Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bye bye Buxton - 23/8, last chance to gunzel

Chris woke me at 9am, reminding me that I'd booked the truck to come and pick up the crate any time from 8 to 11. Yawns. It had just better come. I had a fairly good breakfast (ham and cheese sandwich with mayo instead of butter because all the butter had been used last night in the frying pan) and went off to the Octagon to supervise the loading.

It does give quite a feeling of satisfaction to walk straight past a sign saying "The Octagon is closed to the public today". I am not one of the public today, you see.

At about 10 I started getting bored and worried, if you can accept the two in combination. I hadn't had a reply to my email booking the service... so I rang them up. "Yes it's booked in for 11" they said. Phew.

Then wonder upon wonder, in come Neil and Oliver Smith! Along with a young lady I hadn't met before (extra slave labour). "Did nobody tell you the festival's over?" Neil asks us. "We're shipping our stuff out, what are you doing here?" we reply. "Same as you..."

Well what should we do while we're waiting but take one last opportunity to get our hands all over the pro company's set? There's an entire room full of stuff (including bulky, fragile and downright awkward bits of set and props) to fit into one medium rigid van. With, as we find out later, an 850kg load limit. Good thing it didn't have an air suspension with a load gauge on it.

As we were planning what to put in first a guy in high vis comes up and asks for a 450kg load. That can only be ours. Do you have a pallet jack? Yes of course. Then bring him hither and let's be on our way!

Well I'm glad the Smiths were there, and I'm glad their various bits of timber were there, because that crate was slightly non-standard in terms of tyne pockets and overall width. We got some bits of timber to lift the crate so the jack could go in, and I flexed some muscle by steering the wide load through a space about 100mm wider than it, at full speed. Just like a pallet of 6ft tables at work. Yes I'm thinking about work while I'm on holidays, so sue me.

We got the crate to the truck and it seems the tailgate myth was well founded... and on top of that, the truck was an oldish one with the doorway narrower than the body. Grrrrr! So we'll have to put it in sideways after all... We put it diagonally on the tailgate, lifted it, and then basically shoved it with the jack reducing friction at one end. It took time, and bodies, but we eventually did it. Thank goodness.

And so we resumed the job of loading the other truck, with the festival's stuff. Chris did his Tetris act, I did my BFI act, and by about 1:30pm we had it all in. All of it. Safely too. I was amazed. Neil described us as an antipodean miracle. Chris used his technology-magic line. I think David was auditioning for the part of stage crew to the G&S Opera Company. Wouldn't that be an awesome part to get.

So - last farewells. It was a great damper bake!

Back home and pack. I did most of mine last night but there's always just a bit more to do. I finish in time to catch the 2:35 train because I want to see Office Depot in Manchester.

Bye bye Buxton. I'm sure I'll see you again, I don't know when though. I hear the soft note of the echoing voice of an old old rail unwelded. Oh dainty rollingstock, oh fragrant brakeblock, oh gentle platform dock I bid goodbye...

And so to Piccadilly. Office Depot is in Ashton, which is accessed from Victoria, so I splurge £1.20 on a Metrolink ticket and ride those high floor trams again. I get to Ashton and pull up the directions for getting to the store. Cinderella Hour for getting to the airport is just 40 minutes away so they'd better be good directions...

On second thoughts, I think the remaining 20 minutes before Cinderella Hour could be better spent composing an email to Office Depot telling them how woeful their directions are. And hey, I could do that on a train instead of on a platform, that will get me 20 minutes up my sleeve by taking the previous service.

Note to self: trains run in both directions from Ashton. It's wise to get the one going in the right direction. Especially when pressed for time. I start to wonder when we're going to get to Salford Crescent and pull up the map I saved to Clippy's desktop. Whoopsy... Well, this is where it pays to be a gunzel. Where am I going? Manchester Airport. Who goes there fastest? Trans-Pennine. Where else do they stop? Among other places, Huddersfield, which happens to be the next stop. Yes I think I'll get off here.

And look at that, the 17:16 is running late so I can still catch it. The Patron Saint of Gunzels and his Big Boss are smiling on me today.

So my last train trip in the UK for this year is on a Class 185. Nice touch. Plus I get to plug Clippy in and get a bit of power into his battery. No knowing when there'll be another chance.

The service runs into one of the dead end platforms at Manchester Piccadilly and then changes ends and goes out to Manchester Airport. That's not an efficient way to run a service! Just run from Huddersfield to Piccadilly, it's not like there's a shortage of services to the airport.

Interestingly, with no visible hurrying on the part of the driver we manage to get to the Airport station right on time, after being 12 minutes down at Huddersfield. That's pretty smart!

The PA announcements are pretty good - as well as the usual thing about taking all your stuff with you the driver tells us where the departure screens are and how much the luggage trolleys cost. That's a nice touch. Once again it's the attitude of the staff that makes a difference.

Right now we're sitting in the departure lounge at the airport waiting for our gate to be announced. We checked in over an hour before the flight's ready to board, which is fine, I'd rather that way than the opposite. And we have found a power point so we can charge things (although I'm hoping we get one of the newer aircraft that has in-seat power).

After drinking the last litre of Buxton fountain water in my bottle before checking in, of course I'm incredibly thirsty again. So if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find a vending machine that will sell me a Buxton-liveried pop top bottle. Talk soon.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bye bye Buxton - 22/8, it may draw you a tear or a box on the ear

Dave: Thank you Michael
Me: What for?
Dave: For what you're about to volunteer for.
Me: What am I about to volunteer for?
Dave: To get the crate back home.

Say what you like about his dancing skills and his weird attitude to birds, but there's no doubt that Dave knows how to pick the right person for a sticky job.

So this morning I wander over to the Octagon to make sure the crate's OK, and note that apart from no longer being on the wheeled trolley we loaded it on, it's exactly as we left it. Good. So I ring the transport company. Can you send a tailgate and pallet jack? Sure, they say, but we'll have to do the same as before - open it, take out all the stuff to make it lighter, lift it onto the truck with four people, and seal it up again.

Sure. And while you're at it I'll sign a declaration of contents without being there to supervise the resealing.

Can't we just load it on the tailgate? No, because it's too long, it won't fit on the gate. There isn't a truck in all England that can lift a 2.4m wide load.

So are the trucks I get paper on at work a special model for Officeworks Clayton only?

Back home for a council of war. I can't get hold of anyone else from our company, and the treasurer isn't answering emails or pigeons. It's executive decision time. There are three options - unpack/repack, find a forklift to load it, or get another truck to take it to the depot in Essex.

Chris takes a stroll around town and asks various shops how they do their loading. Remarkably, it seems only Aldi have a forklift! We're unlikely to be able to drag the crate up all those hills to the fork, and even less likely to "charter" the fork for half an hour to load it for us. Strike one.

Google turns up quite a number of transport companies in the Manchester area, but very few of them have tailgate trucks - most only do containers. Eventually one refers me to a company that might be able to help. The quote is £111 plus VAT... luckily we still have some of the society's money left from what we had to use for things like the rehearsal accompanist.

It's taken four and a half hours, but we're fairly sure we've covered all the bases. The G&S Society owes me a day's gunzelling.

Just imagine if the Angelico Contingent had decided to fly out on Sunday. Dave would have had to change his travel plans, thereby annoying his family greatly. Or worse, imagine if someone else had been left in charge, someone with no knowledge of transport and no capacity for making something out of nothing. The crate might have been lost forever and the society hit with import duty. A day's gunzelling vs an averted disaster. I think I did the right thing.

A Buxton Blog - 21/8, last day of freedom

Note to self: the 7am Monday to Friday alarm doesn't go off on a Sunday. Furthermore, it's not possible to shower, pack gunzelling gear, breakfast and get to the station between 7:56 and 8:23. When's the next train? 9:19. Can I still get to London? Yes, in fact most timetables are clockfaced and run at least hourly - even on a Sunday. So I'm out by an hour but no more. Dat's what money can do for you folks.

Uneventful trip to Stockport. Hello Pendolino! There's a cute four year old in the seat opposite me, so making funny faces takes up whatever portion of the journey isn't spent enjoying 200km/h and tilting action.

Watford Junction - the end of the London Overground network. Quite a nice looking station, with expanses of clean concrete and natural lighting. The Overground departs from a set of four dock platforms, which must be fun in peak time - but a glance at the timetable shows it only runs every 20 minutes. As a matter of fact it runs every 20 minutes all through the day, only dropping to half-hourly after 10pm and before 6am. That's pretty good! They could almost unify their timetable and run the same times every day, but I suspect there's some operational reason they can't because on the corner of peak time the timetable varies by a couple of minutes or so.

So I take a Class 378 spark to Willesden Junction. Brand new Bombadier metro stock, with mainly longitudinal seating and a few bum racks near the doors. The carriage ends are even more open than our Siemens trains, I guess that's what happens when there's another few years of technology in the design.

Willesden Junction is a mess - upper and lower stations angled about 45 degrees apart, with walkways going in unusual directions (and on a gradient to make the station seem like it's on three and a half levels) and a bus bay buried in a corner. The main lines go past the Overground station on both sides, with a workshop for Overground trains in the mix as well. I head for the footbridge over the main lines and arm my camera for action.

The howling sound of the Pendolino actually doesn't carry upwards all that well. I get a few videos of them and a few more of Class 350s but I'm not satisfied. I try again from the bus bay but the blackberries muffle the sound. Mmmm, blackberries. And the fence is only 5 foot high so I can reach over it. The natives here must all be fairly short because there's hardly any ripe berries close to the fence but heaps just at the end of my reach. That was Lunch Mk.1.

I head back to the station and get an Underground service back towards Watford Junction. The Underground and Overground share tracks as far as Harrow & Wealdstone where the tube service terminates. Tube stock is quite something! The first thing you notice is that it's semi-circular - like the tunnels. The next thing is that from a full height platform I can look over the top of it! The doors open and it's a step DOWN into the train. Fun! The doors curve along with the body of course, which means even quite tall people can get in and out without too much trouble.

So I get on board and suddenly feel right at home. It's non-air conditioned, and the motor sound comes through quite clearly. It reminds me of a W tram or a Tait! I wonder how old this stock is...

It accelerates quite nicely too, although it's somewhat jerky. That's probably the effect of the third rail system, every set of points means a change of circuit which cuts the motors momentarily. I wonder why third rail still exists... does it have any advantage over overhead wires apart from lock-in?

So, Harrow & Wealdstone. It has platforms for all the intercity lines but there are regular announcements saying "The train now approaching Platform 3 is not scheduled to stop here. Please stand well clear." Thanks for the heads-up, I'll get my camera ready. WHOOSH! A Pendolino goes past in less than four seconds (as the camera proves). Ten cars each 20m long, do the maths. This is awesome!

After about 15 minutes a staff member comes up and says "I saw you taking photos". Oh dear here it comes... hey wait no it doesn't! She's very nice about it, and just lets the station master know that I'm not from the press, I'm a perfectly harmless transport enthusiast from Australia. The station master's fine with it too, he just tells me the rules (stay behind the yellow lines, no flash, don't obstruct passengers) and we end up chatting about the operation of a metro service. I love this!

Eventually I have enough videos of trains running at 200km/h through the platforms so I get a 378 back to Watford Junction. I get myself some Lunch Mk.2 and sit down to eat it, and then an announcement comes over the PA that there's been a power failure... or a signalling failure. One of those. But trains are disrupted and intercity passengers are recommended to take the Overground to Euston instead. Uh-oh... what's this going to do to my Cinderella Hour? I'd better find out. Talk to you soon.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Buxton Blog - 20/8, loitering with the intent to gunzel

I awoke with a pain in my neck. I don't know why I decided to open with that but there you are.

What shall we do today? Apart from help the pros bump Utopia out and Pirates in, of course. And watch the awards ceremony (to collect our well deserved first prize). Well, the first thing I see when I wake up is my student accommodation standard pinboard - which has on it nothing but an A0 rail map of Great Britain. Ah, I promised my faithful readers that my youtube channel would somehow have some clips of trains passing at 200km/h, to hopefully capture the savage howl they make at speed. The Gwiwer recommends Willesden Junction as the Place to Be - but that's all the way out to London, surely there's somewhere closer?

A few hours with (for those reading at home that's the Mother Country's equivalent of Metlink) shows that there's really no point trying for anywhere else - even some of the minor stations between Stockport and Stoke-on-Trent are no easier to get to than Willesden Junction! So I'm going to do a Chrysaea tomorrow. Should be lots of fun.

A whistle sounds and I glance up, expecting the usual 66 and limestone train. DRAT! It's the Royal Scot! There must be a railfan tour on! Ctrl-T "royal scot buxton 20 august 2011". No hits. Add "rail tour". BINGO! Look up timetable - when's it coming back this way? It's unclear but it looks like it's going out via a different line. I had no idea there were multiple ways out of a quarry branch. Ah well, it's that kind of country. Nothing to see here, move on.

One very important bit of planning - what's Cinderella Hour from so far away? 19:06 to get the last train to Buxton on a Sunday night. Or 19:17 to go in to London and out again. I should probably try to get home earlier than that and preach another sermon to my congregation of two, but at least I know how to avoid a rough night on a station bench.

Whistle sounds. DOUBLE DRAT! There's the Royal Scot again, it did come back this way! Well it's too late to do anything now. It stops on the bridge outside my window. Get lost, I know that trick. Hey Chris, look out the window and tell me what you see. Snap off a few shots. They come out terrible. It's still there...

"Chris, I'm going to chase that train away by going out to take a photo of it. If I'm not back by 4pm come and find me." Sure enough, just as I get to the front door of the halls it moves off. Murphy's Law of Special Train Movements isn't restricted to Australia.

4pm and it's time to get over to the Opera House. The costumes people are delighted to see us again, and we make very short work of the transfers to and from the Octagon. In between costume work we also help put the various bits of set onto a truck - if you could grace such a vehicle by the name. It's a fairly new DAF rigid chassis but the curtainsider body and electro-hydraulic tailgate are positively primitive. How on earth could anyone countenance a canvas side with no steel gates? And (wonder of wonders) there is absolutely no provision for load restraint except for a pillar in the middle of the floor! The two guys from the transport company seem to see no problem and just lean flats against the canvas curtains. This can only end in tears (pronounced whichever way you prefer). Large pieces of set follow, and lots are stacked on top of a very unstable pile of flats. Is that going to shift in transit? There's a chance of it. There's quite a lot to put in, so the guys climb up over the load with pieces of rostrum held above their heads. I lost count of the number of OH&S violations I would have been dinged with if I'd done it at home. I also declined to try a prediction of how many pieces would be broken before reaching their destination. Oliver Smith, who was coordinating the loading, didn't seem to think it mattered much - most of this stuff would need to be repaired or modified before next festival anyway, so transport damage would hardly make a difference.

We finished loading up the truck and reported back to Harriet to help with costumes but there was nothing to do so she suggested we watch the awards ceremony. Hey, why not. Our idea was for Chris to be there (transcribing and posting to Savoynet live) and David to watch too because he's never seen one before, but if there's nothing better to do, why not.

Well Steph Gibson got the award for Best Female Voice - as you do. The cheering from the Australian section (including honorary Aussies and other enthusiasts) was something to hear. Neither our show nor Savoynet's won first prize, which was unexpected - but it went to South Anglia which we don't mind at all because we know some of their people and they're lovely.

After the big ones were announced we got the shock of our lives - Ian started talking about how wonderful the Australian shows were, mentioning Arcadians as well as Yeomen, and then mentioned me and Chris by name! I mean, I know we did a lot of hard work carrying sets and costumes, but to be mentioned by name at the awards ceremony is high praise indeed! And there's me in grubby tracksuit pants suitable for carrying set, and we have to get up on the Octagon stage to accept a framed certificate in front of the world's cameras! I try to hide behind Chris and David as much as I can...

Literally before we've sat down there's a message on Facebook congratulating us for our award - the wonders of live radio broadcasting.

As soon as he can Chris rushes off to help bump out Utopia, but David and I are caught in the tractor beam of a radio announcer, who wants to interview us about G&S in Australia, and what it's like to come half way around the world to put on a show.

What a day. Now back to packing set. There's not much left, so by about 7:45 we head home for food before it's time to help carry Pirates costumes at 9:15ish. Pizza and spaghetti. Very satisfying.

Carrying costumes. Free entry to the festival club. Lovely people to chat to. Awwwww this is the last festival club! The festival's nearly over!

Well we have to go out with a bang, and that bang is a pot-luck Trial by Jury. The position of Defendant isn't filled, and Oliver Smith just bought me a rum and cola. Yes please! And Chris goes for the role of the usher. David, here's the camera. You know what to do!

Jackie Mitchell is the Plaintiff, so I know there's going to be some acting involved. This is going to be fun!

Apart from his two big songs the Defendant doesn't have all that much to do. As tenor leads go it must be one of the easiest - at least, once the vocal cords are loosened up. I crack the top note the first time I sing it, but hit it the rest of the time. This is great!

At the end... farewells. We exchange compliments with the costumes people we've been working with. They're volunteers and have been working harder than many paid people I know. As you do. Lots of people ask us when we'll be back... and when we say "not next year, after that we'll see" the farewells are quite touching (literally). Thank goodness for Savoynet and Facebook.

Home and bed - I'm getting the first train tomorrow morning.

A Buxton Blog - 19/8, a day of Pickfords

As I said before Dave G and I made ourselves a date for 9am on the day after the cast party. Whose idea was that? It was forced on us by the fact that both Dave and Andrew were leaving Buxton at noon. What to do about the fact that the paperwork couldn't possibly be done in time? Good question.

So we assessed our position with regard to the crate the set came over in. Contrary to initial estimates we didn't have a missing side piece, we had a missing end piece and a side piece cut to nearly the size of an end piece. So even after Neil brought us the promised replacement timber for the side piece we had to kitbash the remains of the old side piece to make an end piece out of it. Confused? So were we.

But anyway, at about 10:30 we had the crate ready to fill. By this time Ron and Robert were there as well, and between us all we got it packed and sealed by about 11am. There was still no paperwork. "Thank you Michael!" said Dave. "What for?" I asked suspiciously. "For what you're about to do" he replied. "It is then as I feared", I said (aside of course). "You're going to fill in the manifest and customs documents. I'll get Steve Hodge to email you the details."

Well I guess that was the only logical thing to do - we're the only company members who will still be here when the crate has to go, and I've filled out so many customs declarations in my time you'd get a stiff arm in sympathy if I told you. None of them have been for two tons of theatre set but hopefully the details are pretty much the same...

And so back home. Hey, the pros are in tonight - Utopia! Should be utterly amazing. But more to the point, let's help them bump in and all that.

3pm-ish, what to do now? Straighten my spine out. On my bed. With my eyes shut.

7pm - Off we go to Utopia-land! We want to be Utopian if you'll only show us how! It's so grand to be Utopian in 1910! This is only the third professional production of Utopia. Ever.

Chris's blog hardly does justice to the show. His "template" for a review is so careful to be kind to mediocre shows that it doesn't have room to rave about outstanding ones. Well this one was outstanding. How does a company manage to assemble a dozen patter singers of a quality seen in only three people in the whole of Melbourne?

It's obviously a "big budget" show - the costumes are amazing, as are the special effects (particularly by the Public Exploder), there's lots of light, the set is a work of art, and the makeup is stunning. The cast are outstanding - not only did they manage to learn Utopia in a week (no mean feat in itself) but they executed the most complicated stage business with perfect precision. The perfect grand finale to the festival! Definitely one to get a DVD of.

Festival club of course - Jackie Mitchell is there for the first time since Utopia rehearsals started. So of course we were able to tell her how wonderful she was. And walk her home at the end of course. Instead of a cabaret we had a pot-luck Pirates, starring Chris as the PK and Jamie as Samuel. Also Anna (one of the volunteer costume assistants for the pro company) as Ruth. That was good fun. I filled a 2GB memory card with video of them...

I can't believe this festival is nearly over.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Buxton Blog - 17-18/8, a yeomen effort

Well what with the rush of actually doing the show I've been forgetting to blog about it. It's better that way than the other.

The last day of rehearsals was pretty much like the rest, the stress wasn't too bad considering everything.

Festival Iolanthe in the evening. Someone I know who has a great opinion of her own ability now stands exposed as either a massive liar or a planetary egotist. That wasn't entirely unexpected. Still, the antics of the fairies were a lot of fun to watch, and were quite in line with my ideal translucent Iolanthe. Interestingly, a lot of the choreography (especially for the peers) was very similar to what we did in 2006... must be traditional. The quality of the chorus was the same as 2006 too - very mixed. Ah well, we need shows like that to set apart the outstanding ones.

Cabaret was quite good. We didn't know most of the songs, but Strephon (an expat Aussie) and Charli (who sends me messages on a fairly constant basis) did a duet which was really quite charming.

Funnily enough, there weren't many Aussies at the club. What, do they think a 2am finish is a bit much before the busiest day of everyone's life? How strange!

And so to Thursday. We were up and about in good time for 9am bump-in, which was actually quite easy since the set people (that's different from the stage crew around here) did it all for us. People sorted out their dressing rooms, got ready for an entrance check when the crew had their break, and then went off for lunch before the 2pm dress rehearsal. It wasn't quite so easy for me as Stage Manager, but I did manage to get time to eat.

Dress rehearsal went very well - we had to go back over a few things (not many) and the pace was so good that we managed to do the whole show with the exception of just the last section of dialogue (the orchestra will walk at 5:30 so we had to be sure we had time - as it happened we finished the show at about 5:28). Nobody had given me a list of props so I had to send Chris around to the Octagon to borrow some from the pro company. See, it's useful to know people and earn their gratitude by helping them with their bump-outs. It's even more useful to be close to everything and everyone, close enough to send someone to go and source a prop, during the dress rehearsal.

And so off to dinner - no not yet, we have to sort out fly cues. And the last few lighting cues. And by the way Dick, how do you want to do your orchestra bows? And are these stand-by buttons working? OK, now I can go eat. Oh grumbles - everything's closed! And the frozen meals we have at home take an hour to cook!

So we went to the festival club - in its daytime incarnation as a fairly nice cafe. Soup of the day and chips? And you can do that in half an hour? Sounds perfect.

So I arrived back at the theatre JUST in time to give the half-hour call over the tannoy. No sooner had I done it than front of house asked me if we were OK to let the audience into the house! Quick guys, let's preset for Act 1 and let them in. We're doing a show tonight!

The rest, as they say, is history. We did the show. Nobody made any major mistakes (just a very few minor ones). My announcements ("Ladies and gentlemen, I have no idea what time interval started but it must be about time so this is your five minute call, five minutes until you're required on stage please") were received with an agreeable degree of mirth. The lighting and flying teams did their job amazingly. The cast were outstanding. I was sure the adjudicator would rave about us...

She didn't. She said quite a few nice things, but she hated the lighting! Must have been too innovative for her. She said it was too dark and she couldn't see people - for goodness sake, dark lighting goes with dark humour to make a dark show! Yeomen isn't Pinafore! So who knows, we might not walk away with first prize this year.

Festival club and cabaret! Andrew got up and introduced us (from notes on his netbook - just in case they thought Australia was a backward country) and people sang. Considering the songs weren't all that amazing (although the singers were, admittedly) we must have had a lot of the audience's sympathy because they were giving us their attention - all the way to the back of the room. Quite something.

Some people never rest though - Dave Gerard was already thinking about how the crate of set was going to get back home. So we made a date for 9am to pack the thing. With the minor setback that half the material was missing. Still, Neil Smith promised us his full support (up to and including the replacement of the missing timber) so I couldn't worry too much.

Well they kicked us out of the club at 1:30am (as they do) and we went to the common room at the halls of residence to finish off the party. What a great cast we have. It lasted until about 4:30am. Was I worried about being able to get up the next morning? Of course not.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Buxton Blog - 15-16/8, the hard slog to the finish line

Well here we are once more on the scene of our former triumphs. No not the opera house, not yet - just the rehearsal venues. Dick Stockton, our "honorary Aussie" MD, has been notebashing and cleaning up the musical aspects of Yeomen, and Robert has been resetting the show from the Scotch/Paramoor "shrunken" version back up to the way this show should be run. There's new people to be brought into the choreography and a new space to learn, so it's a lot to achieve in three days. Still, I have no doubt that we're still within reach of first prize.

After rehearsal we had our company dinner - at 6pm so people could go and see the show if they wanted to. Chris therefore rushed to the box office to get tickets - no luck. Argh. Situation normal I guess - the Oxbridgians must be popular.

So I hung around at dinner until it was time to go to the Festival Club. The general hubbub was quite noisy, and I think my threshold for pain in the auditory nerves is dropping. I needed glasses at 16, I think I'll need a hearing aid at 36. But it's still a great way to learn random things about people.

Also, it's a fairly good way of combining the work of the society (getting some money to pay bills) with a good whinge session with some of the movers and shakers. Of course you know when movers and shakers whinge, it usually results in problems being identified and solutions proposed.

So Chris caught me up and we went to the club. Choruses from Gondoliers and then the Oxbridgers came in and did a cabaret. Like most it was comprised of songs we don't know so it was of mild interest only. But what happened after that was a different matter! Buoyed up by post-show vibe and certain volatile liquids the cast started spontaneously launching into snatches of music - starting with Eagle High from Utopia! Chris joined in and I wandered over to listen, and an audience of two was all they needed. Pirates and Ruddigore followed and we joined in. In the Ruddigore madrigal I started singing the only line I know... and Savoynet's Yum-Yum shut up and let me have it! W00000000000t!

That night we left the club when we were kicked out. We got home at about 1:30am. But it was all worth it!

The next morning... well let's just say it's a good thing my alarm snoozes instead of switching off. We all got to rehearsal this morning spot on time. Breakfast was an apple eaten on the run, but we got there.

And so to another day of hard slog. Half way through we got moved from a small, airless room with no mobile phone reception to a much bigger, high ceiling, open windows, three bars out of five room, which we think we can have tomorrow as well. Phew!

After rehearsal? Dinner, time off to read emails and stuff, ignore Opera della Luna's Sorcerer and go to the festival club.

"A Patter Parade", Ian Smith said! In other words, patter songs and some chorus numbers from (almost) all the shows! Lots of fun. Finishing with Eagle High - and since I don't know it I had to video it didn't I! What fun.

Forecast for tomorrow: more of the same, possibly with more stress from the directorial team because it's our last day before the theatre. Might be time for an early night. See you soon.

A Buxton Blog - 14/8, nearly a day of rest

Technically Sunday started between the show and the cast party, but to me, the day ends when I go to bed. That made Saturday about 30 hours long, interesting...

So I woke up to my alarms (both of them - the phone and the Class 66) and proceeded to encourage Chris and David to get out of bed for church. It's the Sullivan service!

We got there just in time for choir practice at 10:30 and were handed music for a piece called The Day Closes. I try to pick out the tenor line but it's NOT EASY. Like Yeomen's tenor line I guess. No doubt someone could do a doctorate on the progression of Sullivan's music from Pinafore to Iolanthe to Yeomen. Well this piece sits squarely in the third tranche.

With not nearly enough notebashing time we sat down for the start of the actual church service. It bore a remarkable similarity to the equivalent service two years ago! Hopefully we still have the pew sheet from then because it would be an interesting comparison.

As regards orthodoxy of doctrine I think it was about the same as two years ago - if anything slightly more orthodox than the other service we attended at the Metho church but still basically shallow. The sermon was about the tendencies of both Gilbert and Sullivan to carpe the diem rather than worrying about tomorrow. If it was me preaching I'd have said more about Jesus's words referring rather to doing the work of the Kingdom without worrying about tomorrow, rather than living it up hedonistically. But my chance would come...

Lots of people we know were there, and just about all of them had something nice to say about Arcadians. Wow. Once we shook off all the well-wishers Chris went up to the organ and had a chat with the organist. Incidentally, he was the man who runs the lights and sound for the Festival Club. Apparently he's an organist at another church in the area, so he was able to talk randomly about the weight of the keys when they're doing a lot of work with lots of stops pulled out. Fascinating stuff. Chris managed to get himself let loose on the organ! He played Roseleaf, Let Her Go and Graciously and I videoed all three. They're on Facebook.

That afternoon we had a music rehearsal for Yeomen - it never stops! Dick Stockton as MD is great - like David Hulme did for Arcadians he's finding and fixing problems I could never have even put my finger on.

That evening I did a repeat of last Sunday - kerplonk method of choosing a passage, and semi-led Bible Study with a pre-chosen theme. I turned up Psalm 8, which is further confirmation that the kerplonk method is inherently weighted in favour of favourite passages. What does it mean to be ruler over God's creation? Find out on our 44-minute podcast!

And so to the Festival Club. We decided to get there at about 9:45 to make sure we could get a table - getting there at 10 isn't enough it seems. The table was unattended but the doors were open, so we sort of hung around near the table for a bit wondering what to do - and then Neil Smith came up and said "Greetings gentlemen! Welcome, you're guests of the festival today!" I knew what that meant. "Can you gentlemen help us carry the Yeomen set back to the Octagon when the curtain comes down?" Of course we can Neil - it's the sort of thing we do at home for nothing, and if it means we get free entry to the club that's a bonus. Did I ever mention how much I love Buxton?

Unfortunately helping bump out meant missing the quiz, which was a bit of a shame, but I think becoming known as a reliable worker is better. When we finished we found the list of questions on our table (and Jamie filled us in on some) - and as expected they were the rankest trick questions ever posted by some of the lighter hearts on Savoynet! Which show opens with a chorus of Peers of the Realm? Pirates. And that was one of the better ones.

So we get ourselves settled and Neil gets up and pays tribute to "the army of helpers" (there were others as well as us) before introducing the pros for their cabaret. Chris got chatting with some of the pros afterward... despite what Nomie thinks he's got an uncanny knack of getting people to talk to him, when he's got something to talk about. They had to forcibly remove us from the club at 1:30am or so...

I think we're all subconsciously aware that the festival isn't going to last forever so we're carping the diem. And that's how we should be spending a holiday like this.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Buxton Blog - 12-13/8, I am, you are, we are Arcadian

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome back to A Buxton Blog! We do apologise for the break in transmission, it is a technical hitch to do with being in several places at once, but this will be rectified as soon as possible. Just don't hold your breath.

To recap, we were in the middle of Arcadians rehearsals with a brilliant MD who brought the show from a 99% to a 110%.

That evening we didn't have a rehearsal so we very gratefully took the evening off and went to see Derby's Princess Ida. We don't get to see Ida very often!

It was a kind of concept production, with King Hildebrand's court dressed in modern evening dress, and Gama's three sons in bikie gang gear. Ida's uni students were all in very boyish suits and trousers, which made Gama's line at the end "Stick to em, men's attire suits you not" a little incongruous.

But the rum tum tum of the military drum and the guns that go boom boom were exactly as they always are, and I'm really glad we had time to see it.

Friday... more rehearsals. For half the day anyway - that evening we bumped in to the theatre (not the opera house, the performing-arts-centre-formerly-known-as-Paxton) so Robert gave us the afternoon off. We're spoilt, only six hours a day of rehearsal. Other groups do eight. If I were director I'd probably try to do ten or twelve but my cast would probably hate me for it.

So what to do with the time? Why, go and see Foggarty's Fairy of course! It's a Gilbert play (no music except silent-movie-style stuff for the beginning and end of each act) and contains not only his stamp of humour but a lot of actual lines that he reused in the shows. I think WSG must have been the forerunner to all the Douglas Adamses and Jasper Ffords who try to deal with the concept of time travel and its implications - and like them all, he found he had to deal with a logical paradox, because Mr Foggarty, by travelling back in time to erase an inconvenient incident in his past, thereby erased the need (and opportunity) to travel back in time and erase it. Quite a brilliant plot.

At interval we noticed it was 4:20... which meant we wouldn't be able to bump in at 4:45 (even though Foggarty's Fairy was only semi-staged and wouldn't take long to bump out). A quick phone call to Andrew and the cast pause their preparations to arrive on the dot laden with costumes. Phew.

When we got in we started arranging the set - a lot of it was hired from Paul Lazell, who managed to be pleasant and courteous throughout the whole operation (something I hadn't seen before). He kept it up all through the show too, which was a relief.

Running our entrances and exits was a process that had to take a while, because (like finding out who owns the zebra) it involved working through a large number of other issues such as wing space, dressing room space, how to deal with curtains instead of wings, etc. Robert didn't enjoy that, especially as the cast couldn't hear him when they weren't actually on the stage. I did my best to relay instructions but it still took time. Then the techs told us there was nobody rostered to do an evening shift, which meant the last-minute extra rehearsal time we'd organized would not happen. Argh. Still, we could tell the cast to go home and get an early night before the Big Day.

Do as I say, don't do as I do - because Chris and I went to the Festival Club to sing a Pot Luck Pinafore! Not to be missed, even on the eve of a rehearsal, sitzprobe and double performance. We got in just after 10pm but even so all our favourite tables were occupied! We'll have to get in even earlier... The Halls (two only, Robert was with his grandparents, who incidentally LOVE the festival just because of events like this which occupy both parents) came in soon after and couldn't find a table at all, so they sat with us. Q: When is it polite for four people to sit together at a table without conversing because they're always either singing or playing games on their phones? A: When all four are confirmed geeks and proud of it. Actually it wasn't just games - Chris Hall had an SSH session so he could keep an eye on the major software upgrade one of his home computers was doing.

And of course the pot-luck is a lot more fun when there's people present who haven't heard all the standard Angelico line alterations ("A carrot, a carrot, I'll pick with this sailor fell" - hey, Sir J was a vegetarian!) and who know a whole set of their own that we hadn't thought of.

Arcadia Day morning dawned cloudy and chilly - in the shade it was so cold it was silly. I just about had to wake David with a bucket of water (obviously going home early didn't help him) but we all got to the theatre in good time. Very good time, since it wasn't open yet.

Fast forward to the middle of the sitz... the fire alarm goes off! We all have to evacuate. Chris managed to grab his entire backpack and stuff (he was the only person his whole area so he wasn't getting in anyone's way) and I, to my shame, grabbed my cup of tea but not my script or even my phone! I guess fire drills at work have left me cynical about the whole thing, "OK let's play at getting outside, waste everyone's time and then get back to work". Bad thing.

So we were outside and just starting to get bored and think there might be something to it when someone said we had the all-clear. We all started filing back in, and then someone said we didn't. So we all filed back out. This happened THREE TIMES and I was just about spitting chips. I never get the jitters, even when I'm doing something new and important, but when the progress is held up and nobody tells me why, that's when it all hits.

Well eventually we got through the rehearsal, with about twenty seconds to spare before the orchestra went into overtime... phew.

A short lunch break and we were back for a performance. No dress rehearsal, so the sound and lighting cues had to be set while we ate lunch. It's a major honour to be in Buxton, but it's hard work. But happily, Angelicos can play several instruments at once and always rise to the challenge when there's hard work to be done. By 2:15 we were just about done, and the front of house people asked me if they could open the house! The show was so popular that people wanted to buy tickets early to avoid disappointment, but they couldn't fit them all in the foyer once they'd bought them so they had to start pushing them through into the house!

So we got ourselves ready and opened the house. And then waited. 40 minutes or so in which to do nothing. No wifi or 3G signal either. As it happened the dressing rooms were so small people had to dress in shifts and then come and stand in the wings, so I had people to chat to. That was nice.

At about 2:55 I was informed that Ian Smith was going to make a speech in front of the curtain, just as if we were in the opera house. Sure, why not. I had to arrange cues with the MD anyway. Whispered exchanges behind the curtain to arrange the order of operations...

At 3:00 and nine seconds the show went up. My first show (what, first? Well, nearly first), and dead on time. Ludwig would be proud of me, beginning as I mean to go on.

Well the show went off fine. Let's just leave it at that, because Blogger might not like it if I spam them with a blow-by-blow description of the performance. Sombra sang the last note of "Far away in Arcadee" right into my ear, I got to crack my standard "filly over there" joke to a new Eileen (Jack: "The filly over there, isn't she a corker!" me, whispered to Eileen: "I don't think he means me, he must mean you!"), the audience laughed at every joke and we took a group photo at the end of the show.

Dinner, once again very brief, then another show. Partial bump-out between acts, and we could hear the pros doing Yeomen in the opera house. Our friends were there doing their partial bump-out too, the one they'd asked us to help with and we'd had to decline for obvious reasons. The audience even better, if possible. At the end, general congratulations - a hug for that, pretty maid! Aye, a hug all round!

Then bump out. I have to say, up to now I've always thought blonde teenage girls who (it's generally agreed) would have a good chance of becoming the next Miss Australia are slow witted, skimpily educated and unaccustomed to working hard in stressful circumstances. On no account would I have expected to find one who could beat me in mental CPU speed. I must now apply an exception table to that idea, in honour of a young lady by the name of Emily. First of all, she got herself out of costume and reported for duty before we'd finished carrying the last few bits of Act 3 set back to the truck. That's +1. Then she took charge of the job of packing the costumes and proceeded to attack it in a manner that made Chris think hard about whether we'd be out by 11pm and be able to go to the Festival Club and sing a pot-luck Trial by Jury. That's +2. Then when I started carrying costumes from the dressing room to the wings for packing, both her hands and her brain out-performed mine by at least 250 milliseconds at each point. If I were petty that would be -8 but I'm not so it's +12. While all this was happening she saw her mother (who's in the Yeomen cast but not Arcadians, and was here to help with costumes) carrying a big box and stopped her to make sure it was a suitable one-person lift. That's +13. Then her mum made a funny comment back and the banter was on for young and old (literally, except "easy on the old"). That's +14. I was forced to make a comment along the lines of "Emily, I used to be like you... if you don't want to end up being begged for at every show and every other event the society does, stop now!"

One day I'd like to see Chris and Emily face off at one of those trivia quizzes. I think they'd be fairly evenly matched.

And so to the cast party. It wasn't the grog-and-banter kind of cast party like the one we had for Trial and Sorcerer. That kind needs lots of young people and at least 25% of them have to be the antics type. But a few decorous drinks and nibbles can be just as much fun, because people start retelling their experiences during the show, remembering past experiences and telling the stories, exploring "what-ifs" based on the characters in the show (especially in the first person) and generally doing what there isn't time to do during rehearsal. It's even better when the two guest artists are present and Andrew has a tube of Vegemite in his cupboard. They took it quite well I think. Vincent said he "disliked it less than Marmite". That just about brought the house down.

And now here it is Sunday afternoon and The Arcadians is gone from our lives - departed and finished. Our Sombra has gone off on holiday up north. We've just had our first music rehearsal for Yeomen, and we're going to do it all again. In a few scant days that too will be finished, as will the 2011 G&S Festival. Carpe diem.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Buxton Blog - 6/8 and the following days, Connex apologises for the delay

Or I could have subtitled this "Yeah, I guess I should blog".

This week has been glorious (if that doesn't sound too Gillianish) - shows, fringe events, the festival club, and meeting good friends. I love this place.

On Saturday we DIDN'T disinherit our only Savoynet - a group photo in front of the opera house, then a dinner. We walked slowly from the opera house to the restaurant because we wanted to talk to Robert Hall (who took his first steps at a rehearsal for Grand Duke two years ago) so there wasn't a table with three vacancies. Chris and David sat with the Halls (where I'm told geek talk was the order of the day) and I sat with some greyhairs who told fascinating stories of old G&S Festivals, old Savoynet events, the US economy and whatever else came up. What a great bunch of people Savoynet is! I'm really proud to be counted as one of their number.

Sunday was quite un-Sundayish. We met the rest of our own company at the pub outside the opera house, then unpacked our costumes and sorted them out. Some of the girls needed help carrying theirs home - so I got to walk with Naomi and wear her Askwood hat. I got a few funny looks going through Spring Gardens like that. I found out something about myself - I don't actually enjoy being freakish just for its own sake, but in a good cause I fear nothing. Good to know.

We got home and had nothing to do, so I decided to take Sunday seriously and prepare a sermon. The kerplonk method of choosing a passage to preach on is terribly rigged - my Bible opens easier at the bits I read most often. So I had to preach on the reign of Omri king of Israel. What does that say about me?

Of course when I preach I do it in the modern style buddy - with Google and online commentaries. And archeological sites too. Lots of fun. I had always thought Jehu's dynasty was the longest-lasting in the Northern kingdom - but it seems Omri's beat it by a short half head.

I couldn't possibly preach standing up to a congregation of two, so what started as a sermon morphed into a group Bible study, and from there into a Sunday night family chat and prayer meeting. It also phase-shifted from Omri, to what sort of things God values, to what God values about our family, to how to be an encouraging kind of person. I rather think it's the best Sunday night I've had for ages, in terms of spiritual growth and life application of Biblical principles.

As I said before we allowed ourselves to be roped in as extra hands for the pro show - carrying set and costumes for bump-in. As part of that we volunteered to help with bump-out as well, so we were a bit late to the Festival Club. But as I came in Don Smith (who had been at my table at the Savoynet dinner and heard my stories about being scared stiff at the prospect of being SM with zero experience) grabbed me and said "Neil's looking for you, he needs a Stage Manager for the Nomads show tomorrow!"

I could have sworn he was joking, but as Neil was handing out words for the community singing session he said to me "Oh Michael, are you busy tomorrow night? I need a Stage Manager." Oh boy, it's true... "Well I have zero experience, but I'll give it a shot!" So he said he'd come back to me if he couldn't find anyone else. Wow. Here comes my international career. And with the Nomads, no less! They're basically a pro company! I'm going to be rubbing shoulders with these internationally famous G&S performers! It means missing a day of Arcadians rehearsals, but it's not like we have any pressing duties yet.

Well history now tells that he didn't find anyone, so I got to sit in the corner of the opera house and broadcast my voice to half a dozen dressing rooms. And make funny comments to Constance about her coke bottle actually containing philtre, and suchlike hilarities. At the end of the Act 2 beginners call I said something along the lines of "Thank you ladies and gentlemen, and chookas, which is Australian for break a leg!" - and got some bites about it later at the club!

So now I know - just like operating a lighting board, spotting or even acting, stage managing can be done well just by preparing properly, taking half an hour to stress, and then just DOING IT. Good to know. And for the record, I didn't stuff up even once. :D

It was almost a disappointment to have Neil buy me a drink but not mention another job he needed done. It's lots of fun working with different companies, especially when they show their appreciation like this lot do. But it's probably better this way, we DO have our own rehearsals to do.

So, Tuesday the 9th - settling in to Arcadians rehearsals. Robert is getting a bit stressed, oh dear... Still, Ron can get away with anything! In his Doody song he changed the "seagull pooped in my eye" joke to end with "Isn't it lucky pigs don't fly!" Unfortunately true - although Amberley's loss is Point Cook's gain.

Cambridge did Iolanthe in the Opera House. We were expecting great things because our good Savoynetter friend Laurie Marks is involved in the group and he has high standards. Unfortunately the MD was a bit of a weak link - which makes the whole show feel sloppy. Chris sweated over his review for ages to make it more positive (and got some amazed comments from other people who had seen the show).

In the club afterward Laurie MC'd the cabaret, which was hilarious. Some of the political jokes were local, but we got the picture. I think that must have been one of the best nights in the club so far.

And so we come to yesterday - more Arcadians rehearsals with Robert yelling at times, but Savoynet's show in the evening made up for it. It was pretty much a traditional Mikado, but with quite an excellent lineup of costumes and props which made for a great visual effect. The Little List song was RIGHT up to date, with rioters featuring heavily among the number of those who might well be underground. One idea which I suspect was a rehearsal gag with seniority was Peep-Bo (aka Rachel Darling Gianesse Middle, one of the three hottest girls that talk to me under sufferance only) greeted Nanki-Poo with "It's the very place for mermaids!" - ROFL!

And of course the Savoynet cabaret was a lot of fun. Community singing of Mikado included, by popular request (popular = me, Chris and Laurie), about twice as much of the Act 1 Finale as had been planned. We just kept singing after John cut us off, the piano decided to to follow us instead of the conductor, and as everyone knows, the piano is king. Then somehow Stuart Box (the director of the Savoynet show) told us the story of how one puts on a Savoynet show, with every sentence leading in to a song. Clever. But then, one has to be clever to put on a show, especially a world-class one, in a single week.

I guess that takes us to today. So far we've rehearsed Arcadians, with our MD this time. He's brilliant - I didn't think the show was lacking anything before, but now that I see the extra polish he's given it (in just over three hours) I can see that it's 100% better. This is going to be a GOOD show. If Yeomen is as good we have a good chance of winning this festival!

And now, if you'll excuse me - this is a rehearsal in costume, when the cameras traditionally come out. And who am I to fight against tradition?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Buxton Blog - 5/8, a quintessential Buxton day

WHAT a day! I was expecting great things from the programme, and I was in no wise disappointed!

I woke in good time for a 10:30 rehearsal - a Pot-Luck show is too good to be left to luck, so there's a rehearsal where people like me (who have never been in a Mikado) can learn it. John Howells is a great MD, lots of fun to work with, and has that uncanny knack of telegraphing the notes to me just before I need them so I somehow "know" the tune without knowing it.

We finish rehearsing and go home for a spot of lunch before "Just a G&S Minute". It's modelled of what must be a famous UK quiz show where contestants have to talk for a full minute on a given subject, without hesitating, repeating themselves or deviating from the topic. In any other place this would be a trivia quiz and a gruelling test of people's ability to waffle believably. But the point is, Buxton is not like any other place! The chairman's decision is final and needs no justification - just imagine what freedom that gives! Minus four points for making a joke at my expense. Minus seven for laughing too loud. And I do accept bribes you know...

By the time the hilarity had died down it was time to go to the show - Ruddigore by the pro company. Chris's review hardly does it justice. The set was brilliant, the costumes were amazing (and if I think of talking about the costumes they must be something special), and the lighting made me think hard about getting a working visa and applying for a job with the designer. Who would have thought that clever lighting could give the impression of one quarter of the stage being the bride's dressing room and another quarter the groom's, and that they couldn't see each other even though they're using opposite sides of the same mirror? It's a level of brilliance on par with Goon Shows where we're explicitly told that we're in a studio along with Ray Ellington's quartet and yet we really feel that we're out on the Yorkshire moors. If the lighting for our Yeomen is half as good I'll be on top of the world.

And then to the Festival Club where we have a pot-luck Mikado. As I've said before, pot-lucks are the most fun anyone can have outside the cockpit of a supersonic jet. We didn't have a Mikado so when we got up to "My object all sublime" John just faced the audience and said "Can we have a chorus of Mikados please?" - but then (with a little prodding from his dear wife) Chris Hall vaulted up onto the stage and took the part. What fun!

We got home at about 1am thanks to 24 hour public transport known as Shank's Pony. Gee I love this place.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Buxton Blog - 4/8, it's MY 30th and I'll spend it alone on the trains if I want!

I woke late today and sneakily allowed Facebook to display my birthday again. Not late enough though, obviously, as I immediately got an inane "happy birthday" message from someone I have never quite got around to blocking. Damn, forgot about daylight savings time, it's only 9pm back at home. Peak Facebook usage time.

So what do I do today? Same as yesterday - nothing is better than complete happiness and gunzelling is better than hanging around doing nothing. Hey, if an Arab prince told me I could go anywhere in the world for my birthday I reckon Manchester Piccadilly would be fairly high on my list by any measure, and I'm right here!

So I'm here on a Sprinter going through the Dove Holes tunnel at 20mph. I think it's time to do a Buxton line 2020 timetable. Google Docs coming right up.

Piccadilly, where to go... it's raining so I don't want to be trackside taking videos today. A Pendolino ride to Stoke on Trent, that'd be a good start!

Argh, the wifi on Virgin standard class costs! Not even a free 15 minutes like the other lot have! Ah well this is what 3G's for. Hopefully it works at 200km/h... Chris reckons handover between towers means signal declines with speed. We shall see!

Responing to birthday wishes on Facebook at limited speed is patchy - just occasionally the signal will drop right out. But it's workable.

I get to Stoke on Trent and there's a London Midlands service going through the other platform. That deserves a photo or three because the Class 350s have a very striking livery. And it's a nice station for photos too, enclosed but with a clear roof. It actually seems to have been the pattern for both Geelong and Ballarat, with slight modifications. Operationally it's not all that efficient, with just two platforms and the through roads pulled out. If it has Pendolinos calling every 20min or so plus connecting services to other places nearby it must get a bit busy.

Incidentally I think I've hit on why the British method of running trains (spaghetti services and huge junction stations) seems to work - because over here they build in masses of surplus capacity. I'm sure if you wanted a path from Manchester to Buxton you'd only have to ask and they'd start writing an S Circular. The only reason it doesn't work at home is because we try to save costs on infrastructure by building it for just a bit more than the expected amount of traffic. As a result it's always difficult to cope with anything unusual, so the only way to run things is to keep unusual occurrences to a minimum. That includes having trains cross tracks at flat junctions. Both methods should work, and all other things being equal our method (well really the American method) should be cheaper. It's just a case of following it through...

So I get a Voyager back to Piccadilly and that has taken up most of my available time. So I do some local runs - to Heaton Chapel on a Class 323, my favourite noisy spark. Then rather than go up and down I decide to stay there and take photos - it's quite a pretty site for it.

Soon it's time to head home. Show tonight!

I'll let Chris tell you all about South Anglia's Patience, but let me say that it's been EIGHT YEARS since I was in the audience for Patience. Every other time I've been in it! So it's hard to stop singing when it's my turn.

At the beginning of the show Ian Smith, as part of his usual pre-show talk, asked for blokes to help carry set into the theatre for the pro show tomorrow - for some reason they didn't have enough people to do it all. As regular volunteers we of course jumped right in. It meant we didn't get our favourite table at the Festival Club (the one with the power point) but some things are more important. And hey, Neil bought us all a drink at the bar!

To me, this sort of thing IS what the Festival is all about. The people who run it can get up there in a 900-seat opera house and ask the audience to help move the set. And afterwards they remember who did it and make sure they don't miss out on a drink. Neil saw Chris doing up his usual reviews and mock-read from the screen "Neil is a terrible slave driver and kept us working way too long. We are dripping with sweat and missed out on the community singing of Patience. Any time one of the Smiths asks you to do something, run the other way." I raise my glass to you Neil.

South Anglia did a great cabaret - lots of funny stuff and lots of audience participation. The Angelico Contingent resolved there and then to spice up the Gasvic cabaret to be more like that... ideas were thrown around and will be evaluated by the cold light of dawn.

At 1am we were about ready to go and Jackie Mitchell asked us if we were at the uni, in which case would we mind walking her home. Of course we wouldn't. And do we have to tell her how much we loved her show? Why certainly. These are the kindred spirits you meet once a decade at home and once a week in Buxton.

So, let's tally up:
- Late morning
- Afternoon's gunzelling
- An excellent production of Patience
- An unexpected opportunity to be Really Useful
- Drinks I didn't have to pay for and a fun Festival Club evening
- A walk home with a kindred spirit

I think I'll have to turn 30 more often.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Buxton Blog - 3/8, Out Gunzelling Because I Can

I woke up this morning and wondered what to do. There's a show I want to see tonight but nothing until then. Option A: go gunricing. Option B: hang around doing nothing. Clear winner: option A.

So I head to Manchester and decide to ride the Metrolink trams. They were down for upgrade last time so I'll be interested to see how they're going. The Metrolink station at Piccadilly hasn't changed but they have some new trams and they're working on some new lines. Must check it out.

I get to Victoria station and decide to jump off and look around. It's actually incredibly similar to London Victoria! And again it's being refurbed. Which is a good thing because it's pretty dingy. Hopefully they upgrade the exhaust extraction gear too...

I think I'd be safe guessing that Victoria and Piccadilly were built by competing rail operating companies back in the days, like Flinders Street and Spencer Street, or like the various London stations. Now it looks like Piccadilly is mainly the long distance station and Victoria is for shorter lines - but there's a Class 180 set sitting there so maybe not.

One rather cool thing is that the Metrolink stop is a platform like any other - although the main footbridge between the platforms doesn't include the Metrolink platform. Again hopefully that's something they fix.

I'm wondering what to do when a three-car Class 144 Railbus set comes in. I swore off Railbuses after the interminable trip to Rose Hill in 2007, but it'd be interesting to see what they're like with a centre car. It's a Leeds service but I don't want to go that far... hopefully there's an intermediate station within reach of town with high speed trains running through to photograph.

As we leave Victoria I notice the Metrolink is running in the rail reservation for a while. I think I'll have to ride the rest of the Bury line just to see where it goes. And wonder of wonders, there's a track linking the Metrolink with the main line!!! Odds bodikins, what can it mean? I saw ballast hoppers on the Tyne & Wear, but I also saw Sprinters running on the same track to Sunderland so that's more of a suburban rail system than a tram. On the other hand, as long as the loading gauge doesn't interfere with the overhead wires or platform facings, why not run rail-standard works trains? It makes sense.

As it happens the ride is way better than the Class 142 I had to Rose Hill. Of course that might be a lot of things - improvements in the Class 144, state of the track, or ride quality with a third car in the middle. It might even be the effect of the internal refurbishment, which to be honest is quite nice for a four wheel vehicle.

I get off at Castleton and miss out on a shot of a Class 158 set because it runs through just as I'm getting off. Argh. I cross to the up platform and take stock of the position.

This is part of the GMPTE area - services are run by Northern Rail but they're part of the Manchester suburban network. Station spacing etc is definitely suburban - a little bit long for a true metro but not really a long distance service. Service frequency is NOT metro quality though. I guess it's like the Melton line. But running suburban services through to Leeds is wrong - it would be like extending Melton services to Ballarat. If people from Rockbank want to go to Ballarat they can change trains, for goodness sake!

Now I'm on a train back to Manchester. It's a Class 150 Sprinter this time, with a fairly new-looking interior. Again not the right stock for a suburban service but like all operating companies they cascade older stock from premium long distance services onto stopping-all services once they get nicer stuff. What else could they do with it? Apart from export it to Australia to replace our H cars of course.

The ride on a Sprinter, back over the same track, is slightly better than the Railbus, which indicates that the track has more to do with the ride than the train... at least on this line where the curves are gentle. We get up some good speed too, at least 100km/h, which is better than we get anywhere on the Buxton line. Remind me to blog about the Buxton line one day soon.

Back to Victoria and it's time to pay a closer look at this Metrolink question. At the pedestrian crossing it's definitely tramway rail, with the full grooved section and all. But a little way along... bingo! It's classic railway profile rail on standard concrete sleepers, with a wear pattern that indicates tramway wheels have run on it. All is explained.

The Bury line is quite obviously an old suburban line - probably built by the company that ran Victoria station before they were all nationalised. Or maybe before that, I'm just guessing. It's a nice medium distance suburban line, sitting between metro and interurban like most of ours, except not overcrowded. All the platforms have obviously been shortened (really they've just been fenced back to the length of a tram and resurfaced between the fences). Signalling is railway-style coloured lights - only two aspects though, they obviously aren't trying to make this a super mass transit system (which is a shame because there's lots of opportunities for in-fill transit oriented development out towards Bury).

As we approach Bury I see locos... and not 66s and 57s either, old ones. And carriages, wagons and assorted stuff. When I get into the station I look around for leaflets and sure enough, East Lancashire Railway. Time to break my promise about not doing tourist railways...

Their summer weekday timetable has two trains running, a DMU and a steamer. The steamer is just arriving as I walk in, and it's the prototype for Bill and Ben! That deserves a photo or six. The DMU is unfamiliar but it gets photographed anyway.

Since I don't have time to ride the line and get back in time for the show tonight, so to support them I buy a drink from the Refreshment Room. Hey, it's a nice place to sit down and write up a blog! What a picture I must make, with my pint of Guiness, backpack, camera, clipboard... and netbook.

I have a deadline to get back to Buxton so I can't wait for the trains to come back unfortunately. I head back to the transport interchange (Metrolink station and massive bus bay) and there's a tram just about to depart. Nice.

Just as we get to Manchester Victoria the ticket inspectors tell me a BritRail Pass isn't valid for the Metrolink... either that's changed from two years ago or someone's got their wires crossed. Sighs. So I buy a ticket for the trip.

Now it's basically time to head home, but I'll drop in on the Metrolink info centre to see what there is about the upgrade. A map, that's a good start. WOAH they're intending to nearly double the size of the thing! This merits some more study later on at home!

I get to Piccadilly being an hungered, so I drop in on a place called the Pasty Shop in the station. Five quid gets me some wedges and a big meat pasty - the wedges are nothing special but the pasty is full of meat, potato and onion, with no gristle or fat. Very nice indeed. I think I'll make the Pasty Shop a regular stop on my gunzelling trips!

Double Sprinter set on the way home. It's sunny, all the windows are open, and the engines have quite a soporific note, especially in the sections where the rail isn't welded. Good thing Buxton's the end of the line.

Now I guess I'll hand you over to Chris to tell you about tonight's show. But don't worry, I'm sure there'll be something to say about the Festival Club tonight, because it's somebody's birthday and everyone will want to buy her a drink!

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Buxton Blog - 1/8, a day out

You? You were at Cambridge? What were you doing there? Buying a tie...

I woke early and proceeded to catch up on news from around the world. Eventually I decided to get out of bed. Phones, netbooks and wifi are just amazing.

Off to the station for the 8:27 up, run with a pair of Class 156 Sprinters. Hi lads, did you miss me? We take off dead on time and traverse the non-welded rail at full line speed.

The tunnel on the up side of Dove Holes has a 20mph sped limit, and from the sound of it the problem is the track. The vehicle was swaying a bit and the stone tunnel walls seemed very close... Wise move to slap a TSR on it.

I'm a bit rusty on the order of the stations on the Buxton line. Two years ago I could tell how far I was from home even while dozing. Two years before that, same. It'll come back!

The Sprinter's heating is on... which means the locals must think it's cold too, not just the semi-sub-tropical imports. Apparently it's been a cold summer. Global warming, you know, like our cold winter.

Ah, semaphore signals... I have to force myself to remember they're the regular in-service form of safeworking. How on earth can the drivers see them at night? I'll never know.

Stockport, time to get off. People obviously aren't used to this, and the vestibule arrangement and narrow door don't help. I guess I'm used to metro-style services where people pour from the train onto the platform.

I have to change for the Trans-Pennine Express, it's a hard knock life let me tell you. It leaves from Platform 0 - why does everyone find that remarkable? Computers have always counted from 0 and our railways are all computerised these days!

Ah, the Trans-Pennine Class 185, my very favourite. When I ride one of these I can almost forgive Siemens for screwing over the state of Victoria to the extent it did. Then again, if they can build stuff like this for First Group and not for us it really just shows that they don't care... so I'll go back to never forgiving them ever.

The tea trolley just came through. Yes of course there's a tea trolley on intercity trains, do you think they'd make passengers walk all the way to the buffet car? Come on now! I bought a hot chocolate for £1.65 expecting the usual "small" size but it turns out to be a medium. And the quality is well up there with cafe hot chocolate at home. At current exchange rate it's less than $2.50 so this is pretty good value!

Actually the train is fairly well loaded today. There's a few empty seats but not many. Several people have luggage aboard, and since there's nowhere else for it they have it in the doorway. As a Melbourne commuter I'l also sitting on the floor in the doorway - but this is the cushiest doorway I've sat in since the carpeted Hitachis were withdrawn. Carpeted Hitachis... Westcode brake blocks... excuse me a minute. Anyone got a tissue?

OK I'm back. Sheffield, home of... oh something to do with cricket. Heaps of passengers get off, including most of the luggage - there must have been some overseas trip with everyone flying back into Manchester. So I get a seat. The seats in this thing are like V/Locity seats, but with tray tables like a plane. I suspect I raved about the 185s enough on my last two trips, so I'll stow me jaw and tackle and belay.

Meadowhall - a suburban station, why should this thing stop here? The Sheffield Supertram runs in the rail reservation, I suspect I'll have to check this area out a bit more closely.

It's amazing - everywhere I look I see vacant rail reservation, as if there's been four or six tracks through here in the past or as if someone thought they might want to and made the reservation wide enough. It's amazing. How can such a history-loving and generally luddite nation be so forward looking compared to a young and free new-world country?

Damn the soundproofing on this thing! I just saw the tail end of a limestone train, and I was totally unaware of the loco passing! Could be it was idling going downhill though.

Doncaster, where I have to change for the service to London King's Cross. Once again, it's a hard knock life. There are locos around. One (with a well wagon) is sitting in our platform, that's naughty. After a few minutes the stick clears and it takes off for points unknown. A Class 158 is waiting to come in. Nah, I doubt that's ours. We'll be getting a high speed job of some sort, probably (since we're in LNER territory) a Class 91 and Mk.4 set.

As it turns out I'm right - but the train was on a centre track and had to come over to platform 1, and the 158 had to wait for it to cross in front before going into platform 2. This is a bad way of doing things - either let the 158 go first (since there was a loco in our way anyway) or put the London service in PL02. Now we're five down, and I don't care to imagine how far down the other train might be.

The PA comes over and apparently I'm in a Quiet Car. No matter, I was intending to be quiet. And there's wifi! Woohoo! Let's see if it works... 15 minutes free then £4.95 an hour or £9.95 a day. Well it's enough to post a blog from.

And now if you'll excuse me, I'm on a 125mph train so I'm going to milk it for all it's worth. This doesn't happen to me often you see. Talk soon...

A Buxton Blog - 30-31/7, an idle weekend

Nothing much happened this weekend, except that I was struck with a batter pudding.

Chris has covered the show in his own interminable manner. I was smitten with the dreaded lurgi with heatstroke on top of it, which I thought was an impossible combination, but there you go.

We went to church at the Buxton Methodists, the ones we went to last time and the ones that host the Sullivan service which is listed as part of the festival programme. To be honest I don't think we'll go there again next week - they seem to have been overrun with social gospel theology in the last two years, which is very disappointing. What's worse is that there are a lot more people there now than there were last time we attended... what does that say about people's itching ears?

In choosing another church Chris suggests we use my rule about bakeries and restaurants - don't try one without a personal recommendation. And we're unlikely to get that here. What to do?

This arvo we sat down together and nutted out a problem with the wireless router. Until now David and I had been using our 3G connections for everything, and it's temperamental, to say the least. So we set up a high level cache on Traal and now all three of us have access via the wired network, which has high bandwidth, low latency and unlimited traffic. Phew!

Agenda for tonight... festival club! Looking forward to it. I was too sick to go last night so I didn't get to meet everyone, that's a pleasure yet awaiting me. Tomorrow I go to Cambridge to meet Charli and share her joy at being selected for a course there including a part time paid teaching position. Long train ride FTW!