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Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Le Son Continu - Chateau D'Ars - Practical Guide

This is my practical guide based on 4 days at the 2019 event mainly aimed at the UK based/English speaking dancers.

Summary: Although this is primarily a musical instrument makers event, there's a lot of dancing opportunities.

Getting there

According to Google Maps, it's a 277 miles/4 hours 45 minutes drive from the ferry port at Caen. That's not as bad as you might think. French roads are straighter, less crowded and better maintained than UK roads. Driving in France is quite pleasant. Also, on the autoroutes, you are allowed to drive at 130km/hour (about 81mph) most of the way. If you avoid tolls, it takes another hour and the roads are similarly good, straight and uncongested

Food & Drink

Just outside the gate, there's a greengrocer who also sells cold cans and a nice sort of potato/cheese slice. Inside the festival, there are good number of food stalls selling salads, burgers, pizza, etc. The small town of Le Chatre is a couple of miles away has cafes and a Lidl

There are several bars on site

The Event/Programme

The main large organised dances start at midnight and and feature well known Balfolk bands such as Bargainatt, Gregory Jolivet, etc. A wider mix of musicians play in the chateau courtyard  for dances during the day and evening too. There's at least one dance workshop each day.

The real delight of this festival is the less formal dancing: There are 4 small dance floors set up around the site. There's nearly always musicians playing and people dancing on these during the day, evening and into the night. I went to bed as late as 0430 and people were still dancing. You will also find a lot of musicians sessions around the site and quite a few people dance at those too.
The stage in the woods

Although the core dancing is Balfolk, quite a lot of people experiment with other styles - not as a explicit event, they just throw in eclectic moves when they feel like it. Some of the bands play more unusual music too.

While there's plenty of people who can and will accept offers to dance the usual Balfolk stuff, there are a proportion who say "Je ne sais pas danser" ("I don't know how to dance") because they're at the event for the music/instruments/conferences/sales.

There's also a some concerts and meetings about instrument making as well as over 100 trade stands selling Hurdy Gurdies, Bagpipes and other instruments.

Language

I walked through the car park one day counting number plates. Around 95% of the cars are from France and when you take into account some Swiss and Belgians, the first language really is French.

Meeting Friends

  • Don't arrange to meet a friend on the main dance-floor, La Pommeraie. after midnight. It;s too big, crowded and dark for this to work reliably
  • As there are several dance-floors, bars, hurdy-gurdy shops, etc. they are not particulalry good meeting points/landmarks. You might do better with the box office or instrument store as there's only one of those.
  • Mobile coverage is seems OK but if you have any problems, use old-fashioned SMS/text rather than phone, Facebook or Messenger as it tends to work better if the network is struggling.

Other Points

  • This is a fairly laid-back festival. People will play loud instruments on the camp site during the day and evening. Take earplugs if you need to sleep during these times. 
  • I found the hot showers to be reliable 
  • Don't be put off by the "dry toilets". They're much better than you might expect. They occasionally smell

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Grand Bal de l'Europe - Gennetines - Practical Guide

This is my practical guide based on 10 days at the 2018 event mainly aimed at the UK based/English speaking dancers.

Getting there

According to Google Maps, it's a 336 miles/5 hours 8 minutes drive from the ferry port at Caen. That's not as bad as you might think. French roads are straighter, less crowded and better maintained than UK roads. Driving in France is quite pleasant. Also, on the autoroutes, you are allowed to drive at 130km/hour  (about 81mph) most of the way. If you avoid tolls, it takes another hour and the roads are similarly good, straight and uncongested. 

Food

Unless you plan to drive in search of food/restaurants, you should plan to eat on site. Some food traders do attend but their hours are short - I never even saw them. The festival's own catering is OK and in some ways very flexible. For a fixed price, you can mix and match. So, if EG you want lots of cheese but no sweet course, you can. At the checkout they check what you've got and give "change" in the form of tokens for a coffee or an ice cream. If you've taken too much, you have to put an item back!

The buvette (bar) sells some snack items on a more flexible schedule.

The nearest (small) shop is in is in Gennetines village itself which is 2.5 miles away. You'll probably prefer to drive to the outskirts of Moulins where you'll find huge supermarkets and even a Burger King.

The Event/Programme

This is primarily a dance festival. there are lots of Bals (dances), and dance workshops. Do not expect concerts, morris dancers or other "display" dances. It's participatory dance - oodles of it. From around 2100-0300, there are 7 dancefloors in action and they're really close together so there's no need to plan and commit to a venue.

Two of the dance-floors. Some are even closer together than this

 The workshops happen in the daytime and after 0300, the number of active floors goes down to two for the "Boeff" which is where anyone who wants to can play their instrument and anyone can dance.
A "boeuf" (late night session)

A lot of the Bals are Balfolk but a wide variety of other dance forms are offered. In my experience (as a man) there is no difficulty in getting competent and sometimes brilliant partners. You just ask and because it's a dancer's festival, they say yes and they know what they are doing.

Language

I walked through the car park one day counting number plates. Around 90% of the cars are from France and when you take into account some Swiss and Belgians, the first language really is French. However, some of the workshops are offered in French and English.

Meeting Friends

  • Don't arrange to meet a friend on a particular dance-floor. Some of them are too big, crowded  and dark for this to work reliably
  • However, each marquee has a large number outside one of the doors (EG: "4"). Arranging to meet by "the number 4 on marquee 4" works better
  • Mobile coverage is variable and a lot of people are trying to use it. Use old-fashioned SMS/text rather than phone, Facebook or Messenger.

Other Points

Fundamentally, this festival works. Nothing seems to go wrong - not even the showers - and there are lots of those. If you dance the night away, you will not be woken at noon by someone playing a bombarde in the next tent. That's because the "rules" say you should be quiet on the campsite - because there is always someone trying to sleep.


Monday, 5 November 2018

Camera Choice

I'd been using a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ20 for some years. It's got a 14.2Meg 1/2.33" sensor and a 16x zoom. I wanted to replace it because:

  • Fluff had got inside the lens and was visible at some focal lengths
  • The zoom tended to stick
  • I was underwhelmed by the low light performance - my Samsung A3 (2017) phone was better.
I selected a Canon G7x Mk II. for it's 1" sensor although I was worried that the 4.2x zoom might frustrate me.

So I took both cameras out to Cirencester park on a clear day. From the main track, you can see the tower of the church in Cirencester:
Shot with the Canon G7x Mk II
When I got home, I zoomed in on the church tower:

G7x Mk Ii    TZ20
I'm not quite sure how, but the Canon seems to have been much better at recording "distant detail". The Panasonic does have some advantages - when composing the shot, that church tower looks a lot bigger on the screen making it easier to frame the shot.

Comparing both cameras with my eyesight:

  • The TZ20  viewfinder is better than my eyes at distant detail but not as good in poor light
  • The G7X Mk II viewfinder is not quite as good as my eyes at distant detail but it's much better in than my eyes in poor light. The image you can extract is better in both respects.



Friday, 7 September 2018

Refreshingly Honest Halifax Manager

The Halifax counter service is abysmal and getting worse. A couple of times a year, I need to use it and today 10 of us were queuing up for one teller. So another member of staff goes up the line trying to persuade each person to transact their business some other way. All decline and someone tells her to stop messing around and jump on the till herself. Turns out she isn't till trained. Another customer announces their disgust and I tell her I'm fed up with this nonsense every time I come in and maybe I'm with the wrong bank? She withdraws.

When I get to the counter, the teller SCOLDS me for using counter service  because she feels it's OK to feed a large cheque into a machine!

I asked to speak to a manager and to my surprise he agreed with me 100% that it was terrible service BUT that's the way Halifax is going and pretty soon there would be NO counter service at all. He recommended that I move my account to one of the Building Societies! I think he was too young to remember when Halifax was a Building Society!

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Snipping tool won't save - possible solution

I've used the Windows "snipping tool" for years - it lets you grab a snapshot of part of the screen and then paste it or save it to a file. Great for grabbing copies of error messages to show to support people.

Just recently, I found I could capture the screen OK but when I hit the Save button or File->Save As, nothing happened. I Googled, found a few solutions but none of them worked. Then I found this somewhat complicated thread which gave me a clue.

The bottom line is that you get this problem if Windows can't access your "Pictures" library - even if you had no intention of saving to that library.

Try right clicking on Pictures in Windows Explorer and choose Properties - here's what I saw

My F drive is a portable drive and I'd disconnected it. Plugging it back in fixed it.



Monday, 13 August 2018

Encounter with the Gendarmes

Driving back from Le Grand Bal de l'Europe I diverted off into the village of Patay in Loiret searching for fuel when an oncoming motorist flashed at me. Now, I'd read up on French driving customs and wasn't too surprised to see two Gendarmes further down the road standing by a car talking to the driver.

I don't know about you but when I see the police talking to a driver, I resist the urge to join in the conversation. I did what I'd have done in the UK - and drove carefully round them.

This was not what they expected "Stop! Stop! Stop!" they yelled (It's the same word in French and English) So I did. As I opened my car door there was a more relaxed "Allez! Allez!" ("Go!") and I pulled away slowly and checked my mirrors. They'd lost interest in me.

I think they'd spotted my UK plates and decided whatever delights they inflicted on French drivers would be too difficult with someone from Britain.

I've still not worked out how drivers are meant to know when they have to stop for Gendarmes and when they may be passed UK-style.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

When just two of you can dance to the music

Now and then I end up accidentally showing off on the dance floor big-time. It happened to me at a late night event at Towersey Festival a couple of years back. The management had put on a great band playing Jive stuff but the audience knew Ceilidh, Bal Folk, Cajun and a little Swedish Polska.

But there were two of us who could Jive and we found each other. So while a few hundred people  struggled to get a "pogo dance" out of the music, we Jived. I don't think she knew much but could she follow! Growing in confidence with her ability, I threw caution and convention to the winds and let rip.

After a dozen dances, she thanked me and went back to her friends. I'd been half expecting it - we were getting a lot of attention and there's a convention of "circulating" unless you are a couple in "real life". No way were we at all plausible as a couple off the dance-floor and less dance-aware friends might have pulled us apart.

Of course, circulating didn't really work out for either of us and after a short while she was back and off we went again :-)