Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Trick or ...err... trick

Hallowe'en, the night of Ghouls, witches and warlocks. A time for kids to dress up, go out and demand, if not money, then gifts with menaces.

Let's face it, that's what it is. "Give us your pocket money or we'll make you suffer". From eggs and flour to overturned dustbins and 'keyed' cars, one way of another they will make you wish you'd paid up.

Halloween (and other celebrations') origins can be found in the pagan festival of Samhain, celebrating the end of the Harvest. However, dressing up and going from door-to-door can be traced back to wassailing in the Middle Ages where the poor folk would beg for food on All Souls Day.

It took the Americans to combine the two into one event early on in the 20th Century. We can thank them for that, along with 'Have a Nice Day', 'The Dukes of Hazzard' and Jerry Springer.

When Children are small, it can be fun to dress them up. When Children are small, it can be fun to go carol singing. However, once they reach a certain age - say 8 or 9 - then the whole concept changes and householders can feel intimidated by a group at their door.

It is also my experience that the older ones come around earlier on the 31st October or come carol singing earlier and earlier in December in order to get the fresh pickings, leaving later groups to be told 'Oh, we've had the Trick or Treaters / Carol Singers around already - sorry.'

You can fight them at their own game. Closing the curtains, turning out the lights and not answering the doors is one option, as is going out. I've offered fresh fruit as the treat before now. That confuses them. The Addams Family had the right idea with a vat of boiling oil from the rooftop although of course, in the interest of health and safety and litigation, I am in no way recommending nor condoning it, just quoting it as an example. Cold water should have the same desired effect.

Responsible shops have posters up stating that they will not sell eggs or flour to anyone under 16 years old. Oh good. That should be just as effective as the smoking and alcohol notices then.

If you are concerned, contact your local Police Station or Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator as you should be able to get hold of a 'No Trick or Treat' poster to place by your front door.

Finally, I heard of one person who placed a notice on the door. "Dear Trick or Treater. My bell is not working, so please help you to a treat from the basket on the doorstep. First come, first served". He then placed an empty basket on the step, shut the door and settled back into his armchair.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Behind the scenes with Katie Melua

The Beeb are not running competitions at the moment. Thanks to Blue Peter, some kittens and a lack of respect for its paymasters' intelligence it got itself into hot water (not the kittens) for fixing competitions and currently all competitions are banned.

That notwithstanding, I (and a hundred or so others) won a competition recently. Radio 2's Ken Bruce features an 'Album of the week' and this week it is Katie Melua's latest offering - 'PicturesPictures by Katie Malua'. A bit of mutual back-scratching (I think Ken got the better deal, there) meant that she performed Live for the show at the BBC Radio Theatre. Competition entry involved filling out a form on t'interweb on his Home page, or sending a text via mobile 'phone. The skill element was completing my details correctly, which I managed with a bit of head scratching. A week later, I was contacted to say I had won and this morning, the alarm went off at 6.30 in preparation for the journey. I'll gloss over the journey except to say that there are charities out there caring for animals that have a better life than the intercity commuter.

BBC staff were efficient, if numerous at getting us into the building and our 'green room' and soon after 9 a.m. we were shepherded into the studio. Ken himself was the warm-up act, completely at ease despite being away from the comfort of his studio, facing a live audience and having a floor manager counting him in. After the banter between him and Terry Wogan he did the necessary introductions, played a couple of tracks and then introduced Katie, who proceeded to open with her latest single. Ken then hot-footed it back to his studio, but kept a beady eye on operations through a video link as well as chatting to Katie before and after each spot during the rest of the morning.

Although Katie only performed five numbers, she rehearsed each with her musicians and the BBC Symphony orchestra and chatted to the audience between.

There was a lot of waiting around as her spots were spread over the 2 1/2 hour show, but it provided a fascinating glimpse into the operations of a Live performance. I counted three sound desks - hers on-stage, one at the back of the auditorium and one in the glass Control room at the back. They may not all have been in use, but at least two were and if anyone can explain why more than one was needed I am all ears.

The BBC, for all its criticism, liquid lunches and overpaid chat-show hosts, does know how to patch a broadcast together from multiple locations; the Symphony orchestra was excellent at picking up a number with (presumably) no notice and making it sound good and Ken proved that you don't have to be a trendy young gift-of-the-gab DJ type to get an audience onside and produce a slick operation whilst giving out an air of casualness.

This was a free competition, but BBC TV and Radio recordings in general are free to go and see - all you need to do is apply for tickets for the show of your choice You'll be well looked after and get a glimpse of what goes on.

Oh and one final 'thank you' to Katie Melua who seems to be unaffected by new found stardom unlike certain other primadonnas of her generation and was more than happy to sign autographs and chat afterwards. I classify her as a folk rather than pop singer and this is a visible trait on the Folk Scene with very few pretensions around.

A day out of the office, some great music and afterwards a pleasant lunch at a Turkish restaurant a couple of doors down (recommended). Lovely jubbly. Shame about the trains.