The entire cast

Midsummer Night’s Dream – Show Roundup

What, a play toward! I’ll be an auditor; An actor too, perhaps, if I see cause.

More than two years ago, I auditioned for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was excited to be cast as Peaseblossom, I even started learning my lines…and then lockdown happened. So the production was pushed back, and back, and back, until finally, two years after originally intended we finally made it on stage.

Fairies being made upHaving done props for the last show (And Then There Were None) which meant being the first person in the theatre and the last to leave; I’d looked forward to being in the cast. Strolling in a few minutes before curtain up, running away as soon as we went down… I had failed to factor in the make up. As it was, I needed to be the first cast member to arrive alongside our fantastic and very patient make up ladies, who spent each evening making up a whole host of fairies. And after the show, well, despite several wet wipes I still went home each evening with slightly green and glittery eyebrows and a reasonable amount of eyeliner.

A fairy in a treeThe director assembled an amazing cast. The lovers were passionate and their fight scenes were enthusiastically realistic, the mechanicals were hysterically funny and turned out to be able to tap dance a lot better than any of them would have expected, and the fairies…Bored fairies

I’d had worries that perhaps I was too old to be a fairy, but it turned out that my inner six-year-old was up to the task. Climbing trees, causing mischief, stealing sandwiches and sharing them with the audience, playing clapping games, doing magic, and rolling around on the forest floor all seemed to come surprisingly naturally. I managed a bit of sweeping too.

What a show it was. One of the best of Shakespeare’s plays, augmented with so many lovely details by our imaginative director, it really was the most amazing fun. The audiences seemed to enjoy themselves enormously each night, but I suspect not nearly as much as the cast did.

And if you want to see how much fun – you can still watch the stream for yourself.

Cast photo © Brian Holt

If I Were Not Upon The Stage

…in the streaming room I’d be.

So for a little context; spurred on by a pandemic, and with the help of some generous funding, our little theatre now has the technology to live stream our shows to an audience around the world.

So, here we are, in December and it is very definitely panto season. We’re getting ready to live stream one of our panto performances, which means setting up and rehearsing the technology and, of course, watching the pantomime multiple times.

In classic style, one of this year’s panto songs is “If I were not upon the stage”. Watching this, I was struck by the fact that many of the children in the audience would not recognise our first chosen profession of a bus conductor. Whereas as a child I was used to getting on a bus, sitting down and waiting for the conductor to sell me a ticket, modern children expect all that to be managed by the driver. Cheaper for the bus company certainly, but not as friendly a service for the passengers. If you need someone to tell you which stop you need to get off at on a strange route, the bus driver is not really in a position to help, and they are not keen on queries about which ticket you need or indeed anything which slows the ticket buying process down.

This change of responsibilities resonates with me, not least because in working to set up our live streaming capability it has been described as aiming for a ‘one man operated bus’. Certainly, as in many organisations, we are often short of volunteers, and there is no way we could have supported a set up which required a camera operator behind every camera nor do we have the space in our tiny theatre for them. Our little PTZ cameras are unobtrusive and sophisticated allowing them to be controlled from our little streaming studio at the back of the auditorium. However currently we have been working as a duo, two people together in that tiny space. This allows for a split of responsibilities, one person can check the audio feed, and think ahead to what is coming next, while the other keeps ‘flying the plane’ and vision mixing the cameras. It also allows for a change of ‘driver’ and more importantly the possibility for someone to go and fetch a welcome cup of coffee during the show!

I remember when the proposal to change to one man operated buses was proposed there was concern about the extra work the driver was being asked to take on and the implications, and it occurs to me, in our own little bus, that while it is possible to be a driver-conductor, the customers get a better service with a team. So I’m very happy to go on being a bus conductor.

Fares please, room on top, pass right down inside, ting ting!

Writing Joy

reMarkable 2I was recently given a digital paper tablet and it really is as wonderful as you can imagine.  Naturally I had to test it out by writing something. This is what I came up with.

Sonnet XI – Writing Joy

The pen is gently scratchy on the page,
Familiar the sound to all who write,
Whether it be for novels or the stage
Or ramblings poetic late at night.
The words pour out in rough untidy hand,
Corrections adding to the melee there.
In script only the writer understands
They try to capture something they can share.
As ideas grow, the words they need to move.
Reordered to enhance the growing whole.
Our changing text, the poem to improve,
The process thus brings pleasure to the soul.
Remarkable to find such written bliss?
An electronic notepad brought you this.


Page Turn Transition In OpenShot

I like OpenShot. It’s a free, easy to use video editor that over the years has enabled me to create some great little videos including some lovely credits and a rather cool ticker tape effect. I actually run two versions of OpenShot; the older Linux version 1.4.3 and the newer (currently 2.5.1) AppImage which adds the convenience of key frames in exchange for the loss of some effects and some usability.

I was asked if I could create a video with a page turn transition but OpenShot doesn’t support that natively. After a little thought and research I realised I needed two related things, an animation of a page corner and a simultaneous transition that wipes from one image to the other.

Firstly I created a simple page corner image. Then I created an OpenShot project (using the newer version) and animated the image in three stages. Firstly scaling from tiny and off the screen to full size to pull the triangle up across the corner, then distorting it to pull the top up to the corner of the page and finally pulling it across the page rotating it towards vertical as it went.

Having created this video I needed a matching transition. In OpenShot a transition is a greyscale image which adjusts the transparency of the first clip progressively, starting with the lightest part of the transition image. To do this I used ffmpeg to generate image files of each frame of the video and then loaded them into Gimp. The bright colours of my original image enabled me to use the colour select tools easily to select the correct parts of the image and colour each lower corner and cut out the remaining part. With a bit of arithmetic to calculate the level of grey for each layer and a reasonable amount of patience (and a bit of fine tuning) I created a multiple layer image which could be exported as a PNG file thus:

Greyscale transition image

Clearly my page corner was a little garish, so I generated an updated file (with the same name) with a more neutral corner and generated a new video from my original project. Actually at this point I realised I could improve on my original animation slightly while keeping the same transition, so I tweaked the original project slightly for a better effect in the second part of the animation.

Now I was ready to create the resulting video. At this point I went back to the older version of OpenShot for convenience. Firstly I imported my greyscale image as a transition. Then I pulled in two images (although they could equally well be video) and my page turn animation into the project. Now it was a simple matter to add the transition between the two images. I turned the softness of the transition off to ensure a sharp distinction between the two images. The join itself is hidden by the corner animation. Then I added the corner animation in a track above my two images, positioning it so it matches the timing of the transition. I added the chroma key effect to this layer increasing the variance slightly to allow for the shading on the corner image.

OpenShot project

The final result is shown above.

Rockstar Programmer or Poet

I’ve learned a few programming languages in my time. Sometimes for a particular project but also occasionally just for fun. So I was interested to find out that someone I knew had invented a programming language where the code looks like song lyrics; it’s called Rockstar.
What are song lyrics but a form of poetry and I like writing poetry so how could I resist. The best way to learn any language is of course to write a program in it, so I chose a simple example and had a go.

It was a fascinating experiment. Choosing a simple enough program to write made me aware of how many things I take for granted in most languages, things like bitwise operations or string manipulation. Writing this* into Rockstar led to a detailed study of the syntax. I made some guesses as to how things should work where the documentation wasn’t clear. I’ve followed some of the official example code and sometimes not. Using null as equal to zero and then incrementing it felt so wrong I just had to find another way.
Despite all this I found getting a ‘working’ Rockstar program is the easy part. Rewriting it to be sufficiently poetic took some time, including developing some of my own coding conventions which just shows how poetic code really is.

I’ll also admit to cheating slightly; the language as specified doesn’t have a random number function and I wanted one. So (based on C’s rand function) I’ve assumed a function that returns a random integer between zero and whatever maximum is available. I figure gambling is fairly rock star so that is an acceptable extension (I hope).
Because that function isn’t defined in my program I’ve added a way of showing that too. I hope I’ve also used comments in an interesting way.

Bring on Chance (my own invention)

Time takes my life and my tears
While my life is as strong as my tears
Put my life without my tears into my life

Give back my life

Simply takes a smile and a wave
Put a wave without a smile into the world
Build it up
Put Time taking Chance, the world into your life
Give back your life with a smile

Dreaming takes my hopes and my fears and my smiles and my tears
Shout my hopes
Whisper my fears
Shout my smiles
Whisper my tears

The sunshine was frightening
The shade was my compatriot
Your hopes were everything
My idea was wilder (no more than this)
Dreaming taking “I am thinking of a number between”, the sunshine, “and”, the shade
Put Simply taking the sunshine, the shade into my heart
While my idea is stronger than your hopes
Say “Take a guess.”
Listen to your dream
Build your hopes up
If your dream is smaller than my heart
Whisper “Your guess is too low.”
Take it to the top

If your dream is bigger than my heart
Whisper “Your guess is too high.”
Take it to the top

If my heart is your dream
Break it down

(and breathe)

If my heart is your dream
Dreaming taking “Good job!”, “You guessed my number in “, your hopes, ” guesses!”

If my heart ain’t your dream
Say “Nope. The number I was thinking of was ”
Whisper my heart
(no more)

*Obviously working out what this program actually does is left as an exercise for the reader

The Six Million Dollar Bear

If you have a long loved teddy bear, you know that they get a little bit grubby and tired looking in time. It’s a simple result of being loved.

James has a bear, a travelling companion, who had sat patiently on his dashboard for many years and he had indeed got a little grubby looking. So while James was thoroughly cleaning the inside of his car he decided to give Paddington Ormsville IV, for that is this bear’s name, a clean as well. He decided that he would give Paddington a little run through the washing machine. Prudently, thank heavens, putting him in the garment bag for gentler washing.

Some time later he was horrified to discover that the washing machine had taken its toll on the poor creature, leaving him largely devoid of stuffing, as it had escaped through numerous rents in the overworn fur.

This might have been the end of his story, but I was not prepared to let a faithful friend go so easily.

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him

I started by putting his stuffing back in place and sewing up the many tears in his body. His front, which had been in the sun, had weakened considerably and there was little structural integrity left so the sewing could not be too elegant. His back and limbs were largely intact thankfully.

His feet were soled with felt, one of which had also weakened and developed holes, so I decided to give him a jaunty blue sole.

This emergency surgery completed, he needed a little more support before he would be ready to safely sit up on a dashboard again, so I decided a little waistcoat-come-romper-suit would help protect his delicate tummy. I liked his blue paw so much, I decided to continue with the blue theme, so I spent some time creating a paper pattern for a waistcoat that would go round him and used it to cut his outfit from some more of the felt. Once sewed together I gave it a little edging in dark blue and added a sparkly button before sewing him into his new outfit.

Thus attired, he is ready to resume his travels.

Better, stronger, faster

Been There, Done That, Blogged The Badge

Nearly four years ago now I started a project to blog each of my badges that I’d collected. With nearly three hundred badges to blog, I set myself the target of blogging two badges each week. As I have done that though, the collection has grown to over four hundred badges to date (due, a little more than I’d like, to some mischievous people who think that buying me badges whenever they can is a fun thing to do).

Now, I am finally up to date. And, although I’ll still be blogging new badges as I acquire them, the end to weekly ‘badge homework’ hopefully means I’ll have more time to devote to this blog and all the things that get me badges in the first place.

Do however take a look at my life in badges – so far.

How Large Is Your Latte

So Waitrose have caused a stir by announcing that they’re going to stop supplying disposable cups with their free coffee. Now, these days they are most often my takeaway coffee of choice, so clearly I’m going to have to jump on the bandwagon and start carrying a reusable cup. And that of course is where it starts to get complicated.

Now technically I already own one reusable cup; it’s a Starbucks one, used for peppermint lattes on long journeys, but it gets too hot to hold without the little cardboard sleeve so it’s less useful outside of a Starbucks. So perhaps an everyday cup is in order, ideally one that will also seal in the dregs when I put it back in my bag.

Now in the last few months there have been myriad reusable coffee cup reviews and comparisons so it didn’t take me long to narrow my preference down to either the KeepCup or the Ecoffee cup. In the process however I became aware that I would have to make another decision – how big a cup to buy.

Waitrose had only said “bring your own cup” and that it needed to fit in their machine*. So I contacted them to ask both the size of the regular latte from the machine but also the size of the large, which they sell in their cafe. After talking to them via customer services and Twitter I finally established that a regular coffee is apparently 8 fl oz and a large one is 10 fl oz (although the disposable cups they use are much bigger).

But by now I was considering the bigger picture. My main alternative coffee supplier is Costa, but I’m not hugely fussy, I’ll buy a coffee wherever is convenient, so I started comparing coffee sizes and prices.

Naturally I made a little spreadsheet so here are the highlights. Coffee sizes vary widely but in general a regular coffee is 12 fl oz. Caffe Nero and Greggs also do a large at 14 fl oz whereas Starbucks and Costa will super size you at either 16 or 20 fl oz (I rarely need a pint of coffee).

Obviously, the cheapest coffee is free from Waitrose but astonishingly the most expensive would be a large coffee from Waitrose if you have to pay for it.

After free Waitrose coffee, Greggs and Costa are cheapest. Allowing for the discount for bringing your own cup doesn’t change much except that Pret is now cheaper than Costa (that’s because Pret gives you 50 pence off as opposed to Costa’s 25 pence). Caffe Nero give you ‘bonus stamps’ on their loyalty card, I only allowed for the one extra coffee that gets you when calculating the discount (so not including the ordinary loyalty stamps).

If you want value for money in volume then large coffees are generally better than regular ones and again, obviously, don’t pay for coffee in Waitrose!

Where does that leave me? Well, despite the lure of the ‘value for money’ argument of a larger coffee, I think a 12 fl oz cup would be big enough for an everyday coffee cup. Now I just have to choose the design I want.

*Waitrose reckon 15cm is the maximum cup height that fits in their machines.

Flex 2 vs Vivosmart 3 – An Unlikely Comparison

So at the moment I’m walking around with two fitness devices on my wrist. Why? Because having just bought a Garmin Vivosmart 3 it seemed like a good opportunity to compare it with the Fitbit Flex 2 I’ve been using for the last year or more.

Now these aren’t devices that usually get rated against each other but my primary criteria puts them both in the same category; they monitor steps and sleep, have a silent alarm, receive call and text notifications, are waterproof and importantly both are small enough not to be bulky on a small wrist (and are moderately priced).
The Garmin also provides a screen and some more sensors which I’ll mention later.
Continue reading

From Telephones To Tudors

I recently discovered that there’s a national collection of telephone kiosks. I was far too excited by this news and was determined to go and see them.
They live at Avoncroft as part of a collection of historic buildings.
On arriving I was even more excited to find that the telephones actually worked and we could call between them. They were connected via a small exchange which, of course, we could also see working.
Having played there we set off to explore the rest of the museum, finding such gems as a prefab house, a corrugated chapel and a fibreglass spire. We also encountered some re-enactors, some of whom were doing Elizabethan dancing to a surprisingly recognisable tune.