diamond geezer

 Thursday, September 30, 2004

From A to B

When Londoners need to get from one place to another they have a variety of tools at their fingertips. A flick through the A-Z, perhaps, or a glance at the tube map. For more complicated journeys there's the Journey Planner website, a clever online tool (if a little on the dumb side). It may not always give you the quickest route but it'll give you times, connections, maps, fares and alternative options, and it's extremely useful if you ever want to know roughly how long it might take to reach somewhere unfamiliar on the other side of town.

Planning journeys further afield within the UK hasn't always been so easy. You've had to consult a road atlas, request a route plan from the AA, pick up a local bus timetable, log into the ropey National Rail timetable site or use Google to try to uncover exactly which ferry operator it is that sails to the Scottish islands. Well, now all that information and more has been brought together on a new website called Transport Direct. Not only can you plan journeys across the whole of Great Britain but you can also see a map of where you're going and check out where the delays are likely to be along the way. I am impressed. Again it's not perfect, and it's only in beta-testing mode at the moment, but it's a fascinating tool that can help you to explore the country or just find the next bus down to the shops.

I thought I'd test the site out on a variety of journeys, all departing at 7am this morning:
Bow to Stonehenge: If I left now I could be admiring the stones before 11am (via the number 3 bus from Salisbury station)
Northampton to Southampton: Either 3 hours by train or 2½ hours by car (47-stage road journey provided)
Newcastle Upon Tyne to Newcastle Under Lyme: That's four trains and a bus, via York and Manchester, arriving by 11:15am
My parents' house to the nearest library: Apparently this can't be done by public transport, which isn't true, so there's at least one Norfolk bus route that isn't in the database.
St David's (Wales) to St Andrew's (Scotland): A bizarre (and impossible) route which involves walking across the Irish Sea in five minutes flat, twice.
(so, that's 3 passes and 2 fails)

And here's one ultimate end-to-end journey to test the system to breaking point:
07:00 Land's End: extremely long wait for next bus
14:20 Land's End: number 345 bus to Penzance, (arrives 15:30, plenty of time to go shopping)
17:30 Penzance:
train to Bristol (arrives 21:32)
21:46 Bristol Temple Meads:
train to Birmingham, (arrives 23:39)
00:10 (tomorrow) Birmingham New Street:
train to Coventry (arrives 00:33)
01:05 Coventry:
coach 240 to Sheffield (arrives 03:20, time for quick nap on bench)
05:29 Sheffield:
train to Doncaster (arrives 06:07, followed by a very tight change)
06:15 Doncaster:
train to Edinburgh (arrives 09:17)
09:30 Edinburgh:
coach 997 to Inverness (arrives 13:50)
14:00 Inverness:
coach 958 to Wick (arrives 16:55)
17:30 Wick:
bus 73 to John O'Groats (arrives 18:10 Friday)

It's good to that know it's actually possible to get from the tip of Cornwall to the top of Scotland by public transport, even if it takes a day and a half to do so. However, the website doesn't seem to have chosen a very sensible route (the first half in particular) and I hate to think how much the whole journey would cost too. It's almost certainly cheaper (and 12 hours quicker) to buy a car and drive from Land's End to John O'Groats instead. Alas, it seems that computers still aren't very good at finding the perfect solution to an extremely complicated problem involving time and space. But they're getting there... and now so can you.

 Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Over-anal-ysis

One of my favourite sections of Private Eye is Pseuds Corner, in which various choice titbits of textual over-importance are held up to national ridicule. There's clever writing and there's overblown tosh, and sometimes the border between the two can be very thin. I have a particular dislike of the people who write pompous notes to accompany classical music ("The flute melody is accompanied by gentle, unobtrusive semiquavers, retaining the tranquility of the movement while fleshing out the score with a particularly romantic view of sonority.") I loathe reviews of literature that pontificate in depth about themes which the authors almost certainly never put there in the first place. ("The abandonment of metaphysical foundations establishes the context of Murdoch's particular interest in existentialism, and the essential Nietzschean assertion that modern man is trapped by a process of imagined self-determination.") But I reserve my deepest hatred for the art critic.

(before continuing please click here to take a look at a piece of art, thankyou)

If you pick up a free London Underground map this autumn you'll see that the front cover features a specially-commissioned piece of art by Emma Kay entitled You Are in London. Essentially it's 12 concentric rings, each the colour of a different tube line. I like it, it's simple, clever and effective. However, Transport for London have let an art critic loose on reviewing it, and the result is pure bollocks.

(before continuing please click here to read a pile of crap, thankyou)

It takes particular skill, or bravado, to waffle so effusively about so little. It takes an unlikely leap of faith to suggest that the target motif "playfully combines the Tube line colours with art historical references, graphic design and our collective memory". And it takes a complete jerk to describe a few coloured rings as "compelling", "deceptive" or a "memory audit". When wandering around art galleries I often have to refrain from gasping out loud at the utter drivel that art critics have written about the works on display. Can't they just shut up and let us read what we want into the images that we see? "12 rings, nice." Much better. (I'm glad to see this morning that Annie agrees with me too).

Of course, there's a far better work of art to be found on the Underground map leaflet, and that's the map itself. For those of you who are interested (and I suspect that's most of you) the BBC are screening a 30 minute documentary tomorrow (BBC2, 7:30pm Thursday) about the history of the map and its creator, Harry Beck. His sublime topological distortion transformed society's mindscape to reduce London's amorphous physical environment to an interconnected psychogeographical clarity. It's bloody clever, too.

 Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Press return to continue

20 years ago computer games were very different to the slick violent action games we have today. Graphics, if there were any, were sparse and chunky. There were no handsets with special buttons to press, you just hammered your spacebar to jump and used Z and X for left and right. With only a few kilobytes of memory available, games designers were forced to concentrate on playability instead of special effects. This meant that many of the games were ten times better to play than they actually looked, which is the exact opposite of most of the £40 no-brainers released today. One particularly basic example of the genre was the text adventure, which normally went something like this:
YOU ARE STANDING OUTSIDE A SMALL CAVE.
ON THE GROUND IS A GOLD COIN.
THE SILENT KNIGHT BLOCKS YOUR WAY.
PATHS LEAD NORTH, SOUTH AND WEST.
>
The cursor would flash at you, expectantly, waiting for you to type your next instruction. Vocabulary was rather limited so it was important to type exactly the right words - for example take coin instead of pick coin (SORRY I DON'T KNOW HOW TO 'PICK'). You also had to try follow the twisted logic of the game designer, so it could ages to try to work out which of the many game objects you needed to use in a certain situation and precisely how to use it.
> enter cave
THE SILENT KNIGHT BLOCKS YOUR WAY
> talk to knight
THE SILENT KNIGHT BLOCKS YOUR WAY
> kick knight
THE SILENT KNIGHT BLOCKS YOUR WAY
> scream
THE SILENT KNIGHT BLOCKS YOUR WAY
> give obscure-artefact-I-picked-up-three-rooms-back
THE SILENT KNIGHT SAYS "THANK YOU" AND STANDS ASIDE
> enter cave
Sometimes the puzzles were so difficult that you'd get stuck in the second room and give up on the entire game, unable to proceed any further. There was no internet on which to look up the answers in those days, just playground gossip and various 'cheats' printed in monthly magazines, but it always felt good to complete even one part of the puzzle unaided without resorting to any of the above. Memorable text adventure games of the era included Zork, Philosopher's Quest, Granny's Garden (still selling well after 21 years) and the surprisingly good L - A Mathematical Adventure.
> follow abbot
And now one of the all-time greats has been resurrected to celebrate the launch of the third series of the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. The BBC website is playing host to a 21st century version of Douglas Adams' classic text adventure, a game which sold a third of a million copies back in 1984 (probably on ropey cassette tape) but which you can now play online for free. The plot is twisted (but always just-about logical) and it certainly helps to know something of the storyline of the original series. Douglas described the game as "user-mendacious", which means that you tend to die quite frequently, but at least in such circumstances you can restart and try again. Highly improbable, but not impossible.
> give sandwich to dog
The dog is deeply moved. With powerful sweeps of its tail it indicates that it regards this cheese sandwich as one of the great cheese sandwiches. Nine out of ten pet owners could happen by at this point expressing any preference they pleased, but this dog would spurn both them and all their tins. This is a dog which has met its main sandwich. It eats with passion, and ignores a passing microscopic space fleet.
The game is here, there are some hints here, and there's plenty of time to play while you wait for episode 2 of the latest series on Radio 4 tonight. You might even want to load my saved game to see if you can advance the position a bit... > restore > dgeezer

 Monday, September 27, 2004

Other people's blog posts I never read (number 1)

Have you seen what that has said now? I couldn't believe it when I it in my favourite . It's so ! How could anyone believe this ? The guy is ! I, however, am . I understand this particular issue better than everyone else. Everyone else is . How could anyone support this point of view? Well, apart from the usual crowd of . Our is clearly under very serious threat. I know that you agree with me, dear reader. No sane person could disagree, could they? Now read on, as I about this issue, just like I did ...

Other people's blog posts I never read (number )


 Sunday, September 26, 2004

X-90
Seen in local supermarket:
Mince pies with a sell-by date of October 25th.
(Bet you've seen worse...)

6 for Sunday
Touch Graph - see webpage connections in graphical form, and which other blogs are most associated to your own (via Blue Witch)
• The Number 1 Lyrics Site - lyrics to every one of the nearly-1000 Number 1 UK hit singles since 1952.
Test your pop-up blocker - how many pop-up ads can your browser stop? (Firefox performs brilliantly)
• The Invisibility Game - can you weave your invisible cursor through each maze without touching the sides? (via Madness Temple)
Wordcounter - a useful tool to help authors spot if, of course, basically, however, there are any words they use far too often.
• The Open Guide To London - an in-depth, and ever-growing, wiki guide to the capital.

Smoke #4
My favourite1 pocket-sized2 London magazine is out in the shops3 again and available for you to buy4. It's the usual5 eclectic mix of words6, photos7 and graphic art8. There are fine articles on South Bank skateboarding, Beckton Alp9, Brixton Market, secret tunnels under Holborn9, the bins of Pimlico, Zoffany Street9, cottaging and the Ruislip Lido railway10. Buy a copy now4.

1 Actually it's the only pocket-sized London magazine I can think of.
2 Depends on the size of your pocket, of course. Definitely handbag-sized.
3 Only certain shops though. You can find a list of stockists here.
4 But only if you live in London. Sorry, not much use to the rest of you.
5 If something can be 'usual' after just three previous editions.
6 Mostly great stuff, but some of it attempts to be too clever and fails.
7 Ah, it's amazing how good London looks close up in black and white.
8 Not a lot of graphic art though, but the photos more than make up for it.
9 I wrote about this first, you know.
10 And many many more.

 Saturday, September 25, 2004

I've been commuting from Bow Road to Holborn instead of Piccadilly for all of three weeks now. Already I appear to have the journey sorted, knowing where to go and where to stand in order to be first up the escalator at the end of the journey. I succeded by miles yesterday, with hundreds of other less able Holborn commuters trailing in my wake. So today I thought I'd offload everything I've learnt about the new tube journey in case any other Bow-to-Holborn commuter should one day find it useful.

London Commuter Handbook: no 6904: Bow Road to Holborn

1) Enter Bow Road station as before, but don't bother picking up a newspaper because you won't be able to read it in the ensuing crush.

2) Pass left along the platform. Don't bother looking at the 'next train' indicator because you can catch any train going eastbound, not just a District line train. Walk just over halfway along the platform, stopping beside the Fire exit sign posted on the door in the blue wall.

3) Enter the first train that arrives. Hang around close to the door you entered through, because you'll be getting off through it again at the next station.

4) When the train arrives at Mile End station, disembark. Cross the platform, which should take all of five seconds - this is the world's easiest interchange. Wait for the next Central line train. If you're really lucky a Central Line train will already be standing there waiting with its doors gaping open. It will also be absolutely jam-packed full of people

5) Squeeze into the rear half of the third carriage. Find a space. If possible try to head across the carriage to stand beside the doors opposite. Do not 'move right on down the carriage' into the narrow gap between the seats. Hold onto something. Breathe in.

6) Prepare for even more people to attempt to cram into the carriage, especially at Bethnal Green and Bank where the third carriage halts adjacent to the platform entrance. Prepare for some people to exit the carriage, especially at Bank, St Paul's and Chancery Lane where commuters head to work in the City above. Use all of these station stops to try to edge even closer to the doors on the left hand side of the train.

7) When the train stops at Holborn station (which is the first station where the doors open on the left) shoot out through the doors onto the platform and into the tunnel opposite marked Way Out and Piccadilly Line. Smile, because a huge scrum is about to develop behind you as commuters who weren't in the third carriage queue to reach this particular exit.

8) Turn right, then ascend the short flight of stairs ahead of you. In ten seconds' time this will be a real bottleneck as people jam into the narrow passageway to try to exit the platform behind you, but right now you should be at the head of the queue. Turn right at the top of the stairs and almost immediately you'll find yourself at the bottom of the main escalators.

9) There are four escalators, the right-hand three of which operate as 'up' escalators during the morning rush hour. It's quickest to take the nearest, right-hand 'up' escalator. Prepare for a long climb of approximately 60 steps, but be brave and walk straight on up to the ticket hall above. It's a great way of keeping fit, if nothing else.

10) At the top of the escalator turn right and exit the station through the underused set of ticket barriers in front of you directly into High Holborn. If you've followed all the instructions properly you should be the first person from your train to exit the station. Just like I was yesterday. Congratulations.

Bow Road update: Just one month to go until Bow Road station reopens after 10pm every night. Well, that's what it says on the tube website. Except that bugger all renovation has been happening at Bow Road station during the last month, not even the erection of a single safety notice, so a reopening date in October appears to be at least six months too optimistic. Instead I've turned to reporting daily in the comments box on the fall of conkers from the horse chestnut tree outside the station, a much more dynamic phenomenon. No safety notices or blue walls have been erected to prevent the public gaining access to this fine old tree, unlike in certain other nanny-state local councils I could mention. Nuts, the lot of them.

 Friday, September 24, 2004

Premiership quiz: The following clues are anagrams of the names of the 20 Premiership football grounds (that's 19 current grounds and one ground-to-be). How many grounds (and teams) can you identify? (Answers in the comments box)

  1) idle fan 11) drooping oaks
  2) larval kip12) wealthier than
  3) have telly 13) baked moisture
  4) want dress 14) wash the north
  5) weak droop 15) concave target
  6) lord of draft 16) fat morbid dregs
  7) coward roar 17) robust hangover
  8) park hustlers 18) rusty mat sadism
  9) prank: to fart 19) admires diver suit
10) spasm at jerk 20) shifty undemocratic teams

5 for Friday
WeBoggle - waste your Friday playing this classic game online against scores of other Bogglers
Geoff visited every tube station in 18 hours, 35 minutes and 43 seconds (now confirmed as a Guinness world record breaking time)
Joel "kittens" Veitch has a new blog (via Blogjam)
• The London Noise Map - how loud is it out there? (via Mill Hill East)
Diary of a fast food employee (via Guardian Online)

 Thursday, September 23, 2004

Ceefax is 30

The BBC's pioneering interactive teletext service Ceefax began thirty years ago today. Engineers had worked out that they could piggyback extra data on top of the usual TV signal, and a very basic viewdata service was established on 23 September 1974. There were only 30 pages to begin with, and probably not many more viewers, but this really was the dawn of the interactive on-screen revolution. You pressed a button, typed in a three-digit code, waited a minute and you had the world at your fingertips. Well, 24 lines of up to 40 characters each, anyway.

It's sometimes hard to remember how little access we all had to information back in 1974. There was no 24 hour television, no internet and no mobile telephony. If you wanted to find out the result of a football match you had to try to catch the classified results on the radio, or else hope that the score was read out on the television news, or else wait until the morning to read it in a newspaper. With the advent of Ceefax you could find out the result minutes after the final whistle, and even watch the score update during the match. Gary Lineker once famously said that the best place to watch Wimbledon play was on Ceefax, and I for one agree.

My first interaction with Ceefax happened ten years after the launch at the home of a college friend whose family, even in 1984, were early adopters. I was so transfixed by the extra information being transmitted alongside the TV programmes that I almost forgot to join everyone else down the pub. My parents waited until 1987 to buy their first teletext-enabled set. It was the day of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, at which time Ceefax should have come into its own, but we'd been supplied with the wrong remote control unit and so frustratingly could only access the index page all evening. I acquired my first Ceefax-able television in 1991 and, yes, it was worth the licence fee all by itself. Even today, should I ever find myself visiting some friend or relative living in an isolated non-broadband home, Ceefax still remains my best connection with the outside world.

Good old Ceefax - always there, always reliable... unless atmospheric interference has caused some pixellated gibberish to be broadcast instead. 20 million people still use Ceefax every week, despite its many limitations, attracted by a service that is comprehensive, easily accessible and regularly updated. It's still the first place many people turn for news, sport, weather, TV listings, travel information, lottery numbers, film reviews, share prices and even all the latest from the world of chess. Ceefax now contains as many as 600 pages, so you won't be surprised to hear that there's a special anniversary section included today (index: page 190), although you may be frustrated that you can't read it online.

But good old Ceefax now lives under sentence of death from the godawful service that is BBCi. I think we established back in January that, compared to Ceefax, this supposed technological advance is actually slower, less intuitive and generally more crap that its primitive ancestor. BBCi won't be worth using until engineers manage to introduce a method of accessing each individual page that isn't menu-driven... such as the three-digit code system introduced by Ceefax thirty years ago. Alas Ceefax will never reach its 40th birthday because the Government's analogue switch-off will have kicked in two years previously. I, for one, will lament its passing.

How many of the following do you remember?
Page 150: the pop-up newsflash
Page 160: the pop-up Alarm Clock
Pages from Ceefax: sometimes the only thing BBC1 ever used to show in the morning
Subtitles on page 199: first introduced in 1975, later moved to page 888
Telesoftware: downloadable BASIC programs for your BBC Micro computer (1983-1989)
Using the reveal button: often for quizzes or particularly poor jokes
Big chunky graphics: actually they're still there, aren't they?

 Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Top 10 boys' names (England & Wales)
1904:
William, John, George, Thomas, Arthur (top 5 only)
1934: John, Peter, William, Brian, David (top 5 only)
1944: John, David, Michael, Peter, Robert, Anthony, Brian, Alan, William, James
1954: David, John, Stephen, Michael, Peter, Robert, Paul, Alan, Christopher, Richard
1964: David, Paul, Andrew, Mark, John, Michael, Stephen, Ian, Robert, Richard
1974: Paul, Mark, David, Andrew, Richard, Christopher, James, Simon, Michael, Matthew
1984: Christopher, James, David, Daniel, Michael, Matthew, Andrew, Richard, Paul, Mark
1994: Thomas, James, Jack, Daniel, Matthew, Ryan, Joshua, Luke, Samuel, Jordan
2003: Jack, Joshua, Thomas, James, Daniel, Oliver, Benjamin, Samuel, William, Joseph

Top 10 girls' names (England & Wales)
1904:
Mary, Florence, Doris, Edith, Dorothy (top 5 only)
1934: Margaret, Jean, Mary, Joan, Patricia (top 5 only)
1944: Margaret, Patricia, Christine, Mary, Jean, Ann, Susan, Janet, Maureen, Barbara
1954: Susan, Linda, Christine, Margaret, Janet, Patricia, Carol, Elizabeth, Mary, Anne
1964: Susan, Julie, Karen, Jacqueline, Deborah, Tracey, Jane, Helen, Diane, Sharon
1974: Sarah, Claire, Nicola, Emma, Lisa, Joanne, Michelle, Helen, Samantha, Karen
1984: Sarah, Laura, Gemma, Emma, Rebecca, Claire, Victoria, Samantha, Rachel, Amy
1994: Rebecca, Lauren, Jessica, Charlotte, Hannah, Sophie, Amy, Emily, Laura, Emma
2003: Emily, Ellie, Chloe, Jessica, Sophie, Megan, Lucy, Olivia, Charlotte, Hannah

Does your name appear in any of these lists, and if so does it appear in the top 10 nearest to the year you were born? And are parents trying to give their children posher names these days, or is it all relative?

How names rise and fall:
John:
1944 (1st); 1964 (5th); 1984 (14th); 2003 (66th)
Jack: 1944 (81st); 1964 (>100); 1984 (74th), 2003 (1st)
Susan: 1944 (7th); 1964 (1st); 1984 (82nd); 2003 (>100)
Sarah: 1944 (86th); 1964 (13th); 1984 (1st); 2003 (46th)

• In-depth data for Scotland here

 Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy (tonight, 6:30pm, Radio 4): I remember listening to the last series of the Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy tucked up in bed after a hard day at school in the year before I took my O levels. I still have the souvenir Radio Times with a giant celestial thumb on the front cover (I must check eBay to see if it's worth anything), from which I note that evening I also enjoyed Blake's 7, the Goodies and a Lynda Carter Variety Special. But it was Douglas Adams' outstandingly original flight of fancy that captured my imagination, and I'm sure will again today after a hiatus of almost 25 years. That quarter-century gap has been plugged by a TV series, more books, a commemorative towel, an interactive adventure game, rumours of a film and the tragic death of the author, but it'll be great to have the third series back tonight along with most of the original cast. While we wait, here are some links to remind us all how good it used to be. 42 of them, of course.

Last Routemaster to Bow: Did you see me on television last night? No, neither did I. I watched BBC London's eight minute Inside Out documentary on the last number 8 Routemaster to Bow with growing incredulity, in the way that you do when the media reports somewhat inaccurately on an event you actually attended. There's a summary of the report here, and you can even watch the whole thing online, though I wouldn't bother. The TV documentary included very little of the very final journey, choosing instead to concentrate on husband and wife team Len and Julie Mizen - he the final driver, she the final conductress. They were both taking retirement on the day that Bow's Routemasters finally bowed out, which provided a touching human angle to the story, although the bare facts beneath were rather shaky.

The last journey was not 'today', it was three months ago. The last journey was not 'from Bow to Victoria', it was from Victoria to Bow. That shot from the footplate supposedly heading eastwards was quite definitely taken travelling in the opposite direction. Routemasters are not being taken off the road because 'a law was passed in 1971 that every bus built had to have wheelchair facilities'. And it probably wasn't wise to say that Len and Julie will miss their 'relationships with the passengers', although it's just as well there were none of these on the final anorak-packed journey. To think that the BBC's so-called journalists were the only people to get to ride the last fifty yards into the garage, and then they went and wasted the opportunity on a 1 second tracking shot. Just goes to show that you should treat everything you see in the media as a work of fiction, until proved otherwise.

Sun Soup: A special hello to the 300 Arseblog readers who turned up here yesterday, which just goes to show that some people will click on anything. It's all because I've provided Arseblogger with a few cryptic clues to the names of famous Arsenal players, and he's running one a day for the rest of the week. It took three hours for yesterday's clue to be guessed so, if you're a Gooner and don't mind wading through a comments box knee-deep in four letter words, you might want to head over there today and see how everyone's coping with the latest puzzle.

 Monday, September 20, 2004

gherking

gherk (verb): to queue for hours and hours in the hope that the final view will be worth the wait.

The centrepiece of London Open House weekend was the first public opening of the Swiss Re building, better known as the Gherkin. It's the right-hand building in this photo, lined up next to Tower 42 and Lloyd's, and was finally opened for business earlier this year. Thousands of people turned up over the weekend to visit this new London icon, hoping to look both inside and out, but the queues were horrendous and most of them went away disappointed. I was one of the lucky ones, eventually.

I'd heard stories of four hour queues on Saturday, and that more people had been turned away than actually got to look inside, so I was determined to arrive early on Sunday to stake my place in the line. I thought an hour early would be good enough, but I was wrong. I walked along the queue until I found the end, which took rather longer than I was expecting, and was unnerved to watch the queue lengthening at a rate of 5 metres a minute behind me. And then the waiting started. And then the waiting continued. We shuffled slowly forward in small irregular bursts, unable to see our target except reflected in the office blocks around us.

A fatalistic cameraderie developed amongst those in the queue. Some dashed off to nearby coffee shops to ease the boredom, while others found time to read the entire Sunday Times and all its supplements. After two hours we finally reached the foot of the Gherkin and could see the front of the queue, except that we still had one revolution of the building to go. One family gave up at this point and went off in search of alternative venues. The rest of us shivered slightly, gritted our teeth and continued our gradual progress clockwise.

I doubt that London has seen a queue this long since the Queen Mother snuffed it. There was one easy way to jump the queue, however, and that was to have signed up as an Open House volunteer. One flash of your special green badge and you were permitted to walk straight into the building without any wait whatsoever. And yes Elsie, I saw you swanning in through the side entrance just after 11 o'clock when I still had more than two hours to go.

At last, after 4½ hours, the long wait was finally over. We were ushered through security and into one of the high speed lifts that whisked us up to the 34th floor in 30 seconds flat. One more lift, a flight of stairs and we were on the 40th floor, the Gherkin's very top slice. Suddenly the wait was worthwhile. Elegant glass triangles rose to a peak in a ring above our heads. People were drawn magnetically to the windows, staring out at stupendous views in all directions. We were higher than the London Eye and I could see further across the capital (and beyond) than I have ever seen before. I was struck by how much green there was, and how beautiful the urban environment can be on a miniature scale. I joined the rest of the crowds in taking countless photographs and trying to pinpoint my house and various other landmarks. The white tablecloths that reflected up from the restaurant below spoiled the western view a little, but the whole experience was quite breathtaking.

And there was more. Lifts took us down to the 17th floor where we had the freedom to roam across 1600 square metres of as yet unoccupied office space. The views through the diamond windows were a little less spectacular than before, but easier to access and still most impressive. This was also a good opportunity to admire the internal architecture of Sir Norman Foster's signature building. There was a real feeling of light and space, as well as the illusion of curvature despite the fact that the only curved glass in the building was the lens we had seen at the very summit. Most of us also sampled the toilet facilities - welcome relief after five hours of abstinence. There was no rush, we were able to stay on the 17th floor for as long as we liked before finally descending contentedly to the ground.

A few hours later I was standing back outside my local tube station after a busy and successful Open House weekend. To the west, framed perfectly down Bow Road, stood the proud figure of the Gherkin. I smiled, knowing that three miles away on the top observation deck there were still people smiling back down at me.

Stop Press: Back in June I rode on the very last number 8 Routemaster bus back to Bow Garage. You must remember - I went on and on about it at the time. A BBC film crew were on board too and, if you're in the London area, you can watch their report tonight on Inside Out, BBC1, 7.30pm. You might even catch sight of me too. I'm the one not wearing an anorak.

 Sunday, September 19, 2004

London Open House: Saturday

1) BBC Television Centre

My life is complete. I have stood in the Blue Peter Garden. Look, there's Petra's statue, and there's the pond full of goldfish in the Italian Sunken Garden which yobboes thoughtlessly trashed one tragic day in 1983. Oh how Janet Ellis cried, and oh how we laughed at school the following morning. The garden is a lot smaller in real life than it looks on screen delimited by a magic rectangle. But then everything on television is like that, and yesterday I went on a guided tour of the house of illusion.

My illusions are shattered. I have seen the Tardis and it is nothing but a wooden box on wheels. I did wonder whether what we were being shown wasn't the Tardis but just a Tardis, but our charming guide assured us that it was being used for filming the new series. I'm also a little jealous that the tour group behind us were allowed to go inside (not all at once, you understand, although had this been the real Tardis I'm sure that would have been possible).

I have stood in the central circular courtyard where Roy Castle broke the mass tap dancing world record. I have seen the world's first multi-storey cantilever staircase hidden inside the question-mark-shaped TV Centre building. And I have stood on the floor of Studio 8, once home to Fawlty Towers and currently being used to stage that rather more forgettable sitcom, The Crouches. But during the 50 minute tour it was the Blue Peter Garden that resonated most. Here was my childhood laid out over a few yards of turf, from the legendary Tree for the year 2000 to the more recent grave of George the tortoise. Youthful memories are always strong, and here were some I made earlier.

2) St Pancras International

The whole Kings Cross area looks like one giant building site, and yesterday I got to don a safety helmet and walk into the middle of it. A new international station is being created at St Pancras so that, in three years' time, quarter-mile-long Eurostar trains can pull right up to the buffers under the magnificent Victorian arched roof. An extraordinarily complex engineering operation is underway to enable this, whilst simultaneously keeping Midland Mainline, Thameslink and London Underground trains operational throughout the construction period.

From our vantage point high above the construction works we could see the platforms of the extended station taking shape and the concrete roof of the new subterranean Thameslink station being poured into place. In the distance we saw the original mainline station (the 'Barlow Train Shed') being gutted, and scaffolding being erected inside so that the roof can be restored and replaced. Today an extremely busy building site, but in 2007 the gateway to a nation. Let's hope the work stays on schedule.

3) Freemason's Hall

It's not every day that you're allowed to enter the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England without a rolled-up trouser leg, so yesterday I took the opportunity to investigate this imposing building. No expense has been spared on the internal decoration, and the central Grand Temple is an opulent mix of gold leaf and symbolism (rather like an Egyptian-themed 1930s cinema, I thought). There's a huge cloakroom with 600 coathooks where suited men can change into their Masonic regalia, and a shop in the basement that sells apron-clad teddy bears should you ever run out of Christmas present ideas. To me the whole thing looked like a lot of middle-aged men who've invented their own substitute for religion and like to dress up a lot. I was relieved that nobody attempted to shake my hand on the way out.

 Saturday, September 18, 2004

London Open House: Codename 'Paddock'

Brook Road, Neasden, is a very ordinary looking suburban road. There's some social housing, an old people's home, a bit of office space... and a small squat brick building lying innocuously in someone's front garden. But this is no ordinary building - it's the entrance to the Government's most secret World War Two bunker. Not that you'd guess from looking at the building today. There's no giant red arrow pointing down the steps towards the entrance in real life, oh no. Hush hush, careless talk costs lives.

It was in 1938 that the Government started to get panicky about the imminent outbreak of war and started asking the unthinkable. What would happen if the Cabinet War Offices in Whitehall were bombed? What if Hitler were to invade the country? The British Government had to be able to continue to try to run the country, but from where? Hurriedly they set about building a new secret underground control centre in Neasden, just in case. The bunker was designed to hold the entire war cabinet along with 200 support staff. Two floors were hollowed out of the hillside beneath the Post Office Research Station, protected beneath five feet of reinforced concrete so that the facility could withstand a direct hit from a German bomb. The bunker, codenamed 'Paddock', was ready for operations in 1940 and Churchill visited in October of that year.
"We held a Cabinet meeting at PADDOCK far from the light of day, and each Minister was requested to inspect and satisfy himself about his sleeping and working apartments. We celebrated this occasion by a vivacious luncheon, and then returned to Whitehall."
Me and Louise visited Paddock today. I nearly didn't make it in time, what with over-running tours at St Pancras and engineering works on the Jubilee Line, but eventually I puffed up the hill to the site entrance with just a couple of minutes to spare. It's always a pleasure to meet a blog reader, and even more so to descend with them into the bowels of the earth wearing a fetching yellow safety helmet. Hi Louise, thanks for coming along, and thanks for not laughing when it took me five attempts to put my helmet on correctly.

Our tour guide clearly relished his role as entertainer-in-chief. He led our group down to the first level where it was cool and most definitely damp, ushering us into a couple of dingy rooms filled with rusting machinery. We headed on down a corroded spiral staircase to the lowest level, 40 feet beneath the surface. Here another long corridor stretched off into the distance, tens of small rooms lying dark and forlorn to either side. We stood in the Map Room where Wrens would have pushed little model battleships around on a big chart, and we also stood in the War Cabinet Room where Churchill held that one cabinet meeting back in in 1940. Thin stalactites hung from the roof, dry rot covered the ceiling and the mulchy remains of rotten lino squelched underfoot. Back upstairs we saw the remains of a telephone exchange and the tiny kitchen where food was prepared, although apparently there was a planning oversight and the architects forgot to include toilets anywhere in the complex. We very tried hard not to imagine Winston straining over a small tin bucket.

After nearly an hour underground we returned to the surface, back to normality. A democratic self-governing reality which, had Paddock ever been used for real, might not be the norm today at all. Thank goodness it was only ever a standby facility, and that today it lies rotting and abandoned. The housing association who now own the land above are only contracted to open the bunker twice a year, but there is an excellent virtual tour that allows you to follow in our somewhat-damp footsteps. You may not have been there today, but you can still take a look into the hidden depths of what might have been, beneath the hills of Neasden.

virtual tour
Subterranea Britannica history page (seriously detailed)
more photos
nyclondon visited on Saturday too (fab b&w photos)

London Open House Day 1: I'm on safari around London today, aiming to visit a few choice gems around the capital as well as that trip to that bunker under Neasden. More on that later. I know you're all too busy to go out yourselves, so why not look back at where I went last year (if you care) or, better still, take a virtual look at just ten of the hundreds of other places that are open this weekend:
30 St Mary Axe (the Gherkin); the A13 Artscape project; Alexandra Palace television studios; City Hall; Crossness Pumping Station; Freemason's Hall; Kingsway Tram Subway; the National Archives; Wembley Stadium site; Outer bits of the Houses of Parliament (Batman costume optional)

 Friday, September 17, 2004

Unprepared for emergencies

Back in July the Government launched a booklet called 'Preparing for Emergencies', written to provide advice for civilians in the face of impending terrorist threat. The booklet was generally laughed at, and brilliantly spoofed, but they did promise to send us all a copy sometime during August. Here we are halfway into September and my copy has yet to arrive. You've probably received your copy. My parents, tucked away in a Norfolk village miles from any known terrorist target, have received their copy. But me, living and working in Osama's bullseye, I have received no copy at all. I know that the Royal Mail is useless, and getting uselesser, but their organisational incompetence is now endangering my life and those of my neighbours. And yes, I know I could look up the booklet on the internet but somehow, with information of this supposed importance, I don't see why I should have to make the effort.

So, there are a few potentially urgent questions I need to know the answer to, just in case. Would you mind taking a look in your copy of the booklet and telling me what the recommended government solution is to each of the following? Many thanks.

1) Bottled water - still or sparkling?
2) If I suspect that one of my neighbours may be a terrorist, do I have to call the police or can I shoot them myself?
3) If a bomb goes off on the Underground, what emergency telephone number should I call for immediate assistance?
4) If there's a major power cut, how do I send an email of complaint to the Prime Minister?
5) If my supply of drinking water is contaminated, tuning into which local radio station will make it better again?
6) If a chemical attack strikes at the heart of the capital, how many cans of baked beans will protect me from the effects?
7) If any of my elderly neighbours should die during the emergency, am I legally entitled to take possession of their supply of spare batteries?
8) If fire forces me to leave my place of refuge, must I leave immediately or can I go back in to rescue my tin-opener?
9) If my body is wracked by radioactive fallout, how many spare blankets do I need before I start to feel better?
10) If my lungs start frothing and I begin to cough up blood, how long will it be before the ambulance arrives?

Day trip to Neasden: I've had just two requests for tickets to join me underground in a concrete bunker in NW London as part of Open House weekend. Ah well, it makes picking the winner easier. I've flipped a coin and it's tails, so I'm inviting Louise along tomorrow. Email invite in your inbox, Louise. Hard hat and sensible waterproof footwear at the ready...

 Thursday, September 16, 2004

X-100
Seen in local supermarket:
Ready-made Christmas cakes and Christmas puddings (plus all the ingredients for making the above).
(Bet you've seen worse...)

10 things to do in the countryside when you can no longer go fox hunting

• Write endless patronising letters of complaint to the Daily Telegraph.
• Go for a ride on a horse without feeling the need to be chasing something at the same time.
• Invent a new sport where fat men in red costumes run across fields and leap fences before being set upon and ripped to shreds by a pack of small yappy dogs.
• Campaign for something more useful, like an end to world hunger or the immediate introduction of rural broadband.
• Climb into a pram and throw your toys out of it.
• Organise a Barbour Jacket & Green Welly fashion show.
• Train your hounds to be friendly, to beg, to fetch and to roll over.
• Join the police where you'll be allowed to shoot, maim and kill things legally.
• Get elected to Parliament and argue to reverse the ban on fox hunting, if you really think so many of the British population support your hare-brained, bloodthirsty, barbaric so-called sport.
• Find some creative hobby that doesn't involve killing small animals, rather like 99% of the inhabitants of the countryside manage to do already.

Special offer (update): On Tuesday I invited you to join me in a bunker beneath Neasden as part of London Open House weekend. So far only two people have said 'yes please', although seven have said 'sorry no'. I was rather hoping to invite someone who actually writes a blog, but apparently all bloggers are otherwise engaged this Saturday lunchtime. Just in case I'm wrong and you are available, I've decided to extend the deadline until midnight tonight. Hurry now, it's an offer not to be repeated. However, as things stand at the moment I'll be tossing a coin tonight to decide which of the two current applicants accompanies me down that deep damp hole. Anna and Louise... heads, or tails?

 Wednesday, September 15, 2004

FIRST EDITION   threepence
Tuesday 15 September 1964

THE SUN RISES

Good morning folks! A new newspaper hits Britain this morning. No doubt we'll have our knockers, but we're making a clean breast of it and hopefully we'll all soon be bosom buddies.

PM IN X-RATED SHOCKER
Prime Minister Alec Douglas Home will today call a General Election. What a great Tory leader Al has been. He always stands firm and proud. Always rigid when it counts. He has the balls to tackle any hard situation. Never afraid of getting stuck in. Be sure to go to your local polling station next month and vote him back into power. Then go back to your cheap working class lives, job well done.

GIVING US THE WILLIES
Leader of the Opposition Harold Wilson was seen yesterday parading the streets of London in a tiny Mini. Chimney sweep Larry Wright said "I was gobsmacked to see Wilson in a Mini. It came up well above his knees. Has this man no shame? I'll not be voting for him next month and no mistake."

ALSO INSIDE
• Valerie Singleton - is she, you know?
• Pélé to transfer to Preston North End
• Enoch Powell tells it in black and white
• Vietnam bloodbath - who cares?
• Ken Dodd ate my hamster
CORONATION TREAT
Soap starlet Hilda Ogden bares all inside

WE WANT MOORE
We think Bobby Moore is a great footballer. He's young and he's fit. He's skilful and he's a bit hunky. We're going to write lots of articles praising him to the skies. Expect lots of pin-up pictures of Big Bobby. Then one day he's going to miss an open goal. All England will be shamed. On that day we will write an article slagging him off. And then we'll write lots more articles slagging him off. We build 'em up and then we knock 'em down. That's the way it's going to be from now on. Get used to it.

THE SUN SAYS
A survey says new TV channel BBC2 has only 6 viewers. And they're all snobs. What a waste of money. End the evil licence fee now. We hate the BBC. One day we might set up our own TV company in competition. The Sky's the limit.

Dear Deirdre, I am a high ranking Government Minister. I have been caught being inappropriate with a showgirl. She has been caught being inappropriate with a Russian spy. My career is buggered. Please help me.

Dear Mr Profumo, Who's been a silly boy then? Your career is over. You may even have brought down the Government. You fool! By the way, can you send us Ms Keeler's telephone number? We're planning this new feature called 'Page 3'. We think she might be perfect for it...

Mystic Meg predicts: more of the same for the next 40 years.

 Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Special offer: It's London Open House weekend this weekend, and they're opening up an even older secret government bunker for a few members of the public to visit. This one's in Neasden (you may remember it from my Silver Jubilee month) and it would have been where the Cabinet relocated had Whitehall ever been destroyed. Further details here and here. And I have tickets. Two tickets in fact, one of which is going spare. Anybody interested in joining me in a deep damp hole at the weekend?

Terms and conditions apply:
• The ticket is for the 12 noon tour this Saturday, 18 September 2004.
• There is only one spare ticket, so only one of you can come.
• You have to make your own way to Brook Road, Neasden (map here).
• You need to wear sensible footwear (there's standing water in places).
• There's a lengthy 'health and safety' document to read too, so it helps to be mobile.
• Applications (including email address) to arrive by 11:59pm Wednesday, please.
• An extremely unfair method of selecting the lucky winner will operate.

Famous Secret places on under the street where I work
Kingsway Telephone Exchange

I know I said I wouldn't go back to the history of buildings down the street where I now work, but I couldn't resist just one extra report. I wanted to take a more careful look at the door to number 32 High Holborn...

How ordinary this door looks. It's an unloved and unlabelled door, tucked anonymously between the newsagents at number 31 and the boarded up shop at number 33. If you were passing you wouldn't give this door a second look, which must have been the idea when they installed it. Even a closer look would reveal no more than a dirty brown door in a thick concrete frame, a small letterbox beneath, a small extractor fan overhead, and a doorbell and intercom set into the right-hand lintel. Peer through the dusty glass and you might catch sight of the two thick yellow metal doors behind, jammed tightly shut with no obvious opening mechanism. But you'd never guess what really lay behind.

During World War Two the Government constructed eight Deep Level Shelters at Underground stations across the capital. These were to give civilians a place of shelter during bombing raids, and one was built at Chancery Lane station. After the war the tunnels were taken over by the Post Office for the construction of a secret international telephone exchange. The Kingsway exchange was planned to be both bombproof and self sufficient, with a permanent staff of 150 and facilities including generators, an artesian well and storage for six weeks' food supply. Kingsway went into service 50 years ago next month, and was soon handling up to 2 million of the UK's long distance calls every week. Entrance was through the unassuming door at 32 High Holborn.

Unfortunately the secret bombproof Kingsway exchange wasn't particularly secret. In 1951 the Daily Express ran a series of front page articles revealing the existence of a 'secret network of tunnels' under London, much to the Government's embarrassment. Unfortunately, again, the secret bombproof Kingsway exchange wasn't particularly bombproof. In 1954 the Russians successfully developed their own atomic bomb, one direct hit from which could have wiped out the new complex. The Government decided to build another secret bunker elsewhere, this time beneath Horseguards Parade (a hideous and extremely obvious ivy-clad brick building at the top of the Mall). The Kingsway exchange continued to be used, its tunnels full of cables and switching equipment, before being sold off by BT in 1996. You can read more here, including photos from journalist Duncan Campbell's illicit subterranean bicycle ride in 1980. But, standing in High Holborn today, who'd ever imagine what was going on beneath the streets of London, behind the yellow door.



 Monday, September 13, 2004

Fully booked: September is a very dangerous time of year to enter a bookshop because all the big publishing companies are wheeling out the books they hope will be top of the bestseller lists this Christmas. That means a huge pile of new books on the shelves, many of which are actually worth buying. What's dangerous is not the fact that so many of these books demand to be bought, but that if I buy them all now there'll be nothing left for people to buy me for Christmas. I can't wait more than 100 days, I need these books now. Well, some of them. I can live without Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary (a blatant ESL copycat), various big TV tie-ins and this year's Schott's rip-offs. But I couldn't resist Attention All Shipping, a geographical journey round the shipping forecast from North Utsire to German Bight. Haven't read it yet, but it looks fascinating. And I also was also pleased to spot One Stop Short Of Barking, the book based on Annie's Going Underground website, piled high in the front of Foyles in Charing Cross Road. Hmmm, quirky UK travel books and blog-based books by bloggers - am I missing out on a publishing bandwagon here?

The Battleship Potemkin (Pet Shop Boys, Trafalgar Square)

There are easier ways to watch a film. You could go to the cinema, or you could stay in and watch one on DVD or on telly. But no, last night I went and stood in the middle of Trafalgar Square in the rain and watched a silent movie projected onto a giant flapping sheet. I was a bit worried to begin with. The Square was absolutely packed, the bells of St Martins were ringing out a never-ending peal and various umbrellas were blocking my view of the screen. But thankfully the rain eased, the bells stopped and I managed to find a line of sight not blocked by a six foot something smoker talking into a mobile phone.

Our evening's performance was preceded by what can best be described as a non-party political broadcast on behalf of revolution, recapping some of the protests seen in Trafalgar Square throughout its history. And then the Pet Shop Boys took to the stage, accompanied by the 26 piece Dresdner Sinfoniker. At least I think they did - I couldn't see because there were fifty heads and a fountain in the way. Neil and Chris had composed a new score to this seminal 1925 black and white film by Soviet producer Sergei Eisenstein. Brief summary: Sailors revolt over maggoty meat; Town rises up in support; Pram tumbles down steps; Boat faces destruction in one-sided sea battle.

I wasn't convinced by the score in the opening scenes, it felt artificial and anachronistic. Very Pet Shop Boys. But I was more impressed as the film continued, with driving military beats, soaring emotion and a few vocal interludes. Before long I forgot who the composers were and just got on with enjoying the complete work. That Odessa Steps scene is rightly legendary, and all the more impressive for being three quarters of a century old. And the Boys have come up with an accomplished score which, at 75 minutes long, happens to be exactly the right length to fit on a soundtrack CD. Better on the (very) big screen though, I suspect.

 Sunday, September 12, 2004

Pet Shop Boys quiz: Neil and Chris are performing live in Trafalgar Square this evening in a Russian silent movie soundtrack extravaganza. To celebrate, here are clues to the names of 20 Pet Shop Boys singles (in fact, every one of their singles that reached the UK top ten). How many can you identify? (Answers in the comments box)  1) ticker
  2) gluttony
  3) my cranium
  4) Wednesday
  5) nothing left
  6) E1, D2, C3, ?
  7) Sloane Rangers
  8) uncertain location
  9) double blank tango
10) it could be Eva’s idea
11) heavy duty needlework
12) hotel on Mayfair, £2000
13) alcohol-induced affection
14) is Margaret Thatcher guilty?
15) Barnet, Brentford and Bromley
16) my computer is not network-enabled
17) turning water into wine, feeding 5000
18) list of charges read before sentencing
19) take the Central line from Oxford Circus
20) just before Mike Skinner titled his band (fixed stare)

 Saturday, September 11, 2004

9 terrorist atrocities
5 Nov 1605:
Gunpowder Plot foiled, King James I survives.
16 Sep 1920: A horse-drawn wagon explodes on Wall Street, New York, leaving 40 dead.
22 June 1985: Air India Flight 182 explodes over the Atlantic killing all 329 on board.
21 Dec 1988: Pan Am Flight 103 explodes over Lockerbie killing all 259 aboard the plane and 11 on the ground.
19 Apr 1995: 168 killed in bomb attack on government building in Oklahoma City.
7 Aug 1998: Truck bombs kill 224 at the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam.
11 Sep 2001: More than 3000 die as hijacked planes strike the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. A fourth plane is brought down before reaching its target.
12 Oct 2002: 202 dead in nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia.
11 Mar 2004: Ten bombs explode during the morning rush hour in Madrid, killing 191.

11 memorials
Bonfire Night
Blacksmoke 5-11
Lockerbie memorial
Oklahoma City National Memorial
Nairobi Memorial Garden
Ground Zero
Flight 93 memorial
Tribute In Light
Bali Memorial
Madrid shrine
Freedom Tower

 Friday, September 10, 2004

Gig of the month: Mylo (at the Camden Barfly)

This week I've started to commute to work via the Central line. I've been learning how to stand in an extremely confined space, squashed up against an unnecessarily large number of people while the floor beneath my feet vibrates and shakes from one side to the other. All of which turned out to be extremely good practice for the Mylo gig I went to last night. I've been to the Barfly a number of times but never previously to a sold out gig, and the place was absolutely heaving. Having acquired a beer and a few square centimetres of floor space near the front it seemed wise not to risk another drink in case I never made it back from the bar again.

Mylo is the Isle of Skye's top dance act (not saying much I know), featuring 24 year-old Myles MacInnes and his synthy keyboard. Destroy Rock & Roll remains my album of the year to date, and I must say I wondered how he'd ever attempt to match its clear, sharp brilliance live on stage. But match it he did, and the secret was to add a couple of talented pals and a large slab of rocking guitar. Clever lad our Myles, just as at home with strings as with keys and knobs, and each song was elevated into a raw throbbing crowd-pleaser. We were treated to almost every track on the album, reinterpreted with added impurities but stonkingly good all the same.

I've been on a few disappointing dance floors this year, the type where the DJ thinks that all they have to do is segue some anonymous repetitive beats with the occasional wailing female vocal and the assembled mass will rise up as one in euphoric frenzy. No chance. But last night a self-effacing bloke in a sheepskin jacket from a small Scottish island managed to whip the crowd up to a wild climax of which any top DJ would be proud. 'Drop The Pressure' was a particular audience favourite, simple but so effective, and a sure fire top 10 dance anthem smash when it's released as a single next month (if only we lived in a fair and just world, which alas we don't). Last night I experienced dance-guitar crossover magic. I believe in Mylo, even if most of the world has yet to sit up and take notice.

 Thursday, September 09, 2004

Today I'm 40 years old...

... or rather I could be 40 years old today but I'm not, thanks to a quirk in the way mathematicians round measurements to the nearest whole number. Thankyou mathematicians. And here's why. A line which is 39½cm long, when rounded to the nearest whole number, rounds up to 40cm. Likewise every measurement from 39½cm up to (but not including) 40½cm also rounds to 40cm. That's the way measurements normally work. Normally, but not always. Time doesn't work like that at all.

I am exactly 39½ years old today. If this were any other type of measurement then my 39½ would round up to 40 and I would be 40 years old today. But 39½ is a time measurement and doesn't follow the normal rules, so I'm not 40 today I'm still 39. I have been 39 years old since my 39th birthday last March, and will continue to be 39 until the day before my 40th birthday next March. One's age in years never rounds up, it always rounds down. It's more flattering that way, and I'm certainly not complaining.

Clock times round down too. It's half past twelve all the way from half past twelve and 0 seconds to half past twelve and 59 seconds. The time may be only one second short of 12:31, but we still say it's 12:30. But not all time measurements round down... some round up. Tomorrow is always a day away, even if that's in a lot less than 24 hours time. Next week is currently only four days away, not seven, next month is only three weeks away, not four, and next year is only four months away, not twelve. It's bloody complicated, time, and desperately inconsistent too. So maybe, when next March comes around, I can pretend not to be 40 after all by rounding my age to the nearest 25, downwards.

Yesterday was one of the ten best ever days for visitors to this blog, and all because I didn't post anything. Not until very late anyway. Typical. Blogger refused to let me publish until the middle of the evening, by which time all you office workers had given up refreshing the page in vain and gone home. So, if today's mathematical post proves a bit much, do scroll down and read yesterday's special slightly-delayed anniversary post instead.

 Wednesday, September 08, 2004

2 of diamonds

diamond geezer is two years old today. Who'd have thought? I'd certainly never have guessed that the site would turn out like this when I started two years ago. Then I had no comments, no photos, no links from other sites and no visitors. Now I have six thousand comments, three hundred photos, two hundred links from other websites and a sizeable audience. I've posted more posts than there are chapters in the Bible, written as many words as there are in half a Bible, and included eleven thousand more hypertext weblinks then the Bible ever had too.

Of course, there is a downside. I spend a suspiciously large proportion of my spare time blogging or, even worse, going out and doing things so that I can blog about them. And for what purpose? My daily audience is still small enough to cram onto just two bendy buses - even QVC has a larger audience than that at four in the morning. But it's not much of a downside. I'm not really blogging for an audience, I'm blogging for me, and the fact that people seem to want to read what I write and interact with it is just a bonus. A very pleasant bonus nonetheless, so thanks for being there.

Today I thought I'd celebrate my 2nd birthday by taking you back to a few of the highlights from the last 12 months of diamond geezer, just in case you're new here and missed them at the time. It's by no means a complete list, but then most of you have read everything already anyway. But hey, even I enjoy reading back through my archive sometimes, and I wrote the stuff in the first place.

Here are my five most popular posts over the last year, ranked in order of how many visitors they attracted:
1) geezer de jour (April 1)
2) leap day (February 29)
3) future Radio 4 (January 31)
4) 100 comments (June 30)
5) Princess Di poem (July 6)

Here are my favourite 'creative' posts during dg's second year:
textmap (September 26 & June 20)
Prince Charles birthday tribute (November 14)
Lunar Government Astro-Immigration Control (January 15)
re-designed flags (February 16)
Dome of Doom (April 27)
Un-sound spellings (July 9)

During the year I also visited all sorts of London places and events, so many in fact that I started a separate blog just to store all my London posts. I particularly enjoyed researching my special London-themed series - Cube Routes (December), Oranges and Lemons (January), Silver Jubilee (May) and Piccadilly (August). And let's not forget the Olympic Torch relay, Concorde's last flight, a couple of random boroughs, the odd flashmob (whatever happened to flashmobs?), future Olympic stadia, Diana's fountain, the ongoing story of Bow Road station and an awful lot of vanishing Routemasters.

You can expect more of the same but different over the next 12 months. I'm looking forward to it already. And, as a special anniversary treat for you me, I've revamped my A-Z of London webpage, (the link at top of my sidebar), based on material I wrote three years ago before diamond geezer was even conceived. Same content, updated format. Might be worth another look, even if only to see the first online seeds of how this all began.


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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
cube routes
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

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diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
penelope
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
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robbie
becks
dome
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