diamond geezer

 Friday, April 30, 2004

The (transatlantic) best of April

Transatlantic film of the month: They forced six films on me during my two flights to/from San Francisco earlier in the month. One of films broke down, so I never saw more than the first ten minutes of Big Fish (which was good because by that time I'd already decided it was tosh). Three of the films were bland sentimental historic rubbish of the kind that airline executives like to show on planes because they keep their older female patrons happy. One film was borderline acceptable as a method for filling two hours, although I wouldn't have chosen to watch Mona Lisa Smile anywhere else. Which just leaves Paycheck to be my film of the month by default. It was alright I suppose, as sci-fi time paradox action thrillers go, but I bet those older female patrons hated every second.

Transatlantic book of the month: Plenty of time during the bland sentimental historic films to read some original books about London instead. April's third place therefore goes to Bleeding London (Geoff Nicholson), a thriller based round three loners and their obsessive addiction to the A-Z map. Didn't see myself in there, which was a relief. April's second place goes to Mortal Engines (Philip Reeve), a dazzling future-fantasy tale in which the cities of the world have been rebuilt on mechanical wheels and go round eating each other. Honest. Very creative and surprisingly violent for a children's book - barely a character survives to the final page with meeting a bloodthirsty end. But April's first place to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Mark Haddon). Young narrator with Aspergers fails to spot the domestic misery unfolding around him, but chronicles everything faithfully all the same. Brilliantly observed and fully deserving of all the plaudits heaped upon it recently.

 Thursday, April 29, 2004

And the time on Radio Local is just after 7 o'clock. Thanks to Ginny for the news there. Nice one Ginny, and love the new hairstyle. Over the next hour we'll be running down the Most Played Artists On British Radio Over The Last 20 Years, as announced by the Radio Academy yesterday. All your Radio Local favourites are in the Top 10, so you probably won't spot anything diferent to normal. Well, maybe less Beyoncé perhaps. Let's kick off with the artist at number 10 shall we?
10) Paul McCartney (No More Lonely Knights)
Lovely track that. The Pope should make Sir Paul a saint, shouldn't he? But the Beatle-meister has done well to get into our Top 10 given that he's not had one top ten record since 1984. Still, chart positions never stopped Radio Local from playing something nice, soothing and melodic. Just the sort of thing our next artist is famous for too. Mmm, I'm coming over all moist at the thought of Simply Red's middle of the road brilliance.
9) Mick Hucknall (Holding Back The Wrinkles)
8) Cliff Richard (Living Dull)

That's Britain's youngest pensioner there with another cutting-edge Saga Soundtrack Selection. Saga holidays, get away before you pass away. Joan from Croydon rang in and said she'd like to dedicate that last track to her late husband, so that was for you Jim. Radio Local, your blander music mix. We'll be right back after this short break.
(adverts for mobile phones, sofa showrooms and mortgages)
7) Phil Collins (A Groovy Kind Of Dirge)
Very groovy there Phil. I'm surprised he's not further up our Top 10, the number of times we play his superior lounge muzak on our station. Travel news just in by the way. Kevin has texted us to say there's a car parked on a double yellow in the high street and if there are any wardens listening could they pop down and clamp it. Thanks Kevin, nice thought. And now for one of only two women in today's countdown. Amazingly it's not Natalie Imbruglia or even the lovely Anastacia, it's that pop vixen Madonna. Hi to you Madge if you're listening.
6) Madonna (This Used To Be My Plaything)
5) Bryan Adams (Everything I Did, I Did It In 1991)

Ah how nice to hear that last one again. Must say it barely seems a decade ago since we were subjected to saturation playlisting of that Robin Hood classic. I never tired of the video either, what a masterpiece. We're delaying our lost pets slot until tomorrow by the way, but Ginny will be back at the Radio Local Community Action Desk in an hour so that all you bigots out there can ring in and shop an asylum seeker. Radio Local, wasting your life away, every day. We'll be right back after these messages.
(adverts for estate agents, insurance companies and garden centres)
4) Kylie Minogue (You Can't Get This Out Of Your Head)
It wouldn't be right to go an hour on Radio Local without playing a Kylie number, so there she was. Marvellous stuff. Nice arse too. Time to read out a few funny stories I read in the paper this morning, because it saves thinking up any original ideas of my own. If you're watching on our webcam we'll also be holding up some of the pictures from this week's Heat magazine and asking you to ring in with your comments. But next up it's the God of Daytime Radio Programming himself, the ever bankable Robbie.
3) Robbie Williams (Let Me Entertain Me)
2) Elton John (Can You Feel The Wig Tonight)

Are they all gay in this Top 3, Ginny? No, don't answer that one, or Robbie might sue. But Elton, well, he's so so supremely creative isn't he? Don't forget to tune in at drivetime tonight for our special 'what's that noise?' competition in conjuction with D&G Motors, your superior MOT service. We've got five Radio Local car stickers to be won, so don't miss all the excitement live with Mike at six. Radio Local, playing what our advertisers want. We'll be right back after you've gone off and made a cup of tea.
(repeated adverts for mortgages, sofa showrooms and mobile phones)
1) George Michael (Careless Cottage)
And finally, whamming in at the top of the pile there, it's the ever present Mr George Michael. Probably just back from some sordid affair in the local park, I wouldn't be surprised. But he sings nicely doesn't he? Today's local weather, it's going to continue dull and wet. Much like the last hour's music really. Could somebody go and wake Ginny up, she's due to be reading the news in ten seconds. And she's ruined that lovely hair of hers too. Radio Local, like chloroform for the soul.

 Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Early readers

I keep a box of old paperback books in my spare room, each book a childhood favourite. Yesterday I dug through the box searching for my Fighting Fantasy books (I only had three of them, I wasn't obsessed or anything). And I also came across lots of other books I'd almost forgotten I owned, so here's a list of some of my choicest volumes. A car boot sale's too good for them.

Now We Are Six (1966, 2s 6d): Reading back through, these poems anew, with tales of queens, and playtime it seems, that unspoilt childhood, has vanished for good. Nostalge here.
Ladybird books (1969, 2s 6d): These mini marvels allowed any child to build up a reference library on diverse subjects at pocket money cost. How else could you become an expert on The Weather, Tricks and Magic or The story of Football in 50 pages flat, with full colour illustrations? Nostalge here.
I-SPY books (6d-12p): I've got 30 of these little spotter books for the trainee anorak. Of course, I realise now that if I hadn't written in them they might be worth more than 12p today. Nostalge here.
Silly Verse For Kids (1972, 20p): One of Spike Milligan's many works of genius. "There are holes in the sky where the rain gets in, but they're ever so small that's why rain is thin." Nostalge here.
Secret of the Seventh Star (1973, 30p): "Will you be able to follow the clues, or will the murderer escape and the house retain its secrets?" A decade before Fighting Fantasy books there were Tracker Books, 40-page 'you decide' novels, which were quite possibly where the whole 'branching stories' phenomenon first began. I used to draw little network diagrams to show how all the pages linked together. Seems like only yesterday I last did that... Nostalge here.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1974, 20p): Classic, and no sign of Gene Wilder either. I still have a Puffin Club bookplate stuck inside the cover of this book. Ahh, the Puffin Club, I still have my badge somewhere too. Nostalge here.
Swallows and Amazons (1974, 40p): A book from a bygone age where children went sailing without adult supervision, camped it up in the Lake District and had distinctly un-PC names like Nancy and Titty. Nostalge here.
Crazy But True (1975, 35p): The favourite amongst my many books of useless information. "The elephant is the only animal that cannot jump. It is also the only animal with four kneecaps." Honest. Modern version here.
Number Games and Puzzles (1976, 35p): You'll not be surprised to hear that I own lots of books like this. But you might be surprised to hear that this particular volume was written by Gyles Brandreth, then an unknown but prolific author of quiz-type books. Nostalge here.
Star Wars (1977, 95p): Written by George Lucas himself, apparently, from the days when you had to buy the paperback novel of a film because nobody had yet invented videos, let alone DVD special editions. Nostalge here.

 Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Roll, play

Yesterday the BBC's online magazine asked the question "Whatever happened to Dungeons and Dragons?" Not the 80s cartoon series with the gratingly-cute unicorn, but the 70s role playing game with multi-sided dice and painted figures. Good question.

The game of Dungeons and Dragons is 30 years old this year. It's more a rulebook than a game really, or perhaps for some people a way of life. All you needed to create your own fantasy world were dice, paper, pencils and a large group of like-minded friends willing to lock themselves away in a shed or attic for up to a month arguing about whether their wizard's magic shield was suitable protection against a surprise orc attack. I thought the whole phenomenon had died out long ago but oh no, Dungeon Masters have been emailing the BBC all day to tell the world that they still play while their wives aren't looking. Or even with their wives in some cases. I never played D&D myself, either because I had the wrong friends at school and university or, more likely, because I had the right ones. I nearly got round to playing a couple of times, but we spent the first three hours 'rolling up the characters' and never quite got round to the second three hours of 'continuing to roll up the characters'. Ah well.

I much preferred the Fighting Fantasy adventure game books that you could read and play by yourself, ideally without any of your friends noticing. This 60-book series kicked off with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain in 1982, and made a fortune for authors Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone over the next ten years. What I really liked about these books wasn't the chance to kill a passing dragon on the roll of a dice, it was the branching nature of the narrative. "If you turn left, go to page 47. If you turn right, go to page 203. If you twist the secret panel on the wall, go to page 148." There were hundreds of different possible stories to explore, and the book could be read and reread many times.

It struck me that these hypertext tales were in some ways a precursor to all the webpage links we now take for granted on the internet. "If you want to read more about this, click here. Or here." And it also struck me that the internet would be a great place to publish a branching story. So I've had a go at writing one. You can start below, or you can start here. No dice are required. Just click on your chosen option each time and see if you can find your way successfully to a happy ending. Good luck, brave adventurer!

The Dome of Doom



Tis Millennium's Eve, and a motley crowd of creatures have gathered by the Dockside beneath YellowBird Tower. There across the raging River Tamesis lies their goal, the giant Dome of Doom. Lights flash from within, and 12 tall spikes pierce the chill December air above. Our band of friends must cross the river to reach the object of their quest before the clocks strike midnight, else their lives will surely be over and no mistake.

Now choose your character wisely, then click upon their name to proceed.
Tony, the Wizard [1]
Mandy, the Goblin [2]

 Monday, April 26, 2004

Dear Blogreader,

You have been specially selected to take part in David Blunkett's ID Card trial. Participation is entirely optional, except that by logging into this page we already know your IP address, so give us a few more seconds and we'll also have your bank balance, criminal record and immediate whereabouts. In fact we'll have your new ID card prepared and printed before you've finished reading this piece, and we'll probably be standing at your front door to deliver it within minutes. Have your £35 ready won't you, there's a good citizen.

We're pressing ahead with the introduction of ID cards because a recent opinion poll told us that the British public don't mind them. Admittedly opinion polls also tell us that the British public want to see capital punishment reinstated, but we're ignoring that because you're wrong. ID cards are your friend. They prevent people around you from having multiple identities, a common problem in Britain today. They allow you to travel abroad for private health treatment, but stop sick Eastern Europeans coming over here for life-saving surgery. And you need no longer worry about terrorism and rising crime, because small pieces of laminated plastic can see them all off.

Policeman: You're foreign aren't you?
Terrorist: No, I was born in Luton.
Policeman: Can I see your ID card please?
Terrorist: I'm afraid I don't have it on me.
Policeman: And why's that then, got something to hide?
Terrorist: Yes, I have a huge bomb in my rucksack.
Policeman: Aha! You're under arrest sonny.
Your new ID card will contain biometric data including all your fingerprints (you really were very careless leaving greasy finger marks all over that last gas bill you posted). We've also scanned your iris (or rather we got one of our operatives to chat you up recently and stare deeply into your eyes with an electronic opthalmascope). We hope you might even be interested in having your ID tattooed unobtrusively on your scalp, just below the hairline, with one of our trademark '666' brandings. We're just dying to get you on our database, you know, and so are all the advertisers who are funding the introduction of this scheme. Listen, that's us at the door already. Welcome to the future.

Yours Big Brotherly,
David Blunkett (& Sadie)

This is Amaz-ing: Christophe sent me this link yesterday. What the hell is going on? Am I for sale or something? Why is the snapshot image nearly a year out-of-date? Have any of the rest of you got a page like this? And, oh boy, I'm here too. I suspect the two are related.

 Sunday, April 25, 2004

 We may only be one of the best 8 teams in Europe.
 We may have had a FaC-up against Man United.
 But we are Premiership champions with 4 matches to spare.
 And we won the title at White Hart Lane. Sweet.

I-SPY Signs of approaching summer

Yesterday was the warmest day of the year so far, with temperatures in London nudging 23ºC. About time too. But it only takes one sun-drenched weekend for the Great British public to decide that it's summer. It's not, not yet, but that doesn't stop us pretending. How many of the following have you spotted? Big Chief I Spy would, I'm sure, allow you 10 points for each.

Fleshing it out: Spot pasty arms emerging from t-shirt sleeves, revealing ill-advised tattoos well-hidden during the winter (pierced navels also fall within this category).
Sartorial inelegance: Some people don't suit shorts but they wear them all the same, their paunch spilling out over too-tight elastic, with flabby legs on view beneath.
A load of cobblers: Shudder at the reappearance of the sandal (with or without socks). Surely the devil's own footwear (if only the devil didn't have cloven hooves).
Glass wear: At last there's a genuine reason to be wearing sunglasses, rather than just looking like a fashion victim and accidentally walking into invisible lampposts.
Lawn order: The buzz of a hundred lawnmowers pierces a sunny afternoon, reminding you that your grass probably needs cutting too, rather than you just sunbathing on it.
Charcoal briquettes: That smoke you can see rising from nextdoor's garden is a sign that burnt sausage and charred chops are probably still five hours away.
Alfresco dining: At the first whiff of sunshine, spot those red bloated Britons sitting at the plastic picnic table in their garden picking the flies out of their chicken tikka masala.
Alfresco din: Spot the teenager playing booming house music at great volume, but now with his bedroom window wide open so that the whole street can share.
Pants: Aren't there a lot of red-faced joggers out at the moment? That's the after-effects of the London Marathon for you. They'll all be playing tennis come July.
Open sky: Drivers with a convertible only get to have the roof down for a few months each year, so spot them whizzing by with a fixed grin as the wind buffets their goosepimples.
Deflowered: Tis the season to find your car covered by small flakes of pink blossom, congealed to the windscreen by dripping sap. Convertibles have it much worse, of course.
Green leaves: We're all doomed to eat overpriced salads for the next four months. Might mean us losing some weight too, except they're all smothered in fatty dressing.
Odour, oh dear: It's hard to spot the deodorantless in the winter but, come summer's heat, the raw stench of their armpits glides by like a mobile sewer.
Ultra violent: That sunlight, it's just prematurely ageing your skin and making you more susceptible to skin cancer. I'd stay indoors until the autumn if I were you.

 Saturday, April 24, 2004

Just visiting: diamond geezer's 80000th visitor is due to drop by this weekend, so I thought (any excuse) it was time for my semi-regular 'league table' of top linking blogs, ordered by volume of visitors clicking here from there:
  1) arseblog
  2) blue witch
  3) scaryduck
  4) my boyfriend is a twat
  5) casino avenue
  6) by a woman
  7) mad musings of me
  8) samizdata  
  9) route 79
10) troubled diva
11) coopblog
12) linkmachinego
13) big n juicy
14) swish cottage
15) my ace life
16) london underground
17) funjunkie
18) bitful
19) not you, the other one
20) bloggerheads
Since I last updated my top 20 back in December I've been blessed by three new entries (at 16, 17 and 20 respectively) and, in the true spirit of a good chart rundown, there have also been some big climbers (LMG up 5 places, Jag up 6, zed up 8, and Inspector Sands up a mammoth 13).

I've noticed that blogs seem to appear in this list for one of four reasons:
i) very high volume blogs with tons of readers, who've linked to me once.
ii) high volume blogs with lots of readers, some of whom trickle through here.
iii) blogs that mention this page sometimes (thanks) so readers click here to see what all the fuss is about.
iv) blogs whose owners make regular daily visits from their blogroll (thanks again).

And, if you're interested, here's how the chart continues: 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30.
Point, click, read and enjoy. And thanks for coming.

 Friday, April 23, 2004

 A quiz, by George

To celebrate St George's Day, here are clues to 23 people called George. Not all of them are English (in fact not all of them are men). In each case I've clued the part of the name that isn't George - can you work out the full names? (Answers in the comments box)

  1) shrub                      13) stair/Muppeteer
  2) greatest                  14) shrewing (anag)
  3) M&S saint                15) singer Rosemary
  4) actor Ford               16) muddled-up dolly
  5) ET's friend               17) Merseyside resort
  6) ...Sullivan?               18) seen in Zulu castle
  7) jury leader               19) Beethoven's Eroica
  8) young man               20) bird (house or sand)
  9) Ipswich river            21) county with Dumfries
10) 'Soap' butler             22) Roger Moore character
11) NW US state            23) Dr Who's grandaughter
12) Hacker's PPS, sounds like he's certain

Hint: the list includes 4 popstars, 4 politicians, 3 writers, 2 producers, an actor, an actress, a pair of artists, a composer, a footballer, a boxer, a ukulele player, an engineer, a monarch and a patron saint.

 Thursday, April 22, 2004

Updates

a) Did you try my QueenQuiz yesterday? I did warn you that the check button was terribly unreliable, and so it was. No matter which boxes you ticked you always got the same pop-up answer. Sorry, but my html/java skills don't stretch as far as calculating total scores and then matching them to different responses. Anyway, there were only two correct facts in that list and the other eighteen were scandalous lies. For the full lowdown, check out yesterday's comments box.
b) Proper quiz tomorrow.
c) Blogger users are being offered the chance to sign up for the beta version of Gmail, Google's new and controversial free email service. I thought I'd sign up to see what the fuss was about, even if I don't end up using the ad-infested service much in the future. But it's hard to test out all the search and folder functions when there are no emails in your inbox. So, you're welcome to send me a test message to dgeezer*AT*gmail.com. And please swap that *AT* for a @ (I don't want to test out the anti-spam capability yet).
d) Richard Herring did indeed complete the London Marathon (and raised nearly £8000) - report here.
e) I brought back two packets of Oreos from the States, but the gannets at work have already eaten one packet. Thankfully my supply of cinnamon Tic Tacs is still intact.
f) I'd like to make two predictions about this Euro referendum thing. The xenophobic Sun will spend the next 18 months dripping the word NO into the subconscious of its readers. And scheming Rupert Murdoch will be very pleased with the outcome, even if few other people are.
g) This geyser is not me.
h) They finally opened the eastern entrance to Canary Wharf tube station on Monday. Very impressive it is too, like a giant glass shell leading down into a vast underground cavern (but still heavily underused). Lots more on this subject soon.
i) and finally...

Bow Road update: I do hope you've been keeping abreast of my daily reports from Bow Road, London's pioneering tube renovation project. The station upgrade has been going on for over a month now and the place certainly looks very different - four blue walls and a pile of scaffolding now cover the outside of the station and half of both of the platforms. However, there's still no evidence to convince me that a single scrap of renovation has yet occurred. I've not seen one cleaned surface, one lick of paint or even one busy workman since the whole affair began. But, maybe, something, soon. Keep up to date with events as they unfold daily in this comments box.

 Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Happy Birthday Ma'am

The Queen is 78 today. And then she's 78 again in June, lucky girl. Here are twenty queenly facts, only some of which are actually true. Can you guess which? Make your selection, then click the terribly unreliable check button at the bottom of the post.

She was born at 78 Bruton Street, Mayfair.
Her middle names are Alexandra Edith.
During WW2 she learnt to weld sheet metal.
She learnt to drive in 1945, but failed her test on the emergency stop.
She celebrated her 21st birthday with a royal tour of Southampton.
Her wedding cake was made by Australian Girl Guides.
She is the official mascot of the Royal Horse Artillery.
She became queen while up a tree.
She maintains an especially close relationship with all her stallions.
Her favourite guitarist is Brian May, and she owns every Queen album.
The Commonwealth is a really interesting organisation.
She's been served by 12 different Prime Ministers.
Her garden parties use only Welsh butter.
She owns one beige hat but 271 orange hats.
Her corgis are called Pharos, Swift, Nigel and Linnet.
Her Christmas broadcast is now also broadcast in Gaelic, Welsh and Urdu.
She's the 4th longest serving English monarch ever (3rd in Scotland).
She'll become the longest serving UK monarch ever on September 10th 2015.
On her 100th birthday she'll send a telegram to herself.
None of her children are gay, or adulterers, or indeed happy.
(Last year's birthday tribute here)

 Tuesday, April 20, 2004

40years@BBC2

1964 Play School, Horizon, Match Of The Day; 1965 Call My Bluff, Not Only But Also; 1966 The Money Programme; 1967 The Forsyte Saga, colour televison; 1968 Gardeners' World; 1969 Monty Python's Flying Circus, Pot Black, Civilisation; 1970 The Goodies; 1971 Open University; Face The Music; The Old Grey Whistle Test; Play Away; 1972; 1973 The Ascent Of Man; 1974; 1975 Fawlty Towers, Arena; 1976 I Claudius, One Man And His Dog; 1977 Abigail's Party; 1978 The Great Egg Race, Top Gear; 1979 Life On Earth, Not The Nine O'Clock News; 1980 Great Railway Journeys of the World, Newsnight, The Adventure Game, Yes Minister, Training Dogs The Woodhouse Way; 1981 See Hear, The HitchHiker's Guide To The Galaxy; 1982 The Young Ones; 1983 Boys From The Blackstuff; 1984 Floyd On Fish; 1985 Live Aid, Edge of Darkness, Acorn Antiques; 1986 A Very Peculiar Practice, A Bit Of Fry And Laurie, The Life And Loves Of A She Devil; 1987 French And Saunders; 1988 Red Dwarf, Def II; 1989 The Late Show; 1990 Have I Got News For You; 1991 Probably The Best Logos In The History Of The World Ever; 1992 Absolutely Fabulous; 1993 Shooting Stars; 1994 Ready Steady Cook, The Day Today; 1995 Room 101; 1996 Never Mind The Buzzcocks, This Life, Sister Wendy's Story of Painting, Our Friends In The North; 1997 Ground Force, I'm Alan Partridge, Robot Wars, Holding On; 1998 Goodness Gracious Me; 1999 The League Of Gentlemen, The Naked Chef, Shooting The Past; 2000 The Weakest Link; 2001 The Office; What Not To Wear; 2002 Look Around You; 2003 Little Britain, Restoration; 2004 The Catherine Tate Show. (go on, click a few)

BBC2@40

We love to revel in a good live TV fiasco. Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood at the Brits. Judy Finnegan's gaping bra. Julian Clary's fisticuffs with Norman Lamont. Wobbling cardboard walls at the Crossroads motel. And, 40 years ago tonight, the launch of BBC2. Only the BBC could attempt to launch a brand new TV channel in the midst of a London-wide power cut, although kicking off with Play School the following morning gathered far more publicity and greater long-term credibility. I could relate the full story of BBC2's birth here, but other people have done it already. So here's BBC2 in links instead:

What should have happened... What actually happened...
BBC2 Launch night - the rediscovered videotape
A new channel is born
Flick throught the Radio Times from BBC2 launch week
Hullabaloo and Custard - BBC2 launch mascots
Opening night line-ups for various TV channels

BBC2 at 40, including Forty from Two and Ten into Two
Forty BBC2 landmarks
BBC2 - a brief history
BBC2 - a choice of viewing
Celebrate 40 years of BBC2 at the National Film Theatre (including Play School reunion)
Happy Birthday BBC2 (tonight, BBC2 8pm)

Probably the best logos in the history of the world ever
40 years of BBC2 logos
BBC2 logos through the years
All those gorgeous BBC2 logos
Stick a BBC2 logo on your desktop
Lots of lovely BBC logos

 Monday, April 19, 2004

Changing channels

40 years ago if you'd turned your television on (and waited two minutes for it to warm up) you'd have had the choice of just two channels. A black and white choice, either BBC or ITV. 39 years and 364 days ago you'd have had three channels to choose from, but more of that tomorrow. Nowadays we have rather more than three channels to select from, although some would argue there's rather less worth watching.

I grew up in a TV world very different to that available today.

i) Throughout my childhood there were only three channels, so when I toddled into school in my short trousers and asked people if they'd seen The Goodies yesterday, they probably had. Nowadays when I go into work I don't bother asking people if they saw Nighty Night last night because they probably didn't. More likely they were watching something completely different on any one of a bewildering range of other channels. We have so little television in common any more.

ii) When there were only a few channels, everybody had the same selection. Then along came cable, satellite and digital, and suddenly some people had channels the rest of us didn't have. Now those willing to pay more can watch sport the rest of us can't, watch films fresh from the cinema, watch comedy before it appears on terrestrial and buy diamonique the rest of us can only dream of. TV used to be about quality, now it's about inequality.

iii) Good television used to be hard to miss. With just three channels it was easy to be a discerning viewer, keep an eye on this evening's highlights and watch them all as required. Nowadays it's far too easy to overlook a TV gem somewhere in five pages of listings, or to find yourself sitting through the same episode of Little Britain for the eighth time while you wait for them to repeat the one you accidentally missed first time round. We watch more now, but we see less.

iv) When I was a child, changing channels required getting out of my seat, walking across to the big cathode ray tube in the corner and pressing something. Nowadays we can switch channels at the press of a remote, so we do. Sofa, so good. No sooner have the adverts appeared, or the credits started rolling, than we start flicking through a myriad of other channels in a desperate but fruitless search for something worth watching. Worse, other people can change channel far too easily too, usually during something we're enjoying, switching to something we won't. We're all butterfly viewers now.

v) I grew up in a land without video recorders, which meant that if I missed something I really missed it. If I loved a particular programme I still only got to watch it the once, so all my rosy-glowed TV nostalgia is based on single viewings. Today's children can watch whatever they like whenever they like, and then replay it all again thanks to video and rental DVD. And they do, over and over and over. Saves parents having to talk to or play with their offspring now that they have the perfect inanimate babysitter. Television isn't special any more, it's too easily re-viewed.

The screen in the corner of the room dominates our modern lives. Stand in a room, switch on the television and watch. Watch people turn round to see what's on. Watch children stop playing. Watch as conversation suddenly halts. Watch everyone slowly hypnotised by the flickering picture. Sure there's still plenty on television worth watching, as last night's Baftas prove, but we'll now watch any old rubbish just because it's on. I reckon we're in danger of raising a whole generation of undiscriminating couch potatoes afflicted by TV-induced Attention Deficit Disorder. And I reckon... ooh, have you seen what's on... sorry, where was I?

1936: BBC
1955: BBC/ITV
1964: BBC1/BBC2/ITV
1982: BBC1/BBC2/ITV/C4
1990: BBC1/BBC2/ITV/C4/BSB/Sky
1997: BBC1/BBC2/ITV/C4/C5/BSkyB
2004: multi-channel television nirvana/hell

 Sunday, April 18, 2004

Guided Tour of East and Central London - today only

It's the perfect way to see London. Come and join us for a stroll through the streets of Greenwich, Docklands and the City.

Meet: 8am Greenwich Park. Yes, we know that's rather early for a Sunday morning, but you'd only be lying in bed otherwise.
Length: 26 miles 385 yards. That may sound like a bit of a marathon but trust us, even a 93-year-old could manage it.
What to wear: We recommend a bear costume, comedy headgear or orange facepaint.
Tour guide: Unfortunately Paula can't make it this year so you'll have to follow someone else.
Drinks provided: Our waiters will be pleased to serve you mineral water at 23 locations along the route.
Facilities: 950 toilets will be available at the roadside, in case you overdo the mineral water.
First Aid: Several St John's Ambulance matrons will be at hand with a thick dollop of lubricating grease if required.
Top tips: We recommend you run very fast through Charlton, athletic even. There's a big ship beached in Greenwich you'll need to detour round. You can save about ten miles if you divert through the Rotherhithe Tunnel. Expect jams crossing Tower Bridge as everyone stops to talk to Brendan Foster. Asda on the Isle of Dogs sells cornplasters and Lucozade. Jeffrey Archer may be arrested as he passes the Tower of London. If you're feeling dehydrated along the Embankment, don't be tempted to sip from the local river. Save the silver foil sheet you're given at the finish and use it to wrap next Sunday's roast. If you're still on Birdcage Walk at 8am tomorrow morning, watch out for the rush hour traffic trying to mow you down.
As seen on TV: For those of you that can't be there in the flesh, Sue Barker will record the whole event on her camcorder.
Sponsor: Some old lardbucket called Flora. Used to be Mars doing the Marathon, but they paid peanuts.
How to apply: Places are limited to the first 32000 applicants. Book now for 2005.
Cost: Blood, sweat and tears. You might want to sponsor Richard Herring if he makes it all the way round.

 Saturday, April 17, 2004

A picture postcard from San Francisco



1) A row of Painted Ladies, with scores of tourist photographers cropped out.
2a) The Powell/Hyde Switchback Rollercoaster ride. Hold very tight please.
2b) Waves, rocks and Bixby Creek Bridge on Highway 1 south of Monterrey.
3a) The Golden Gate Bridge disappears upwards into the fog.
3b) Feel like jumping? Dial 1-800-SUM1LUVZU.
4a) Coit Tower, probably the only hosepipe-shaped monument in the world.
4b) Pitchside at the ballgame. They might be Giants.
5a) It wouldn't have surprised me to see a licensed dog at the wheel.
5b) The road sign at the top of the crooked section of Lombard Street.
5c) There are many faults in California, but a diamond guy could live here.
5d) April is cherry blossom month (and strawberry/artichoke season too).

 Friday, April 16, 2004

US......and us
Automobiles everywhere on the pavement.Walking everywhere on the pavement.
Perfect white, unnatural teeth.Imperfect off-white, natural teeth.
Non smoking bars, non-stink clothes.Nicotine-stained pubs, smelly clothes.
Over-60 oily TV presenters.Under-20 hairgelled TV presenters.
Ad breaks, ad breaks, ad breaks.Public service broadcasting.
Gray American English.Colourful British English.
Houses numbered 1200.Castles built in 1200.
Toilet bowls with a display shelf.Everything discreetly flushed away.
Straight roads, straight fields, straight lines.    Curvy roads, curvy fields, curves.
Crosswords: each letter clued twice.Crosswords: each word clued twice.
Phone numbers that spell words.People who send text messages.
Ice with everything,Tea with everything.
Fluid ounces, fahrenheit, pounds, miles.Litres, celsius, kilograms, miles.
Lengthy newspaper headlines, with commas.One syllable headlines, with breasts.
Ancient two-pin plugs and light switches.People who still wash up by hand.
Liberty.Freedom.

golden gate geezer (back home)

Jetlag quotient: None yet, despite the fact I've been awake since 7am yesterday (or maybe that's 3pm yesterday).
Fog index: Nil, so there was a streetmap-perfect view over San Francisco just after the 747 took off from the airport.
Sights seen: I'm a lucky bloke. I got shifted at the last minute into the window seat in the exit row. I gawped as we flew directly over the Golden Gate Bridge, caught a glimpse of the northern shores of Lake Tahoe, stared down at cloud-free chunks of the Rockies and (9 hours of total legroom later) swooped into Heathrow past Legoland Windsor. I'm a complete sucker for aerial views, and this sucked big time.
Weight gain: Nil. I knew walking up all those contours was a good idea.
Home again: San Francisco is a fantastic city and I can see why BestMate moved there. I'll be glad to go back. But London is also a fantastic city, and I can see why I still live here. Glad to be back.

 Thursday, April 15, 2004

golden gate geezer (day 8)

Sights seen (1) Monterey Aquarium: Monterey Bay is famous for its sealife, a deep offshore trench providing the perfect habitat for diverse marine species. Many of these can be found in Monterey's state-of-the-art aquarium, from sea-otters to sharks and from octopi to anemones. Kids on spring break rushed from tank to tank, gawping at the jellyfish and touching the rays. An impressive collection, mixing biology, ecology, arts and culture. Star Trek IV was filmed here, with whales George and Gracie living happily in the tide pool. Immediately outside the aquarium lies Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck's 1945 novel, but now a sardine-free street full of tourist tat.
Sights seen (2) Big Sur: No, it's not the name of a leather daddy from the Castro, it's a world-renowned beauty spot 150 miles from San Francisco. We took Highway 1 along the spectacular Pacific coast south of Monterey, the road hugging close to the cliffside. Towering bridges crossed creeks, ravines and canyons, while down below huge waves swept across rocks and deserted beaches. After 20 miles we reached Big Sur, a long 'town' of campsites, cabins and hiking trails. Impenetrable mountains poured down like giant fingers, cloaked with conifers. We took lunch at Nepenthe on a terrace looking out high across the ocean. The building was originally bought by Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth on their honeymoon, but they never once returned to live here. I wouldn't mind coming back.
Fog index: Warm and toasty in the front seat of the jeep, cool and windswept in the back seat.

Seismic activity: We drove along Highway 280, immediately alongside the San Andreas Fault. In places a cracked crevice is visible, in others the valley broadens to hold a long deep lake filled with still blue water. Beautiful, and long may it stay that way.
Retail therapy: There are no mini iPods in the SF Apple Store. The bearded assistant told me there were none in stock with a fixed corporate grin on his face, so I shall have to live without mini music for a few more months. I shall in fact be returning home with no foreign goods of any kind, having completely failed to take any advantage whatsoever of the current weak dollar. I suspect that US Customs will deport me from their country as a failed consumer.
Number of photos taken: 22
Flying home: tomorrow

sanfran linko [miscellaneous]
Craigs List (the original)
SF history
street names
architecture

 Wednesday, April 14, 2004

baseball diamond geezer

Take me out to the ballgame: Giants 4, Brewers 2

The baseball season kicks off in America this week, so we headed down to SBC Park to watch a game that isn't cricket. More rounders, I thought. The San Francisco Giants were playing the Milwaukee Brewers in a newish stadium by the bay, perfect for a three hour night out (starting at 6pm so it was all over before East Coast TV bedtime). We had tickets in the lower box, down near the pitchside, surrounded by a sea of blokes wearing not-quite tasteful black and orange clothing. I sat next to an extra-keen extra-loud dad who'd brought his 2-year-old son to the game (and had first brought the lad along at the age of 2 days). The son spent most of his time looking the other way, eating cotton candy and dribbling in my beer.

Unlike soccer, nobody watches the whole game in one sitting. Between innings, even during entire innings, half the crowd head off to stuff themselves with carbohydrate and grease. There are nine innings in a game, each lasting no more than twenty minutes, and sometimes an innings can be over in a flash without a ball being hit. Missed. Missed again. Missed again. Out. Repeat.

Baseball is a sports anorak's dream, and surely the only sport where the statistics stretch to three decimal places. But tonight, on my diamond debut, a real-life baseball record was set. Local hero Barry Bonds hit his 661st home run, edging into all-time third place behind national legends Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714). The ball sailed out of the park and landed in the waters of McCovey Cove where it was rescued by a fan in a kayak, presumably with an eBay auction at the ready. The crowd leapt to its feet and roared, there were fireworks, and Barry put in a lap of honour. Extra-keen dad missed history because he was off buying grease. But I was there.

golden gate geezer (day 7)

Across the bay (1) Berkeley: Berkeley (pronounced as in jerk, not woof) is home to the University of California. I took the BART train underneath the bay, a silvery rail service from the 70s that still looks highly futuristic today (apart from the blue cloth seat coverings). There is a Berkeley Square in the town, but the noise I thought could have been nightingales turned out to be the song of a bleeping pedestrian crossing. I took a stroll across the university campus, a compact woodland grove of academia. Today saw the start of voting in the annual student elections, so the leafy pathways were packed with campaigning fervour. One candidate for the Senate walked around holding a huge placard advertising his blog (here), while another thrust a leaflet into my hand urging me to vote Misha for President (I'm actually 39, my dear, but bless you for not noticing).
Across the bay (2) Golden Gate Bridge: You can drive across, you can bike across, but I chose to walk across. The bridge isn't gold in colour, it's actually painted 'international orange', but the stretch of water it crosses is called the Golden Gate. Sir Francis Drake (and various Spanish explorers before him) completely failed to spot the bay entrance through thick fogbanks more than 400 years ago. No fog today, so there was a perfect view of the bridge, the bay and San Francisco's skyscraper spires in the distance. It's two miles from one side to the other, so the full span can be walked briskly in half an hour flat, just so long as you can keep out of the way of the bikes and the oncoming tourists. If you're feeling suicidal there are telephones spaced across the bridge offering crisis counselling, although today you could have stopped a passing nun and asked her for salvation instead. On reaching the northern side I was disappointed to discover nothing more than a car park, but there was still the joy of the return walk across one of the modern wonders of the world. A golden wonder indeed.
Fog index: Inbound cumulus and sunny intervals.
Seismic activity: It's over-rated.
Oversize portions: I visited Ghiradelli Square, very briefly, having been warned the place was a tourist trap. It was, but the Ghiradelli cafe did sell hot white chocolate. It's gorgeous. I want to go back and drink a gallon more.
Number of photos taken: 72 (mostly bridge shots)

sanfran linko [across the bay]
Golden Gate Bridge
Bay Bridge
Blue & Gold ferries
Alcatraz
Berkeley & Oakland

 Tuesday, April 13, 2004

golden gate geezer (day 6)

Sights seen (1) Museum of Modern Art: A very modern five-floor museum full of art, photography, sculpture and design. Special exhibitions included a collection of 90s art (including Hirst, Emin and a blow-up Manga doll), the history of Pop Art (featuring Jasper Johns' seminal Flag, plenty of Warhol and much of the Lichtenstein that's not currently at the Hayward), plus a Dyson cleaner in a glass case. Mighty fine.
Sights seen (2) Cable Car Museum: Not so much a museum, more the wheelhouse at the hub of the historic cablecar network. A quartet of giant wheels rotate at a steady 9.5mph, turning thick cables that ratchet the city's streetcars uphill. Walk downstairs and you can see what look like spinning B-movie flying saucers in a subterranean chamber, diverting the cables down the four slopes of Nob Hill. I looked around for 15 minutes, then rode a cablecar back down Powell Street trying hard not to think about what was holding us to the hillside.
Sights seen (3) Carol Channing: We (somehow) acquired free tickets to go see an 83-year-old Broadway legend appearing back in her hometown to reminisce about life and her extra-long career. Carol swept on stage at the Geary Theater dressed in a thick blond wig and silver-sequinned mini skirt, and charmed the audience with showbiz tales and the occasional song and dance number. She rambled into unscripted anecdotes, and there were tons of references to American icons and Hollywood chums I'd never heard of, but a true trouper captivates no matter what. We were treated to her two signature classics - Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend and Hello Dolly - and for an encore she brought on her newlywed husband for a tea dance. "Look at the old girl now, fellas. It's so nice to have you back where you belong."
Fog index: Low wispy cirrus, all-day sunshine.
Seismic activity: No shakes.
Oversize portions: Max's Restaurant serves food supersize. The Whole Lotta Chicken Pot Pie was a bowl the size of a dinnerplate, filled with chicken and vegetables, topped off with a light pastry covering. I finished the lot, plus most of a giant chocolate eclair the size of a meatloaf.
Contours ascended: Maximum. This morning I climbed the highest hill in the city - Twin Peaks (originally named after a pair of native breasts, but nominal decency now prevails). I walked from the valley below to both of the fog-free summits, buffeted by ocean winds. Easter's not a public holiday weekend here, so me and a coachload of Japanese tourists had the fantastic panoramic views to ourselves. One trader at the top had a van selling drinks and snacks, plus there were two traders selling long-sleeved sweatshirts to windswept tourists, those keen to get fleeced.
Number of photos taken: 43

sanfran linko [transport]
SFO (international airport)
cablecars (an SF legend)
F-line (vintage streetcars)
BART (bay area rapid transit)
MUNI (municipal railway)
freeways (watch on webcam)

 Monday, April 12, 2004

golden gate geezer (day 5)

Sights seen (1) The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence: There's nun stranger in San Francisco than The Sisters, a group of white-faced drag queens with glamorous habits. Founded exactly 25 years ago, this group of ostentatious do-gooders vow "to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt". In other words they love nothing better than to dress up in stilletos and wimples and have a good time. To celebrate their silver anniversary, the Sisters held an Easter party in Dolores Park, open to all-comers. Crowds gathered on the grassy slopes to watch the alternative entertainment, including the Easter Bonnet Contest, the Doggie Costume Contest and a little bit of politics. It dragged at times, but then drag was the order of the day. There were plenty of bunny ears, bonnets and beards, although by no means everyone had dressed specially for the occasion. Alas we had to leave this unique village fete just before the winner of the Hunky Jesus Contest was crowned. Freaky, but never freakish.
Fog index: All-day fog/cloud, apart from a sunny slot from noon to 3pm. I'm told that this is typical summer weather.
Seismic activity: Continuingly undetectable.
Contours ascended: Few. It is possible to walk across the city on the flatter roads, if you choose your route carefully.
Presidential election boredom threshold: Very little at the moment because the national media remain completely Iraq-obsessed. Pages and pages about who might have said what three years ago about intelligence that might have warned someone that something bad might be about to happen maybe. Me, I'd prefer a little presidential election boredom to all this pointless retro-analysis.
Number of photos taken: 3

sanfran linko [shopping]
Apple store (I'm getting very tempted by a mini iPod)
Fisherman's Wharf
Union Square
Metreon

 Sunday, April 11, 2004

golden gate geezer (day 4)

Sights seen (1) Wine Country: Today we took a 200-mile round trip around the grapelands. We jeep-ed alongside the Russian River up the Sonoma Valley, reapplied the suntan lotion, then returned down the touristier Napa Valley. At the head of Napa lies Calistoga, a town of geothermal spas, mud baths and upmarket trinkets. Vineyards line the valley south for miles, most open to the public for tours and tastings. The local police must find rich pickings arresting visitors for drunk driving. Hordes of gruff Harley bikers were out in force, riding up and down the valley with black tin helmets and full facial hair, but I saved grinning at them until they were out of sight.
Fog index: A bank of thick fog hung across the entrance to the bay, covering the entire Golden Gate Bridge but nothing else. We drove across the bridge in pitch grey, unable to spot either of the orange towers in the enveloping gloom, then emerged into full sunshine the other side. Picture postcard perfect.
Seismic activity: We also visited Clearlake, the shaking capital of Northern California, an area which averages about a quake a day. Today's quake was another negligible 1.4, however, so the earth didn't move for me.
Contours ascended: Highway 175 between the Sonoma and Napa Valleys looked like just another main road on the map, but it turned out to be a twisty turny switchback ride over rugged hilltops - the sort of road you might see in a Hollywood car chase just before a speeding convertible full of teenagers plummets over a precipice in a blazing fireball. Not all American roads are dull, flat and straight, thank goodness.
Number of photos taken: 5

sanfran linko [quakes]
map of recent quakes (last hour, last day, last week)
1906 (the big one)
1989
the future
be prepared

 Saturday, April 10, 2004

golden gate geezer (day 3)

Sights seen (1) Legion of Honor: San Francisco's main art gallery lies high on a hill to the west of the city. Built after the First World War it's renowned for its Rodin, but more modern art also has a place. We visited the Art Deco exhibition (the same show I didn't see at the Victoria and Albert Museum last year), an impressive selection of early 20th century art and artefacts. It felt most odd to encounter the former crystalline entrance to London's Strand Palace Hotel so far from home - they don't make dazzling glamour like this any more.
Sights seen (2) Japanese Tea Garden: Golden Gate Park is full of little gems, including this pocket of oriental charm. Pools, bridges and spring blooms, plus express tea service - very tasteful. Fortune cookies were invented by one of the gardeners.
Sights seen (3) Mission Dolores: A Spanish-built church, the oldest intact building in the city, completed in 1791. Unfortunately noon on Good Friday was not the best time I could have chosen to visit, but the outside was pretty enough.
Fog index: Smothered by fog at dawn, but all burnt off by 10am. Glorious sunshine followed (except down by the ocean, which is where we spent the afternoon. Wispy mist clouds wafted by, just like movie special effects).
Jetlag quotient: Nil. I think I've adjusted.
Seismic activity: Nothing above 1.1 on the Richter scale, which is about as feeble as you can get.
Contours ascended: Some. Even a three minute climb is breath-taking.
Number of photos taken: 11

sanfran linko [top sights]
webcams
virtual tour
what to see
photographs
high on a hill

 Friday, April 09, 2004

golden gate geezer (day 2)

Sights seen (1) Haight Ashbury: There's now a Ben & Jerry's and a Gap on the legendary street corner in this 60s throwback district. Thankfully the rest of the district is less commercialised, but it's still more hip than hippy. A potent mixture of alternative outlets, the whole area feels like Camden High Street done properly. Best shop names: Squat & Gobble (creperie), Off The Wall (alternative art gallery), Pipe Dreams (drugstore <ahem>).
Sights seen (2) Coit Tower: High on Telegraph Hill stands a tall tower in the shape of a hospeipe. The tower was built in 1933 at the bequest of Lillie Hitchcock Coit (rescued from a burning hotel at the age of 8, she became the adored mascot of the local fire service). There's a great view from the top across the city and the bay (or else there's a great view of the fog - thankfully not today). A flock of raucous green and red parakeets rule the sky beneath the tower, soaring high above the exclusive homes lining steep wooden walkways down the sides of the hill.
Fog index: The fog clung to the top of Twin Peaks all day, then rolled gently across parts of the city during the late afternoon, narrowly missing the sunshine where I was. I'm told I've arrived just in time for the first foggy day of the season.
Jetlag quotient: Mild yawning around 4am 8pm.
Seismic activity: still nil.
Contours ascended: Lots.
i) Walked up Corona Heights while the sun was still glorious (see photo taken on last year's trip here).
ii) Walked up the steepest street in the city (Filbert Street, 1 in 3).
iii) Walked up Buena Vista Park - a beautiful woody hill seething with huge dogs. There were so many dogs scampering around that it felt as if everyone in San Francisco must own one (or maybe it's only dog owners that go for walks). You can always spot a dog owner emerging from the undergrowth because they have a leash dangling in one hand and a plastic bag full of pooper scoopings in the other.
Number of photos taken: 43

sanfran linko [weather]
local weather (I'm trying to get used to fahrenheit)
local climate
3D fog forecast
radar
fogcam

 Thursday, April 08, 2004

golden gate geezer (day 1)

Fog index: nil on arrival
Sights seen: the airport
Jetlag quotient: currently nil
Seismic activity: nil
Oversize portions: not yet
Contours ascended: few
Number of photos taken: none
Presidential election boredom threshold: not kicked in yet

sanfran linko [news and sport]
SF Chronicle
SF Bay Guardian
The Examiner
TV news from KRON 4
Giants (baseball)
49ers (football, apparently)

inflight entertainment
The bloke in front of me at the airport security gate got the full Cell Block H search, but not me.
Seen in departure lounge - Kim (or was it Aggie?) the blond smiley fat one from How Clean Is Your House
People now seem spend most of their time on a flight wandering (and blocking) the aisles in a desperate attempt to stop their veins seizing up.
I went to the toilet over Iceland. Somehow this felt very wrong.
The in-flight magazine contained two major features - one on the availability of wheelie suitcases and one on the joy of bottled water. I read neither.
US Immigration did not fingerprint me, neither did US customs find my teabag stash, but both services employ the most humorless automatons I have ever met.
My body was awake for 24 hours yesterday, most of that in full daylight, but I think I've convinced myself it's now breakfast time.

 Wednesday, April 07, 2004

20 sights seen on last trip: Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf, 49 mile scenic drive, Pier 39, Palace of Fine Arts, Muir Woods, Chinatown, Japantown, Lombard Street (the incredibly crooked street), cable car ride, Alcatraz, Twin Peaks, Sausalito, Painted Ladies, Grace Cathedral, Exploratorium, the Presidio, Ocean Beach, Downtown, Fort Point
10 sights still to be experienced: Museum of Modern Art, Golden Gate Bridge walk, Golden Gate Park, Ghirardelli Square, Academy of Sciences (drat, closed for refurbishment), Haight Ashbury, wine country, Cable Car Museum, Coit Tower, Legion of Honor


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