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UKIP biggest losers in latest Ashcroft poll

9 April, 2015 0 Comments

Is the ride over for UKIP?

UKIP lose out to the big two, Labour are on the up and nothing to cheer the Lib Dems in poll of Conservative marginals

Is the ride over for UKIP? Voters in Blackpool have certainly been having second thoughts. Just six months ago Nigel Farage’s party were riding high, polling 24% but… See the full article at The News Hub.

Benedict Cumberbatch Profile

1 April, 2015 0 Comments
SpotCumber

Man of the Moment – Benedict Cumberbatch profiled in http://www.spotlight-online.de/

My profile of Benedict Cumberbatch appears in the April 2015 edition of Spotlight magazine. The first two pages can be seen at http://bit.ly/SpotCumber.

 

Abbey Brass at the Brass Band Championships 2015

27 March, 2015 0 Comments

Shaky start from Abbey but recovers well and soon settles nicely. Slow movements flow nicely with good cornet and euphonium sounds. Strong start to the last movement with a well chosen tempo and good build up to the close. Another brave effort.

4barsrest

stevenage2015_1On Sunday 22nd March Abbey Brass went to the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage Arts and Leisure Centre to contest against 21 other 4th Section bands in the London and Southern Counties Region National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain.

The coach contingent set off early from Rye Farm car park on an ever brightening Spring morning, arriving shortly before 10. According to my iPhone app, the coach hummed at a fairly steady G (that’s C for the B flats!) for much of the journey.

The draw for the order of play took place shortly after we arrived. We were drawn 8th which meant we wouldn’t be required to play the national anthem (a requirement of the whichever band is drawn first) and would be on stage at around 1pm.

stevenage2015_2Shortly before 12.30pm we checked we all had our music, mouthpieces, registration cards  etc and had a final blow through the instruments to get them warmed up.

After a final nerve-settling pep talk from Rob, our conductor, it was our turn to play. The percussion team went on stage first to set up and then we were on.

Before a fairly spartan lunchtime audience we performed the 4th Section test piece An English Pastorale by Dean Jones. The piece begins with a 15 bar fanfare ‘Heralding the dawn’ that leads us into four movements evoking the English seasons. A spirited and playful ‘Autumn on the Plains’ is followed by a desolate ‘Winter in the Dales’. The mood cheers up a little in the third movement when we enter ‘Spring on the Lakes’ and we finish with a burst of hustle, bustle and sunshine with ‘Summer on the Quays’.

The general feeling on leaving the stage was that it had gone well and we had put our best into it. There were moments of hesitancy but it was a generally settled performance from all with some beautiful sounds. We had  a few hours to kill while the remaining bands did their pieces and after lunch some us went to hear the Championship bands performing on a different stage with much better acoustics and comfier seats.

We finished a creditable 15th in our section and here is the full table of results with the other Oxfordshire bands highlighted in green.

Fourth Section
Test Piece: ‘An English Pastorale’- Dean Jones
Sunday 22nd March

Adjudicators: Nick Garman & David Hirst

1. City of Norwich (Aandrew Craze)*
2. Castleton Brass (Peter Ryan)*
3. East Coast Brass (Paul Speed)*
4. Watford Band (Ian Graves)
5. North London Brass (Patrick Dodds)
6. Tadley Concert Brass (Paul Chapman)
7. Letchworth Garden City (Tim Welch)
8. Woodbridge Excelsior (Chris Lewis-Garnham)
9. Brighton & Hove City (Matthew Hackett)
10. Crystal Palace (Michael Gray)
11. Bradwell Silver (Brian Keech)
12. Snowdown Colliery (Christer Aberg)
13. Wantage Academy (Nikki Jones)
14. Godalming (James Haigh)
15. Abbey Brass (Abingdon) (Rob Tompkins)
16. Cottenham Brass (P. Mackley)
17. Witney Town (Rhys Owens)
18. Hadstock Silver (Lisa Jardine-Wright)
19. Royston Townd (Steve Earley)
20. Bletchington Silver (S. Barwick)
21. Ampthill Town (Chris Benger)
22. Marsh Gibbon Silver (Andrew Allcock)

Eclipse2015

20 March, 2015 0 Comments

eclipse7There was a very good turnout this morning for Abingdon Astronomical Society’s assisted viewing of the partial solar eclipse in the Abbey Meadows.

eclipse3Overcast skies threatened to put the dampers on the event but the clouds thinned out and even a little bit of blue came our way.

The crowd swelled as the 9.30am maximum coverage approached and the Society ran out of the safety spectacles they had been lending out. This didn’t seem to dampen spirits and the glasses were happily shared.

eclipse2The Society had brought along a range of telescopes including a fitted with one metalised glass filter that reduced the intensity of the sun’s rays by one hundred thousand and a portable solar projection device for people to get a better or different view of the eclipse.

Lots of press were in attendance, including a film crew from ITV, BBC Radio Oxford, the Oxfordshire Guardian and the Abingdon Blog

The Oxfordshire Guardian have produced an excellent video of the occasion.

You can an ITV Meridian news report on the event here.

Losing The Buzz

15 March, 2015 0 Comments

There’s a regular buzz against my thigh from the phone in my trouser pocket. Maybe it’s a text or maybe or a tweet or perhaps I’ve got a message on Skype. It’s hard not to check them all. Sometimes it’ worth fishing the phone out to check but mostly it isn’t. Sometimes there’s nothing there – no text, no tweet, no message. And sometimes there’s a buzz against my thigh and my phone isn’t even in my pocket. It’s like the ants that I spot but which aren’t when we have a summer of ant invasions. They’re the same as the real ants except that when I look more closely, they simply aren’t there. It’s just that my brain has become so obsessed with spotting ants that it jumps the gun at every crumb or speck of dirt. And now my brain is detecting buzzes against my thigh are simply phantoms, like an amputee feeling pain in a missing limb.

After a period of driving with my SatNav I find I continue to check the empty space in the centre of the dashboard where the SatNav even after I have stowed it away in the glove compartment. My brain has become used to this additional source of information and is still seeking it out even when it’s not there.

I can’t remember the name of the first video game that I played obsessively but it was something very similar to space invaders. An armada of alien ships descending from above. They had to be zapped fast before they blasted away my three lives or reached the earth. At night, the aliens descended still, in a never ending stream, blasting away at my attempts to get to sleep. Tracking screen aliens had let them into my head and my drowsing brain wouldn’t let them out again.

I’m not troubled by aliens these days but that reverse screen burn still eats into my head. Checking for the last email, tweet, news update before going to sleep has proved just as disturbing as the aliens. Sometimes I’ll be checking again if awake in the night. Inevitably I reach out for my phone first thing in the morning.

There’s a dark side to digital. It sucks at the soul like Faust’s devil. So much is offered, so much is given. But there’s always a price, there’s a price for everything. Maybe we are all beginning to understand this now, but it’s an industry that makes such riches and provides such wondrous tools that nobody is keen to examine the dark side too closely. Like not thinking hard about the environmental and human costs of assembling our devices, we don’t want to consider too carefully what digital tech could be doing to us mentally and socially.

I now leave my phone downstairs to charge overnight. It’s a wrench, but only by putting it well beyond reach can I make it let go of me. I’ve begun to think about the possibility of moving to something a little less smart. I really don’t know if I can do that, whether I can really lose the buzz. And what about the Apple Watch? That scares me indeed.

The Westminster Poverty Trap?

6 March, 2015 0 Comments

The Palace of Westminister

This is my first article proposal for the May edition of Contributoria. It has now been commissioned. It will be in production throughout April. If you are a member of Contributoria, you will be able to take part in the editorial process of this article once the first draft has been submitted.

According to MPs, £67,000 just isn’t a living wage – for an MP. It’s time then, that we took a look at how they earned a crust before they were elected. What did they do for a living? What would it have brought in and was entering Parliament really a step down into relative poverty?

This article will present information on the past and present careers of our MPs so that we can discover just how much of a lifestyle step down or a step up it has been to become a Member of Parliament. What have they sacrificed or gained?

With more than one MP announcing that they are stepping down as a result of poor pay, the article will also look at what happens when the years of public service are over. What can our MPs expect to earn once they or we bring their parliamentary careers to an end? The article will examine the earning potential of former Members of Parliament and see how much of a career boost it is to have ‘MP’ on your CV.

The Government Inspector – Cornerstone, Didcot

2 March, 2015 0 Comments

On Saturday we spent a very enjoyable evening being entertained by Flintlock Theatre’s production of Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector at Cornerstone in Didcot.

The Government Inspector

The Government Inspector

When the mayor and other local dignitaries of a small town in Russia learn that an inspector from the government is due to pay them a visit, they are thrown into a state of panic, fearful that their bribery, corruption and misuse of government funds are about to be exposed. On learning that there is young gentleman of extravagant tastes and strange habits staying in the town hotel, they mistakenly jump to the conclusion that this must be the inspector travelling incognito. The attempts by the mayor and his cronies to win over the young man (in reality, a penniless wastrel who cannot pay his hotel bill) become increasingly absurd while he, once he realises that they are not about to throw him in jail, can’t believe believe his good fortune.

The four players tell the tale with manic exuberance, taking every opportunity to get a laugh. It’s a very physical performance, bordering on the acrobatic – very Basil Fawlty and Manuel (particularly reminiscent of the Hotel Inspectors episode). With very few props, several quick changes of costume and some ad hoc assistance from members of the audience, the almost bare stage is filled with action, absurdity and laughter.

Abbey Brass at the ODBBA Winter Contest

1 March, 2015 0 Comments

Bright and early on this beautiful Spring morning Abbey Brass were at Marlborough School in Woodstock to take part in the 4th and Unregistered Section of the ODBBA (Oxford and District Brass Band Association) Winter Contest. Abbey Brass are a 4th section band.

There were 21 bands altogether, from Championship down to 4th and Unregistered. Our Adjudicator for the day was renowned conductor and broadODDBAProgcaster Frank Renton.

In our section, we had to play a march and test piece, both of our own choosing. We were up against 5 other bands, including Crystal Palace who had travelled all the way from South London.

For our march, we played Death or Glory by American composer R. B. Hall, written in 1895.

Like most of the bands there today, for our test piece we chose the same piece that we have to play for the Area Qualifier contests that take place in Stevenage later this month. For our section this is An English Pastorale by Dean Jones. We have been working hard on this piece since before Christmas – including a rehearsal taken by the composer himself.

Both the march and the test piece went well though unfortunately we finished in 6th place this time round.

Abingdon Hydro

20 February, 2015 0 Comments
Trees by Abingdon weir, 19th Feb. '15

Trees by Abingdon weir, 19th Feb. 2015

They’ve been cutting down trees by Abingdon weir. This is to make way for Abingdon Hydro, a scheme to install two Archimedes screws by the weir to use the difference in height above and below the weir to generate electricity. I can’t find any figures on the Abingdon Hydro site that show clearly how much energy they expect to produce. However, my calculation based on the average 55kW* output for the scheme quoted on the Abingdon Hydro website and Ofgem’s 2011 electricity consumption figures is that in a year, the scheme could generate the equivalent of enough electricity to supply the annual energy needs of 146 houses.

The Feed-In Tariff

It’s important to understand that none of the electricity from this project will actually go to any particular houses in Abingdon or elsewhere. There are small and micro-scale hydro schemes around the world that directly power individual houses and small communities, generally in remote areas that would otherwise be without electrical power. However, any electricity generated by the Abingdon Hydro turbines will feed into the national grid through Scottish and Southern Electricity. According to the schemes website, Abingdon Hydro expect their electricity to either be sold to the grid at the feed-in tariff, a rate determined and subsidised by the government, or to a larger green electricity generator.

Friends of the Earth have this to say about the governments feed-in tariff,

‘The feed-in tariff (FIT) is a payment to people generating their own electricity from renewable sources. The electricity you generate and use during the day is free, and you also get paid for every unit that you don’t use but export back into the grid.’

As you can see from this, the expectation is that micro-generation projects are generating electricity for personal use or for the use of a community and then ‘exporting’ whatever is not used back into the grid. Abingdon Hydro, on the other hand, are proposing to only export to the grid and will not be generating electricity for local use.

Green

So, the electricity won’t be directly for the community as such, but will it be ‘green electricity’ nonetheless? The first thing to look at is the cost of installing the turbines, their connection to the grid and the associated infrastructure costs. It isn’t clear from the Abingdon Hydro website which turbines will be installed at the weir. Perhaps, like much of the detail of the project, this is still unknown. However, if they choose Landustrie, the manufacturer of the screw used at Osney Lock Hydro, pictured on the Abingdon Hydro website, then the two estimated 9 tonne chunks of engineered metal will be transported by land and sea from Sneek in the Netherlands. This, along with the relative inaccessibility of the site means that there will be considerable carbon outlay on transport, installation and infrastructure works before the first watt of power is generated. There is no indication on the website of whether a calculation of this carbon cost has been made by Abingdon Hydro.

An Investment in the Future

Whatever the cost may be, it is not unreasonable to have a higher capital and carbon outlay on something that will bring the longer term green benefits of sustainable, low carbon power generation. But will the scheme generate an amount of power that achieves this goal? This is a very small-scale scheme – what is termed a ‘micro-generation’ scheme. At best, it will provide the national grid with a trickle of power at certain times of the year.  Scottish and Southern Electricity will install a meter for the scheme which will measure how much electricity the turbines have generated each year.  Even in a successful year, this meter will show that the weir has produced enough electricity for fewer than 150 average homes over a year. However, because this power is being fed directly into the grid, it is not clear that the power will in reality ever reach any home. There are big fluctuations in the demand for electricity throughout the day and the grid brings reserves in and out of service to match this.  Against this, the arbitrary trickle from the turbines at Abingdon Hydro, dependent on variable river flow and canoeists (the scheme has agreed to provide a button at water level that will allow canoeists to open gates on the weir that allows them to train but reduces the flow to the turbines), is insignificant.  It appears to me that the weir scheme may not actually make any contribution to the nation’s power supply. The company would, however, still receive a payment for this non-contribution.

Proof of Concept

Could the scheme be regarded as a ‘proof of concept’, pointing the way to potential future, sustainable, power generation? Not really. As mentioned above, it is an established technology that has been used in numerous projects around the world – it can certainly make economic sense if you are directly powering a small village or a single property. Proof of concept would also imply that if successful, more turbines would be installed along the Thames and this would become a pattern for electricity generation. That can’t happen. There are very few places along the Thames suitable for turbines and even if there were more suitable locations, the cumulative effect of the number of installations required to make it a useful source of power would reduce the flow of the river, rendering the screws ineffective.

An Amenity

One of the aspirations expressed on the scheme’s website is that it will become a ‘visitor attraction’, bringing tourists to the town. However, the river, the weir, the lock and the lockkeeper’s cottage are already an attractive focus for this part of town. It’s difficult to see what the scheme is adding in this respect and I haven’t been able to find any examples of hydro schemes having brought extra visitors to a town. If we are to expect additional visitors then we would need the infrastructure improvements to match such as additional car parking. Currently, the car park at the adjacent Health and Wellbeing Centre is already full to overflowing on some days and additional cars would need to be accommodated elsewhere on one side of the river or the other. On a sunny, summer day the weir itself and the area around the lock also get fairly crowded so if extra visitors are genuinely expected or are going to be encouraged, this needs addressing.

A similar hope is expressed that it would be an ‘educational resource’, a place where schoolchildren could learn about green energy and sustainability. As the scheme would not be an example of either of these, however, it couldn’t fulfill this hope with any sincerity.

Hobby

Looking at the Abingdon Hydro website, it does seem to be a project built on a sunny but rather narrow optimism. The website states ‘We live here and we want to make it something attractive that our town is pleased to own, not just an electricity generator but a local amenity’. To function as an amenity, it needs to be doing something useful. Until we see the facts are figures to prove that it can be something useful, it can only be regarded as a white elephant and a hobby for the scheme’s members.

Contributoria – first proposal

16 February, 2015 0 Comments

The_Massacre_of_Peterloo2

My first Contributoria proposal, ‘The Masque of Anarchy – artistic responses to the Peterloo massacre of 1819’, has been approved for bidding and is at at https://www.contributoria.com/issue/2015-04/54dbdf09de993e9720000095/proposal.

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