Weeknotes #76: mixed meals & voting

Enjoyable week with family, good food, and memorable events.

Week commencing Monday, 1 July 2024

Polling Station sign for the 2024 general election at Raynes Park library
Polling Station

Quantified Self

  • This week: Stand 4/7; Exercise 1/7 and Move 4/7. (43%). Morning walks: 0/4 (days in the office don’t count). Office days 0/5. Total steps: 38,383


  • Mum and Dad arrived to make use of the anniversary gift and enjoyed the afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason. The day before, dinner at a local Korean restaurant was mediocre.
  • While they were eating finger sandwiches and buying tea towels, I went to the physio about my shoulder. It was supposed to be a seminar but because so few people were booked on it we all got a personal consultation. I think I will have some kind of injection to see if it helps.
  • Wednesday, we all had delicious Mediterranean but, perhaps, I ordered too many dips. I enjoyed it.
  • Mum & Dad took the train back on Thursday morning. I went to vote. I am not sure if it was tactical or what I would have done anyway.
  • Evening drinks at The White Horse meant I was spared the big 10pm exit poll TV shenanigans. When I got home I did stay up watching too many results while flicking between channels.
  • Friday, Closer to Heaven at The Turbine theatre is good. Frances Ruffelle excellent as Billie Trix. It’s the third version we’ve seen and I’d recommend this one. We has cabaret-style tables but kept the little card to say no interaction. In hindsight, that was the wrong decision.
  • Sunday, Thames-side to an Airbnb in Wraysbury for C’s birthday. The house is nice with a view of the river, the pub had great service and great steaks.


Weeknotes #75: sunshine is here

Enjoyable weekend filled with friends, events, and sunshine.

Week commencing Monday, 24 June 2024

A London Pride poster on the big advertising board at Piccadilly Circus
London Pride 2024

Quantified Self

  • This week: Stand 6/7; Exercise 4/7 and Move 6/7. (76%). Morning walks: 0/4 (days in the office don’t count). Office days 1/4. Total steps: 65,855


  • Exhausted after the weekend. Hot and sunny by the sea. Brunch a lovely collection of seafood. The Dell’s crab gratin is wonderful.
  • It was still hot on Tuesday when we were home. Outside the thermometer registered 24ºc. I ate my lunch sat on the garden bench.
  • I learned that you do not need to be a fan of the streaming juggernaut that is Stranger Things to appreciate the theatre experience, but you do need to be prepared to sit in a theatre for almost three hours of performance.
  • Drinks after work on Thursday somehow ended up in a pub on Regents Street that was remarkably quiet for a Thursday evening.
  • Bucks Fizz. The Fizz were remarkable fun at Indigo O2 on Friday night. There was quite a bit of energy on stage that I might have been lacking off.
  • Saturday to a friend’s kitchen shop opening in North London: we might have really been the first through the door.
  • Back home via Pride in London. Lots of happy people in the sunshine. Good vibes.
  • We might have been dancing until the early hours at M&Rs. Sorry to their neighbours.
  • Sunday night was Pride at The Crazy Cows. Always a good fun.

Weeknotes #74: festival

Positive week with highlights from Isle of Wight festival

Week commencing Monday, 17 June 2024

Shuttle bus heading to the Isle of Wight festival.
Festival Bus

Quantified Self

  • This week: Stand 7/7; Exercise 4/7 and Move 5/7. 76%). Morning walks: 0/3 (days in the office don’t count). Office days 0/4. Total steps: 76,589


  • Did you return last week for the thrilling finale of the Washing Machine saga? I forgot to add it to my weeknotes. They sent a new machine. It’s remarkable how, when it’s not working, the effort engulfed my day-to-day. Whereas after they had replaced it, not a second thought. This one has a digital countdown—genuinely 21st century.
  • I read today about Sir Rod Stewart’s need to defend his support of Ukraine after he was apparently booed at a concert in Germany on Friday night. Sad world in which we live.
  • Related, I mentioned Rod Stewart this week 22 years ago. I just came across it by accident. Not sure why you’d be interested.
  • According to The Mirror, a sitting Prime Minister has never lost their seat at a general election. Could tactical voting mean it happens this time? I suspect not, but I do wonder who might lose their seats.
  • Wednesday evening to the Isle of Wight. There were some tight connections but I thought I’d make the 7:20pm sailing only to be thwarted one station away. So, I went and did my grocery shopping. Apple Maps’ directions to Tesco were lousy (including trying to send me through a park with locked gates).
  • Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Isle of Wight festival. The weather, atmosphere and music were all great. My feet hurt from the amount of standing I needed to do. It was a painful walk to back to the bus on Sunday evening. There were a lot of highlights. I need to write up the experience.
  • Related: Souther Vectis ran an excellent service.


Festival diaries, day three

We spent 10 hours at the flat before returning to the festival site. Today’s shuttle bus was an old Southern Vectis vehicle (it still featured branded informational posters), but it was – obviously – being used elsewhere in the country at the moment. I remarked that it had come home for a holiday. It had carpet on the upper deck ceiling. We didn’t sit at the front today as it was too warm; I am not sure the furry ceiling helped with the heat. We have been fortunate with the weather this weekend. All those wet-weather clothes remained in Ryde.

Once again, arrival was marked by the purchase of coffee. I craved a bacon bun, which proved – surprisingly – elusive until I found a burger stand near the main stage selling them. It was one of the nicest bacon sandwiches I’ve had. We repeated yesterday’s moves of getting to the Main Stage area early and holding a place towards the front. The backstage crew had been busy overnight installing confetti canons for Green Day and adding a platform that extended the stage area into the crowd. We’d have moved closer to that if my thinking had been more intelligent.

Beverley Knight was first and early, opening with “Greatest Day”. I’ve seen Beverley many times, and she’s an outstanding performer. I was surprised she was first on the list for the day. She started with a reasonable, for lunchtime, crowd around the Main Stage. She’d pulled many more people to the stage by the time she finished her set. Another wonderful performance featuring a great mix of her old and new songs and a cover of Radiohead’s “Just”. As she said, nobody can imagine a soul sister performing that song. It worked. There’s a version on BBC Sounds.

Next up, Kyliefied, a Kylie tribute act, was a lot of fun in the Electro Love tent. PY and I did not join in with the “Locomotion” chain that went around, but we laughed. It was another power walk across the festival site back to see McFly. I think McFly are underrated (I don’t know by whom, but it’s a sense, and I am sticking with it) because their set is such fun with a list of songs that you will know. I was disappointed we were so far back, but there was no way to get closer. I could just about see Tom was wearing a Green Day t-shirt in honour of tonight’s headliners, and Harry’s t-shirt labelled him as the drummer.

Zara Larsson was next. There was a noticeable switchover in the age of the crowd at the front. I only recognised “Symphony.” Her show was slick, but I wonder if it would have been better in a stadium rather than a field. The youngsters loved it, so what do I know?

We took some time out for food. This afternoon was chorizo-flavoured Mac’n’Cheese. Again, we sat on the grass near the Big Top and enjoyed the sunshine. We headed back to the Main Stage for “Simple Minds”. As far as PY was concerned, these were today’s headliners. I can’t explain why I was never a fan, so I only recognised the biggest hits, probably “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” and “Alive and Kicking” — it was another example of a video show that occasionally seemed to forget that we wanted to see the performers. The fans thought it superb.

Afterwards, we wandered to the Cirque de la Quirk stage. There was a bar opposite. For the first time across the weekend, I tried the fruit cider that PY had been drinking, and I wished I’d had it more often. Stone Cold Hustle, a large-ish (7 or 8-piece) funk band, was grooving providing the perfect laid-back soundtrack as evening approached.

After almost three days on my feet, walking was starting to get painful. We found some benches made of pallets and managed to sit for half an hour. We don’t bring foldable chairs because we want to avoid being stuck with them, mainly because I like being as close to the stages as possible, and chairs are banned in key areas. But I was very grateful to be able to sit down. 

Sunday’s headliners, who closed the show, were Green Day, another band I am not familiar with. However, when many people I know found out they were the main act of the day, they said without hesitation we should stay. And we did for most of the show. 

It was brilliant. From the inflatable aeroplane dropping merch onto the crowd to those confetti canons, we saw earlier via bringing a fan, Mollie, from the audience to perform on stage with them, it was great. Somewhere around “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” we decided to do another beat-the-crowd shuffle to the bus, hoping to catch a rerun of the set on Sky Arts. We missed the rerun (but caught the bus). Apparently, it’s on later in the week. Dinner was from the kebab shop on Union Street.

from my Blipfoto diary

Festival diaries, day two

We were back at Seaclose Park for noon. Despite my already tired feet, I was glad of the night in a real bed and ready for, more or less, twelve hours of standing. The first call of the day was at a coffee wagon to get a drink and the fortification of a pastry. Then, walk towards the main stage. As the crowds were still not out and, I suspect, many of the on-site campers were recovering, we took the opportunity to look into some areas of the site that went unvisited yesterday.

The Platform One Stage, which a music college runs, showcases student talent. According to the schedule, we watched Stereo Screams, but there seem to be more people in the band (based on their Instagram) than we saw. Whoever they were, they were good.

We walked the long snake-fenced-off queue line for a beer and fruit cider. Nobody else was buying, and the staff watched, amused, as we walked up and down the lines. It’s hard not to feel stupid doing that, but I wouldn’t vault any fences to save a few seconds. We carried our drinks to the Main Stage area, where we could secure a space near the front and watch Apollo Junction. It’s another new band to me and another fantastic way to start the day. Over several years, they had progressed from one of the small stages to opening the big one. Added to my playlist.

Yesterday, I mentioned the challenges of shifting between the Main Stage and other areas. Today, there were several acts in a row that we wanted to see on the biggest stage, so we settled in for about four and a half hours, standing three or four rows from the barrier. 

Natalie Imbruglia was first up. Of course, everybody wanted to sing along to Torn, which came towards the end of the set, but there were plenty of other solid songs. It was a great set that pulled people towards the stage.

The act PY wanted to see most today was Jake Shears, who was up just before 3pm. Arriving on stage wearing a glittering red and silver tracksuit, he opened with “Too Much Music”. Pretty much straight afterwards, the tracksuit was removed to reveal a glittering silver and red vest-shorts combo. While most of the acts on the main stage stuck to the accepted dress code of ‘something black’, Jake Shears was the opposite.

Apollo Junction’s Jamie Williamson got down from the stage to sing to the front row, and Jake Shears repeated the move during “Do The Television”. This is great for those of us up close but not so wonderful for those further back with a view of the stage who lose sight of the artists. I am not complaining. Jake’s set was another fantastic one. I hope he’s back in a future year with a longer show as his solo collection of hits is growing, and he still needs to fit in the crowd-pleasing Scissor Sisters tunes.

Half an hour later, possibly the 90s pop highlight took to the stage. Unlike everybody else we’ve seen so far at the festival, S Club did not pretend to be singing to a live band. There were no instruments on stage, and it was a pop-perfect 45 minutes: opening, of course, with “S Club Party’ and closing with the crowd’s favourite, “Reach”. If the Isle of Wight festival has a reputation for being a rock fest, then perhaps S Club will convince people that there’s something for everyone.

After reaching for the stars, we decided it was time to eat. We found a pizza and sat on the grass near the Big Top, watching several people wearing Pet Shop Boys-inspired red and white pointy hats. The crowd had fewer ‘costumes’ than I remember from last year.

While we were sitting on the grass, the Big Top crowd was getting bigger and bigger to the sounds of Irish music. Intrigued, we wandered in and caught the last, thoroughly enjoyable half-hour of The Mary Wallopers before making our way to The River Stage. 

I am trying to remember who had just finished on The River Stage when we arrived, but most people who’d seen the previous act were hanging about. I nipped to the bar tent, and when I turned around again to return to PY with a couple of drinks, I needed to push through quite a mass of people. In another 80s flashback, Johnny Hates Jazz took to the stage with a collection of hits. I am not sure some of the crowd knew what was coming as, after the first couple of songs, there was a changeover with a bit of an exodus making way for more people who’d been trying to get into the area. 

By the time we’d heard “Turn Back The Clock”, “I Don’t Want To Be A Hero”, and “Shattered Dreams” from the River Stage, the mass audiences had arrived in front of the Main Stage for not-quite-headliners, Keane. I am not familiar with Keane, so I was content to stand back and see most of the set on the video screen. I was surprised I knew as many of their songs as I did. 

Generally, I am not a fan of going to concerts where you can’t see the act on the stage and watch the show on a video screen. However, at a festival like this, you must accept that it’s the only way to see some acts without camping out in front of a single stage all day.  

After Keane, as it got darker, the air got colder. We both added layers, and I decided that something warm would help. It’s incredible how a portion of super-unhealthy but equally delicious, loaded fries could revive us both. On a side note, the site’s food selection was pretty impressive. PY went to try to find a stall still selling coffee. That’s how rock-n-roll our evening was.

One of the peculiarities of festivals is that there are often no intros to the bands. After many people move equipment, and somebody inevitably hits the drum for a soundcheck, the band starts. And so it was with the Pet Shop Boys. PY returned, coffeeless, once he realised the Pet Shop Boys had started (the coffee queue was moving slowly due to high demand for the waffles that were also available). 

By this time, we were stood even further back than we’d been for Keane, and this is the point in my notes where I should inject something about the people who manage the stage-side video screens. 

It’s ubiquitous for bands to have impressive video projection shows at the back of the stage. You can tell the amount of money artists are being paid by what they do with those screens. Earlier in the day, it’s usually just the band’s name or logo. As the day progresses, video is increasingly used. It looks nice when you can see the band on stage.

However, when you have 50,000 people back in a field with a partial obstruction of the mid-field sound/video/lighting gear, you only get part of the experience and rely on the side-stage video screen to see what’s happening. Several bands, including PSB, often showed the video effects on these screens instead of the live view, and there was no sight of the band on stage. IMHO, I am there to see a band. Generally, I want to be able to see the performers on stage (even microscopic versions of them), but, as with PSB, when that’s impossible, I implore the art directors of these things to keep the band on screen. If I want video effects, I’ll watch Vevo.

OK, back to the the show (well, almost). The Isle of Wight is very family friendly as a festival. There are lots of kids of all ages. I imagine many little kids are exhausted by 10:20pm (the headline start time). A mass of people stay to see the first couple of songs by the final act and then start heading homeward (or, at least, campsitewards). As a pleasing result, within the first twenty minutes, we’d moved from being a long way back with the screen as the primary view to having a view of the stage where I could see Neil & Chris (and appreciate the aforementioned video effects). 

It’s a stunning show. And every song is known. It’s amazing how extensive and familiar PSB’s back catalogue is. When a band can put songs as big as “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” and “Rent” in the early part of the set and still have hits left for later, you’re reminded of how prolific the band has been since their mid-80s arrival on planet pop*.

We took a gamble that “It’s A Sin” was the closing song of the main set and made our way backwards as it was playing. And we were right. Thus, we started the power walk back to the bus stop to beat the crowds for the shuttle to Ryde. “West End Girls” (an encore song) played in our ears.

The bus was significantly busier than yesterday, and my legs were much creakier than last night. But it’s nice to get to the flat for tea and more Sky Arts festival catch-up.

* I put that phrase in as it sounded like a homage to Smash Hits magazine.

From my Blipfoto diary

Festival diaries, day one

Isle of Wight Festival sign 2024

We did a bit of shopping this morning and managed to get lunch before heading out. We got some keys cut. It turns out one of them doesn’t work, and we headed back to get it redone, but the shop was closed. We walked down the hill towards the bus station. There was a festival bus on the stand as we approached the stop. Should we run or not? We didn’t, but we also made the bus and bagged a top deck, front row window seat to observe the approach to Seaclose Park from above.

The festival did get going last night, but we opted to sit in the sun in Ryde. PY’s been planning the schedule for much of the last week, and we decided the first act we wanted to see today was The Bootleg Beatles, who were not on stage until 4pm. It’s nice to have a shorter day to work my way up to the hours of standing that will be required tomorrow.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. All the planning for wet weather was not required for today and, according to the forecast, probably not for the rest of the weekend. We took the (very) long walk from the entrance to the main stage – posing for a picture by the IOW Festival sign –  to the bar, where the credit card discount was not available as Barclaycard had pulled out of sponsoring. Nonetheless, we took a place with a view of the stage just before 3pm and basked in the sun and drank a lager (me) and a fruit cider (PY). His was the better choice by far.

The Bootleg Beatles were a fantastic way to kick off our weekend. Everybody knew all the words to all the songs, and the costume changes between the Beatles’ eras were great. “Here Comes the Sun” was a very fitting song for the afternoon. 

After watching a tribute to a legendary band on the Main Stage, it seemed fitting to go and see another legend in the Electro Love tent. We were not the only people with the same idea; there was quite a crowd.  

Fighting your way away from the Main Stage is one of the festival site’s downsides: crossing with the people who want a good position for the next act means you are pushed to pinch-points because you must exit via the ‘chairs permitted’ section. Nonetheless, we did get in the Electro Love tent and watched an excellent Young Elton (albeit from quite far back).

We stayed for Dolly & The Gambler, a fabulous Scottish duo performing many 80s hits but, sadly, no Dolly Parton.  

The walk back towards the main stage is more straightforward, but we decided to skip The Darkness and watch up-and-comers Junodream for our next act. At some point, I wrote down “Dream-rock music about alienation in the 21st century”, which I think I took from their website. I don’t know what it means either. A lot of our festival experience is retro, but this was all new. And this old fella is probably not their target market, but I loved the whole set.

Then, it was only a quick step back to the Main Stage for Crowded House. I have a very limited knowledge of their back catalogue, “Four Seasons in One Day” and “Weather with You” from the early 1990s being the era I recall. Neil Finn and, amongst others, his sons, Liam and Elroy, performed much more variety than I expected. It was thoroughly lovely and more to singalong to than I imagined.

One of the things we’ve learnt about festivals is that energy is everything. The Prodigy were the big closing act, but we opted to leave before they got going to conserve some energy for tomorrow. As it was after 8pm, we decided we’d be better off eating on-site before the bus to Ryde. The Greek pittas we got were delicious. As a result of leaving early the bus wasn’t busy and we’d time our arrival at the stop perfectly. As soon as we were home Sky Arts went on to catch-up with what we hadn’t seen.

from my Blipfoto diary

Weeknotes #73: Ninth

Busy week: quizzes, musicals, social events, and media highlights.

Week commencing Monday, 10 June 2024

Wonderville cabaret space in central London

Quantified Self

  • This week: Stand 7/7; Exercise 1/7 and Move 5/7. (62%). Morning walks: 0/4 (days in the office don’t count). Office days 1/5. Total steps: 43,073


  • Back at the Monday night quiz. I mentioned before that there are prizes for 1st, 2nd and 9th. Last time we lost 9th on a tiebreak. This time we won it. I am remarkably delighted about being very middling.
  • Tuesday night to see The Finellis Musical at Wonderville. It’s a fun show with great performances and wonderful vocals. It does need trimming but don’t let that put you off: every musical starts somewhere and you’ll see the potential and watch great singing. If anything, it feels big for the venue but go and say you saw it there.
  • Last week, the British Prime Minister left D-Day 80th anniversary events in Normandy early. It’s still rumbling on for Rishi.
  • Thursday night out with work and I ended the evening in a bar on Regent Street. It was remarkably quiet.
  • Also social Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Friday, dinner with family at a pub in Woking, we ended up measuring each other’s ears. Sunday afternoon with friends was warm enough to sit in the garden.
  • We only watched a bit of the football. And then a repeat of Midsomer Murders.


  • I watched The Rest Is Politics: the Channel 4 screening of the podcast. I saw it live on Tuesday. Two smart people talking but I think it works better in audio. They will make a good pair as part of election coverage.
  • On catchup, Jonathan Groff in an excellent Doctor Who was better than the all live #BattleForNumber10 which was the big election piece of the evening.

Weeknotes #72: musicals week

Washing machines, musicals, expensive drinks, 80s music, and TV shows.

Week commencing Monday, 3 June 2024

Heathers: The Musical poster outside the theatre

Quantified Self

  • This week: Stand 7/7; Exercise 2/7 and Move 4/7. (62%). Morning walks: 0/4 (days in the office don’t count). Office days 1/5. Total steps: 46,266



  • On the train on Thursday, I tried to catch-up on the remainder of Sounds of the 80s when Jason Donovan joined Gary to co-host on his birthday! As always, wonderful 80s music. I didn’t quite finish it.
  • Started watching Lost Boys and Fairies billed as, “The tender, glittering story of gay couple Gabriel and Andy’s journey to adoption”. There’s a bit at the end of the second episode that makes me not want to start the third because I am not sure I want to know.

Starlight Express

Starlight Express: nostalgic, immersive, impressive cast, mixed responses.

The Starlight Auditorium in Wembley.
Starlight Auditorium

Small disclaimer: I bought tickets to a preview show. Shows can change while previewing, so what officially ‘opens’ could be different.

Last year, when they released tickets for the new Starlight Express (London, 2024), I bought a couple without realising they were for the first preview night. Effectively, we were part of one of the first paying audiences to see the show. However, quite how many people had paid would be interesting to know as we were surrounded by people who had something to do with the production (lanyards, notebooks and “see you at the drinks”). Lord Lloyd Webber was at the back. I’m curious to see if the presence of insiders impacted how the audience responded. More on that below. The Producer and Director introduced the performance. I wanted to get my thoughts down quickly so that, when the real reviews come out, I can see if they agree or disagree with what I initially thought.

Before diving into the review, it’s important to provide some context. I was a fan of Starlight’s 1992 reworking at the Apollo Victoria, having seen it multiple times and even catching the touring production. The soundtrack was a regular on my playlist. This fondness for the earlier version undoubtedly influenced my expectations and, I suspect, will colour many of the reviews.

Nonetheless, it was time for the show to be updated. That is neither good nor bad; it’s inevitable. And, if you want to stage a big comeback production, you’ll need to sell a lot of tickets and appeal to more than the nostalgia crowd. Starlight Express is a family show, and today’s kids are not as enthralled by trains as previous generations. This version is updated with new and revised characters and songs (both new and rewritten). You won’t see the Starlight of 1995. This is, however, still Starlight Express. It has not changed beyond recognition. There weren’t many kids in tonight’s auditorium, but there were some, so it’s a small sample to comment on below.

There’s good and disappointing (maybe, bad).

The new Starlight Autotrium is stunning. It’s a wonderful place to see the show. Like the Apollo Victoria, the skaters are out amidst a portion of the audience. We sat in a central-ish area they called Platforms, and the races happened all around us. The video screens are still there, and adding race position scoreboards (new to me) is a nice touch. The introductions peddled the line that the original was one of the first immersive shows. Maybe, but by today’s immersive experiences, this is still a theatre show: you must stay in your seats, and there’s no interaction. That may be nitpicking, but it felt like bandwagon jumping to me. But, I can reassure anybody that, in the right seats, you are up close to the action, and that’s part of the Starlight experience that’s been maintained.

In the intro, somebody said there were twelve professional debuts among the performers. They were all incredible. I have no idea how you could skate, dance, and sing for two hours while maintaining the needed control. And our seats were up close. I’d like to think I’d notice the pain if they were suffering. To a player, they looked like they were loving it. And that remains as infectious as it was the first time I saw it.

The inclusion of new songs is relatively seamless. The score has been reworked to fit: at times, I sat trying to work out if I was hearing something new or revised. And the new songs are good: they’re not as familiar but they’re good (although at least one has played in the German production for years). The sound system remains as epic and theatre-filling as I remember from other productions. It makes it feel like an experience.

The reworked songs are more complex to comment on because, in my head, you sing along to words that are not there anymore and that must influence my thoughts. I’m delighted they still work, even rewritten. Somewhere along the way, they sing “going faster than the limits allow,” which (and I had to look it up) is lifted from Tire Tracks and Broken Hearts from Whistle Down The Wind, but immediately made me think of Meatloaf. I’m curious if Jim Steinman gets credit (assuming it’s his lyric).

It’s more than just the songs that have been updated. Engines are no longer named after countries: the German, Russian, French and Italian trains have generic ‘Golden Eagle’ or ‘Orange Flash’ style names. The British train, which never appeared due to leaves on the line, is still referenced. I trust that’s a nod to earlier productions rather than somebody thinking it’s still an original joke. Ashley, the smoking car, is replaced with a ‘quiet car’. The freight ‘Rustys’ are now named after their loads: Lumber for wood, Slick for oil, etc. There’s an additional freight wagon, Hydra, named after the hydrogen it transports. It’s an important introduction to the story. Greaseball is a female character, Electra a non-binary, “they”. Poppa is Momma. None of this matters, although it’s harder to distinguish between the engines. But the stereotypes of the older versions would jar. The trains have always been about the characters they represent, which works, just as it has always done. One of the criticisms of the 90s reworking was that the villain of the original, the Caboose, was removed, and the bad guy’s deeds spread across other characters. In this version, the baddie is restored.

The child controller plays a much more significant part in the reworked show and is a central character. It’s probably one of the better changes.

I wish I could end there because, to this point, I can wholeheartedly recommend that people go and see the show. Fantastic staging, performances, and additive, non-destructive updates would be an excellent place to stop.

But, there is a change, and that’s with how the story gels. The tale has changed over other incarnations, and so there’s no reason why the story should not evolve again. At its heart, it was, and is, the story of the underdog steam engine you’re rooting for to win the race and couple with his love, Pearl. It’s all still there. But, in this production, the subplots drown out the core story.

If something like Starlight were written today, Electra would be the hero engine, and Steam would be relegated to the evil characters. That would be too big a rewrite for Starlight. So we have Hydra, the hydrogen truck that propels Rusty to the win. But there’s now a new storyline of the good fuel that weaved amongst the others. ‘He Whistled At Me’ has Rusty questioning if whistling at a carriage was appropriate, which takes some of the meaning away from the ‘whistling’ references: it can’t be seen in the same context as before. These don’t sound like significant issues; perhaps they are not. But they blurred the central premise that the audience cheers on Rusty because why wouldn’t you cheer on Hydra or the carriages?

I headed to the interval bar, commenting that the show didn’t feel like it had the pace it should have. It’s about something other than speed skating: who knows if the track is faster or slower? This should be an energy-filled extravaganza. It has the setting, the music, and the cast, but somehow, it’s not. What felt modern, fast, and upbeat 40 years ago needs a turbo-boost to feel the same today. And Starlight 2024 doesn’t have it.

You want the audience to cheer when the races start, but they’re not. Applause is played as sound effects. When the cast tried to get the audience to clap along, they succeeded with a portion of the audience, but I observed a lot who didn’t join in, most notably to my eyes, the Producer sitting at the other end of the row where I was seated. Maybe it’s all those insiders I mentioned earlier, but if they can’t be upbeat at the first public performance, why should anybody else?

And to my aforementioned sample of children. Just three in my eye line, so, probably, unrepresentative. But they didn’t seem involved, one even resting their head on a parent’s shoulder as if to sleep. I don’t know what was missing for them, but the show needs to win kids to succeed. Truthfully, as we were leaving, another child was wide-eyed and singing Starlight. An auditorium with more children might have more energy: it’s not pantomime, but it needs that level of engagement. I hope my experience was an exception, not a crystal-ball view of the future.

I wanted to love it. That could be part of my problem. I didn’t. But I didn’t hate it either: far from it. I enjoyed it. There’s much to be in awe of, notably staging and casting. But I want a new generation to love Starlight as I do, and I fear this production lacks the pace, excitement, and clarity of who to root for to make it a winner with people unfamiliar. The nostalgia crowd will go, and it might be a profitable undertaking on that alone. Abba Voyage proves there’s a market, but I wonder if it’s enough.

I have my fingers crossed. Maybe I’ll even go again to see if I revise my thinking. I will, no doubt, think about it for days to come. We’ll see.

Mine is the last voice you will ever hear

Childhood fears and “Two Tribes” song defined a memorable summer

Cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's twelve-inch version of Two Tribes
Two Tribes 12″

When I was a child, and once I understood what an atomic bomb was, the nuclear attack public information films were some of the scariest things I saw. Fortunately, we didn’t have any way to see them often unless they were shown on television, and I don’t think anybody scheduled them in children’s programming.

Add the ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ films from the middle of the 80s, and you have the perfect recipe for a frightening decade. I was only just a teenager. They were scary to watch in the moment, and then I played Wham! and forgot about taking a door off its hinges and hiding under it with the curtains closed.

I’m nearing completion of Trevor Horn’s book, Adventures in Modern Recording, an insight into the life of a music producer who created some of the biggest hits of the 1980s. In particular, I just finished the chapter on Frankie Goes to Hollywood: Relax and Two Tribes. In the book, Trevor discusses the Annihilation twelve-inch mix of Two Tribes. I looked it up and played it on the train on the way home yesterday, and it brought back many memories.

Back in the early summer of 1984, my family was preparing to move from Lancashire to Shropshire. Those were my last weeks at school with a group of friends, some of whom I wouldn’t hear from again until Friends Reunited connected us twenty years later. Two Tribes was the UK’s number-one single for what seemed like most of the summer.

I am trying to remember who in my friendship group had a radio cassette player, but I can’t recall it now. The machine they brought into school may have been called a ‘boom box’ at the time, or that name might have come later. My memory tells me it was a big machine. It was the kind you’d imagine New Yorkers had on their shoulders while they strutted around The Bronx or wherever. We didn’t strut, we were 13. Somebody had a cassette version that featured both the single mix and, what I think was, the Annihilation Mix of Frankie’s Two Tribes. It was being played—on the radio and by others with their cassette machines—everywhere, especially on the school grounds at Standish High School.

A group of us sat in the sunshine on the grassy bank behind one of the school buildings, listening to Two Tribes repeatedly. We might have taken our lunches out there. As I write, I can’t recall lunch at that school for some reason, but I remember sitting on the grass with music blaring quite clearly. We played Two Tribes loud so the air raid siren was audible across the school grounds. We liked the song, but we also thought playing it again and again was rebellious. Of course, nobody would believe it was an actual air-raid warning, would they?

When you hear the air attack warning
You and your family must take cover

Looking back, what’s most surprising is that nobody ever asked us to turn it down or off. They let us do it every break time for days. We even did it when most of the school had bunked off to the Radio One roadshow. It was my last week at the school. I thought I should be there to say goodbye. Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t go and watch Simon Bates & Janice Long. Who would have noticed I was absent? I wasn’t coming back next term.

At the time, I was also presenting a top 30 music show on the local hospital radio station. It’s only now that I wonder what patients must have thought about a child playing a song—albeit an anti-war song—with an air-raid siren as its introduction. Many patients would have lived through the real thing. What was I doing reminding them of the horrors of war while they were in a hospital bed? I thought it was a good song and played it more than I should have.

But when I played it yesterday, I kept my headphones on and didn’t subject the other passengers to that sound.

Weeknotes #71: I saw a human fruit machine

Enjoyable week filled with activities and discoveries.

Week commencing Monday, 27 May 2024

A view out to see with Bembridge Lifeboat Station, Isle of Wight in the distance. A sunny day with a few clouds in the sky.
Bembridge Lifeboat Station, Isle of Wight

Quantified Self

  • This week: Stand 6/7; Exercise 6/7 and Move 6/7. (86%). Morning walks: 0/3 (days in the office don’t count). Office days 1/4. Total steps: 74,977


  • A general election was called last week. Apparently, the man in charge of everything didn’t check the weather forecast before announcing it in the rain. Several hours after the event, I was told, and I still haven’t seen a picture of him in the rain. I didn’t mention it in last week’s notes because the only thing that will change between now and ‘the date’ is that I’ll despair more about the people in power. As a result, I resolved to spend more time in my garden.
  • Bank holiday Monday to the Bembridge street fair. Just thinking about the human fruit machine, and I am still laughing. Lots of people and packed buses. Lovely community spirit.
  • Related, we walked out towards the pier and lifeboat station. Lovely scone with a peaceful view of the water.
  • I discovered, by scrolling to some obscure part of the NHS app, that my physiotherapy referral for my shoulder had been cancelled because I didn’t have an appointment. I called to ask why I’d not been asked to make one. After much computer clicking, I finally have an appointment (albeit for a telephone consultation). It’s a start. Yay.
  • Are you here for the washing machine content? This week, a different engineer was sympathetic to the saga. New drum. The machine is not working—parts are out of stock. I can’t face the call queue.
  • Difficult meeting on Wednesday. It will not be resolved quickly. Work to put in, so I went for a walk on Cannon Hill Common. It’s looking very lush and green.
  • Friday night to buy paint to patch up some walls.
  • On Saturday, we tried to picnic on the beach, but the wind was against us.
  • On Sunday, I sat in the marina-side bar and drank wine before the train home. The sun shone. A lovely way to end the week.


Weeknotes #70: saga continues

Week includes blood donation, media highlights, and weekend trip.

Week commencing Monday, 20 May 2024

The photo captures a tranquil sunset over Gosport's waterfront. The sky is painted with soft hues of orange, yellow, and blue as the sun descends towards the horizon, casting a golden reflection on the water's surface. In the distance, silhouettes of buildings, cranes, and masts of boats can be seen against the bright sky.
Tranquil sunset on the Solent

Quantified Self

  • This week: Stand 7/7; Exercise 4/7 and Move 6/7. (81%). Morning walks: 0/4 (days in the office don’t count). Office days 1/5. Total steps: 60,984


  • Interesting new project on the agenda at work this week, but it feels like a tight timeframe. Let’s see.
  • The washing machine saga continues. This week’s engineer didn’t even open the machine before declaring a different part was needed. Booked for next week. By the weekend, my complaint had resulted in some compensation, but the machine remains unusable.
  • Related, the call centre I spoke to told me, no, I could not speak with a supervisor because the person I was talking to was “perfectly trained to help me”. I believe she had heard my, “but you’re not” response before.
  • I gave blood again on Wednesday. I hadn’t thought the pain in my shoulder would stop me, but the staff were wonderful, checking that the “giving” position wouldn’t hurt me.
  • Related, the nurse and I both agreed that a shoehorn was an amazing invention.
  • Relatedly, related. Can you get orange-flavoured Club biscuits anywhere other than blood donation centres?
  • Friday night train not as busy as expected. The ferry, on the other hand, was much busier. A sunny weekend on the Isle of Wight.
  • The drinks and snacks at the place with the award-winning chef were nice, but not stocking Island produce because it’s ”everywhere” was, in my book, poor form.


  • We’re going to see Heathers, The Musical in a few weeks. I hadn’t watched the movie before, so we did. It’s dark and very 80s. You wouldn’t get away with some of that today.
  • Previously, I wasn’t liking this series of Doctor Who. This week, 73 Yards was a masterpiece.
  • Andy Burnham, on James O’Brien’s Full Disclosure podcast was a great listen.

Weeknotes #69: a party in a garden

The week involved events, AI, and weekend challenges.

Week commencing Monday, 13 May 2024

Members of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard (The Beefeaters) at Buckingham Palace
Garden Party, May 2024

Quantified Self

  • This week: Stand 6/7; Exercise 3/7 and Move 4/7. (62%). Morning walks: 1/4 (days in the office don’t count). Office days 1/5. Total steps: 43,881


  • The highlight of the week was The King’s Garden Party. And it was in the bright sunshine – glad I took sunglasses. I didn’t know what to expect. I dressed in full-on mourning suit and didn’t feel out of place even though I was in a minority. I feel honoured to have been there. A bunch of famous faces seen and on the correct side of the line for the King to talk to the people I went with.
  • Related, the top hat was new to me and I probably shouldn’t have bothered, but it was an experience and I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance again. In the evening, my back hurt from the upright posture required to keep the hat on. Jealous of the people who make it look effortless.
  • Relatedly related, I might have been the only person to transport my top hat to and from The Palace in a Sainsbury’s foldable shopping bag.
  • Obviously, I had to have cucumber sandwiches when eating at The Palace. Excellent.
  • Otherwise, a very normal week.
  • Related, trains on the way back were so disrupted they removed Clapham Junction from the stops. Thank Uber for the ride home.
  • The washing machine saga continues. On Monday, an engineer discovered a fault with the machine that required a new part. An hour later, the insurance company rang. I thought they wanted to talk to me about the repair, but it was an excuse to upsell me more insurance. I declined several times for the recording.
  • Monday night was quiz night. After our disappointing performance last time, we did good. Pulling Terry Jacks, Seasons In The Sun, out of the hat helped make us joint ninth. Ninth is a specific goal of this quiz. We lost it on a tiebreak.
  • The UK’s sunniest place has been named (and it’s not Cornwall), says Metro. Yay for Shanklin!
  • Fun with ChatGPT. I asked what’s good AI. It said ethical AI should properly attribute but couldn’t provide attribution for its responses. I asked if OpenAI was, therefore, unethical. “Not necessarily” was the answer. It amused me.
  • I watched the Google IO event and was impressed by the Gemini capabilities. Then I asked ChatGPT and Gemini to describe an image. Only one AI came close and it wasn’t Google’s.
  • Weekend, to the Isle of Wight. The fridge has stopped opening while we have been elsewhere. The resulting stink from off food was unpleasant. One nudge of the temperature button and all was functioning. Less said about the weekend the better.


  • Doctor Who: We watched Space Babies and The Devil’s Chord. These feel very different to anything that’s been before. In particular, The Devil’s Chord had no sense of jeopardy and the Hairspray finale was more High School Musical than time travelling Doctor. Thankfully, Ncuti saved the episode by being brilliant.
  • Trying to get through Trigger Point. Will persevere.

Weeknotes #68: eurovision and neon

A vibrant week filled with diverse experiences and enjoyable moments.

Week commencing Monday, 6 May 2024

A decorated car outside KOYN Japanese: a celebration of the artistry of Japanese cuisine
KOYN Japanese

Quantified Self

  • This week: Stand 6/7; Exercise 5/7 and Move 7/7. (86%). Morning walks: 2/3 (happy to have restarted the trend). Office days 1/5. Total steps: 67,658


  • Bank holiday Monday. It rained, quite a lot. I stayed inside, quite a lot (but not entirely).
  • As it turns out, the washing machine was not fixed by fluke as I thought last week. Awaiting another engineer.
  • Tuesday was sunny. I did a morning walk again and it felt good. It felt even better to do it again on Wednesday.
  • Even if you don’t like Eurovision, you should have watched it for the amazing sets & Petra Mede. Sweden knows how to do it. The final was fun and, for once, the winner was in my top 3.
  • Related. For the first time in many years we watched it away from our house at the home of friends. As we were not entertaining, and as they provided a helpful scorecard, we watched every song. Some of them felt much longer than three minutes. The accompanying food was lovely.
  • Dinner with Greg on Wednesday night was Japanese (Koyn) and wonderful (both in company and food). Also, expensive. But as it’s our once-every-two-years meet-up, I’m OK with that.
  • By the end of Thursday I was tired so skipped the work karaoke session. Probably for the best.
  • Went to hire a mourning suit in Wimbledon on Friday evening. They were closed. Met PY and sat in the – very small – beer patio at All Bar One. Spontaneous and fun.
  • Managed to do the hiring on Saturday. But it will be delivered the day before it is needed. Nervous.
  • Sunday, on the way back from our Eurovision stay, to God’s Own Junkyard: a treasure-trove of neon. Wonderful, evocative and bright.


  • Shardlake on Disney+. Although it was the monks being investigated, I couldn’t get Cadfael out of my head. This is probably more gruesome. Good characters, interesting plot. Set-up for a second series?

All lit up

On returning from our evening watching Eurovision with friends in North London, we stopped off at God’s Own Junkyard: a warehouse tribute to neon. I’ve always wanted to visit and, despite the bright daylight outside, the multi-coloured lights were fantastic. The contrast between the signs for wedding chapels and those gentlemen’s establishments of old Soho was beautiful.