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Messages - HtoHe

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The Coffee Bar / Re: What has made you smile today?
« on: June 11, 2014, 09:24:33 pm »
Currently advertised on ebay:

78 RPM Collection
Vintage Records
Bing Crosby Count Bessie Records


Bessie's been demoted.  She was an Empress last I heard!

The Coffee Bar / Re: Grumpy Old Rant Room
« on: June 11, 2014, 12:52:55 pm »
That's the problem, Selva.  The way they behave seems to be rooted in an absurd belief that good practice doesn't apply to them because they're not crooks.  I've tried over and over again to get across the point that, whatever their intention, their behaviour undermines attempts to get people to exercise caution; but many of them clearly don't get it - and, as you say, get offended when you suggest that the rule applies to everyone including them.

That said, the Customer Service person who dealt with me yesterday called back today and was clearly content, this time, to accommodate my insistence on calling her back.  She also, as I anticipated, offered me compensation far in excess of any claim I would have made if asked (not quite 1.5% of £15k but not far off).  The get-out for them, of course, is that the offer is ex gratia and expressed as a lump sum for my inconvenience (plus a small amount towards my phone call costs) so, while it far exceeds anything I could have earned in the 2 hours or so I spent dealing with the matter, it doesn't set a precedent whereby a person on a very high hourly rate could take them for thousands.

In case you're interested an ISA is just a special kind of savings/investment account which allows a limited amount per tax year to be saved without the interest (which is already, in most cases, far below the rate of inflation) being further eroded by taxation.  One of the rules is that you can only contribute to one ISA in any tax year so the mistake, if uncorrected, would have committed me to an account from last year that no longer offers the most attractive terms and prevented me from opening a new one until next year's allowance kicks in.

The Coffee Bar / Re: Grumpy Old Rant Room
« on: June 10, 2014, 10:27:21 pm »
The financial system is driving me mad.  A few weeks ago a cashier at my bank branch made a mistake transferring funds from one current account to the other.  Unfortunately, she mistakenly transferred a pretty small sum from my income account into an ISA account then immediately transferred it back out and into my pocket money account – which is where I wanted it in the first place.  A fortnight later I got a statement showing this transaction as a credit and a matching debit on my ISA – meaning, of course, that I can’t open another ISA until next April. 

The cashier was a bit naughty as she left me to find this out from my statement rather than tell me what she’d done – but it was still just a minor human error.  What’s infuriating me is the institutional incompetence that has taken over as I try to get it rectified.  The bank keeps giving me different stories about what is going on.  They are now blaming HMRC who, they claim, won’t allow this very obvious error (the electronic trail must make it clear that the money was only in the ISA for a matter of seconds) to be amended without written testimony from the cashier – which, ten days after I first raised the matter, hasn’t been forthcoming.  I don’t know if this claim is true because, when I phoned HMRC on the number given for ISA enquiries I was put through to someone who listened to my story then said ‘you need to speak to ISA enquiries’ and couldn’t explain why I had been put through to him!

Worst of all, though, in response to my complaint (which I stressed was about the institutional incompetence at HO and not a minor slip at the branch) I had a call from someone at Customer Relations who wanted me to go through a security checklist before she could discuss anything.  She was very surprised when I refused, asking her for a verifiable number on which I could call her back, on the grounds that I don’t on principle – and on advice repeated countless times on consumer programmes – answer sensitive questions on an incoming call.  She kept telling me it was perfectly safe as nobody could do anything malicious with the information she was asking for and lots of people were perfectly willing to answer her questions.   Summoning up all my remaining cool I said ‘And lots of people answer scammers’ questions.  Look, I’m not suggesting that you’re a scammer – I’m suggesting that any scammer could give the assurances you’re offering.  In short, to me you’re just a voice coming from who knows where’  This is not the first time this has happened to me – British Gas did something very similar earlier in the year.  What's the point of telling people how to avoid scammers if major institutions behave like this?

Just over a week ago I was merely looking to get a simple error corrected.  Now I’ll be expecting compensation – which I have been told I’ll get.  The amount of money I stand to lose is small – even if I’m prevented altogether from opening a new ISA I wouldn’t have saved even the old maximum, let alone the new one – but I’m not telling them that.  If they offer me the difference between 2.7% of £15k (which is the best on offer) and 1.25% of £15k (which is the rate in their ISA) I won’t feel guilty about taking it even though I would never have saved anything like that amount.   And I'll be expecting something for my time and phone bills, too!

Television / Re: Rik Mayall RIP
« on: June 09, 2014, 05:07:29 pm »
I just heard it on PM and seriously thought I was imagining things.  Without wishing to be flippant, my first thought was 'no, they must mean John Mayall'.  Not that I would rather lose the great Blues man - it's just that Rik Mayall dying was so unexpected.  I didn't like all his work but at his best - Alan B'stard or the unforgettable Flashheart, for example - he was truly wonderful.


The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2013-4
« on: June 06, 2014, 08:40:10 pm »

This looks interesting, especially as I'm going to see the WNO production of the Debussy work in a fortnight's time:

Does anyone know Charlie Barber's music?

(It's not, strictly speaking, a concert but it is live music so this, rather than the Cinema board, seems the appropriate place)

Theatre / The Last Days of Troy - Royal Exchange, Manchester
« on: May 31, 2014, 11:01:44 pm »
I’d be surprised if Simon Armitage’s take on the siege of Troy went down in history as a great play; but it is a great story and this is a very fine production.  The Royal Exchange stage is at its best with a basic set and this one, as befits a production destined for the Globe, is very simple indeed.  Apart from a ramp which opens up from time to time to give more space and allow an extra point of entry and two very simple contraptions that descend from the ceiling (a gauze curtain to give Helen and Paris a degree of privacy and a sort of wooden cylinder representing the belly of that horse) the only thing other than basic props and costumes is a makeshift balcony in the lower circle which is mostly used for Helen (Lily Cole) to stand in looking all enigmatic.  No prizes for guessing how this will be done on Bankside!  The costumes are pretty much stock mythological stuff – floaty frocks, breastplates; that kind of thing – except for the rather gimmicky effect of Zeus (Richard Bremmer) being a modern day travelling hawker in a crumpled linen outfit remembering events of antiquity (it got a bit too silly when Hera called out ‘Zeus, supper’s ready’).

The treatment is very accessible without, to my mind, being dumbed down*; and it was refreshingly free of politically correct revisionism.  These are stories in which, for example, women are treated as chattels and, uncomfortable as it might be, that aspect of the culture was amply depicted in Armitage’s text.  The fights were very well choreographed – the confrontation between Achilles (an excellent performance by Jake Fairbrother) and Hector (Simon Harrison) being particularly convincing.

Worries about Lily Cole were unfounded.  Although Helen is central to the story it’s not actually a big or demanding part and Ms Cole isn’t bad – though, to be honest, she wasn’t very good by comparison with the rest of the cast.  As well as Jake Fairbrother, Clare Galbraith, as Andromache and Thetis, and Garry Cooper as Priam took the eye and most of the others were also good in an impressive ensemble performance.

The play runs in Manchester for another week

then on to Shakespeare’s Globe

If you have the luxury of choice I’d recommend catching it in Manchester because it seems to me the impact can only be diminished in the larger space.  Now that it has bedded in at the RE the piece holds the attention throughout.  I suspect the previews pointed to the need for substantial cuts as today’s run time was 2H45m whereas there were reports that the first preview overran the estimated time of 3H20m!

Anyway, wherever you can see it, it’s a definite ‘recommended’ from me.

*though I did wonder about a couple of things.  For example Odysseus is sent to offer Achilles various inducements, including any of Agamemnon’s three daughters, to heal the rift between them.  Has Armitage got it wrong or does he want us to think Agamemnon has forgotten that Iphigenia is by this time, ahem, no longer with us?  Or maybe it’s me.  I’m no classical scholar so perhaps there’s another version of the story than the one I’m familiar with.

Television / Re: The Duchess of Malfi, BBC 4
« on: May 31, 2014, 10:57:54 pm »
I didn't put this in the report I've just finished, jean; but if you get to The Last Days of Troy you might have to cover your ears for the (mercifully short) time Lily Cole is warbling!  We were very polite today but it's rumoured some audiences actually laughed.

News and Current Affairs / Re: Today's Barking News Story
« on: May 30, 2014, 08:33:20 pm »
I don’t wish to be flippant or confrontational.  I’m even open to the possibility that there is an explanation that makes this look less horrible.

But I’m genuinely baffled as to why this isn’t huge headline news.  Can it be that there are still powerful people around for whom a single parent is a sinner, a single termination is an abomination but 800 babies in a mass grave is a statistic?

Theatre / Re: Coming up....
« on: May 30, 2014, 01:03:27 pm »
Maxine Peake appears as Hamlet at the Royal Exchange in September.  Tickets are already selling fast despite the fact that little info is available other than that Ms P plays the Dane.  I’ll be going for day seats rather than booking but those of you who don’t like queuing on the day might want to get in before it’s too late.  Sarah Franckom is the same director who did The Mask of Anarchy with Miss P last year but, unlike the Shelley, Hamlet has at least a few performances that will finish in time for me to get home – I found it immensely frustrating that they couldn’t have staged the 45-minute piece any earlier than 9.30 in the evening.

Students from the University of Chester are putting on Love and Information at the tiny Forum Theatre tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday.  If I’m honest I have to say that the production isn’t as accomplished as the Royal Court original or, indeed, the amateur effort I saw recently at Putney – which followed the RC interpretation rather closely.  However, enormous credit is due to the students and especially the directorial team for doing the vignettes (or a selection of them – this was a cut down 50-odd minutes) very differently from the way they were introduced to audiences just under two years ago.  This is surely what Caryl Churchill intended given that her text contains very few stage directions and no character names, descriptions or even gender specifications (indeed this production does many of the scenes with characters (or at least actors – I don’t suppose we are even justified in assuming men play men and women play women) of different genders from the premiere production’s.  The students also use far fewer actors – eight as against fifteen at the Royal Court – and all stay on stage throughout; perhaps a deliberate contrast given that the technical facilities at the Forum wouldn’t allow them even to attempt the Royal Court’s ‘sealed box’ effect and complete blackout for the dozens of scene changes. 

The acting was of a high standard and provided a good antidote to a woeful student production of What the Butler Saw in another town the previous evening (the less said about that the better – it’s finished now so I don’t need to warn against it!).  The Churchill piece was was coupled with George Brant’s Elephant’s Graveyard- a play based on the story of a circus elephant hanged in Tennessee in 1916.  Again the acting was of a commendably high standard though I thought the play overlong.  It’s essentially a parable – and not a particularly subtle one at that; hammering home the moral by having the sheriff announce, on discovering that it might be possible to execute such a large animal ‘this is America, we can do anything we want to’ – and a desperately sad story but it shouldn’t take eighty minutes to tell it. 

I won’t post a link as it set my malware alerts off this morning but the box office number is 01244 341296  If you can get to Chester it’s well worth the £5 ticket price (and I’m told the nearby market car park is free in the evening).

The Concert Hall / Re: Youth Hostels for Festivals
« on: May 26, 2014, 10:19:45 pm »
Does anybody use youth hostels for the festivals? Proms/Edinburgh?

I think you'd need to be committed to the YH movement to use them for the Proms, Threni.   I usually get a Travelodge or Ibis Budget somewhere in Zone 4, 5 or 6 for under £30 a night by booking in advance.  Even if you're set on waking up in Central London there are - at least for single/double rooms - better deals to be had from  University Halls of Residence; one of which is literally next to the RAH.  Youth hostels are not cheap unless you want to brave the dorms - and I need my sleep when I'm queuing and Promming all day (and sometimes even going in to work beforehand).

Television / Re: The Duchess of Malfi, BBC 4
« on: May 25, 2014, 07:37:26 pm »
What a peculiar documentary to put on right before the play.  I hope my brother isn't watching because he doesn't know the play (he asked me last night if it was a comedy!) and so far they've given away the ending and much of the rest of the story.  Couldn't they have run this after the broadcast?

Television / Re: The Duchess of Malfi, BBC 4
« on: May 24, 2014, 11:12:42 pm »
Don't think the cameras will be intrusive in any way as the intimacy of the theatre will permit fixed positions and zoom facilities should resolve any problems.

And those candle-powered cameras are less distracting, aren't they?

Seriously, though, I suppose static cameras would be less obstructive than, say, the ones at the Proms running across the front at irregular intervals.  The lights of the cameras are still a potential nuisance unless they're very carefully positioned.  I wonder if they'll use the corridors outside the upper gallery.  These have windows with shutters that can be opened or closed so if the cameras can get a good view from outside there's no need for anyone in the theatre to be distracted at all.  It might not be practical, though, without clearing the standing places and, perhaps, the last row of seats.

The Coffee Bar / Re: Grumpy Old Rant Room
« on: May 22, 2014, 08:07:37 pm »
Excellent news, MJ.  It must be a relief to the lads because even if the insurance or the storage people payed up there's no substitute for the instruments they're used to (says he who has never strummed a guitar in his life!).  Now for that tricky second album.

Theatre / The Silver Tassie - Lyttelton Theatre
« on: May 22, 2014, 11:45:58 am »
I don’t know how many people will, like me, will have come to The Silver Tassie by way of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera but Sean O’Casey’s play – or at least this production of it – is very much more spectacular than the piece I enjoyed at the ENO 14 years ago.   Another route to the play would be through WB Yeats’s opinion which helped to keep the piece in obscurity for decades until an Almeida revival (and Turnage’s opera?) brought it back to public attention.  Yeats’s views are outlined in the NT programme and, from my perspective, seem a bit odd.   I don’t really see how a writer is disqualified from commenting on WW1 just because (s)he wasn’t personally present; and the claim that the play is more or less a series of unrelated sketches is quite baffling as it seems pretty obvious to me how the events of the four acts are connected.  That said, there are structural flaws that suggest the need to get the message out rather trumped technical considerations in O’Casey’s mind.  The characters of Sylvester Heegan (Aidan McArdle), the central character’s father, and his pal Simon Norton (Stephen Kennedy) seem to provide little more than comic relief.  They inevitably put one in mind of Joxer and the Captain but without the depth of the Juno characters.  I had to ask myself how they came to play a prominent part in three of the four acts – even ending up as patients in the same hospital as the war casualties.  I also found the intermingling of ordinary dialogue and verse forms a bit clunky – though, not having read the script, I don’t know how much of this was a directorial decision.  I found the John Cooper Clark style delivery in the battlefield scenes particularly irritating but I imagine others will have loved it.

The set, as so often in the Lyttelton, is one of the stars of the show.  Unfotunately the Dublin tenement, as in Juno and the Paycock, takes up the whole stage and surely gives the impression of being far more spacious a dwelling place than the Heegans would have had.  But, that aside, the staging is great and the metamorphosis from the Act 1 tenement to the Act 2 battlefield is truly awesome – and includes some of the most impressive sound effects I’ve ever heard.  Not for those of a nervous disposition as the notices outside the auditorium duly warn.

The performances are pretty good, too.  Ronan Raftery records Harry Heegan’s misfortune and frustration memorably.  Maybe, after playing Johnny in Juno, he’s now the go-to guy for tragic O’Casey characters.  Aidan Kelly as Teddy Foran is also touching as another war casualty; one whose disability seems to mellow him as he realizes how grateful he needs to be to the wife (an exuberant reading by Aoife McMahon) he once shamelessly abused.  The standout performance for me, though, came from Judith Roddy as Susie Monican who starts out as a manic, comic bible basher but conveys the suppressed carnal instincts of the character wonderfully as the play progresses. 

Despite its imperfections I strongly suggest this should be seen while the chance is there.  Who knows when it might descend into obscurity for another 50 years.  Runs until 3 July.

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