diamond geezer

 Monday, October 14, 2002

With four weeks still to go before Remembrance Sunday, the Royal British Legion have already started their publicity campaign for this year's Poppy Appeal. I'm sure it wasn't many years ago that poppies were only on sale for one week, then it stretched to two, and now there are posters up a month in advance. We will remember them, and remember them we should, but mid-October is definitely overdoing it.

It's wet, there's a chill in the air, and I've finally succumbed to wearing my coat to work. It can only be Autumn. That is Autumn by the way and not Fall, as the Americans would try to have it. Is it any wonder we write better poetry?

 Sunday, October 13, 2002

Top 3: 13th October 2002
(1) Ketchup Song - Las Ketchup: it's this summer's novelty eurotrash record, it's already been number one in 14 countries, and sadly someone's brought it home and now this makes 15
(2) New Direction - S Club Juniors: a god-awful sub-teen band attempts to cross Five Star with the Spice Girls and fails miserably (except as a cynical marketing exercise, of course)
(3) The Long and Winding Road - Will Young and Gareth Gates: dire middle-of-the-road slush, that your granny would surely like if only she had one of those new-fangled CD players

Top 3: 11th October 1992
(1) Sleeping Satellite - Tasmin Archer: now that's a bit of class, and a staple of compliation albums for years to come
(2) End of the Road - Boyz 2 Men: if Simon Bates was still doing 'Our Tune', he'd still be playing this bland song far too often
(3) Ebeneezer Goode - the Shamen: really this wasn't about drugs, oh no, but a bloody excellent record all the same - sorted

Top 3: 12th October 1982
(1) Pass The Dutchie - Musical Youth: definitely the S Club Juniors of their day - thankfully they also had a career measured in weeks and not years
(2) Do You Really Want To Hurt Me - Culture Club: Boy George would have been even more shocking at the time if we'd known he was shagging the drummer
(3) Zoom - Fat Larry's Band: OK, so there was always some total rubbish in the chart, even 20 years ago, and this was drivel of the highest order

Three questions spring to mind following a trip to the supermarket this lunchtime:
To the supermarket manager: Whose idea was it to pump the smell of roast turkey around the store ten weeks early?
To the wholemeal couple sneering behind me in the queue at the checkout: Yes, I know my trolley was full of the unhealthiest selection of food imaginable, but I like chocolate, ok?
To the designer of your plastic bags: Any idea when I might be able to open one of your plastic bags first time, especially when there's a long queue watching?

 Saturday, October 12, 2002

Dead centre

My Dad came down from East Anglia for the day (yes, I'm afraid his shoes lived down to all my expectations) and we spent most of the day amongst the dead.

First on our list was Paddington Cemetery (which is of course 3 miles away from Paddington) on a hunt for my great grandfather's grave. Edward was born the son of a tailor in South Molton Street, just round the corner from Bond Street tube station. He later moved out north-westwards to Maida Vale, but ended up being gassed on the battlefields of Belgium as a soldier in World War One, dying of respiratory problems two years later. We searched round the cemetery trying to find the right inscription on the right grave, but alas with no success. Knowing the family interest in horticulture, his was probably that grave with the small shrub planted on it 80 years ago, now grown into an enormous unkempt thorny weed, obscuring the entire plot and that of the two graves on either side.

Later in the day we visited Highgate Cemetery, the final resting place of, amongst others, Karl Marx and hordes of European student visitors. The twin cemeteries were dark, mysterious and silent, crowded full of ostentatious Victorian monuments and featuring an amazing Egyptian mausoleum cut into the hillside. The whole place is now seemingly run by a crowd of ageing volunteer lesbians, no doubt drawn there by the body of Radclyffe Hall, early 20th century dyke icon authoress.

We rounded off our day with a trip to Body Worlds in Brick Lane, an anatomical exhibition of real human bodies, preserved after death by the mysterious German scientific process of 'plastination'. It was disconcerting to come face-to-skull with what I look like underneath, alarming to realise how much good meat I have inside me, and particularly unnerving to see how testicles dangle from the pelvis like a couple of deeley-boppers. On emerging from the exhibition the restauranteurs of Brick Lane stood in their doorways trying to invite us into their curry houses, but strangely enough we were no longer feeling hungry.

I bought a danish pastry at Liverpool Street station this morning. Three questions struck me:
• Why, when I asked for a danish pastry, did they insist on giving me a danish pastry, a paper bag and three serviettes?
• Why, when I'd finished my danish pastry, did I discover that there are no litter bins anywhere on Liverpool Street station into which to dispose of my paper bag and three serviettes?
• Exactly how many years ago was the last time that a terrorist organisation actually placed a bomb in a litter bin in London, and how many more years will it be before anyone in London dares to put all the litter bins back? Please.

 Friday, October 11, 2002

Is there anybody out there?

So, Brookside is to be 'axed', or at least heavily sidelined, because the Channel 4 soap is only getting viewing figures of 1.4 million. It used to be watched by 4 to 6 million people, and in its heyday with the 'body under the patio' storyline it was getting 9 million. It also used to be a great show, even if the plots were a bit far-fetched, but I stopped watching in 1999 after fifteen devoted years when I just didn't care about any of the characters any more. So, I'm one of those missing millions, wielding absolute power via the off-switch.

In the 21st century the media are clearly more and more obsessed by ratings, sales and viewing figures. Programmes live or die by their overnight ratings, and singles that fail to reach the number one slot, even midweek, are written off in the tabloids as career-ending failures. It's almost as if nobody is allowed to be almost-successful any more, because negative spin makes such easy copy for the papers. The Office on BBC2 may be being watched by 4 million people, but oh dear, that's down by a million on last week, and disaster, that means 55 million Britons aren't watching, etc etc. However, we should all still take joy in belittling Fame Academy's feeble prime time viewing figures - only 3.6 million last night. Hopefully we'll now be allowed to vote out all of the producers ahead of the contestants.

I must confess that when you write a blog you do start wondering about your own ratings. Is there anybody out there? I therefore invested in a web stats tracker, only to discover that on Tuesday I got a mammoth three visitors, and two of them were me. Then suddenly Google decided to add me to their search engine and, hey presto, now when you search for diamond geezer you find this site in 17th place. Definitely wasn't listed there on Tuesday. And then yesterday the excellent Swish Cottage blog expressed mild interest in my site, and all of a sudden on Thursday I get 72 visitors. Not that I'm obsessed by ratings you understand but, unlike certain TV talent shows, it is nice to have an audience.

 Thursday, October 10, 2002

PSB in session: Blimey, the Pet Shop Boys are doing their first ever session for the John Peel show tonight, right now. And it's absolutely great. This is only to be expected from a band who've released loads of albums, every one of which lurks in my record collection and still gets played regularly. The only other artists I can say that about are Blur, Depeche Mode and, er, drat, hmm, the best dance album in the world... ever!. So that's my credibility destroyed then...

Beeping Hell: I'm being stalked by fax machines. A company in Hackney has started ringing me up every evening around 9pm just to beep and burble at me down the phone. No matter how much I complain, argue, shout, yell or indeed swear at them, they just continue to make rude noises at me until I hang up. Then there's another company in West Norwood who ring me once a month in the early hours of the morning to leave Morse Code messages on my answerphone. This morning they chose to ring me 45 minutes before my alarm was due to go off, and so I shall no doubt be walking round the office like a tired zombie all day as a result. Please, fax off.

 Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Takeaway

When you've spent nearly twelve hours in the office for the third day in a row, the last thing you want to do on getting home is cook, so the local fish and chip shop is a real saviour. I now have the luxury of two fish and chip shops located within two minutes walk from my flat. This is a big improvement on Suffolk, where it was probably quicker to drive to the coast and catch a fish myself, rather than wait til Monday for the chip van to turn up in the neighbouring village. One of my two local chippies is run by the mysterious 'Mam', a woman with over-starched red hair and a permanent bemused smirk on her face. Unfortunately on my last visit Mam kindly served me up with a newspaper full of food poisoning, which helps to explain why that was my last visit. So, tonight I visited chippie number two instead, which is basically one bleak white room next to the post office with a fish frier in the corner. I was served by an old trout (which I guess is only to be expected in a fish shop), who looked even older than the bottles of own-brand ketchup and no-brand vinegar substitute stacked on the shelves behind. Meanwhile her teenage son lounged menacingly at the end of the counter, no doubt ready to mug me of my change on the walk home. Most frightening of all, however - the menu board announced the sale of 'donor kebabs'. I shall definitely avoid the steak and kidney pies there in future, just in case they're from the same source, and stick to cod and chips instead.

 Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Diamond Geezers

Perhaps I didn't select the name for this blog as carefully as I could, because it appears that certain other people have already dared to sneak onto the internet using the Diamond Geezer brand name:

• First there's Diamond Geezer, a "personal jeweller with over 35 years of diamond and jewellery experience and contact". You can tell he's high quality because he does gay and lesbian wedding rings and offers special concessions to British Airways employees.

• Then there's a bunch of Harlequins rugby supporters who call themselves Diamond Geezers because they all wear brightly-coloured patterned trousers whenever they're out in public getting blind drunk, singing dodgy songs and eating pies.

• Remember Repton, the excellent low-res hi-strategy game for the good old BBC Micro? I wasted far too much of my life on that game. Now someone's come up with a similar online game called Diamond Geezer - takes ages to load but could be a good bit of nostalgic fun.

• "Diamond Geezer" also appears to be a sorely over-used newspaper headline, particularly when writing about salt-of-the-earth entertainers, but I'd rather be likened to Ian Dury than Pete Waterman.

• Should you ever feel the need to send me one of those tacky e-mail cards, then Diamond Geezer would have to be the one, even if it is a bit poor.

• There's even a Diamond Geezer picture logo for my mobile, if only I still had a Nokia, which I don't.

• And finally, here's a tongue-in cheek look at the world of the real Diamond Geezer. "Welcome to For Ladz Magazine - The magazine for Ladz. None of your poncy Esquire bollocks here neither, For Ladz Magazine is for real men only."

 Monday, October 07, 2002

Small change

For some mysterious reason I tend to wake up bright and early on Monday mornings, so today I decided to head into work 15 minutes earlier than usual. All was going well until I stopped off to buy my newspaper outside the tube station. There was a queue, which is unusual, with three of us stuck behind some sad bloke trying to buy a tabloid with a twenty pound note. I eventually got to hand over my 50p, buy my Guardian and wander off, only to be called back to be told that the cover price had gone up 5p this morning and could I please pay up. Sadly this delayed me just enough to miss the train that I saw pulling away from the platform shortly afterwards. There then followed a ten minute gap before the next District Line train appeared, which is unusual, and when that did finally arrive the train was so crowded that there wasn't sufficient standing room left to be able to read the paper I'd just bought anyway. This delay then caused me to just miss another train later in my journey, so I ended up arriving at work exactly when I would have done if I'd left home at the normal time anyway.

I never wake up bright and early on Tuesday mornings, so tomorrow I'll spend that extra 15 minutes in bed, remember to take the extra 5p for the newspaper, and no doubt nobody at work will be able to tell the difference.

 Sunday, October 06, 2002

hic I suffer from one very unfortunate medical condition hic namely that sometimes hic when I'm out drinking hic I'm prone to get a serious attack of the hiccups hic which then just will not go away hic This is especially true if I drink full pints of lager rather than bottles hic as then I drink twice as much twice as fast hic and a lengthy hiccuping session often follows hic Despite years of practice hic I've still not been able to perfect hic a 100% reliable method for getting rid of this evil curse hic

hic Last night I made the fatal mistake hic of allowing the barman to serve me one Grolsch hic in a glass not a bottle hic and I paid the price for this for the rest of the evening hic A sudden attack of the hiccups hic started about two hours later hic and lasted for over twenty minutes hic Despite the best intentions of those around me hic no amount of back-slapping hic drinking pints backwards hic sudden shocks hic or even slow deep breathing hic was going to make them go away hic However hic one good unscheduled burp hiiic did eventually clear them... at least until they returned hic for another twenty minute spell later in the evening hic Bugger hic

hic When the time came to leave the pub hic I was relieved that my gullet seemed to be clear once more... but hic alas hic the short walk to the nightbus then started me off again hic It's a forty minute bus ride home hic and I hiccuped roughly once every ten seconds hic for the entire journey back hic To say that this was embarrassing hic would be an understatement hic but I was reassured by the fact hic that I doubt I'll ever see any of my fellow passengers ever again hic and that most of them were in a far worse state than myself hic Needless to say hic my throat cleared the minute I got off the bus...

hic Next time you meet me in a pub hic please remember hic that mine's a bottle hic not a pint hic Cheers hic

hic

 Saturday, October 05, 2002

Shoe shops

I ventured out this afternoon in search of a new pair of shoes for work, and a new pair of trainers that at least look as if they might have been bought this century. There are now very definitely two distinct types of shoe shop on the British High Street. The first type sells bargain basement lace-ups, usually in beige, of the kind that my dad would happily wear. The other type sells designer footwear at vastly inflated prices, safe in the knowledge that those of who don't want to look like our dads will have to pay up.

And so it was that I found myself in Covent Garden, rather than Stratford High Street, in search of my new size 10s. When faced by such a dazzling array of supposedly-fashionable shoes, it's a tough job to find even one pair that might look sort of vaguely acceptable. This is especially true of trainers, which now appear only to be available in technicolour designs with lemon stripes and moulded plastic spoilers. I eventually found a pair of trainers in blue and grey, convinced myself that despite being blue and grey my dad really would never wear them, and approached a shop assistant. "Got these in a size 10?" Silly question. The assistant disappeared into the bowels of the shop for five minutes before returning empty handed, and I left empty-footed. One day shoe shops will come up with an alternative stock control system whereby the size I want is in stock, or they can tell me otherwise before I get pissed off of waiting and walk out.

In the end I gave up on the office shoe hunt for yet another week, but I did manage to find those trainers on my fourth attempt. I am now the proud owner of a traditional, stable Heritage trainer for runners who require excellent support & cushioning. I shall wear them to the pub.

 Friday, October 04, 2002

Fame Academy: It's the BBC's first venture into PopIdolBigBrother-type programming, it features twelve aspiring 'students', it starts tonight, it goes on forever, and it's dire. It's a sub-karaoke talent contest stretched out over ten weeks, it takes itself far too seriously, and even the members of Westlife have more charisma. The series features three Britney Spears wannabes, three Gary Barlow clones, two Bonnie Langfords, two Ronan Keatings, a Celine Dion and a Chesney Hawkes.
It was all done so much better 20 years ago, with legwarmers:
Fame costs, and right here's where you start paying - The BBC licence fee now stands at £112 a year, so I suspect a town the size of Wolverhampton has paid for this new rubbish.
I'm gonna live forever - No, you're going to burn out in five minutes.
I'm gonna learn how to fly - I do hope they learn how to sing first.
Baby, remember my name - Not by this time next year darlings, remember Hear'say? :o)

7 online games to help you waste your time away: 1) What's New Pussycat 2) Incriminati 2 3) Bookworm 4) Alchemy 5) John and Edwina 6) Suicidal Puppy 7) Soap Bubble

 Thursday, October 03, 2002

How the other half live

After yesterday's journey into the parallel universe surrounding my local post office, I decided to experience the other end of the social spectrum by visiting the new Waitrose that's just opened up at Canary Wharf. It's huge. It's on three floors. The food mall sells every ingredient that Delia Smith ever put in one of her recipes. The select band of shoppers carry shiny new green baskets filled with aubergines, balsamic vinegar and organic vitamin supplements. Local business types can grab a quick lunch at the in-store sushi bar, or maybe dine out on steak and oysters instead. For anyone who's planning a dinner party for the boss and her husband there's a complete set of bone china and designer cutlery on sale, as well as a huge selection of quality Indian and Chinese gourmet ready meals. The lovely Jessica is on hand to pamper you with a manicure in the nail bar if the stress of shopping gets all too much to bear. It's dead posh, even for a Waitrose. But I bet not one person who uses my local post office will ever set foot in there.

 Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Another tube strike

Week-day-world: Being at home today, it seemed a good idea to pop out at lunchtime to see what the world round here looks like during the daytime. I risked a trip to the post office across the road, in what used to be the local high street until post-war planners concreted it over. It clearly wasn't a normal day out there, with big queues at the bus stops and unusually heavy traffic, all courtesy of the tube strike. However, normal life was still going on for all the people round here who don't have anywhere to commute to. Our three local alcoholics sat on the brick wall by the shops, well into their third hour of lager drinking, heckling the passers by. An old man who hadn't washed either himself or his clothes recently walked past, just too close for comfort. A large group of spotty schoolchildren stood around outside the kebab shop eating their nutritionally balanced lunch of chips and more chips. In the post office an old lady in fully knitted costume spent unfeasibly long sorting out her pension in front of me, savouring her one social contact of the day before dragging her shopping basket back to the nearby block of flats. And when I finally got to the front of the queue the man behind the counter looked at me as if I was speaking in a foreign language, which of course I was, and I walked away empty-handed. Back home I was glad to be able to get on with some work - it's a different world out there for those who can't.

Working at home: Thanks to the tube strike, I am today 'working at home'. This is great, because I don't need to stand on a crowded bus in a traffic jam for two hours, I can drink as many mugs of tea as I like, I don't need to go out in the drizzle, I can wake up at the time I would normally get to work, I can listen to daytime radio shows I don't usually get the chance to hear, I can open my windows and not have to suffer office air-conditioning, I can cook a decent lunch without having to 'nip out for a sandwich', I don't need to wear a shirt and tie, I can even sit here wearing my Arsenal kit without anyone complaining. However, I suspect that 'working at home' has one major drawback. The 'at home' part is easy. I really must try harder with the 'working'.

 Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Splat

Unlikely as it may seem, in the year I've been in London I have yet to see one single traffic accident. I can't understand why I haven't, given that most car drivers in London appear to have a deathwish, and most pedestrians in London appear to have a deathwish too. Car drivers in London are speed-obsessed. This is odd, given that most of London has a 30mph speed limit, and even then drivers are lucky if they ever reach even 10mph in all the jams. Nevertheless, most drivers still love nothing more than to prove that that their car can still do 70mph, even if it means accelerating and braking like a maniac between two red traffic lights fifty yards apart. Pedestrians in London don't seem to have noticed this, however, and love nothing more than walking straight out into the traffic to avoid a thirty second detour via the nearest pelican crossing. Hence my disbelief that, so far, I have yet to see one of these blinkered pedestrians get mown down by one of those grand prix boy racers.

So, this morning, there I am crossing the busy red route just outside my flat - admittedly only thirty seconds from a pelican crossing, but there was nothing coming, honest. And then, following me across the road, came a little squirrel. It was a bit of a shock to see wildlife on the streets of the capital, but I hoped I wasn't about to see it flat on the streets instead. The squirrel scampered across the road, then stopped and turned to face the number 25 bus suddenly bearing down upon it. Time stood still - as did the squirrel. Then, at the very last moment, the little rodent turned and ran, alas right under the wheels of the the blue car now doing 70mph up the outside lane. Were I ever to witness a car accident, I suspect the police would be very disappointed at my descriptive powers when it comes to cars. "Make and model please sir?" "It was, er, blue, officer, and it had four wheels." There was another heart-stopping moment - for the squirrel, if not for me. And then, unexpectedly, a flash of grey sped out from under the chassis and into the nearby churchyard, back to safety. So, that's yet another accident I haven't seen in London, but I do hope my luck holds out longer than that squirrel will.

 Monday, September 30, 2002

The best of September

Gadget of the month: My splendid new digital radio. Ok, it sounds better than it looks but, at last for under £100, perfect quality wireless. It took two months to find a shop that actually had one in stock, so scarce is the technology, but now at last I can listen to more than just the five BBC stations, cheesy commercial drivel, geriatric phone-ins and amateur interfering local pirates. Top 3 favourite digital stations so far: BBC 6music, Ministry of Sound and XFM.

Football result of the month: Arsenal: lots. Other teams: nil.

TV programme of the month: League of Gentlemen, series 3. It's special stuff. It's a precious thing.

Film of the month: The Bourne Identity. Refreshing to see a spy film set in Europe rather than America for once, and the first car chase to do justice to the humble Mini since The Italian Job.

Album of the month: Original Pirate Material by The Streets. I may be six months too late in buying the album, but this is UK rap as urban poetry and it's the perfect cockney geezer record. Essential. And should have won at the Mercury Music Awards - no contest.

Singles of the month: Strange And Beautiful by Aqualung and Starry Eyed Surprise by Oakenfold. Not necessarily in that order. Otherwise known to you as the music from the Volkswagen Beetle and Capital Radio TV ads.

get your miniBUFFSEED at minibuffs.tk!Gig of the month: The Buffseeds and The Cling at the Dublin Castle. Take note - there is indie life outside the charts, and it rocks. But only in a very British sort of way of course. That's the lovely Kieran from the Buffseeds, by the way, in miniature.

 Sunday, September 29, 2002

Touch typing

I never ever did work out how to touch-type. Consequently I still type very inefficiently using just two fingers. It could be much worse of course (my typing could still be one finger only) but two fingers is still piss poor for someone who spends so much of his life sitting in front of computers. However, there is this one specific letter key my left forefinger never does quite hit properly. It seems to be my timing which is the problem, so I'll often type this one key just slightly out of sequence. This letter then pops up in the wrong position, right next to where it should be in the word but swopped over with the letter next to it. I still don't know why this mix-up should keep on occuring but, subconsciously, it seems my fingers just don't process sensory instructions in the right order.

So, in writing this blog post I've decided not to use this one specific letter, not even once, just to ensure there's no risk of me mis-typing it in error like I so often do. If you look through the sentences I've written here you might well work out the identity of the omitted letter, the one key which might otherwise give me serious trouble. I just hope my typing skills improve in the future, else every post will need to be written this meticulously. Or else I'll need to buy  anew keyborad. Bugger...

Last Train To Epping

It's not quite the last train to Clarksville that The Monkees sang about, but it's still one of the world's great epic journeys. People gather, drunk, on the platforms at Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road and Holborn. They wait for ages, because there's a huge gap between trains at this time of night, trying hard in the meantime not to stagger off the platform onto the live rail. Then they crowd into the Cental Line carriages, in cattle-truck conditions reminiscent of the weekday rush hour. Some are still finishing off chips and kebabs, much to disgust of the nostrils of the majority. People try to grab a glimpse of the front of the early editions of the Sunday papers, disbelieving that John Major ever had a sex life, let alone with Edwina Currie. Around Bank the more inebriated passengers grab onto whatever or whoever they can, as the train careers violently from side to side round curves resembling a theme park thrill ride. A group of lads shout loudly across the carriage at each other in a foreign language - which might well have been English earlier in the evening. And at Mile End I escape across the platform to the waiting District Line train, happy to abandon the drunken revellers safe in the knowledge that I won't be ending up back in Essex with them by mistake.

 Saturday, September 28, 2002

Welcome to the modern village

Guy Browning has written an article in the Guardian which sums up the whole nightmare and nothingness of village life.

"The modern village is defined as a small group of houses, none of which can get pizza delivered. Many urban dwellers have a secret dream of living in a beautiful collection of rose-covered cottages nestled around a wide village green and overlooked by the church spire and village pub. Many people who live in real villages also have this dream."

That's exactly how I felt about living in a village. That's exactly why I left one a year ago.
The Guardian article is magnificent. It's very accurate, it's very long, you can read it here and I wish I'd written it.

Test: Oh fab - so that's how you do pictures :)
Test: And What's New Pussycat that's how you do web links :)

 Friday, September 27, 2002

So here it is, Merry Christmas

Still three months or to go, and the first symptoms of festivitis are already apparent.

Cadbury's have started placing their overpriced tiny chocolate puddings by the tills in newsagents. Card shops are clearing out their selection of decent birthday cards in favour of nasty twee red and green robins. Parents have started asking you what your plans for Christmas are, like it actually matters yet. In a pub last week I heard them play Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade, but I suspect that was just someone being ironic with the jukebox. Somewhere, sadly, you just know that Will Young is busy recording his own Pop Idol version of White Christmas. And down at Tesco they've already stacked their shelves with Christmas stuff - crackers, cards, the complete range of christmas puddings, Quality Street selection boxes, wrapping paper, tinsel and chocolate advent calendars. Why, by the way, would anyone want to buy an advent calendar in September?

Please, let's kick Christmas back into December, or at least late November, where it belongs.

 Thursday, September 26, 2002

Sniffle: On Monday morning I sat on the tube next to a 12-year old schoolboy who insisted on coughing and spluttering all over the surrounding carriage. When I went to work this morning, I was feeling fine, so I thought. Around mid-morning I started sneezing rather a lot. Around lunchtime my left nostril started to feel a little bit runny. By early afternoon I was getting my handkerchief out for the first time in months. Late afternoon and I was filling that handkerchief at regular intervals. On returning home I tried to track down the supply of clean handkerchieves I know have at the back of a drawer somewhere. Tomorrow I expect to wake up with a blocked nose, breathing like Darth Vader. No doubt I'll spend the weekend laid up in bed with a gallon of Beecham's. And, come Monday morning, I'm sure I'll be just well enough to go back to work, despite still feeling sub-standard. However, it'll be worth it just to cough all over that bloody 12-year old on the tube journey in again.

 Wednesday, September 25, 2002

There's no place like home

Leeds: So, Leeds wasn't that bad after all. It's a city with style, and culture, and clubs, and life. It's a city with all the clothes shops you could ever want, from department stores to designer boutiques. OK, maybe David Beckham's blond mohican is still in fashion up there, but at least the streets are full of trendy young things and not tweedy green countrysiders. Leeds may well deserve its reputation as the great nightlife capital of the North, but I'm afraid it didn't feel like a 24-hour city. Just like everywhere else outside London, the city centre is pretty much a ghost town by 6pm on weekdays. I attempted to buy a Mars bar in the centre of town at half past six and it took me at least 40 minutes to find a shop selling one. Given that this was the highlight of my evening, I must say Leeds still has some considerable way to go before it could ever attract me away from the capital permanently.

Hotels: I don't get to stay in hotels very often, so a couple of nights in corporate luxury might sound very appealing. However, I'd forgotten that hotels still can't measure up to a night sleeping in your own home. The sheets on the bed are tucked in so tight that you can't pull them up, so the top half of your torso freezes overnight in the air-conditioning. There are no instructions next to the shower, so by the time you've worked out the how the temperature control works you've scalded half your body and frozen the rest. The fully mirrored bathroom is so well lit that you're forced to confront what your body really looks like at 7 in the morning. If you can be bothered to wait ten minutes for your mini kettle to boil, the ensuing cup of tea tastes so awful that it's tempting to open the mini bar and pay £5 for a bottle of tonic water instead. For your viewing pleasure the TV always has the same dull mix of news, business and sports satellite channels, along with a dodgy selection of pay-per-view heterosexual erotica, and an extremely worrying programme called 'Look North' featuring men with whippets and women with strange accents. The full cooked breakfast that looked so appealing on the first morning just looks like stodge on the second, and you end up spending an inordinate amount of time skilfully opening small jars of raspberry preserve for the feeble women dining at the neighboring tables. I suspect that hotels are far more enjoyable if you're not travelling alone. The wall-to-wall mirrors, the clean bedsheets replaced daily and the fully tiled bathroom would be a lot more fun shared with someone else, but alas I was unable to convince the rather good looking deputy night manager that this was the case.

Tube strike: It only takes two hours to get back from Leeds to London by train - I was well impressed. However, it then takes roughly as long to get from Kings Cross home to East London, thanks to the tube strike they kindly put on to celebrate my return. I've stood in bus queues for buses that either didn't arrive or were full and didn't stop. I've stood like a sardine in a variety of jam-packed stations and train carriages. I've walked overground across London carrying incredibly heavy luggage. I've travelled miles out of my way just to get on board a train that still exists. I suspect I've just lost all the weight I put on while having those two stodgy hotel breakfasts. But it is so good to be home.

 Monday, September 23, 2002

Leeds: So, having gone on and on and on about how wonderful London is, my job now packs me off to Leeds for a couple of days. I'm sure Leeds is very nice, but I remain to be 100% convinced. I have been there once before, for five hours, and was there long enough to spot that the shopping centre had a Harvey Nicks. This may not be a good sign. However, I'm sure I'll survive Leeds, and it'll be lovely. To be honest, it's having to spend 60 hours away from the internet that I find more frightening...

Birmingham: Did the earth move for you? A quake measuring 4.8 on the Richter Scale hit Birmingham at about seven minutes to one this morning. Absolutely feeble on a global scale of course, but we Brits have to make do with what we can get. It was felt as far away as London, apparently, but I didn't notice anything. I was awake, which clearly helps, and I was lying in bed, which is supposed to be a good place from which to spot an earthquake. However, even though I'd love to have finally felt a quake, I wasn't in Birmingham, for which I remain grateful.

 Sunday, September 22, 2002

22 September - the Countryside comes to London

It's exactly a year today since I packed up all my belongings and moved from a small village in Suffolk to the East End of London. To celebrate this anniversary, the Countryside Alliance kindly arranged for quarter of a million country folk to come up to London just to remind me exactly what I'm missing. Nothing.

The streets of London were filled with red-faced protesters, converging on Whitehall via Hyde Park and the Embankment, demanding Liberty and Livelihood. Most were wearing that dull shade of green that only people who live in the country ever dare to wear in public, usually a Barbour jacket or something disturbingly tweedy. They wore flat caps, sensible brogues and sideburns - it was as if last week's London Fashion Week had never happened. They dutifully waved their placards, some lovingly laminated from a poster in the Daily Mail, others insulting the Prime Minister, but most just admitting that they enjoyed murdering animals for fun.

Some marchers looked so rich, in an in-bred landed-gentry sort-of-a-way, that it was obvious they were only there for the Liberty of shooting a few foxes rather than the Livelihood of a few genuine farmers. Many had dragged their children along and given them a whistle to blow and a political statement to make. I thought there were far too many marchers from Essex, which in my opinion is barely the countryside at all. However, I suspect many of the more bemused-looking country folk had never been to London before in their lives. I fully expected to see some of them in Pret attempting to barter a prize sheep in exchange for a sandwich.

The march went on, and on, and on, in much the same way that the countryside does. At the Cenotaph the protestors marched past in silence, which might have been powerfully impressive were it not for the racket being created by the helicopter hovering overhead. Then after Big Ben everyone dispersed, either to the clubs of Pall Mall, which appeared to be doing brisk business, or back to the Landrovers and home to rural Hampstead.

I know that the moaning marchers have all missed the most obvious way to improve their lives - sell up and move to a town. I found my Liberty and Livelihood by escaping the countryside and moving to London, and I have no intention of ever going back. More buses pass my front door in an hour now than used to serve my old village in a week. If I want a pint of milk today I can buy some in a shop one minute's walk away rather than have to get in the car and drive for miles. If I want a life I have one on my doorstep, rather than just the possibility of village hall bingo every third Thursday. So, I'll happily leave the countryside in the capable hands of the Barbour brigade. The rest of us will carry on living.

 Saturday, September 21, 2002

40 things I love about... London

Life, nightlife, the sense of history, the Underground, the view from Greenwich Park, the fact there's always somewhere new to discover, Oxford Street, the sound of Big Ben, nightbuses, sunlight on the Thames, buying your Sunday paper on Saturday evening, the museums in South Kensington, the wobbly Millennium bridge, being able to choose from more than two local radio stations, Tate Modern, not needing a car, the view from Hampstead Heath, Arsenal shirts, Trafalgar Square, the top pod on the London Eye, St Pancras station, decent mobile phone reception, Routemasters, the East End, 24 hour bagel shops, culture on your doorstep, Hungerford Bridge, Old Compton Street, deckchairs in Green Park, the DLR, 0° longitude, the City, Covent Garden, decent record shops, St Paul's Cathedral, walking faster than the traffic, crossing Westminster Bridge at night on the back of a bike, the sheer variety of Theatreland, the British Museum, just living here.

London Open House weekend: What a fantastic idea, to open up some of London's buildings to the public free for the weekend. I resisted the temptation to queue up for Broadcasting House, or the Victorian Sewage Works down the road, and instead headed up to Westminster. The queueing crowds were mostly either over 50 or gay, or both. And I got to see 5 places that I'd always wanted to see:
Westminster Hall: Now that the Queen Mother has moved on, there were hardly any queues. I stood on the spot where her artificial hip had lain in state, just out of respect you understand.
Portcullis House: The new office block for MPs, famous for its fig trees imported at a cost of £150,000. If you're a UK taxpayer, you'll be glad to know none of them look as if they need replacing yet.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Magnificent and opulent courtyards and staircases. I suspect we bled the Empire dry to pay for it all.
Cabinet Office: Had to queue for one and a half hours, but well worth it just to see the door that Sir Humphrey couldn't get through when his key was confiscated in Yes Prime Minister. It has a card swipe now, by the way.
Midland Hotel, St Pancras: Glorious old hotel, now fallen into serious disrepair. I suspect it never recovered after the Spice Girls recorded the video for Wannabe there. Zig-a-zig-ah.

 Friday, September 20, 2002

3 things I hate about... pedestrians who get in my way

1) Mobile phone users: They are the new living dead. They walk the streets like zombies. They are totally absorbed in the text message they're typing into their mobile phone. They always walk right in front of me without looking. Not enough of them walk straight out into the road in front of cars.

2) Tourists: Us people who live in London are usually trying to get somewhere. Tourists, on the other hand, are happy to stay exactly where they are. Being ignorant of the ways of the capital, tourists will happily stop dead in the middle of a narrow pavement, just outside a station entrance or directly in front of a minor photo opportunity. Two tourists, if positioned carefully, can completely block a London pavement in seconds, causing pedestrian gridlock. Large groups of French schoolchildren, if left unattended, can suddenly seal off half of Central London. Mayor Ken would do well to consider the huge economic savings to be made by deploying tourists on strategic pedestrian crossings around the capital as a cheaper alternative to congestion charge technology.

3) People with bags: On Fridays, people take to the escalators of London with suitcases. They're obviously planning on rushing off somewhere after work for the weekend, maybe to Amsterdam, maybe to the second home in Wales, or maybe they just like carrying suitcases, I don't know. But these people are out there on Friday mornings stopping me from climbing the escalator and getting my daily exercise. Then of course there are all those people with rucksacks who are prone to turn round and smash their fat bag into you, ignorant of the carnage happening right behind them. And please don't even get me started on pushchairs.

 Thursday, September 19, 2002

3 things I hate about... Travelcards

1) Buying them: My annual London Travelcard expires in three hours time. I went to my local tube station last week to try to renew it. "Oh no", they said, "you can't do that yet. Come back nearer the time." I returned at 10pm on Sunday evening when, after much protest, the staff finally agreed they were perhaps willing take £912 off me if I really insisted. It was clear that the man behind the counter had never used a computer before, as he attempted to work out what all the buttons were for and where on earth the letter 'E' was. Next year maybe I should buy my ticket at 8:00 on a Monday morning instead, just to see how long I can get the queue of irate passengers behind me.

2) Other people buying them: Don't you hate in when you're stuck waiting in the queue at the ticket office on a Monday morning, with some urgent travelling to do, and some idiot in front of you has decided to buy their annual travelcard by debit card, and the monkey behind the counter can't get the computer to work?

3) Other people selling them: It's become one of the most modern but most undesirable forms of begging in London. Shuffling grubby reprobates gather round the exits to tube stations during the early evening, asking if they can relieve you of your used Travelcard. Not mine mate, it cost me £912. There again, maybe tonight I should have flogged it. I have three hours left to find a buyer...

 Wednesday, September 18, 2002

3 things I hate about... being stuck in a tube carriage between Green Park and Piccadilly Circus for 20 minutes on the way home from work

1) Being late: I don't normally stay late at the office until 7pm. So, when I do stay late, the last thing I want is "a safety alert at Caledonian Road" to delay me even longer. One minute into my tube journey tonight we ground to a halt in the middle of a Piccadilly Line tunnel. It was very helpful of our tube driver to keep us updated by telling us that we weren't moving, although we had noticed this for ourselves. Then he told us the blockage ahead had been cleared and that we should be moving soon, except we didn't. He ought instead to have told us there was a really impatient American moaning at his wife on the third seat down on the left, because there was.

2) The Evening Standard: Normally it takes me most of the tube journey home to read the Evening Standard. It's not a great newspaper, bearing far too much of a resemblance to the Daily Mail for my liking. Tonight, however, I had time to read the paper twice. Second time around I was left having to read the article bashing Ken's congestion charge, the editorial supporting the green welly Countryside Alliance. the daily cosmetic surgery scare story and even the recipe for anchovy bruscheta. Please please let me not be so delayed going home tomorrow.

3) You don't care: I've told you the story of my dreadful journey home, and you don't care. Nobody ever cares about nightmare travel stories. That's unless one happens to you of course, in which case you feel as if you have to tell everyone at your destination every single intimate detail. I bet you've just skimmed through my tale of underground woe, but please remember, next time you're late I won't be at all interested either.

 Tuesday, September 17, 2002

3 things I hate about... the Mercury Music awards

1) Mercury: The most credible UK annual music awards are sponsored by the least credible UK telecommunications company. That'll be Mercury, the phone company that shone brightly for a brief period, then faded away into cashless obscurity. A very appropriate sponsor for the awards that brought you Gomez and, er, Talvin Singh?

2) Music: Apparently we're defining Joanna McGregor, The Bees, Guy Barker and The Coral as amongst 'the best in British Music'. These artists were virtually unknown before the shortlist was announced, and only a cynic would suggest that this event is merely a blunt marketing exercise to raise flagging record sales. However, I think the presence of the latest David Bowie album on the list speaks for itself.

3) Awards: The judges delight every year in not picking an obvious winner. Last year they passed over Radiohead, Basement Jaxx and Super Furry Animals in favour of P J Harvey. In 2000 they completely failed to spot the potential of a group called Coldplay. This year they gave the award to Ms Dynamite when clearly The Streets should have walked it. Next year expect either the Tweenies or a Popstars wannabe to destroy the competition.

 Monday, September 16, 2002

3 things I hate about... Autumn

1) Darkness: I woke up this morning and it was dark. When did that happen? I'm sure it was light last Friday. It wasn't really dark, but it won't be long before it's pitch black when I leave for work, and then dark when I get home, and eventually I won't see my flat in daylight again until March. Still, that should save on the hoovering for a few months.

2) Chill: I woke up this morning and it was cold. When did that happen? I'm sure it was warm last Friday. It wasn't really cold, but I almost had to look for my jacket, which I took off some time back in April and haven't used since. I wonder where in my flat I put it. Before long I'll be wearing my jacket every time I go out, and eventually wearing it every time I stay in as well, just to avoid spending any money turning on my central heating.

3) Leaves: I woke up this morning and three leaves on the trees outside my window were slightly yellow. When did that happen? I'm sure they were green last Friday. They weren't really yellow, but before long all the trees will be a sort of russety-orange, then brown, then all the leaves will fall off and clog up the courtyard outside. All of a sudden I'll be able to see out past the trees again, getting a full view of the railway and the buildings beyond. Which also means everyone out there will be able to see in again, so I'd better start being careful what I'm wearing, or not wearing...

 Sunday, September 15, 2002

3 things I hate about... supermarkets

1) Trolleys: Supermarkets never have the type of trolley you want, although there are always plenty of trolleys available for disabled mothers with twins. All available trolleys are now chained together outside the store, partly to stop 13 year-olds appropriating one for a joy ride, but more importantly just to really annoy you when you realise you've not got a pound coin in your pocket.

2) Packaging: Supermarkets insist on wrapping everything in packaging we don't want, and then charging extra for it. Why? Because we're mug enough to pay for it, that's why. We could buy real potatoes, complete with organic dirt and real skin, but instead it's so much easier to buy ready cooked mashed potatoes with a sprig of parsley in a cellophane wrapper for ten times the price. It may cut down on preparation time, but it's odd how it never tastes quite as good.

3) Checkouts: I always manage to pick the checkout with what appears to be the shortest queue, but which then turns out to be the longest. The person in front of me in the queue always seems to have managed to buy the only packet of cereal in the shop without a barcode, a pint of milk that's leaking everywhere and a vegetable that the rookie till operator can't decide whether it's an aubergine or a very large plum. Then they produce every money-off voucher under the sun from their wallet, only to be told that most of them are unusable, before insisting on paying by credit card even though the bill is less than £5. Of course, when it's my turn at the checkout, the operator speeds up and whizzes everything down the belt before I've managed to get even one plastic bag open, at which point everyone waiting in the queue glares at me, just as I was doing earlier.


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