Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Backstage Lounge, Granville Island

Generally speaking I do not post bad reviews. There are times however when a warning is necessary.

Another axiom I live by is that once is chance, twice is coincidence but three times is ... insert favorite phrase here. Incompetence probably covers it this time: though the original is "enemy action".

I would like to be able to support The Arts Club. We are long time season ticket holders. We go to the theatres as often as as there is something we feel maybe worth seeing, and are not often disappointed.  In the same spirit we have been patronising the Back Stage Lounge which is the bar behind the Granville Island mainstage. There is a lot of competition for eating places nearby - and not one but two breweries.

I saddens me to report that on the last three occasions we have eaten here, we have regretted the choice. They did have a real problem with a kitchen fire that severely restricted their abilities. It took a while for that to be rectified, and we made allowances. But sadly even though the kitchen equipment is now working well, there is not a basic skill level to produce good food reliably. Of course, if you choose the raw veggies and humus, there is not a lot that can go wrong. Though the lettuce at the centre of the plate - presumably for decoration - was distinctly limp. But the Oklahoma Flatbread was almost uneatable. It seemed to be based on a frozen pizza crust - the texture being closer to a biscuit than bread. It is also very hard to understand how pulled pork can be tough - but somehow they managed that too. There was also melted cheese and too much barbecue sauce - straight from the bottle. It was a mess both to look at and to try and eat. It was very nearly cold when served. The menu claimed that there were caramelised onions - which seemed to have been deep fried.

The server did ask me what I thought, and I told her frankly that I was disappointed and why. A 50% discount was applied to that item on the bill. I left half of it uneaten, after all. I am afraid that also had the effect of reducing her tip, based on 15% of the total.

There was a long list of draft beers, but the one I wanted was not available. I was at least offered a taste of the proffered alternate, which was a bitter rather than an IPA. I did find something else.  However now that I look at the bill again I see that I was charged for the beer that was not available: so we paid for three beers but only consumed two.

We also established that the size of a "sleeve" could vary between 14 and 16 fl oz depending on the beer and the glass provided by the brewery. Some brewers take much greater care about how their beer is served than others. I doubt this bartender had actually paid a lot of attention, judging by how he served Stella Artois - not a beer I am prepared to pay that much for, but plenty of others were.

The next time you are at Granville Island and want a beer and a simple meal, I suggest you go to one of the other places - definitely not the Backstage Lounge.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Review: One Man, Two Guvnors

at the Arts Club, Stanley Theatre on Granville until February 22 

When we were in Venice last year, this sculpture immediately appealed to me. And I was surprised that I knew immediately who it was. Carlo Goldoni was one of Italy's most popular playwrights, during his life in the 18th century and for long after. One of his most popular plays, The Servant of Two Masters has been translated and adapted continuously ever since, most recently for the National Theatre in London in 2011, transferring to the West End and Broadway in 2012.

It has now reached Vancouver. If you are a regular patron of theatre in this city many of the cast will be familiar to you.  There are only a few live theatre companies here - one less since the Playhouse closed - but we still manage to find employment for some very talented people. For this show which draws heavily on the traditions of the commedia del arte, they have to be musicians and something like acrobats for  all the physical comedy business.  The show has been updated and moved to Brighton in 1963.  There's not just songs and sketches there's improv too. Which actually gets funnier when things go in unexpected directions. 

Last night the show played to a packed house, which hugely enjoyed the show and was reluctant to leave afterwards as the musicians played people out. In fact it is worth taking your seat early as they entertain before curtain up too. It was a really good team performance but special acknowledgement has to made for Andrew McNee who makes the most of the title role created for James Corden. All the music was created for the show but faithfully represents skiffle in the first half and the Mersey beat in the second. 

You should not miss the chance to see this show while there are still seats available.  

Sunday, 4 January 2015

All that Fall

The Cultch is currently hosting the Blackbird Theatre production of a radio play by Samuel Beckett. This has not been performed on stage for the last fifty years as the author insisted it was designed to be heard not seen. Only recently has the Beckett estate relented, and there have been staged performances in both London and NewYork.

Duncan Fraser provides an additional note in the program that starts "We are the screenage generation" But that seems to ignore the vast amount of sound material we still listen to. Just because the local CBC radio station no longer produces radio drama does not mean that people are no longer listening. A quick Google search shows all kinds of radio drama is available on the internet. People listen to audio books in their cars - and elsewhere - and there are now many more podcasts than there were radio stations. I suspect that once the copyright has lapsed on Beckett's radio plays they will start to appear on that medium too. I suppose that is why Samuel French is now licensing these performances, since in a few years time they will not be the same source of revenue.  I also know many people are annoyed that the classic iPod is no longer being made.

Performances continue at the Cultch until January 24th and I certainly think that we should support local live theatre. Seeing how radio plays were done back on the fifties is interesting in itself, and the actors are worth watching even if the demands of the microphone have to be met first. There is no curtain, nor interval. And though the running time is said to be 75 minutes it started late and we were already driving home by 9:15. There is also the opportunity for 'lively post-show talkbacks after some performances'
- though if we had gone to one of those there would be no blog post here, I suspect.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Tempest: Bard on the Beach

Last year, due to not really paying attention, I missed two of the four Bard plays. I won't be doing that this year. I booked early, and last night (July 4th) we went to the first of them.

Apparently "The Tempest" was in the 2008 season - and I missed it then too! Which means that this was the first time I had seen the play anywhere. In chronological order it is one of the last plays Shakespeare wrote (1611) - and the only one that "conforms to the classical unities: the action takes place in one place and in one day". It also is going to be "familiar" because so much of the text has been so often quoted

...We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

People came expecting to see a comedy and, once the initial storm and shipwreck were over, seemed willing to laugh at anything, even if it wasn't meant to be funny. In fact the storm was so severe that I had a hard to time hearing the dialogue - and now all actors are miked, that is indeed unusual. We had, due to early booking, excellent seats in the second row, centre stage. I will also admit that I did enjoy the view through the "back drop" (even though I have posted to Bard's facebook page that I do not go to the theatre to see backdrops)

In my edition of the Complete Works Trinculo is "A Jester" and Stephano "A Drunken Butler" In this version Trincula and Stephana are "ladies of the court of Naples" and wearing somewhat familiar outfits. Luisa Jojic and Naomi Wright perform a double act that could stand on its own as entertainment. Jennifer Lines as Ariel also deserves special mention since she has a stage presence that means no-one else is noticed when she is on. Even when she is not doing anything: in fact, especially when she is not doing anything. I do not believe in magic, yet that is what this play is all about. Prospero has learned magic from books: it was not enough to stop him being Shanghaied, but now he can turn all kinds of tricks to get his revenge - or possibly a better outcome than that, living well. It does require suspension of disbelief, that is the magic of the theatre, and Meg Roe (Director) has indeed worked a magic trick. She simply ignores the real world - which continues on its way outside the tent, sometime very noisily - and weaves spell that holds the audience enthralled.

You should not miss Bard - and if you cannot go to every show, at least make a special point of seeing this one. I feel sad when I see empty seats in any theatre. I really feel for the actors who make such an effort - and they deserve your attendance and attention. Live theatre is still much better than any electronic form of entertainment, and Bard is professional repertory at its best. We must support live theatre and we must keep Bard going. It is an essential part of a Vancouver summer.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Review: Chrome Cast

This device - and many like it - has been available in the United States for a long time, but now it has come to Canada. I got one from the Play store as soon as I saw it announced. It arrived yesterday by UPS.

While most pictures just show you what looks like a fat thumb drive, you need to know that it plugs in to the HDMI port - and has a neat little short cord if it is too chunky to plug directly into your tv. Some older models seem to delight in hiding their input ports. It also has to be plugged in to a power source.

Basically all you have to do is plug it in and switch the input. Again, older tvs tend to have just one HDMI input so I have to manually switch cables between the Apple TV, Telus Optik device and the Chromecast. I use my Nexus 7 tablet with the free app on the play store.  There is no need for a remote control - but you could also use a laptop (I have put the cast extension on the Chrome browser on my MacBook too) or phone. And I have tried it out on more than one tv without any issue.

Then  get some content from the internet. Start with Youtube. The app on the tablet has suggestions for other apps that are Chrome cast compliant.  Apparently it is also possible to use it to put anything from the screen of your laptop on the tv. I have not tried that yet - and it is something I feel I ought to be able to do with Apple TV but cannot because my MacBook is too old.

It also works just as easily with my partner's iPad. You get the chromecast and YouTube apps from the App store. Free.

Very odd that one of the trial programs my new YouTube app offered me as a test was an old tv program at low resolution. Very unimpressive but there is plenty of free HD video out there and mine just works fine. When I bought the (Nexus 7) tablet I got "Transformers 2" for free: it is not the sort of movie I usually watch, but I played enough of it through Chromecast to be be impressed by the special effects. Odd that the Google Play store leaves up the old user reviews of people with M$ operating systems who had trouble back in the days when it was still new and all.

I do not understand why some people are suggesting waiting for Roku. I wouldn't, if I were you.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

My VGH experience

This post is not going to get read by many people. If anyone at all. But I need to get this off my chest. In the great order of things it is probably inconsequential. A First World Problem. But I have the distinct sense that what I am going to write about is far too common. That our health care system is in fact very uncaring - especially in terms of caring about the patient. The best, most efficient hospital, of course, being the one that has no patients.

I am fortunate to have a GP. Not everyone in Vancouver can say that. My GP and I have built up a relationship. We talk. About all sorts of things, not just my condition. She had some concerns about a rare but very dangerous type of drug interaction. I am not going to get into any personal details here, but my partner pointed out that what we learned is probably a pretty good way to commit suicide. Another reason for not writing about that is that when some people learn these things they tend to try them.

So after some discussion, I agreed to see a specialist. And he is located at this place.

So I go there and get examined - and while nothing really new emerges, they ask me to return for a test. Not invasive, no big deal. Just to confirm what was found during the examination. They make an appointment for me about ten days away. At 7am. They tell me to be there fifteen minutes ahead of time. A bit like the way you are told to get to the airport early. Not exactly necessary, but just in case.

So I get there at 6:45 and find the building locked up. The building is not open until 7am. It is a big building covering a whole city block, so I stroll around it. On one side there are notices, so I go check to see if one has any information about people with early appointments. Someone - in scrubs - is hanging around in the lobby and he lets me in. There are quite a few people hanging around in the lobby. The coffee shop is open. I learn that although you can call an elevator and ride up in it, you cannot get off at any floors if you do not have the right electronic card.

Access to the place where the test will take place is not available until 7am. And when I get there of course, the people are just arriving for work. It does indeed take about 15 minutes before they can actually start running the test. And it can be completed before those with 8am appointments start arriving.

When I leave they confirm what is already written on my information sheet. There is a special telephone number to call, in a week's time, to get the results of the test.

I called that number this morning. Yes they have the results. No, I can't have them. They will be given to the specialist, and he will call me when he gets back from Spring Break. At the beginning of April. Once he has had time to review the results. And, of course, all the other tests on other patients that have taken place in his absence.

This is not a life and death matter. It is not like I am under some imminent death sentence until I learn the test result. It is No Big Deal. It is just, in both sets of circumstances I have described, completely unnecessary. They knew when they gave me the appointment that I could not get in at 7am. They knew when they told me to call this number at this time that I would not get the results. But that is what they always tell everyone, every time, so why should they make the effort to tailor the instructions for those times when something different is needed? This cannot be the first time this has happened. Nor can it be the first time that a patient has been given inaccurate information about things like test results or appointment times.

In any other business, outside of health care, this would be regarded as something to correct. To improve the customer experience - or what ever the current buzz phrase is. But at VGH, I do not believe that me saying something to someone is ever likely to change what I think is, fundamentally, an attitude towards patient care. Patients attend on doctors, not the other way around. I am sure that there are similar stories playing out everyday in other hospitals, healthcare facilities of all kinds, in all sorts of places. And probably much worse too.  But for some reason I feel better just for having written this. Blogging as therapy. Could be a book in that.

Monday, 17 March 2014

I think Mr Gates might be wrong about some things

"The U.S. government in general is one of the better governments in the world. It's the best in many, many respects. Lack of corruption, for instance, and a reasonable justice system."

source: Rolling Stone

The US justice system locks up more of its citizens than any other nation on earth. It also executes people - mostly because they are black, could not afford good lawyers and because the prosecutors were more interested in getting speedy "result" than seeing justice served. These practices have been commonplace for many years but only since the development of DNA testing have so many false convictions been so convincingly demonstrated. It is the place where corporate profits determine length of sentences and treatment of prisoners  

It is legal in the US for a police officer to stop you, take your cash - or any property you have - and use it for whatever the department he or she works for sees fit. In a civil suit you then have to prove that they acted unreasonably. Good luck with that.

As for corruption, the US has one of very few "democratic" systems that recognizes corporations as persons and money as free speech. The corporate sector, as a result, now owns the legislatures both federally and at state levels.  Most policy decisions are now driven by the needs of the corporations - as is most of the pressure to reduce government regulations of all kinds. The lack of oversight of the oil and gas and transportation sectors lead to the rash of exploding oil trains recently. At one time there were measures in place that would have prevented these disasters. They were removed at the specific behest of the entities that benefitted financially from their removal.

I wrote the above three paragraphs off the top of my head. Then I went looking for suitable links. That did not take long.

And the next day I came across this from the Sightline Institute

In North America, the amount of actual, law-breaking, vote-buying, quid pro quo corruption—corporate fixers handing sacks of cash to politicians in back alleys—is minimal. But voters are basically right that the political system is thoroughly corrupt. Politicians do not sell their votes, but they represent the views of their donors, and donors are mostly rich. 
This subtler form of corruption, what Harvard Law Professor and democracy crusader Lawrence Lessig calls “systemic corruption,” is ubiquitous. (Lessig’s booke-bookTED talk, and new four-minute video and  are the best introductions to the topic of money in politics, bar none.) Systemic corruption allows participants in the political process to feel virtuous and law-abiding, yet it perfectly perverts representative democracy. Elected representatives speak not for the views of the majority of their constituents but for their contributors.

After publishing this, I found a film clip my son recently shared on Google+

And some days later this is a real headline and story in the Washington Post

FBI conducts raids targeting elected officials in three states

and then there is this story about a "judicial extortion racket"