diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Double Dutch

0.25 of the Netherlands - is land reclaimed from the sea.
0.5 of the Netherlands - is land protected from flooding by dykes and dams.
1 historic city - Amsterdam was the largest port in the world in the 17th century.
2 years in hiding - the length of time that Anne Frank spent in the secret annexe at 263 Prinsengracht, now a thought-provoking museum.
4 brands of lager - every bar in Amsterdam sells exactly one of these. There's Heineken, Oranjeboom, Amstel and, erm, the other far less memorable one.
8 seconds of fame - The world-famous Rijksmuseum houses the largest collection of art and history in the Netherlands, including paintings by Vermeer and Rembrandt. On 29 April the main building was closed until further notice as a precautionary measure because asbestos had been found in parts of the museum. We arrived at 11am that morning only to find a journalist from Dutch national television extremely eager to interview us about the closure. We were to be the official tourist reaction to the shutdown. A surprisingly large number of people then came up to us over the next 24 hours saying "Hey, we saw you on the news last night!" It's more fame than Van Gogh ever had in his lifetime.
16 million people - the population of the Netherlands, a country with one of the highest population densities in the world.
32 hectares of flowers - the area of the Keukenhof estate, now a spectacular national park full of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, open for just two months each spring.

Low life

The official symbol for the city of Amsterdam is three white crosses. You'll find them everywhere, on flags, on buildings, even on the bollards along the street. Looked at another way, the official symbol for the city of Amsterdam is XXX. This, somehow feels far more appropriate. There are whole areas of Amsterdam devoted purely to impurity. There's sex for sale, and it's in your face. Along the streets and canals of the red light district you'll find a large number of shops selling toys not stocked by Hamleys, cinemas showing films never screened at your local Odeon and live shows where none of the performers have any lines to learn. All this attracts hordes of blokes to the area, some gay but mostly straight, where they then in proceed to spend most of their time and money in the nearby bars rather than on anything else. The one thing you won't find on the streets around here are any women, except for those in the windows of course.

The red light district here is justly famous, with women plying the oldest profession 24 hours a day. Whereas most buildings in Amsterdam have a door out onto the street, prostitutes work in buildings with opening windows. The windows are all identical, as if all the pimps in town went down to IKEA and ordered a bulk batch. The women are fairly identical too, many of them rather on the over-large side. They sit in their doorways, backlit in various states of undress and tapping loudly on the glass to attract any passers by. This, presumably, is why these places are called knocking shops. The women have a broad smile, carefully calculated to attract all the passing lager louts. Conveniently, the entire Maidenhead and Salisbury rugby teams were in the area this weekend, so business may have been brisk. Every now and again some punter stops to talk, the window opens, there's a bit of haggling and then they disappear very rapidly inside. Unlike normal theatre, here when the curtain closes the performance begins. It's a sobering to think that behind every closed curtain there lies... well, let's not even go there. Soon, in fact after a disappointingly short period of time, a shadowy figure emerges back out onto the pavement. If a punter has been particularly overcome by the heat of the moment, the prostitute will then yell after them up the street that they've left their mobile phone behind and they then have to return, even more red-faced than when they left, to collect it. A few minutes later, after the traditional rubdown with a damp cloth, there's a cheery fat smile sitting back in the window and the whole cycle starts again.

High life

Amsterdam is famous, indeed infamous, for its relaxed laws on certain narcotic substances. These are widely available across the city, especially in the coffee shops to be found on various street corners. It's also difficult to walk down some streets without some bloke called Charlie coming up and offering to supply you with 'e coke', and he's not offering you a fizzy cola drink with preservatives either. It's not true that all drugs are easy to find - the Dutch clamp down very tightly on many - but certain drugs are tolerated, even accepted. Maybe this need for stimulants comes down to the fact that coffee is only available in thimble-sized cups over here, or else it may just be those Dutch being extra-liberal again.

No matter where you go in Amsterdam, the smell of smoke hangs in the air. Tobacco is still the number one smoking choice for the locals, and most local men are always to be seen fag in hand. Visitors, however, are in town for a different kind of leaf. A whole range of 'souvenir' shops have sprung up to cater for these tourists and their smoking habits, selling t-shirts, keyrings and various ornate items of apparatus. You can buy mushrooms, psychedelic seeds, even probably an entire chemistry set, should you so desire.

Across the city you'll also find a number of coffee shops selling all the normal things that a cafe might, plus a number of other items from a more specialised menu. No need to roll your own because they've already rolled some for you, prepackaged in 5s and 10s, and without a huge government health warning all over the packet. Also lurking on the counter are some cakes that definitely weren't made by Mr Kipling, but that many might describe as exceedingly good. They taste, apparently, fairly innocuous so it's tempting to go back and ask for another slice because nothing appears to have happened after the first. This would be a mistake. So I'm told. As would eating any of the mushrooms in the shop nextdoor as well. Apparently. Look, trust me on this one, I'm only here for research purposes. And, to be honest, it's far more interesting just watching people who think they're having a good time. Unlike most of the visitors here in Amsterdam on a trip, I shall remember every minute.

 Monday, April 28, 2003

Two lists from Amsterdam

• Amsterdam lies about a metre below sea level, which is a fact you try not to think about when it rains.
• It's a compact capital city, so you can walk from one side to the other in about 30 minutes.
• There are a huge number of canals here, topped by over 1200 bridges, each one of which is no doubt currently being photographed by approximately twelve tourists.
• The city was occupied by the Germans during World War Two, as a result of which it didn't get bombed by either side in the conflict so it still has almost all its original 17th century architecture.
• The canals are lined by mostly-4-storey houses, mostly 3-windows-wide, mostly gabled, all pleasingly non-identical.
• The Dutch don't believe on wasting space on flights of stairs, so all the stairs are narrow, steep and winding. As a result each house has its own hoist on the gable outside, used for raising and lowering furniture to different floor levels, for example when moving house.
• There seems to be a constant breeze blowing from the West. This what you get if you settle in a country with only the North Sea for protection, and it's why there are so many windmills. Just not in Amsterdam itself.
• It's a very clean city. There are also very few dogs. I suspect these two facts are related.
• Being one hour ahead of London, it's still daylight over here at half past nine in the evening, which feels very odd for April.

• In Amsterdam, the bicycle rules. You can tell this because every time you attempt to cross a road, a bike appears out of nowhere and aims itself at the exact point where you're standing. Furious bell ringing ensues, usually to no effect. It's therefore a very dangerous city in which to wear a Walkman in while wandering around, and most people don't.
• If the bicycles don't get you, the trams might instead. There are no kerbs here, so it's very hard to tell where the pavement ends and the road begins. A good clue to the fact that you're standing in the road is that a huge tram is bearing down on you at great speed.
• The streets are full of drunken blokes from Essex, who've discovered that Easyjet flights make Amsterdam a cheap and convenient location for a debauched weekend.
• Amsterdam is a bilingual city, which is useful for all those of us who've never bothered to learn the Dutch language. Which would be everyone outside Holland, I guess. The Dutch have all learnt English to perfection, no doubt inspired purely by the need to understand the lyrics of all their favourite hit records.
• The Dutch language appears to be over-vowelled. My favourite Dutch word so far is slagroom, which means whipped cream.
• Nobody over here sends text messages. Whenever I've tried sending one I just get odd looks from people in the street who can't seem to work out why I haven't finished dialling the number yet.
• Dutch police and ambulance sirens are much more tuneful than those in the UK, and are no doubt based on the bassline from an early 90s 2 Unlimited track.
• There's a funfair in the main Dam Square at the moment, and the view from the top of the ferris wheel is spectacular. However, the funfair also boasts probably the lamest ghost train in the world, the most frightening thing about which is the sound of Scooter pumping out from the speakers of the ride nextdoor.
• I'm aware there's, erm, a couple of thing about Amsterdam I haven't mentioned yet. I'll try to get back to you later in the week and write about them as well...

So, I'm in Amsterdam.
No, I haven't, before you ask.
And yes, they do have internet cafés.

 Saturday, April 26, 2003

All my regular readers will have noticed recently that I've been writing far more stuff on here than I used to.
My average posts are getting longer, which is good, but this is mainly because I'm not going out as often as I used to, which is bad.
So, I've decided that now would be a good time to get away from London and have a few days out there in the big wide world.
This holiday break involves me getting on a plane (in just a couple of hours time) and then flying off out of the country.
Exciting stuff, not least because I'm departing from London City Airport, and the flight path out of there is nigh vertical.
Rather exciting too to be returning to a European capital I last visited when I was one year old and so remember nothing about.
Diamond Geezer will therefore be pretty quiet for the rest of the month, unless I manage to find any internet cafés out there.
And I expect to be back here on Thursday, refreshed, revived and reinvigorated.
Maybe you can work out exactly where I'm going before I get back...

 Friday, April 25, 2003

Five things to do while nothing much else is happening

1) Play Chuckie Egg - here
I suspect you had to be a certain age at a certain time, but for me this remains one of the best ever platform computer games. You controlled a strange yellow man in a big hat who had to collect all the eggs on each to level in order to advance to the next one. There were eight unique levels which were then re-used with different monster arrangements. Levels 1-8 were ostrich monsters, levels 9-16 had a giant bird chasing you, and levels 17-24 had both bird and ostriches. I could never get to the end of that third set of levels without being eaten myself. Sounds rubbish by today's Playstation standards I know, but this game had something most modern games lacked - serious playability. The graphics weren't the best, but that didn't matter. You can download the whole game for your computer here. And if that doesn't work, you could always try Pacman here instead. Ah, it's 1981 again.

2) Surf to Mantlepies - here
It's a website by Mr Wellington and Mr Peters. It has its own bookshop, including a book about an old geezer. It has a kitten you can call down from a tree using the microphone on your computer. It has an off licence where you can try to convince the shopkeeper you sound old enough to buy fags and glue. It has the world's shortest game of chess. It has an egg that only hatches at 3pm. And you can check whether you've got Parkinsons. Oh, and there's more.

3) Visit Rockall - here
Rockall is a desolate bird-covered rock 300 miles off the coast of Scotland. The Irish reckon it was created from a pebble thrown from the north coast of the Emerald Isle, but it's actually an extinct volcano. It measures just 83 feet across, 65 foot high and 100 foot wide, but has proved incredibly controversial over the years. It's been invaded by the SAS, caused the death of hundreds of people, provoked international disputes over ownership, put an Act through Parliament and become one of the richest pieces of land in the Northern Hemisphere. All that wealth comes from the extensive oil reserves beneath the surrounding seabed, so let's hope George Bush isn't planning an invasion any time soon. Meanwhile you can visit Rockall (and more) via this less-than-desolate website - it's well worth a browse.

4) Slag off your home town - here
The Idler magazine is planning to write a book about the worst towns and cities in the UK. They're calling the book "Crap Towns" and they're inviting your comments. Not surprisingly, from what I remember of living there, Hull is pretty high on the hitlist at the moment. Portsmouth and Liverpool are fairly close behind. Members of the public also have it in for Canvey Island, Ormskirk, Bedford and Bognor Regis, amongst others. But would someone please hurry up and nominate Braintree - it usually wins contests like this hands down.

5) Try this puzzle
Select the four correct letter pairs to make an eight-letter word.

Be good, and don't write the answer in the comments box just yet...

 Thursday, April 24, 2003

Six degrees of separation

You'll all no doubt be aware of the important research showing that American film actor Kevin Bacon is at the centre of the movie universe. It works like this. All film actors who have ever been in a film with Kevin Bacon have a Bacon Number of one. All film actors who have never been in a film with Kevin Bacon but have been in a film with somebody else who has, have a Bacon Number of two. And so on. Bacon Numbers were first postulated by Brett Tjaden, a computer scientist at the University of Virginia. The University hosts a great site where you can check out the Bacon Number of any film actor worldwide, courtesy of the Internet Movie Database. For example, Dame Thora Hird hashad a Bacon Number of 2, because she was in A Day To Remember (1953) with Donald Sinden, who was in Balto (1995) with Kevin Bacon. Exhaustive database research has shown that no actor is more than 8 connections away from Kevin Bacon (it's not 6, as most people believe). Statistics, however, show that only 0.02% of actors have a Bacon Number above 6, while the average Bacon Number is 2.94.

The whole Bacon thing was inspired by a 1960s experiment by Stanley Milgram, conducted to test how many stages it would take to contact a randomly selected 'target' person. If those taking part did not know the target, and it was extremely unlikely that they would, they sent a letter to someone who might be closer to the target. This continued in a chain until contact was made. The average number of steps required was six, coining the famous phrase "six degrees of separation". An updated email version of this experiment, called the Small World Research Project, is currently being conducted at the University of Columbia. All this research into the "small-world phenomenon" is based within a branch of pure mathematics called graph theory, which is essentially the study of networks. If you're a mathematician you might find this interesting. If you're a computer programmer you might find this interesting. And if you're neither, just read on...

Anyway, I've decided to invent a new concept for blogworld called the DG number. My blog has a DG number of 0. I'm DG(0). All blogs with a link from my blog have a DG number of 1. Let's call that list DG(1). All blogs with a link from a DG(1) blog have a DG number of 2. That's DG(2). And so on. For example, Volume 22 has a DG number of 1 because it's one of the twenty blogs listed in my sidebar. Volume 22 is DG(1). Utopia with cheese has a DG number of 2, because it's one of the blogs listed in Volume 22's sidebar. Utopia with cheese is DG(2).

So, my DG(1) blogs are the twenty blogs listed over there on my sidebar. DG(1)=20. I update that list every now and again, and I try very hard to restrict that list to exactly twenty blogs at all times. It can be difficult sometimes, having to leave out some fine blogs, or removing a few when they go a bit quiet. Still, I think it's a good mix of sites, and they are the first blogs I check daily to see what golden nuggets have been posted therein. If you run one of these sites, congratulations, you are officially DG(1). (And, in response to the person who asked, no they're not listed in order of favouritism. There's a much more elementary reason why the DG(1) sites are listed in the order that they are - but I'm sure you've already worked out what that is.)

Over the last few hours I've been busy investigating my DG(2) blogs. These are the blogs listed on the sidebars of my DG(1) blogs (but not including those DG(1) blogs themselves). I've managed to compile a comprehensive list, covering a huge swathe across blogworld. And I'm pleased to be able to tell you that I have exactly 257 DG(2) blogs, all precisely two links away from this page. DG(2)=257.

It's been especially interesting to find out which of those 257 are my most-recommended DG(2) blogs, the blogs that get a mention on at least four of my DG(1) sidebars. If a lot of my favourite blogs link to these other blogs, they're probably well worth reading. And I'm hoping you might think so too. Why not have a look below and see what you think.

Here's a list of the 17 most-recommended DG(2) blogs:
blogadoon: The top site that's not on my sidebar at the moment, with 7 recommendations. Ian's site is beautifully designed, and written in a style that reflects his journalistic talents. There's a lot of perfectly-written stuff lurking elsewhere on his site, well worth a delve. And he seems to post a week's worth of stuff all in one go.
world of chig: It's gone quieter on here of late, although I expect that to change once Eurovision draws nearer. If you're any sort of music fan, check out the astonishingly-detailed 50 Number Ones project.
londonmark: searching for intelligent life in camden town? I think I've found it here.
naked blog: The thoughtful Scottish perspective, and oh so prolific.
bboyblues: RIP February 2003.
leatheregg: Ron's playground, open and honest for exactly three years. Happy anniversary.
not you, the other one: Sarah's beer-infested blog, cleverly designed. I find it somewhat unnerving, however, that she was born on my 16th birthday.
plastic bag: One from the blogworld A-list. Who the hell is Tom Coates?
brainsluice: Life viewed from the arse-end of the southern hemisphere.
dave, live in london: Was on my DG(1) list until Dave entered blog hibernation in March. Recent signs of vibrant life returning.
here inside: Charlie lets his inside out.
not.so.soft: Meg muses on life from a variety of humorous and original angles. Always worth a read.
those wonderful people: Rob salutes those out there in the dark.
sashinka: Convincingly handwritten, plain but not simple.
scally: Random thoughts, on and off since November 2000.
LinkMachineGo: Every important link you could ever want, plus the invaluable updated GBlogs list.
whosbetterthan: Mike Young, he's an East Coast kind of a guy.

Meanwhile, the following twelve DG(2) blogs are recommended by three of my DG(1) blogs:
a blogs life, cha cha cha, salam pax, these moments, i'm hip to you, hydragenic, rise, mad musings of me, barcablog, sue bailey.net, textism, ultrasparky

And there are 45 DG(2) blogs recommended by two of my DG(1) blogs. Here are ten of my favourites from that list:
blogjam, bluetealeaf, embra nights, minor 9th, myboyfriendisatwat, oddverse, pepys diary, the search for love in manhattan, submeat, wil wheaton

If you're not on any of the above lists, sorry. Maybe you're one of the other 208, less-recommended, DG(2) blogs. Or maybe you're DG(3), except there are thousands of those and I really can't be bothered to list all of them. However, if you think you're DG(6) do get in touch, as we may just have a new theory for some researcher to get their graph theory teeth into.

 Wednesday, April 23, 2003

By George

The Welsh celebrate St David's Day with a daffodil and a song.
The Scots celebrate St Andrew's Day with stovies and comedy tam o'shanters, apparently.
The Irish (and crowds of people pretending to be Irish) celebrate St Patrick's Day with the day off work and the chance to get blind drunk on Guinness.
But how do the English celebrate St George's Day? We, erm, go to work and carry on as normal. Miserable.

St George lived in Libya, 1700 years ago. The locals had run out of sheep to feed to the local dragon and had started substituting virgins into the monster's daily diet. The shining figure of St George rode into town, slew the dragon, rescued the doomed maiden, converted the locals and rode off again. You can tell George wasn't English. The flabby figures of Englishmen now fly into the Mediterranean, drink from flagons, shag the local maidens, piss off the locals and fly out again with sunburn a fortnight later. It's therefore a mystery how brave, courageous St George ever got to be the patron saint of England. Certainly his personality has had little impact on the national character.

There are a number of campaigns to make St George's Day a public holiday in England. It seems only fair, given that we have a pathetic number of bank holidays in this country. We have only eight a year, compared to the European Union average of 10.8. Those Italians take 12 public holidays off a year, while Spain and Portugal each grab a mammoth 14. It seems that some Latin countries will take the day off at the drop of a hat, for any old saint who maybe one thousand years ago helped a sheep across a river or something feeble like that.

Surely an additional day off would be warmly welcomed by the British public, and also by companies keen to see their employees return to work refreshed and revived after 24 hours of rest, recuperation and heavy drinking. The extra day for the Queen's Golden Jubilee went down particularly well last year, and the bonus holiday for the Millennium in 1999 was another roaring success. A St George's Day bank holiday would give the English a regular extra day off each year to, erm, wear roses, watch morris-dancing and increase the size of their beer bellies. But, despite all the campaigning, it hasn't happened. And there's a very good reason why not.

We've had a lot of bank holidays recently. A quarter of British bank holidays occur either side of the Easter weekend, and another quarter occur in May. This year we get barely a fortnight after Easter before we're all being turfed out of work again for the May Day holiday. In 2011 we'll actually get days off on consecutive Mondays. The last thing we need is another bank holiday for St George on April 23rd, slap bang in the middle of all this enforced laziness. UK bank holidays are appallingly spaced, with only one day off during the entire six months from June to November. Americans very sensibly fit five public holidays into that time, and five into the other half of the year.

How much better it would have been if the English had picked a different patron saint, one whose saint's day was positioned in one of the long holiday-free gaps. St Ethelburga, perhaps (July 7), an incorrupt English nun from the mid 7th centrury, or maybe St Crispin (October 25th), an obscure Roman missionary and martyr. In fact St Crispin would make the perfect patron saint for England and the English. Not only was the entire French army crushed at the legendary battle of Agincourt fought on St Crispin's day (Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.” Henry V, Act 4 scene iii), but St Crispin is also the patron saint of cobblers. Spot on, I reckon.

In the meantime, let's just celebrate St George's Day as best as we can. Patriotism without prejudice perhaps. England's World Cup run last year pretty much reclaimed the cross of St George from its previous thuggish hooligan image, meaning it's now possible to drape one in your window without looking like a rabid BNP supporter. So, let's Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!' (Henry V, Act 3 scene i). Hmmm, with all these stirring quotations, it's sounds as if William Shakespeare's birthday would be an even better day for an English bank holiday. Except, bugger, that's today too...

 Tuesday, April 22, 2003

I'mPerfect

I'm a perfectionist. At least I thought I was until I looked up the word 'perfectionist' on the internet and discovered that they're all unbalanced compulsive workaholics constantly putting themselves through self-inflicted punishment. That's not me. I work with balance and realism, I can sometimes delegate things, and I'm not always the last person in the office at the end of the day. The kind of perfection I'm talking about isn't personal, but material.

My mobile phone is over a year old now, but it still looks virtually new. I've gone to extraordinary lengths over the last 14 months to try to keep my phone unscratched, unscuffed and undamaged. Every time I go out, my mobile sits in a pocket all by itself. No keys that might scrape across the screen, no loose change with sharp edges, no zips, no nothing. It's been a remarkably successful strategy. About the only way you can tell that my phone isn't new is that it's been superceded by at least five other models since I bought it. But then, this morning, I noticed a mark on my phone's glass screen. Nothing to worry about, they're usually just smudges that wipe straight off. Except that this one didn't rub off, not even with a bit of elbow grease. Nor even with a lot of elbow grease. What's more, this wasn't just one mark, it was two, each comprising more than one deep gash. Now, you probably wouldn't even notice them, but to me they stick out like a sore thumb. Every time I look at my phone from now on, particularly when the light's shining from the right/wrong angle, I'll just see the imperfection in the screen that used to be pretty-much still shop-perfect. And I'll wonder how on earth I could have let it happen.

As my family could tell you, one of the few things you could do that would actually really annoy me would be to find a piece of paper of mine and to fold it in half. In fact, you wouldn't even have to fold it in half, just a turned-up corner would do. I like my paper flat and uncorrupted. Woe betide anyone who makes my paper three-dimensional, be that intentionally or not. And as for books, I'm the sort of person who has to ensure that books still look like new even when I've finished reading them. I'd never break the spine of a book or fold it back on itself just to keep my place. And when I'm out buying books I never ever take the top one off the pile, oh no. Some paperback-sadist has probably been hanging round the shop reading that one, someone with grubby fingers who's indented the cover with thumb-sized folds. I have to take the copy behind the front one, or maybe the one behind that, just to make sure it looks good-as-new so I can keep it that way. I had to go four down the Radio Times pile in the newsagents tonight before I found a copy I was happy to take home. Obsessive compulsive? Maybe.

So, I guess that makes me a perfectionist after all. I wonder if it's time to buy a new phone. Or maybe I just need to develop a new set of personal priorities.

A mention for Samizdata, not least because they were good enough to refer to this site yesterday afternoon. As a result of their post I've had 250 visitors arriving here in the last 24 hours, which is more than via almost any other link in the last six months. Cheers. Samizdata is a collective blog with a variety of contributors, all busy 'developing the libertarian meta-context for the future'. It's a mixture of the very serious and the extremely frivolous, so I suspect my royal family tree fell into the latter category. In the slightly more serious category over there at the moment you can read about Buzz Aldrin, hydrogen power, George Galloway, marketing strategies and Rolls Royces. Nothing about Creme Eggs though. And no link from Her yet, I notice.

 Monday, April 21, 2003

Happy 77th Birthday Ma'am

a royal family tree

 Sunday, April 20, 2003

Easter daze (hard centre)

• Easter Day always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox. For example, this year the Spring equinox was on March 21st, but the next full moon wasn't until last Wednesday (April 16th), so Easter ended up being today (April 20th). Well, that's the simplified version. There is a much more complicated rule, but let's not go into it here.
• The rules governing Easter were decided by the Council of Nicæa in AD 325.
• Easter moves around so much because the rules are based on the date of the Jewish fewish festival of Passover.
• Easter Sunday always falls within the range March 22nd to April 25th inclusive - that's 35 possible dates. see table
• Easter last fell on the earliest possible date in 1818, and will next fall on March 22nd in 2285.
• Easter last fell on the latest possible date in 1943, and will next fall on April 25th in 2038.
• Within the next ten years we do get to experience Easter on March 23rd (2008) and April 24th (2011).
• March 22nd is the least likely date for Easter to fall - this happens in less than ½% of years. see graph
• April 19th is the most likely date for Easter to fall - this happens in nearly 4% of years.
• You've probably never experienced Easter on April 20th before because this last happened in 1930, but Easter will be on this date again in 2014 and 2025.
• Almost exactly half of Easter dates occur on the same date 11 years later (but never more than 4 in a row). For example, Easter will be on April 21st in 2019, 2030, 2041 and 2052 but not in 2063.
• Easter falls on April 8th in both 2007 and 2012, a gap of five years. No shorter interval is possible.
• Consecutive Easters are always always separated by 350, 357, 378, or 385 days (that's 50, 51, 54, or 55 weeks). For example, Easter 2003 is 385 days after Easter 2002, but 357 days before Easter 2004.

Here's a table showing the date of Easter from 1900-2099 (via this site)

      01234 56789 |       01234 56789

1900: og0Lc wo1sk | 2000: wo1tk 7ph3L
1910: 7pg3L dwh1t | 2010: dxh1t e7pau
1920: d7pat Ldqh1 | 2020: Ldqi1 te8pa
1930: te7pa uL8qi | 2030: um8qi 5meyj
1940: 4meyi auf8q | 2040: auf9q i5ner
1950: i5mer jauf9 | 2050: jbuf9 rbvn0
1960: qbvn9 rj6nf | 2060: rj6of 9kcvn
1970: 9kbvn 0rj6o | 2070: 0sj6o gskcw
1980: fskcv g0sc6 | 2080: g0sd6 o1tkc
1990: o1skc pg0Ld | 2090: ph0Ld xo1tL


If there's a digit in the table then Easter is in March, and that's the last digit of the date (22nd-31st).
If there's a letter in the table then Easter is in April, and the letter follows the code a=1, b=2, c=3 etc.

For example, the symbol in the table for 2003 is a letter, so Easter is in April. That letter is the letter t, which is the 20th letter of the alphabet, so Easter is on April 20th.

Easter Eggz (soft centre)

I have a bit of a Creme Egg obsession. I like to buy my first one on December 27th, and then stock up on multipacks before the Easter cut-off date to make sure I have enough of a supply to see me through the late-Spring Creme Egg desert. I'm particularly pleased that Easter's late this year because it's extended the Creme Egg buying season to a near-maximum 115 days. I'm easily pleased, as you can see.

• The Creme Egg first appeared in 1971.
• 180 million Creme Eggs are sold in the UK each year.
• One year's output of Creme Eggs weighs more than 1,500 African elephants.
• In 1983, inspired by the success of Kit Williams' puzzle book Masquerade, Cadbury launched a round Britain egg-based treasure hunt called Conundrum. A book was published containing 12 paintings and accompanying verses giving clues to the whereabouts of 12 buried caskets. These caskets contained a 'certificate of ownership' with a telephone number which the finder called to claim a 22 carat gold egg created by Garrard, the crown jewellers. Each egg had a retail value in excess of £10,000. Needless to say the Great British public went round digging up a number of wrong historical sites instead, so Cadbury's had to dig up the last few and ask for people to claim them by post instead. At least one egg was found by accident by children playing on a path before the book was published, while another was buried in a road verge that was due for widening and would have been bulldozed away soon afterwards anyway.
• How do you eat yours? Probably in two chomps, I'll bet.

 Saturday, April 19, 2003

Twenty answers

1) No doubt for the same reason I was awake before 8am this morning. I'm sure I used to be much better at sleeping in.
2) I hope everyone fitted in all their urgent gardening yesterday. Today's weather is perfect only for indoor DIY with a nice hot cup of cocoa.
3) Twenty years ago there were no newspapers published on bank holidays. I remember BBC Breakfast Time did an April Fool paper review on Good Friday 1983, reading out a batch of made-up stories. They weren't very good though.
4) Unless of course you know better. I think someone's missing out on a major marketing opportunity here. It would at least give secretaries something else to web surf at lunchtimes.
5) No, of course not, that would be an unjustifiable sweeping cultural stereotype. However, Japanese marriage does at least save us from being asked to take photos for them.
6) Most re-released Greatest Hits albums are just the artist's last Greatest Hits album with the addition of one extra single that failed to relight their career.
7) Not by the sound of it. Having so many 7s in my mobile number actually makes it surprisingly unmemorable, which is not what I expected.
8) DVDs make the perfect babysitter. And Harry Potter? Even better. Keeps the kids out of your hair for three hours. Repeatedly.
9) Probably not until they got to the off licence part of the supermarket and found they couldn't buy any wine for three hours.
10) There again, Americans have public holidays that are much better spaced than ours. And they get to feel much smugger than us in September, October and November.
11) F sharp. Well, I'm going to pretend that's the answer until someone can tell me otherwise.
12) Yes, which is why mobile phone companies would never do it. I like to use all 160 available characters for my text messages in a vain attempt to get at least some value for money.
13) I only waited until they bought the price down below £10. It's a very good album though - very cheerful, very lively, very party-rock, almost seventies.
14) Personally I blame this book for starting the trend. And twenty-something females for buying it.
15) Looks like lots of people remember, because there are lots more fan sites. Sadly the BBC has no plans to release the series on video.
16) Because picture messaging is not my future.
17) Thankfully I have yet to see any Goth offspring with black hair dye, henna, piercings and Sisters of Mercy t-shirts.
18) The 99p coin issue is one of a number of fascinating questions posted and discussed here. I may come back to a few of those at a later date.
19) If I'd rolled a 4 on my dice a fortnight ago, I might have seen Marsyas on its last day. Instead, alas, all that's left to see now are the two giant metal rings at either end of the Turbine Hall.
20) Well, what do you think?

 Friday, April 18, 2003

Twenty questions

1) Why oh why was I wide awake before 7am on a bank holiday this morning?
2) Why was Oxford Street so quiet at 10am this morning, and was everyone else already at B&Q preparing for a weekend of DIY and gardening?
3) How many years ago exactly was it since there were no newspapers on bank holidays, no shops open, and absolutely nothing to do?
4) Why doesn't Heat magazine have a website?
5) Do Japanese people get married merely to make sure they always have someone to take photos of them when they're abroad?
6) How many times do some bands re-release their Greatest Hits, and how many people fall for buying them more than once?
7) Does anybody else have five 7s in their mobile phone number?
8) Are there any braindead children out there who've watched the latest Harry Potter DVD more than 10 times since it came out last Friday?
9) What percentage of Britons do you think gave even the slightest thought between 12 noon and 3pm today to why they've got the day off?
10) Isn't it great that Americans have to go to work today and they have to go to work on Monday too?
11) Exactly what musical note is the beepy noise that pelican crossings make?
12) If a picture of a 10p coin appeared on our mobile phones every time we sent a text message, do you think we'd send less of them?
13) Why did I wait until today to buy the Junior Senior album rather than go for it when it first came out?
14) Why are there now so many female-oriented books with pastel-coloured covers about twenty-something relationships?
15) Does anybody else remember Crime Traveller and wish the BBC had made more than one series?
16) Why, if picture messaging is the future, has nobody ever sent me one?
17) Are Goths oblivious to the fact that nobody could ever find them attractive except other Goths, and is that why they do it?
18) Why don't the Royal Mint just issue a 99p coin and make all our lives easier?
19) Why, when I finally get to the Tate Modern to see Anish Kapoor's huge Marsyas, do I find they took it down a fortnight ago?
20) Am I writing all this in my blog merely because I have nobody else to talk to?

The Good Friday puzzle: If you wrote all the days of the year (e.g. March ninth) in alphabetical order, which date would come first in the list and which date would come last?

 Thursday, April 17, 2003

University-challenged

So, I'm finally back from three nights away. I've been in Bath in the West Country, staying in university accommodation. Away from London, away from television, away from home comforts, away from the internet, but not totally away from civilisation. Here's a few thoughts on life away:

Halls of Residence
"Rooms the size of shoeboxes crammed together in ugly concrete buildings"
It appears that all university architects specialise in designing bland concrete cuboids which they then divide up into as many tiny rooms as possible. I've just spent three nights in such a monstrosity, holed up in a room only marginally larger than a shoebox. There wasn't enough room to... well, if I'd had a cat and tried to swing it, the RSCPA would be trying to prosecute by now.
"Single beds that never felt comfortable"
There certainly wasn't enough space in my room for anything larger than a single bed. It's always a shock to be confined into a narrow sleeping space half that of what I'm used to, but I still managed more than seven hours sleep for three nights in a row, which is unheard of. In bed before midnight? You can tell there wasn't much to do, can't you?
"Paper-thin walls"
Not too bad, I thought, until 6:30am each morning when the vibrations from the alarm going off in the room nextdoor woke me up rather earlier than I was hoping. Cheers.
"Someone in a room three doors along who insisted on playing the latest Dire Straits album"
Not much hope of that, because there was no music, no radios, no nothing. There were still students on campus, but maybe they can't afford music any more. Or maybe they were all out sunbathing instead. Beats Dire Straits any day, I think you'll agree.
"A shared bathroom that always seemed to be engaged"
I think there was a shared bathroom somewhere, but there was no need to use it. Instead we all had a small 'pod' in our rooms (pod = tiny sink + toilet + shower). As with all newly-experienced showers, mine was a nightmare to operate first thing in the morning. I spent a minute trying to work out how to turn it on, a minute trying to get it to the right temperature, a minute trying to stand underneath and wash myself, a minute wondering why the water was getting unexpectedly cooler, and a minute trying to turn it off but instead freezing myself in the process. Glad to get home tonight to my non-shared bathroom.
"Communal kitchens where your milk always got nicked from the fridge"
There was a communal kitchen, but all the cupboards were bare. Someone had left us a kettle, some teabags, some utility-teacups like you find in church halls and a few of those tiny pots of white liquid that look like they might be milk but taste like they're not. You can imagine how good the tea tasted. I only risked it the once.
"A single payphone at the end of a distant corridor"
I saw four payphones, but I didn't see a single student using one. All students have mobile phones now, of course, so I'm surprised the university authorities haven't turned those four cubicles into additional student accommodation... yet.

Suddenly Summer
It doesn't take long when you're cut off from the outside world to completely lose your grip on what's going on outside your immediate environment. And so it was that Wednesday's record-shattering April temperatures crept up on us unnoticed. I don't remember there being any hints of approaching heatwave when I packed my suitcase on Monday, so I was almost unprepared. Thankfully the university's students were more-than prepared, given that they all seem to live in hip surf gear and t-shirts all the time anyway, so there was a fair acreage of browning flesh visible sprawled out on the lawns around campus. Unfortunately the summer fashion sense among the conference delegates on site was less-than flattering. As the temperature rose, so did the incidence of sandal-wearing amongst men who really ought to be old enough to know better. I am convinced that there must be a 'brown-clothing' gene that affects men of a certain age or over. Afflicted males see nothing wrong in wearing brown jackets, brown slacks, brown sandals or even, in extreme cases, brown socks with brown sandals. Like the baldness gene, 'brownness' doesn't appear to affect everyone, although it seems to become far more widespread the older you get. It was frighteningly prevalent on Wednesday. If any of you ever start to feel that your own fashion sense could be starting to brown out, a look at this website should be enough to frighten you back to de-sandaled reality. Me, I'm sticking with trainers, blue ones.

Bath time
I'm trying to work out why I'd managed never to visit Bath before. It's a gorgeous city, especially in mid-spring sunshine. Here's a few top travelling tips if you're ever down that way:
• Bath is full of sweeping Georgian terraces, including the famous Royal Crescent. So, that's somewhere else I can't afford to live.
• Bath is usually full of American tourists, on their way from London and Stonehenge, and on their way to Stratford, Chester and Edinburgh. At the moment, however, American tourists are noticeable by their absence, no doubt frightened away by the regular terrorist attacks, a high incidence of SARS and herds of killer mad cows roaming the streets.
• The streets of Bath are still crowded with double-decker buses, each of at least three companies competing to attract the remaining tourists on sightseeing tours.
• Do visit the old Roman baths. They've been restored to their original glory, although it's not possible to take a sauna any more. If you want to taste the spa water in the Pump Room, remember to turn up before 5pm. If instead you want to protect your stomach from a mixture of 43 minerals in warm water, turn up after 5pm like I did.
• Rather frighteningly, for anyone used to London's 24-hour culture, shops in Bath shut at 5:30pm, or even earlier. Sorry, I'd forgotten that most of Britain is still like this.
"A simple rule in Bath is that all clubs suck." So says the Knowhere guide, written by disaffected locals. Probably true then.
• If you're ever in Bath and need a meal, I can heartily recommend the Bathtub Bistro. Easily the best meal out I've had so far this year, with the possible exception of some creamy scalloped potatoes I adored in San Francisco at New Year.
• They've built a mystical maze down by the River Avon. It's not exactly difficult, but it'll keep the kids busy for ten minutes.
• Bath is only an hour and fifteen minutes away from London Paddington by train - this is excellent. Alas, this afternoon London Liverpool Street turned out to be one hour and fifteen minutes away from London Paddington by train - this was not in any way excellent.

 Monday, April 14, 2003

Time travel

For work-related reasons I'm about to spend my next three nights in the middle of the West Country living in university accommodation. As a result I doubt I'll be able to post anything on here until at least Thursday. And it's not just my computer I'll be living without. Three nights living in university accommodation means a enforced step back in time to a completely pre-technological world I thought I'd left behind years ago. It's going to feel just like...

...just like 1986 (Halls of residence)
University accommodation was never ever known for its luxury. Rooms the size of shoeboxes crammed together in ugly concrete buildings. Single beds that never felt comfortable, and paper-thin walls through which you could hear your neighbour and their partner feeling less than comfortable as well. Someone in a room three doors along who insisted on playing the latest Dire Straits album over and over again at all hours of the day or night. A shared bathroom that always seemed to be engaged, and when you did finally gain access there was an unpleasant mass of hair that needed to be removed from the bath before the plug would fit. Communal kitchens where your milk always got nicked from the fridge overnight and with an ever-present pan of congealed lentils stuck to the hotplate. A single payphone at the end of a distant corridor, with everyone else listening in as you recounted to your parents everything you hadn't really been doing. I thought I'd left that impersonal world behind. Looks like I was wrong.
For the next three days I get to spend my life in university accommodation. No doubt the rooms are half the size they used to be, just to cram in all those additional students. No doubt the single bed will be the right size only for a twelve-year-old. No doubt someone in a room three doors down will have brought an accordion or something equally frightening with them to practice. No doubt the bathroom will be permanently occupied by people whose daily adult morning routine demands thirty minutes in the en suite as an absolute minimum. No doubt a lack of kettles will mean the kitchen is the only place I can make a cup of tea, and that still without milk. And maybe there won't even be any mobile reception and I'll be forced to feed the payphone with more 20p coins than I actually remembered to bring with me. Ah yes, university's the best time of your life, it's true.

...just like 1974 (pre-hi-fi)
Your parents may not agree, but buying your first hi-fi is an important step along the road to adulthood. No longer do you have to listen to what the rest of the family wants to listen to, but they have to listen to what you want to listen to. Usually at high volume, usually an excessive number of times. Clearly one's musical taste is still at a very formative stage at this point, which means I probably forced far too many Wombles records on my family, just as today's parents are likely to be living in despair at their offspring's S Club Junior obsession. These days the invention of auto-repeat means an even worse onslaught on the ears of the long suffering parent, but the invention of headphones also means that pre-teens can keep their endless Gareth Gates at least semi-private. If only children would think to plug them in and use them.
For the next three days I get to spend my life without a hi-fi and without my record collection. I shall no doubt be reminded how important music is as a backdrop to my everyday life, because for three days it won't be there. I've got my Walkman of course, but somehow it's not quite the same as a CD player with loudspeakers. Still, whoever's got the room next to mine through the paper-thin wall will no doubt be pleased by the sound of silence, even if it sounds remarkably unnatural to me.

...just like 1983 (pre-television)
I saved up after my first summer job to buy my very first portable television set. At last I could watch what I wanted, when I wanted, even at (or after) bedtime. It was a black and white set, combined with clock, radio and cassette recorder. The clock was great because I could set my alarm to wake up to Selina Scott on BBC Breakfast Time rather than Mike Read on Radio 1. The tape recorder was great because I could record TV programmes while I was out. OK, so there weren't any pictures to watch when I returned but, in a world before video recorders, this was still a huge personal advance. Thankfully UK Gold has since come along to finally allow me to see what pictures I'd been missing. And, in the days before remote controls, a small television right next to my bed allowed me to flick between two, three or even four channels without having to cross the room and press distant buttons instead. The day I bought that television was independence day, no doubt about it.
For the next three days I get to spend my life without television. Not that this is impossible, you understand, but I'm not used to it. Even at university I was one of a very few people to have their own television set and people used to come round to my room to watch it. It aided my developing social life no end. On one occasion a medical student came round to watch herself get knocked out on Blockbusters, and on another a biochemist came round to watch Anneka Rice fly over his farm on Treasure Hunt. Now Treasure Hunt is back on BBC2 all this week, which just seems like really bad timing to me. And without television what else is there to do in a lonely student room for three nights? Before any of you dare to suggest alternatives, let me just say I'm taking a pile of unread books and the latest copy of Word magazine with me instead. Fingers crossed it's enough.

...just like 1984 (pre-video)
My family first bought its video recorder nearly twenty years ago. I was particularly delighted because I was isolated on a canal barge holiday in darkest Warwickshire at the time, and I immediately rushed down to the nearest rural payphone to get my parents to record Threads for me. No more did I have to miss watching a programme merely because the schedulers had conspired to put it on while I was out of the house. Now the Radio Times was mine to rewrite, and rewrite it I did. And I still do.
For the next three days I get to spend my life relying on, but not watching, my video recorder. I hope I've set it properly, otherwise I'm going to come back to Hollyoaks instead of Treasure Hunt and that would never do.

...just like 1991 (pre-telephone)
Before I bought my first flat I'd never had a telephone line (and telephone bill) of my own. I'd shared a telephone, but in the days before call itemisation this always meant trying to argue that the huge bill was because one person had been ringing Australia every night and had absolutely nothing to do with me, so that my fair share of the bill was probably £6.50 rather than £65. It was a joy to finally achieve independence in my own flat with my own personal phone number, and to discover I could let the bill go above £6.50 without anyone else poking their nose in and asking why. No longer was I a prisoner of the telephone system. I was a number, I was a free man.
For the next three days I get to spend my life without a telephone. OK, so that's not entirely true, because the advent of the mobile phone means that I will still have personal contact with the world, a level of contact that would have been considered impossible even twelve years ago. I really must remember to take my charger with me and use up some of those rollover minutes.

...just like 1996 (pre-internet & email)
I can just about remember a world before the arrival of the internet. It was so much harder to find the answer to questions in those days. I seem to recall that to find out information you had to visit a building called a library. Libraries were places only open for three days a week, containing large-print Catherine Cookson novels and a small non-fiction section that may or may not have contained a book containing the answer to your query, if only you could work out how the card index classification actually worked. I also seem to recall that when you wanted to communicate with someone you had to write something called a letter. Younger readers may not remember, but these were commonplace in the 20th century. Letters involved writing your important and urgent question on a piece of paper, surrounding it with 'dear's and 'sincerely's, sticking this in an envelope, finding a stamp that actually cost money, leaving your house to walk to a postbox, then waiting two or more days to receive a reply which probably didn't even answer your query in the first place. How did we ever survive?
For the next three days I get to spend my life without the internet. I won't have search engines at my fingertips. I won't be able to send or check my email. I won't be able to read your blogs, or contribute to my own. I won't be able to chat to people online. I won't even be able to find out what's happening in the news without relying on a paper-based broadsheet last updated maybe up to thirty hours ago. I'm going to feel very disconnected. I may just survive, but just don't you dare go writing anything interesting online while I'm away, OK?

So, eighty hours of enforced technological withdrawal begins this morning. No kettle, no CD player, no television, no videos, no computer, no internet, no email. Just a Walkman to plug myself into and the odd text message to keep me in touch with the rest of the world. I guess I'll be forced to end up in the bar because there'll be bugger all else to do. Ah well, might not be too bad then...

 Sunday, April 13, 2003

The London Snickers

One week after the Boat Race, this morning London was once again the setting for another classic sporting fixture. The London Marathon brought more than thirty thousand runners out onto the streets of London, ready to prove themselves against the trials of the 26-mile course. The marathon route snakes its way along the river from Greenwich to Buckingham Palace, passing through most of East London at least twice along the way. I popped down to Canary Wharf to watch the race go by, finding a good vantage point just below Westferry Circus. Here the race doubles back on itself at the start and finish of the Docklands loop, so I was able to catch the runners at Mile 17 on one side of the road and Mile 20 on the other.

Today's race took place in crystal-perfect conditions, with clear skies, light winds and spring temperatures. I arrived at Canary Wharf after 10 o'clock, just before the race arrived. The Great British spectating public were already out in force, doing what they do best on such occasions - eating and taking photos. There was a commotion in the distance as the first competitors approached. "Ah, it's only the wheelchairs," said the lady behind me in the sponsor's shirt. A brass band started up in a nearby square - the spectacle was about to begin.

The three-wheeled athletes sped by, followed a few minutes later by the approach of the leading women. Or, in this case, woman. Paula Radcliffe emerged at the top of the slope, flanked by two pacemakers, nearly three minutes ahead of any other runner. I've written before how I have a personal interest in Paula's progress, so I was pleased that she was already on course to smash her existing world record in some style. Many of the crowd had come especially to see the Sports Personality of the Year come nodding by, a far cry from her anonymous training runs I used to watch on miserable wet winter mornings about six years ago. Fifteen minutes later Paula reappeared back on the other side of the road, heading back towards Central London, fame and glory.

An official marshal in an orange vest was in place to initiate the spontaneous applause every time a wheelchair athlete sailed past. I was flanked by two particularly keen clappers, who applauded everyone and shouted encouragement with the fervour of a school PE teacher. Two ladies from Kelloggs approached us from behind, offering members of the crowd samples of some new cereal-based snack. Like sirens, they lured the unwary away from their position at the crash barrier, only for them to find that their viewing space had been hijacked when they returned. A few female runners dribbled past our position, until at last we thought we saw the first man go by... but no, on closer inspection everyone agreed it was probably just another woman.

Just after 11 o'clock the leading pack of male runners finally appeared. A slow trickle of runners followed behind, building to a stream after 25 minutes, a torrent after 45 minutes and a flood after an hour. The more knowledgeable spectators in the crowd were able to pick out each club runner by the colour of his vest, almost the athletic version of train-spotting. As the numbers passing by increased, so the crowd's enthusiasm to cheer everyone decreased, saving their applause only for those who passed a certain fancy-dress threshold. A number of fairies ran past, along with a snail, a couple of wombles, the odd rhino, a fair few Batmen and at least six Elvii. Many runners had dyed their hair to make themselves more noticeable, but many had failed to realise that red hair really doesn't stand out in a sea of red faces. Anyone with an afro or a comedy mohican was more easily spotted. A even better bet was to emblazon your name or nickname across your chest so that spectators could cheer you on with personal encouragement. "C'mon Billy!" "C'mon Dicko!" "C'mon Flora?"

Many of the crowd had come to support a relative, friend or colleague, press-ganged to attend in much the same way that a school concert gains its audience. The more technologically-literate amongst the crowd utilised the twisting course, mobile phones and public transport to rendezvous across London, cheering their loved ones on at various points along the route. Others stayed in one place, set up camp and waited. The family immediately to my left had come down from Norfolk for the day to support Dad. Mum kept a look-out for someone 'in a white vest' so that Gran could be ready to film his appearance on the camcorder. Meanwhile Son and Daughter sat patiently, ready with some water and a banana for when Dad finally arrived. The family plan worked like clockwork, culminating in a magic thirty seconds those children will never forget. A number of mothers were less fortunate. They lay in wait for their offspring to pass by, only to discover that their own voices weren't quite loud enough to carry far enough across the track. One mother looked visibly disheartened as 'James' limped by without once noticing his concerned supporter gesticulating wildly in the crowd.

As the race wore on a wide variety of different running styles were in evidence, most of which could best be categorised under 'pain'. A fierce-looking St John's Ambulance woman was on standby with a dollop of muscle grease and a rubber glove, but few seemed eager to take her up on her kind offer. Watching the later runners felt more like watching a charity parade than a competitive race. It was sad to be reminded that there are so many good causes out there in need of publicity and fund-raising, but heartening to see how much support each charity was getting. I kept a special eye open for the celebrity runner for Everyman - action against male cancer, but I'm afraid I didn't manage to come away with a photo of Dermot looking tired and sweaty. Thankfully Hazel Irvine and the BBC obliged later.

As I headed for home, the sky was still full of helicopters and lost helium balloons. I had spent longer watching the London Marathon than Paula Radcliffe had taken to run it. I left the fun runners still streaming through Docklands, and into their own personal record books. It's an inspiring day out - long may it continue.

 Saturday, April 12, 2003

25 years of Smash Hits

To celebrate 25 years of the unashamedly populist pop magazine, I've decided to knock up a list of smash hitters from April 12ths past. I've scanned through the official Top 40 charts from every April 12th from 1978 to today and picked out the five bands most likely to be plastered all over Smash Hits in that week. These are the people who'd have been grinning on the front cover, subjected to meaningful interviews about their favourite colour, and having their lyrics printed out in all their meaningless glory. In which year was Smash Hits your pop bible? It's April 12th - step back in time, pur-lease.

1978 Suzi Quatro, Blondie, Kate Bush, Andrew Gold, Showaddywaddy
1979 Squeeze, Racey, M, Sex Pistols, Village People
1980 Liquid Gold, The Jam, UB40, Madness, The Pretenders
1981 Shakin Stevens, Bucks Fizz, Kim Wilde, Landscape, Toyah
1982 Bucks Fizz, Imagination, Japan, Dollar, Classix Nouveaux
1983 Culture Club, Duran Duran, Jo Boxers, Bonnie Tyler, Nick Heyward
1984 Shakin Stevens, Thompson Twins, Depeche Mode, Captain Sensible, Madonna
1985 Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Tears For Fears, Go West, King, Dream Academy
1986 George Michael, Samantha Fox, Falco, A-Ha, Five Star
1987 Mel and Kim, Madonna, Terence Trent D'Arby, Fine Young Cannibals, Curiosity Killed The Cat
1988 Pet Shop Boys, Bros, Climie Fisher, Tiffany, Sinitta
1989 The Bangles, Simply Red, Jason Donovan, Transvision Vamp, INXS
1990 Madonna, Snap, Happy Mondays, Candy Flip, Adamski
1991 Chesney Hawkes, James, Wonder Stuff, Roxette, Dannii Minogue
1992 Right Said Fred, Shakespear's Sister, Soul II Soul, SL2, Curiosity
1993 Bluebells, Shaggy, New Order, East 17, Boyzone
1994 Take That, Ace of Base, Tony Di Bart, Haddaway, Bad Boys Inc
1995 Take That, Outhere Brothers, Bobby Brown, Let Loose, Deuce
1996 Prodigy, Mark Morrison, Gina G, Cast, Upside Down
1997 Backstreet Boys, Supergrass, No Doubt, Spice Girls, Sash
1998 Run DMC, Savage Garden, Ultra Nate, Robbie Williams, 911
1999 Martine McCutcheon, Eminem, Phats and Small, Britney Spears, TLC
2000 Westlife, Atomic Kitten, Steps, Point Break, 5ive
2001 Emma Bunton, Robbie Williams, Sugababes, Ash, S Club 7
2002 Gareth Gates, Britney Spears, Shakira, Will Young, Blue
2003 "A world exclusive as we go inside the bedrooms of Blazin' Squad. We find out why Westlife have turned into cowboys, we hang out with Girls Aloud, meet those saucy lads from Triple 8 plus we're giving you the chance to win your own private screening of the new S Club movie 'Seeing Double' for you and 24 of your mates!"

 Friday, April 11, 2003

Let's do lunch

Every day at work, the same problem. Where to go for lunch? There's also the problem of when to go to lunch (early? calm that rumbling stomach? or late? shorten that afternoon?) but I'll leave discussion of that for another day. I work near Green Park tube station, in the heart of Mayfair, where the choice of places to go for lunch isn't as wide as you might expect it to be. There's not a chip shop or a McDonalds in sight, for example (although at least one of those is definitely a good thing). There are sandwich shops, and cafés, and pubs, and coffee shops, and bars, and posh restaurants, and a supermarket, all competing daily for my hard earned cash. And from today there's even more competition as Marks & Spencer are opening one of their Simply Food outlets right above the tube station, seeking their slice of the lunchtime market. I'll be popping along there later to see what they have to offer the weary office worker, assuming I can get near the place for queueing secretaries. Meanwhile, here's a detailed list of my main lunch options:

Sandwich shops: These tiny little eateries hide in the gaps between real shops, dispensing lunchtime bread to passers by. They always look reassuringly amateur, as if the bloke behind the counter popped down to the supermarket first thing this morning, bought some sliced bread and mixed vegetables, sliced them up with five tins of tuna and then shoved the resulting mixture into a row of empty margarine tubs. The shop may only be packed for two hours each day, but charging three quid a time makes for impressive profit margins.

Pret A Manger: Spread across London like a very expensive rash, these shops specialise in mass-produced hand-made sandwiches, available in a variety of slightly exotic flavours, with accompanying small pots of sliced guava, thimbles of soup and cubes of chocolate brownie. Nevertheless they succeed in the marketplace because the chain's founders recognised one very important fact - that nobody ever likes making a packed lunch in the morning. We all know we could assemble a well-balanced nourishing boxful with twice the volume for a tenth of the price in our own kitchens but, somehow, at quarter past seven this never feels like quite such a good idea. More fool us.

Benjy's: The opposite of Pret, these cheap 'n' cheerful sandwich shops have sprung up across London in the last year. You can buy a complete lunch in Benjy's, complete with shrink-wrapped Chelsea bun, for less than the price of a Pret brie, tomato and basil baguette. This is a good thing, not least because it tends to attract a clientele of dirt-cheap local workmen, rather than the usual upmarket crowd. OK, so they could put a bit more filling in their torpedo rolls, and the choice of crisps is a bit limited, but at these prices I'm not complaining. A regular haunt of mine, then.

Cafés: Mayfair may be a bit posh, but there are still boltholes that will serve up a plate of fried breakfast washed down by luke-brown tea. Of course, this being Mayfair they also have to serve up plates of falafel, and bowls of pasta smothered in dilute tomato sauce and grated parsley, but the full bacon and sausage platter wins hands down for me every time.

Sainsburys: It took the big chains a while, but they've finally worked out that small scaled-down supermarkets in the middle of city centres can rake in the money. A small basket five times a week on top of your weekend trolley dash, it all adds up. All they need is a stockpile of pre-packaged sarnies and a salad bar, and all you get are a few reward points you'll never bother to redeem anyway.

The pub: It is theoretically possible to fit a pub lunch into the regulation sixty minutes of the office lunch hour. Minutes 1-5 are spent shepherding everyone out of the office whilst waiting for one straggler to reappear from the toilets. Minutes 6-10 are spent walking to the pub, then minutes 11-15 are spent ordering the first round of drinks, just a half for me please, it's lunchtime. Minutes 16-20 are spent perusing the pub menu, and minutes 21-25 trying to order the chicken in a basket, and you wanted ravioli didn't you, and just a salad for Sandra please, without onion. Minutes 26-35 are spent happily chatting and waiting, but minutes 36-40 are characterised by the growing realisation that the food might not arrive in time before you have to be back in the office. During minutes 41-45 someone wanders reticently up to the bar to ask them when the food's coming, and buys everyone another swift half while they're at it. The meals finally appear towards the end of minutes 46-50, except Sandra's salad, which turns up during minutes 51-55, so she's still picking the onion off while everyone else is nearly halfway through their pile of chips. Finally, in minutes 56-60, everyone is forced to wolf down whatever they can of the mountain still remaining on their plate before staggering back to the office late, but it's ok because the boss is still only halfway through his scampi at the pub down the road and won't be back until three at the earliest.

The Ritz: This bastion of the upper class serves the well-do-to, the old-and-fuddy and the more-money-than-sense with genuine Mayfair fare. Men must wear a jacket and tie, and it would appear that some obscure rule forces all the women to wear a floral twin set and pearls. It's a little on the expensive side for lunch, and even the legendary afternoon tea will set you back nearly thirty quid. Still, if I ever fancy a £28 omelette for lunch, I know where to come.

Marks and Spencer - Simply Food: Rarely has the opening of a new glorified sandwich shop been so eagerly awaited by the local population, and by a company's shareholders. Green Park's new M&S foodstore opened at 7am this morning, and by the time I arrived 75 minutes later there were already queues. I was pleasantly surprised to find an appealing range of well-packaged food at über-Benjy's but sub-Pret prices. The till staff had learnt the script for their cheery greeting well, without ever sounding transatlantically insincere. By lunchtime the shop was even more packed than a prawn, avocado and salad panini, so I was glad I'd stuck my turkey doorstop in the office fridge earlier on. And there were still crowds in there when I left work at 7pm this evening. It's a licence to print money, I tell you. And a tip for any of you thinking of visiting in the future - it's much quieter downstairs, and they do mini double chocolate muffins down there.

 Thursday, April 10, 2003

100%

It's the hundredth day of the year. I thought I'd take this opportunity to look back over 100 days of diamond geezer to see if I could pin down what sorts of things I've been posting about. Not because I want to get all self-analytical, you understand, but because the percentages are easy.

99% of days have at least one post I only missed out on January 2nd
95% of days have links to somewhere else and today is no exception
89% of days include the word 'I' I talk a lot about myself, don't I?
84% of days have comments thanks for all of those
83% of days had more than fifty visitors and almost every day since January
56% of days have two posts I like to offer value for money to the reader
46% of days have pictures these are more common since March
45% of days mention London I actually live somewhere worth writing about
30% of days have a post at exactly 7am including today
30% of days featured the Count one of the reasons so many days have two posts
25% of days had over a hundred visitors most of them in the last month
24% of days have exactly one post but it's usually meaty in size
24% of days have a post before ten past midnight I like to get in there early
20% of days have more than ten comments most of them actually relevant
18% of days have three posts you lucky, lucky people
17% of days have puzzles so, what percentage don't?
17% of days discuss other blogs always good to talk about ourselves, eh?
17% of days mention television both old and new, I'm not proud
15% of days featured the Retail Therapy project my light bricks are still lovely, thanks
11% of days mention music do stop me if I keep going on about the Buffseeds
10% of days mention the Underground bet you thought it was more than that
9% of days mention football not quite so much to cheer at the moment
8% of days mention the w*r impressively low - there's more to life
5% of days mention films it's not a golden Hollywood year, yet
4% of days have more than twenty comments maximum so far is twenty-nine
3% of days were posted from abroad roughly eight hours west of here
1% of days have no posts at all it's not easy to find an internet cafe in San Francisco
0% of days mention Justin Timberlake until today, drat, so that's really 1%

 Wednesday, April 09, 2003

A selection of entries from h2g2

Life
A Postman's Guide to Letterboxes: "Letter boxes. A hole in the door. 'What could be simpler?' you think. However, if you have to push things through them all day to earn your money, you soon will learn that there are many different types, or 'breeds' of letter boxes, each as dangerous as the last."
Games to Play In a Queue at a Supermarket Checkout: "Having finally trundled around the supermarket, gone through the arduous process of trying to find the best checkout, one finally joins the chosen queue, then waits... and waits... and waits."
Great Ways to Spend a Sunday: "Ah, Sundays. A day so lazy even God himself used it for a well-earned rest. What kind of activities make for a great Sunday (well, other than that activity - we're talking about stuff all the family can do!)?"
Staple Removers: "A staple remover is a device used for removing staples originally implanted by staplers or similar contraptions. The origin of the staple remover is, by necessity, an offshoot of the development of the stapler, resulting from a need to remove staples that have been inserted in error, for whatever reason."
Good Put-downs: "Ever found yourself replaying a past argument in your mind and thinking 'That's what I should have said!' The French have a phrase for it - l'Esprit d'escalier - 'the spirit that passes on the staircase'."

The Universe
The East End of London: "All Londoners have a different idea of where the East End is, so let's start by being clear. To the west, the border is the City of London, to the south the River Thames, to the east the A102M motorway and the River Lea and to the north, Victoria Park and Hackney Road." Phew, just made it!
Driving Etiquette - USA: "Driving in Texas is simple. There are two speeds - stop, and goveryfast. Goveryfast should be reached as soon as possible, which means that everyone floors the gas pedal when the lights turn green."
Central Place Theory as a Measurement of Beach Popularity: "It must be recognised that certain factors can skew the nice geometric shapes generated by the theory. Rocks, tides, topless girls, hunky lifeguards and noisy children will all have their effect. These can be noted and computer models used to correct for them."
The Circle Line: "Simultaneously the most infuriating and the most important line in the London Underground system, the Circle Line has been, and continues to be, the commuter's best tool for getting around the dark intricacies of Zone 1."
Earth: "Mostly harmless."

and Everything
Jack the Ripper - Anonymous Murderer: "Under cover of darkness, anonymity was assured. There were no street lights in those days, merely gas lamps which were lit manually sometimes well after darkness had fallen. The fog, which descended regularly, assisted any visitors to the district in becoming almost invisible."
Advertising - the Creative Process: "Despite the disastrous state of the marketing services industry at the moment, there still remains something of an aura of mystery around advertising agencies. Although different agencies may vary their approach to certain elements of the process, this is the accepted and acknowledged way of doing things."
What it Was Like in the 1980s: "More than just a collection of dates, the 1980s were a time of discovery, innovation, tragedy and creativity. Everyone was a lot younger in the '80s. Especially me."
Paradoxes: "A paradox is an assertion that is essentially self-contradictory, though based on a valid deduction from acceptable premises. What this means, more or less, is that there is some logical problem going on; either the deduction isn't really valid, or the premises aren't really acceptable. Alternately, the premises and the deduction are fine, and the universe really is self-contradictory."
Online Friends: "The lack of face-to-face interaction in online and other types of distant friendships creates a number of complications that would not otherwise exist. Despite that fact, or perhaps because of it, the type of relationships that are formed in the virtual environment are every bit as real and involved as those of the pre-Internet era."

 Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Time on my hands

Douglas Adams pretty much summed up late 1970s timekeeping when, in the prologue to the Hitch Hiker's Guide To the Galaxy, he wrote: "Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea."

Back in 1978 I thought digital watches were a pretty neat idea. They were new, they were at the cutting edge of technology, they were affordable and, best of all, they told the exact time. None of these old-fashioned second hands going round once a minute that had only a 59-to-1 chance of being in the correct place. What was the point of having a super-expensive analogue watch that was accurate to within half a second every twenty years, if that half a second was probably wrong? No, I wanted to know the real time, checked daily against the daily 8am BBC Radio pips. I wanted to know exactly when double History was going to end. I wanted to make sure I never missed the beginning of Nationwide because I knew if I switched the TV on with exactly 35 seconds to go the tube would always warm up just in time for that familiar jingle. And if I ever had the special treat of staying up until midnight, I wanted to know exactly when midnight arrived.

In 1978, old fashioned analogue watches suddenly seemed very uncool because they had two hands. However, it turned out that digital watches needed two hands as well - one to wear them on and one to press the button to find out what the time was. One type of watch needed winding up, the other wound you up. Red LED digital watches were just no use at all while you were carrying both your briefcase and sports bag around school, neither could you sneak a look at the display at the end of double History without being noticed. I was therefore particularly pleased when liquid crystal watches came along soon afterwards, and bought one as soon as the price came down far enough. Their display was ever-present. At last, accuracy with functionality.

However, the heyday of the digital watch was brief. The Swiss watchmaking industry, rattled by the flood of cheap Far Eastern timepieces onto the world market, soon hit back with the disposable Swatch. The Swiss had cleverly realised that a watch isn't for telling the time at all, but is instead a fashion statement. The majority of the population really don't care whether it's exactly twenty to three or not, they just want a trendy bracelet on their wrist. As for telling the time accurately, merely knowing that the big hand is somewhere inbetween the two widely-spaced coloured blobs on your watch face is usually quite good enough for most people.

It's possible to chart the decline in popularity of the digital watch using the Argos Index. Twenty years ago, about 60% of the watch section in the Argos catalogue would have been filled with hip and happening digitals. Nowadays less than 20% of their watch section is digital, and many of those that remain are ugly, chunky and impractical. Sports watches, apparently, although you'd not get far trying to run with that weight hanging off your wrist.

Me, I still wear my digital watch every day. I don't care if I get funny looks from people who wonder why my watch looks like it cost less than a tenner fifteen years ago (they'd be right, as it happens). I don't want a chunk of fake Rolex on my arm. I still like to know exactly what the time is. I can walk into the cinema or the train station at exactly the right moment without missing anything. I can turn up bang on time for a meeting, without going in early because I'm not quite sure whether the minute hand's gone past a mark on my watch face that isn't there. I can stand in a crowd on New Year's Eve knowing that everyone else is celebrating prematurely because Big Ben's one second early. I like to know my place in four-dimensional space. I may be sad, but at least I'm precisely sad.

Douglas Adams was wrong about digital watches. They are a pretty neat idea. And you can read all about them on h2g2, his excellent legacy of a website about Life, The Universe and Everything. Digital, it's the future apparently.


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