The Jaded Jedi

Journal and General Musings

Oh what a lovely disconnect

27/09/2014

Oh what a lovely war !

Oh what a lovely war !

Today I was lucky enough to see and reflect upon a local production of Oh What A Lovely War by a local amateur group. It was made better by being shared with my partner who was able to make the evening. Despite being overly hot in the Arts Centre, it wasn’t a bad production given the demands of this semi-surreal play.

The Phoenix Players have something of a reputation for tackling worthy and challenging productions. Although as a group, their star may have waned a little it was a credit to their skills. Chosen to mark 100 years since the outbreak of the Great War this stretched the theatre and the available space rather more than the actors.

After watching it, I was struck with the disconnect I felt with the play. Was it the capability of the cast, the difference between the play and it’s better known film counterpart or the production values chosen by the Director and her team. After some thought, I came to the view it was none of the above !

What struck me was the lack of credibility of the leading characters – not the actors – the characters. In simple terms the dismissive view of life portrayed by the play’s characters would now be simply incredible.

This was perhaps the greatest insight I gained from the evening. If the characters (or more accurately caricatures) portrayed as army generals, field marshals and politicians were ever accurate – and I believe they were – they certainly wouldn’t be now.

Of course, I have tried to make allowances for the fact that the play originally produced by Joan Littlewood in the 30’s may have aged not the characters. However, whichever is the more accurate it’s refreshing to realise that we have moved so far from a conflict which robbed the world of a generation.

The finale was understated but immensely powerful. A stage washed in red light with two solitary soldiers with downturned rifles against a backdrop of one of the Commonwealth War Cemeteries. A welcome touch for me was that the backdrop contained markers for both English and German soldiers. Whilst the last post sounded and the poppies fell the curtain closed in silence. A brave and powerful production. I’m just so pleased to realise that this now feels so alien and impossible in today’s world.

So who turned the lights out ?

26/09/2014

The lights are dimming

The lights are dimming

It seems no time that I was languishing in the late summer evenings until gone 9 o’clock in the evening. Not the mid-summer heights of gone 10pm but not bad nonetheless.

Then today someone appears to have rotated the climatological dimmer switch as it’s now pitch black at seven o’clock. When did that happen exactly?

This seems to happen to me each year, a sudden creeping up of the nights drawing in leading to a sudden realisation that summer has gone and we’re now deep in autumn. What’s more the calendar countdown to my Australian visit with my better half shows around 70 days to go.

Suddenly the year is very much in it’s dog days with the downhill march to Christmas now active in my mind. Some very obvious markers remain – Halloween, Bonfire night, Remembrance Parades and then we’re in to Advent season. I’m only amazed that the retailers (at least near me) haven’t yet started playing carols and erecting trees. Still – I suppose that too is only a matter of time. Watch this space and hear the annual gnashing of teeth in relation to Saturnalia !

 

Define ‘Friend’

25/09/2014

Define 'Friend' ?

Define ‘Friend’ ?

In the world before mass transportation, the internet and social media, a friend was most probably somebody with whom you had a person-to-person relationship of some kind. At the very least, it would be a near pre-requisite that you had met and interacted with personally to a greater or lesser extent.

Today with the rise of social media actually having met your friends is now entirely optional. For fans of The Big Bang, a comment made by Doctor Sheldon Cooper sums up the views of a growing number of social media users.

Sheldon: I have a very wide circle. I have 212 friends on MySpace.
Leonard: Yes, and you’ve never met one of them.
Sheldon: That’s the beauty of it.

So today, I had three messages and contacts from ‘friends’ who started their introductions with the following lines:

“So I know we haven’t spoken for a few months – I suppose lending me £300 would be out of the question?”

“You’ve never been my cup of tea but I wouldn’t mind a go on your boyfriend if you can put a good word in for me?’

“I wondered if you could give me a reference. I know it’s been years but you’d look good on my CV”

Is it me ? Am I alone in finding both of these unacceptable (although I have to acknowledge they have the merit of brutal honesty)? I just find such a blunt, selfish and callous approach to be entirely out of bounds.

Although I rarely find myself watching and never (to this point) quoting Opera Winfrey, I do remember her saying something in an interview which strikes me as very true.

Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down. – Oprah Winfrey

Of course, I take my share of blame for falling into the friend collection trap. But the past week has helped me formulate a plan to identify those I want to keep and those I can frankly do without. Also, a subtle change of approach on my part is kicking in as a result. Best summed up in the following quote by Dale Carnegie

You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. – Dale Carnegie 

Unrecognised by an Old Friend

24/09/2014

Wyvern Theatre Stage

Wyvern Theatre Stage

A quick call to assist with a couple of photographs took me into the Wyvern Theatre, Swindon today to assist with a friend’s university application.

I found myself on a very familiar stage. I have been fortunate enough to perform on this particular stage more than any other locally and know it well. The challenge of some sight lines to the side stalls, the proximity of the ‘pit’ to the stage apron (potentially very easy to make an unexpected visit to the orchestra) and the relatively shallow depth from upstage to down. All very familiar to me.

However, what struck me was how much time had passed since I last walked on the stage in any performing capacity. It was most certainly as though the theatre didn’t recognise me. Perhaps that isn’t any bad thing as I wasn’t perhaps my most engaging when treading those particular boards, but I did realise how much I missed the feeling of belonging which comes with this particular stage.

Some friends now gone shared some happy times here, some friends now moved away similarly shared rehearsals filled with laughter (in the main) and the thrill of performance. Perhaps one day I may put some of the directing skills I have been working on into practice – there are certainly a good number of plays/pieces I would like to get my teeth into. However, for now I feel I caught a glimpse of a friend from the past who, to my disappointment, didn’t recognise me.

So soon for dirty politics ?

23/09/2014

The "No"'s have it

The “No”‘s have it

Less than a week after the Scottish referendum results and the art of low politics has already made its debut onto what is turning into a particularly sordid little stage.

Having held back on my personal view prior to the vote, I’m personally very pleased that the No vote was successful. I certainly don’t see my many Scots friends as subjected to England or Britain. Nor do I fail to see the unique national identity of the Scottish people. I’m just pleased that they chose (in the majority) to exercise that distinct identity within the scope of the United Kingdom.

That said, I would be the first person to say the behaviour of the major parties (and specifically the English parties) has been nothing less than disgusting. It’s made me quite ashamed to be part of the English nation.

Of course, the expected resignation of Alex Salmond MSP took place with almost undue haste. Although it was expected that he would fall on his own sword in the event of a defeat, his speed took many (including me) by surprise. Whilst I had anticipated him stepping down as the leader of his party, I didn’t expect him to leave the political stage completely. I for one disagreed with his rationale, didn’t appreciate the way he ran his campaign (it was too presumptuous and incomplete) and disliked his personal style. However, I did believe he felt his ambition for Scotland was in it’s best interests. I certainly believe Scottish politics more generally (arguments over independence aside) will be the weaker following his departure.

However, the speed of his leaving was nothing compared to the ‘clarifications’, ‘qualifications’ and ‘variations’ uttered by the main party leaders within England post referendum.

In the days immediately prior to the vote, promises were made to Scotland indicating that far more autonomy, self-determination and decision making powers would be settled on the Scottish Parliament. How disappointing it was to see English politicians squirming like a worm on a hook three days after the vote trying to recover ground as if we hadn’t heard them make the offers to those north of the border.

The Independence Vow

The Independence Vow

I for one remember the extent of the promises made in those days and within the ‘vow’ printed on the front of the Scottish Record and signed by all three English party leaders.

Of course the issues raised by granting Scotland more independence has an impact on England and Wales, potentially it encourages more regional devolution and undoubtedly it shows that the promise has many ‘loose ends’. However, all that said – the promises were made in order to secure the union and once made in good faith, I would be shouting as loud as any Scot that those promises are honoured without the shabby examples of watering-down their words after securing their desired result.

What is worse is that this behaviour is exactly the kind of Machiavellian scheming that resulted in the Scottish arguments for independence stating UK politics was unfit for Scottish purposes.

I trust and hope that the politicians within England will realise that their actions over the next 12-18 months will either secure the union for the next generation or will merely hasten the calls for a second bite of the rotten cherry. If you renege on your promises now, you will prove the point that those calling for Scottish Independence made. A point I had hoped was just opportunistic shorthand for anti-English sentiment.

Come on political classes within England and Westminster. Keep your word !

 

Nothing for four billion years then three come along at once !

22/09/2014

Anyone who is familiar with the public transport system (specifically busses) in the UK will be aware of a phrase not unlike the title of this posting. ‘You wait for half an hour (for a bus) then three come along all at once’.

An observer of the planet Mars may well have something similar to say today. The virtually non-existent atmosphere of that once earth-like planet has been devoid of anything other than passing space dust and solar winds for around four billion years. Then this morning the third probe or satellite from earth arrived at the planet to continue the challenging task of charting the surface. Certainly a major step-change in the level of investigation of this close cousin to the Earth.

NASA Mars rover

NASA Mars rover

The first and arguably most challenging arrival was that of the NASA rover dropped by ‘sky hook’ to start mapping the martial terrain some 25 months ago. In the time it has been on the planet it has already exceeded expectations in terms of the range travelled, terrain with which it has coped and the reliability of its build and instrumentation.

It’s hard to imagine that the motherboard controlling this rover has more computing power in it’s compact design than was provided by the entire computer systems for the first moon landing. The pace of change in technology and computer sciences has transformed the art of the possible since the Apollo missions.

The rover will continue mapping the geological and microbiological potential of the red planet for the next few months providing an insight into the capability of mars to support life of any kind. Although no findings have been released by NASA at the time of writing this article, I suspect scientists can’t fail to be pleased with the wealth of data captured from this technological marvel. It’s hard to imagine that the constant flow of data being captured wouldn’t lead to some major advanced in our understanding of Mars and the solar system.

Indian Mars Orbiter

Indian Mars Orbiter

The second of the arrivals at the red planet was from India who chose Mars to prove their capability at some significant reputational risk.

The Indian orbiter is undertaking a complementary task to the NASA lander mapping the entire planning with particular emphasis on surface features, morphology, mineralogy and analysis of what remains of the Martian atmosphere. It is believed that Mars was once similar to Earth with a habitable surface, rich atmosphere and magnetic field. Understanding what happened to change this to the barren rocky surface it is today may be assisted by the Indian probe.

The flight by India hasn’t been without its critics. The country is one of the largest recipients of aid from first world donors to feed and educate the entire population. Many raised questions as to the sense in spending billions on building a reputation for a credible space programme whilst those problems still exist. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that particular issue, it’s certainly a hugely impressive debut for any nation to successfully arrive and orbit their satellite around Mars.

The Maven Orbiter

The Maven Orbiter

The third arrival as of today is NASA’s Maven orbiter. This successfully entered orbit around Mars on 21st September and will begin to analyse the planet’s upper atmosphere. It appears that even after billions of years the remnants of the once flourishing atmosphere are still leaking away and further exposing Mars to the impacts of the solar winds.

The combination of the data gathered by these three orbiters/probes will hopefully go a long way to understand the impacts of planetary atmospherics, including (potentially) some greater understanding of how climate change may be influenced by solar winds on earth.

The ultimate stated aim of NASA and others is to move towards a human colony on Mars. However, for me this is just as much a triumph of computer science, engineering and cooperation. Thirty years ago the idea of sharing data from a variety of competing national space programmes would have been nearly unthinkable.

Imagine you were one of those watching the moon landings nearly half a century ago. Could you have any idea that this progress would happen in the intervening period ?  Similarly, what further progress and opportunities for exploration and learning will emerge over the next 50 years. It may be the first time we have put three satellites in orbit in Mars – but I suspect this is just the start of much more to come.

Simple Pleasures

21/09/2014

Simple Pleasures

Simple Pleasures

It’s often the really simple things that have the most impact on us and speaking personally they are the things we most often remember. When all the stresses and pressures of a modern commercialised world need to be countered, for me it’s something very simple and uncomplicated that will be most likely to do it.

The form that has taken has varied from time to time. There are the traditional (some might  say clichéd) candidates such as eating fish and chips with plenty of salt and vinegar out of paper at the seaside. Why it only works with that particular combination I don’t know – but for me it’s a constant winner.

Similarly there are the unexpected finds. On a difficult skiing holiday in Canada, I remember taking a wrong turn to find myself next to a waterfall now frozen in time until the spring thaw. Had I stayed on the more widely taken path it was a sight I would never had seen. The tranquillity in that location is something I can still recall today. It remains one of those mental retreats we all have and resort to at times of stress and when we seek some solitude.

Pie mash and eels

Pie mash and eels

Then the third category – for me the best – the vicarious gift category.

I recently took a friend visiting London to an ‘authentic’ pie mash and eel shop in Peckham. These have gradually disappeared over recent years. Manze’s is staffed by three typical ‘East End’ matriarchs – this was not a place for the faint hearted. The food wasn’t exactly cordon bleu, the bench seating was functional and not designed for comfort. The menu was limited (to anything containing eels). However, the pleasure was in seeing how much my guest enjoyed the traditional view of a disappearing part of London life and trying an authentic taste of London.

To him the mundane seemed suddenly interesting and historic. The green and white tiles missed by most observers were mentioned as adding character. The way the mash was trowelled onto the plate to stop the green liquor from overflowing was noticed and the variety of London accents was seen as a celebration of the city’s culture. Isn’t it strange how the routine and run of the mill can seem so full of charm and interest to a new pair of eyes – prepared not only to look but also to see.

Today, I was lucky enough to observe and hopefully share one of those third category simple pleasures. My partner has had a rough few days for reasons that don’t need to be explained here. A mix of the normal stresses and strains of life meant that a quiet, restful and less frenetic weekend than normal was the order of the day. Of course, he was worried that just sitting quietly reading a book in the garden (for example) might be seen as somehow impolite or aloof. I offered assurances that I would be more than happy if that’s what he needed/wanted to do. Following some additional soundings from trusted friends operation rural retreat was underway.

So my simple pleasure has been watching him relax over the past few hours. It has been like watching a wound spring gradually lose tension and gradually return to its natural state of equilibrium. Whilst I’m blogging this post he is enjoying the gentle autumn sun and reading his book and clearly enjoying the relative peace and unstructured time – by himself but not alone. His simple pleasure is that moment of personal stillness and acceptance; mine is seeing him so relaxed and at ease. My first double whammy (shared) simple pleasure – a new category!

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