Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bursledon Brickworks Open Day: Blitz at the Brickworks!

Two Years On

Blimey! It's two years since I returned from a 3 month contract in Switzerland and said (in my most recent blog post before this one) that now that I was back in the UK I'd be blogging more frequently!

Oops! I've been busy. What can I say?!

The short version of a rather tedious story is that two years on, and more by accident than design, I have moved out of London after 35 years of officially being based there, and returned to the city where I spent my late teens and early working life: Southampton.

I now live in a suburb of Southampton called Bursledon, and have done so for the last year. Actually, strictly speaking, I live in the village of Lowford in Bursledon, but given that the Royal Mail now refuse to recognise Lowford as a valid address, Bursledon is good enough!

Bursledon's Claims To Fame

A year after my move here I still hadn't visited the area's two biggest claims to fame: the Bursledon Windmill and the Bursledon Brickworks (which actually appears to be just over the Bursledon border in Swanwick!), touted as "the last steam driven brick works in the country".

So three weeks ago, having seen their web site advertise an Open Day about Trains! Trains! Trains!, I decided to put things right with regard to visiting the local amenities, starting with a trip to the Brickworks. My old school friend Dave Ashford and his parents came along too.

Two steam engines

Of course Sod's Law says that the web site details proved to be incorrect (giving an incorrect date for the open day) although Dave and I had a fascinating tour of the brickworks, with an excellent volunteer guide. We learnt that there would be another open day around the subject of The Blitz, and so three weeks later I returned, as did Dave with his wife Ping and son Xiaoyu, to find it a little busier than our previous visit.

The Ashford Family with a steam vehicle

Open Day: The Blitz

On normal days the steam-driven brick works are not running because it costs about £200 to fire everything up, but today the heavy Victorian machinery was up and running. In the open forecourt at the back of the brickworks all sorts of extra activities were going on.

Vintage Car

As well as numerous 'war time' exhibits, live entertainment was provided by the likes of the St Andrew's Pipe Band, Now That's Jive Dance Group and Steve Green, a Frank Sinatra 'Singalike'.

Defenders of the Realm

At a fiver for admission, and a LOT of volunteers working hard to make the day a success, I thought the day was good value for money, and the canteen even more so. It must be tempting when you're trying to raise funds to squeeze your captive audience, but I thought the £2.70 I paid for a hot egg and bacon bap, and £1.30 for a generous slice of Lemon Drizzle cake good value for money.

Now That's Jive Dance Group

There were a bunch of activities for the kids, but by far the most popular was the small radio-controlled speed-boat racing stand. Even though this activity incurred an extra charge of £1 a go, there was no shortage of eager young captains. Kids love their toys as much as the grown-ups do!

Relaxing by the vintage cars

All-in-all, it was good way to spend a couple of hours, thanks mainly to a LOT of hard working volunteers.

Blacksmith at work

If you've never been to the brick works, I highly recommend a visit - especially on an open day such as this.

Radio-controlled boat racing

Two more open days are planned for this year: an End of Season Steam Up & Halloween event on the 20th October (2013), and Christmas at the Brickworks on the 24th November.

Frank Sinatra singalike Steve Green

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I'm Back!

Switzerland was pretty much a disaster, although it taught me one important lesson: Go with your own gut instincts and research and don't let agencies and those with vested interests fool you into thinking that you are being 'too negative' unless they're the ones taking on board all the risk!

Suffice to say a cost of living about two to three times that of the UK (£1500/month for a YMCA-like room where hot water wasn't available most of the time - how stupid does one have to be?!) was a shock. The Swiss devaluation of their currency, on top of a pretty miserable work experience and complete lack of any sort of life outside work were the last straw.

I've been back in the UK a couple of weeks now, and already feel rejuvenated and back to 'my old self'.

Last Saturday I got to go to the launch of The Persuaders Blu-ray set, and got to hear an excellent Q&A by Sir Roger Moore, conducted by Barry Norman and got to shake hands and get an autograph from the former Saint/James Bond/Brett Sinclair himself.

Last night I went to see indie-pop rockers Hard-Fi at the Forum in Kentish Town and it was an awesome gig. Anthemic tunes of the sort Oasis were once famous for.

Aside from that I've been ridiculously busy starting up my new company, catching up on all the huge announcements Microsoft made the week before last, and doing daily updates (no, honestly!) to the new fast and fluid Windows 8 -themed blog. If you're a developer in the Microsoft workspace I definitely recommend you check the blog out - I'm very proud of it and have had great feedback on it from the few who've discovered it!

I have an interview for an interesting new contract next Tuesday. So, fingers crossed, things are on the look up for Silverlight developers (the lack of demand for which was the only reason I ever considered Switzerland in the first place - ironic that Credit-Suisse moved contractors off the Silverlight projects when it was clear they had to let people go).

Hopefully, I'll get time to update this personal blog more regularly, now I'm back home.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

New Blog: A Grumpy Brit in Switzerland

I've just moved to Zurich in Switzerland to start a six month contract.

I've only been here a week (and haven't started work yet - that happens tomorrow!) but have decided to start a new blog to document my "Swiss adventure".

My first post at the new blog has already been made, and I'll hopefully be updating it at least once a week.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Chart Hyping and The Increasing Power of the Supermarkets

In the latest UK Blu-ray Review Podcast I have a bit of a whinge about the fact that Amazon now effectively own the film world, with only the super-markets offering any sort of competition.

Amazon totally dominate online shiny disc sales, they now own the biggest film resource The Internet Movie Database (or imdb as it's better known), and last week added LoveFilm to their acquisitions so that they now pretty much own film rental too.

I have no idea what the Monopolies Commission does these days, but I'd have thought this is just the sort of thing they should be investigating. However, I suspect that they'll be pointing out that there's always HMV (which announced the closure of 60 stores a few weeks ago and had its supplier credit insurance guarantees removed last week) and the supermarkets.

The idea that the supermarkets offer any kind of alternative to 'proper' shiny disc stores is laughable. Each week they take just two of the tens of titles released on Blu-ray each week and decide to stock them and promote them.

When I worked in the record industry for a few short years, I was shocked to find that we actually paid money to get showcased in the New Release racks in HMV. If we didn't cough up we were consigned to the alphabetic racks which most casual buyers never look at.

Worse, if we hoped to be flagged as one of four 'Single of the Week's in Our Price we actually had to delay a release until a slot was available. Yup, these slots weren't chosen - they were sold in advance to the record labels who felt they had most chance of a genuine chart hit if they paid out enough cash to become visible to potential purchasers

I don't know how the supermarkets work, but I'm pretty sure that the two new titles they select each week are not based in any way on merit, or appropriateness for their market, but on how much money the distributors are prepared to pay to be visible. How else to explain a family supermarket like Sainsbury's choosing a torture-porn title from the makers of Saw over a family classic (beautifully transferred to hi-def) like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

When I launched the podcast I wanted to give a rundown of the best selling Blu-rays each week. The only chart that can make any sort of claim to provide this is the official one from The Official Chart Company. The trouble is it's controlled almost totally by the hyped titles being sold in the supermarkets. I can predict without fail which new entries there will be each week, based solely on checking what two titles Sainsbury's and Tesco's have chosen to stock in any given week.

And that's just wrong!

My local Sainsbury's have their own chart, which doesn't even pretend to reflect any kind of reality. This morning for instance it shows two new entries of The Other Guys and Devil, both straight in at no.1 and no.2. These titles only officially go on sale today, and aren't even out on the shelves of the store displaying this chart yet. So how can they be top of the Sales chart? It's farcical.

I'm wondering if I should just put together my own chart, based on my own reviews. Far too many great Blu-rays are getting completely ignored because the supermarkets won't stock them, Amazon aren't promoting them and those who made them can't afford the back-handers involved in getting greater visibility.

It all reminds me of an old saying from my former record label boss, when I used to complain at the back-handers and the fact we spent a fortune flying our acts in from abroad for free Radio 1 Summer roadshow performances we weren't paid for, when despite having Top 10 hits the BBC STILL refused to add our chart hits to their playlist.

We were in the endlessly farcical situation of having the BBC tell us our records 'are too dance, not enough pop' to be played on Radio 1, while Kiss FM would tell us 'you're too pop, not enough dance' to get on Kiss. Call me cynical, but I'm pretty sure the real reason was that we just couldn't afford to grease the right palms at either of those organisations where decisions were made.

I remember my boss telling me "It's called the music business, Ian. And it's all about the business, and nothing to do with the music.". It seems the movie (and shiny disc) business is no different. Naive of me to think otherwise I guess.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Podcast Feedback

When I decided, three weeks ago, to start the New Year with my first podcast - reviewing Blu-rays which are my main non-work activity at the moment, and have been for some time - I don't think I realised how much work I was setting myself up for.

It's not just producing the podcast itself single-handedly that's the problem but the hours of 'behind the scenes' work to set up web pages for the titles reviewed with screencaps, links, trailer etc.

I'd very soon realised that there are a lot of hard-of-hearing people who love watching Blu-rays but seem to be ignored by many of the podcasts, so it was a pretty high priority to get a good web-site up and running, with a downloadable transcript of the podcast for those who couldn't 'listen' but would be more than happy to 'read'.

I seem to have had to survive on 5 hours sleep a night (especially at weekends when the podcast is produced) for the last couple of weeks, but I think it's been worth it. I've been really impressed with the speed with which everything seems to have taken off. Those advice pages saying "Just start and practice and improve. Don't wait until everything's perfect" are bang on the button I think.

Despite many horror stories on their podcast fortunes ("Apple just don't care") iTunes actually took the podcast on board after just one week, and although it's annoying that the image to represent the podcast is still missing from the official iTunes page for the podcast even though it was correctly submitted and displayed in a preview test, everything else has gone very smoothly. Within a few hours of being approved my podcast was the first to show up in a search in the podcasts area for 'Blu-ray'. Nice!

LibSyn have turned out to be the perfect podcast hosting partner, after my awful start with a UK company who seemed incapable of doing anything that worked, not even having a 'Contact Us' process that worked. As part of their deal they even provide an iPhone/iPad application for downloading podcasts on those devices via a fun customised app. That will take a few more weeks to appear (Apple's App Store approval process is notoriously slow) but it's good to know it will be there.

But in the meantime the biggest surprise has been the feedback on the podcast that's appeared on my iTunes page (below). All five star reviews so far. I'm sure there will be some lower ones as more people discover the podcast, but being told you're better than the BBC's Kermode and Mayo podcast (which I download religiously every week) is one hell of a nice compliment

Screenshot of favourable reviews on iTunes

In case you haven't heard the podcast yet, or seen the associated web pages, check out the UK Blu Ray Review podcast blog for all the links, an in-page MP3 player for the podcast and the latest news.