Wednesday, March 31, 2004
The best of March
TV programme of the month 1: I'd like to disagee with the Archbishop of Canterbury, not for the first time, and shower praise on Footballers' Wives. This third series has its tongue so firmly in its cheek that the scriptwriters can get away with almost any far-fetched plot, and then completely forget about it 20 minutes later. They surely can't beat Harley and Shannon crash-landing their runaway hot air balloon in the lion enclosure of a safari park on their honeymoon night. Or can they? Still two more episodes to go, including tonight's.
TV programme of the month 2: As I've written before, I've been a fan of Grange Hill for 27 series, and it's not yet lost its cutting edge. I know none of you watch it any more, but trust me on this one. Just the right mix of drama, humour, social issues and romantic interest in this year's series, and my special award goes to the utterly convincing Aspergers storyline. When today's kids grow up, it's good to know they too will have classic children's TV to discuss down the pub.
TV programme of the month 3: Nighty Night (now BBC2, formerly BBC3) is described as a comedy. I reckon it's hard to get laughs out of terminal disease and multiple sclerosis, but thankfully this show gets its laughs from the utter ghastilness of the central character. It's the sort of comedy you watch from behind the sofa, but totally addictive.
Football results of the month: Arsenal 1, other teams didn't.
Book of the month: I bought tons of London books this month, and I've not had time to read most of them yet. But the one I have read, and will heartily recommend, is Eccentric London by Benedict le Vey. Mainly because it's full of all the strange stuff about the capital I love. But also because if he's written it, it saves me from writing it.
Magazine of the month: It can only be Smoke, which I did finally track down earlier this week, and yes it is as good as I hoped. Still quirky, still oblique, still beautifully designed, now an even better read. Loads of bus routes merit a passing namecheck too (36, 125, 382, 93, W7, 22, 185, 161, 472, 486, 43, 139, 25, 12, 27, 38, 59, 45), scattered liberally throughout 52 pages of excellent individual articles. Next issue promised in July.
Art gallery of the month: I thought I'd drop in on the Henry Moore Foundation in Leeds city centre yesterday but unfortunately all the main galleries were closed. The nice lady at the desk told me they were 'between exhibitions' and could I come back in 6 weeks time? Not having quite that long before my train departed I strolled round Leeds City Art Gallery nextdoor instead. There was a Lowry or two, but also some much more up-to-date stuff like a spotty Hirst and a stripy Riley. It's an impressive collection, especially the wide selection of modern British sculpture, including Hepworth, Gormley and of course some leftover Henry Moore. An unexpected pleasure.
Album of the month: Scissor Sisters by the Scissor Sisters. When I heard this debut album described as 'sleazy electro disco' I was expecting 80s. But no, the whole package screams 70s instead. It's not an album of cover versions but every track sounds like it was recorded this year but written by somebody famous 30 years ago. I can hear the blatant influence of David Bowie, the Bee Gees, Steely Dan, Sparks, Sylvester, at least three eras of Elton John and even some Rocky Horror Picture Show. And oh boy, against all the odds it so works.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, March 30, 2004Timet-unable
Today I'm making my twice-yearly journey to Leeds, a 400-mile round trip into the heart of not-London. I'm lucky because Leeds is a great city to visit (well, it beats <insert name of hated town here>) and the shops are great and the weather's usually not bad either. And work are paying for me to sit on two trains for 2¼ hours each way, so I can spend most of the day catching up on some good books. Result.
I have to be in Leeds by half past ten, so I decided to consult the online timetable to find out what time I'd have to leave London to get there. Useful thing, online timetables. Type in an arrival time and they can work backwards to tell you that you need to start your journey at dawn's crack, precisely. Going to Leeds is easy. Coming home is trickier. I'm afraid I don't know exactly when I'll be ready to come home, so I'd like to see a timetable that covers the entire afternoon please. Maybe I could even print it out to carry with me on my journey. But oh no, online timetables aren't that convenient. I've been forced to fill in boxes with the exact names of the two stations I'm travelling between, I've had to remember what today's date is, I've waited for ages while the software processes my enquiry, I've clicked on 'earlier times' and 'later times' to get a fuller picture, and now I finally know I need to catch a train home at 'five past something'. I could have seen that at a glance in a real timetable, but the powers that be don't tend to allow us to view real timetables any more.
Timetables are dumbing down. We used to be able to flick through leafy pages of arrivals and departures for weekdays and weekends, with every intermediate station listed and fifteen special symbols that meant 'only travels as far as Crewe on alternate Mondays'. Now timetables are processed, digested and simplified so that we're only allowed to see the bits they think our brains are capable of coping with. Train companies don't like us to have to 'struggle' with a big list of times, oh no. They'd rather we had only a shortlist of start and finish times for three trains maximum, because that way even stupid people can book train tickets. I know online timetable software is very clever and could never have existed even five years ago, but personally I don't need spoonfeeding. I'd rather scan the complete list of times and find the train I want to catch, not the train they think I want to catch.
It's much worse if you have to make a connection. Online timetables propose ridiculous journeys, with 'just to be on the safe side' half hour waits at stations where in real life you can dash between platforms in two minutes flat. The Underground's Route Planner is a case in point. Ask it for the quickest route from, say, Mansion House to St Paul's and it'll propose a 25-minute two-train journey, whereas the two stations are actually only a couple of minutes walking distance apart. And don't get me started on the new spider maps that have replaced geographically accurate maps at London's bus stops. The old maps were brilliant for locating precisely where you were and how to get to where you wanted to be, even if it involved a change of buses en route or even walking. Not any more. Now we're just shown the destinations of the buses that leave from the immediate vicinity and bad luck if we're trying to travel anywhere that isn't served. We're not all spatially incompetent timetable illiterates you know. Sorry, I must have been living in this city too long. What I need is a day out.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, March 29, 2004Beckten
The Docklands Light Railway first opened in 1987, linking the Isle of Dogs and Stratford to the City. It was a revolutionary concept - guided rails, driverless trains, automatic signalling, the lot. The DLR was unexpectedly successful, not least in its ability to revitalise the communities it passed through, so a further extension to Beckton was soon planned. This extension opened on Monday 28th March 1994, exactly ten years ago yesterday. I never can resist an anniversary, so I spent Sunday afternoon taking the train to one of London's least loved locations, right down at the end of the line. (I know I know, it's a sad excuse for a life)
The Beckton extension was an attempt to breathe new life into the old Royal Docks, an industrial belt of decay clinging to the northern banks of the Thames. The new railway stretched eastwards from Poplar station, a five mile switchback ride on concrete stilts. The photograph to the left shows a typical two-carriage DLR train entering East India station, two stops along the line, with Canary Wharf rising tall in the background. The Greenwich meridian crosses the tracks a few metres outside the station, its position once marked by a line across the tracks, but sadly this is no longer visible. The railway then curves sharply around the mouth of Bow Creek, providing grandstand views of the Millennium Dome across the river, meeting up with the Jubilee and North London lines at Canning Town. Then it's on past the ExCel exhibition centre and out to far-flung Gallions Reach before curling back deep into the heart of darkest Beckton.
These giant white and blue pepperpots form part of the student accommodation at the University of East London, an extremely short walk from Cyprus station. There are nine coloured roundhouses altogether, strung out beside the Royal Albert Dock, far better architecture than the usual student-packed shoeboxes. They form an impressive backdrop to any flight into London City Airport, located just across the water, where a new DLR extension is due to arrive next year. I strolled into the UEL campus yesterday just as a fire alarm went off inside the green cylinder. A crowd of bleary students massed by the dockside, many still lounging in pink dressing gowns, waiting for a couple of trucks of firemen to give them the all clear. Bet the incident was toast-related.
25 years ago Beckton was an under-populated expanse of marshland and heavy industry. Not any more. Thanks to the London Docklands Development Corporation the area is now a thriving family-filled community, nestling around two characterless pubs and a supermarket. Asda is the true heart of the Beckton estate, like some vast retail magnet, but a superstore that can in no way be described as upmarket. White-trainered lads swagger round the aisles with stilettoed girls on their arms. Parents waddle by, trailing fat Beckton-born offspring. Pensioners hobble home pushing cheap tartan baskets on wheels. A selection of tracksuits sit vacantly on the benches by the store entrance. Most of the tiny shops in the small parade outside have closed down, but the betting shop and £7.99 shoe shop continue to trade. Sorry to any residents reading, but it's not a pleasant place to be, even on a Sunday afternoon.
The original village of Beckton was named after Simon Adams Beck, the man responsible for building the local gasworks in 1870. This was no ordinary gasworks, it was Europe's largest, covering an area bigger than the City of London. The gasworks sprawled across 540 acres of flat, low lying marshland, powered by coal brought up the Thames by barge. The chimneys used to belch corrosive yellow smoke into the sky, at least until North Sea natural gas killed off the plant for good. Stanley Kubrick assisted demolition of the site during the filming of Full Metal Jacket, the tumbledown buildings doubling for wartorn Vietnam. A brand new retail park has very recently been opened on part of the site in the shadow of the few remaining gasholders, surrounded by bleak fenced-off wasteland. It beats Asda for shopping, that's for sure, but that's the nicest thing I can say about the place.
Beckton is also the final destination of all the sewage in North London. Joseph Bazalgette, of whom I have written before, terminated his great Northern Outfall Sewer here at the largest sewage treatment plant in Victorian Europe. You're getting the true flavour of the place now, aren't you? Downwind from central London, Beckton was the perfect location for the capital's smelliest, most unpleasant industries and services. East London got heavy industry, while West London got upmarket suburbia. That sewer still slices through Beckton, now heavily disguised as a cycle path called the Greenway. Walking along the top of this ancient highway I could hear the sewage bubbling along through the pipes beneath, and I could smell it too. Brownway more like.
One of the by-products of all this heavy industry was a huge pile of industrial waste. The London Docklands Development Corporation had the waste compacted and re-contoured to form a large mound, the highest artificial hill in London. A dry ski slope was built, and so the Beckton Alps were born. This ski slope survived until 2001, at which point the centre was closed with proposals to build a giant Snowdome on the site instead. Alas, no money was ever forthcoming, so the hill now lies bleak and empty, like a concrete-flecked industrial pyramid. A zig-zag path leads up the side of the slope, now fenced off at the top, but scramble round beneath the deserted viewing platform and you can still find a route to the summit. I did, and the 360º view from the peak was quite fantastic. To the west the distant towers of Docklands, to the north Upton Park and the A13, and far to the east the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge on the M25. I bet the view looks even better in the sunshine. And to the south the estate houses of new Beckton, lapping at the foot of the hill like a sea of brown. It's always been brown round here. First mud, then gasholders, then sewage and now bricks. Some places, it seems, never quite escape their history.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, March 28, 2004Daylight savings
You lost sixty minutes from your life this morning when the clocks went forward. Need to play catch-up? Here are ten things you could remove from your Sunday to get that hour back.
Don't read the Sunday papers: You already know what'll be in them. A report on how Tony Blair's career is finished, a well-known TV star caught in a compromising position, wild speculation about footballers and/or share prices, the same arts reviews you read elsewhere earlier in the week, details of a very special porcelain thimble collection, lots of pictures of food you'll never cook, lots of pictures of property you'll never own and lots of adverts for cars you'll never drive. Don't read the Sunday papers. Time saved: 1 hour.
Don't go to church: Even if God exists, He's not going to mind you missing your weekly trip down to His house just this once. It's not even Palm Sunday yet for heaven's sake, let alone Easter, so you won't be missing much. And if God doesn't exist, well, you could save an hour in bed every week. Don't go to church. Time saved: 1 hour.
Don't go to IKEA: Every Sunday sees the Swedish flatpack cathedral packed out by couples with nothing better to do, shuffling slowly in procession through the showroom antechambers, pausing for meatballs in the self-service restaurant, descending into the retail scrum of the market hall, then queueing for an eternity at the understaffed checkouts. Don't go to IKEA, go shopping somewhere else instead. Time saved: 1 hour.
Have your roast dinner down the pub: A Sunday roast takes hours of preparation, requires deft juggling of oven space and saucepans whilst cooking, and then you waste even longer trying to wash up all that fat-speckled bakeware after the event. Why not let your local publican take the strain instead? Sure you'll spend extra hours down the pub as a result, but not as long as cooking the roast yourself would have taken you. Have your roast dinner down the pub. Time saved: 1 hour.
Give up tea and coffee for the day: Think of the time you waste daily waiting for the kettle to boil, waiting for the teabag to brew, standing around in Starbucks waiting for the barista to froth some milk and then being unable to sleep because your caffeinated head is still buzzing. Give up tea and coffee for the day. Time saved: 1 hour.
Only watch the second half of the Arsenal match: The first half doesn't matter, because the result happens in the second. Statistics show there are more goals in the second halves of matches too. And that Manchester United team, they're not worth watching anyway. Only watch the second half of the Arsenal match. Time saved: 1 hour.
Ignore the boat race: I went last year. It was the most exciting Boat Race in history and it was still rubbish. This year either Oxford or Cambridge will win, and next year ITV have won already, so why bother? Ignore the Boat Race (and associated programming). Time saved: 1 hour.
Skip an hour of Sunday TV: Put your clocks forward at 8pm tonight, rather than 1am this morning, and you can miss both Heartbeat on ITV and Born And Bred on BBC1. Don't look backwards, jump forward. Skip an hour of Sunday TV. Time saved: 1 hour.
Don't put all your clocks forward: It takes forever to go round your house changing every single timepiece by an hour - the video recorder, the alarm clock, your watch, your other six watches, the hi-fi, the microwave, the oven, five wallclocks, your mobile, the central heating, that cheap digital clock in the spare room, the answering machine, etc. They'll all only need to be changed back again in the autumn, so why not leave them alone today and just add one hour mentally for the rest of the summer? Don't put all your clocks forward. Time saved: 1 hour.
Fly to America: The US doesn't change to Daylight Saving until next week, so if you flew over there there'd be no need to lose an hour from this Sunday at all. Fly to the west coast and you'd gain another 8 hours on top of that, which would still leave you time to do everything further up this list as well. Just don't fly back here next Sunday or you'll lose it all again. Fly to America. Time saved: up to 9 hours.
posted 02:00 :
Saturday, March 27, 2004Bow Road station renovation: update
Two weeks into the official renovation of my local Underground station, and time to keep you updated on latest progress. What a fortnight it's been. First a huge long blue wall appeared along almost the entire length of the eastbound platform, screening off the original paint-peeling walls from the travelling public and halving the width of the platform. And then a second blue wall appeared at the west end of the westbound platform, considerably shorter than its twin opposite, but standing tall proud and blue all the same. Today's photo shows an artist's impression of the location of those two blue walls, just to give you a visual flavour of what's going on.
Behind those two blue walls it's been impossible to tell if any real renovation work has been happening at all. I've seen no signs of action, no passing workmen, not even the hint of a discarded tool, no nothing. Maybe all the action has been happening after the 10pm station curfew, with a gang of painters and interior designers drafted in to give the ancient surfaces a silent makeover, but I'm not yet convinced. The planned renovation is due to take a whole year, so maybe actually doing some work comes up at a later stage, but it does seem to be a very slow start.
But the eastbound platform at Bow Road must now be the safest station platform in the UK. Previously the walls were plain white, with just the occasional roundel interrupting the emptiness. Now the blue wall is covered by a dazzling assortment of safety signs, directional signs, informational signs, no smoking signs, way out signs, adverts and yet more safety signs. Presumably this is part of some government workplace directive, lest any innocent member of the public should accidentally stumble into the building site and maim themselves horribly. But it does all seem a bit over the top, especially when the opposite platform is just as dangerous but completely under-signed.
Anyway, for those of you who've been following the daily reports from Bow Road via my comments boxes, I've now shifted all those into this comments box, just to ensure that they don't disappear off the bottom of the front page. The excitement continues? Mind the gap.
posted 08:00 :
Friday, March 26, 2004At your (London) newsagent today
Two new-ish capital-based periodicals hit the streets of London this morning. The first of these is edition number 3 of my favourite London magazine - Smoke. It's a sort of local fanzine, or 'a london peculiar' as the strapline has it. This quirky labour of love is published quarterly, featuring 'words, photos, cartoons and graphic art inspired by the city'. Look, there's even a tube station on the cover. In Smoke 3 we're promised London's busiest phone box, IKEA, Temple Bar, the BT Tower, flying into Gatwick, Burgess Park, Tyburn Kickit, New Cross Gate, another bus of the month, Squeeze, skyscrapers, the Grand Union Canal, Battersea Power Station and even a very local chunk about Bromley-by-Bow. Full tasters here. It's testimony to the success of the magazine that edition three is going to be available from an extensive list of stockists, rather than the three or so bookshops that sold the first one. Also available via mail order, for those of you outside the M25. I shall be spending two quid on my hot-off-the-press green 'un later today, and adoring it soon afterwards. Do join me.
The second capital-based periodical to hit the shops today is rather different. It's edition number 2 of the London News Review, a weekly newspaper-type-product brought to you by the same people who produce The Friday Thing, London by London, and the long-established LNR website. The print version was first launched at the party that me and Dave Gorman attended back in February, remember? It costs a quid for 12 pages and is also available by mail order. I finally tracked down a real copy of edition 1 earlier this week, lurking in a plastic wrapper at the foot of the escalator in Borders in Oxford Street. Was it worth the money? Here's my London News Review review:
London? Ah, now there's a slight trades description problem here. The London News Review isn't actually very 'London'. Only two pages out of 12 are specifically about the capital, one of which is an interview with Mayoral-hopeful Simon Hughes. Then there's a London Diary cadged from the weekly London by London e-mailout, and a witty column by the marvellous Richard Herring about travelcards, but lifted direct from Richard's (excellent) blog. Not London enough, overall, for my tastes.
News? Ah, and there's also a slight news problem here. This is not a newspaper in any traditional sense of the word, so the news content is more like political commentary on national and international affairs. This means articles about Blair and terrorism, Blair and Bush, more terrorism, more Bush, Iraq, more Bush, more Iraq, and a cartoon about the American presidential elections. I'm sure this is some people's idea of news (I mean, there are plenty of one-track yawn-inducing politics-obsessed blogs out there) but it's not mine.
Review? Ah, a bit more successful here, with an eclectic two-page spread of music, TV, film, art and book reviews. This is more like it, but sorry editors, it's not enough to get me subscribing. Looks like I'll just have to carry on being a heavy Smoker instead.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, March 25, 2004London's best sitcom
This Saturday the BBC will be announcing the results of their three month quest to uncover Britain's Best Sitcom (or the BBC's Best Sitcom, as it's turned out). I've cast a geographical eye over the Top 10 shortlist to investigate any possible spatial connections. Three of the supposed favourite sitcoms were located along the south coast of England (Torquay, Bournemouth-ish and Walmington-on-Sea), one in a Buckinghamshire village, one in Doncaster and one in a Cumbrian prison. But the other four were very definitely London-based, as indeed have been rather a lot of other TV sitcoms over the past fifty years. A suspiciously large number of these have been based in South, West and Southwest London too, not a million miles from BBC TV Centre and Thames's Teddington Studios. I guess at least this saved on the licence fee.
I've delved back into my memory, and deep into the internet, in an attempt to produce the definitive (clickable) postcode-by-postcode guide to London's sitcoms. And here's my
Central London: Blackadder II and III (Westminster SW1), Black Books (Bloomsbury WC1), Life With The Lyons (Marble Arch W1), Yes Minister (Westminster SW1), Are You Being Served (inspired by Piccadilly W1), Down The 'Gate (City EC3)
North London: Spaced (Tufnell Park N19), Babes In The Wood (St John's Wood NW8), Gimme Gimme Gimme (Kentish Town NW5), Father Dear Father (Hampstead NW3), Agony (Golders Green NW11), Going Straight (Muswell Hill N10)
Northeast London (1 mile outside): Birds Of A Feather (Chigwell IG7)
East London: Drop The Dead Donkey (Wapping E1), Til Death Us Do Part (Wapping E1), Goodnight Sweetheart (East End, E1), Shine On Harvey Moon (Hackney E8), Garth Marenghi's Darkplace (Romford RM1)
Southeast London: Desmond's (Peckham SE15), Only Fools And Horses (Peckham SE15), Up The Elephant And Round The Castle (Elephant & Castle SE1)
South London: Game On (Battersea SW11), Not In Front Of The Children (Battersea SW11), 15 Storeys High (Kennington SE11), Terry And Julian (Streatham SW16), Citizen Smith (Tooting SW17), The Gnomes Of Dulwich (Dulwich SE21), Hancock (East Cheam SM2), Terry And June (Purley CR8), Please Sir
Southwest London: Fresh Fields (Barnes, SW13), Bless This House (Putney SW15), The Good Life (Surbiton KT6), Brush Strokes (Motspur Park KT3), George and Mildred (Hampton Wick TW12), The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (17 minutes late, points failure at Effingham Junction)
West London: Man About The House (Earl's Court SW5), Home James! (Chelsea SW3), Girls On Top (Kensington W8), Robin's Nest (Fulham SW6), Steptoe and Son (Shepherd's Bush W12), Absolutely Fabulous (Holland Park W11), Bottom (Hammersmith W6), Sykes (East Acton W3), Men Behaving Badly (Ealing, W5), 2 Point 4 Children (Ealing W5)
Northwest London: The Kumars at No 42 (Wembley HA9), May To December (Pinner HA5), My Hero (Northolt HA4)
Now, I reckon with your help I can improve this list. Firstly there are some sitcoms I've listed but without an exact location. Can anybody pinpoint these a bit more precisely? Secondly there are sitcoms like Comrade Dad and Butterflies(?) that I haven't managed to locate within London at all. Where were they exactly? And thirdly, and most importantly, there'll be other London-based sitcoms that I've completely failed to remember. What were they, and where? Do tell me. Just for a laugh.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, March 24, 2004Defeated And Shelved, Absence Now Indefinite
posted 23:00 :
Stanleys (6 Little Portland Street, London W1): My brother made a rare working visit to London yesterday, so we decided to meet up for a meal in the early evening before he returned home. We headed for the sausage nirvana that is Stanleys, a bangers 'n' beer restaurant down an insignificant backstreet near Oxford Circus. It's an original dining concept, complete with 70s diner decor and a fine selection of continental ales. The all-red seating included side booths with authentically ripped leatherette benches and canteen-type chairs at understated tables. There's a well-frequented bar and extensive wine list, but it's the sausages that make the place special. I chose a beer-soaked meaty tube with creamy mash and dumplings over the alternative bratwurst, Glamorgan veggie and simple porker. My brother went for the burger option, an impressively thick slab of meat accompanied by chunky, tasty chips. Had it not been for his impending homebound train, the stodge-trad dessert menu would have provided an alluring finale. We liked the place. I'll be back.
Click on these blobs to read further reviews: • • • • •
posted 07:00 :
Bags of comments: Thanks for all your bag-related confessions yesterday. I knew the rest of you must be carrying something unnecessary around with you, and now I know exactly what it is that I'm managing to live happily without.Bottle of water - totally unnecessary, see last Sunday. Can of fizzy drink - I never, ever, waste my money on shop-bought cans. Sandwiches - I confess that I do often waste £2 buying my lunch rather than making it. Newspaper - can be carried without need for bag. Book - not needed if you have a newspaper, for short journeys at least. Sports kit - dangerous sign of an unpleasantly healthy lifestyle. Notepad - I use my mobile phone instead. Camera - my tiny snapper easily fits in a pocket when required. Comb - unnecessary. Gloves and hat - for wimps. Sunglasses - for posers. Umbrella - oh come on, it's only water. MP3 player - Better worn than stashed. Deodorant - I keep a spare stick in my office drawer. Work-related paperwork - my job thankfully avoids this. Laptop - granted, bag required.And may I thank you all for all your comments recently. There have been over 200 in the last fortnight alone, on top of the 40-plus I got for my 40-minus birthday. Ta, much appreciated. Funny things, comments, because when you start up a blog they're a long time coming, and I reckon there are tons of blogs out there that are still criminally under-commented upon. Thanks for leaving your thoughts here - now do go and leave some comments somewhere else too. Here are ten places you might start: • • • • • • • • • •
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, March 23, 2004Is your bag really necessary?
Who owns this bag? That's the question us Londoners have recently been asked to ask ourselves as part of a tube-wide security campaign. We've been advised to keep our eyes peeled for suspicious looking baggage in case of imminent terrorist attack. I've been playing my part, looking around particularly carefully, but I've actually ended up noticing something completely different. Virtually everybody on the Underground is carrying a bag. Except me.
I don't carry a bag to work. I always used to think that this was perfectly normal behaviour, but closer scrutiny has revealed that I'm in a tiny minority. A bagless freak in fact, adrift in a portable world. Somehow I manage to survive my daily commute weighed down only by a couple of pocketfuls of belongings - one wallet, one phone, one travelcard, two handkerchieves and a bunch of keys. Even in coatless summer that's all I carry, which makes me wonder why virtually nobody else can survive even twenty minutes underground without some sort of plastic or canvas receptacle weighing them down. Travellers are regularly being advised to "Keep all your personal baggage with you at all times". Are Londoners taking this instruction too literally?
Shoulder bags, battered briefcases, sleek attaché cases, chunky handbags, bulging rucksacks, square DJ bags, posh carrier bags with rope handles, supermarket carrier bags stuffed with groceries, sports holdalls, cavernous laptop bags, cross-body sling bags, downpour-resistant backpacks, luxury clutch bags, gym bags, leather satchels, designer luggage, canvas drawstring bags, sporty duffle bags, and of course the devil's own wheelie suitcase - the tube is absolutely heaving with all of the above. The question Londoners should be asking therefore isn't "Who owns this bag?" but "Why do so many of you feel the need to carry bags in the first place?"
I can see why holidaymakers need to carry luggage, I know that shoppers have to lug their purchases home and I'll concede that pocketless women need a handbag to keep all their bits in. But I'm absolutely baffled why so many people find a bag essential in their everyday commuting lives. And why so many bags on the tube droop in an unfilled unfulfilled way. How little are people actually carrying around with them? A book, a packet of chewing gum and a bottle of Dasani? A couple of magazines and a packet of cigarettes? A sweaty gym kit ripe from the lunchtime workout? A hoard of post-its and plastic folders nicked from the office stationery cupboard? Seriously, I haven't got a clue what other people feel compelled to carry round with them because I'm not a bag carrier myself. Any of you bag men and bag ladies like to confess?
Most disconcerting of all, however, are the multitude of people who 'need' to carry more than one bag when just one would do. I've lost count of the number of tube travellers I've seen laden with both tiny handbag and big rucksack, or huge holdall and little shoulder bag. Surely all those belongings spread between two bags would fit quite happily inside just the one, and then there'd be less bags and more space for the rest of us. And, probably, fewer security alerts too. So, people of London, do your bit for the capital and leave your bags at home. You'll survive, and maybe the rest of us will too as a result.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, March 22, 2004
Street Cries of Old London Street Cries of New London Sixpence a pound, fair cherryes! Evening Standard! West End Final! Bonnets for to fit English heads! Can you spare a minute for Alzheimers? Roasted pippins, piping hot! Taxi! Hey, taxi! Wood, three bundles a penny! Will you take us photo yes? Large silver eels, a groat a pound, live eels! Hands up against the wall sonny! Fair lemons and oranges! Can you ring me back in ten minutes? New laid eggs - crack 'em and try 'em! Oi, lads, wanna see some nice girls? Past three o'clock and all's well! Pasta, all you can eat for £5.99! Fine ripe strawberryes! Stop thief! Turnips and carrots, oh! Which way Covent Garden please? Hot spiced gingerbread, smoking hot! Genuine Swiss watches, only five quid! Four for six pence, mackrell! Anyone wanna buy tickets for Les Mis? Ribbons a groat a yard! Big Issue, get your Big Issue here! Six bunches, sweet blooming lavender! Get out of my bloody way! Crab, crab, any crab? Finished with your Travelcard? Twelve pence a peck, oysters! Lucky hevver sir, lucky hevver? Buy my four ropes of hard onyons! Spare some change, Guv? One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns! Hear the words of Jesus! Who's for a mutton pie? Who owns this bag?
Lots more old street cries here! Tons, with woodcuts!
Hear ye an olde Orlando Gibbons composition here!
Stanley Green, the 'Protein Man', remembered here!
Oyez, anyone got any more New street cries?
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, March 21, 2004Eau dear
I'm a very tolerant sort of bloke, but there's one group of people upon whom I look down with undisguised scorn. Drinkers of bottled still water. People who'll happily fork out nearly a quid for half a litre of clear liquid in a throwaway plastic container when a tap provides a perfectly acceptable and environmentally friendlier alternative for virtually nothing. I'm willing to forgive those with a taste for sparkling water, I can suffer the purchase of bottled water during summer heatwaves or in nightclubs for rehydration purposes, and I can absolve those who drink bottled water abroad in an attempt to avoid botulism. But the rest of you, squandering money to quench your thirst with a drink more expensive than petrol, you're just weak-willed and wet.
So it's been with joy in my heart that I've watched the wholesale collapse of Coca Cola's latest waterlogged commercial venture - Dasini. This blue-bottled still water has suffered setback after setback since being launched a few weeks ago. It's been a textbook example of how not to manufacture a product, and how instead to pour seven million pounds of marketing budget down the drain. Dasini's website is a breath-taking slice of PR hype, brimming with spelling mistakes, desperately pleading to the public that the product is in fact safe, clean and value-added. Today that website is forced to apologise that the UK's entire stocks of Dasani have had to be withdrawn "due to an inconsistency in one of the minerals contained in the product." Or in other words they've contaminated their own product with bromate, a cancer-causing chemical. Most unfortunate.
Let's investigate ten of the company's other claims.
Claim: Dasani in GB has been especially made to suit GB palates and lifetsyles (sic).
Reality: It's been made in Sidcup, no less, from the local mains water supply. No mountain streams, no limestone springs, just Thames Water. Dasani is processed tapwater in a blue bottle.
Claim: Dasani's got everything you could want from a bottle of water – it couples a pure clean taste with cool stylish packaging so you can always look and feel great!
Reality: Odd this, because whenever I see someone clutching a blue bottle full of processed tapwater, I immediately think 'dickhead'.
Claim: Water's just water isn't it? Well yes, some bottled waters are the same, but not Dasani!
Reality: Coca Cola have forced various shopkeepers to remove all rival brands of bottled water from their chiller cabinets, which has caused a considerable amount of ill-feeling.
Claim: Reverse osmosis is used to filter the water, a technique perfected by NASA to purify fluids on spacecraft.
Reality: Reverse osmosis is also already used in many domestic water purification units. Not all that futuristic then.
Claim: Dasani is the one of the purest waters around, but it takes a lot of science to make it this clean and clear for you to drink and enjoy.
Reality: Not very good science, though, because the bottling process inadvertently adds prohibited chemicals that aren't present in the original tapwater.
Claim: We select a perfect balance of minerals and add them to the purified water to give Dasani its clean, fresh taste.
Reality: One of the minerals added in tiny quantities is calcium chloride, containing bromide, for added "taste profile". Nothing unsafe about Dasani so far...
Claim: Ozone is injected into the water to ensure its sterility. That way Dasani pure still, water has a clean, fresh, thirst-quenching taste every time.
Reality: ... perfectly safe until the ozone is added, turning harmless bromide into bromate - a chemical that could cause an increased cancer risk as a result of long-term exposure. Oops.
Claim: "Dasani is as pure as water can get" (Judith Snyder, brand PR manager for Dasani)
Reality: Well, that's what she said last week. I do hope the poor beleaguered woman's resigned by now.
Claim: "I'm sure that Dasani - being the UK's first mainstream purified water - will contribute towards the clarity and focus that we all look for in our lives." (Steve J. Errey, Qualified Professional Life Coach)
Reality: This is almost verbal prostitution, Steve. One also wonders quite how many misguided UK citizens feel so unworthy that they need to hire a 'life coach' to help them focus with clarity.
Claim: Javine, previously famous for being 'the girl that didn't make it into Girls Aloud'... has signed up to an exciting programme of activity with Dasani.
Reality: It's the perfect PR combination - a bottled water that's being poured down the plughole combined with a so-called popstar whose career is heading the same way. Wave goodbye, everybody.
posted 09:00 :
Saturday, March 20, 2004Who's next?
The BBC have just announced the name of the next actor to play Doctor Who, the soon-to-be iconic name to follow William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and the very brief Paul McGann. And that name is Christopher Eccleston. There is general agreement that this is a mighty fine choice for the role, what with him being one of Britain's best modern actors, and with a string of impressive TV and film work behind him. Now all we need is a suitable screaming assistant and some top nightmare monsters for him to battle against. Looking back through Chris's acting portfolio, I'd like to propose the following list of new adventures to be filmed for the series relaunch early next year:
Let Him Have It: The Tardis returns to 1950s Gallifrey where the Doctor is sentenced to death by the Time Lords for firing his sonic screwdriver willy nilly.
Cracker: The Doctor takes a break from drinking and gambling to try stop the Master, played by Robert Carlyle, from blowing up half of Manchester.
Shallow Grave: The respectable backstreets of Edinburgh are under threat from a sudden attack by giant maggots.
Our Daleks In The North: The bittersweet story of four pepperpot-shaped monsters who maim and exterminate their way through three decades of social climbing.
Jude: Following a convoluted time-travelling paradox, the Doctor falls in love with his cousin in a late Victorian hayloft. Nothing much else happens.
Elizabeth: The Doctor takes Bessie for a spin.
Gone in Sixty Seconds: The Doctor saves the universe by reversing the polarity a minute before imminent total destruction, as usual.
Linda Green: New assistant Liza Tarbuck is looking for love, but an army of emotionless Cybermen turn down her amorous advances, with hilarious results.
28 Days Later: The Brigadier wakes from a coma to find the population of Britain replaced by zombies. It's hard to spot the difference. UNIT to the rescue.
The Ninth Coming: Crowds of devoted Doctor Who fans mass in their anoraks to pay homage to the return of their religious icon.
posted 12:00 :
Friday, March 19, 2004Result! (and a good job too)
So, my life didn't change out of all recognition yesterday. Life-changing was on the table, and apparently seriously considered, but the final decision leaves my life pretty much intact. There'll still be major changes, and I expect the view from my office window to change within six months, but at least the two-hours-each-way daily commute is no longer an option. All of which is very good news indeed, because I really wasn't looking forward to a weekend scouring job adverts and filling in application forms.
But, before it fades away completely, let me just consider alternative universe 2 for a moment. Suppose I was suddenly looking for a new job this morning. It could so easily have happened, and I do wonder how I'd have reacted. What alternative job options are out there that I might have considered instead? How could I have escaped from a slough of despond? Here are a few suggestions, and if any of you feel like offering additional careers advice, well, you know where to stick it...
Infamous mystery blogger: Apparently you can make a six-figure sum merely by walking the streets of London, writing a weblog on the subject for a few months, keeping your identity secret and then getting your work snapped up by a major publishing company. Sounds like easy money to me, but I suspect the public are pretty bored by now, ne c'est pas?
Hollywood script writer: If you've been reading my daily reports from Bow Road tube station (see March 11th) then you'll know this rolling saga is just begging to be snapped up as the screenplay for a major motion picture. I think Tom Hanks probably has all the charisma needed to play the starring role of 'the blue wall', and there's still so much plot development yet to come.
Local historian: Did you see Bow on the telly on Wednesday as part of the BBC's new 'If' series? They used converted match factory Bow Quarter as the location for a drama documentary about the tensions surrounding gated communities. I'm surprised the twitchy residents let the cameras in, to be honest. You can read all about walled-off life at Bow Quarter on this BBC webpage, complete with a handy map that shows potential burglars where all the buildings are.
Bus driver: Ahh, I always wanted to be a bus driver when I was a kid. Well, for a couple of months at least. It was probably a better job in those days because nobody swore at you, there was less traffic and the uniforms were a nicer colour. Lucky escape for the travelling public that I've never set foot behind the steering wheel of a Routemaster though, because I'd be an awful lot safer on a bus than driving one.
DG: I think there's still time for me to apply for the top job at the BBC, now that Greg Dyke's imploded. How difficult can it be to fritter away the licence fee on DIY and antiques shows anyway? I've even got the right initials. Where's that application form..?
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, March 18, 2004
posted 19:00 :
Some days change your life. A decision is made, or a realisation dawns, and then your life takes one particular path rather than another. Everything that follows is different to what would have happened otherwise, and life is never quite the same again. Maybe you don't realise at the time just how important that day is going to be, or maybe you do and its significance weighs heavy on your soul. Whatever the case, some days change your life. And, for me, today is quite possibly one of those days. Outcome of a certain Big Decision finally gets announced today, you see. Ulp.
Three of the most important days that changed my life were in the mid 80s. Tuesday 21st December 1982, for example. It wasn't the day I failed my driving test for the first time - that was two days later - but it was the day when I found out I had a place at university. Not everybody did in those days, and a whole different world opened up as a result. There was one Saturday in 1984 which had a similarly eye-opening effect, and then there was Friday 1st August 1986. As I noted in my diary at the time, this one would seal my fate for decades to come. Career, what to do for a career? I'd been trying to get into one particular part of the media, and trying, and failing, and I had just one application still in the running. It looked like an alternative career was needed, so I took myself off up North for the day to apply for something else and to find myself some lodgings for a year. When I got home later that evening the final rejection letter was waiting unopened in my parents' eager hands, and so I found myself careering up path 2 rather than path 1. And I'm still going steadily up path 2, at least until this afternoon.
Jump ahead to Saturday 23rd August 1997. I'd bought myself a new computer a few days earlier, and on this particular afternoon I decided to attach it to the new-fangled internet for the first time. Nothing out of the ordinary happened that day, although I rediscovered an old university friend and discovered webpages on topics I'd never believed other people would be interested in too. However that web connection ultimately led to me applying for a new job I'd otherwise never have noticed, and if I'd not connected when I did I'd almost certainly not be in London today. It all looked rather bleak midway through that last sequence, but everything turned out fine in the end thanks to Thursday 7th June 2001. That was the occasion on which I just happened to meet my current boss for the first time on the day my last boss finally pissed me off for the last time. On such a coincidence my present life in E3 rests.
Other days will have changed my life completely without me even noticing. People I never met because I wasn't where they were at the right moment, job adverts I never saw because I didn't think to look, fatal accidents I never had because I left the house at a slightly different time or travelled via a slightly different route. Who knows what I've missed out on, or what's missed out on me? I didn't notice the most important decision in my life either, the one that really changed everything. I don't know the date exactly but I'm guessing that it was some time in June 1964, nine months before I was born. Against all the odds that was the occasion on which exactly the right sperm met exactly the right egg, from my point of view at least. Thanks Mum, thanks Dad. In comparison, every other decision in my life pales into insignificance. Even Thursday 18th March 2004. Because no matter how tomorrow may look, the future will always work itself out. It has so far anyway. Fingers crossed.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, March 17, 2004Welcome to the Creative Lounge
Take a seat. Take a deep breath.
Now, try flexing your creative muscle...
See if you can come up with a few perfectly crafted names for the following.
Your best ideas so far in italics. Further ideas will be added later.
'Planet' discovered beyond the orbit of Pluto
Goofy, Sedna, Edna, Bob, ItsOnlyAnAsteroid, Mondas, Deadremote, Thule, Osama, Lucan, Slough.
hydr8, Still Sparkling, Eaurine, waterique, Tapp, H2quid, AquaSidcup, EauVerpriced, inSolvent.
(these from the East London phone directory): A Cut Above, Clip Joint, Beaux Belles, Curl Up & Dye, Hair We Go, Lunatic Fringe, Nutters.
(these from around the world): Shear Perfection, Beyond the Fringe, Téte Moderne, Hair Port, Crops and Bobbers, Hair Razors.
(these from Saturday's Guardian): Barber Blacksheep, Bright'n'Bleach, Blonde Dye Bleach, Hairs & Graces, Hairlucinations, Curling You Softley.
New IKEA products
Fartygsbefäl (set of 4 mugs), Träffa (glass vase), Slagsplister (flatpack wardrobe), Fältskog (children's bunkbed), Arskurser (5-legged stool), SkolVäder (plastic uplighter), Luftfartsverket (teaspoon), Smegsmår (mattress cover), Fälch (6-pack of juice glasses), Mårkräpp (range of small impulse-buy items), Didø (free CD with all dining tables and chairs), Føgdåf (facial expression at checkout), WhåtDøYöuMeãnIHavëTøBuîldItMysëlf.
Digital TV channels
BBC99, UKBronze, cheap-tat.tv, Sky Straight2Video, InfoMercials, BBC BrainDead, empTyV, Dartsworld, Men & Kleenex, Webcam TV, BBC News24 +1, Sky News -1
posted 07:00 :
• All those thwack-the-penguin games on one page
• Dave's Web Of Lies (Last updated Dec 19, 2009)
• The Haggis-On-Whey World of Unbelievable Brilliance (beware the giraffes)
• Pages from old Ladybird Books (at qanik.net)
• History Today (see that girls bike? that's yours that is)
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, March 16, 2004London Prepared?
It was hard to be certain but I sensed that people were looking a little uneasy on the Underground yesterday. Maybe that was just their regular Monday morning back-to-work look but maybe it was something else, a subconscious response to events last week 800 miles away. Not that most people enjoy rush hour tube travel at the best of times, packed head-to-armpit in overcrowded carriages, but somehow those carriages didn't seem quite so overcrowded yesterday either. Those of us wielding newspapers flashed bleak headlines across the carriage, while travellers with bags clutched them a little closer. It's as if Londoners are silently praying not to be 'there' when 'it' happens, not that anyone quite knows where 'there' is, what 'it' might be, or when 'it' might happen. Me, I prefer to continue to wonder if, not when.
Last week's terrorist atrocity in Spain reminded us all how fragile freedom is, how much we take it for granted and how easy it is to lose it in a flash. Anyone can board a train in Europe, travelling anywhere, carrying anything. It's not like boarding a plane where we expect to queue for hours in advance and have all our darkest recesses searched lest we have even a nail file stashed away somewhere. Trains and stations remain very public spaces, very accessible but also very exposed. And long may that remain so. Should we ever end up flashing an ID card to pre-book a ticket to travel three stops down the Victoria Line then the terrorists would undoubtedly have won. And there would still be plenty of other targets elsewhere for them to hit anyway.
London can't afford police patrols in every Underground carriage, which is just as well because there are hundreds of carriages, most of them quite full enough already. The police are introducing plain-clothes patrols, or at least they've told us they are (it is by definition hard to be sure). They've also promised to increase 'stop and search' checks by uniformed officers, although the chance of any of them uncovering 'it' 'there' if 'it' happens must be absolutely tiny. No, our best chance lies with the latest campaign to ask the travelling public for increased vigilance. Our eyes can be everywhere. And better to bring the entire network to a halt for every unattended carrier bag than to miss one anonymous rucksack opportunely abandoned underfoot in the peak hour rush.
London's been here many times before, of course, and London's by no means unique. The IRA's bloody mainland bombing campaign kept Londoners alert thirty, twenty, even as recently as ten years ago, and you still can't find a litter bin on the Underground as a result. And sixty years ago there was the Blitz, night after night of terrible bombing, and night after night of terrible casualties. 17 died in a direct hit on Marble Arch tube station, 68 at Balham, 56 at Bank, 173 at Bethnal Green... and even that was but a tiny fraction of the overall death toll. A very heavy price was paid but London continued, and so it will again. Even if 'it' happens which, please God, 'it' never does.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, March 15, 2004The Ideas of March
• Could someone please invent a tenpin bowling ball that doesn't rip your fingernail off? Or indeed one I could actually throw properly.
• Spring comes so early these days, doesn't it? I mean, there's even time for a bit more Winter afterwards now.
• It appears that millions of idiots will happily buy tap water just because Coca Cola plc puts it in a blue bottle, despite acres of negative press. Maybe I should make my fortune by quitting work and selling Eau de Bow instead.
• Ken, since when has St Patrick's Day been on March 14th? And may I please switch my next birthday from Wednesday to the weekend as well?
• Now that Matthew Kelly has finally left Stars In Their Eyes, could ITV please now stop repackaging karaoke as primetime Saturday entertainment? No, I doubt it either.
• The clocks really should have gone forward by now shouldn't they? In an ideal world it should be sunset at 7pm already.
• If you remove all the easy listening from this week's Top 20 album chart then there are only seven albums left. Looks like the Brit Awards finally killed British music dead.
• Why does the otherwise-reliable Updated UK Weblogs list regularly show certain weblogs as 'updated', but when you click and visit the 'updated' page it doesn't appear to have been updated at all? Just wondered.
• Bloody rucksacks on the tube. I always saw them as an inconvenience. Now, sadly, I'm trying very hard not to view them all with suspicion.
• More half-baked ideas at the halfbakery.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, March 14, 2004Random borough: Merton
So, yesterday I ended up in southwest London in the randomly selected borough of Merton. That's Wimbledon to you and me. I could have ended up somewhere a lot worse, I guess. Below are the places I decided to visit after an hour's detailed net research. And, hmm, I still have 32 folded pieces of paper sitting by my computer in a used honey jar, just in case I ever decide to turn this into a regular series...
Somewhere famous: Wimbledon Common
We can thank author Elisabeth Beresford for making famous this glorious expanse of open space. Thirty-five years ago she wrote a book about some litter-tidying inhabitants, then in 1974 Bernard Cribbins provided the voices for the BBC cartoon adaptation, Mike Batt wrote one of the hookiest TV themes ever and a childhood classic was assured. No Wombles in sight today, nor any litter either, which proves how hard Orinoco and friends must still be working. The most famous spot on the Common is a restored windmill, now home to a museum, inside which Baden Powell wrote much of Scouting for Boys back in 1908. Beside the mill is a large car park to which London's upper middle classes drive their 4x4s at weekends so that they can pretend to be in the countryside and take their dogs/children for some exercise. Walk a few hundred yards away from the car park, however, and you can have the common to yourself, even on a Saturday afternoon. Uncommonly good.
by bus: 93
Somewhere historic: Morden Hall Park
Right at the southern tip of the Northern line lies Morden, not the most historic part of the world you might think, and you'd be right. In fact I found it really hard to find anywhere even vaguely historic in this borough at all, but I assumed that if the National Trust had a property in the area then it was worth a visit. Morden Hall was built in 1750, which makes it positively ancient for this part of London - originally a boarding school, now a posh restaurant. The National Trust own some of the outbuildings, including a waterwheel formerly used to power a snuff mill (that's a mill for making snuff, of course). The surrounding parkland by the banks of the River Wandle is an oasis of green in grey suburbia, including both woodland and wetland. There's an extensive rose garden, laid out by former owner and philanthropist Gilliat Hatfeild (sic), although the roses won't be spectacular for another couple of months. The whole place is unexpectedly pretty, so long as you don't spot the garden centre nextdoor, the giant car park and the A24 thundering by outside. And it's free.
by tube: Morden; by Tramlink: Phipps Bridge
Somewhere pretty: Wimbledon Park
It was a very showery day yesterday, with a number of heavy downpours between sunny intervals. I found myself walking through posh North Wimbledon, sheltering under available trees, when suddenly I spotted a rainbow curving over the Merton sky. It was a double rainbow no less, sweeping down to touch the ground just out of reach across the park. Local golfers paused awhile to point it out to one another, then continued on their rounds. Old ladies shuffled by in blissful ignorance, huddled under tartan umbrellas. From my viewpoint the rainbow had picked out its crock of gold well. As well as the golf club and a certain nearby tennis facility, the houses round these parts drip wealth. Close by is Wimbledon Village, sat atop a hill overlooking central London, and the site of the original settlement around which the local suburbs grew up. There are now designer boutiques, bakeries selling ciabattas, and that telltale sign of overaffluence - the Bang and Olufsen shop. Maybe not so pretty after all, then.
by tube: Wimbledon Park
Somewhere sporty: All England Lawn Tennis Club
AFC Wimbledon play in the neighbouring borough of Kingston, so I headed instead to my second choice sporting venue. Opposite Wimbledon Park lies the most famous tennis club in all England, probably in the whole world. It started life as a croquet club, but diversification into racquet sport has subsequently earned the club many millions of pounds. The Lawn Tennis Championships have been held here annually since 1877, the only Grand Slam event still played on grass, and there are now 19 courts spread out over a massive 42 acres. The southern tip of the site, viewed from outside, has the austere look of a beige and green holiday camp. The main courts, however, are on a completely different scale with huge green grandstands, far bigger than I'd imagined, surrounded by imposing bars and restaurants that close for fifty weeks a year. You can of course visit the museum throughout the year, or join the massed 7-year-olds playing short tennis in the shadow of Centre Court as part of the Junior Tennis initiative. Oh, and I'm glad to report that nobody's started queueing for June just yet, but I'm sure it won't be long now.
by tube: Southfields; by bus: 493
Somewhere retail: Merton Abbey Mills
In search of shopping nirvana I avoided Wimbledon High Street - a mass of department stores sliced through by road traffic hell - and headed instead somewhere slightly more alternative. Merton Abbey Mills is a 'craft village' located in the former Liberty silk-printing works beside the River Wandle. William Morris, the Victorian god of wallpaper, set up a workshop here in 1881 to undertake dyeing, block printing, weaving and stained glass manufacture. His buildings are now home to about 20 shops, selling everything from lace to ceramics, and beanbags to sci-fi memorabilia. Merton Abbey Mills describes itself as 'southwest London's answer to Camden Lock', which I think is stretching the truth somewhat - not one Goth was anywhere to be seen. In fact the whole place was a bit on the quiet side, but maybe I arrived a bit early in the day. The mill at Merton Abbey houses an 1860s waterwheel, used by Morris to rinse his silks after printing. This waterwheel has since been adopted as the logo of the London Borough of Merton - presumably it symbolises continuity, community and sustainability, or whatever the important local government buzzwords are these days.
by tube: Colliers Wood
Somewhere random: Abbey Parade
I picked somewhere random in my random borough by looking up the first Merton road to be listed in the index of the London A-Z. And so I found myself at Abbey Parade, a shabby parade of shops just up the road from Merton Abbey Mills. Forget the five places I've visited above - this is real London. Mothers and pushchairs crowd the OK Laundrette, beside the dark mysteries of the Wizard Tattoo Shop. You can buy your perfect bathroom, call in at the Tubing Centre, or get your bike fixed at AW Cycles (a satisfied customer blogs here). It costs just £65 for diamond bleaching at the Teeth-u-like dental surgery, while Chris's Gents Haircutters displays the same six perfectly-coiffed heads as can be seen in barbers' windows across the country. And at the heart of the parade lies The Nelson Arms pub, a hint that this might not be quite such a random location as I'd first thought. Turns out that 200 years ago Lord Nelson bought a small house on this very site, where he busied himself with 'gardening, attending the House (of Lords), eating and drinking and hurra-ing'. He'd no doubt turn a blind eye to the state of the place today.
by tube: South Wimbledon
posted 10:00 :
Saturday, March 13, 2004Random borough
I'm faced by another Saturday with absolutely nothing urgent or important to do, so I thought I'd go out somewhere for the day. And, in the tradition of the Dice Man (see last year) I've decided to let chance decide exactly where I end up. There are 33 boroughs in London (map here, list here). I've decided to pick one of those 33 boroughs completely at random and then go there for the day. Could be near, could be far, could be urban, could be suburban, could be north, south, east or west, will be random. Then I'm going to visit some of that borough's most interesting places, assuming it has any. I'm going to try to visit somewhere famous, somewhere historic, somewhere pretty, somewhere retail, somewhere sporty and somewhere random. And then I'll come back tomorrow and tell you all about it. Can you stand the excitement? More to the point, can I? Ulp, let's see where I'm going...
posted 10:00 :
A-maze-ing links: Bored at the office with nothing to do today? (Well no, probably not, given that it's Saturday, but think of this as a special treat for Monday morning for all those of you who abandon blogland at the weekend. And if you're a Saturday reader with nothing much else to do today, well, this should help to plug the aching gap between Football Focus and Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway) Why not fill your time with some intellectually stimulating online mazes?
• Clickmazes - Andrea's collection of interactive online mazes is brilliant. My favourites so far include the No left turn maze, the Plank Puzzles, the Tilt Collection and the Maze Gallery. I'm sure you'll find some favourites of your own.
• Logic Mazes - Robert's mazes can get quite complex, but I was endeared by the fiendish Theseus and the Minotaur, and the apparent simplicity of his Alice Mazes.
• Puzzle Beast - James has some deceptively challenging sliding block problems, and do try shuffling the clothes around in his highly original Dry Cleaner Mazes.
• This sucks - It's the Dyson vacuum cleaner telescope game. And it's good, honest.
• Puzzle World - Ah, it's that classic Rush Hour puzzle where you have to move the vehicles around to allow the red car out of the car park.
• Adrian Fisher makes mazes. Real ones. Hedge mazes, mirror mazes, paved mazes, water mazes, even maize mazes. You may well have walked around some of his. Find a maze local to you here. Or buy one of his portable mazes here.
posted 08:00 :
Friday, March 12, 20043-digit Bingo Quiz
For today's quiz, I'm going to call 25 different numbers, each three digits long.
Can you identify each number from the clues? Here's your card.
101 118 150 168 198 206 220 301 315 366 404 440 500 625 666 729 743 744 745 747 808 888 898 961 990
Let's play. (Answers in the comments box)
a) Jumbo n) spots in a set of (double-six) dominoes
b) psalms o) highest numbered motorway in the UK
c) DCLXVI p) the A-road crossing Waterloo Bridge
d) £monkey q) total of all the numbers from 1 to 44
e) Orwell's room r) Manchester-based State group
f) human bones s) highest 3-digit square number
g) days this year t) highest 3-digit cube number
h) hours in March u) lines on a TV screen, PAL
i) hours in October v) 'pig' on a mobile keypad
j) Ceefax subtitles w) error, page not found
k) yards in a furlong x) treble clef A, in Hertz
l) Radio 4, long wave y) directory enquiries
m) northwest bearing House?
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