Friday, July 17, 2009

Of pastimes and past times

July has been an extremely wet month so far and I am missing the Grecian sun. We spent ten days at Lindos, Rhodes again in the second half of May "en famille". A leisurely lunch of calamari and an assortment of other dishes at a beachside taverna is a delight but all too soon over.

In complete contrast we spent my July birthday dodging clouds in Somerset. We took my father-in-law to visit some of the villages where his ancestors lived in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. On the way home we stopped at Wells to gaze briefly at the Cathedral (right), which is truly awesome - what an endeavour!

I spend so much time in front of a computer screen, either in the studio or doing my admin, that a good outlook is essential. My desk looks out onto a small garden enclosed by hedge. I have a pond with shubumkin, ghost fish and tench and a wonderful array of birds. One of the rare and infrequent visitors to my bird tables is the Willow Tit. I love the Long Tailed Tit which arrive in a group of six or eight. The occasional Goldfinch and Goldcrest are attractive, too. Without fail each year the woodpeckers feed - here is a young woodpecker enjoying a snack.

Work wise the recession has not been too unkind to me. This month my Harry Potter Video Game TV commercial voice-overs went to air. I believe they are being used in English speaking countries across the world. I have also been busy providing voice-overs for a growing number of Talking Telescopes at tourist locations around the UK and I have been replacing all Avis Car Rental's phone messages for at least six months now. The real problem with the recession is the danger of a company failing before paying for its audio. So far I have been lucky and have but one or two bad debts. The biggest irony is a Financial Solutions company in Sheffield which offers advice to those in debt and which has refused to pay for a voice-over without any explanation! That company now has a County Court Judgement against its record. Ah well.

Fingers crossed for the rest of the year.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Spring forward Fall back

We have seen in a New Year and the season is changing once more - but what a roller coaster the last months have been. The family suffered a loss in November but rallied well for Christmas. A plague of illnesses littered the winter months, including the voice-over's nemesis... laryngitis. The fires in Victoria, Australia, though, put all our woes into perspective and the horror was made the more frightening by the concern for close friends in that region. They survived the fires but came so close to danger. The fire came within 10 metres of the house and then, miraculously, sped off in a different direction. This picture shows the trees along the nearby creek igniting. It was a shock to see Michael on the Australian TV news and to see how shaken he was by the experience.

I heard from another friend in Melbourne that Leonard Cohen gave 200,000 australian dollars of his concert fees towards the funds to help victims. He announced this at one of his Melbourne concerts but I have never seen it in the news. The good news is that just two weeks after the fires the regeneration began. Here is a striking shot of the new life against the charred ground.

I experienced my own little bit of magic in December. Just when the workload was looking rather slim Harry Potter came to the rescue. Sometime this year my voice will grace some TV commercials across the world for the new Harry Potter video game. The last month has been exceptionally busy and with quite a variety of work. I voiced a rather nicely put together travelogue for the Danube Delta, have taken over production of all audio for Talking telescopes around the country and, if you rent from Avis Car Rental, allow my voice to guide you through their telephone service.

Now - if I can just find enough time to complete construction of the new cubicles for our Boarding Cattery, prepare the programme for the International Folk Dance Festival and make some new demo material for the big Radio Industry/Voice-overs event before swanning off to Rhodes for a holiday - all will be well.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

There is a Crack in Everything. That's How the Light Gets in.

Last night I saw Leonard Cohen in concert in Cardiff and it was one of the finest concerts I have ever experienced. At 74 years old the voice is deep and sure and wondrous. His musicians and singers were all magnificent and the audience in raptures. It was a sublime event involving two and a half hours of many of Cohen's best known songs. "Thanks for keeping my songs alive". He said. Cohen was gracious, stylish, humble - yet always the poet. Referring to his previous stage tours fourteen years earlier he said "I was sixty then - just a kid with crazy dreams"!

"Ring the bells that can still ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in."

Anthem - Leonard Cohen

Just over a month ago I was in Ireland. We went over for a short break. starting with a visit to an old friend near Cork. Our friend lives in an old cottage way up in the hills. I was especially struck by a stone statue in the garden. I have no idea how old it is or who or what the lady represents. I just love it.

After Cork we headed West to County Kerry for a few days. We stayed close to Killarney Lakes in full view of the wondrously named MacGillacuddy's Reeks, the highest mountains in Ireland. Day one we toured the Dingle Peninsula and Day two we toured the Ring of Kerry. It was a lot of driving but the scenery was wonderful - the weather was good, too. The stretch of road at Slea Head on the Dingle Peninsula was especially beautiful.

On our last day we took a trip through the Gap of Dunloe. A vintage bus picked us up and took us to the start of the gap. From there we shared a jaunting car with another couple and rode the seven miles through some stunning scenery. The final stage of the trip involved an eighty minute boat ride through the Killarney Lakes. We saw two White Tailed Eagles which have been introduced to the area.

That night we went to see Riverdance which happened to be on within walking distance of where we were staying. We had always wanted to see the show and were not disappointed. It's a spectacular show which lterally takes your breath away.

Now all eyes are looking towards Christmas and the rather unsure new year ahead. I have already donned my white beard and red costume for the scores of Father Christmas radio scripts which are likely to come my way in the next six weeks or so. I rather like being a Santa voice-over. It is comforting in a cheerful way which is a good thing. As Leonard Cohen said last night... he had to give up the discipline of religious order because the cheerfulness kept breaking through.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Glorious Greece

Life never seems to plod or drift gently by - it always seems to pound and sway ferociously. Not exactly conducive to a calm and stress free lifestyle. Voice-over work is a little like buses. Six at once or none at all.

The holiday to Rhodes and Athens was extremely good. Rhodes and especially Lindos has been our stomping ground since 1982 ( Lindos holds a very special allure for a great many people who find themselves drawn back time and time again. Familiarity with the village and its residents and the Portmeirion like traffic free environment enables us to relax instantly.

I renewed my aquaintance with Rhodes Town this year. It's a joy to wander around the streets and alleys of The Old Town. The main streets are choked with shops selling horrid tourist tat but the side and back streets are quiet and intriguing. We had lunch at a lovely restaurant called Hatzikelis where they do a rather good baked aubergine dish.

We had no more than two half days to explore Athens but we certainly packed a lot in. The Athens Metro was spotless and wonderfully efficient - an excellent consequence of the Olympic Games - it even has excavated ruins on display in some metro stations. Even in late May Athens was far hotter than the islands, in the early 30's celsius we believe. We saw so much that was awesome and, in spite of a heavy schedule, throughly enjoyed our flying visit.

It's odd that I do many voice-overs for Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands but rarely anything for Greece. The only campaign I have ever voiced was a TV commercial for Glenfiddich Whiskey. Ah well. I've got a few years left in me yet.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Catching Up - Death, Life, Birth & Lyon

Life has been especially busy for the last few months and intended posts just fell by the wayside. Time to catch up. Within days of my last posting I received extraordinary news. Seven years ago I was told that one of my best friends from school was dead - late in February I was told that a mistake had been made and that he was alive and well in Melbourne. "H" was the only old friend missing from my group of loved and trusted buddies and it was a glorious moment to know that he was still with us. His wife was much relieved as well! The shock was palpable but the joy far greater. We have been doing some pretty serious catching up since then.

In March my family grew - another joyous occasion as I became a grandfather again (far too young for that really). In fact, there is something rejuvenating about being "Pappou", which is the Greek version of grampa. Recently, several Greek friends who I hadn't seen for a year all commented, independently, on how much younger I looked. How refreshing. here are my two elixirs...

April's high note was a very rare trip abroad to work. I can't remember when it last happened - if indeed it did. EuroNews flew me to Lyon to record promos for their new "habillage" - that's the new relaunch design. While I can't say anything good about the Campanile Hotel I stayed in, I thoroughly enjoyed the recording session. If I have a second language it is French and it was comforting to find that my grasp of the language, once almost fluent, had not deserted me. Although voicing in English much of the direction and discussion was conducted in French. My thanks to Constantino and Grazia de Miguel at Prime Voices, my agents in that neck of the woods, for the gig. Here is the team in the studio... from the left... Yves Rotacher - aka Popy - the sound engineer and one of the nicest and best I have worked with, the lovely and charming Laurence Jallinaud - Chief of audio mix, myself, and the immensely agreeable Nial O'Reilly - Head of English Language for EuroNews.

I had time after the session to dash into Lyon on an extremely good bus service to do some sight seeing. I covered four and a half miles in less than three hours and managed a ride on a funiculaire. I saw many of the more interesting elements of this old French city before settling down to a rather good early supper at Europe's oldest restaurant, Brasserie St Georges. An astonishing restaurant which seats over 400 diners and which filled up as I sat there - groups of two to eight people appearing every two minutes or so...

That's it for this catch up. More about my holiday to Rhodes and Athens and recent work soon.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Banking abuse

Last week, one of the last things I wanted in an exceptionally busy working week was to have a major row with my bank. I had banked a cheque from a client in Dubai, drawable in UK Sterling at a London bank, and the cheque had gone missing in transit between my bank and the London bank. While these things happen, of course, I did not for a second imagine that the first I would know of this would be to discover a debit on my account (online) of the value of the cheque and referenced as "Sundries". Now, "sundries" to me are small, unimportant elements of expenditure barely worthy of itemisation. To the bank, however, it was the cloak under which they were prepared to steal my money. I had always assumed that once a cheque was presented over the counter and my deposit book stamped that it became the responsibility of the bank. Not so according to HSBC, who sent me a letter telling me that as the missing cheque could not be honoured they were reclaiming the money and pursuing the matter "on my behalf". I hate to think what colour I went and how much stress I underwent at the time and for much of the rest of the day. However, several conversations later, including one with an Asian call centre (not the most personal way to resolve a dispute in the UK), I had ranted and screamed and made it quite clear to all and "sundry" that once a cheque had been deposited and subsequently "lost" while in the bank's charge, I could not possibly be held responsible, that my money should be recredited immediately and that the bank's efforts to resolve the issue would be on "their" behalf and not mine. I quite simply insisted (albeit in a very irate manner) that unless the money was back in my account by the next morning, I would remove both the family's business accounts and our current account. The money was refunded in time. However, I am shaken at this behaviour and will now seriously consider moving my accounts in any case.

The week was particularly busy - jobs just arrived in two's and three's every day. Most of the work was UK based but there were jobs for Germany, Italy and the United Arab Emirates. You name it - there was Safety Training, English learning, industrial narrations, 3D web tours, company awards announcements and incentives, radio, web and satellite tv commercials. A very full week and enough to overflow into another week. Let's hope the bank doesn't interfere with the next seven days!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Fraught and wet

While Wales has been living up to its reputation for rain I have been wading through stress for the last seven days. My main ADSL link was down all week - good job I was able to reconfigure my kit to use my back-up ADSL! My mobile phone broke too. Add to that the horror of the discovery that Thomson had taken over My Travel and Airtours and that the only two flights to Rhodes from my local airport were night flights. OK - there are worse things in this world but we have been flying to Rhodes from Cardiff for years and arriving soon after lunch or by tea-time. Who in their right mind wants to arrive in a resort at 1.00 am? I have written to Thomson and accused them of treating residents of Wales as second-class citizens. So, not wanting to fly at night I came up with a master plan to use airmiles and money and to fly Olympic Airlines to Rhodes via Athens - using the break on the return journey to spend a day in Athens. The idea of being able to take a ten or twelve day break was looking rather appealing. The next fly in the ointment was the discovery that our professional house sitter had got himself a dog and would only accept seven day sits from now on. We have to have a sitter because we have a Boarding Cattery on the premises and someone has to be here at all times when the staff are not. Now we have to interview another sitter who will sit for more than a week. I expect it will all work out.

Talking of Airmiles, I was thumbing through their January mini-brochure when I thought to myself.. "Someone has taken a photo just like one I took in Venice". Then, as I focused a little more, I realised that it WAS my photograph. It's the one used in my "Venice" blog. I have a vague memory of submitting it for a competition so that must be how they got it - they did credit me as the photographer though. A few days later, while surfing to the Olympic Airlines site, I had the same experience. A rotating gif showed three photos one of which was a photo I had taken of the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

My friend, Ian Britton has the photo on his site at so I assumed that all three photos were from his site and called him. Anyone can use the low resolution photos free of charge as long as they credit the site. Within 48 hours Olympic had changed the pictures.

It was a relatively quiet week in the voice-over studio - just as well really as all the stress might have tipped me over the edge. A smattering of radio commercials, phone messages and some sports training material. I had a very interesting email from a European studio complimenting me on the speed and quality of my responses to them and my demo and looking forward to working with me. What they failed to say and what I had to read between the lines was that I hadn't got the job I had demo'd for them. One nice moment was a call for technical help from my friend and colleague, voice-over Duncan Wells who had almost died following a particularly nasty accident with a marine flare. It was good to hear from him and good to know that he is getting back in the sadddle - even if we will be competing for the same voice jobs!