Monday, November 30, 2009

Define: user friendly

Or, Midga's Definitions, Part Two. User Friendliness is one of the big selling points a piece of software can boast. But what is it?

Obviously you can't be friends with a piece of software. Or if you can, you need to be given a long rest somewhere in the backblocks of some place where they can't tell a RAM chip from a potato chip. Fans of SimonT please keep your keyboards shut.

So for a piece of software to be user friendly, it really means that it will be polite, obliging, helpful, and inclined to help or support. In other words, it needs to do what the user wants done, with as little fuss as possible.

That's fine in theory. But I'd like to make the proposition that there are two vastly different (in fact mutually exclusive) approaches that software builders can take when planning a package to be user friendly.

Imagine, if you will, a computing expert who will do at least 150 different tasks on a typical day. Each task requires the running of a separate program. What would be the best user interface for such a person, from which they could call on any of those programs quickly and simply?

And imagine also, a blonde secretary who will typically use an email client and a word processor and not much else, but occasionally need to work with a spreadsheet. What would be the best user interface in that case?

In the first instance, the best user interface would actually be the old style command line - invented by IBM in the 1960s. 150 commands could each be given a two letter code, and the engineer could simply type in the code, hit Enter, and be ready to go. At a good engineer's typing speed of 100 words a minute, the computer will know what the user wants it to do in about half a second.

In the second case, a point and click Graphical User Interface is sufficient. To choose between two most-used programs and even up to ten sometimes-used, the user only needs to pick from a short list, which can be done simply and easily.

If the engineer's 150 options had to be crammed onto a GUI, the result would be bedlam. If the secretary's two plus ten options were put into a command line, it would take a written reference sheet to remember how to do any unusual task.

So, the level of user friendliness of a piece of software depends on the usage style of the user.

Let's take this a bit further. How did the engineer start using those 150 options? It probably didn't start that way, but as responsibility and workload increased they gradually added more tasks to the list. But what if a brand new engineer had to learn all those two letter codes? It would be written reference sheet time.

In actual fact, it would be a lot easier to have a GUI, with several levels of menus and a help file. But didn't I describe that as "bedlam" just a few paragraphs ago?

Yes of course. The old engineer, knowing how to fire up any of those 150 options in half a second, doesn't want to sift through multiple layers of menus. The new engineer's needs are different from the old one's. So, the usage style of the user can change over time, making a piece of software that had previously been highly user friendly become a disadvantage.

Let's look at a few practical examples - input devices that exhibit the different approaches to user friendliness.

1. The touch screen
Highly expensive in its early days but coming down in price (and up in functionality) by the day, the touch screen is the ultimate in Secretary-type user friendliness. There's the option right in front of you, go ahead and touch it. You can also drag, flick and (depending on lawsuits) pinch. Just about anyone can pick up a touch screen interface and learn to use it in a few minutes. But after that few minutes, there's practically no advancement. You can't be all that much better or worse than any other touch screen user no matter how many years you've been using them.

2. The mouse
The mouse is really quite similar to the touch screen, with the difference that the user's hand is kept away from the screen, allowing them to see what they're doing. Some users find it difficult to translate the desired pointer movement into a hand movement, and highly accurate mouse movements are a skill that only comes with time. However, the mouse and the GUI (they really go together) are still an expression of Secretary-type user friendliness.

3. The keyboard
The keyboard is unlike either of the other input devices, in that its layout and position are fixed. Also, if designed correctly it can be used as a "one way" communication device - the user can receive all necessary feedback by feel, and continue to work at full speed and productivity even when blindfolded. Thus the communication only happens one way - from the user to the computer. With the mouse and touch screen, communication is two-way - the user has to see the result of each millisecond's input before deciding what to do next. The keyboard, and the user interface that goes with it, the command line, are expressions of Engineer-type user friendliness.

So, to all software developers out there - one size doesn't fit all. Think about your target market and the way they will use your program. Design accordingly. If in doubt, provide both - it's not rocket science, the GUI can be a wrapper for the command line. DB2 can do it, why can't you?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

On the concept of CPU speed in human beings

Or, a geek's attempt to conceal the fact that he HATED biology and anatomy in his school days.

It's amazing how the development of the PC has steadily brought it closer into line with the design principles of the human body. Back in the 60s they thought that by "the year 2000" there would be robots which could do anything a person could, and would look like a person too. Well we haven't gone that far yet (hey, first principle of computing - they aren't humans and never will be), but today's PCs are a lot closer to human, just in design philosophy, than the oversized pocket calculators of the 60s were.

No doubt you could find some guff on the subject if you google for it, so I'm going to explore my own idea this time - the concept of CPU speed in a human being.

We all know what CPU speed is in a computer - it's the one factor that makes THIS computer better than THAT computer - even if THIS one has half the memory, a tiny hard disk, an integrated case fan and power supply fan (arghhhhhh!!!) and Vista installed. Midga, get off the case of the Megahertz Myth, it's too deeply ingrained to be moved!

Ahem. CPU speed. Yes, it's the speed the guts of the computer works at. Higher CPU speed means more processing done in the same time. But as we know, all computers wait at the same speed - which means, no matter if it takes 2.5 milliseconds or 25 milliseconds, asking the user what exactly to do with the result is going to take most of the computer's time.

So what does a fast CPU do? It allows a computer to do more things in the background, while still giving snappy response to the user in the foreground. Ah! Now we're getting somewhere.

(Aside: if my computing jargon is too much for you, move on. The conclusion is going to be worse.)

So let's translate this concept of foreground and background tasks into human beings.

1. Multithreading
We've all seen references to multitasking - most employment ads require it these days (which is really a bit tough on apparently single threaded people - there's a lot of them), and there's a common misconception that women (and specifically mothers) are the only ones able to do it. BTW I'm not going to distinguish multitasking from multithreading - the skill those employers look for is really the latter (hence the title).

I'd like to propose the theory that the architecture of the human brain is multithreaded - across the board. The only thing that makes some people appear single-threaded is low CPU speed, which requires them to slow all background threads to a crawl in order to give adequate resources to the foreground thread.

It's fairly widely accepted that a good way to solve a really nagging mental problem (eg "Where did I leave the [insert small but important object]") is by sleeping on it. Somehow the subconscious mind is aware of the problem and uses the offline time to scan the mental archives for clues.

In some cases (including some people I've met and worked with quite a bit) people have such a high CPU speed that they can be solving problems at the same time as doing all sorts of other work - work which would be thought of by people of average ability to take every bit of concentration possible. For instance, it is noted in recorded history that the secret of controlling aircraft in flight by wing warping was solved in the Wright Brothers' bike repair shop while talking to a customer about the advantages of a certain type of inner tube.

Even people who consider themselves not to be multitaskers will tell you that the best way to solve a problem is to think about something else for a while. Next time you're applying for a job, tell them that. People who can multithread are people who have a high CPU speed.

2. The timer pulse
In an old analogue photocopier, timing was controlled by a fairly simple device - a low speed motor turning a disc with a hole cut in it. An LED on one side and a receiver on the other gave the machine its timing - start moving a sheet of paper two revolutions of the wheel after the user presses the button. After another two, energise the corona wire to transfer the image to the drum. After ten, activate the sorter to raise the trays up by one. In a way it didn't matter exactly what speed the disc ran at, as long as EVERYTHING was controlled by it.

Humans have the same sort of thing. Have you ever noticed that you have a natural rhythm at which you feel comfortable? Take a brisk walk and count the number of footsteps you take in a minute. Now try to walk faster - it's very difficult, and you'll find yourself breaking into a run, which will bring your timing back to normal and increase the distance covered by each step instead.

Similarly, try typing above your normal speed. Even if it's just "FJF RUR VMV etc" you'll find that you make mistakes because your fingers don't want to "fire" at the time you're telling them to.

And again, try saying a tongue twister faster than your normal talking speed. Your mouth won't be ready to pronounce the consonant at the time you want it to, and you'll end up biting your tongue. Interestingly, the vowels will usually come out OK. No doubt some speech therapist could make a lot out of that but I won't bother. People who are good at saying tongue twisters are people who have a high CPU speed.

3. Repartee!
I put this first because it's one of my favourite things about high CPU speed. It takes some serious amounts of effort on the part of the brain to work out what to reply when someone sends you a verbal thrust. It's simply not possible to hold in cache a suitable response to every possible opening line - especially as what constitutes "suitable" can vary depending who else is in the room. A compressed list of suitable responses can be stored in long-term memory, but the brain still has to tailor them to the precise situation.

This is, quite obviously, where a high speed brain (read "high CPU speed brain") comes in very handy. The one thing that kills good repartee is bad timing - it you say it within 250 milliseconds, you're amazing. If you say it within 1500 milliseconds, you're reasonably smart. Anything up to 10 seconds can be seen as introspected humour but not repartee - anything longer than that and you're a complete idiot for even saying it. People who can hold a multiple-salvo repartee war with less than 1500ms between rounds are people who have a high CPU speed.

4. Patter
I may have mentioned this in another post which was more about music and less about geekery. If someone is trying to sing to a set beat, they get into trouble if that beat is not an exact multiple of their own CPU speed. The brain tells the vocal cords "After three beats jump from an A to an Ab, then back, repeat that twice", at the same time as telling the mouth "After three beats pronounce an F, after another three a D, after another three hit a B briefly then an N, then an S, then an L". The number three is an integer and the audience are happy. But what if the conductor wants to go 10% faster? The brain can't say "2.7 beats", it doesn't work that way. Usually what happens is either the singer trips over his words (and the audience are unhappy) or he puts them in the wrong place - every 10th word will come in a beat early and the resulting sound will be ragged.

Of course this is only ever a problem when the beat of the music is getting close to the singer's CPU speed. If it's a sad soprano aria and the brain is saying "Hold that Eb for 40 beats", going 10% faster is going to be no problem at all.

People who can sing high speed patter are people who have a high CPU speed.

5. Reflexes and response time
Some people are inherently better drivers than others - even without constantly stressing about "Is the car ahead of me going to suddenly step on the brakes?" they can be ready for such an event and take appropriate action to avoid becoming a statistic on TAC's annual report. Their brains simply process the visual information faster, decide that action is required and send the necessary signals to the feet and hands.

The famed "two-second gap" that drivers are supposed to leave between themselves and the car ahead implies that a response time of two seconds is considered the baseline (plus a safety margin) for a driver's response time. Considering the number of drivers on the roads with woefully low CPU speeds, it's not a bad idea. Of course I'd really like to see most of those drivers have their licences revoked because they're inherently unsafe, but that's not about to happen.

People who can drive safely in heavy traffic are people who have a high CPU speed.

Other interesting facts
*Please* don't ask how I found these out. I'll tell you all that's good for you - they are my own observation of myself and people around me, and the ideas were crystallised into words in conversation with Rosuav, the world famous human android.
  • Like modern laptops, the human brain speed-steps itself to conserve power. If you're fatigued, sick, in pain, deep in thought or your body is trying to deal with a heavy meal or a quantity of alcohol, your CPU speed suffers and you suddenly walk slower, talk slower and shouldn't be put in control of a car. In extreme cases there will be insufficient CPU cycles to run even core systems such as vision, and the effect is uncannily like seeing a JPEG image which was saved at under 15% quality. That no doubt says something about the original Joint Photographic Experts Group and their knowledge of physiology, I'm just not quite sure what.
  • Conversely, adrenaline, sugar or caffeine can do the opposite - run the CPU at a higher speed, absorbing an inordinate amount of the body's "apparent energy" and causing stress to mount. The body's "apparent energy" is a sort of triumvirate of blood sugar level, core body temperature and fatigue - all three control each other to a certain extent, and often the body doesn't know which one to rectify when "apparent energy" gets low. Hence when you're hungry you feel cold and tired, when you're cold you feel hungry and tired, and I'm sure you can guess the rest. That's a gross over-simplification of course. But if you want to drive a car at high speed, or win a game of light hearted insults, or sing about eyes being fully open (did anyone work that bit out, up there with the E and Eb and those consonants?), it's best to do it when warm, well fed and well rested.
So there you have it. Computers really are just like humans. I still haven't worked out how to fit expansion slots to my brain though.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The creature of my fancy

... who would be absolutely unobjectionable.

I have seen, in the past few years, quite a number of different productions of The Gondoliers. But never, never, never since I joined the human race have I seen one which fits the noble adjective Giuseppe applied to his ideal king.

The Gondoliers, as a show, has two major distinguishing features which the director must respect if the resulting show is to be unobjectionable. Its music is full of bright colours and happiness; and its characters are Italian. From these two factors flow the three major requirements I place on a production, and so far, none I have ever seen has ever had more than one of them present.

Believable characters and acting
In this I'm probably displaying my bias for acting over dancing, but even a dance-oriented director will agree that it detracts from a production if the level of characterisation in a show is not up to scratch.

Marco, Guiseppe, Tessa and Gianetta need to be believable as young eligible Venetians. There's only so much a costume and makeup can do - get the right ones to start with. Italians are never blonde or red headed. And they are passionate about practically everything - or else completely indifferent. They need to know how to act, way over the top most of the time. Also, they need to be balanced. Marco and Guiseppe need to be easy to mix up, and Tessa and Gianetta need to be equally beautiful so the boys can truly say "If you'd rather change, I've no preference whatever". Of course, this isn't to say that singing ability isn't important - all four of them have an aria or at least something approximating to one, and if an aria is done badly it can haunt the audience for life.

The rest of the gondoliers and contadine need to be almost as carefully chosen! After all, they open the show, even though their parts are smaller the audience will be caught up in the show or lost to it by the minor principals and the chorus. As above - dark, passionate, believable and balanced.

The Plaza-Toros similarly have to be believable as Spanish - and while the Spaniards are a Latin race the same as the Italians, there are certain important differences. It's also fairly vital to make sure they are Spanish, not Mexican. It's easy to hear Mexican people speak Spanish and assume Spain is like Mexico. It's not - not quite.

Don Alhambra can be played in different ways. It's correct to have him at least a bit scary as he has to put a damper on the cachuca and be confused for an undertaker. The idea of him being a regular out and out Lothario is an exaggeration of the two lines that are used to support the interpretation. Also, the stage business that accompanies that interpretation is lower than the kind of joke in the Grand Duke madrigal. G&S is worthy of better jokes than that - The Gondoliers doubly so.

That deals with the casting. Now to the lines themselves. The following sections of the libretto are brilliant jokes and characterisations which I have very seldom if ever heard rendered effectively:
  • "That's so like a band" - this is invariably pushed too hard. The duchess should simply throw it away as an exclamation of disgust, and the humour should come from the fact that she has no idea that other people have trouble with bands too. And if, like in our 2007 version, it is decided to have the orchestra respond to the line, make it SHORT and SHARP. A Ned Seagoon style raspberry through a speaking trumpet (rendered by ONE of the brass players with a heavy tremolo) will be fine. Anything else is gilding the lily.
  • "Beg" "Desire" "Demand" - this is actually quite difficult to do properly. After all, the main point of the sentence is AFTER the girls cut him off. Therefore they have to know what he's going to say and know already how they want him to modify it. The obvious solution is to stage it as a speech the Duke has delivered often frequently. For example, he should draw himself up to his full height, put on a posh voice, and perhaps speak in a slightly slower, more measured tone.
  • "I was wed in babyhood to the infant son of the King of Barataria!" "The son of the King of Barataria?" - now this is partially Gilbert's fault. Personally, if my beloved had just told me she belonged to another I'd be more inclined to ask "Wed in babyhood???" rather than accepting that and going straight on to the matter of who it was. But still, Luiz' reactions need to be thought out. His life has just come crashing down. Nobody can think through things at that speed. Let's have a bit of a pause for him to stand looking dejected, pace up and down, kick at imaginary stones on the stage, and then be struck with the brilliant idea of having Casilda not recognize the marriage. Incidentally, the cut dialogue about being too precise about the exact interval of time is brilliant and deserves to stay. But only if it's going to be rendered well.
  • "Persuasive influence of the torture chamber" - I firmly believe that in this line, as with the Mikado's song, Gilbert is sending up English hanging judges - the ones we read about in Rumpole who sentence a criminal to die and then order muffins for tea. Prescribing a ride on the buffers or jogging memory with torture should be an ordinary day's work for them - a simple means to a successful conclusion, giving the gratifying feeling that our duty has been done. Similarly in Act 2, when he says "She has all the illustrated papers" (or whatever that line is modernised to), he should fondly believe that a bit of reading matter to relieve the boredom is all a torture chamber needs to make us thoroughly comfortable.
  • "And now our lives are going to begin in real ernest" and the following scene - I am coming to the conclusion that actors must have nothing but unhappy marriages, because I have never seen any genuine newlywed bliss rendered on stage here! I want to see good natured teasing (especially when the lines call for it eg "you couldn't find anyone nice enough"), gazing rapturously into each other's eyes like this, sheer light heartedness to the point of reverting to childhood, and a disinclination to have their cosy foursome invaded. On that point, the slap on the shoulder and "Now my man" speech should be in the same vein - a love-induced sense of goodwill toward all (coupled with a philosophy of republican egalitarianism, of course) is all that makes Giuseppe refrain from performing a ceremony with the foot.
  • "We are jolly gondoliers" etc - I have heard this rendered as both a prepared speech (for which he stands on a chair) and as a normal part of conversation. Neither is ideal - it has to be a case of explaining his actions and continually developing his theme as he sees that he hasn't made it through the Don's thick skull yet. The next speech, "There are kings and kings" is similar - and that's why Marco can come to his aid half way through. These boys have grown up as brothers, and it's perfectly natural that they would help each other develop their philosophy of life. The ideas should come fairly thick and fast, but be spur-of-the-moment thoughts, not a carefully rehearsed list. And of course the other three should react to each suggestion - in an Italian manner.
  • "Tessa!" "Giuseppe!" "Marco!" "Gianetta!" - the stage directions in the libretto say they rush into each other's arms. And that's what I'd do too if I'd been away from my new wife for three months. It IS possible to stage that such that they aren't singing upstage, use a bit of imagination!
  • "And she said done" etc - it's not rocket science, it's just acting. THINK about the line and what it means, and GIVE that meaning to the audience. I know sopranos have resonance in their heads instead of brains, but surely you read books with sentences that long as part of becoming a Savoy Star?
  • "A Lord High Chancellor is a personage of great dignity, who should never, under any circumstances, place himself in the position of being told to tuck in his tuppenny, except by noblemen of his own rank. A Lord High Archbishop, for instance, might tell a Lord High Chancellor to tuck in his tuppenny, but certainly not a cook, gentlemen, certainly not a cook." - This is a completely ridiculous concept, but can be completely spoiled if it's delivered as a rehearsed speech. The good Don was expecting hearty agreement with the idea that a LHC shouldn't play leapfrog with his cook, and to be asked why (in a three-year-old manner) should take him aback. He's never had to think about this before, and is in the uncomfortable position of having to prove that two and two equals four. Hence "... except by a nobleman of his own rank" is an afterthought, added due to a sense of pedantry which compels Don A to tell the whole story, not just a simplification of it. Then he realises that these two poor monarchs have no idea which noblemen are of equal rank and explains himself further. It only takes a subtle change of emphasis and timing to turn a mediocre rendition into a brilliantly funny one.
  • "We really ought to tell her how we are situated." etc - more confusion. Think about the line and deliver the meaning (again). I guess there must have been a production somewhere which did this well, but I haven't seen it. In particular, there should be a bit of time for surprise to set in before "Our case exactly".
None of these require any special knowledge of WS Gilbert's private papers or the secret life of the Venetian Gondoliers. All it takes is to actually READ the libretto, have a bit of respect for Gilbert's words (don't try to be smarter than him - you're not, no matter who you are), and take some trouble to convey to the audience the real meaning and characterisation behind the words.

Real Italian pronunciation (especially the bit that's written in Italian!)
Italians don't say "Bon journo sin your eenay". And they certainly don't say "Gee a netter". The chances are that there is someone with real Italian opera training, either in the cast or on the directorial team. They will be able to help you. Failing that, Italian language self-taught courses are available for free in your local library, or maybe even in the comfort of your own home via the net. Take a bit of time and trouble - go through the lines and work them out phonetically, using your new-found knowledge. Then spend an entire evening's rehearsal drilling pronunciation with your chorus.

Superb lighting
This is what has disappointed me the most in every production I've seen. Lighting has great potential to convey a mood to the audience - although it needs to be done cleverly so as not to give itself away.

I have often seen a good initial lighting state - a bright sunny day with blue sky and a few wisps of cirrus cloud. Perfect. But don't just leave it on that through the whole show! "Oh Rapture" needs the lights to be pulled down and a spot on each of them, to emphasise the idea that they see nothing but each other. It needs to come up again at the end of the song as the spots go out, but not to the full opening state. Some sadness, or at least complication, has entered the show. "There was a time" needs to be back to the dark state and spots - maybe even darker. Definitely a slow gradual fade - maybe even starting on the last few lines of dialogue ("Must it be so? Luiz - it must be so") which actually fit a descending light level quite well. Back up to that "What have you said, what have I done" state for the entrance of the Don, there are still bad things happening.

"But bless my heart" should be in a kind of pre-thunderstorm state. A few shafts of stark white light like lightning in a thunderstorm, to indicate Casilda's rapidly dropping marble count. High philosophy ("Life's a pudding full of plums") doesn't help her, she's slipping.

"Bridegroom and Bride" needs a new set of colours altogether - bring back that beautifully blue sky and yellow sunlight (it's an outdoor wedding) and let's have some nice romantic pink or purple for a subtle wash. If the tech guys can manage it, a bit of sunshine yellow in the spot on Tessa would be nice - wasn't it a pretty wedding, the sun came out just in time for my song and the official photos.

At the end of the song we lose the wedding pink/purple (SLOWLY so the audience don't notice it) and just have a happy sunshine wash - although a bit less so than the initial state. We've had a wedding and it's getting close to evening. For the adventurous, let's have a late evening state with a red sky and some up-lighting.

For the finale, get the SM and desk operator on their toes, there's going to be a heap of cues. "Kind sir you cannot have the heart" wants to be a fairly low state with a couple of spots. That's obvious (although it wasn't obvious to the designers of several productions I've seen). "Do not give way" needs a very slow build-up, starting with a bit of white ray-in-an-inky-sky and then getting to a fairly happy state for "Viva, we'll not be parted long".

Then the chorus comes in, with a burst of happy music. We can take it straight back to the initial state.

"Come let's away" is a tough one. It's not as happy as the preceding bit, but we don't want it straight down to "Farewell my love". The ray-in-an-inky-sky thing might work. The change wants to be in the background - leave the front of stage basically the same and put the four prinnies there. We can tell something sad is coming, but it's not here yet. Storm clouds on the horizon.

"Farewell my love" should be almost darkness, with a spot on each pair of course. (Lighting will now dictate staging - the pairs have to be sharing a spot each.) Enough light will spill to let the audience see the chorus are acting too (or a very dim dark blue wash will do the trick if spots don't spill enough), but all our attention is on the singers.

"Then away we go to an island fair" has to be the biggest and best state change in the show (or indeed in either of the shows performed before and after this one). It should start spot on the orchestra's build-up, and finish on "then aWAY". The state should be something like the Casilda's-losing-her-marbles state in the middle of the act, but with yellow light instead of white. A dark blue backdrop suggesting late evening, cross lighting and a bit of highlight on the scenery will meet the case.

As the singing finishes and the couples part, it should come back down to that almost-darkness state, VERY SLOWLY, with a spot or special highlighting Tessa and Gianetta as a gentle cross-fade. Then lose that highlight and fade to black as the curtain falls.

For the opening of Act 2, a fairly general indoors state will suffice. Nothing of any consequence happens for a while, apart from TAPOSE which just gets a slight dimming and a spot.

The entrance of the wives is of course a big build - everything that's good and beautiful in the world has suddenly appeared on stage, and to mark the joyous occasion every bird has started singing and every flower has bloomed. Since they're about to celebrate the commencement of their honeymoon, it might even be worth bringing back the "Bridegroom and Bride" wedding state.

None of the excitement should stop when Tessa and Gianetta sing about sailing and tossing. All of them are still in the initial ecstasy of meeting after parting.

The Cachuca can be staged various different ways - as a modern disco (which would work OK as long as you don't bring in those stupid white dolls and start throwing them in the air), as a ballet with six professional dancers doing all the work and the chorus standing around looking pretty (which is patently ridiculous - Italians, apart from toddlers and geriatrics, don't stand around when people are dancing), or as a fairly traditional banquet-and-dance. In the latter case the lights can stay pretty well as they are, the action on stage will do all the mood-setting necessary.

Similarly at the end of the dance when El Don comes in. Fewer bodies on stage will actually create an impression that there's less light. That will be enough of a state change to set the right mood. But during the dialogue the state can gradually (imperceptibly) drop down to a more believable and less here-we-are-at-the-risk-of-our-lives level, in time for "There lived a king".

"In a contemplative fashion" should be fairly low but not so low we can't see their faces. Remember they're going to have a lot of acting on their faces, don't let it go to waste. A general wash and a sombre cyc plus a bit of white up-lighting on the singers downstage should meet the case.

Obviously from there it's a big change to "With ducal pomp". Guessing that the costumes are going to be fairly shiny a high lighting state won't actually be necessary. It has to be fairly yellow like early afternoon sunlight, and fairly even to light everyone.

The exit of the chorus will take us nicely down to a normal level of light on stage for the dialogue and the next two songs. In fact, nothing really has to happen until "Here is a case unprecedented", which can be given the same gradual-loss-of-marbles state as "But bless my heart".

For the finale, the entire plot of the show has to be sorted out and there's some pomp and ceremony going on too. During the orchestral bridge from the end of "when half of myself has married two thirds of ye or you" we need more of the white shafts in the stormy sky, to indicate that the thunderstorm in Casilda's mind isn't just brewing in the background, it's coming closer by the minute and is about to bucket down rain.

After the chorus finish interrupting Inez and agree to let her speak, she needs a fairly bright spot. Our attention should be on her already, but not having a spot on her actually makes it more difficult than you'd think, and we can't risk any of the audience missing out.

On the instance she says "Luiz!" we should have a sudden easing of the thunderstorm - the sun has come out from behind the clouds. At the same time Inez's spot has to come up so we don't lose her.

Then when Casilda suddenly realises the implications of this and rushes into his arms, we have to change state completely - although not too overtly. The storm clouds are immediately banished to the eastern horizon. A sunset with a red sky on the cyc, warm yellow light from above and in front, and just enough up and side lighting to make sure there's no ugly shadows on the stage. A spot or special on Luiz and Casilda and of course her bright smile (which we've missed seeing since "Oh rapture").

Keep it there until "Once more gondolieri". It's possible to make a case for a few other state changes for "When others claimed thy dainty hand" and his coronation, but it's not the time to get the audience on the edge of their seats. It's the time for them to sit back and share the contentedness the characters are feeling. We have a trumpet solo (hopefully better than most I've heard), a cheer and then we're back with our four favourite characters. Gradually back to the happy Venetian state, with a bit of that wedding pink for the key change and "Ah-ah once more gondolieri - gondolieri - gondolieri, contented are we". With appropriate staging and a soupcon of dancing, the audience should be on their feet applauding by the time the curtain drops.

... and if I were director, that is the kind of director I would be.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Clippy's log - page 44

Good morning again readers, this is the last post I'll be making on Midga's blog. Thanks for reading, don't forget to comment!

BTW for any new readers, I realise Blogger is putting these up in the wrong order for you. The place to start is at the beginning.

30/8 8:10am. We've climbed above the cloud layer and the sun is bright!

8:21am. The Australian government warnings about quarantine etc go on for ages! If I was a first time visitor that would put me off.

11:38am. The captain has just made his landing announcement. Time to switch timezone at last. 9:38am it is! No land yet visible out the window.

9:43am. Land!!! Looks like Wilsons Prom.

9:54am. Just sighted Dandenong Road and Waverley Park - and then into cloud again.

10:01am. There's a six-car Siemens in Broady yard!

10:27am. Landed and waiting for luggage. Immigration have a new system using facial recognition software and the chip in the passport. Cool stuff.

10:58am. Boarded Skybus. Good to see the Volgren logo again.

11:10am. Skybus departs on time. And 10min to the next one - on Sunday.

11:30am. Hello Southern Cross! Hello Dudley Street depot and the As and Ps!

11:39am. Hello Comeng!

11:43am. Hello Flinders Street! Thanks Comeng, enjoy a spurt of 115km/h to Werribee.

11:49am. Yes, we're even happy to see you Siemens! You'll get us home - and you're one of us even if you're not a patch on a Hitachi.

11:56am. Sighs... they still haven't fixed the silly practice of using the centre tracks SYR-CFD on weekends.

12:10pm. Nearing Oakleigh, where the family will pick us up. The trip is over, we're home! This is Clippy signing off. It's been great, and it's even greater to be home. Thanks Midga for hosting my log of the trip, and for being my extra eyes and ears on occasion. Thanks for the music. And of course the gunzelling. Back to Ventura buses - until Smart Passengers sends us interstate next year.


Thank you ladies and gentlemen, a big hand for Clippy!

For those that came in late, this was Clippy's log of mine and Chris's trip to the USA and UK. Start at the beginning and skip over the bits you aren't interested in.

And now, back to normal programming.

Clippy's log - page 43

28/8 6:35pm. Last A320 ride. Ever, I hope. Not a bad connection at all really - we walked off one plane and stright onto another. And they were just issuing a last call... very nice of the crew to get us off early.

6:52pm. Pushback, two minutes down. Rather good considering they had to transfer our baggage from one plane to the other in half an hour. That's of course assuming they haven't done a Dublin on us... BTW it's Mountain time 5:52pm here, but it's not worth resetting as we'll be in LA soon enough.

7:01pm. Takeoff - a very short taxi time, nice. Airbuses still take ages to get into the air though. We're in row 1, which means Frontier don't do business class. We can hear the FAs chatting - apparently Southwest has had some embarrassing trouble from the FAA on a matter of some safety procedures, and due to airline industry politics these people are crowing about it to some extent.

9:07pm. Landed LA, early. The FA said "We're 20 minutes early, just remember that next time we're 20 minutes late"! Currently waiting for our luggage to arrive. Timezones again - it's 7:07pm. Come on bags, how long does it take?

7:15pm. We have walked past a large number of signs with airline names on them, trying to find Air NZ. But two terminals and about a kilometer later we have been successful. Now we're waiting for check-in.

8pm. Waiting for ticket check before x-ray. Rosuav reckons 45min before we get through and can relax; Midga says under half an hour.

8:18pm. We're here - Midga was right. Power, USB, all we need now is wifi.

9pm. Our gate has been announced and Midga wanders over. The nose of a 747-400 fills most of the visible space offered by a full height window. It really inspires awe - and that's going to be US in there very very soon!

10:04pm. Boarding. This bird is huge! The cabin doesn't curve away at the top like the others (even the other widebodies) which means the overhead luggage bins can easily fit even Rosuav's big backpack. Seating is 3+4+3 and we're in Row 65. And yes, they really do have a flight of stairs! The IFE looks the same as what the 777 had on the way out. This promises to be a good trip! It's great to hear NZ and Aussie accents again. Rosuav has found in-flight wifi!!!

10:33pm. Pushback. V Australia are next to us with a 777 - but I'd rather be here than there! Farewell America. Takeoff is about the same with 400t as the A320s with 70. Airbus sucks.

10:45pm. We've been throttled back and told laptops are allowed - that was quick. Where's that wifi... ARGH! It must have been on that V Oz bird beside us. :(

1:30am. Goldfinger is just as patently unrealistic as the modern Bond films. Give me Sherlock Holmes and Maxwell Smartt.

10:43am. Arrived Auckland. A very gentle landing indeed. We quite understand that someone who holds the magnificent position of 747 captain should have the skill to justify it. And another timezone change - it's now 5:43am. Queenie has been completely charming - this leg has been less tiring than any of the international legs we've taken before. And the staff are great too - there will be emails of commendation sent. One more puddle, and that the puddle Tasman, one more puddle, and that's the puddle to cross.

6:08am. We're through the x-rays and awaiting departure at the business centre we discovered last time. The staff are just as courteous as before, even acknowledging that procedures are different at every airport. A good face of NZ for any newcomers.

7:12am. Last leg. Waiting at the gate for boarding. Home very soon!

7:32am. On board - it's a 777-200ER. Practically everything is the same as before. Incidentally, it must now be the 30th - not sure when to put the day break...

7:52am. Pushback. I think we might have been timetabled for 8am, not sure though.

8:09am. Takeoff. It takes a while, we must be heavily loaded.

Clippy's log - page 42

27/8 7:15pm. Pushback, last leg for today, to San Antonio. We're on an E-175 Jungle Jet, in the first row behind business class. For some reason we have heaps of leg room - the boys can stretch their legs right out without kicking the seat in front! And the windows are quite a bit bigger than on most of the other planes too, nice touch. That AA article about these things was right.

7:36pm. Takeoff. It takes a while before we get to rotate, but considering we have the same engines as an A-10 or most big bizjets that's not bad. Composite fuselage does that, less weight to carry.

8:33pm. Might as well change to Central time - it's 7:33pm. No IFE on these short haul planes.

9:22pm. Landed. We went past or through several thunderstorms and approach was quite bumpy, but the landing was fine. Boeing and Cessna have buildings near the runway - Texas is the place to find them!

9:56pm. We have our baggage and Anthson has found us. He's arranged for us and his parents to go to a Tex-Mex restaurant and then go on a pub crawl.

11pm. After a few navigational difficulties due to back streets being insufficiently signposted, we're here. Anthson's parents are completely charming, and lots of fun to chat randomly with.

12:30am. We find an Irish pub and go in for a drink. Rosuav never drinks, but even Midga doesn't trust himself when he's been awake for over 24 hours and is in a poor state of digestive health. The atmosphere is fun, with an Irish singer and piano player who includes the audience in the act.

1:30am. Time to head off. Anthson's Mum had insisted on finding a hotel room for us, but had no luck. So Anthson takes us to find a motel nearer his place. First choice has no vacancy so we find another, the caretaker of which is asleep in one of the cabins instead of in the office. But we have a room. The boys both hit the sack pretty quickly.

28/8 7:30am. 5 hours and 22 minutes of sleep, that's your lot.

8am. Anthson comes and we're ready to go. In daylight the countryside looks very much like western Victoria! Apparently there's been a severe drought here too.

8:30am. Anthson takes us to his place and we meet his wife and two kids. The boys love being around toddlers again, playing with blocks and decoding baby talk.

1:30pm. Farewell! Must get to our plane. Anthson drives us to the airport. On the way they talk about ideas for a new MUD. It's mostly too technical for me, but there's obviously some good structured thinking going on here.

2:45pm. And here we are at the airport again. Farewell Anthson, great to meet you! The familiar routine of x-rays, check-in, boarding and finding power and wifi (not always in that order). Oh no, another Airbus! I thought we finished with them when we left Europe!

4:12pm. Pushback. The staff object to Traal being on a lap for takeoff, same as the Northwest people did yesterday. They're nicer about it though, maybe they're parents with laptops of their own. The PA annoucements and safety demo are played bored though, and one of the FAs is chewing gum! In the next door gate was a Southwest 737... pity they weren't cheaper.

4:25pm. The crew are serving refreshments. Soft drinks are free but bottled water, energy drinks and alcohol cost. Also unlocking the IFE costs!!! The plane is cashless, credit/debit cards only. I guess the fuss of making change and the complications of handling physical cash are more trouble than the merchant fee on a $3 transaction.

6:20pm. Arrived Denver. The staff ask everyone to give us (and other connecting pax) a chance to get off first.

Clippy's log - page 41

27/8 5:15pm. Snacks are brought round and Midga opts for a cookie - expecting something like the Coffee HQ ones at home. What he gets is almost exactly spekulaas - just without the cinnamon flavour. It's called a Biscoff, and has Delta's logo on it. Interesting.

5:50pm. A few random thoughts about England before we forget them all. They seem paranoid about fire - fire exits, fire extinguishers and fire plans are very prominent in most buildings. They love informality - almost all printed signs are written in a conversational tone instead of the stilted brevity we see at home. Smoking is a lot more widespread, but cigarette butts on the ground are rare. Badly behaved kids are everywhere, but the parents (even the ones covered with tattoos and surgically attached to their beer cans) don't swear at them but confine themselves to "If you don't sit down I'm going to lose my temper". That probably means anti-spanking laws (or at least sentiments) have been around longer. The trains (you knew I was going to get onto this) are not necessarily better run than ours, although the main intercity ones certainly are, but the average attitude of the staff is a lot nicer - they actually seem to care, almost all the time. Australian railway thinking is still predominantly British, but we have small pockets of progressiveness (eg Perth) and they don't, as far as I could see. Almost all the good things I saw on the rail system were nothing to do with good ideas we need to copy, but merely proof that if you spend real money you can give real service. Also that if you try to do things you shouldn't (eg two tiers on a single pair of tracks) you pay the consequences, no matter how well managed your system.

6:26pm. Touch down at Detroit, quite a good landing for an A320. We hear the usual message "Thanks for choosing us and we hope to see you again soon" - to which Rosuav responds "Thanks for being the cheapest and you'll see us next time you get us the best deal for where and when we want to fly!"

6:40pm. We're off the plane and have to transit from gate A8 to gate A54. Let's burn it up, we take off in half an hour. The travelators are nice and wide, and have a yellow line painted down the middle with "Stand" on the right and "Walk on the left". I like!!! Of course they drive on the wrong side of the road but we can bear that.

6:43pm. A sign says this way to the "express tram". Remembering Florida we're suspicious, but hey, if it gets us there faster it's all good. We go upstairs where it says and there's the familiar nose of a Citadis! Woohoo! It pulls out just as we approach, but the PIDS shows... 3min 31sec to the next service. Yes, accurate to the second. And it also shows exactly where the two trams are on the line, on a YT Control Centre like LED display. When it shows 35 seconds, the next tram pulls in. Automatic doors on the platform open in sync with the tram's own. We get aboard and it looks more like a Combino interior than a Citadis - weird. Right on the knocker it takes off, with a PA announcement about doors closing. Like the JFK shuttle it's completely driverless. There's no motor noise - it's effectively a cable powered monorail. There's only two vehicles on the system, with a single track and a passing look at the midpoint station. The cables are on opposite sides, so each tram has its own cable. Scaleable it ain't (except by coupling another vehicle behind - depending on the power available through the cable), but for what effectively does the job of a high speed, long distance travelator it's outstanding. Besides looking ubercool for all the visitors to the city.

Clippy's log - page 40

27/8 4:30am. Here's the bus. Bye bye Buxton.

5:40am. Funny, we've only been to Manchester Airport twice before, and that was two years ago in a time of great stress. But we can recognize it instantly! A sneak peek at the station for our last UK train sighting - 170303 in Dynamic Lights livery. Farewell! Try to get along OK without us!

5:55am. Check in is very slow. Part of the problem is that they need an address in the USA to put on our luggage. Just after Rosuav writes out the necessary information, Traal's battery dies! In the absence of wifi that means all the info which had been held in Firefox tabs is gone. Major problem.

6:40am. With nothing to do until boarding opens, the boys look for breakfast. A bacon roll? £3.35 is a lot, it better be good. It isn't. When talldad talks about airline food, he really means airport food.

7:20am. Our gate still hasn't been announced, and we're supposed to close boarding in 10min! Ah at last - Gate 9.

7:45am. We're on the plane, and it actually looks like we might be off on time. An amazing effort on the part of the crew.

7:59am. Push-back - 1min early. Wow. It takes 17min to get to the runway, but still.

8:52am. THUMP! Wheels on tarmac wakes Midga from slumber. He amuses me sometimes. Same as at Manchester we use airstairs, no bridge. Makes things faster as they can open both doors.

9:15am. A spot of bother as Midga's passport doesn't have a stamp to say he entered the UK. He explains what happened and gets through.

10:03am. US customs had a long queue, so just as we got through our flight was being called. Don't want it any closer than that.

10:13am. We're on the plane. Another Airbus - sighs. Last time, we hope.

10:39am. Push back, nine down.

5:01pm. The captain has just informed us that we're getting close to New York. We don't yet know which runway we're getting - if we get the far one we fly over two additional states we wouldn't fly over with a direct approach. And that would add FIVE minutes to our flight time!

5:30pm. Landed and taxiing. We remember this from the trip out. Next time we take this trip (ha ha!) we fly from Greenville, not New York. Change of time zones - it's now 12:30pm.

2pm. We have our luggage, got some internet time and know our flight details. Pressure off. Now find some food, they're not going to give you much on the two short domestic flights.

3pm. Our flight is now on the screens so we decide to get to our gate - it's as likely we'll find wifi there as here. Check in is upstairs, and we're the last to check in for our flight. Might have been worth going early maybe. The x-ray is a madhouse - several hundred people all wanting to go through.

3:45pm. We're at the departure gate - the flight is scheduled for half an hour from now! We go through and they herd us onto a bus to get to the plane. Quite a bus! The driver's cab is across the full width like a Citadis, but it takes up about 4m of the bus's length. And the body is about 2.7m wide... obviously a special job for airport work. We get to the plane... and it's an A320! I thought we were finished with European rubbish!

4:55pm. After a long boarding time and an even longer taxi, we're off at last. The captain reckons we'll be at Detroit early though - hope so as we have a connection to catch.

Clippy's log - page 39

25/8 3:59pm. A replica heritage car comes along - an open sided saloon. It IS summer, so they run the interesting trams for the tourists. Everything under the floor must be the same as the other trams, as the sound is identical. The horn seems louder with no body to muffle it though.

4:10pm. A little diversion to find the depot. It's a combined bus and tram depot, and there's lots of interesting stuff but security signs are all around so it's probably not worth trying to get permission to take photos.

4:36pm. Back to North Pier to spot stuff.

5:14pm. Time to head home. Blackpool North station actually looks really nice - clean and open. The facilities are Laburnum Plains (apart from the concourse) but somehow it has character.

5:20pm. We depart on time. This train is practically empty! There's a large yard just past the station throat, totally empty. Must be potentially useful.

6:20pm. We get off at Oxford Road and try to find a local to go back one stop to Deansgate. The 6:16 Liverpool looks good.

6:33pm. The 6:16 gets a green at last and departs. Moral of the story: don't try to cross four tracks in the middle of peak time, unless you carry your own portable flyover. DUH!

6:36pm. Deansgate at last. Photos required of the shops in the archway under the Metrolink viaduct.

6:47pm. Next train to Piccadilly? 6:51. NICE! Next train to Buxton from there? 6:52. Argh! Race it to Stockport maybe, since they make Buxton trains stop all stations now.

6:58pm. Nothing going to Stockport in the next 30 seconds - and the Buxton isn't still here running late. Oh well. Food, then a 323 to somewhere the expresses scream through at a good speed for videoing.

7:22pm. Still love those 323s! It's a Hazel Grove service, they actually do use those wires. Sometimes.

7:29pm. Heaton Chapel, this will do nicely. Hey, someone's put a nice new desto in 323235!

7:53pm. OK, bring on that Buxton train, its getting cold and the mozzies will be here any minute. Light's getting bad for photos anyway.

8:03pm. Train arrives, before the mozzies. The last three trains that came past were crosses, the sound on those videos will be great!

9pm. Home again. Farewell Buxton station. Farewell Sprinters. It's been great knowing you.

10:30pm. Nothing on tomorrow except packing. Mythbusters time!

2am. Might as well head for bed.

26/8 12:30pm. Better get up and think about things. The food has to be eaten, the rooms packed back into those two cases, the keys handed over... but first, chocolate and cartoons.

4pm. Better get active. One desk full of paperwork has to be compressed into a cloth bag. That means looking through it to some extent. BritRailPass... Buxton line timetable... spare camera cards... what a trip this has been.

5:30pm. Better pack up the kitchen too. That means eating the food. There's carrots left! What's up doc? And we should finish up the peanut butter, goblin soup and sugar. Last batch of toffee stuff!

11pm. The Last Minute list is written, the alarm is set. We really are leaving.

27/8 3:30am. THE DAY DOES NOT START THIS EARLY! Get up, execute the last minute list.

4:05am. Farewell Halls. It's been great. Midga has shoved me into a plastic bag so he can drag his case. We get to the bus stop in plenty of time so Midga goes to get a photo of Rosuav's favourite butcher.

Clippy's log - page 38

25/8 1:01pm. We terminated short at Cleveleys, and are waiting for the next service. There's hardly any parking at any of these shops, maybe that's why the tram is so popular. Other than that it's not a good urban service - slow, inconvenient to catch due to traffic. We get on another balloon car and sit on the lower deck. Still not much motor noise coming through. The arrangement is almost a classic drop centre, with wind barriers guarding the saloon on one side and a stairwell on the other. The doorways are about 1.2m wide, a lot more than most trams, and have a single bifolding door each. Manually operated, by the connie only. So there are two connies per car. Cost recovery on these services must be pretty bad. Ride quality on the lower deck is better - or else the track to Fleetwood is better than the city track.

1:21pm. We're now in Fleetwood itself, and there's one lane each way (plus on-street parking) for trams, buses and cars. Must be bad if anyone's trying to park.

1:30pm. Fleetwood Pier terminus is a balloon loop. I wonder why they bother, having double ended cars. The locals seem accustomed to flange squeal.

1:57pm. We get on a Centenary single decker car - it has its panto mounted on a sort of scaffold amidships. Seats are coloured patterned fabric like refurb trains, but with actual padding. The interior is very bus-like, including fixed coach layout seats, which is odd as it's a double ended vehicle. The front door is wide and bifolding like a MAN Mk.2. The middle exit door is even wider. The pax are obviously used to one-man crewing on these cars, the driver has to keep saying "Take a seat, show your tickets to the conductor". There's only one on this trip though. The motor sound is weird - about the same volume as an A/B (these things are the same vintage) but more variation in pitch. Almost like the hum-with-a-bit-of-a-buzz wave form of the A/B with the pitch-going-up-with-speed of a W. Wheel on rail sound is like a W.

2:05pm. Turning back onto the main drag of Fleetwood there's a bus on the corner. It's within the painted lines but the driver doesn't want to risk hitting it. We sit there for about 5min - nobody thinks of getting out and talking to the bus driver! At one point a bus overtakes us on the other side of the road, sweeps around at about 30km/h and stops for pax - nose just ahead of the bus blocking us, tail in the other lane blocking both sides of the road! It's like what thaitransit says about buses in Bangkok...

2:19pm. There's quite a few crossings on the interurban section, all totally unprotected. Depending how insistent the cars are, trams have to come almost to a halt. Bad. Even traffic lights would be something.

2:25pm. Thornton Gate has a passing loop, several small departmental-looking buildings, and a siding in which there's a lot of construction work going on. I wonder what it all is. One of the buildings calls itself a substation but there's no wires going in and out. Current working theory is that it's a former tram depot under demolition.

2:40pm. We get another Centenary tram. There are a total of TWO next stop buttons, one at each centre door.

3:02pm. At North Pier the tram lines merge with the road again - crossing over the traffic to do it! The northbound track is shared with road traffic, then there's the southbound track, then the ordinary road. Must be bad in peak time.

3:14pm. We board an open boat car for Pleasure Beach! It has wooden slatted seats and a whistle like a steamboat. The air compressor is like the other types. Motor, brake and wheel/rail noise also. The connie is great - "No charge for the kid, he can wash the windows for us. Oh, we haven't got any!"; "Take a seat, I'll be along to rob you in a minute".

3:20pm. There's a spur line near Foxhall Square - maybe the depot?

3:46pm. Starr Gate - another balloon stop terminus. There's two intermediate ones too, but short working trams sometimes change ends. Totally weird. Maybe it dates from the days of swinging the pole to change ends???

Clippy's log - page 37

24/8 8:20pm. We're cruising along at about 40km/h on the last leg of the Trans Pennine to Manchester. Must be behind a spark.

8:29pm. And now we're waiting for a path to the station itself. Good thing the connection isn't going to be tight.

8:38pm. And here we are. 14 minutes to the Buxton train. Worth looking for a backpack repair kit? Probably not.

9:04pm. Stockport - and 66605 goes past with a container train.

9:42pm. The conductor announces Dove Holes and I could swear he said Dubbo!

10:15pm. Home, unload, eat, rehydrate. I don't know why humans get tired from travelling, I'm fine for another 48 hours or more! Rosuav has completed the first stage of a project which will make a MIDI file respond to a conductor's stick and it's lots of fun to play with tempos. Then we watch The Princess Bride, since it's finished torrenting.

1:30am. Midga jumps onto Traal briefly, to check on some things that work better on a fill size screen. Then bed - tomorrow, Blackpool!

1:45am. On consideration, it's probably not necessary to tahe the 6:50am train. Blackpool isn't far. Say 8:45 alarm for a 9:27 train? Fine.

25/8 8:45am. I didn't prompt him. Nor did my pal the phone. Nor did Rosuav or Traal. He just woke, spot on the dot of 8:45. He always used to do that when he was going gunzelling in the old days before he had a job. Uncanny.

9:22am. And here we are at the station, just in time for the train. It sure pays to be a gunzel.

10:28am. Piccadilly. Next Blackpool train is at 10:46. I rather like these train frequencies. In the meantime, any chance of a roll of black duct tape for backpack repairs? Grumble.

10:46am. A TP Class 185 - nice. It's packed so we stand. Not bad by home standards though.

10:50am. Another crowd gets on at Manchester Oxford Road. The driver and the PIDS woman both get on the PA to tell people to take luggage off seats to let people sit. People here actually care!

11:07am. We leave Bolton on time - not bad for a loaded train. Midga is able to highly amuse some fellow passengers (and the connie, for that matter) by telling stories of the Dandenong line after a cancellation. See that floor there? You wouldn't see that in Australia. There'd be 40 people in this doorway alone.

11:28am. Preston, quite a big station. The connie comes over the PA and says "Anyone with not much luggage who wants a slightly faster trip to Blackpool, there's another train coming in to Platform 2 right now". Very nice of him. It turns out to be a Northern Class 158, and it goes ahead of the TPE. A seat at last. As we leave we see a Class 57 loco, a bunch of derelict carriages and a few track machines in the yard. This place must have been a major centre in days gone by.

12:06pm. Blackpool North is much smaller than the other major stations, and less modernised. Facilities are more like Spencer Street pre-Southern Cross, although the exterior is way less dated. Just as we leave the TPE comes in - the connie was right, a slightly faster journey.

12:20pm. We stop at a place called Wilkinsons, which is a sort of Wal-Mart with everything from hardware to fresh food. They have a roll of black cloth tape, hooray! The poor backpack won't have to survive the embarrassment of a gaping hole in the side done up with yellow double-sided tape.

12:25pm. The beach looks harsh - a dark grey with lots of white caps. And a strong smell of dead fish. The wind is cold too - and this is the middle of summer!

12:33pm. We board a tram - one of the "balloon" double deckers. It's all classic 1930s inside, with tip-over seating and timber/leather/melamine panelling. Some of the timber is showing its age like the Ws do, and some of the window perspex is going white. Ride quality on the top deck is fine for photography but not for writing. There's hardly any noticeable sway, it feels more like bounce, but when we go down to the bottom deck it disappears so it must be either sway or pitch. The horn is a single tone air horn, not a bell but still cheerful. North of Talbot Road it's mostly reserve track, with the road crossing at close intervals. The air compressor runs at high speed like a Comeng's, that's not the sound I came all this way for! But the motor sound is classic. There's only one door per side, and average speed is very slow despite the reserve track. But still the tram is more popular than the parallel bus. Weird.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Clippy's log - page 36

24/8 3:48pm. Coming into Jesmond a single line heads off somewhere. Google Earth will tell all. It looks like these underground stations have been built with the idea of running triple coupled sets at some point in the future.

3:51pm. There's a lot of sloppy driving going on! These things should respond immediately to the controls (unlike a six-car Comeng which has air brakes), so it should be possible to organize gentle pull-ups. If you need to do it by the numbers (eg "if you're at 50, cut off and hit the brakes when you pass that tree") go for it, but put a bit of care into driving!

3:58pm. Howarth - the reservation now has two Metro tracks and two Network Rail - we've just crossed a Sprinter and a freight.

4:37pm. Departing South Hylton. It's a single platform but that's OK as they never have more than 5tph running here. It looks like a new line - new poles, concrete sleepers, clean ballast. Earthworks look like they've been here a while, maybe it was converted from a BR line.

4:40pm. Pallion station - looks very new. Has a very long stairway like Jolimont.

4:47pm. Sunderland - another ex BR station converted to Metro. For some reason approach is dead slow. There's a Railbus in the other platform - obviously the conversion wasn't exclusive. We go out through a tunnel with skylights in it! Probably from the days of steam. I wonder what the natives think of their city being treated as an annexe of Newcastle - hopefully they appreciate a 5tph Metro even if the desto says "Airport" when they only want to cross town.

4:54pm. We're out of the Sunderland area and it's interurban. Pity about the 80km/h speed limit. At least the level crossings have booms and no speed restriction.

5:08pm. Pelaw - over on the Network Rail side is 66703 with a coalie and a Class 43/Mk.3 set in black with Grand Central on the side. A new livery on me, I wonder who they are.

5:10pm. Pelaw Junction is quite complicated - it has to take two shared Metro/country tracks from Sunderland with one Metro and one country line from South Shields (both bi-directional) and merge or split them into two country lines and two initially bi-di Metro lines. As far as we can see from four trips over it, it looks fairly efficient.

5:17pm. Back at Central. It's raining, it's starting to get dark, and we'll be up early again tomorrow. Let's just go home. There's a nice touch screen Journey Planner on the main platform, which says the 5:32 London Kings Cross will get us to York in time for a quick connection with a train to Manchester. Good stuff. Bye Tyne & Wear Metro, it was nice meeting you.

5:39pm. National Express running seven minutes late? It's been a lot worse... We're on a Mk.4 set with a Class 91 loco behind us. Can't hear anything though.

5:53pm. Let's sum up the Tyne & Wear Metro. The vehicles seem a bit feeble in capacity to us who are used to a 1000-passenger train, but seem to be up to the patronage they get. Station spacing is a mix, most of it is about right for a Metro but the Sunderland section is too sparse. Having country trains go there too is good - it means the two towns effectively have separate Metros that happen to work through. Having hardly any level crossings is good. 5tph off peak including Saturdays is great. GoZoning the two lines through the busiest part of the city is VERY good. Trip time is reasonable - counting North Shields as a watershed (ie people pick the shortest trip from there to Newcastle instead of going right round) and Sunderland as the destination of choice rather than Newcastle, all trips are under half an hour. Through ticketing with the buses is good (of course). The amount of elevated track is NOT A PROBLEM (as we keep saying). Overall, it's a good metro system for a city the size of Newcastle.

6:42pm. We arrive York 11 minutes down. The 6:40 Manchester is just leaving as we arrive. Grumble, thanks a lot NX. Oh well, the next one's in half an hour. Woohoo, thanks Trans Pennine!

6:50pm. We might as well get aboard - a Class 185 is a lot more comfortable to wait on than a windswept platform.

Clippy's log - page 35

24/8 1:47pm. The driver announces that we're stopping all stations to St James via The Coast - three destinations (including Newcastle) on one service. That's correct because the service runs from suburb, through city, to suburb, to city. According to Wiki it's one of the only lines in the world to go through the same station twice.

1:55pm. Midga shifts the position of his posterior. Half an hour or so on these seats is about the limit for comfort. Just after Benton is another junction - I wonder what's there.

2:03pm. Monkseaton is obviously an ex-BR station, built big. Also has what looks like an old freight yard. Tynemouth is the same, but a bit run down.

2:11pm. North Shields has a dock platform. It's wired and the stick is lit, but it looks like it hasn't been used for a long time.

2:16pm. Howden station has the first level crossing we've seen! No booms, no pedestrian gates, just flashing lights and an audible alarm. The train gives a reasonable length toot which sounds like one of ours (no two-tone). Straight after the crossing is a bridge with no ballast. The houses underneath must love the noise...

2:23pm. Driver gets on the PA and says "Unfortunately for the young man with the bicycle, bicycles are not allowed on the Metro system". Whose idea was that and have they been sacked for it yet???

2:28pm. Last leg into Newcastle is over a huge concrete bridge. From the train it looks horrible, but from ground level it's slightly plain but certainly not ugly. Have we made this point yet?

2:30pm. Monument again - Platform 4 this time. It really must be at right angles like the map shows. Perfectly dark tunnel again.

2:40pm. Inside St James' Park!!! It's a fairly typical 2-platform terminating station, just underground. It's a split layout instead of island, which is ridiculous. At the down end the tunnel continues we know not where. Stabling for special events maybe? As we're waiting for the next train Midga gets another question from a local. We've been here three hours but still we can answer the question. Hooray for maps! And the ability to understand and remember them.

2:53pm. Monument PL03/04 are above PL01/02! No doubt it made sense to somebody at some point.

2:59pm. Dammit these Metro vehicles are photogenic! There's so many in special liveries that even a pair of vanilla vehicles is worth a photo.

3:08pm. Fawdon - another level crossing. Same setup plus a 15km/h speed limit for no other reason we could find evidence of. The horn on this train sounds like a car horn! Kingston Park has another crossing the same. As the driver cuts off power to stay under 15 we hear the motors flash over. It is 1500V DC after all!

3:13pm. Bank Foot, same again making three in a row. We're out in the country now, nearly at the airport. A pedestrian crossing has no protection at all and doesn't even merit a toot. Do I need to say Casterton Parkway has a crossing too?

3:18pm. Airport is an island station with a full length shelter but otherwise unremarkable. There's a covered walkway to the airport itself. It seems to be mainly used by airline passengers, they all have luggage. I guess it would be different at shift change time. 20min from Central to the airport would be OK for Melbourne but probably not Newcastle unless the roads are really terrible.

3:38pm. I do believe the crossing alarm and consequent green stick are triggered by the driver closing the doors!!! Top notch, someone had their brain switched on.

3:43pm. South Gosforth, as well as being the northern junction of the two lines, has the main stabling and train maintenance yard.

Clippy's log - page 34

24/8 11am. Darlington - another fine old English station. Brickwork with artistic bits, wrought iron, space for a lot of infrastructure that isn't here now, the usual. There was a time when these companies made a profit! As we take off we get a bit of traction motor grind, but it doesn't last long. The doors grind too, but that's a bad thing.

11:39am. Newcastle - the Metro! A Day Rover is £3.90, about right considering the size of the network. Central station is like Flagstaff in appearance but not as clean. Two platforms, one each direction. Platforms fairly short, about 3-4 cars long in our terms. PIDS shows destination and time to arrival only. Big clear text. Marketed as TUAG on PIDS but there is a printed timetable. Clockfaced between peaks, irregular in peak time and at night. Frequency is 10tph off peak (8tph on Sundays) up to 19 trains between 7 and 8am. Off peak half go to each line, in peak time lots more on St James-South Shields line (Airport-South Hylton line still gets minimum 5tph though).

11:52am. We board a train for South Shields. It pops above ground almost immediately then goes under again. Definite light metro stock - articulated like a B2 but coupled in a double set; very rapid acceleration and braking; a low squat body outline; 2+2 seats and lots of standing room (although padding is quite good, would be fine for a half hour journey or more). There is some evidence of vandalism or neglect - not as bad as home though. Infrastructure is rail grade not tram grade - although there's a number of bumpy sections. Looks like there's no sections shared with the main line so far, which is good.

12:03pm. Pelaw-Hebburn is quite a long section. Speed isn't as high as at home but for a guess it's probably about 2.5mi. Midga's ears are better than mine but the track isn't talking to either of us. There's plenty of sound coming through including a few different rhythms, but making sense of it will take time.

12:10pm. Most of the above ground stations have offset platforms like the St Kilda and Port Melbourne lines - must be a metro thing.

12:18pm. South Shields has only a single platform, long enough for its two artic cars and no more. Must be interesting in the morning when they run trains 3min apart. Stabling sidings at the down end might be the answer, which would mean they can only run that frequency during ramp-up. At the moment there's a ballast train in there - advantage of being heavy rail is that heavy rail works stock can be used. Not sure where the interface with Network Rail is though. The station is elevated (although ground level rises to meet it at some places) and has the same problems we saw at Manchester.

1:03pm. Midga decided to see what Maccas is like over here. All the same apparently, except that the soft drinks are full of artificial sweetener. Back to Central we go. These cars have a half width cab so there's a front window like Adelaide trains have!! Pity they have rules against taking photos. The service is announced as "all stations towards Newcastle". The speed limit signs are in km/h!

1:18pm. Points, which are the most talkative bits of track, are starting to talk to me. Midga reckons the bogies are talking to him too. So many aspects of this system as just like home! It's really difficult to leave the camera in the bag. :(

1:24pm. After we split off from the other line at Pelaw there's a section of single track with a non-electrified track beside, then a section of two bi-di signalled tracks with the non-spark beside. The other track runs parallel and goes behind a couple of stations and then merges with the down line. I guess that's the interface with Network Rail.

1:37pm. Haymarket station looks new - white panels, good light level, raises the average significantly. From Central to Haymarket the tunnel is completely dark except for train headlights and signals. Signals are often hidden by curves...

1:44pm. South Gosforth is the junction. Lines diverge at a simple set of points with a flat diamond - and they manage to merge 5tph + 14tph on this!

Clippy's log - page 33

23/8 8:62pm. Our Sprinter departs. We're stopping all stations - they must leave the inner tier off on Sundays.

9:32pm. They still haven't welded that section just on the up side of Whaley Bridge!

9:50pm. We're between Dove Holes and Buxton, travelling at about 25km/h - presumably there's a freight ahead of us.

10:05pm. Home again. Midga's legs must be out of condition, he hasn't done that many kilometers but he's lying flat on the floor with his eyes shut - discussing Java MIDI libraries on Android.

2am. Emails, RSS and quite a bit of BOFH later, Midga decides to turn in. Newcastle tomorrow!

24/8 7:47am. The door alarm on these Sprinters is almost Comeng-like. Hey, we're running express today! The route to Newcastle at this hour of the morning is via York, we can say hi to those preserved locos again.

8:25am. We've just passed Hazel Grove and we're riding the yellows at 40km/h. This is what it means to run express on two tracks in the middle of morning peak. It must be one of those psychological expresses, no faster than a stopper.

8:30am. We run express through Stockport! There's a 323 on the stopping track, probably the one we were stuck behind. It flashes by us just after Heaton Chapel (it can accelerate out of speed restricted junctions better than we do) but after it has to stop at Levenshulme just as we hit a decent speed we don't see it again.

8:37am. Piccadilly - here we are once more etc etc. Where's the York train? All we know is that it's an 8:55. Middlesborough, that could be it, platform 4. A Class 323 showing Crewe on its desto? Don't like this...

8:51am. Phew, a Class 185 comes in on top of the spark. All is explained. Ah, the 185! First we've had since 2007! They're still as nice inside as ever.

8:55am. Four minutes to turn around and depart on time. RTBU take note.

9:08am. Staleybridge - we pass 66605 with a block container train. The wagons are all screw coupled with buffers! They have high speed freight trains here, but they still haven't gone auto...

9:17am. Another Mactard in the seat opposite. Not only can this one not type with more than two fingers (resulting in a typing speed of about 25wpm) but his ability with the touchpad is similarly slow. A mac with a single button mouse should be a no-brainer for thumb on the button and finger on the touchpad. But I guess no brain is exactly what it takes to operate a mac.

9:22am. I'd forgotten how quiet the 185s are! It's not hot out and with a long run without the doors opening the air con can switch off. It's like a Tait or Doggie sitting at a station - dead silent! I thought it might have been just this car taken offline, but it would be more logical to do that with the first class jobbie at the back. Besides, when we go through a tunnel the engine noise comes in. It's just Siemens soundproofing.

9:57am. Through Leeds, with a padded timetable. There's a Class 91 and Mk.4 set there, and it looks like GNER have lost the franchise for the east coast run to National Express. Or rebranded themselves or something.

10:29am. York. As we wait for a Newcastle train 66601 cones through with a bulk freight. Right through the platform road. The pax hardly even bother to step back.

10:46am. A chance comment from Midga to a north countryman elicits the reply "I can't work out your American accent sorry, you'll have to learn to speak English like the rest of us"! He doesn't bother to go there. The track or bogies are in poor condition by UK standards - ride quality is approximately like RFR or Laburnum. Traction motor sonud is not really present - we get a bit of Cummins beat, a helping of aerodynamic sound and a lot of bogie jolt. I don't remember that from 2007 - since Virgin became Cross Country things must have gone downhill. Poor old Voyagers. Still, it's an ill wind... nah that would never work. Even Cross Country to Countrylink is a drastic step down. Pity, they'd be great as an XPT replacement...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Clippy's log - page 32

23/8 3pm. Liverpool Lime Street is another Piccadilly! There's no artificial light and it's quite presentable inside. Southern Cross, take note. It's obviously been extended at some point - the Virgin section (PL07-09) is under a separate roof. The older section has all its approach tracks lowered, with stone retaining walls reaching probably 100ft above rail level - and quite a few stone bridges going over too. The way railway engineers spent money back in those days! Incidentally the local accent is quite different to any others we've heard. The Metro platforms are quite a distance from the intercity. The escalators are incredibly long - but not having an echo altimeter or a very long piece of string I can't compare it to Parliament. It sure looks about as long though. Interestingly, there's no restriction on walking up and down... Flinders Street, take note. We grab a spark to Hooton. Inside you'd never know it's 1970s era! It's as modern as an Xtrap - a better refurb job than our Comengs. Or that might be just due to nothing being vandalised. Unfortunately the sound doesn't come through too well. The Worrell line has a kind of City Loop, which runs unidirectional. The exit point is opposite Lime Street so it's more like a balloon loop than our City Loop. The desto and PIDS change as soon as we pass the last bidirectional station, but we can't tell if the driver does it or if it's automatic.

3:30pm. Hooton is a kind of Ringwood - two lines each with a half hour frequency meet there and provide a 15 minute frequency from there to the city. It's quite a nice looking station too.

4pm. Back to Lime St. Must get a timetable so we can get back before the last Buxton train. Now what's the best way to get to Edge Hill? There's a nice stabling depot there. City Line is nowhere in evidence - let's grab this Manchester Oxford Road stopper.

4:40pm. Hey you didn't stop! Oh well, Mossley Hill then. Argh it's raining. Phew, here's a Railbus to take us back to Lime St.

5pm. What will we do now... explore the station of course. Examination of the Metro map suggests there's actually no City Line - but Metro tickets apply to certain bits of the Intercity network.

6:34pm. We get on a London Midland Class 350 EMU, just to get to South Parkway of course. It's a Siemens and looks like one, with an intercity interior of course. It's very smooth - as we go through a tunnel it feels like we've stopped until we suddenly burst into daylight at 40km/h.

6:55pm. South Parkway is a nice looking station, probably fairly new. Six platforms in a Caulfield layout, with an overpass with glass sides - perfect for taking photos from.

7:06pm. The 7:03 Nottingham arrives and we get aboard. Liverpool has ceased to fascinate, and it's getting dark and cold. Just as we pull out a Class 507 goes past! Are there sparks on the City Line after all? There doesn't appear to be a third rail so we're Frankly Baffled. Maybe it was loco hauled, or maybe it wasn't a Class 507 at all. Closing speed was fairly high so it's possible.

7:22pm. Warrington Central has a huge bus bay - all angle parking (must be hell to get in and out of in peak time) but it must have a capacity of 20 buses or more. Also there's a four track electric railway going under us at right angles just before the station. I wonder where it goes.

7:31pm. We pass a MASSIVE pallet depot! They're blue so they might well be ours. Huge stacks of them, parked like containers. My pal's GPS speedo says we're doing 83mph so we don't see much.

8:02pm. Back to familiar territory - Manchester Piccadilly (or, as Northern's web site says, MAN). And we've just missed a Buxton train. What to do? Why take photos of course.

8:30pm. Some thoughts about the Liverpool system. The idea of calling country trains "City Line" is a bad one - it doesn't fit with the rest of the country. Ideally intercity trains shouldn't be doing the Metro task anyway. They have good frequencies (if Sunday is 15min, weekday must be pretty good) and vehicles that are suitable for today's passengers. No idea how they are under the floor of course. The way destos are handled in the loop area is great. The lines (Wirral, Northern and City) are more like our groups, they branch out a lot. I guess it's just as logical as our way, you don't have to worry about Box Hill being on two lines. Underground stations are boring to look at (although VERY functional) but above ground can be just as bad when a solid barrier of trees blocks the view on both sides.

Clippy's log - page 31

22/8 7:20pm. The screen is blank but suddenly the speakers start feeding applause! 10 minutes early too! The screen comes up to show Andrew Nicklin telling us to sing from the gallery! We need to bring this charming custom home. A few choruses and then Hail Poetry. Midga gets his note and sings; Rosuav and Traal record.

7:30pm. The show opens with a bit tacked onto the beginning of the standard overture. Good idea, I've always thought it opened too tame. The opening scene is fairly standard, until the PK's song which has a full size backdrop pirate flag flown in! The MG's entrance falls slightly flat because he acts the way Stacey thinks she does - millisecond by millisecond actions with no actual characterisation behind it. Similarly Mabel is an operatic sop concentrating on pumping volume rather than adoring Freddy. But the chorus make up for it. Until now conventional wisdom has stated (and inductive reasoning has confirmed it beyond reasonable doubt) that it's physically impossible to get a chorus to act in perfect unison, no matter how simple the action. This applies particularly to men. Well - conventional wisdom has just been turned on its head! Both choruses are millisecond perfect, on moves which most choruses we've seen before would find practically impossible to even contemplate!

9pm. Midga takes advantage of the interval to dash over to the portacabin and sign up to have the DVD posted. £5.50 for international postage isn't bad at all.

9:15pm. Act 2 here we come! Mabel and Edith do their stuff in the double chorus number. The police are a scream with their precise choreography - and having a better Sergeant than the last two I saw makes a big difference. The fight scene in the finale looks a bit crude but I'm fairly sure that was due to the video link quality. For the same reason we don't get the full effect of the pairing up either. Oh well.

10pm. Last Festival Club! Another pot-luck Trial, and this time Midga's in good voice. By the time it finishes the camera card is more than half full... Then Ian and Neil get up and do a cabaret of their own - which is brilliant. To cap it off our Defendant (Ralph from last night, expat Sydneysider) accompanies himself on the piano and sings The Carnival is Over. And invites us to sing along. Grand finale is of course Hail Poetry.

12:10am. It's time to say goodbyes. Hugs from some lovely Savoynetters, nice comments from the Smiths (they know us by sight now, and ask us to send regards to Deebee) and of course nice comments back from us. IT WAS A GREAT DAMPER BAKE!

12:30am. Home. Heave several sighs. Diary. Hot chocolate. Skype with Jodi.

2:30am. Midga heads for bed. Rosuav doesn't.

23/8 9am. Ding ding cuckoo. Midga drinks a bottle of water and goes back to sleep.

9:30am. Rosuav comes back from an expedition to the portacabin (which is being packed up - so he got some discarded stuff which will make very good souveniers) and it's time for a Google Chat with the family.

10:15am. Time to get ready for church. Bye for now, see you in one week!

11am. The Metho church is a lot less full than last week, and the service is ultra traditional. The readings are read by a lady with a very shaky voice, the organ is played slow, and all that sort of appearance stuff is perfect material for irreverent parody. The preacher is female, but the sermon is firmly Bible based and even challenges things like when religion (or religious tradition) becomes an idol. Hopefully that means some people at least are ready to give up on 19th century services - if only someone can make it happen. More importantly, the impression we got last week of a church that's serious about its faith seems to be correct.

12:23pm. Home again. Four minutes to a train - can't make it.

1:15pm. Lunch over, now off for a gunzel!!! Liverpool today, the old Merseyrail EMUs.

2:38pm. Boarded a Class 158 intercity Sprinter for Liverpool. Quite nice inside, although packed.

Clippy's log - page 30

30 pages! No wonder I'm feeling less overweight than I have since Steamy started bringing things to meetings printed on blank paper.

20/8 10pm. Midga runs off early as usual, making the excuse that it feels wrong giving a projector screen a curtain call. The short way is closed so he has to go right around the opera house to get to the club next door!

10:30pm. The Irish are here in force. Don Alhambra gets up to MC the cabaret, they applaud loudly. A lead sop sings a song, they yell, scream and give a standing ovation. They're good though - most of the songs are funny, and those that aren't are well delivered and usually have an Irish connection. Helen K-L and our 2007 cabaret, take note. (Actually can I get rid of that word between "and" and "2007"? Gasvic's.) Adrian and the song "We ain't got rain" was the worthwhile bit.

12:30am. They're done. No violin unfortunately. Totally worth seeing though - but Midga has the beginning of a headache from their mutual applause. Those Irish look after each other! We go home and it looks like they've booked out The Railway (the pub next to the Halls we're livin in, presumably named after the railway bridge) and are having a cast party. Glad to know at least one company at the festival knows how to close off a show. I should like to take post under that company.

21/8 5am. Midga wakes up for no reason and the Irish are still at it! No doubt they need to bolster up the economy of the Irish Whiskey industry.

9:30am. Midga gets up, all ready for a rehearsal for the pot-luck Pinafore tonight. Grab apple, grab water bottle, come let's be gone!

10am. The Paxton is still closed up - rehearsal is at 10:30! Time for a hot chocolate.

10:30am. We start with stuff the ladies are in. Most of it is fairly simple - with a good conductor (John Howells), a loaned score and a piano even Midga can learn this. Sullivan - you rock.

12:30pm. Rehearsal over, homework time. Home for lunch, emails and a brief snooze first though.

10pm. ACK! That was the longest brief snooze ever! Grab an apple for medicinal purposes and get over there!

10:20pm. Midga and I are just settling into one of the cast tables when the thing starts. Just made it... Anyway, it goes well. The conducting is clear, the voices are good (even Midga's), and some of the prinnies even act. Rosuav is manning the camera and gets a large number of good shots, including video. Memories of pot lucks to preserve for the future.

11:50pm. A rousing Hail Poetry to finish, in honour of the G&S Opera Company's Pirates in the Opera House. One of the very pretty young ladies of the chorus comes up and asks for our blog addresses. Nice! Anyway, time to head home. Only one more day of festival!

22/8 11:30am. What's on today? AGM of the G&S Association, skip it. Pirates matinee - won't be piped through. Awards ceremony - definitely one to see! We made a deal with Stuart of Savoynet to cross-check each other's notes of who won what, and get them out onto the list within 10min of the end of the ceremony! Limber up those fingers boys.

5pm. It costs £3 to get in, which we think is a bit steep, but hey, it's worth it. The stage is almost covered with trophies and bunches of flowers. The flowers go first, to people who have spent large amounts of time assisting. Some of them aren't here, so the award really is a surprise. Then the prizes - the boys have to suspend applause at times in order to take notes. The WA Trial got just one nomination, no prize. Savoynet got three prizes and one nomination; the winners were the Irish Gondoliers. When it was announced they went wild! There must have been about 20 of them, in an impregnable phalanx in Row E or F.

6:45pm. That was quite an awards ceremony! Now we don't have time to cook so it's a case of Subway or go hungry. Midga caves in.

7:10pm. We get to the Paxton and there's nobody there but a few techs! Nobody charging money, no other audience, what's going on? We ask about the video feed and they say "Well after a lot of blood sweat and tears, yes it's going to happen". Of course we offer to help but they've just finished. We accidentally earn some brownie points by sympathising with the lot of the tech - solve problems, even if someone else caused them.