A book to give to somebody else for Christmas, but well worth buying now so that you can read it before you wrap it up: Office Politics (How Work Really Works) by Guy Browning (£9.99) If you work in an office, you'll recognise the characters and situations in this humourous little volume. Every aspect of office life from how to keep the boss happy to how to keep the pot plants alive has been wittily condensed into its own mini-chapter, and they're all brilliantly observed. You might only read it once, but you'll smile knowingly all the way through. A book to get somebody else to buy you for Christmas, or to buy now for yourself if you can't wait until then: Chambers London Gazetteer by Russ Wiley (£25) There's always room for another book about London on your bookshelf, particularly one as comprehensive as this. Most city guides concentrate on the central tourist locations, whereas this thick volume affords each square mile of the capital equal importance. The author's taken every minor London neighbourhood, from Abbey Mills to Yiewsley, and written a detailed pen-portrait of each. There's a bit of history, a bit of geography, a bit about who lives there and usually a quirky fact or two for good measure. You've probably never been to Tokyngton, Bridgen and Temple Fortune, for example, let alone known they even existed, but these and 1300 other locations are all included here. There are several refreshingly non-landmark photographs too, in full colour, from all around the capital. For a taster of the book visit the author's splendid "Hidden London" website (via which you can also get £10 off the cover price). A book that might be quite good but I don't write reviews on request: Thanks for the email David, good try.
The media's full of the new Bond film at the moment, but I'm happy to wait until Christmas 2009 to watch it on the telly. Instead I've been to see Starter for 10, almost certainly the first film ever to revolve around Granada TV quiz show University Challenge. And it's a little charmer. It may be a "romantic comedy" but don't worry, it's never unduly soppy or sugary, and Hugh Grant never makes an appearance. The year is 1985, and misfit Brian is off to Bristol University to study English, girls and general knowledge. Every effort has been made to give the film that proper mid-80s authenticity (ahh, patterned knitted jumpers, mixtapes, Echo and the Bunnymen and those tall glass tumblers with the all-over rippled effect just like we used to have at home). The shared student digs look scarily realistic, and it's evident throughout that the author was once such a gauche student himself. The plot weaves its way to a satisfying on-screen climax in front of the legendary Bamber Gascoigne, mimicked here to perfection by Mark Gatiss. And Brian's Mum is played by Catherine Tate, which should be enough of a recommendation to go see this film all by itself.
The Pet Shop Boys are almost as well-known for their ever-changing image as for their music. On one album Neil and Chris may be staring deadpan into the camera and on the next hiding beneath ridiculous pointy hats, but there's always a certain inimitable PSB style. This autumn the boys have bought out a retrospective coffee-table book, called Catalogue, as a scrapbook of every video, every record sleeve and every behind-the-scenes photoshoot from their 20 year career. If you don't have £30 to spare, a small selection of appropriately inventive images are now on display at the National Portrait Gallery, admission free. Head downstairs to the 'bookshop gallery' and enjoy reacquainting yourself with 26 carefully selected examples of the iconic and the ironic. Don't expect to be looking around for more than ten minutes, but if you're in the Trafalgar Square area between now and the beginning of March (and you probably are) then it's worth a look.
The Geffrye Museum on the Kingsland Road reopens its newly renovated17th and 18th century galleries tomorrow. There'll be four new rooms, each recreating a different period of domestic interior design and each based on a typical London middle class home of the time. If you've visited the museum before then you'll know it's well worth going back, and if not then you're in for an unexpected treat. Yes, in the middle of Hackney, who'd have thought?
Goddard's Pie Shop in Greenwich closed down for good last night. Owner Jeff Goddard left a comment here last week saying "I just wanted to let you know that the "family circumstances" are that my brother and I have small children who, at the moment, we see very little of as the shop is so busy 7 days per week. Hopefully people will understand. Thanks to everyone who has eaten at our Pie Shop over the years." Which was sweet of him. Now I learn that the shop is being sold off to a burger chain called Gourmet Burger Kitchen. Their "innovative and exotic" cuisine will feature Chorizo Burgers, Falafel and Garlic Mayo Sauce, which is presumably just what Greenwich's tourist hordes deserve. But pie and mash it ain't. My stomach feels somehow cheated. [7:30pm update: another message from Jeff in the comments box]