Lark Rise to Candleford – no more

Lark Rise to Candleford has been a real treasure from the trove that is BBC Television.

Each episode was a pleasure in and of itself whilst enriched by watching as a series as the characters and plot developed – it lasted four series and forty episodes.

There will be no fifth series as the BBC have decided not to re-commission one.  This has caused a popular outcry and I can understand why.  I have not read the Flora Thompson trilogy of books on which the series is based and if the series ended in step with the trilogy then I can understand its ending – but this does not appear to be the case and the BBC explanation for its demise I find vague and very puzzling.

I enjoyed so much about this program – from its opening theme composed by Julian Nott, its narration by Sarah Lancashire (as the adult Laura Timmins and sounding uncannily like Olivia Hallinan the actor who plays her on screen), the acting of all the Lark Rise and Candleford residents and the observational and subtle writing.

There were some impressive male performances most notably for me Brendan Coyle as Robert Timmins before he disappeared in Series 4 – for employment as Lord Grantham’s valet at Downton Abbey it seems!

Julia Sawalha as Dorcas Lane

The women though I thought made the show. Dorcas Lane played with consummate skill by Julia Salwalha was the centre-piece of the program – not just its post-mistress but the moral anchor of Candleford as Emma Timmins (outstandingly performed by Claudie Blakley) the moral anchor of Lark Rise.

Olivia Hallinan was another formidable performance as Emma’s daughter Laura.  I have been enjoying her as Kim in the re-airing of Sugar Rush on 4 Music where again she also serves has that program’s narrator and beating heart.

Matilda Ziegler and Victoria Hamilton were memorable too as the Pratt Sisters – owners, designers and dress-makers of their own women’s clothing store. The fashions of the period were another pleasure for me of this series – though I think I enjoyed the fashion of Dorcas more than that of Ruby and Pearl!

I found the writing sharp, funny and moving and a fascinating social history of English rural life at the end of the 19th Century.

I will miss Lark Rise to Candleford very much.

And another set of books to add to my never-ending reading list!

Avaaz – hear our voices – internet global petitioning

Avaaz in their words are ‘a global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere’.

Avaaz comes from the Persian word for ‘voice’ or ‘song’ and was founded in 2007 in the spirit of other such burgeoning social media at the time most notably Facebook and Twitter.

And in the spirit of the disconnect between those governing and those governed – and not just in Dictatorships but alas in Democratic nations and the spectre of Croney Capitalism with the mainstream media fused with its governments and global corporate interests – with most of the mainstream hard working populace left out in the cold.

Avaaz is an attempt to bring the often unheard voices of peoples of all countries together to persuade our often remote and unlistening global leaders to a particular cause.

Identifying causes which are universal, shared across cultures and nations, is no easy task and in the television program Hard Talk on the BBC 24 channel Stephen Sackur addressed these and other issues very forcefully.

The program also addressed the politics of the organization – broadly liberal.  This is not an issue for me – the world is diverse and we are not going to agree on all things – but if we believe in an issue then campaign for it – if you don’t like the particular cause espoused then you do not have to sign your name against it.  Further similar petitioning organizations are likely to be set up from a conservative outlook and agenda – it is all about peaceful if passionate persuasion of a particular cause.

I have taken part in a few myself recently – a petition against Rupert Murdoch and his move to increase ownership of BSkyB and hence control over the UK Media and another petition against the appalling practice of corrective rape in South Africa (raping gay women to cure them of their ‘lesbianism’).

Another campaign to the UN Security council to protect the Libyan people protesting against the Government Dictatorship from violent reprisals may have been influential in the decision to impose a No Fly zone over the country on March 19.

It is heartening to be reminded that there is so much that unites rather than divides us and that those who share our values come from every country of the world, from every culture, from every class.

Who Do We Think We Are?

The Wall to Wall family research series Who Do You Think You Are? which originally broadcast on the BBC back in 2004 and currently is being re-aired on the Yesterday channel (strapline The Past Is Always Present!) I always make a point of watching its new episodes not just because I have an interest in family research and a tree set up on Ancestry but because I enjoy the social history that underpin such programmes.  In school our British history was generally the tale of our ruling orders – Kings, Queens, other such noble (and often not very noble) aristocrats and latterly governing politicians – but the history of ordinary working people was often a footnote if mentioned at all and Who Do You Think You Are is a fascinating resource in correcting this – leaving aside Olympic Gold Medalist Rower Matthew Pinsent and Actor Brooke Shields and their very aristocratic backgrounds!

Royal Brooke

I enjoyed this social history of Britain and I enjoyed the USA spin off when the BBC aired some of its episodes from June 2010 as an opportunity to explore the wider history of its country.  I note also versions for other English speaking countries such as Australia, Canada and South Africa.  And a number of non-English speaking ones from various Scandinavian countries – even without knowing much about the particular celebrities of any of these countries I would be interested in viewing a few episodes from those series too, again to discover more about the history of their peoples.

The greatest family history resource for most of us in the UK for the last few centuries has been the decade frequent census first commenced in 1801.

Today we are having to fill in the 2011 census – I just completed mine online – and I completed it with my future descendants in mind so much as for the Scottish government officials who will utilize the data for the various social planning mandates stated in its purpose.  The census started as a quite modest affair and though not unsurprisingly the number of questions it asks has multiplied I still do not consider it intrusive as some people do. Though I cannot but wonder with the web and the trail we leave behind us on it whether far more richer sources of information will be found in these personal domains than in this public government overseen resource.

The BBC to mark this census aired ‘This is Britain with Andrew Marr‘ which provided a fascinating profile of our country past and present.

And indeed I found the social make-up of this country as revealed in the very recent history of the 2001 census as revealing as the social history detailed from the two centuries preceding us.

Facts and figures can be dry and prosaic but what they can reveal on closer scrutiny is as poetic and revealing as any fictional account of those times – and provide an instructive insight of a country and its people beyond the political spin and ideology of its times.

Feel the power – Solar power








Fashion designer Katharine Hamnett was on the BBC’s graveyard political show This Week first broadcast last week March 18 arguing against nuclear power in the wake of the Japan Fukushima Nuclear plant disaster and still potential meltdown – with host Andrew Neil studio regular Michael Portillo and Labour MP and current regular guest Jacqui Smith.

The case for it was reprised – energy security and reducing the carbon foot-print – not being over-dependent on Oil and the despotic regimes responsible for much of its output and being clean and green.

Naturally arguing against nuclear power or at least to pause and re-consider its safety and security before commissioning any new reactors the alternatives were considered – and the alternatives discussed were wind, carbon capture & storage of existing fossil fuels, finally tidal power,  but not solar power – it was listed in her preamble but not mentioned at all in the ensuing studio discussion.

Studio Discussion

I wondered about this – perhaps the science was still not advanced enough – or perhaps too expensive to be commercially viable.  I do not profess an expertise in this area and thought it was something I should explore further.

And what should arrive in my Inbox a few days later in the latest weekly Email from Scientific American but a guest blog article by Ramez Nam titled ‘Smaller, cheaper, faster: Does Moore’s law apply to solar cells?’.

You should read the article yourself as it will explain it far better than I ever could but its brief thrust is that solar power could provide not just some of all our energy needs – not even all our energy needs so much as beyond all our energy needs!  We would be overwhelmed by the surplus it could produce. And the science is there and commercially it is getting ever  cheaper ever more viable – if not viable just yet – a decade or so over the horizon perhaps.

And in respect of the energy production and consumption cycle so much greener and safer – no terrifying radioactive waste produced needing to be stored for millennia thereafter. And no nation would or could have a monopoly on it.

Why then is solar power so overlooked and why are so many countries continuing to go nuclear?  I am not going to ask why governments and political parties are not able to look beyond the horizon of the next election cycle – I am not that naive! – but cannot but wonder that had a solar bomb been developed in the last century as part of the Manhattan Project rather than a nuclear one that solar energy would now be in all our homes.

War leading science, the proverbial tail wagging the dog.

Pure Digital Radio – cleaning up the nation…

I purchased my digital radio six years ago from Empire Direct and the Pure Evoke 2 sits in my kitchen pumping out content from the moment I awake to the moment I retire – not that I spend my entire day in my kitchen I should add! Rather as I go about my home each time I need to visit my kitchen I am greeted by whatever station I am tuned to at that time.  The latest model includes naturally a number of refinements including the ability to connect an iPod – and I presume iPhone – and to pause and rewind digital radio for up to fifteen minutes – but I am more than satisfied with the older version I have.

What could I be listening too!

Digital radio has a lot of competition not just from other formats such as Internet radio but also the format itself delivered on other platforms like satellite and cable. But I like that my radio is self-contained unintegrated with the rest of the online world.  The sound from the two speakers is remarkable – even at a modest volume it produces a richness and power quite surprising given its small stature.  And it is a bit of a looker too!  My only niggle was that the handle came off – odd too as I am not in the habit of carrying the radio about – perhaps it came loose because of being in a kitchen the day long and subject to condensation – however it is a minor niggle as the handle for me serves no function I require, purely ornamental.

And what a lot of stations are on offer.  I have no favourite rather I stick with a station until I fancy a change and move along the dial usually to the very next station – very few channels I ever feel the need to skip.

In addition to the usual family of BBC stations including the indispensable Radio 3 and local Radio Scotland there are the Absolute family of stations – their 80’s and 90’s stations are available to me but the 00’s (pronounced Naughties!) station is not.  And though I do not feel a need for a 60’s and 70’s version as those two decades are so well served already an Absolute 50’s would be a pleasure as a decade beginning to become overlooked.

Local stations are well served too which in my case include Forth, Clyde and Real radio – stations that I would not be able to pick up if reliant on FM alone.

A notable mention to Amazing radio a station to showcase new and unsigned talent – a station I am sure that would have gladdened the heart of the late John Peel.

There have been a number of casualties along the way – I miss both the rock Arrow and ambient Chill – but there are more than enough other stations to keep my attention any time of the day, any day of the week.

Digital sound is pristine but reception is not perfect for all stations – Clyde, Forth and Radio Scotland can sometimes fade away but it is easy enough to recover them.

Now to paraphrase the English Elvis again – digital radio is the sound salvation…

The New York Times – Pay Up…

On Thursday I received an Email from the New York Times or more specifically its publisher announcing that from March 28 I would have to pay to read its content beyond an allowed 20 articles per month.

I have already experienced this with the Financial Times where I am now similarly restricted to how much of their content I can read per month.

I am not unsympathetic – they are a business not a charity, their writers and other contributors need to be paid and I understand that ad-supported content can only support an online journal so far.  But I am also a consumer on a budget with the ostensibly no brainer decision of choosing between content I can get for free and similar content for a fee.

Why would I and any other consumer pay for content in this context?

Bush House home of The BBC World Service

State taxation funded media such as the BBC in the UK is a huge provider of free and trusted online content – when presented with such content the idea that many readers will get out their credit cards and go in search of similar content from a private competitor is stretching credulity.

What can they provide that is value added?  Perhaps specialized content?

But even here specialists are still competing with other specialists that provide similar content for free – New Scientist use to offer a lot of their content for free now they restrict what can be seen – I used to pay for their print journal so was not averse to paying for it in digital form – that is until I happened across Scientific American which offers me similar content for free.  So I never did subscribe to the New Scientist nor have I yet to have paid a penny for the FT and am doubtful I will be paying a cent for the New York Times either.

As well as a reader of content I am also a producer with this blog and all of it is available to read for free for any of you that should happen to stumble upon it, this one blog in a sea of blogs – certainly as an unknown writer I am in no position to charge for others to read this content – this blog would be even less read than it is now.

If then a journal is well known, well respected, well loved can it expect that its readers will pay to read its content?  For the New York Times would I pay to read the articles of writers I admire such as Paul Krugman or Maureen Dowd.

I think the payment structure has to be pretty micro – this in itself is still a reasonable business proposition – content is much cheaper to produce online and the potential readership much larger so even small payments would soon add up.

I wonder even a model practiced by some software providers with donate ware – you can read the content for free but if you liked what you read you can make a donation of whatever size on the content page.

So content costs but will it pay?  You can watch this space – but at what price?!