diamond geezer

 Sunday, April 30, 2006

Bow Road station mini-update: (6 months after upgrade)
• They've started playing classical music over the loudspeakers in the Bow Road ticket hall. Maybe it's to keep the station staff entertained, or maybe it's just to keep the local youth passing through quicker.
• As part of Metronet's £3½ million station upgrade, Bow Road was blessed with a new floor surface. Not the platforms, just the stairs and the ticket hall, all with some special kind of white rubbery sheeting. But recently all of the new flooring has been covered over with black lino, stuck down in several places with even blacker adhesive tape. There must be something wrong with the old white surface - maybe it's already curling up at the edges, or maybe it's over-slippery and dangerous in wet weather. Whatever the case, it looks like "new improved" Bow Road is falling apart already.

Doctor Who tie-in websites (secretly dropped around the internet by the BBC & others)
The Christmas Invasion: British Rocket Group, Defending the Earth, Flydale North; Powell Estate Tenants and Residents Association
Tooth and Claw: Torchwood House (password: Victoria)
School Reunion: Deffry Vale High School (& game), Deffry Vale, Bob Parsons (history teacher)
Rise of the Cybermen: Cybus Corporation (password: Nemesis)
unclassified: Leamington Spa Lifeboat Museum, Millingdale Ice Cream

 Saturday, April 29, 2006

Loud music in pubs

Have you ever xxx xxxx holding a conversation xx xxxx pub that insists xxxx xxx music over loudspeakers? xxxx trying to talk xxx xxxxx person next to you xx x xxxxx have to raise your voice xxxxx xx be heard. The music xxxx xxxx thump thump thump xx xxxx intrusive x xxx xxx background noise xxxx wholly unnecessary. Sometimes you can't hear a word the person next to you xxx xxxxx xxxxx or you only catch certain xxxx and you xxxx try to fill the gaps xxxxx make sense of what they're saying. When this happens I tend to nod, agree, xxx and smile, hoping that my response matches xxxx xxxxx xxx what they asked me. This xxxx can be xxxxx xxxx dangerous. For all I know they were telling me xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xx xxxx or that their dog's just died, and I've grinned inanely and said "xxxxx xxxxxx" or something equally bland.

The xxxx solution is to xxxxx up close to the person xxx xxxxxxxx x xxxx xxxx and hold a conversation mouth-to-ear. All very intimate, and useful if you're xx x xxx xxxxx sharing secrets, but xxxx xxxxx xxxx x and not very xxxxxx. It's just about possible xxx xxxxxx a conversation with three people if you stand xxxxx xxx, but any more xxxx xx xxxxx and somebody ends up standing on the periphery xx xxxxxxxx xxxxxx xx missing out on all the juicy gossip. Which is a shame. Why go to a pub to be sociable when xx x xxxxx xxxxxx xxxx?

And then, around xxxxx o'clock, somebody behind the bar decides to raise the volume of the music even further xxxx x XX XXXXXX XXXXXXX virtually impossible. Lip reading XXXX XXX sign language XXXXXXX XXXX useful skills. There's no alternative XXX XXXX raise your voice, perhaps even shout XXX XXXX to be heard. Sorry, what was that? Could you repeat XXXX XXXX XXXXXX? No I didn't XXXXXX catch what you XXXXXX. Speak up X XXX XXXXXX please. You end up trying to cram your conversations into the brief gaps between songs, trying to complete your anecdote before the next tune XXXXXX XXXXXXX X XXXXX XXXXXXX. Damn. And there's absolutely no way to listen in XX XXXXX your friends XXX XXXXX just a couple of feet away (which presumably XXX XXXXX XX XXX the point of going out to the pub in the first place).

Before long the pub XXXXX X XXXXXXX full of little huddles XXXX XXXX atomised groups XXX XXXX. And still the music XXX XXXX XXXX. XXXX X XXXXX XXXXX XX XXX not even a very good tune anyway. It's likely by now that XXX XX XXXXXXX XXX XX XXXXXXX, or maybe you've lost your voice in the increasingly smoky atmosphere. XXXX. If your mobile phone XXXXXX XX XXXXXX dash outside XXX XXX XXXX XX be able to answer it. Hello? I'm in the XXXXXXXX'X XXXX. Hello? Hello??

By closing time XXX XXX XXXX X XXX XXXXX XXXXX. In fact XX XXX XXXX could have had a more sociable evening sat outside on a park bench with a can of shandy. But X XXXXX XXX XXX XXX XXXXXX XXXXX XXXX XXX. And XXX X XXX XXXXX XXXXXXX X XXXXX XXX. It's really not XXX XX XXXXX XXXX. If only XXXX XXX XXX turned it down XXX XXXX XXXX XXxx xxx xxxxx might be able to hold a decent conversation. Which would be nice. When will pubs learn?

 Friday, April 28, 2006

10 things to do in London over the Bank Holiday weekend
(three of which I've made up, sorry. I'm sure you can spot which)

1) Canalway Cavalcade: For three days every May Bank Holiday the charming canal basin at Little Venice fills up with colourful narrowboats from far and wide. The banks are packed out with canalfolk, localfolk and the usual kebabvanfolk who congregate at events such as this. It's busy, it's friendly, and where else can you see floating jazz this weekend? [photo, photo]
2) Land Of Make Believe: The 25th anniversary Bucks Fizz musical premieres on the West End stage on Saturday night. Join Jay, Cheryl and the other two blokes in a merry romp set at a suburban drinks party. Features such top hits as My Cocktail Never Lies, Now Those Martinis Are Gone and, of course, Making Your Wine Up.
3) Vaisakhi: Come celebrate the Sikh New Year this Sunday with Mayor Ken in Trafalgar Square. Try to ignore the fact that Nelson's Column is wrapped in scaffolding and, more importantly, that the correct date of the Sikh New Year was more than two weeks ago.
4) IKEA Fun Day: Celebrate Spring and all things flatpack at the freshly refurbished Swedish superstores in Wembley and Croydon. Expect face painting, giant Vikings, jazz on stilts, Pippi Longstocking and massage therapists, plus adopt a reindeer by winning the ever-popular children's colouring competition.
5) Replacement Bus Safari: Seven tube lines are undergoing track closures for engineering works this weekend, as well as five different overground lines. Bring your packed lunch and come join the travelling public trying to get around on clapped-out replacement bus services. Starts Kings Cross at noon (assuming anybody can get there).
6) East End Film Festival: A series of eclectic and diverse cinematographic experiences from around the globe, beaming out from the Genesis, Mile End and the Rio, Dalston. Richard E Grant is Director in Residence, and the festival opened last night with his semi-autobiographical drama Wah-Wah.
7) Gumball Rally: Beginning in London on Sunday afternoon and finishing in Los Angeles eight days later, 120 cars will cover 3,000 miles across three continents. There'll be all sorts of vehicles from million dollar hatch-backs to ice cream vans, and it'll probably all be unbearably wacky.
8) May Day March & Rally: Show solidarity with the TUC's glorious band of brothers (and sisters) on this red march from Clerkenwell to Trafalgar Square. You might even bump into a few rampaging anarchists along the way (assuming they're not taking Bank Holiday Monday off).
9) Kensington Hog Roast: Holland Park is the venue for W11's annual pig-sizzle. Bring Jocasta, little Oliver and the 4x4, or let the au pair take them instead and enjoy the morris dancing, pedigree dog show and property tombola without underage hangers-on.
10) National Cheese On Toast Day: Sorry, you probably missed this top event because it was held yesterday. A record breakingly huge piece of cheese on toast was grilled in Leicester Square using 1300 slices of bread and 90kg of cheese (alas Lancashire, not Red Leicester). No, honest. [photos]

Starting in May next year...
• Tube to run half an hour later (1am-ish) on Friday and Saturday nights (hurrah, let's party!)
• Tube to start an hour later (7am-ish) on Saturday mornings (no problem, unless you need to be somewhere early)
• Tube start time unchanged (7am-ish) on Sundays (phew, it's late enough already)

 Thursday, April 27, 2006

Golden glow

My unintentional over-exposure to the sun in Golden Gate Park has now had a week to subside. That unnerving red tint on my forehead has browned somewhat, leaving me slightly more Bisto than beetroot. The skin on the end of my nose has stopped just short of peeling off in embarrassing layers. Liberal squirting with creams and lotions has, thankfully, prevented further dermatological erosion. Phew.

But, what do you know, people are impressed. When I walked back into the office yesterday my newly darkened complexion drew several admiring comments from fellow workers. "Ooh, nice tan." "I see you've been away." "Hey, you're brown!" "Cor, you look healthy." These people don't normally comment on the condition of my skin, but on this occasion it appears they approve. Which is strange, and more than a little worrying.

I've never been a great fan of suntans, even though my skin usually browns fairly easily. I don't rush outside during heatwaves to deliberately expose large areas of my flesh to ultra-violet radiation. I don't consider a scorched epidermis or leathery wrinkles to be the peak of high fashion. I don't need my melanin production to be artificially stimulated. I prefer to stay in the shade than to end up as toast. I'd rather look pale than charred. Am I alone?

It seems that a large proportion of the population feel naked without an external brown layer. They love to expose their bodies to the sun on regular beach holidays. They're out in the garden at the first sight of summer attempting to barbecue themselves to pre-season perfection. They'll pay good money to keep their tan topped up by locking themselves inside a salon canister for grilling and sizzling. Fake spray dye will do at a pinch, but genuine mutated skin cells are better. Why? What's the attraction?

Sure a suntan can be perfectly natural. But some misguided people have to take things too far, edging towards orange rather than brown. They choose to ignore the associated health risks and concentrate solely on their perceived appearance, even though melanoma is probably not the skin colour they're trying to achieve. They're too caught up in the present to realise that they've signed up for irreversible premature ageing. They may like what they see in the mirror at the moment, but I doubt they'll be so keen in ten years' time.

I've learnt from my unprotected stroll through San Francisco. I've learnt that solar radiation can be damaging even in early spring. I've learnt that UV can attack my skin even on a relatively mild day. I've learnt that sunblock is better used for prevention than attempted cure. I've learnt that I look a right pillock with a beetroot face. And I've learnt that a suntan makes me feel less, rather than more, comfortable in my own skin. Anyone for a cloudy summer?

 Wednesday, April 26, 2006

10 things it's good to come back home to
toilet bowls: Sorry to be blunt, but I really don't want to see where I've been after I've gone. Give me a plunge pool rather than a display shelf any day.
bodyclock time: It's not natural having daytime during the evening and the evening during the night. Or is it the other way round? No wonder my brain's confused. Surely I should be going to bed now, not getting up?
the English language: There are so many English English words that mean absolutely nothing in American English, especially when spoken in a London accent, and I kept using them in public all the time. Sorry, did I say 'ta', I meant 'thankyou'. Sorry, did I say 'packed', I meant 'full'. Sorry, did I say 'lager', I meant 'beer'. Sorry, did I say 'cheers', I meant 'hi there you're welcome have a nice day now'.
different-sized banknotes: I don't mind that all US banknotes are green, but I did have real trouble with them all being the same size. You can have ten anonymous American notes in your wallet and still not know whether you're rich or poor.
Celsius: Is sixty mild? Fahrenheit just doesn't come second nature to me, so it was very easy to misjudge what to wear.
low sun: SF's that bit nearer the equator than London so my pasty-Brit skin wasn't expecting the harsh rays of the noonday sun. Maybe that's why nobody else over there had sunburn, only me. Or perhaps I should just be thankful to have visited during a very rare fog-free week.
proper television: I never was a fan of Friends or Frasier, I'm not addicted to the West Wing and I don't think Jon Stewart is god's gift to humour. Just as well I was too busy in SF to have time to waste watching television, really.
bendy roads: Straight streets may be efficient and easy to navigate, especially at road junctions, but somehow it's reassuring to get back to characterful unplanned curves.
cost price: I'm used to tipping the waitress after a meal, but not that much. Good grief, it's extortionate. And precisely why should I give the barman an extra dollar bill merely for taking the lid off a bottle of beer, apart from the fact that his manager doesn't pay him enough? Who'd have thought that paying the correct money could be so incredibly offensive.
work: No, that's a lie, obviously. Do I really have to stick a shirt on and go back to the office this morning? Bugger.

10 things about San Francisco I shall really miss
contours: If there's one thing London lacks it's hills. OK, so there are a few weedy ones scattered across the suburbs, but imagine the stunning panoramas if there was some rocky peak in Hyde Park, if Primrose Hill were twice the size or if St Paul's sat atop some decent-sized hillock. Never mind the sheer leg-knackering effort of climbing to the summit, just stand back and soak in the view.
ocean: If there's one other thing London lacks it's a coastline. OK, so the Thames is wide and wet, but it has nothing on bayside vistas, broad sweeping beaches and ocean-lapped rocky headlands. Sorry, but a day trip to Southend has nothing on San Francisco Bay.
pancake breakfasts: Obviously it would be medically improper to live permanently on a morning diet of thick pancakes swimming in a sea of even thicker maple syrup, but surely there's no harm for just a week?
cheap newspapers: The main daily SF newspaper costs a mere 50 cents, and can be bought from any one of a myriad of vending machines on nigh every major street corner. I fork out twice that amount of money for my daily paper over here (but at least there's less Bush and Rumsfeld in it).
free newspapers: Those vending machines also dispense every kind of weekly listings magazine you can imagine, free of charge. Somehow the What's On section in our daily Metro doesn't quite compare.
huge house numbers: There's something oddly charming about four- or even five-figure house numbers ("yeah, I live at number 12748...") but it must be hell for visitors if they don't know at which end of a mighty long street the numbering starts.
cinnamon flavour tictacs: I now have enough of these to last me at least the next twelve months. I don't need any more, thanks.
cheap beer: SF prices in dollars are numerically equivalent to London prices in pounds, near enough. It's a wonder I remember very much of my week away at all.
distance: You can't beat travelling 5000 miles away from work, bills, your income tax form and an ever-filling email inbox. Just for a bit, anyway.
friends: I really don't spend enough time away with friends. Must try it again soon...

 Tuesday, April 25, 2006

golden gate geezer (day 8) SF → UK

San Francisco: 10am Monday
hop in jeep, queue to join freeway, queue on freeway, queue to park outside terminal, queue to check in, wait, queue to pass through security, remove shoes, queue through security, put shoes back on, wait at gate, watch other people being upgraded, sigh, queue at gate, queue to enter plane, queue down the aisle, find cramped economy seat beside inquisitive seven year old, sigh, buckle up, wait, wait, queue for runway, wait
takeoff
wait for seat belt sign to extinguish, wait for drink, wait, watch film 1, wait for lunch, chicken or pasta? wait, wait, watch film 2, queue for toilet, wait, wait, check watch, wait, watch film 3, watch sunset, watch Atlantic Ocean slip by ever-so ever-so slowly pixel by pixel, wait, wait, check watch, wait, check watch, wait, beg for flight to be over, wait, queue for toilet, watch dawn, wait, wait for breakfast, wait, wait, queue over Hertfordshire, queue over Thames, queue onto runway
land
wait to disembark, queue to disembark, walk miles to passport control, queue at passport control, wait, wait, queue for suitcase, wait, stroll nonchalantly through 'nothing to declare' channel, queue down moving walkway, queue down another moving walkway, queue down yet another moving walkway, board tube train, wait, ride very slowly into town, wait, change onto scarily-packed rush hour tube train, wait, wait, wait, walk from station
back home: 10am Tuesday
hot bath, smile

www.flickr.com : San FranPhoto
(40 SF snaps taken over the last week - here)

 Monday, April 24, 2006

Look for the fog

I've been very lucky with sunny weather during my week in San Francisco, but frequently (especially during late spring and summer) the city lies buried beneath a deep layer of fog. It rolls in from the ocean, settling on the hills and descending into the valleys. Sometimes the fog burns off late in the morning, but often the rest of the region basks in glorious sunshine while San Francisco bathes in fog. So all-enveloping was the swirling greyness when Sir Francis Drake came exploring in the 16th century that he never spotted the inlet to San Francisco Bay and sailed straight past along the coast. Modern tourists can often be spotted shivering in shirtsleeves, whereas locals always venture out each day well prepared in layers of warm clothing.

But the foggiest place in the region, indeed in the whole of the USA, is a headland some distance north of San Francisco - Point Reyes. This vast triangular wilderness sticks out 15 miles into the Pacific Ocean with a remote lighthouse at its tip. It was here (or hereabouts) that John Carpenter's set his cult 1980 horror film The Fog in the ficticious seaside town of Antonio Bay. All the action in the movie takes place on April 21st, the supposed anniversary of the sinking of the clipper ship the Elizabeth Dane. I left it a couple of days and went to visit the area yesterday instead, just to minimise the risk of zombie attack, stabbings and violent murder.
"At the bottom of the sea, lay the Elizabeth Dane, with her crew, their lungs filled with salt water, their eyes open, staring to the darkness. And above, as suddenly as it come, the fog lifted, receded back across the ocean and never came again. But it is told by the fishermen, and their fathers and grandfathers, that when the fog returns to Antonio Bay, the men at the bottom of the sea, out in the water by Spivey Point will rise up and search for the campfire that led them to their dark, icy death."
It's a good 45 minute drive from the small town of Inverness out along a winding switchback road to Point Reyes lighthouse. You pass several remote cattle ranches along the way but little other sign of human habitation. In places the road surface is potholed and cracked following two months of heavy rain and associated mudslides. Heathland stretches off to either side towards distant beaches and sandy bays. Right at the end is a small car park, from which a short path leads across the rocky headland to the ranger station and the top of a very long flight of stairs. From here precisely 302 steps (they're numbered) lead down the cliff edge to the lighthouse below. It's a doddle walking down, but climbing back up is as breathtaking as the view.

The steps and lighthouse made for a most impressive film location - this being where Stevie Wayne's unlikely radio station KAB had its base. In reality there's barely a soul around worth broadcasting to, and the lighthouse itself turns out to be considerably smaller than was made out in the film. There's barely enough space inside the tower for the 19th century prismatic Fresnel lens, let alone for an ultra-smooth disc jockey and her collection of obscure easy listening classics. A few feet further down the cliff sits a more modern building, blaring out its new-fangled electronic foghorn to warn passing boats of the treacherous rocks. If visibility is good, as was the case yesterday, you can stare out across the ocean and try to spot migrating whales swimming and blowing their way round the headland or flocks of seabirds nesting on the rocks below. Yesterday the view was quite gorgeous. But for much of the year, when the thick sea mists roll in, this is undoubtedly a place of mystery, desolation and isolation.
"I don't know what happened to Antonio Bay tonight. Something came out of the fog and tried to destroy us. In one moment, it vanished. But if this has been anything but a nightmare, and if we don't wake up to find ourselves safe in our beds, it could come again. To the ships at sea who can hear my voice, look across the water, into the darkness. Look for the fog."
The Fog links
IMDB; Wikipedia
Review (with wav files)
Filming locations
Fog remake (2005) - [don't bother, it's a turkey]
San Francisco fogcam
Point Reyes lighthouse (and webcam)

 Sunday, April 23, 2006

Let's blog American-style

American political blogging is something else. The red bloggers read the blue blogs so that they can cut and paste all the bits they disagree with into their red blogs. Meanwhile the blue bloggers read the red blogs so that they can cut and paste all the bits they disagree with into their blue blogs. And then, most importantly, everybody adds a sniping sarky comment on the end to round off their post. It's all pointlessly circular, scarily incestuous and mindbogglingly tedious. But very popular. So I though I'd have a go.

I saw a goateed student on the subway wearing a cycle helmet with a video camera stuck to the top with silver tape. Presumably he's a loafing student squandering valuable tax dollars on some pointless arts project. Only in San Francisco. America's security must not fail the World.
There are far fewer obese people in San Francisco than you might expect. I put this down to all the hill-walking everybody does here, or maybe the dog-walking instead, but there are still some real lardbuckets in amongst the svelte jogging elite. But would the people of Iraq agree? I think not.
Everybody's so damned friendly over here. They'll grin and say 'hi' at the slightest provocation, and I always fear they're expecting an equally upbeat 'hi' back. Instead I normally mumble something incomprehensible in a broad British accent and then wonder why I'm getting strange looks. Isn't this just another example of the failed liberal conspiracy?
Thanks to a favourable exchange rate prices over here are pretty cheap, especially for basic staples such as clothing and footwear. But I keep forgetting that, once I get to the till, a chunky 8½% local sales tax will get lumped onto everything I buy. Not every purchase turns out to be a bargain. Democracy in action? Democracy inaction more like.
Groceries are surprisingly expensive in San Francisco (you want how much for a gallon of milk?). Maybe that's why so many people here like to eat out all the time - it's so much cheaper for someone else to cook you breakfast than to cook it yourself. These mistaken priorities must not be allowed to discredit our foreign policy options.
The San Francisco Virgin Megastore's top six albums at the moment are by such sterling non-local talent as KT Tunstall, Gorillaz, Pink, James Blunt, Massive Attack and Morrissey. I've never seen so many 'import' stickers on CDs either. Fear not Mr. President. This one's got your name on.
It's a relief, male fashion-wise, to see that gelled finny hair and big flapping trousers haven't taken hold over on this side of the Atlantic. Beards are very big here in SF though, often literally so. This dangerous jihadic rhetoric must be debunked.
One of the strangest food outlets on the high street in San Francisco is a chain called Quickly. Their yellow shopfronts boast the claim that they are the "World's Largest Tapioca Milk Tea Franchise". I guess the competition can't be that strong. It's nothing but thinly disguised propaganda. Stay the course.
Cell phones appear to be rather more popular over here than they were on my last visit (especially whilst driving, it seems), but I have yet to see anybody send or recieve a text message. Only a bipartisan solution can resolve Bush's economic standoff.
And yes, I'm aware that several blinkered British bloggers also write nothing but hackneyed political posts with bitchy end-lines, but I reserve my civil rights not to read their bigoted ranting piffle either. Hurrah for freedom and democracy!

 Saturday, April 22, 2006

golden gate geezer (day 6)

Sights seen (1) Pacific Ocean: The western terminus of San Francisco's metro system, Ocean Beach, sounds so much more alluring than Uxbridge, Edgware or Upminster. A short walk across the dunes and you're on a sweeping stretch of golden sand with the breaking Pacific surf lapping at your feet. Surfers run repeatedly into the waves, owners pad patiently after their dogs and long-beaked birds poke down into the sand searching for lunch. Container ships chug silently by, past distant hills and rocky headlands, while beneath the clifftop restaurant lie the overgrown ruins of an ornate public bathhouse. Welcome to the edge of the world.
Sights seen (2) Angel Island: It's not easy to get to the largest island in San Francisco Bay. The ferry for Angel Island leaves at 10am sharp (I caught it with just two minutes to spare), and heaven help you if you're not back in time for the return sailing at twenty past three. Midweek in early spring the island is pretty much deserted, just a few OAP tourists hiking or biking five miles round the perimeter road, and several schoolchildren on early summer camp. Scattered round the island are various decrepit military garrisons and an immigration station where would-be settlers from Asia were held, often for many months. Highlight of the visit was the gentle zigzag climb up to the summit of Mount Livermore, past scuttling lizards and soaring eagles. From the peak the majesty of the Bay was spread out all around - tiny yachts bobbing through eddying currents, small towns clinging to rolling green hills and the arrow-straight streets of San Francisco clearly visible in the distant haze. All this and a close-up view of Alcatraz on the return ferry - magic.

How to get from Fisherman's Wharf to Market Street and 5th
1) cablecar:
The direct route to downtown from the tourist trap piers at Fisherman's Wharf is up and over Russian Hill, along streets too steep for normal buses. Here run two of the city's three cablecars, historic transportation only renovated and restored 20 years ago. The queues for the rather more scenic Hyde cablecar can stretch round the block, but seek out the better-hidden Mason line at the foot of Taylor Street and you'll probably board quicker. Fares are $5 single, but the locals never complain because they rarely travel this way. For the best ride stand on the running board at the front of the car and hold tight on your journey up and over. The drivers have one of the best jobs in town, skilfully manoeuvring their vehicle by selectively gripping a big metal lever whilst simultanously entertaining the crowds with jokes, stories and bouts of manic bell-ringing.
2) streetcar: Several years ago the city bought up vintage streetcars from around the world (Milan, Melbourne, New Orleans and more), restored them and set them to work on the tourist run round the bayside Embarcadero and up Market Street. Unless you board at the first stop in Fisherman's Wharf you may have to queue for ages to squeeze on board past the bloated teenagers and foreign grannies, returning to their hotels with Alcatraz souvenirs and assorted tourist tat. Breathe in, hold tight and $1.50 will get you downtown eventually. Most of the crowds disgorge at Powell Street, however, so stay on and you can ride in peace and comfort all the way up to the giant rainbow flag at Castro Street.
3) walk: Not recommended unless you like climbing steep hills (in which case it's fabulous).

 Friday, April 21, 2006

Happy Birthday Ma'am
(a live KNBC simulcast)

Brad: Hi Meryl.
Meryl: And a very good morning to you Brad. I'm broadcasting live from London's Mayfair in little old England to celebrate the 80th birthday of Lizzie Queen, Her Most Royal British Majestyness.
Brad: Fantastic Meryl. We love quaint Brit stuff, and Big Liz is the toppermost. Although her taste in fashion is a bit turquoise, and all her teeth are really Brit-wonky. I can't understand why she hasn't splashed out her famous Windsor fortune on a series of facelifts and dental makeovers. There's no excuse for rich women in the media spotlight to look old, brown and wrinkly these days.
Meryl: Too right Brad. I would smile wider but my lips might snap. Anyway, I'm here in Bruton Street just off Bark-er-lee Square because it was here at number 17 that Princess Lizzie was born, 80 years ago today.
Brad: Doesn't look much like an interstate, Meryl.
Meryl: No Brad, it's just a quaint old backroad barely wide enough to drive four trucks down. And get this, it has public transport and sidewalks too. But there is an exclusive automobile showroom on the corner selling humungous big gas guzzlers, so it's not all Freaksville.
Brad: That's cool, Meryl. I guess Her Maj must have been born inside one of those glam and glitzy Royal palaces, the ones that sell teatowels and jam?
Meryl: Not at all, Brad. This was just an ordinary Mayfair townhouse, although far smaller than your average American homestead and without a backyard to play basketball in.
Brad: Poor girl, she must have suffered terribly as a kid. Say Meryl, can we go inside and take a look at the primitive European living conditions into which baby Lizzy was born? I know I'd pay good money to see the room where the Queen Mother grunted and moaned to bring the future Queen of England into the world.
Meryl: Wouldn't we all, Brad. But sorry, those Britsters knocked down the original building several years ago and now there's just a brash block of concrete offices on the site.
Brad: Never mind Meryl, that grubby illegible heritage plaque on the front of the building looks more than adequate.
Meryl: Miserable isn't it, Brad? And I'm not even convinced that these offices have any tenants, because there's a pile of mail lying unopened on the mat inside these revolving doors. To be honest Brad, I'm beginning to wonder why I bothered to turn up here in the first place. I should be somewhere properly royal instead, like the coke-snorting nightclub round the corner.
Brad: Sorry Meryl, but I'd like you to know that we in the KNBC Newsmedia Team really appreciate you braving Third World conditions like this. Maybe there's somewhere else tasteful and homely along that street you could visit instead, say like a Starbucks or a Taco Bell?
Meryl: Most thoughtful, Brad. There's the tiny Coach and Horses bar up the road where local people toasted the health of the new-born princess with lukewarm beer. There's an art shop dressed up as an exclusive gallery for the retail benefit of the culturally bereft. And just across the street there's the main designer outlet of fashion guru Stella McCartney...
Brad: Wow, the Stella McCartney, daughter of Merseybeat megastar Paul? Now there's true British royalty, Meryl. Stuff dowdy old Liz. Get yourself over the road and let's do a 35th birthday tribute to a royal princess who really matters.
Meryl: But first a word from our sponsors.

 Thursday, April 20, 2006

golden gate geezer (day 4)

For size and sheer variety, Golden Gate Park is probably the greatest urban park in the world. It's bigger than (for example) Hyde Park, more attraction-packed than (for example) Regent's Park and far more attractive than (for example) Green Park. Golden Gate Park is a massive three miles long and half a mile wide, stretching all the way from the Pacific coast to the middle of the city. It was set out in the late 19th century with winding roads and wooded paths, and it's really quite enchanting. There are windmills, a herd of bison, tennis courts, fishing lakes, a golf course, ponds, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, a botanical garden and even a big rocky hill in the middle, There's also a sports arena, an art museum, a Japanese Tea Garden, a Chinese temple and an ornate floral hothouse (complete with butterflies). Enough to keep me busy anyway, as I took a stroll all the way through the park yesterday afternoon. It proved a great day to have chosen - warm and sunny but also (being midweek) relatively free from locals and tourists. I should, however, perhaps have worn sunblock - my face is attempting to turn the same colour as the Golden Gate Bridge.

In case you're interested (and heaven knows why you would be), I've uploaded a selection of my holiday snaps into yet another photo gallery. Well, you might at least appreciate the water lilies.

sanfran linko [news and weather]
SF Chronicle
SF Bay Guardian
The Examiner
TV news from KRON 4
local weather & radar
local climate
3D fog forecast / fogcam

sanfran linko [stairways and hills]
stairway guide
hills of the city
Sony Bravia TV ad (thousands of bouncy balls dropped from the corner of Filbert and Leavenworth)
Twin Peaks
Telegraph Hill

 Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Earthquake Centennial
18th April 2006, 5:12am


If you're going to have an earthquake, quarter past five in the morning is a great time because most people are safely tucked up in bed. For precisely the same reason quarter past five in the morning is not quite so perfect a time for an earthquake commemoration. But they hold such a ceremony every year in San Francisco at the precise moment the 1906 earthquake struck, and this year the commemoration was rather bigger and better attended than usual. I was there.

The ceremony took place at Lotta's Fountain, a golden gaudy survivor of the '06 quake in the heart of downtown district. As with many public ceremonies, the action was best viewed either from the press platform or at home on television. Those spectators who'd arrived really early got good positions beneath the mayor's platform, but the rest of us had to make do with standing in the street and trying to catch what we could through a sea of bobbing heads. A line of civic dignitaries stood beside the fountain, barely visible in front of a couple of dazzling spotlights. A vintage fire truck arrived, somewhere out of sight, and extended its 65 foot ladder high into the early morning darkness. A fireman nimbly nipped to the top of the ladder and unfurled the American flag so that everybody could join in with the national anthem, because that's obligatory at this sort of event. Some important people said something, but we couldn't quite hear what because the sound from the nearest loudspeakers was muffled and slightly distorted. The crowd, some of them in authentic 1906 costumes and headgear, waited patiently for the centennial moment to arrive.

At 5:12 precisely, after the laying of a floral wreath, a series of bells and sirens wailed out across the silent city. It was a genuinely eerie moment. Two veteran horse-drawn fire trucks galloped by, while at the foot of Market Street the grand old Ferry Building had been specially illuminated against the slowly brightening sky. The young Mayor (he's called Gavin, he's only 38 and he looks every inch the slicked-back gameshow host) milked the moment with charm, enthusiasm and appropriate reflection. He introduced the fire and police chiefs (both women) who gave stirring speeches about duty, heroism and pride, like you do on such occasions. Then, as the sky turned a deep cobalt blue, the Mayor interviewed the guests of honour - some of the 12 remaining survivors of the 1906 quake. These sprightly old men and women beamed out from the platform, revelling in recounting tales from when they were just two, three or even nine years old. The lady who stole the show may only have been 99, but she'd been conceived on Earthquake Day as her parents huddled together in the refugee shelters in Golden Gate Park. At least, that's what I discovered when I watched the ceremony later on TV - it was hard to tell at the time.

The party, such as it was, continued with singing and a bit of gratuitous banjo playing until just after six. The mayor thanked us for coming and the crowds started to disperse, picking up free emergency whistles and commemorative newspapers as they left. By now dawn was fast approaching and the sky was brightening fast, just as it had been when the quake struck at precisely this time 100 years earlier. Because, alas, nobody had taken Daylight Saving Time into account when planning the ceremony. The clocks went forward here a few weeks ago, so 5:12 wasn't really 5:12. And at twelve minutes past six, when the bells and sirens would have been rather more appropriate, everyone was instead rushing homeward or heading off to find breakfast before another day in the office.

There'll be a commemoration here again next year, though probably with fewer survivors in attendance and smaller crowds. But one day, rather than just remembering an old disaster, San Franciscans will have to face up to a new cataclysm. If they're lucky it will happen in the early hours of the morning when everybody's safely tucked up in bed. Just hopefully not early morning on April 18th, because you wouldn't want to be standing out in the middle of Market Street if a real earthquake struck, lacerated by countless shards of falling shattered glass or crushed by a toppling crane. In the meantime, readiness and remembrance will do just fine.

 Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Great San Francisco Earthquake
18th April 1906


I do love an anniversary. But perhaps flying to San Franscisco for the centenary of North America's strongest recorded earthquake is taking things just a bit too far. Although, surely, this must be the safest possible time to be visiting, because there's absolutely no chance of the long-awaited seismic follow-up happening after an interval of precisely 100 years. Is there?

The great 1906 earthquake struck at 5:12am, just before dawn. A 250-mile stretch of the San Andreas Fault had slipped, suddenly and without warning, unleashing centuries of pent-up tectonic power. Fields cracked, streets undulated and wooden buildings crumpled. In poor areas built on reclaimed marshland the ground liquefied, causing overcrowded slums to collapse and trapping the inhabitants. Most people were asleep in bed at the time, including famous opera singer Enrico Caruso who was staying at the Palace Hotel after a particularly successful concert the night before.
"Everything in the room was going round and round. The chandelier was trying to touch the ceiling and the chairs were all chasing each other. Crash-crash-crash! It was a terrible scene. Everywhere the walls were falling and clouds of yellow dust were rising. My God, I thought it would never stop!" (Enrico Caruso, 1906)
Several died when chimneys dislodged by the violent shaking came crashing down on top of them, including the city's Chief Fire Officer. Not inconsequentially, most of the deaths in San Francisco that day were not from the quake itself but from the savage fires that followed. By late morning flames were jumping from building to building across the city, aided by the fact that almost all the city's water mains had fractured during the quake. This gold-painted hydrant (on the corner of 20th and Church) was one of the few found still to have a functioning water supply, but most areas were not so fortunate. Wealthy residents who had watched early developments with interest (and some amusement) started packing their bags as the fires approached the richer heights of town. By nightfall more than a quarter of San Francisco's inhabitants were homeless. Author Jack London observed the catastrophe at close hand.
"At a quarter past five, just twenty-four hours after the earthquake, I sat on the steps of a small residence on Nob Hill. To the east and south at right angles, were advancing two mighty walls of flame. I went inside with the owner of the house on the steps of which I sat. He was cool and cheerful and hospitable. 'Yesterday morning,' he said, 'I was worth six hundred thousand dollars. This morning this house is all I have left. It will go in fifteen minutes'" (Jack London, 1906)
The fire burned on for two more days, razing most of the city to the ground, finally halted only by a man-made firebreak and some very fortunate rain. At least 3000 people had been killed - that's about the same number as died on 9/11 and double the toll of Hurricane Katrina. These numbers may pale into insignificance against modern deaths from famine, disease and (ahem) American military intervention in the developing world, but a century ago they were cataclysmic. Perhaps surprisingly, 100 years on, millions of Americans still choose to live here along the fault lines of Western California, in the certain knowledge that one day another equally strong earthquake will wreak a similar terrible disaster. It may be incredibly beautiful in San Francisco, but is it really worth the risk? Hmm, what am I doing here?

all about the 1906 earthquake, from the US Geological Survey (check out all the info in the sidebar)
a shorter but dramatic account of the 06 quake and its aftermath
more centennial quakery
1906 eyewitness reports and photographs
modern maps and recent earthquakes (in the last week)
earthquake risk today
Radio 4 documentary on the Frisco Quake (listen again)

 Monday, April 17, 2006

golden gate geezer (day 1)

Arrived safely in San Francisco after 10¾ hour flight.
There are several ways to relieve the mind-boggling tedium of a long haul flight. These include nibbling on pre-packed artificial meals, seeing how many free drinks you can cadge off the cabin crew, queueing for the toilets, taking a piss over Northern Canada, watching films you didn't bother to see at the cinema, discovering you were right not to bother to watch those films at the cinema, discovering that all 20 of the in-flight radio stations are rubbish, reading an entire book undisturbed (the latest Jake Arnott - very good), and watching the over 50s walking round and round the plane because they saw on TV once that sitting down can kill you.
During the course of today's flight I've been to Nottingham, the Outer Hebrides (somewhere around Stornoway), Iceland, Greenland, Baffin Island and Vancouver. Sadly I didn't see any of them because I was sat inbetween the two aisles (and the miserable buggers with the window seats had the shutters down).
I'd like to apologise wholeheartedly and unreservedly for my environmentally damaging carbon footprint yesterday. If one of you could just pop outside and plant a tree for me, that would be very much appreciated.
George Bush now has a copy of my left and right fingerprints and a camera shot of my bleary 11-hours-on-a-plane face. I'm not quite sure how this halts international terrorism.
Yesterday evening's weather - heavy showers. Apparently it's been raining in San Francisco nearly every day since the start of March. This is very unusual. Apparently it's already the wettest April here since records began, and we're only halfway through the month. This is even more unusual. Apparently it's already the wettest year here since records began, and it's only April. This is nothing to do with global warming, honest. Weather outlook for the next few days - dry! This is currently very unusual, but good news.
Your three favourites from my Golden Gate photo collection: crisis hotline; nuns; fog.
The city is gearing up for tomorrow.

10am update (that's 6pm to everyone at home):
I've just hopped out of a glorious long hot bath (yay!)
The sun is beating down across the city - I may have arrived just in time for the end of the rainy season (maybe). Time to get out and explore...

 Sunday, April 16, 2006

In search of hot water

It's now been more than two weeks since the boiler in my flat last fired. A full fortnight of in-house bathlessness. I'm relieved that it's not still winter because my radiators rely on a supply of heated water, and I'm relieved that it's not yet summer because at least I'm not sweating like a pig all the time. It could be worse. But the prognosis is not good. The workman who came to investigate my boiler fiddled around with taps and switches for a few minutes before deciding that a new valve was definitely required. But when the valve arrived three days later and failed to solve the problem he then decided that oh no a new circuit board was definitely required instead, and that's now on order. I may be more than a little suspicious of this engineer's expertise and motives, but who am I to argue? I only live here. At this rate I reckon restored hot water may still be some days, or even weeks, distant. It's all looking a bit grim really. And distinctly grimy.

But hurrah - a temporary solution is at hand. BestMate has offered the use of his bathroom for the forthcoming week, and I can use it as often as I like. There's only one catch - his bathroom is on the west coast of America - but needs must. So this lunchtime I'm off to Heathrow to brave the holiday crowds and upgraded security protocols, and then I'm boarding a Boeing across the Atlantic. My sincerest apologies go out to the two passengers destined to sit in the seats on either side of me for a full ten hours, but I have scrubbed all relevant bodily surfaces using a kettleful of hot water so I trust I won't reek too much.

Yup, I'm off to San Francisco. Any excuse. Posts may therefore be a little more sporadic over the next week, partly because of the eight hour time difference but also because I'll be out having a life. Keep your fingers crossed that the humorless immigration droids don't decide to quarantine me at the airport until my retinal scan and fingerprints have been independently verified against all known terrorist databases. All international travellers these days are guilty until proved innocent. As for the city itself, I've been to SF before so I know what to expect (fog, contours and men with beards). So while I'm in flight I thought you might like to take a look at some of my holiday snaps from last time, two Easters ago, just to get a taste of San Francisco before I arrive. Hopefully I'll be able to top up this pool of photographs during the coming week and write about some of my travels. Just let me have a bath first.

www.flickr.com : San FranPhoto
(and, before you ask, this colour is 'International orange', the same colour as the Golden Gate Bridge)

 Saturday, April 15, 2006

 Easter quiz: How many words can be made using the letters of the word 'EASTER'? Let's find out. Each letter can be used only once in each word. And you're allowed only one word each. How many can we find between us?
latest update: a, aretes, arse, aster, ate, east, easter, eaters, erase, rates, rats, rest, seater, sate, seat, seer, star, stare, steer, taser, teas, teaser, tear, terse, trees, tsar

Isn't Easter late this year? Well no, actually it isn't. Easter falls in the second half of April about 25% of the time, so Easter 2006 is quite normal. It fell as late as April 20th three years ago, and on April 23rd in 2000. If you want a really late Easter you need to wait just five years, because Easter 2011 falls on April 24th (which is stunningly rarely late). It can even fall as late as April 25th, but that only happens about once a century (and if you weren't around in 1943, you'll have to hang on until 2038 to experience it).

Easter Day always falls "on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox". This year the spring equinox was way back on March 20th but the first full moon wasn't until last Wednesday, and that makes Easter Day tomorrow. Simple (ish). Except that the church doesn't use the real spring equinox, it uses the date of the spring equinox in 325AD. And the church doesn't use the real full moon, it uses an approximate one called the Paschal Full Moon, with dates that repeat every 19 years. If (and only if) this Paschal Full Moon falls on Sunday April 18th, then Easter Day can be as late as Sunday April 25th. I'll leave the full explanation to others (here), but the upshot is that Easter Day can fall on any date from March 22nd to April 25th inclusive.

Here's how the date of Easter pans out over a full 5.7 million year cycle:
22 Mar
- 26 Mar
27 Mar
- 31 Mar
1 Apr
- 5 Apr
6 Apr
- 10 Apr
11 Apr
- 15 Apr
16 Apr
- 20 Apr
21 Apr
- 25 Apr
7%16%17%17%17%17%9%

10 fantastically geeky Easter date links:

 Friday, April 14, 2006

Silver discs (April 1981)
A monthly look back at the top singles of 25 years ago


The three best records from the Top 10 (14th April 1981)
Landscape - Einstein A Go-Go: "Oh Sir I'm terribly sorry, I can't put you through to President Carter. You can't ever get put through to him when you call." The sound of a telephone dialling and a failed attempt to contact America provided the inspired introduction to a uniquely quirky song. Richard Burgess's squeaky vocals related the brief tale of a demented scientist intent on atomic armageddon, backed by a Pied Piper flute melody which was possibly the perfect one-fingered synth ditty. The single took three months to enter and ascend the Top 40, by which time Ronald Reagan had been inaugurated President and the premise of the song had become dangerously prescient. "You'd better watch out you'd better beware, Albert said E equals mc squared." And the song was accompanied by one of those new-fangled video things, set in a mad Edwardian laboratory (ooh look, you can still watch the video here, fab - although doesn't he look like a badger in a frock coat?). The band then released a splendid electro album with jazz-fusion overtones - From The Tea-rooms of Mars... to the Hell Holes of Uranus - but never again ascended these lofty chart heights. Useless fact - bassist Andy Pask went on to write the TV theme tune to The Bill.
"I'm upset, we must pay, I am the judge for the judgement day. There'll be no warning, no alarm, I'll be the one who's saved"
Bucks Fizz - Making Your Mind Up: Most British bands manufactured for Eurovision fade without trace (apart from in the eyes of those very special hardcore Eurovision devotees who revere even Jemini, that is), but Jay, Cheryl, Bobby and Mike really were something special. Or at least their song was. An intensely hummable hook, a little sanitised sexual charisma and some unforgettable skirt-ripping action, all crammed into three minutes - spot on. Bucks Fizz's nail-biting Eurovision victory in Dublin was assured, and their candyfloss career continued for several years. Bobby G still performs as part of the 'original' Bucks Fizz (see them tomorrow night at Butlins in Bognor) while the lovely Cheryl Baker (born, ssssh, Rita Crudgington) has stormed on through a successful TV career encompassing Record Breakers, Eggs 'n' Baker and price-drop.tv. Like Bucks Fizz - sparkling but a bit orange.
"And try to look as if you don't care less, but if you want to see some more, bending the rules of the game will let you find the one you're looking for "
The Jacksons - Can You Feel It?: Some basslines have longevity. Even 25 years on this bassline can rock a dance floor, either as the pure original or remixed and mashed up modern style. And here's yet another classic video you can revisit, all glowing skies and shimmering figures like a scary 70s Athena poster. Barely troubled the charts in America, surprisingly, but we British took it to our hearts and there it's stayed.
"All the colors of the world should be, lovin' each other wholeheartedly. Yes, it's all right, take my message to your brother and tell him twice"

My favourite three records from April 1981 (at the time)
Department S - Is Vic There (reached number 22): Band - named after classic 60s TV espionage adventure series. Lead singer - the fantastically named Vaughn Toulouse. Follow-up - the anti-military Going Left Right. Back catalogue - under-rated. Song title - lives on in frequent media headlines.
"The night is young, the mood is mellow and there is music in my ears"
Lene Lovich - New Toy (reached number 53): Ahh, mad staring Lene, the bonkers songstress with fiery plaited hair and an unearthly screeching voice. Lucky Number was a classic, whereas this more mainstream production (penned by Thomas Dolby) barely dented the nation's consciousness. Video here! Lene was way ahead of her time, so it's good to see she's still performing (see her next month at Madame Jo Jo's in Soho). I wonder whether my best friend from school still has posters of her all over his bedroom wall?
"I've got to have a car, I've got to have a stereo, I've got to have a freezer, I've got to have it all, til I'm complete"
Youka - Who Will Believe A Young Man: I can find no evidence that this record ever existed, bar the fact that I recorded it off the radio twice. Google has never heard of the song title, for a start. And 'Youka' probably isn't even the correct spelling of the artist's name, because I never saw it written down. So I don't know why I'm even mentioning the song now. None of you will stick a message in the comments box saying "Oh yes, I remember it too". But crashing organ, oriental swirls and snappy girly vocal - ooh it was good.
12:30pm update: she was called 'Yuka', the song was called 'Who Would Believe A Young Man", and her record really existed! Thanks Rob.
"Looking out of the trees I believe I can see I can hear revelation"

20 other hits from 25 years ago: Good Thing Going (Sugar Minott), Just A Feeling (Bad Manners), D Days (Hazel O'Connor), Attention To Me (Nolans), New Orleans (Gillan), Night Games (Graham Bonnet), Chi Mai (Ennio Morricone), Ai No Corrida (Quincy Jones), Flowers Of Romance (Public Image Limited), Musclebound (Spandau Ballet), Just Make That Move (Shalamar), Skateaway (Dire Straits), Only Crying (Keith Marshall), Bermuda Triangle (Barry Manilow), Can't Get Enough Of You (Eddy Grant), Hit And Run (Girl School), Crocodiles (Echo and the Bunnymen), Time (Light Of The World), All Out To Get You (Beat), Humping (Gap Band) ...which hit's your favourite? ...which one would you pick?

 Thursday, April 13, 2006

Street assault

It used to be gypsy women with "lucky white heather". You'd be walking innocently along the pavement minding your own business when they'd suddenly appear, pink anorak on top of grey cardigan, unkempt frazzled hair flapping in the wind. And then they'd spot you and their steely gaze would fix on yours, and you knew you were doomed. They'd edge towards you like a heat-seeking missile, waving some dead-looking white branch in your face and baring their grinning brown teeth. "Lucky white heather, sir?" You'd never stop to ask why a small sprig of heather might be expected to bring you good luck when clearly it had done nothing for theirs. Instead you'd brush past with nonchalant diffidence, or maybe a well-chosen swearword, trying hard not to engage in further conversation. And you'd never once turn round to look back, partly to get away from their pleading gaze but also out of an irrational fear that these street-walking witches might curse you for your lack of charity. That's how it used to be.

Now it's earnest young hustlers with small plastic cards. These human flyposters find some key location like a busy street corner or the exit from a tube station, preferably anywhere that movement is restricted, and stand ready to pounce. As you approach they move inexorably to block your path, deftly grasping yet another small card from a bottomless pocket. And then they thrust out their hand, like a referee wielding a red card or a policeman stopping the traffic. On their face is a strained expression which urges "take" - pleads "take!" - demands "take!!!". It's as if somehow they're doing you a favour, as if the small advert in their fist will undoubtedly change your life for the better. But you walk on, ignoring their urgency, striding past and on down the street.

Cast an eye to the pavement and you'll see several identical plastic cards scattered in a trail along the kerbside, resting randomly where they fell. You squint down as you pass by, trying to read the strapline, just to check that you've not missed out on the offer of a lifetime. And you haven't. It's probably an advert for reduced foreign telephony charges, or a promotion for an obscure mobile tariff, or some restaurant round the corner offering a cheap Chinese buffet. Nothing important. It's just another ill-judged marketing campaign employing an unnecessary scattergun approach, literally throwing money into the gutter.

But you needn't feel sorry for the stooge handing out the tickets, because they didn't really care about their product. They just wanted to distribute their cards to everyone, anyone, so that they could toddle off back to their superiors and claim a day's wages. Tomorrow they'll be out with something different, maybe a special offer on gym membership, perhaps a free smoothie with every sandwich, it really doesn't matter so long as they get paid. And they'll still be thrusting it right in your face whether you want it or not. Which you won't. I think I preferred the lucky white heather.

 Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Beneath the blog

One of fascinating things about writing a blog is the amount of two-way communication that goes on. Some of that is public, in the comments box, where discussion and additional information can be posted for all to see. But there's another means of communication which the public doesn't see, behind the scenes, via email. I'm always impressed (and slightly surprised) when somebody I've never met sends me an email out of the blue. And I seem to have had more emails than usual recently, which is nice. Sometimes it's a question, sometimes it's an observation, sometimes it's just a brief note of appreciation, but I try to reply to them all (well, most of them anyway). So today I thought I'd say thanks, because your emails really do add a special extra dimension to writing online. And I thought I'd share with everyone just some of what you've been missing.

• Selena (thanks Selena) told me about ononemap.com, a Google Maps mashup which enables you to find sales and lettings information for properties anywhere in the country. Cor that's impressive, if only to discover how much the rent on the flat nextdoor is (ooh good, more than mine).
• Elaine wondered whether Fulham Road was one of the longest streets in London. And what do you know, Wikipedia has a list of the longest streets in London. Or at least it did before anal stats geeks insisted on removing every street from the list whose precise length could not be 'appropriately referenced' and 'independently verified'. So now, officially, there are only two longest streets in London. Pedantically correct, perhaps, but utterly unnecessary. The full (deleted) list of 53 streets is here (Fulham Road comes in at 18th) and the gobsmacking discussion thread is here.
• 'helen star-flaps' was trying to hunt down a special Poem on the Underground. We tracked it down eventually here (and yes, it was special).
• Capitano reminded me how much more dangerous bendy buses are than Routemasters - if you're a cyclist. He says being overtaken by a bendy bus manoeuvering to pull up at a stop probably means you'll need to frantically hoist your bike onto the pavement to avoid being squashed. Now I know why I'm not a London cyclist.
• Nick asked "But, how exactly do you make money from this site? I don't see any adverts." Which suggested to me that Nick hadn't been reading this site for very long.
Stroppycow advised that I might want to add a special "Blogue sans chat" badge to my blog (except that my blog very definitely hasn't been kitten-free recently).
Twenty Major noted that "since your April Fool's kitten jape all your articles are titled 'Untitled' in my News reader program thingy." Hmmm, I'd also noticed my recent titlelessness elsewhere in a couple of different blogfeeds. But is it just my blog, or is this happening to anyone else? And can I fix it, and if so how?
• Three of you emailed to point out an interesting date coming up in May. Cheers - I'd rather be told three times than not find out at all.
• I've also chatted recently via email to 20% of my blogroll, to someone who grew up just down the road from me, to someone who appreciated my tour down the River Fleet, to someone wishing me a happy 15000th birthday, and to someone whose missus thinks he's a geek because he reads this blog.
• And Clare, thanks. And Christian, many thanks. And Kath, glad to have helped in some small way. And Peter, I've had an idea - maybe later.

<watches inbox>

 Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Random borough (9): Hillingdon (part 3)

Somewhere historic: Harmondsworth
Harmondsworth is a small village located on flat meadowland just under a mile north of Heathrow airport. It's not historic in the sense that William the Conqueror built a castle here or that Henry VIII stopped by to cure the locals of dropsy, but it is still a very old village. St Mary's Church dates back to the 12th century and its Norman doorway is one of the finest in London. Nextdoor there's a golden-brown tithe barn, reputedly the largest in the country (although I grew up in a different village which also claimed the same thing, so I'd take that with a pinch of salt). Harmondsworth therefore boasts one scheduled ancient monument and several Grade II listed buildings, all gathered around a triangular village green with a couple of pubs and a few sweet asymmetrical cottages. Most historic. For now, anyway.

Because not even the giant Terminal 5 is expected to be enough to feed Heathrow Airport's future expansion, so a sixth terminal and a third runway will most likely be required. Original plans for the third runway (published in 2003) saw the wholesale destruction of Harmondsworth village. Church - razed. Tithe barn - relocated. Quaint village green - tarmacked. And all so that international business could expand, long distance freight traffic could increase and you and I could fly abroad more often. Tough decision. But then last year, after a major public outcry, BAA amended their plans slightly. They still plan to build their new runway except fractionally further east, so now only the northeastern corner of the village is scheduled for demolition. Like the areas pictured below, for example.



The first picture shows part of Harmondsworth Moor - in twenty years' time thunderous aeroplanes will be taking off on the new runway across this field. The second shows one of the many existing houses under threat - this very spot will form the western end of a new taxiway. And the third shows a field immediately to the east of Hatch Lane - the new terminal 6 is destined to be plonked right here. Not good. And not good for the rest of the village left behind either. Although all of the listed buildings will survive, noise levels beside the end of the new runway will be quite unbearable. Nobody's going to want to live here beside the perimeter fence, not quite this close to an umpteen decibel blast every couple of minutes. Every house will be blighted, so when the new runway opens BAA might as well have knocked down the whole village anyway.

It was surprisingly quiet in Harmondsworth on Saturday afternoon. The graveyard around the church was deserted, apart from the odd bumblebee. The tables outside the Five Bells pub were packed with hordes of good-natured unwashed student types with sculpted hair and piercings. An old lady in a sari sat down in the bus shelter on Holloway Lane and smiled across the street. One front lawn in Hatch Lane was busy receiving its first lawnmower trim of the season. A courting couple disappeared with intent down a heavily willowed path into Bateman's Orchard. The cattle on Harmondsworth Moor just stood and watched it all. And, in the distance, the planes taking off at the airport were clearly audible but never overly intrusive. It's strange to think that this peace could be shattered so utterly and irrevocably, and all for the benefit of people who'd never think of visiting Harmondsworth otherwise. Still, it has a better future than the neighbouring village of Sipson which is still due for complete eradication if the third runway gets the go-ahead. The last village round here which suffered a similar fate had the rather quaint name of 'Heath Row'. And who remembers that nowadays?
by bus: U3

the environmental impact of Runway 3 (FoE)
map of proposed airport expansion
local 'Five villages' campaigning blog
route of Runway 3 flightpath (bad news for Chelsea, Hammersmith and Brentford)
existing Heathrow flightpaths for takeoffs
HACAN ClearSkies - campaigning against Heathrow noise pollution


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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
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letraset
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gherkin
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everest
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