Dec 29 2008

Gothla UK 2008 Videos

Excerpts from the first seven performances at Gothla UK 2008, British Theatre Dance Association, Leicester, 18th July.

Excerpts from six of the later performances at Gothla UK 2008. Deva Matisa expressly asked not to be filmed.

Video and editing by Sue Hutton. Videos uploaded to GothlaUK YouTube site.

First published 24th July 2008.

Dec 29 2008

Aarachna dancing at Gothla UK 2008

The second Gothla UK event took place in Leicester, UK, this last weekend, 18th-20th July 2008.

The hafla was held in the theatre of the British Theatre Dance Association.  Fourteen acts included some of the foremost exponents of gothic bellydancing – Ariellah, Sashi and Tempest from the USA, Deva Matisa from Germany and Morgana from Spain, as well as performers from around UK.

I have been the webmistress for Gothla UK since the beginning of 2007 and instrumental in setting up the online payment system.  I print the tickets, design the posters, send out the newsletters, maintain the blog and generally liaise with managers of the venues in Leicester in partnership with my daughter Rosie.

Over the weekend, I’ve stood on duty in the booking office at BTDA, been ‘chick on the door’ at Studio 79 and minded the Gothla stall at the souk (bellydance accoutrements).

The event passed off very smoothly. We had ladies coming from as far afield as the Czech Republic, Poland, Italy and Sweden as well as from all over UK.  It looks as if it will become an annual event.

I’m very pleased and proud to air this video I took of Rosie, stage name Aarachna, dancing at the hafla on Friday evening.  Her backing track was Exterminate, Annihilate, Destroy by Rotersand. As her intro stated, there’s not a cyberman, doctor nor dalek in sight!

First published 22nd July 2008.

Dec 29 2008

Leicester Bach Choir in Germany

I travelled with the Leicester Bach Choir to Germany between 13th-16th June 2008. We visited Thomaskirche in Leipzig, where J S Bach worked for the last 27 years of his life

We sang a concert of accompanied and a capella pieces of European Sacred Music in the Stadtkirche of Meiningen on Saturday evening to an audience of over 100. The acoustic was tremendous.

We also sang the accompanied items in the morning service at Georgenkirche in Eisenach on Sunday. J S Bach was baptised at the font in the church.

View the photos on Flickr.

The video shows some of the more informal moments of our tour around Eisenach.

First published 18th June 2008.

Dec 29 2008

ELAPs Juniors and Ernie

Fairground roustabout summons the crowd to the boxing match

Fairground roustabout summons the crowd to the boxing match

I’ve had a great time the first half of this year directing East Leake Amateur Player’s Juniors (ELAPs Juniors) in Alan Ayckbourn’s Ernie’s Incredible Illucinations

Twenty-one youngsters travelled to the Dukeries’ Theatre in Ollerton to perform the piece at the NANDA Youth Theatre Festival on May 10th

The company rose to the occasion. I only wish I could have seen their performance but I had to stand in the wings as prompt as one young person consistently forgot his lines

Four kids were Highly Commended for their acting, three of them aged 11 or younger. I only wish the adjudication could have been more positive, but sadly, one had the feeling that the adjudicator did not like the play, had not read the script beforehand and chose to concentrate on irrelevant issues such as the naming of ‘visionary’ characters in the programme

He did manage to say that the ‘illucinations’ were good. For those who don’t know the script, Ernie’s parents have taken him to see the doctor since Ernie’s fertile imagination can bring situations to life. This isn’t always convenient. For example, the Nazi soldiers are all shot dead and a spy is murdered in the library

My favourite illucination was the fairground which gave everybody to adopt and express a character. Auntie May was played by a tiny ten-year old who scampered around the seedy former world boxing champion, Kid Saracen, felling him with a right hook.

Doctor leads the brass band through the surgery

Doctor leads the brass band through the surgery

I was delighted that the East Leake Revival Band gave us such magnificent support. Not only did the leader rehearse the kids in marching, he and his band also came all the way to Ollerton to accompany the final illucination in the background as a brass band.

The main purpose of adjudication is to give positive and constructive feedback, and thus is directed as much to directors as performers, if not more so. I agreed with the adjudicator about minimising the movement of chairs and tables, which ‘broke the magic’, and I could have done that differently at the festival if my brain had worked in time. I could also understand, with hindsight, what he meant about certain scenes being ‘rushed’.

But it would have been much more positive if he could have taken the time to congratulate ELAPs Juniors on their enthusiasm, confidence and diction. We spent a lot of time on warmups and bringing out voice in rehearsal. It paid off. Everyone could be heard at the back of the theatre.

We had an infinitely more appreciative audience at East Leake Village Hall the following week, when friends and family thronged in to support their Juniors.

First published 29th May

Dec 29 2008

Creating panorama shots in Photoshop CS3

Petra Tou Roumio, Cyprus, birthplace of Aphrodite

Petra Tou Roumio, Cyprus, birthplace of Aphrodite

When I can’t decide on a creative issue on a website, or if I have to write something, I procrastinate. Don’t you? This morning, my procrastination led me to review the photos I’d taken while on holiday in Paphos, Cyprus, in April last year. I rather fancied the idea of entering the Creative Challenge at Webshots Blog and thought there might be something suitable in the Paphos folder, but there isn’t. I had a very handy, small Nikon camera with me on holiday, but the light was very bright in Cyprus and the camera tended to over-expose.

However, I thought I’d try making a panoramic shot of Petra tou Roumio Bay in Photoshop CS3. The individual photos aren’t anything to shout about, but the view as a whole is breathtaking. Photoshop has enabled its users to assemble panoramic montages in several earlier versions, and has provided more scope with this facility in its latest CS3 rendition.

Open Photoshop. Go to File > Automate > Photomerge. A dialog box opens offering you five editing options, depending on how much control you want to take over the process. There’s Auto, Perspective, Cylindrical, Reposition Only and Interactive Layout. Rather than my trying to explain what each of these options do, I think you would get a more intuitive grasp by going through the process. You are able to choose the photos that you want to include, either by having them already open in Photoshop, or in a folder, or by using Control + Click on a PC (presumably Apple key + Click on a Mac) on the particular files within a folder.

Make sure that there is an identifiable feature at the edge of each photo which can be matched to the next one, and you should have taken each of the photos with the same camera settings from the same spot for the process to work most smoothly.

Click OK and Photoshop goes into action building the panorama. Depending on the amount of RAM in your computer and how big each individual photo file is, this could take seconds or minutes. I have a lot of RAM on my PC, but it still took at least 10 seconds to build my panorama of Petra tou Roumio.

The delay might have been caused by the fact that Photoshop simply couldn’t match one of the photos at one end. There wasn’t enough of the recognisable feature for the program to work on. In this case, I cropped and saved the panorama image as a psd file, then expanded the canvas, making sure to stretch it to the right, added a new layer, opened the offending photo, selected and copied it, and then pasted it into the new layer in the panorama.

It wasn’t a perfect match but the clone tool used on the top layer helped me smooth out the obvious joins. Since most of the join was sky and sea, this was fairly easy. You’d have a hard time of it with something detailed. Alternate between the underlying panorama image and the top layer to adjust your clone tool settings. Then I cropped the photo once more.

I had to resize the image and save it for the web to be sure that it wouldn’t overload bandwidth and might actually have a chance of displaying in its entirety on a web page. Click on the image above and it should open in a pop-up box.

What’s the story behind Petra tou Roumio? Cyprus has been a centre for the worship of Aphrodite and fertility and her earlier incarnations since even before Greek times. There’s a magical quality about the light at Petra tou Roumio, which lies at the southwestern point of the island. The bay is backed by white chalk cliffs. The whiteness of the chalk stretching under the sea gives the colour of the water a milky quality and also enhances the blue. The light is very bright.

The legend is that Aphrodite/Venus rose out of the sea here at the rocks, where the seed of her father Uranus fell into the ocean. For a most wonderful representation in art, see the Botticelli painting held in the Uffici Gallery in Florence, Italy.

First published 12th April

Dec 29 2008

Public service, new websites

At the beginning of November, I received a phone call from someone working at Public Service Events, a quasi government body which organises promotional events such as conferences and workshops on behalf of government.

I had, apparently, been identified as an SME too small to bid for government tenders.  Aware of the discrimination this caused, certain elements in public service were examining measures to enable freelancers, such as myself, to bid on local and central government projects not exceeding £140,000 (or similar figure) in budget.  Various bureaucratic hurdles in the tender process would be waived.

I had come to somebody’s attention as a practitioner of accessible website design.  The caller asked if I would be prepared to speak at an event to be held in London on 6th December.  As it happened, I had a prior engagement, playing Dandini in the East Leake Amateur Players’ pantomime that week, so I had to decline.

If you look on the PSCA website you will find that the meeting was entitled ‘Skills for the Future –Leadership and Management in the Public Sector’.  It’s not quite how I interpreted my caller’s explanation, but is, presumably, the same event.

In the meantime, I have built two more small websites according to accessible principles, for a client in Oman.  In Oman note, not UK.

See them at Oasis Tours, Oman, and Music Awards Oman.

First published 23rd December 2007

Dec 29 2008

Gothla, Jogle 2007 and Betjeman

It's not that I've been doing nothing, but that I have been doing a lot which has prevented me from updating my news.  It didn't help when I discovered that I wasn't able to log in to write an entry.  This was finally resolved when I worked out that the web host had changed security settings on my site.

Gothla happened in June.  I wrote originally about the positive interaction we were having with Internet marketing and social networking back in February

The event itself was a great success, and we are looking forward to repeating it next year, this time in a specialist performing arts venue in Leicester.  Over 100 people thronged to the hafla on the Friday evening.  The workshops were fully booked, such that Sashi repeated her Gothic Tribal Bellydance workshop on the Sunday afternoon, and even that was over-subscribed.

The website has been updated with video and links to a photo gallery on Flickr

No sooner had I finished, temporarily, with Gothla, then I was organising the John O' Groats to Lands' End bike ride on behalf of my son and four of his friends.  Seventeen year old lads have the energy and fitness levels to do the ride, but lack the organisational know-how.  More sombrely, we discovered that they did need adult backing anyway to be able to make bookings at campsites.  Several campsites demurred at the age of the boys and only accepted them when they knew that they would be accompanied by adults.  I was surprised to find out that most campsites will not accept bookings from same sex parties.

Notwithstanding, the ride went ahead and was hugely successfull and fulfilling for all involved.  I have written up the story of the JoGLE on the web, which we hope will be a useful resource for anyone else wanting to undertake the journey.  Furthermore, the boys raised sponsorship of £1180 in aid of Cancer Research.  The cheque presentation took place last week during half term.

Finally, I researched, scripted and starred in an entertainment at The Richard Attenborough Centre in Leicester at the end of September, entitled, How to Get On in Society! John Betjeman revealed in his poetry and song. I had fantastic support from friends and was pleased that we managed to get around 60 people in the audience, including members of The Betjeman Society.  Again, I'd had to trudge the streets of Leicester to distribute leaflets and talk to media outlets.  It's not enough to send press releases by email.  You have to get on the phone as well or meet people directly.

And I took my Open University exam in Economics a week later.

First published 28th October 2007.

Dec 29 2008

Into Print!

Inside Edge, issue 7

Inside Edge, issue 7

I was awarded a job late last year, to produce print-ready copy for The Intrepid Repairer, the magazine of the National Association of Musical Repairers (NAMIR).

Although I've developed web-building skills over the last few years, I hadn't actually worked with page layout software, other than Microsoft Publisher. A job like this deserved the right tools for the task. So I bought QuarkXpress 7, and taught myself double quick. I really do have to acknowledge the online video tutorials at, a US company which specialises in teaching use of software I couldn't have done it without those tutorials, if only because print production is so very different from web-building software.

Inside Edge - issue 8

Inside Edge - issue 8

It took me a while to discover the resources for obtaining certification in using QuarkXpress, from a Florida-based company called Against the Clock. If I ever get the chance, I shall work through the documentation.

I produced my first issue of the magazine successfully, and was gratifed when members told me that they liked the clarity and readability of the layout.

My skills have also been pressed into use at Shepshed Town Cricket Club, for which I am producing Inside Edge, a 4-page newsletter, at regular intervals this cricket season – view the photos.  Not only that, I also wrote all the copy with the exception of the captain's column! If you'd like to see more examples of my print work, please download the files to view as pdfs

Inside Edge no. 7 (360 Kb) and Inside Edge no. 8 (490 Kb).

My first print catalogue using QuarkXpress can be seen at a client's site, Blazewear Heated Clothes. (1Mb)

Please contact me if you would like a quotation for print-ready work.

First published 1st June 2007.

Dec 29 2008

Percy and Asthma Research

Girl blowing dandelion - emblem of the British Lung Foundation

Girl blowing dandelion - emblem of the British Lung Foundation

My father Percy, died of asbestosis three years ago yesterday. Donations made at the time of his funeral were used to set up a 'Breath of Life' fund by the British Lung Foundation. I have supplemented this over the last two years with proceeds from my recital in October 2005 and sales of my CDs to friends in 2006. If you visit that page, you will see a photo of Percy giving the thumbs up, just 36 hours before he died in his sleep.

Speaking to a representative at the British Lung Foundation, I decided that the money collected in Percy's name should go to asthma research.

Asbestosis is a terrible disease. It crucifies the lungs, making them stiff and rigid so that they can't move to breathe air in and out. Some days when I visited Percy in hospital during his final weeks, he would say that he'd had terrible mornings, but would never explain why. I think his lungs must have just stopped. Even the constant oxygen supply wasn't enough to get the muscles working. It was almost as if he had to be primed like a pump.

Why did Percy get asbestosis? He worked for firms in the 1950s and 1960s which used asbestos as fire-proofing materials in partitions. The workers were told to use masks, but probably didn't because it was held to be namby-pamby. We think that one of Dad's favourite friends, Len Watkins, also died the same way.

But I hope that asbestosis will be a disease on the wane, now that society is aware of the dangers.

Therefore I agreed that the funds collected for Percy should go to asthma research, since the incidence of asthma is actually increasing. My daughter Rosie has asthma. Asbestosis is a disease of the past, I hope. Asthma is a disease now. I think that Percy would have wanted it that way. He was always looking forward, while remembering the past.

It's awful to know that he was told in 1979 that he had pleural plaques on his lungs which would probably lead to asbestosis and his death. But he never told us, and he never let it get in the way of enjoying his life.

Here are some words from the British Lung Foundation about their work.

"The British Lung Foundation is the only UK charity working for everyone affected by lung disease. The charity focuses its resources on providing support for people affected by lung disease today; and works in a variety of ways (including funding world-class research) to bring about positive change, to improve treatment, care and support for people affected by lung disease in the future.

Asthma is probably the UK's most common lung condition, affecting about five million people in the UK. Although the causes of asthma are unknown at present, we do know that various factors contribute. The airways of someone with asthma are inflamed, which makes them more likely to become narrow and so making it harder for air to get in and out of the lungs. The symptoms of asthma are shortness of breath, wheezing and a tight feeling in the chest.

Certain factors – known as "triggers" – are known to make asthma worse. When asthma gets worse for no apparent reason, this is known as an asthma attack. Some of the triggers include the common cold, allergies such as grass pollen, house dust and animal fur, irritants like tobacco smoke or a dusty atmosphere, strong emotion and pollution.

There is no cure for asthma, but with treatment, most people can lead normal lives. Many treatments are available, given either as an inhaler or in tablet form. The British Lung Foundation is currently funding a number of research projects into asthma. Dr Graham Roberts at the University of Southampton is investigating whether pregnant women's diets affect their babies' chances of developing asthma and other chest problems.

Dr Andrea Venn at the University of Nottingham is conducting research into whether living close to a main road increases the risk of developing asthma, allergies or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. lthough there is already evidence that pollution can worsen the symptoms of people living with lung diseases, it is not known whether traffic pollution can cause these conditions or cause a longer term decrease in lung function."

If you have been moved by Percy's plight and his bravery, please consider making a donation to the British Lung Foundation.

First published 20th March 2007.

Dec 29 2008

Handy tool for web designers

Designers who are used to using pixels for sizing fonts on web pages, should find this pixel to em converter a very handy tool.  My only query is that it doesn't tell me about the relationship to different fonts.  For example, text written in 12pt Arial looks bigger than 12pt Times New Roman.

But it will save me time in future.  I can spend a lot of time compared to my present practice of changing values in CSS, uploading the file by FTP and then reloading a page to assess whether the font size is acceptable.

Why use ems rather than pixels?  Pixels specify the font on a web page at a fixed size which cannot be resized by the browser, whereas fonts specified in ems can be resized by the browser. This is extremely useful for people who prefer to read font on a screen at a larger size.  In fact, it is a crucial strand in accessible web design.

The link to this tool came from web accessibility experts, WebCredible.

First published 1st March 2007.

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