The Mystery of the Albert Hall

What is the Albert Hall up to?

Despite my best endeavours, damned if I know.

Summer is Prom season for many. At the Albert Hall, it is also queuing season, whether you’re a Prommer or have bought a seat. The Albert Hall ushers are now all armed with scanners. Your ticket is scanned on entry (slower than being merely checked by eye, but an acceptable bar to counterfeiting, if that is indeed a problem). And then, oddly, the ticket is scanned again on exiting the venue at the interval. This is slow, causes queues at each exit, and cuts down on the time one can meet friends, discuss the concert, stretch, smoke, walk – all of the other things one does in the break.

I have been trying, therefore, to find the rationale for this behaviour. No other venue I have attended, from small to large, has any such mechanism in place.The tickets are not scanned at the end of the performance, so it is not a measure to ensure that the venue has been emptied.

I asked four ushers; none could tell me. I emailed the press office; no response. Finally, I tweeted, asking if others know.

Among the many responses, the tweets prodded the RAH into life.

The answer was indeed ‘hard to condense’, because it made no sense at all.

I tried to make some sense out of it:

Their reply adds to the mystery:

Let’s dissect.

1. Their system ‘requires’ a double-scan for an ‘accurate’ attendance count. Why? Are we breeding in the hall, and more people going coming out than went in? (And if so, some people are having more fun than I am, certainly.) Or are some of the Proms fatal, and will fewer exit than entered? Short of births or deaths, why the double-counting? (We will ignore the fact that their ‘system’ doesn’t ‘require’, the people running the system do – unless HAL has taken over the RAH.)

2. ‘The need to monitor capacity is relevant to the standing areas of the Hall’. That would make sense, if it were just the standing areas that were being scanned in and out. The Prommers’ entrances, however, are separate from those for seated ticket-holders. So, are we to understand that up to 5,000 people are being scanned so that 1,000 (in an entirely different area) can be monitored?

Surely the tickets themselves, on entry, are doing precisely that job, as, historically, tickets have for over a century? One ticket, one seat (or standing place). How is scanning a ticket on exiting monitoring capacity?

Answer comes there none. The final paragraph in the RAH’s email above is a response to my suggestion on Twitter that the only reason I can think for this procedure is to monitor audience behaviour patterns, which can be sold on to third parties. The Albert Hall assures me this is not the case.

What, then, is the answer? Because as their two emails stand, we have behaviour that is annoying, intrusive, cumbersome. And that makes any sense at all.

A Passive Rant

Last night at the Albert Hall, a concert by the Israel Philharmonic was disrupted by a pro-Palestinian demonstration. (A report on that here.) The rights and wrongs of that are worth discussing, although I’m not going to right now. My beef is the BBC’s reporting, or lack thereof.

All the proms are broadcast live – that’s part of the joy. Last night, listening on Radio 3 as usual, I suddenly heard shouting, then some yelling ‘Shame’, others ‘Out’. What was going on? Well, your guess was as good as mine last night, for Radio 3 after a mumbled sentence about ‘disruption’ cut away to a recording. Then they returned us for the ‘interval’ of a concert that never was, only for more shouting at the beginning of the second half to bring more mumbles of ‘disruption’ and another recording.

This morning, R3’s newscaster said that the broadcast ‘was forced’ off the air. This is where my hackles rise. ‘Was forced’, by whom, oh great BBC? Who forced you? Did demonstrators storm the recording booth and physically make you pull the broadcast? I don’t think so. The broadcasters made a poor decision last night, forgetting that the BBC is (we had thought) a news organization, and zipping into ‘control’ mode by not reporting on what was happening in front of their noses.

One could say that poor decision was spur of the moment, made on the hoof; it was wrong, but someone had to decide fast. But that was more than twelve hours ago. This morning, ‘was forced’ is a weasel way of saying, ‘Nothing to do with us, guv. The decision was imposed on us.’

When I was at school, I was always told to watch out for the passive voice: someone is hiding something. (‘The Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066’ probably means the writer of the sentence has no idea who fought the Battle of Hastings.) The broadcast ‘was forced’ off the air is hiding the fact that the BBC did not do its job.

Lists, glorious lists

The Guardian today had a promising headline, ‘The Seductive Power of Lists’, which I fell on, because lists are one of my favourite things — magic, incantatory. The Guardian‘s piece, however, is about Booker lists, prize lists, books-to-read-before-you-die lists. Not what I think of when I think of lists at all.

Lists are the shipping forecast: Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Thames, Dover, Wight, Portland, Plymouth, Biscay, Trafalgar, Fitzroy, Sole, Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea, Shannon, Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey, Fair Isle, Faeroes, Southeast Iceland.

And of course poor old Finisterre, long gone…

But lists are everywhere, if you look. In Milton Meltzer’s A Book About Names, there are the Puritans who named their children Much-mercy, Increased, Sin-Deny, Fear-not; Safe-on-high, Free-gift, Dust, Ashes, Obedience, More-trial, Discipline, Praise-God and Live-well; Repentance, Lament, Forsaken, Fly-fornication and of course the pariah of the nursery playground, Misericordia-adulterina.

And then there are indexes: Joe Queenan’s If You’re Talking to Me, Your Career Must be in Trouble lists ‘Aiello, Danny, a fixture in movies that make no sense;  Cher, grooming influence on James Earl Jones; Schwarzenegger, Arnold, influence of Wuthering Heights on’. Julian Barnes’s collection of essays from the New Yorker refers in the text to an unnamed author who is ‘unavoidably detained’ and fails to appear at an event. The index reads: ‘McEwan, Ian, unavoidably goes skiing’.

Or there is, instead of comic, the heart-breaking. Raul Hilberg described the fourteen centuries of increasing persecution of the Jews as a list:

‘You may not live among us as Jews.

You may not live among us.

You may not live.’

BBC Book Challenge asks ‘Are you Average’?

The BBC has provided a list of 100 books, and asks how many you have read, adding the helpful suggestion that the average person will have read 6 out of the 100. Which doesn’t sound very average to me.

And what is with this list anyway? The Complete Works of Shakespeare at no.14 — not ‘a’ book, but let that pass, until you see ‘Hamlet’ at no. 98. Did the list compiler not know that this is a duplication? Maybe s/he thinks Hamlet is by a different Shakespeare? Joe Shakespeare? Sam Shakespeare? And ditto for the Chronicles of Narnia and ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’.

Pedantry aside, here is the list: how did you do?

Re: The BBC 100 Book Challenge-Are you average?


1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
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