andrew's blog

First working day of the smoking ban

Today is 2 July. Also known as the first working day of the English ban on smoking in 'public places'.

A month or so ago, I wrote about my predictions for the ban. Well, dear reader, I'm rather smugly going to report to you that Bonapartes in London Cannon St station didn't even see out the month. It has now closed, as has the itty-bitty Marks & Spencers downstairs, apparent victims to the long-overdue refurbishment of the station.

This morning was superb, though. Not a whiff of smoke at Maze Hill. No lungfuls of smoke carried illicitly across the boundary between the outside and train carriage. No smelly leather jackets (an aside: do leather jacket owners appreciate just how much their coats reek? This is especially true if they smoke). Nice fresh air on the platform at Cannon St. and a superb atmosphere in the concourse.

The first morning is, I profess, a roaring success.

The media have really enjoyed themselves, of course, straining to compete against each other to find ever more absurd exaggerations for how oppressive this all is. They are wrong. There might have been better solutions available, but this one isn't all bad. Particularly batty is The Times, which complains that some councils are seeking to extend the ban to cover parks and playgrounds. Well, unfortunately, they can't legally enforce such a ban if they do. But can anyone legitimately explain why anyone should not be fined for smoking in a children's play area?

Since you're probably interested, here is my preferred approach to a smoking ban:

(1) Government bans smoking in all its offices and workplaces. Without any exceptions (read: foreign diplomats visiting here).

(2) Government bans smoking in all public outdoor spaces - streets, parks, playgrounds, etc. (Government has the authority to regulate real shared public spaces).

(3) Government makes it a condition of any contract to operate public services (e.g. public transport) that they be smoke-free.

(4) Government to incentivise public venues (e.g. bars, restaurants, sports stadiums) to operate on a completely smoke-free basis.

That's a market-based approach to reducing public smoking.

Anyway, we'll need some more restrictions someday anyway, to deal with the deficiencies of the current ban.

The problem with Comcast

This is a technical post which explains why, recently, e-mails between and have not been delivered.

In a nutshell, is administered by complete morons.

Now for the longer version. Our domain,, is administered by the cheap-as-chips and usually wonderful provider They're the no-frills service of Hostroute. Due to the problem of spam, Hostroute operates 'sender verify' on incoming e-mail.

In effect, that means for every e-mail a customer sends to a hostroute customer, a test goes back the other direction, in order to verify that the account really exists. has decided that this constitutes spamlike behaviour and has blocked all e-mail from hostroute. And because this prevents hostroute from validating sender verify, it means no e-mail can go the other way either.

Hostroute have very kindly (and quickly!) diagnosed the problem and have turned sender verify off for our specific case. I have used their website notification tool to alert them, but can be convinced to remove their block as quickly?

Perhaps if they're prodded often enough (hint: Gramma get to it!)

The day I supported Motorhead

Another Saturday, another Voicelab gig.

This time it was a special request from Sir Jarvis of Cocker to open up his Meltdown festival by singing the Sanctus from Missa Luba. This was to support the first gig of the festival, none other than legendary hard rockers Motorhead! We picked up the piece in the first couple of hours of rehearsing, which meant a fair bit of sitting around doing nothing. The rehearsals themselves were fun, though, and the African drummers were awesome.

During the first break, Neil Voicelab announced, to tumultuous applause, that he could get us complimentary tickets to see Motorhead. Now, I suspect I would rather lose a limb than spend even a fleeting moment listening to Motorhead. As it was, the bloke I was sitting next to, a nice chap called Robin, said that he would quite like an extra ticket so I got one for him.

We performed three times - once outside, once inside to open the festival, then another time inside, this time introduced by Jarvis himself. He explained the importance of the piece to him - it is central to the film If and its message of the need to overthrow bossying authority (New Labour, anyone?). There were lots of Motorheady types in the crowd and they seemed to enjoy it.

Afterwards, at home, I felt the need to cleanse my musical palette, a sort of aural enema, if you will. So, at ferocious volume, I listened to The 13th Floor Elevators - Slip inside this house (Roky Erickson is playing at Meltdown tonight), the whole of Gag - A Friday Face with a Friday smile, and the first few songs from Rapeman - Two Nuns and a Pack Mule. Now that's real noise. Motorhead sounds like your mundane Top 40 pap next to that little lot.

Looking back at the Overture weekend

So, the Overture weekend is over. And, by and large, it was fun. It was splendid to see so many people down at the Southbank Centre to see the reopening of the Royal Festival Hall, even if they never make it back there again. And a massive thank-you to Regan for taking the strain with the girls over the last couple of months just so I could take part. However I'm still feeling a bit grumpy about it all, not least because I remain completely exhausted.

  1. The journeys home after the Singing River rehearsal and two performances - three nights in a row on the 23:14 train - weren't much fun. It's all too easy to be a snob about young people. No, really, it's all too easy - they are complete scum at that time of the night. Noisy, smelly, drunk, menacing. It's thoroughly revolting. Whatever I get involved in next, I'll try to make sure it finishes earlier in the evening.
  2. Female tenors. They didn't have them in my day and I'm going to reserve judgement as to whether they're necessarily a good thing (singing-wise, they're all friendly enough). Perhaps for the purposes of the massed choir it doesn't actually matter, but for smaller choirs I don't see how the sounds can blend properly, particularly in the 'premium' notes of the tenor repertoire (high Fs and above).
  3. I remain unconvinced by Beethoven's 9th. Alex (Clockwork Orange) adored it, as do many other people. But I can't get over the fact that Beethoven simply didn't understand the human voice. The tenor line jumps all over the place as LvB dabs a bit of sound here, now shoves us there, back down again. It may sound good, but it's a pig to sing. Other composers didn't seem to have this problem, so I'm not prepared to cut him any slack. I guess my tastes have moved on - I was much more tolerant of Beethoven as a teenager; now I just find it boring.
  4. The Royal Festival Hall's refit may have done the business to the sound, but on leaving the hall you still end up with a couple of thousand people being funnelled down two very narrow stairwells. It's a pity that additional exits couldn't be added; I hate crowds so much that I'll gladly miss an entire concert just so I don't have to face being elbowed in a massive demonstration of Brownian motion by two thousand bastards on the way out.
  5. And much was made of the refit of the carpets in full 1950s retro style. Sadly after being trampled by thousands of feet over the weekend, they were completely chewed up and looked decidedly ragged on Sunday afternoon. There's also now a big coffee stain on the floor of the 5th floor function room, courtesy of a certain Voicelab singer. You know who you are!

However the highlight of the weekend for me was the Singing River. It worked just as it was intended and was a stunning spectacle for all who attended. The boat choirs were fabulous, and the chorale at the end really did permeate the entire building. It might have been viewed as pretentious, but the crowds appreciated it in the spirit in which it was intended. It was beautiful.


Two cautionary tales from the last 24 hours involving talking and stupid people.

(1) OK, so we're an amateur choir. We're unpaid. But that doesn't mean we need to be unprofessional. Last night, the people in the rows in front and behind insisted on talking most of the way through our performance. This is unmitigated lunacy. We had microphones all around us, so anything that was said was guaranteed to be broadcast to thousands of visitors. Even worse, during the sections in which we were meant to be chanting the people in front used that as an excuse to talk as well, chanting idiotic and irrelevant babblings to each other. Buckwheats to the lot of them.

(2) During our warmup, some brainstem in a red t-shirt took offence because we told him to stfu - he was talking really loudly to the Southbank staff while we were trying to listen to Matthew give us instructions during our warmup. He said (and I quote) "There's loads of room in here, why don't you just go over there?" (pointing to the other end of the room).

Er, because we're holding a rehearsal and because you're a feebleminded uneducated bully who really should get some sense of occasion.

Please accept this blog entry as my official application for admission to the guild of Grumpy Old Men.

Overture weekend pictures on the BBC

Whew, just got back from tonight's Singing River performance, which went really well. Too tired to post much, but I'll post a pointer to the BBC London coverage of the entire weekend.

That's all for now.

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