Monday, December 23, 2002
X is for Xmas
posted 09:00 :
So Here It Is, Merry Christmas
The family Christmas - three things not to look forward to
1) Waking up on Christmas morning: I'm sorry, but during the holiday period there should be a complete and total ban on consciousness at 7am. OK, so all the children in the house will already have been up for two hours by that time, and they'll all be desperate to go downstairs and see what Santa has left them under the tree, and they'll all probably bear a subconscious grudge against me for the rest of their lives because I won't crawl out of my bed early enough, but sorry, 7am is just not on.
2) Presents: It is an unwritten rule of Christmas that the time taken to buy a present is always longer than the time that present will actually be used by the person you're buying it for. Therefore a book you've sweated for two hours to find will be received gratefully, the first couple of pages casually flicked through, and then shoved on a shelf in the spare room for the rest of time. Similarly if someone buys you a jumper, a CD or an amusing electrical gadget with less than 5 minutes thought, that object will be in a car boot sale before New Year. It's for this reason that I spent at least five days this month trying to buy Christmas presents, including four trips down Oxford Street last Saturday alone. Fingers crossed...
3) Christmas TV: There are some excellent TV programmes on over Christmas. There always are. The TV companies save them up for this special time of year (all except Sky, who continue to broadcast the Simpsons and Star Trek just like it's any other day of the year). I always look forward to buying the festive double issue Radio Times and looking through to see what gems I'd like to watch, and then I miss every single one of them. Unfortunately, there's no worse place to watch excellent TV programmes than with the family at Christmas. For a start the TV never gets switched on because someone's got a new board game with impossible-to-understand rules that everyone thinks it'd be a great idea to play, or there's a new bicycle to stand in the street and watch. If the TV is ever switched on it's only so that someone can watch their new Barbie cartoon video, or so that someone else doesn't miss out on their favourite festive Emmerdale episode. And at Christmas the TV set is always impossible to watch anyway because someone's built a huge Harry Potter Lego castle in front of the screen. It's OK though, you can always set your video to record all those excellent programmes back at home, except that you always set the video wrong and record three hours of Opera from Glyndebourne instead. Bah humbug!
The family Christmas - three things to look forward to
1) Food: Ah, the joys of festive food. Some people might baulk at the thought of turkey four days running but not me, especially when you're spending Christmas in Norfolk just a stone's throw from where the bird was slaughtered anyway. Then there's sprouts, which for some unknown reason I do actually like, despite them being miniature cabbages, which I hate. Add to that endless boxes of chocolates, bowls of peanuts, Christmas pudding... and yes, the diet starts in the New Year.
2) Christmas letters: These fall out of half the Christmas cards that the family's friends and relatives send, just so that we're all kept all in touch with people's thrilling busy lives at least annually. Christmas letters always start with the line 'Well, what a year it's been...'. They then either continue with a litany of woes, deaths, divorces and insurance claims, or else with a list of totally irrelevant non-events, like details of the family's summer barbecue or the time the cat almost disappeared for an hour. Easily the best reading material in the house at Christmas, and I can heartily recommend them.
3) The family: It really wouldn't be Christmas without them. It would just be a microwave-ready oven meal with a threadbare tree, two presents, a bottle of cheap wine and no spirit. Merry Christmas, every one!
posted 08:00 :
W is for Winter Wonderland
posted 00:19 :
Sunday, December 22, 2002Girls Allowed: So, the Christmas number one goes to five tone-deaf non-entities, plucked from obscurity by cynical ITV executives to front a manufactured band with no talent. The girls have a singing ability so poor that they should never risk performing live, so it's a relief that they've all been been replaced by session musicians on the record. OK, I'll admit that the girls' song itself isn't that bad, plagiarising as it does various pop masterpieces, and some have even managed to come up with a list of 100 reasons why we should all have rushed out and bought the Sound of the Underground. However, Girls Aloud definitely follow in the Christmas footsteps of such renowned acts as Bob the Builder, Mr Blobby, Little Jimmy Osmond and Renee and Renato, it not being unusual for the festive chart-topper to be sung by a bunch of talentless no-hopers. Alas, the TV show Popstars - the Rivals is to blame for the entire Christmas Top three, including the tedious One True Voice and the execrable Cheeky Girls. I guess it's too much to hope for better in 2003. PopOriginals, anyone?
posted 18:46 :
My three favourite Christmas websites
1) 'Tis The Season: "It may be the season to be jolly, but this time of year is also traditionally fraught with hazards involving etiquette, botulism, family and social trauma, economic depression and all sorts of other miseries. Sisters Meg and Anna (not in the nun sense of the word - they're actually related) answer your holiday questions and help you sail through the festive period relatively painlessly."
Everything you ever wanted to know about Advent, trees, shopping, holidays, religion, presents, turkey, cold, cards, lights, spending, pudding, music, pantomime, mistletoe, snow, carols, giving, receiving, stockings, etc. A dead impressive (and funny) collection of writings on what Christmas is really all about.
2) The Advent calendar at harpold.com. A masterpiece of design and content - each day "a happy Christmas memory, a holiday link and something special". And some of those somethings are special. Festive recipes, traditions, decorations and some stunning animations. Check out today's snowfall, for example, these candles, these Christmas lights or this snowman.
3) The Renaissance-style Advent calendar at ILoveFizzyPop. There are far too many advent calendars around these days which have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. Most of these have pictures of Gareth Gates, Bob The Builder or Barbie on the front, with tiny tasteless slabs of chocolate inside. At last, here's an online calendar which actually remembers the true meaning of Christmas - shepherds, angels, mangers, wise men, Mary, Joseph and all - and then shamelessly subverts the lot of it. My favourite window is definitely December 13 - not that I remember there being any cheese in the original Christmas story.
posted 15:55 :
V is for Virgin?
posted 13:45 :
Saturday, December 21, 2002The End Of The World Is Nigh
Aliens are on their way, the Second Coming is imminent, the Age of Aquarius is dawning, the planets are aligning, and we're all going to die. Sorry to put a damper on your Christmas celebrations, but the end of the world is due, exactly ten years from today, on 21st December 2012.
All these predictions stem from the Mayan calendar, the timekeeping system of an ancient central American civilisation. The Mayan Long Count, as it's called, is a calendar consisting of 5 repeating cycles. In the Mayan calendar there were 20 kin (days) in a uinal, 18 uinals in a tun, 20 tun in a katun and 20 katun in a baktun. I do hope you're following this closely. According to Mayan chronology, the present age started on 12 August 3114 BC and is due to end exactly 13 baktun (5125 years) later on 21 December 2012 - a date otherwise known as 126.96.36.199.0.
As well as being the last date of the Mayan Grand Cycle, 21st December 2012 is also the date of the Winter Solstice, and the exact date (stay awake at the back there) of an extremely close conjunction of the winter solstice sun with the crossing point of Galactic Equator and the ecliptic. In other words, in 2012 the plane of our Solar System will line up exactly with the plane of the Milky Way. This cycle has taken 26,000 years to complete.
On this date the Earth as we know it is to be destroyed by catastrophic earthquakes. Or maybe the Earth's magnetic poles will reverse. Or maybe there'll be a hyperspatial breakthrough. Or maybe we'll all ascend to Heaven. Or maybe every living thing on Earth will be translated into the 6th dimension. Or maybe our planet will be hit by The Third Comet. Or maybe the Solar System will enter a top secret photon belt. Or maybe we're shifting from an ego-based civilization to Gaian consciousness. Or maybe a birthing planet vibrating at a low tone is preparing itself to receive the chosen few. Or maybe we're all metamorphing into galactic humans. It all depends on which lunatic website you read.
As The End approaches in 2012, apparently we will all start to suffer from migraine headaches, tiredness, and flu like symptoms, although heaven knows how we'll be able to distinguish this from the usual excesses of the Christmas party season. Our DNA will be re-programmed, our eyes will become cat-like in order to adjust to the new atmosphere and light, and all newly born children will probably be telepathic at birth. It's clearly not all bad news, then.
Do enjoy the next ten years while you can though, because The End is nigh. It must be true, even the last ever episode of the X Files said so. See you in the 6th dimension then...
posted 18:32 :
Winter solstice sunset times: 2:57 lerwick, 3:15 kirkwall, 3:27 aberdeen, 3:33 inverness, 3:39 edinburgh, 3:40 newcastle, 3:44 glasgow, 3:44 norwich, 3:46 leeds, 3:51 manchester, 3:52 dover, 3:54 london, 3:55 liverpool, 3:55 birmingham, 3:57 brighton, 3:59 belfast, 4:03 bristol, 4:06 cardiff, 4:15 plymouth, 4:23 lands end.
posted 11:31 :
U is for Unprepared
posted 10:38 :
Friday, December 20, 2002Carols Ancient and Modern (6-20)
Away in a cardboard box, no roof for a bed.
Factories from the realms of GB, fling your filth o'er all the earth.
Good England men rejoice, Sven-Goran Eriksson's in charge.
How far is it to Baghdad? Not very far in a jet fighter.
I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas - that's global warming for you.
I saw three ships come sailing in - and that's navy cuts for you.
It came upon the wireless clear, that Ketchup song of old.
Jingle tills, jingle tills, credit cards all the way.
O come Tory faithful, disheartened and defeated.
O little town of Birmingham, how grim we see thee lie.
Once in loyal Belfast city, stood some gunmen head-to-head.
See amid the wrong kind of snow, Connex trains are running slow.
Silent night, warehouse site, police have banned the rave tonight.
The first Noel the public did see, was a small bearded DJ on evening TV.
While shepherds watched their clones by night.
posted 22:11 :
T is for 24 days
posted 00:02 :
Thursday, December 19, 2002Thank goodness for 24 hour supermarkets located within walking distance of your house that sell sheets of white card. So, now, at last, that's all my Christmas cards printed out. If you're on my list, you'll be glad to hear that they're in the post...
posted 23:21 :
Carols Ancient and Modern (5)
We three princes of Buckingham are,
On the civil list we travel afar,
We love horses and divorces
And one of us Camilla.
O, year of blunder, year of blight,
Year of royal death and fright,
Windsor's bleeding, butlers feeding,
End of monarchy in sight.
posted 19:37 :
S is for Santa
posted 00:14 :
Wednesday, December 18, 2002What class are you this Christmas?
Where do you buy most of your Christmas presents?
(a) At Harrods, on account.
(b) At John Lewis, by Barclaycard.
(c) At Spar, when the shopkeeper's not looking.
How have you decorated your house?
(a) Great-grandfather planted fifty fir trees round the estate 100 years ago.
(b) A tasteful holly wreath on the door and lots of candles in the window.
(c) Flashing reindeer, a luminous Santa and 150 coloured lights on the roof.
How many people are you spending Christmas Day with?
(a) 17 - although we may give the butler the afternoon off.
(b) Just the 2 of us - we've paid extra to keep the kids on at boarding school this year.
(c) 17 - that's 7 children, 3 ex-wives, 5 grannies and 2 social workers.
What are you planning to cook for Christmas lunch?
(a) Whatever we go out and shoot in the morning.
(b) Everything that Delia tells us to.
(c) Pizza and chips.
What will you be watching on Christmas Day?
(a) The waves lapping against the beach in the Algarve.
(b) Just the Queen's Speech, then we'll turn the television off and play charades instead.
(c) Only Fools And Horses, plus whatever's on ITV for the rest of the evening.
Check your answers
Mostly (a)s - upper class
Mostly (b)s - middle class
Mostly (c)s - dead common
posted 22:32 :
R is for Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer
posted 00:11 :
Tuesday, December 17, 2002Cheers? A large amount of alcohol gets drunk at Christmas. A large number of people get drunk at Christmas too. So, just in case you're tempted to drink far too much this Christmas party season, let these three sites be a warning to you...
• It's Your Round
posted 22:13 :
Carols Ancient and Modern (4)
Hark the single mothers sing,
Why blame us for everything?
Hell on earth and rampant crime,
Vice and sin, moral decline.
Our children aren't evil buggers,
Petty thieves or violent muggers.
With the establishment host proclaim,
Absent fathers are to blame.
Hark the single mothers sing
Why blame us for everything?
posted 20:53 :
Q is for Queen's speech
posted 00:08 :
Monday, December 16, 2002Clue 1: G-BHXU + G-SPEY
Clue 2: One of Channel 4's first big ratings successes, it ran for seven years and was one of my favourite TV programmes of the 1980s.
Clue 3: Breathed new life into the career of an old BBC newsreader and a TV-AM weathergirl.
Clue 4: Part game-show, part geography lesson, but mostly close-up shots of Rice's Bottom viewed from a chopper.
Clue 5: And tonight, after a twelve-and-a-half year gap, Treasure Hunt is back on our TV screens. It's swapped channels (BBC2, 6pm, every night this week). It's swapped presenters (Dermot Murnaghan replaces Kenneth Kendall and Suzi Perry replaces Anneka Rice). It's got an updated theme tune (big mistake, the original version was a classic and the new version so isn't). But, having watched tonight's relaunch, the programme itself is still a winner. One of my friends is on the production team, which must explain some of its success. And I shall be sat here with my map of Kent every night this week, willing the contestants on to the final clue...
Stop the clock!
posted 20:17 :
McUpdate: A month ago there was a plot of wasteground at the bottom of my road beside the Bow Flyover. Three weeks ago a drive-in McDonalds suddenly sprang up on the site. Today they're serving burgers to the three customers who've noticed the restaurant has just opened. Oh, and potato wedges are back - in which case they may have a fourth customer very soon.
posted 19:13 :
P is for Pudding
posted 06:35 :
Sunday, December 15, 2002Carols Ancient and Modern (3)
Pack the malls with Sunday shoppers
fa la la la la, la la la la
Supermarkets fill their coffers
fa la la la la, la la la la
Push we now our brimming trolley
fa la la, la la la, la la la
Spending lots of lovely lolly
fa la la la la, la la la la.
Pews emptied by Sunday shopping
fa la la la la, la la la la
Congregations dwindling, dropping
fa la la la la
No respect for spire and steeple
fa la la
The wrong aisles are full of people
posted 17:12 :
O is for Little Town of Bethlehem
posted 15:02 :
Saturday, December 14, 2002Walking on the Moon
The Apollo space mission remains one of mankind's greatest ever achievements, along with the decoding of human DNA and designing milk cartons that open without splurting everywhere. The project required an enormous amount of time, an enormous amount of money and and revolutionary scientific expertise, all to get twelve men to the Moon and back. Even more impressively, the Americans managed all of this back in an age when computers were the size of wardrobes and the Ronco Buttonneer was cutting edge technology. Today your mobile phone probably contains more processing power than all of Neil Armstrong's onboard computers put together, although his Lunar Lander game was rather more realistic. The blurry black and white TV broadcasts sent back from the Moon made a huge impact on all of us alive at the time, however young we were, showing us our place in the universe and starting a global ecological awareness that still lives today. Perhaps even more importantly, the Apollo missions also brought us non-stick teflon saucepans.
I find it hard to believe, but today is exactly 30 years since the last man walked on the Moon. His name was Eugene Cernan (what is it about American names...?), and he was the twelfth and final man to walk on the lunar surface. And, in the 30 years since Apollo 17 blasted off from the Moon on 14 December 1972, not one manned space mission has been back.
Back in the fifties and sixties, science fiction portrayed rocket trips to the moon as part of our bright technological future. There would be lunar bases, settlers emigrating to the new frontier and the Moon would be our stepping-stone into space. We all thought that, by the year 2000, space travel would be commonplace and the Moon would be an everyday destination. It hasn't happened. We have managed a few space stations orbiting the Earth, the odd deep space probe and the Space Shuttle, although none of that ever caught the public imagination in the same way as Apollo. There has been no political will to return to the Moon, or maybe it's just that nobody's been willing to pour huge amounts of money into a project with no immediate profit to be made. It's a pity, because if we could send a lump of aluminium powered by a Sinclair ZX81 to the Moon thirty years ago, just think what we could do today.
I hope that another lunar mission is planned before the next thirty years is up. It would be great to watch real astronauts on the Moon again, rather than just another re-run of Star Trek. Our future is out there in space, but at the moment our future seems a very long way off. And who knows, maybe society's advanced enough since 1972 to send a woman next time.
posted 12:46 :
N is for Naughty or Nice?
posted 03:36 :
Friday, December 13, 2002Word of the day: Triskaidekaphobia
Fact of the day: The 13th is more likely to be a Friday than any other day of the week.
Conspiracy theory of the day: The Apollo 13 mission was launched on April 11, 1970 (4+11+70 = 85, which when added together comes to 13) from Pad 39 (three times 13) at 13:13 local time, and was struck by an explosion on April 13.
Anagram of the day: eleven plus two = twelve plus one
posted 16:13 :
five non-festive links
• Europe 1900-2002: it's probably the best history lesson I've seen all year, unless you're German.
• Googol Viewer: now there's a slideshow of your search results, surely the ultimate tool for lazy surfers.
• Combovers: a warning to testosterone-afflicted males - be careful that you don't end up this way.
• Binary clock: goodness knows why anyone would want a binary clock, but it is pretty all the same.
• I have two dogs: try to pull two matching pooches - maybe web designers have too much spare time.
posted 14:06 :
Windows R(eally)G(ood): How many hours of your life has Bill Gates wasted? It's probably days. Two minutes to log on... one minute to log off... three minutes thumping the keyboard when a really important document you're writing suddenly freezes... two hours to rewrite the aforementioned important document from scratch after you had to reboot... fifteen seconds to dismiss the box that asks if you want to send an error report to Microsoft telling them how rubbish their program has been... that sort of thing, repeated every single day of your computer's life. (Hmm, while writing that last sentence, my computer did indeed freeze up, everything crashed, I got to 'Not send' thirteen error reports and then had to reboot - maybe my PC noticed what I was writing...) If all this system-crashing sounds depressingly familiar, you should definitely spend a more productive ten minutes of your life exploring Windows RG, the alternative desktop interface. it'll make you smile and who knows, it may even work better than the real thing.  (via bitful)
posted 09:15 :
M is for Misery
posted 00:01 :
Thursday, December 12, 2002Carols Ancient and Modern (2)
Ding dong Mario on high,
In bedrooms boys are playing,
Zap pow, kill and maim and die,
Their brain cells are decaying,
Sony and Nintendo
Pray we dutifully buy,
Your products so inflated,
Games at fifty quid a time,
All vastly overrated.
Sony and Nintendo
Records, board games, sport and toys,
Their decline now is endless,
Whole generation of boys,
Unsociable and friendless.
Sony and Nintendo
Spin a hedgehog, crash a car,
Street Fighter, Terminator,
All too violent by far,
Society pays later.
Sony and Nintendo
posted 15:37 :
posted 00:02 :
Wednesday, December 11, 2002Night Boat To Woolwich
I can't believe it's taken this long, but tonight I attended my first ever office Christmas party. Just to be a bit different we hired a big boat from Westminster Pier, and 100 of us headed off down the Thames at dusk downriver past Greenwich. We were all trapped on board for a full four hours so that nobody could even consider sneaking off home early, and the view of London would have been absolutely spectacular had the windows not steamed up the minute we all got on board.
All the traditional features of the office Christmas party were present, except for the photocopier and the stationery cupboard. Copious drinks were ordered from the bar, everyone attempted to sing along to Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody, and someone grabbed the ship's mop and pretended to use it as a guitar. There was something especially surreal about sailing round the Thames Flood Barrier with the Ketchup Song blaring out. However, it was on the dance floor that work colleagues suddenly started to demonstrate uncharacteristic characteristics. Supposedly straight-laced revellers suddenly proved they had rhythm, one quiet bloke was transformed by a couple of bottles of Smirnoff Ice into a jiving disco queen, and there were just a few physical hints that certain people might just fancy you rather more than you could ever fancy them. I'm sure there's also an unwritten rule that says that bosses can't dance. Instead they move around between the various groups on the dance floor, sway vaguely from side to side, and smile broadly with a look that attempts to say 'See, I'm really just like you" but fails utterly.
It was a memorable first office Christmas party, and suprisingly enjoyable. But there were clearly some people who'd done Christmas parties before, because they took a camera with them. Sigh. I guess we should all await the blackmail photos in the office email system tomorrow...
posted 22:50 :
K is for Kings
posted 00:01 :
Tuesday, December 10, 2002192: So, the old Directory Enquiries number is being phased out. From today the BT monopoly is over and there are a whole load of new competitors, all hoping we'll ring them instead when we're stuck for a telephone number. All the new Directory Enquiries numbers are six-figures long and start with 118. See how catchy they all are...
BT has 118 500 (25p + 30p per minute), British Gas has 118 511 (£1.50 per minute), Orange has 118 000 (49p + 20p per minute), One Tel has 118 111 (35p), Telegate has 118 866 (25p + 20p per minute) and The Number UK Ltd has 118 118 (49p + 9p per minute).
Now, I challenge you to cover up the screen and see if you can remember any of those numbers, or which one is the cheapest for an 80-second phone call. See? So, come August when we can't remember any of these new numbers for Directory Enquiries, what number do we ring up to find out?
posted 22:58 :
Carols Ancient and Modern (1)
In the bleak midwinter,
Pensioners did freeze;
Hands were cold as iron,
Chests began to wheeze;
Fear the rising price of fuel;
Keep the heat down low;
Not so long ago.
posted 21:46 :
J is for Jesus
posted 00:05 :
Monday, December 09, 2002good news: We got Oxford United in the next round.
bad news: Beckham's team won at the weekend.
good news: This site just had its 2000th visitor.
bad news: My 2000th visitor lives in Melbourne.
good news: I've got tickets for The Streets.
bad news: Gareth Gates won R-R-Record Of The Year.
good news: I'm going on holiday after Christmas.
bad news: I'm flying with United.
posted 22:06 :
I is for Illuminations
posted 00:01 :
Sunday, December 08, 2002Coming forth
I know it's still an hour until they announce the result, but I'd like to congratulate Paula Radcliffe on winning the BBC Sports Personaility of the year award. I've been watching Paula's career for many years, mainly because she used to go to my school. Well, she did when she was thirteen, and then she came back to present the prizes at sports day once. This was before she was famous, back when she kept coming fourth in every race she ran and we all wondered if she'd ever achieve athletic greatness. Back then Paula used to jog past me at 7 in the morning on her busy training schedule round an obscure North Bedfordshire village. Then in April this year she ran past me at Canary Wharf, a mile from my new home, on her way to storming the London Marathon. A world record in the Chicago marathon followed, and now Paula's unique nodding style is recognised by millions worldwide. Congratulations Paula, at last you have the world at your feet.
posted 20:50 :
It must be Christmas, because the double issue Radio Times is now out. Yes, all the usual classic programmes are on at some point over the festive period. To save you buying a copy, here's when they're on:
The Good Life: Margot refuses to wear the party hat Tom made from a copy of the Daily Mirror (BBC2 Mon 23 Dec 8:30pm)
The League of Gentlemen: Three totally twisted festive tales from Royston Vasey (BBC2 Mon 23 Dec 11:30pm)
Blue Peter: Lighting the advent coathanger and singing carols round the Christmas tree (BBC1 Tue 24 Dec 2:00pm)
The Wizard of Oz: The classic fantasy, sure to be remembered long after Harry Potter is forgotten (TCM Tue 24 Dec 3:00pm)
The Snowman: Aled Jones reports back on his hallucinogenic trip to the North Pole (C4 Tue 24 Dec 3:10pm)
The Sound Of Music: Definitely the most fun to be had in leather jackboots and a wimple (Sky Movies Tue 24 Dec 4:00pm)
White Christmas: Bing Crosby sings that song, and lots of other very forgettable ones (BBC2 Tue 24 Dec 6:10pm)
Morecambe and Wise: The classic 1973 show, probably featuring Glenda Jackson (BBC1 Wed 25 Dec 11:15am)
It's a Wonderful Life: Heart-warming 1946 film to cheer up the suicidal this Christmas (BBC2 Wed 25 Dec 5:50pm)
Only Fools And Horses: Dodgy dealings from the back of a Robin Reliant in South London (BBC1 Wed 25 Dec 9:40pm)
Mary Poppins: No-nonsense childcare advice, plus some totally unconvincing Cockney accents (ITV1 Thur 26 Dec 5:25pm)
Some Like It Hot: Marilyn Monroe is completely outdressed by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon (ITV1 Fri 27 Dec 12:15am)
The Great Escape: The other classic wartime drama, not the one where all the nuns sing a lot (ITV1 Fri 27 Dec 1:50pm)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Thankfully Michael Ball is nowhere to be seen. Truly scrumptious. (BBC1 Sat 28 Dec 1:50pm)
Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em: Frank spends most of baby Jessica's first Christmas on a church roof (BBC2 Sat 28 Dec 6:15pm)
posted 14:05 :
H is for harpold.com
posted 11:41 :
Saturday, December 07, 2002Miscellaneous
It's only been out in the shops for just a month, but it's already the publishing sensation of the year. It's Schott's Original Miscellany, 160pp, £9.99, published by Bloomsbury.
Schott's is a miscellany of essential information, uncommon knowledge and vital irrelevance. It includes the following:
How to fight a duel, the thirteen principles of witchcraft, the structure of military hierarchy, all of the clothing care symbols, a list of the countries where you drive on the left, useful words in Yiddish, a nursery rhyme about sneezing, the correct scoring at conkers, the supplier of bagpipes to the Queen, public schoolboy slang, iceberg sizes, the brutal methods of murder encountered by Miss Marple, wedding superstitions, how to wrap a sari, bed sizes, unusual deaths of Burmese monarchs, compound plurals (eg knickerbockers glory), the classification of clouds, words where the vowels are listed in alphabetical order, and the cockney alphabet.
The idea for the book came from last year's home-made Christmas cards Ben Schott sent to his friends. These were no ordinary cards but consisted of a little booklet containing all of the essential information he supposed that one needed to get through life, but could never find. Friends loved it and the book was subsequently snapped up by Bloomsbury and published on November 4. Last Tuesday evening, its amazon.co.uk sales ranking was 119. On Wednesday evening it was 42, on Thursday 29, and today it's the 6th best selling book in the country.
The book's popularity is all the more remarkable since it had up until this week received next to no press publicity. Word of mouth has launched it this far, and now the media are now catching up. Danny Baker on BBC Radio London has raved about it (interview with Ben here), and the Guardian gave it the lead article in yesterday's pullout G2 section. Desperate Christmas shoppers are gradually working out that this book is the perfect solution to their present-buying problems, so expect to be sent at least five copies in three weeks time.
This is viral marketing at its best, and the book is a sudden but well-deserved success. Two follow-ups are already planned. And, I must say, slipping a little booklet into the Christmas cards you send this year sounds like an excellent idea to me...
posted 10:35 :
G is for Gifts
posted 10:34 :
Friday, December 06, 2002Now here's an original idea for a webpage. Oneword gives you 60 seconds to write about a random word that appears at the top of the screen. You write it, it's posted on the site, and then you can read what everyone else has written. It's surprising what people think of when the time pressure is on, and some of it is even worth reading... This week's word is one:
how cats count
one, one more than one, one more that one more than one. one more than one more than one more than one. one more than one more than one more than one more than one.
this is why cats havnt invaded poland but hitler has.
One is what we all are.
One is at the centre.
We can have more than one there, but always there's just one.
one is the loneliest number that you ever knew. to me it brings up memories of walking underneath a tree on my way to school as a child in seattle washington. there was a footpath along the ride and when you walked off to the edge by the fence a giant tree created a great canopy for you to pass through. for some reason this always made me feel alone, yet at one with the rest of the world
one time i said i love you to a someone and meant it.
one time i said something i wish i hadn't.
one time i totalled my car.
one time i felt without thinking.
one time i listened without hearing.
one time i saw without eyes.
posted 19:08 :
F is for Flakes
posted 00:08 :
Thursday, December 05, 2002Weather forecast
Killer smog, continuing over London for the next 4 days.
50 years ago today, London was beset by its worst ever atmospheric pollution. An anticyclone settled over London, the wind dropped, the air grew damp and a thick fog began to form. In many parts of the capital it became impossible for pedestrians to find their way at night, and in the Isle of Dogs the visibility was at times nil. High concentrations of smoke and sulphur dioxide in the air caused many Londoners to suffer respiratory or cardiac problems, and perhaps as many as 12000 deaths eventually followed. It was reported that a number of cattle at Smithfield Market died of asphyxiation, and a performance at the Sadler's Wells Theatre had to be suspended when fog in the auditorium made conditions intolerable. In response to the Great London Smog, the Government passed its first Clean Air Act in 1956 which regulated what could be burned in houses and created smoke-free zones.
50 years later, in spite of an unjustified international reputation, London is now only rarely beset by fog. There may still be pollution in the air, but it's of a very different kind. Modern pollutants from vehicle exhausts include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, benzines and aldehydes. They are less visible than the pollutants of yesteryear but are equally toxic, causing eye irritation, asthma and bronchial complaints. Perhaps we'd all do better to campaign against existing air pollution rather than worry about the vague threat of a terrorist gas attack on the tube.
posted 19:26 :
the guardian competition winner
[I left my pictur on th ground wher u walk
so that somday if th sun was jst right
& th rain didnt wash me awa
u might c me out of th corner of yr i & pic me up]
my favourite runner up
One small vibration in my hand.
One giant leap in my heart.]
posted 18:37 :
E is for Christmas Eve
posted 00:04 :
Wednesday, December 04, 2002Full Moon... Half Moon... Total Eclipse
As I write, a total eclipse of the Sun is speeding across the Indian Ocean. This magnificent natural spectacle has just crossed Africa in half an hour flat, and is heading for sunset on the southern coast of Australia. The path of the eclipse is no more than 55 miles wide, and the eclipse only just lasts for two minutes at its maximum extent, except you'd have to be in a boat off Madagascar to see that.
A total eclipse of the Sun is as rare as it is spectacular. On average, a total solar eclipse only happens about twice in three years, and you actually have to be in the right place at the right time in order to see it. For a given spot on the Earth a total solar eclipse is only visible about every 360 years on the average, although they're distributed so randomly that a given spot might not see a total eclipse for centuries, or might see two within a few years. There's a point on the west coast of Angola that's just been eclipsed this morning and was also in the path of the last total eclipse 18 months ago. However, the USA isn't due to see another total eclipse until 21 August 2017, and mainland Europe has 24 years to wait, and even then only across a bit of Spain. As for the next total eclipse visble from mainland Britain, alas that isn't due until 23 September 2090, which means that most of us alive today will have been eclipsed before the Sun is.
I went to Cornwall to visit Britain's last total solar eclipse on 11 August 1999. I'd been looking forward to it for years and I was really glad to have the opportunity to be there, in the path of the solar shadow. Every morning of eclipse week the sun peeked through the clouds at ten past eleven, except on the one day when it really mattered. At the appointed time on Wednesday the clouds suddenly got very dark, and then two minutes later they suddenly got very grey again. It wasn't quite what any of us there had hoped for. In fact it was rather like having to wait twenty years to visit a sweet shop, only to get there and find it closed. It was an eye-opening experience alright, but the whole trip was somewhat of a disappointment. Ah well, one day I plan to be in the right place at the right time.
posted 07:32 :
D is for Decorations
posted 00:06 :
Tuesday, December 03, 2002Googolism
Aarika writes from the US: So I typed "diamond geezer" into Google and ended up at your weblog. She's right, you know. I appear to be the top result if you do a Google search for that particular phrase. Wow! I'm also 11th, 12th and 16th, which isn't bad after less than three months in existence.
Aarika continues: But...still...what's a diamond geezer? Any information would be greatly appreciated. Well Aarika, it's an East London sort of a phrase, as you might expect. Your average Cockney might say that a diamond geezer was a reliable person, the salt of the earth, a decent bloke, a real gem. Others might say he was the sort of person you could buy a used car from without being sold a ringer. And others... well, for further information on other diamond geezers online check out my blog post from 8th October.
However, there is one perfect website to visit in order to answer your question, called Googlism. You type in a name (go on, try yours, everyone does) and the site searches Google to find out what the world thinks of you. And, for diamond geezer, the answer is apparently as follows:
• diamond geezer is a quins supporter that wears bright trousers
• diamond geezer is your personal diamond expert
• diamond geezer is the "original junglist" of the crew specializing in old skool & ragga jungle as well as playing the best in drum & bass
• diamond geezer is a strange
• diamond geezer is bluesy psych
• diamond geezer is not a prolific goalscorer
• diamond geezer is someone you will encounter a little later in your travels
• diamond geezer is in the hut across from that
• diamond geezer is a girl's best friend
• diamond geezer is all about
• diamond geezer is 'enery
• diamond geezer is big
So Aarika, I'm glad you stumbled upon my page and that you continue to read and enjoy. Thank you for your kind comments. And that 6th comment sums up a diamond geezer best, as I'm sure those who know me will agree.
posted 19:09 :
C is for Candles
posted 00:02 :
Monday, December 02, 2002Popstars - the Rivals
I'm sorry, but I can see no redeeming features whatsoever in this programme. The music is bland, the singers are putty, the pundits are smug, the steady drip of 'news' is too carefully co-ordinated, and the Christmas number 1 is going to be soul-less drivel. I even met the producer of the TV show the other weekend. Admittedly only the producer of the ITV2 show, but even he couldn't convince me of the programme's worth. In fact he seemed a little put-out when I said I'd never voted for any of the contestants on the show. I had hoped I didn't look that vacant in public.
What worries me most about the whole Pop Stars / Fame Academy phenomenon is the prominence now being given by the music industry to young, supposedly good-looking singers, pre-packaged and manufactured, endlessly murdering cover versions of sub-karaoke classics. Even when someone does come up with an 'original' song it still just sounds like something Gary Barlow or Shania Twain would have knocked up on an off-day. Whatever happened to music with soul, music with a cutting edge, music with just a spark of originality? I could go to a wedding reception and hear something more exciting than this.
Now, I will confess that I think Hear'Say's Pure and Simple was a classic record, and that Darius's Colourblind was unexpectedly good, but most of the turgid pap being produced by these manufactured artists is insipid, uninspired and over-safe. I have a nasty suspicion that the musical tastes of 17-year-olds and 70-year-olds are rapidly converging.
Fifty years since the pop charts began, we're in danger of returning to the age of the big crooning ballad. I blame Robson and Jerome for starting the revival myself, with Simon Cowell as puppeteer. Now Gareth Gates is surely the anti-christ of original music, Westlife are the kings of musical saccharine, and even Robbie Williams is selling out to American tastes. Thankfully there are still some artists out there who can put a musical tingle down my spine, but it sure as hell isn't this lot.
One True Voice: Oh, very clever. Don't know if you've noticed, but this group's name appears to have been chosen because it shortens to 1TV. Is ITV so concerned about its ratings slide that it needs to resort to this kind of subliminal advertising?
Girls Aloud: Would have been much more appropriate for the girls' band to be called Girls Banned, I reckon.
posted 12:28 :
B is for Bauble
posted 00:46 :
Sunday, December 01, 2002December 1st is World AIDS Day, the annual reminder that some problems in life never go away. Less than twenty years ago HIV was unheard of, but worldwide 40 million people are now infected with the virus, and 8000 people die every day.
A recent report published by the Department of Health shows that there were an estimated 41,000 adults living with HIV in the UK at the end of 2001, and 2002 is set to see a 25% increase in new diagnoses. Back in the mid 1980s a lot of media attention was given to HIV, including that dreadful iceberg TV ad, but it's now been too long since someone last demonstrated how to put a condom over a cucumber on daytime TV. It seems that many people, particularly young people, have forgotten that the problem exists, or else they think that if Mark Fowler hasn't died from it yet then there must be a cure. Fraid not.
Be careful out there.
posted 19:43 :
A is for Advent
posted 14:02 :
The Clubbing-English Bilingual Phrasebook
• Shall we go out to the nightclub? = Do you want to stand packed into a dark, sweaty, loud room for six hours?
• Isn't there an interesting crowd here tonight? = Of course, normally I'd cross the road to avoid these people.
• Two cans of lager and two bottles of water? That'll be £13 please = Just smile and pay up, you've been conned.
• All I can see is a forest of Celtic tattoos = You're five foot one tall and standing in the middle of the dancefloor.
• My head is spinning, my brain is flashing and I love all of you = That wasn't an aspirin you swallowed earlier.
• I appear to be dancing to an uplifting remix of an old Bryan Adams tune = Your musical taste has temporarily vanished.
• I'm sorry, I can't hear a word you're saying = You've been standing too near the speakers and will be buzzing til Tuesday.
• My eyes are rolling, my teeth are grinding down to stumps and I can't sleep = See, I told you it wasn't an aspirin.
• Ugh, this morning all my clothes smell of cigarette smoke = You really did go out last night after all, it wasn't a dream.
• I'm posting this at 7am on a Sunday morning without spelling mistakes = You didn't really partake in much of the above.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, November 30, 2002The best of November
TV programme of the month: I'm Alan Partridge. He has the third best slot on Radio Norwich, and he's been away from our screens for too long. Great to have him back, a-haa. Of course not everyone in Norfolk is that dull, loud and opinionated, although the Norfolk councillors now complaining about the show certainly seem to be doing their best to live up to that stereotype.
Football result of the month: AS Roma 1, Arsenal 3. Back of the net!
Film of the month: 28 Days Later. OK, so I nearly chose Harry Potter, but the last five minutes shunted that film down into second place. Instead I've gone for this excellent portrayal of a post-apocalyptic Britain, full of mad red-eyed zombies. Much like the East London I know and love, then.
Pop celebrity comeback of the month: Mark Owen. Former boyband member turns out to be a nice person with a winning personality. Who'd have thought? Or is it just that all the teenage girls who once voted him Smash Hits Most Fanciable Male have since grown up and now reckon he's perfect husband material?
Album of the month: This category is suspended until at least February. Because.
Gigs of the month: There are going to have to be three of these this month, because they're too hard to choose between. Vega 4 at the Water Rats in Kings Cross, The Cling at the Metro Club in Oxford Street, and Kieran and Neil from The Buffseeds live and acoustic at the Enterprise, Chalk Farm. That's Kieran and Neil, by the way, in miniature. Oh, go on, I think the Buffs win again. An excellent performance in an upstairs room decked out like a cheap Greek restaurant, and you should hear Kieran's unaccompanied Genie In A Bottle...
Google search of the month: I've been getting a lot of visits recently from people searching online for the mysterious combination of Chip Hawkes and The Monkees. Now I'm sorry if you've arrived at this page expecting to find out something about the former lead singer of the Tremeloes and the 1960s version of S Club 7, but I know nothing of any importance about these people. This page's appearance on Google is merely a coincidence, because I once happened to write about a chip van, Chesney Hawkes and the last train to Clarksville. Of course, now I've written this post, I'm sure I'll be even higher up the search list than before. This can have its downside, as some people have found to their cost by innocently asking what all this current fuss concerning Mr Beckham is all about. However, I suspect I'll be fine... just so long as I never mention Br*tney Spears and chicken bre*sts in the same sentence.
posted 11:59 :
Friday, November 29, 2002Skating on thin ice
My parents came down from Norfolk for the day, and we spent most of our time failing to buy any Christmas presents. Not that there weren't lots of shops selling things, because there were, but there weren't any shops selling anything worth buying. Or, perhaps more importantly, there weren't any shops selling anything worth opening on Christmas morning and pretending to be excited about.
So, instead, we headed down to Somerset House to look at the ice rink in the courtyard there. It opened for the winter yesterday, and it's already busy throughout the day with people willing to make complete fools of themselves. Every hour a new group of about a hundred budding skaters is sent out onto the ice. They emerge sheepishly, clutching onto the handrail and shuffling slowly round the edge of the rink. Most look as if they've never been skating before, which of course they haven't. Our intrepid on-the-spot reporter took this picture. Eventually the punters risk their first short skate across the ice, at which point half of them fall over, look up in an embarrassed way and attempt to pick themselves up without getting too cold. After a few falls or near misses most people slowly gain in skill and confidence, and 45 minutes later they're skating round the rink with ease. Unfortunately this is the signal for the ice marshals to announce 'time up', and usher everyone back to the changing rooms. At this point a huge ice-vacuum-cleaner comes out to pick up any severed limbs, or maybe just to smooth over the surface of the ice, and then the whole cycle starts again with a new group of ice virgins. See you down there?
posted 21:49 :
If you've looked upwards in London recently, you'll have have noticed one striking new building taking a dominant position on the City skyline. One minute there was just Tower 42, the old Nat West Tower, and then suddenly there was this 40-storey cigar-shaped skyscraper with green-lit windows.
It's the Swiss RE Tower, otherwise known as 30 St Mary Axe, already better known to Londoners as the Gherkin. Architect Sir Norman Foster was previously responsible for nearby City Hall, also known as the 'glass testicle'. I'm sure it won't be long before this new tower gains a ruder, matching nickname.
Last night they topped off the Gherkin. To celebrate the final steel beam being lifted to the top of the building they set off a 15-minute light and laser show, visible across London. Very impressive it all looked too, even from my 7th floor office a couple of miles away. I already have a stunning view over London as a backdrop to my daily grind, but a gherkin has just improved it.
posted 08:20 :
Thursday, November 28, 2002Thanksgiving
you say pot-ah-to, we say pot-ay-to
you say tom-ah-to, we say tom-ay-to
you voted Bush, we voted Blair
you follow baseball, we don't care
you eat french fries, we eat chips
you eat huge portions, we don't give tips
you drink mocha lattes, we drink teas
you make movies, we make turkeys
you sailed from Plymouth, we all stayed here
you have no history, we have no power
pot-ay-to, pot-ah-to, ir-ark-i, ir-ack-i
let's call the whole thing off
posted 21:17 :
• 1 litre of orange juice - 78p
• 1 litre of orange juice with added calcium - £1.09
Side by side in my local supermarket sit two identical drinks sold in identical cartons, except that one contains a bit of calcium. Less than a tenth of a gram of calcium has been included, but that's added an extra 31p to the cost. At these prices, I reckon one kilogram of calcium would set you back over £4000. Calcium may indeed be good for your bones and teeth, but it seems the supermarket's profits will be looking healthy well before you do. When's Watchdog on next?
posted 00:02 :
Wednesday, November 27, 2002Underneath the Arches
Just down the road from here is the Bow Flyover, a less-than glamorous concrete wasteland where the A11 and A12 meet. There's an overpass, an underpass, a roundabout, a lot of traffic lights, and usually four snarling queues of very angry traffic.
A couple of months ago, workmen came to clear away some derelict land on one corner of the roundabout. They took their time removing the debris, removed some high metal fences that blocked the view and slowly levelled the site. Last weekend the only evidence of any construction taking place were a few basic foundations and a couple of workmen drinking tea. Then this evening I walked past and, all of a sudden, a whole new building has sprung up complete with roof. It's by no means an enormous building, and only a single storey high, but it already has doors, furniture and windows. There are a lot of windows at one end, none at all at the other end and, on the side nearest the main road, just the one single window. On closer inspection there's the beginnings of a paved roadway all round the building, with that window on the driver's side, and a number of cling-wrapped plastic tables sat inside. And just visible on one small black pipe sticking up out of the ground is that oh-so-familiar golden arches logo. Ronald McDonald is giving birth.
I read in the paper last week that McDonalds is finally suffering from the global downturn in the economy, or maybe it's just that people don't fancy eating reprocessed cow in a sesame seed bun any more. The corporation are closing 175 restaurants in 10 countries, including six under threat in London. They used to open over 2000 sites worldwide every year but, in this brave new era of cholesterol-inflicted lawsuits, they only plan to open 600 this year. One of that total of new so-called-restaurants will soon be just a couple of minutes walk from my house. I promise not to visit too often, because I prefer real food. Honest.
posted 20:46 :
CBB: Back at the start of Celebrity Big Brother this blog came out in support of Goldie, because he was a diamond geezer, and Anne Diamond, because she was a Diamond. Alas, that seems to have been the kiss of death for both of them. In which case, I'd like to transfer my 'support' to Les and Melinda. Except that, sadly, neither of them are up for eviction tomorrow.
posted 06:51 :
Tuesday, November 26, 200210 easy ways to think up an idea for today's blog post
• Watch the TV news, pick out the most obvious story, and comment on it.
• Read the newspaper, pick out a really quirky story, and laugh at it.
• Write something vaguely controversial and see if it gets any comments.
• Pass judgement on whether Sue or Anne will leave Big Brother tonight.
• Read someone else's blog, pick out an interesting post, and rewrite it.
• Go to b3ta, find a really good link to another website, and include it.
• Find an unsuspecting boyband or pop singer and ridicule them savagely.
• Tell everyone how good/bad your day/work/journey has been today.
• List some of the mad Google searches that have ended up on this page.
• Write a list to show how easy it is to think up an idea for today's blog post.
posted 23:59 :
Monday, November 25, 2002So, Winston Churchill has been chosen as the Greatest Briton ever voted for by a middle-class BBC audience at the start of the 21st Century. That I can cope with, and I'm just about OK with Brunel being second, but Princess Di third? That can't be right - surely there must be some other blue-eyed adulterers far more worthy of the title?
posted 21:48 :
I was nearly home tonight when a police car sped by, sirens blaring and lights flashing, closely followed by the rare sight of a Green Goddess fire engine. Two minutes later the same convoy reappeared on the other side of the road speeding in the opposite direction. Gave me a huge amount of confidence in the current emergency arrangements, that.
posted 18:48 :
Sorry to worry you, but there's only a month to go until Christmas. I find it particularly frightening that a French episode of Only Fools And Horses is expected to be the festive TV highlight, that the two rival Popstars groups will be battling it out for the Christmas number one, and that S Club Juniors are daring to release a single called Puppy Love/Sleigh Ride. Any chance of November going on a bit longer this year?
posted 07:05 :
Sunday, November 24, 2002DVant?
Gadgets and inventions are very much a part of modern life. Many things that we take for granted today weren't even around ten or twenty years ago, but for many of us life is now unthinkable without them. Some people just have to have the latest gadget, else their life is incomplete. These people can be found kerb-crawling on Tottenham Court Road trying to haggle down the price of some pocket-sized electronic miracle, or else they're queueing outside the Bang & Olufsen shop waiting to purchase the latest overpriced slab of brushed-chrome gadgetry. Meanwhile the rest of us just prefer to wait a bit longer until the technology improves and the price comes down.
I will confess to needing wide screen television, compact discs, mobile phones, the internet and broadband in order to survive. However, there is one really common-place gadget that I have never ever felt I needed or wanted. This gadget may only have been around for five years or less, but I still get strange looks when I admit to not having one of them. I confess. I do not own a DVD player.
Now, don't get me wrong, I can see the point of video recorders. A nation's TV viewing changed overnight with the advent of the video recorder, because at last you could watch a programme even if you were out when it was shown, or if there was something else on you wanted to watch at the same time. I love being able to record what I want and to watch it when I want. I'm even pretty good at remembering to watch what I've recorded before I accidentally tape something else over the top of it. However, it appears that most people prefer the other use of the video recorder - the ability to play back pre-recorded videos, as hired or bought from the shops. That's not me. Over the course of the last 20 years I've accumulated a massive collection of just 23 pre-recorded video tapes. And, as I've said, zero DVDs.
The DVD player, like the CD player before it, is the perfect opportunity for entertainment corporations to reissue product you already own, in the hope that you'll buy it again. You may already own Star Wars on video, but we can sell it to you again with better picture quality, and then can we sell it to you again with three minutes of extra footage we didn't think was good enough to put in the original film, plus a commentary by the director that's probably almost worth listening to once, plus a couple of teletext-type pages of biographical information just to pad the menu out. DVDs also have this annoying habit of 'going back to the beginning', so you have to watch the intro again plus the warning not to show this film on an oil-rig, before trying to remember exactly where you were in the film before you accidentally pressed the wrong button. And don't get me started on the great regional-DVD corporate scam to stop people from buying more cheaply abroad, although thankfully this plot does appears to have failed.
So, why don't I do DVDs? It's because I have this annoying thing called a memory, which means that when I've seen a film once I tend to remember the plot and so it doesn't hold up to repeated viewing every Saturday night for a year. I'm happy to wait three years from a film's first showing at the cinema and then watch it when a TV station tells me I ought to. Or, of course, I can video it instead. OK, so the picture quality isn't quite as good, and you can't freeze-frame that one moment where your favourite movie star gets their kit off, but the plot doesn't get any better just because the film's on DVD, and neither does the acting. And I'm not forking out £20 a week, or a grand a year, on a whole wall of shelving at home covered by films I'll only watch once, if that.
So, my apologies if you are the sort of person who's bought all the Star Trek DVDs and arranged them in order so that the spines make up a picture of Captain Janeway, or if there's a rickety pile of plastic cases balanced so precariously on your floor so that you can never find The Matrix even though you know it's in there somewhere, probably twice. I hope you won't ostracise me just because I'm a DVD-less deviant. Who knows, if you ever came round to my place we might even be forced to have a conversation.
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