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Since we learned a new act to drive sorrows away [Oct. 16th, 2013|12:53 pm]
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This has been a good week for seeing well-known people in unusual settings doing interesting things.

On Friday, d_floorlandmine and I took ourselves off to the Barbican to see Bright Phoebus Revisited.

A bit of backstory required here - Bright Phoebus was a seminal modern folk album released in 1972 by The Watersons and friends. The songs were written mostly by Mike and Lal Waterson, with a variety of influences including traditional ballads, music hall, ragtime and psychedelia. Despite winning critical acclaim it was a small pressing, with the added complication that a significant number of the disks had the spindle holes misaligned, so couldn't be played. The album was deleted and the rights got sold on several times - who currently has them seems to be a bit murky.

Mike & Lal Waterson have both passed on now, but the surviving members of the ever-expanding Waterson & Carthy musical clan (spurred on by Lal's daughter Marry) put their collective heads together and decided to try to revive the songs from the album (as well as some 'lost' songs that were recorded but didn't make the final cut) in a series of concerts, with the surviving original artists (Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson and Bob Davenport) ably assisted by the younger family members as well as friends and collaborators.

All of which meant that on Friday night we got to see English folk royalty performing in the massive Barbican Hall with the same easy grace and gentle humour as if they were in their own front room, with contributions from Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker. So much talent was crammed onto that stage that stage hands kept having to find extra chairs as nobody wanted to leave the stage between 'their' songs in case they missed anything! It was an utterly amazing experience to hear these beautiful songs lifted out of obscurity, dusted off and given new life - and we were lucky enough to have scored front row seats for the show!

Then yesterday it was off to Central Hall in Westminster to hear Neil Gaiman read through his new children's book, Fortunately The Milk. I arrived at the venue (a massive Victorian Methodist hall near Parliament Square, which was also the venue for the first ever meeting of the UN, fact fans!) at 5.45 to find the queue already stretching almost around all four sides of the building, and staked our spot. By the time we made it into the door (chatting and waving to friends in the queue on the way) it had looped around another twice - it took about an hour from the doors opening to get everyone in!

Neil had promised '... and friends', and he has some great friends. First up was the compere, comedian and guitarist for The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing, Andrew O'Neill. He did some audience participation warm up, some jokes, and as it was a reading of a children's book, a particularly child-friendly shaggy dog story about what happens if you undo your bellybutton. Next up was Tim Smith - formerly known as TV Smith, singer with 70s punk band The Adverts (Gary Gilmour's Eyes, etc), who did a folky number about fishing ("Do punks turn into folkies when they get old?", asked Simon. "Yes. If you slow punk down, it's basically folk anyway."), and then introduced a friend of his to help him out on the next song. Tom Robinson. There is something about an audience cheering two 60-year-old blokes playing guitar and doing high-kicks that is both bizarre and endearing. Then it was time for the main event. Neil and illustrator Chris Riddell took to the stage and introduced the book, and then Neil read while Chris sketched along on a overhead projector. More '...and friends' were drafted in to take the parts of characters in the book, with Mitch Benn contributing a piratical song, Andrew O'Neill as a particularly vile vampire, a few other people I didn't know, then Lenny Henry turning up towards the end to play the part of a space traveller. The whole thing was brilliant, funny, charming and just a little bit shambolic, in the best possible way.

Then Amanda Palmer came on and sang a song about her ukelele. Least said, soonest mended.
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Hiatus [Sep. 30th, 2013|10:23 am]
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[Current Mood |blahblah]

I have decided to give Facebook a rest for a few weeks. I'm spending far too much time on it, and I seem to keep finding myself embroiled in silly arguments which end up with me feeling frustrated, angry and upset. This will probably be a temporary measure but I'm looking forward to spending more time on more interesting things. Which will possibly mean I will be writing more, and more frequently, on LJ.

Unfortunately this coincides with me being in a bit of a financial pickle at the moment - I had a couple of weeks without work earlier this month, and I've now started my new job which means getting paid monthly rather than weekly. So this month is going to be very, very quiet in terms of going out and socialising. Even going round a friend's house with a bottle of wine is probably more than I can stretch to.

On the plus side, having to economise on going out and on my food and drink will probably be better for my health - I'm eating lots of homemade soup full of veggies and pulses, and homemade sandwiches and fruit at work. With any luck I'll drop a few pounds, and give my body a chance to detox when I'm not throwing booze, saturated fat and nicotine at it quite so much.

Oh yeah... watched the first episode of the new Joss Whedon/Marvel thing last night - Agents of SHIELD. Team of young highly-skilled but neurotic hotties led by an older father/mentor figure? So far, so Whedon *yawn*. A few snappy one-liners and fragments of dialogue but so far struggling to care much about most of the characters. It reminds me a little of Warehouse 13 - so is it going to be just another Scooby-Doo-for-grownups show? Or is it going to go to some darker places? There's been a bit of foreshadowing. I'll give it a few more episodes and see.

Also watched BBC's new primetime fantasy drama Atlantis. Apparently being in a submarine accident and getting sucked through a portal to another world makes all your clothes fall off. Prediction: this will never be explained. Wow, I'm an Oracle too. 
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eBay stuff [Sep. 28th, 2013|06:29 pm]

In case anyone's interested I've got some more stuff on eBay at the moment, including an absolutely STUNNING hooded medieval-style dress in black and green satin - I bought it a while ago for Whitby but it just doesn't fit me (too tight across the boobs). Probably best on someone about a 14-16 but because it laces up it will adjust to fit.

Other items include a reproduction 1700s pewter bowl and a couple of vintage dresses. I'll be adding more over the coming week.

Buy my stuff! Please bid if you like something - I need the cash, badly.
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Further general musings [Sep. 5th, 2013|11:36 am]
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Summary: improvement in some areas, staying the same in others.

The big news of the week is that I have (or soon will have) a new job. I've been offered a role as Information & Communications Officer at the Pre-School Learning Alliance, an early years charity that also runs a number of  subsidised pre-schools around the country. It looks like a really interesting role and I'm looking forward to getting stuck into it - plus it's slightly better money than I've been on for a while, and it's permanent which means increased job security. Just waiting on references etc to come through so I can agree a start date. It's excellent timing as my current contracting role comes to an end tomorrow. I'm hoping for a nice few days' break in between so I can come to it feeling calm and refreshed.

I'm still experiencing low self-esteem in terms of my appearance. I did manage to go and get a haircut (for £28 which wasn't too bad - booked via wahanda.com which I can recommend for ease of use and convenience), and the hairdresser didn't do too terrible a job of it, though she clearly wasn't listening (or didn't believe me) when I told her that the application of any sort of heat would cause it to turn into an enormous pile of frizz. The increasing look of desperation on her face as she tried to smooth down the mess she'd caused was almost worth it. She's put some layers in which has made it all feel a lot lighter and less 'solid' around my face, and also means it looks prettier when I put it up into a ponytail as the curls are graduated rather than just a lump. Haven't tried doing anything more complicated yet but there should still be enough length at the front and sides to do quiffs, victory rolls etc if I feel like it. Oh and I treated myself to a fab new lipstick - Boots' Natural Collection in Crimson, which is a lovely light vintage-looking summery red, and only £1.99. I went back and bought a second one as I suspect I will get through it!

Other stuff, well, mostly the same. Love life a bit hit and miss, flat's still a state (and my oven broke - sudden loud pop and sharp electrical smell, and the breakers tripped, so I suspect something's blown), and I still haven't managed to get back to dance classes. Hopefully when I start the new job and am working more regular hours and in the same location every day I will be able to plan a bit better. 
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Hey... what's going on? [Aug. 20th, 2013|11:54 am]
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Some of the stresses I talked about in my last post have calmed down a bit. After a long struggle with banks and HMRC and accountants, I finally managed to get a business bank account opened and was able to invoice for my hours. The sense of relief was palpable. By the looks of things, all should proceed smoothly from here on in. I'm keeping stuff crossed.

Otherwise... still looking for my next job (this contract officially finished in mid-September, though there may be options after that). Still feeling a bit trapped in my small flat and dealing with my crappy landlord, though having done a huge clean ahead of a flat inspection (which he didn't even show up for, wasting my entire Saturday), it's at least feeling slightly more spacious.

I still have some stuff I need to clear out or re-purpose - might consider having people over for a clothes-swap/sale soon. I have a few old cotton dresses and skirts that aren't worth reselling or charity shopping so I'm going to cut them up and make pretty fabric-covered elastic belts, cushion slip covers and kerchiefs - which is about the limit of my sewing skills. I'll probably post here and on Facebook when I've done them and if anyone wants one I could make one for them for cost - keeping my hands busy and doing something creative is good for my brain-meats.

I still need a holiday, I still need much more love and nurturing and human contact. I was much sadder than I thought I'd be about having missed Beautiful Days this year - I also missed Strawberry Fair due to poor health, and Bearded Theory due to work and money. But I had a lovely weekend going for dinner and to the theatre on Saturday and to Kew Gardens on Sunday, with friends who I don't see often enough. I could definitely do with more like that (though Kew was a bit expensive, but then a lot of the big London tourist attractions are).

I'm still feeling bloated and unfit and tired a lot of the time, but I'm working on that. Spending the day walking around on Sunday left me with tired feet but feeling well-exercised and relaxed - I plan to do more walking. Now I'm getting paid (and the weather's cooled off a bit) I can get back to dance classes, which should help with my fitness and also mental health.

Dating is a bit slow. My lack of confidence at the moment is making me a bit nervous about meeting new people in case they think I'm ugly and stupid. I did have drinks with a nice chap last week - not convinced the chemistry was there but he seems like a genuine bloke, so we might go out again sometime. We shall see. A few other nibbles on the OkCupid line but nothing firm planned.

Also I badly need a haircut. Any recommendations for not-too-expensive hairdressers (like under £35 for a cut) in London that actually know how to cut curly hair? Otherwise I'll end up doing it myself with the bathroom scissors, which can generate slightly haphazard results. 
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General life update [Aug. 6th, 2013|01:11 pm]
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[Current Mood |sadsad]

Well, this year hasn't really gone as planned. I had hoped to be in secure employment, to have taken an overseas holiday, and have moved to a larger/nicer flat. Unfortunately none of these things have happened.

I'm currently working on a short-term contract for a local authority project. I'm self-employed, and setting up a business bank account is unexpectedly turning out to be a huge obstacle, so I haven't been paid in over a month as I can't invoice until I have the bank account.

Not being in a secure position work-wise means that I haven't been able to move, either - I would struggle to find a landlord who would take on someone in my position, and I don't know where I'm going to be working in the long run so it's hard to make a decision on where to move to (though realistically it would probably be South London still). My current landlord is insisting on another flat inspection before renewing my contract, which means I get to spend this week cleaning and tidying the flat and hoping he will be satisfied. Fun.

And the holiday didn't happen because a) I couldn't afford it and b) I had nobody to travel with.

What else is going on? Lots of stress in pretty much every aspect of my life. I'm still rather half-heartedly doing the OKCupid dating thing, and have met some nice enough people but nothing really serious has come of it yet. And to be honest I'm still feeling quite emotionally vulnerable from the events of the past few years. Simon obviously remains lovely but he's been very stressed and unhappy lately for various reasons, which has been having an impact on my emotional wellbeing as well.

My health is pretty poor. I'm not looking after myself or maintaining a healthy diet, and I'm getting very little exercise. I had a recent barrage of tests to identify the cause of some abdominal pain, all of which were inconclusive - it isn't a liver, spleen or gall bladder problem. Potentially it could be a duodenal ulcer and that's the next thing to be explored, but I need to find time to go back to the doctor and get the next tests sorted, and that's not something I can do easily while I'm self-employed as I don't get any paid holiday.

Low energy levels and poor body image mean I'm doing very little socialising, and often when I do I feel awkward and self-conscious. Worrying about money doesn't help either as it means things like my dance classes have fallen by the wayside as I can't really afford them. Going to social dances still feels far too scary and anyway I'm out of practice so I'd probably fall over my own feet and embarrass myself. Even BiCon felt like a bit of a damp squib this year as I felt excluded and on the fringes of things.

Not really sure what the answer to any of this is. Here, have a picture of a happy kitten instead.
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Whitby Gothic Weekend - a rant [Aug. 2nd, 2013|03:46 pm]
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[Current Mood |discontentdiscontent]

This started out as an item on Facebook but then it got very long so I figured this would be a better place to put it! Feel free to link to it, argue with me or otherwise engage.

Anyone who’s been following the huge shitstorm on the Whitby Gothic Weekend Facebook community about other promoters coming in will probably have noticed that I have some fairly forthright opinions on the subject. I’ve been thinking a lot about how music festivals, conventions and businesses operate, and what the overlap is, and how the different elements can come together in an event like WGW.

First of all, let me say that I am very loyal to WGW. I have been going twice a year since 1998 which probably makes me one of the longest-standing regulars now! I still enjoy the event and love seeing my friends there, but nobody can deny there have been problems, and I think it's important to be a critical friend rather than just being blindly loyal to the event and its organiser.

When I first started going to WGW, way back in 1998, it offered two nights of bands at the Spa, an official Thursday night club night with DJs in the back of a pub (run in conjunction with Bats & Red Velvet, a Newcastle-based goth shop and promoter), an official 80s night, a fancy dress competition at the Spa, and the Bizarre Bazaar downstairs in the Spa. Ticket-holders also received a glossy brochure for the event which was paid for by ads for goth businesses.

In 2013, WGW offers two nights of bands at the spa, the Bizarre Bazaar at the Spa and the Leisure Centre, and the Steampunk Market at the Rifle Club. There are a number of ‘fringe’ events that run in Whitby alongside WGW, some of which are semi-official or run by people who have previously been involved with WGW (Jo Magenta, Martin Oldgoth) but none of them offer discounts or benefits to people who hold WGW tickets.

In short, WGW’s offering has got smaller, rather than larger, but ticket prices have gone up.

There are a number of reasons for the ticket price increase. One is simply that WGW’s costs for the hire of the Spa, equipment and bands have increased. The Spa has WGW over a barrel – they’re the only large venue in town, so if you want to run a big festival in Whitby, you have to use them, so they can charge whatever they like. I’m not sure what impact the change in management of the Spa will have had either (it’s now run by SIV rather than the Council). The other reason is that Jo Hampshire, the organiser, now draws her sole income from the running of WGW, so she needs to get enough in from ticket sales to live on as well as cover running costs.

However, Jo herself admits that WGW has made a loss for the past couple of years, and that she has been reliant on investment from elsewhere (though not sure where?) to keep WGW afloat. So there’s clearly a problem here – the official WGW events are not attracting enough punters to cover the costs.

It’s very easy when you’re struggling and feeling frustrated to look for people to blame. Blame other promoters muscling in and offering good-quality, cheaper alternatives to the events at the Spa. Blame the cosplayers, fancy dress enthusiasts, day-trippers and photographers for booking up all the accommodation so WGW-attendees can’t find places to stay. Blame the Council/SIV for putting costs up. Blame ‘the scene’ for not being ‘supportive’ enough of your efforts. Blame, in short, everyone else. But actually that uses energy that could be better spent on making the event better.

So, on a positive note, here’s a few suggestions for WGW.

1. Find out what your punters want. Set up a survey (find free or cheap survey creation tools online, or get someone to code one up), and publicise it heavily before, after and during Whitby Goth Weekend. Not just on the WGW pages and official FB page, but on other goth, Victoriana and steampunk pages and communities, on the photographers’ forums, by flyering cosplay/Victoriana people in Whitby itself (QR codes are your friend) – in short, anywhere that there might be people who attend, or who would consider attending, WGW’s events. Listen to what people are telling you.

2. Instead of being dismissive or negative about the cosplayers, day-trippers and photographers, think about how they could be catered for, and included. They are not going to go away just because we wish really hard, so let’s bring them into the fold (and take their folding). Daytime events like craft workshops, talks on history, fashion, music and literature, photoshoots or tutorials for the photographers and budding models are very inexpensive, and can be held in all sorts of venues (bookshops, cafes, church halls, back rooms of pubs). Make them free or discounted for WGW wristband holders, and charge a sensible fee (maybe £5 or so) for others. Publicise them in the local press, and put posters up. Put them on the website. Advertise them on the aforementioned forums and groups.

3. Consider more ‘official’ evening events rather than just the Spa. Partner with existing clubnights and agree a profit-share, and see if they can offer discounts or a drinks voucher for wristband holders. This will make attendees feel they're getting more for their money.

4. Book other live music venues as well as the Spa. This will not only increase choice for attendees and give opportunities to more bands, but also increase the number of tickets that can be sold. WGW says that Scarborough Council will not permit them to operate as a multi-venue festival but surely this cannot be a closed topic – other festivals in Whitby, such as Whitby Folk Week, have been operating on this basis for many years, very successfully and with the Council’s blessing. Find out exactly what the barriers are to doing this, and negotiate. Talk to the folk week organisers about how they manage it.

5. The European alternative music festivals receive EU subsidies to help with costs and promotion. WGW should look for these revenue streams – for example Arts Council grants. The Arts Council gave nearly 3000 grants last year, some for as much as £100,000. Look at local arts charities and grant-making bodies too. There is money out there for the asking. If you're not confident writing funding bids yourself, get advice or help from someone who is.

6. Realise that bitching and complaining about other promoters, ‘the scene’, bands, and people on the fringes of the event is rude, unprofessional, petty and counterproductive - as is bringing your rivalries and personal dislikes into consideration when booking bands and DJs. Is that really the image you want to present?

Of course, I’m not saying that WGW should do all of these things all at once (apart from #6, which just needs to stop!). Jo Hampshire is only one woman and most of the crew give their time for free or very little. But even just trying one or two of these things, perhaps for next year’s events, could make all the difference in improving and strengthening WGW for the future. It cannot survive as a one-trick pony. It MUST move with the times and reflect the changing needs of the community.
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Work and stuff update [Jul. 9th, 2013|05:15 pm]
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Well, it looks like the job market is a bit more buoyant at the moment, because I've managed to get myself lined up pretty much straight away - and the phone's still ringing with other recruiters wanting to get me on their books.

From next week I'll be working for the London Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (sorry, the Royal Borough, I beg its arselicking pardon), on the launch of a new website for adult social services users, which is aimed at allowing them to access support and services more directly from providers, rather than having to go via their local council. It'll be used by residents of Hammersmith & Fulham, and Westminster, as well.

There seems to be a bit of an odd setup, in that the agency I'm working through don't do PAYE, so I've had to set myself up as a freelancer with a limited company. So as of this afternoon I found myself in the weird position of being the Company Director of Valkyrie Enterprises Limited.

This does have the advantage that if I want to do any freelance work, I can put it all through the company without messing up my tax situation. So if anyone knows of anyone who needs a freelance writer, editor or proof-reader, do point them in my direction. My rates are reasonable.
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Some bad news [Jun. 25th, 2013|06:08 pm]
Unfortunately I wasn't successful in securing the permanent role at my current place of work; my abilities weren't in question but unfortunately the role went to someone who had more experience of strategic planning and working with web analytics (both skills I only started learning a month and a half ago). So, well, that sucks - and probably means I will be out of work at some point in the next month.

If anyone knows of work going for someone with the following key skills (charity/public/third sector preferred), please do let me know.

  • Excellent written communication skills

  • CMS and web content

  • Social media

  • Customer service

  • Proof-reading & editing

  • Advanced Word, Excel & Powerpoint

  • Project co-ordination

  • Meetings and events

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PUB! [May. 24th, 2013|04:23 pm]
Just in case any London types are reading here that don't read Facebook:

Drinks in the Devonshire Arms, Camden tonight. I'm likely to be there from about 7ish to grab a table.

Join us!

No reason, it's just a Friday. 
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