, I guess, is the intention) but in that 1970s OTT cringe worthy way. Humour is, of course, personal and subjective, but I found it only amusing and not
laugh-out-loud funny as many of the reviews suggest.

Still, I would take issue with the review of Lee Evans’ performance which says ‘he just about holds his own’. I would argue that he did far more than that. He too was excellent, believable & humorous and while I’ve never been a big fan of his stage antics he worked well in the role. In fact, for me, he worked so well I can’t imagine Broderick in the role.

I will, however, recommend the show because it stands out from much of the rest of the West End right now – it is good. It’s has some wonderful comedy and delightful musical moments. But the sum of those individual moments does not, in my opinion, add up to a great whole. I
even bought the soundtrack in the hope that familiarity with the songs will make me warm to more of them.

Maybe it’s just me.

The Whispering Years

It’s not dull or bland in anyway but, perhaps because there’s a little of the 60s hippy left in Bob Harris, you feel the measured approach is entirely appropriate.

You really do get to appreciate ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris’ love of music through his autobiography, ‘The Whispering Years‘. You’ll read in the blurb that he’s been married three times; has had to re-start his career from scratch several times and almost lost his record collection to a fellow Radio 1 disc jockey. What you may not get from reviews is a feeling of the genuine passion he has for the music and how big a role some of the greatest musicians of the last thirty years have played in his life. You feel as uneasy as Bob appeared to over the fame that The Old Grey Whistle Test brought him and you will feel somewhat betrayed when Radio One remove him (I’d forgotten he was the voice launched round-the-clock Radio One in August 1990). Throughout his career he stuck to his passion – the music – and shunned the computer generated radio that dominates the airwaves today. His interview technique was considered ‘less than penetrating’ in the past but that gentle approach serves him well in book form. It’s not dull or bland in anyway but, perhaps because there’s a little of the 60s hippy left in Bob Harris, you feel the measured approach is entirely appropriate. If you love music (and not just progressive rock) or enjoy his radio programmes then The Whispering Years will be engaging, fascinating and inspiring.

The Producers

The fact that it is one of the better shows on the West End right now possibly says more about the other shows.

I went to see a preview of the London version of The Producers today and was, like last night, a little taken by surprise. This time, however, it’s with disappointment and not pleasure. I’ve been talking to PY and trying to explain my disappointment but he doesn’t get it: he loved the show. I did not know the plot nor had I seen the film so I wasn’t let down by the story but I had read that Nathan Lane had taken Broadway by storm.

You can’t fault Nathan Lane: he’s superb and his comic timing is excellent. Lee Evans seems born for his role as the sidekick Leo Bloom and some of the songs are great. Others, however, seem weak and parts of the story are just not engaging. James Dreyfus camps it up John Inman style while Ulla, the Swedish blond bombshell, is so lost in the stereotype that any humour is lost.

Don’t get me wong, it is a good show. I can’t imagine Richard Dreyfuss in it and I imagine it will be hard to replace Nathan Lane in January. If you’re going to see it I would suggest trying to get tickets now because without Lane’s superb performance I am not sure where this show will go. The fact that it is one of the better shows on the West End right now possibly says more about the other shows.

Sadly, The Producers disappointed.

UPDATE: Well, the reviews are out and I may be a lone voice expressing disappointment. I wrote an updated review for the Yahoo Group: Gay Boy Musicals Fans UK (which you can read here if you’re not a member of the group).

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Forum

You feel yourself pulled along by the way the cast at The National seem to be enjoying themselves.

a funny thing happened on the way to the forum
a funny thing happened on the way to the forum

I went to see A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Forum tonight and it took me a little by surprise. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I was thoroughly entertained. From the opening, A Comedy Tonight, you feel yourself pulled along by the way the cast at The National seem to be enjoying themselves. It’s a high camp farce set in Roman times featuring double entendres and mistaken identity by the bucket load (you almost expect a vicar to appear from a cupboard) but it’s joyful and not at all cringe-worthy as many farces are. Sondheim’s music isn’t the best you will ever hear (in fact, much of it isn’t memorable) but during the performance it’s entertaining. Such a shame it is coming to the end of it’s run. I discovered a US version of the soundtrack featuring Nathan Lane which ties in nicely with tomorrow – more then.

Lucky Man: A Memoir

An absorbing and very well-written book that proves that people in the public eye and just like the rest of us.

Michael J Fox
Michael J Fox

Lucky Man is not a typical Hollywood star autobiography. While it is peppered with references to the television shows and movies Michael J Fox has made it is – most definately – not a name-dropping ‘look at me’ celebrity obsessed biography. Yes, it’s an insight – although not too revealing – into the inner sanctum of Hollywood stars but it’s very much grounded in the real world. It deals with the highs and lows of a film career and the pleasures and pressures that brings. When reading the book you really do feel as if Michael J Fox has been able to take a step back and look upon his own career from outside. He’s able to analyse the fame, the money and identify both the good and the problematic that his career has brought him. However, from the beginning of the book, his upbringing and his rise to (and through) fame are placed in context by the Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis. That diagnosis has allowed Fox to asses what’s important to him and write a book that shows him as a genuine, warm and open individual. There’s no sentimentality about the book and he does detail how the disease effects him but, at no point, do you feel like an intruder into his private life. Despite the difficult nature of the Parkinson’s Disease descriptions, Lucky Man is an absorbing and very well-written book that proves that people in the public eye and just like the rest of us.

Wet London 20

Back now from my holiday and it seems that London has been wet while I have been away!

Wet London 20
Wet London 20

Ah, so I am back and exhausted from my little holiday. You will see some pictures on the Flickr sidebar or at my Flickr pages. Of course while I have been enjoying some sunshine I see London hasn’t been that dry. [Wet London 20]

Taboo: The Boy George Musical
Taboo: The Boy George Musical

Time now to tackle some of the 200 or so comment spam messages that have arrived in my in box.

In the meantime, is it really two years since I went to see Taboo?

21 Dog Years: Doing Time At Amazon.Com

Daisey’s book is flagged as a comic tale but it takes a while for the comedy to warm-up. In fact, it’s only towards the end that I felt there were some laugh-out-loud moments but don’t let that put you off. ’21 Dogs Years’ in well written and compelling.

It’s quite easy to get sucked into Mike Daisey’s ‘21 Dog Years: Doing Time At Amazon.Com‘ as he moves from dilettante to corporate business development guy. On the journey we learn he is one of the (mythological?) freaks that Amazon initially wanted to help launch and then staff its growing customer service division. We learn about the training, the call-time targets, the lack of windows, the Chicken Orzo Salad and Jeff obsessions.

Unlike Robert Spector’s ‘Amazon.Com: Get Big Fast‘ this is a tale from the inside but how much is exaggerated for comic effect is unclear. For sure, life in an under-staffed call centre – where if you don’t work all hours you’re seen as letting the team down – is not the glamorous side of any business and the world of fast growing online books sellers can be no exception. The dreams that all would be multi-millionaires on the back of huge stock rises are also not unusual to any tale of this era. Perhaps the thought of sending the free books to customers on the database isn’t typical of the dot-com boom but the frenzied ‘1-click Christmas’ period will be familiar to many in a start-up venture.

Daisey’s book is flagged as a comic tale but it takes a while for the comedy to warm-up. In fact, it’s only towards the end that I felt there were some laugh-out-loud moments but don’t let that put you off. ’21 Dogs Years’ in well written and compelling. You really do want to know what Mike’s going to do at the end. Don’t look for an insight into business strategies of that time but you will get a view of the craziness of life in the trenches of rapidly growing business.

BBC4 Should Broaden Its Appeal

You dream of something good and I dream of BBC Television idents. I also remember children’s TV and want to impact the US elections. It’s an odd train of thought today.

According to The Independent [Source: BBC’s digital channels are ‘poor value’] ‘BBC4 makes too many programmes which “virtually no one watches”‘. I would say that’s a shame but I have hardly ever watched it. The only reason it is relevant is that last night I dreamt about all the BBC channel identities – those boxes with ‘BBC One’ etc. written in them – I have no idea why but in my dream they were all yellow and none of them had that annoying BBC Three character.

In a tenuous link, the BBC will, of course, be reporting the run-up and the outcome of the American elections next month. It may seem that we are somewhat powerless to do anything about it but The Guardian is giving everybody a chance to say something. The idea is that Guardian readers are matched to an American voter thus allowing them the chance to communicate on a personal basis and tell a real-life voter what the rest of the world thinks. I think it’s quite an interesting idea. What the voters of Clark County, Ohio may think when they get letters from us Brits is another things altogether. More at The Guardian.

Looking at my Flickr photo collection, I see that the first picture is of the water cooler in the office. This takes me back to the warm, balmy days of summer when it was so hot we thought we would melt in the office. Today, I am sitting here thinking I may have to buy a t-shirt in my lunch break to wear under my shirt as I am cold and it’s pouring with rain. Last week I wrote about autumn. I am beginning to think we skipped straight to winter.

Speaking of photos (and linked to the BBC – so it makes sense to write it here) – memories of children’s television and this date seem to be linked. This day in 2002 I was talking about the show Rainbow and today Tom has posted a picture of Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grub. Somewttimes, it would be nice to be eight years old again!

Finally for now, today’s phone lust: Orange SPV C500. Come on Palm – get your act together – I want a more compact ‘phone that the Treo by the time I am allowed to upgrade again.

Big Match Update

Quick reality TV update – as if you nedeed one.

jonathan wilkesI spoke last Sunday about Sky One’s programme The Match. Now I haven’t watched any of it apart from that first episode at the actual game tonight. The celebrities were better than I thought they would be and I thought it was a shame that they lost (2-1). Jonathan Wilkes turned out to be something of a star really and scored the goal for the celebs. Poor old Gary Lucy didn’t do very well – apparently, they kept putting him on the bench all week and was up for the public vote several times. He did, however, survive to play part of the game. Perhaps it was one of the better reality TV shows. [Sky Showbiz Report: Celebs Narrowly Beaten In The Match]