Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Visiting USA and England!

Watch out you continents, it's an Angelico Invasion!

The rumours are true, my twin brother Chris (two and a half years my junior) has lured me to take a trip overseas, to visit ThreshCon and Buxton. And see a lot of people and places we wouldn't see by staying home.

What's that you say, no rumours have been circulating? Well it's the thought that counts.

Before anyone asks - no, I haven't changed my basic opinion on travel, which is that I'll spend my time overseas when I've seen everything there is to see in Oz. And yes, I am still of the opinion that I live in the best bloody country in the world, it's just that we're not arrogant about it like the Frogs are.

No, I'm going overseas because there are some cases where what's nearly as good is actually impossible to achieve once you've done what's the very best. So for instance, you can't have an International Festival of Gilbert & Sullivan and a large collection of highly G&S-minded people when you have a culture that values blokiness alongside honesty, good looks, brains, mateship and toothbrushing. And you can't have a New York subway when you have the top ten suburban bus routes driven by people who will actually talk to you. Well maybe you can, but not on this planet and certainly not in this century.

So, to sum up: Chris and I are travelling to the USA and England. And we're calling (briefly - probably the airport only) at New Zealand and Ireland. We thought of doing the England-USA flight via Zurich but the timetable didn't work out. And the Chunnel trains aren't covered by the England Railpass so we don't get to drop in on France. Not even long enough to ask them in as Irwinesque an accent as I can muster "Hey you lot - why do you call it sham pain? There's nothing sham about it the morning after!" (Hmmm... I wonder if that question would bring on real pain if I asked it... highly likely.)

The timetable runs somewhat thus (sic):
14 July fly MEL-LAX by Air New Zealand. I'm told they're pretty good, although not quite Emirates standards like we had last time. They were the cheapest. ;) And as a bonus, we get to fly on a 747 for at least one leg. Queen of the Skies, I like.

Due to timezones we arrive about half an hour after we left Melbourne, so we get to gunzel around LA for a bit before grabbing the nearest Amtrak to Chicago. Twinette sleeper, should be Rather Good. And besides which, it allows us to crash after the flight, in full comfort, without paying extra for accommodation.

From Chicago we visit a few people (hi Devout, I know you're listening!) and then go to something called a "ThreshCon". From what I can tell, it's just a whole lot of people who play a computer game over the internet, getting together and drinking too much. I'm still trying to be the bus driver in that computer game, but nobody wants me. Or at least they don't want me urgently enough to write the code to run the bus.

After that we visit a few more people and maybe hit Disneyworld in Florida. Still working on that one though.

Then we make our way to New York, find out of the subway is everything it's cracked up to be by people who have a vested interest in running down Melbourne's train system, and then take a hop across the ditch.

We're flying Aer Lingus both ways, they were the cheapest (again). Hopefully they don't find out that I called myself the "wash dishing leprechaun" and said "where's my pot of gold?" on the whiteboard at work (after I spent my lunch break cleaning up after everyone else). I'm slightly too tall you see.

We have an England Railpass for the trip from Gatwick to Buxton. Worth EVERY PENNY - there's no limit to the fun you can have riding Pendolinos from Manchester to Stoke-on-Trent. Even if you happen to hit peak time (the light's funny in high lattitudes) and are required to sit in the luggage rack.

We're staying in Buxton at the university Halls of Residence, same as last time. They look after us there. It's very convenient to the shops, the station, the opera house, and in fact the whole town. And besides which, there's a Class 66 loco that goes past with a bulk freight train at 7am every morning. Forget "What time is it Eccles", forget Red Symons, this is the very best alarm clock ever dreamed up inside a human brain.

The G&S Festival itself is Something to See. The cream of the cream of G&S productions, all very reasonably priced, and with an audience of 900+ to help applaud. Hopefully we get to crew the Savoynet show - every time I hear "Come hither all ye people" or the intro to "As before you we defile" I start getting all excited about the prospect. BRING IT ON!

The festival finishes on the 23rd of August, we have a few more days in England then we fly out. Back to the USA, fly through Texas, out to LA and back on the jumbo home.

Traal will have an internet connection for a lot of the time we're over there, so photos may be posted as they happen. Otherwise, expect a spew of them at the end of August!

That's all folks. Anyone I haven't seen for ages, please make yourself known and we might drop in!

Monday, March 9, 2009

How I beat the recession and avoided starving to death

Yes I know we're not technically in a recession, but frankly I don't see any economic growth happening in the next month or so, which means we are in a recession but can't prove it.

Now, that's a bad thing isn't it?

For the people who have lost their jobs and are desperately skimming through the shrinking Employment sections of the various newspapers, it's a bad thing.

For the people who are living off their superannuation and it's just taken a huge hit in value, it's a bad thing.

How does a Reserve Bank statistic cause such trouble?

Mainly, it's the fear of a recession which causes the recession. The way it works is this.

While everyone's confident that business is going well, they'll make plans for the future - put extra power points in the back corner of the warehouse, take on extra staff in the call centre, get pro photos taken of the product to go in the next glossy brochure, all that sort of thing.

With plans like those, the electricians, call centre agencies and photographers feel confident too, so they start trading in their second-rate tools for high quality ones, buying hotter database servers and upgrading to the latest photo software, which makes the tool manufacturers, server vendors and software companies feel confident, and so it goes around.

But as soon as the finance industry starts to feel chilly winds start to blow, they start battening down the hatches. Postpone the plans for that expansion, that way we don't need to spend too much on building fittings. The building fittings people then find they have their casual labourers standing around idle, so they get their hours cut. With a reduced pay packet they start postponing holiday plans. And you can guess what that does to the airlines.

So much for the theory. But that's a pretty simplistic view.

Actually, not everyone suffers during a recession. Obviously, when people have to trim the sails they spend less money. But they don't spend none - they can't. Some things get cut back but not taken out completely, and some things stay the same.

Food, of course, is an obvious example of the latter. You can't live without it. You can't grow it all on your quarter acre block.

But some things just get reduced - for example, transport. People who drive five minutes to get to work might decide to try leaving the car at home and riding a bike instead. It's a fact that an old crusty of a bike shop owner once told me that his very best ever years were the early 1990s - right in the middle of Keating's "Recession we Had to Have". $25 for a replacement tyre and a thorough greasing is better than a month's petrol bills. So bikes, shunned as uncomfortable or inconvenient in boom times, come into their own as a recession buster.

Believe it or not, some luxury trades will do the same. Was Joe Millionaire planning to go to Europe for his three week holidays? He might downgrade it to a week and a half in Japan. Was the middle class yuppie down the road going to Bali for a week after Christmas? He might downgrade it to a few days in Alice Springs. Was the Working Family saving up for a caravan park in Warrnambool? They might spend a day at Luna Park instead. Japan, Alice Springs and Luna Park will lose the business they were going to get, but gain the business someone else was going to get.

So it's not all doom and gloom.

But what about the poor people who have lost their jobs? It's pretty much all doom and gloom for them.

Now - I realise this is something like shutting the door of the Titanic after the iceberg has bolted, but the thing to do is to recession-proof your job. That means doing something which people will never say "Oh, we can do without that until the market picks up".

Be in an industry which isn't dependent on discretionary spending. Food. Health. Transport. And I don't mean five star restaurants, private brain care specialists and limo driving.

At all costs stay out of finance, because they're the first ones to feel the pinch and start cutting staff. At least if you open the papers and read "Banks shed 20% of workforce" you know something's happening and you can do something about it.

And don't forget, business managers start to think like the people who lend them money. If you work for a big company, they'll start echoing every move the finance industry makes, two weeks later. Go for a small company, then you know that you will only lose your job if there was a real need for it.

If the worst comes to the worst - face it. Simplify your lifestyle and cut back on the superfluous. Get up ten minutes earlier and pack yourself a lunchbox instead of eating at the cafe. Do your homework on the phone provider's web site and take advantage of cheaper calling times. Break out the duct tape and repair the TV remote instead of waiting until it annoys you and then buying a bigger one. Go to Coles and spend $20 on lollies and have an evening playing board games with the family instead of taking them out to a movie. Clean the place out and have a garage sale, and pay off some credit card debt with the proceeds.

It's not pleasant. But you'll come out of it a better person, probably healthier, almost certainly greener, and definitely with some stories to tell your grandchildren.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Grand opera still sucks, but not as much as it did before

I'm now watching La Traviata starring Joan Carden - Opera Australia again.

The drama is much better (they only stopped for a curtain call at the end of each act), the voices are way better, and the leads know how to act (the chorus are just singing scenery - but it's grand opera, they aren't involved in the plot anyway).

And the set is completely brilliant. Dat's what money can do for you folks... I wonder if it would be worth crewing an AO show just once, just to see what it's like.

But still, this DVD does absolutely nothing for me - not even compared to the Utopia Ltd Chris brought home one day. (Everything else is the same - DVD quality, a show I don't know but am curious to find out about, a high budget production, a company in which I know nobody, etc. Uncanny.)

Anyway, I think I can finally put my finger on what it is I don't like about the whole concept:

1. It takes so much training to get a girl's voice to the point where she can be a lead in a pro company's show, that she never makes it until she's at least 40. And there's only so much that makeup and stage lights can do - she may look approximately marriageable age, but if she sang "Were I thy bride" Wilfred would run a mile. With the keys still firmly on his belt.

2. There's no harmonies - you have a lead sop and a lead tenor, and they're singing different notes which are technically in the chord the orchestra is playing, but opera-style singing is all about power, not about balance with the rest. She's singing an octave above him, so no harmonic coming through. They're both on mike and the orchestra are across a few miles of stage and two storeys downstairs, so no harmonic there either. The result is that the sound that comes through the speakers to me is just a mess. I can't even pick up a chord from the orchestra because it's mixed lower than the singers.

3. The plots are so complex they put the Grand Duke to shame. These two guys are both in love with this girl, she favours one, he makes a few cagey advances and her passions overflow towards him, his father comes and tells her a story which makes her give him up (but we kind of guess he's made the story up from selfish motives), I'm lost. Just give me something simple like a girl loves a guy but he's below her station, he points a pistol at his head and she relents, her other suitor abandons his egalitarian principles and falls in love with the fat lady, and they all live happily ever after.

4. The music isn't suitable to the plot - when everything is confused, the music should be at patter speed! That gives the director an excuse to have people running all over the stage like scalded cats, and might even bring on some awesome lighting states. How can you convey the idea that your brain is melting with horror at the hideous situation that has emerged when you have a bunch of dotted minims scored for you?

5. No humour! I guess I have high standards, having been brought up on Willie Schwenck's excellent output. But can't you at least put in a bit of a well crafted insult? Alfredo's dad, thou art a very brute, but even brutes must look after their daughters I suppose!

6. I speak English. Please make the necessary adjustments.