diamond geezer

 Saturday, June 30, 2007

Northumberland in pictures
U can't touch this
Sign on the B1340 at Swinhoe, between Alnwick and Beadnell
[ring the bell, school's back in]

10 London locations for that last cigarette
1)
Smokehouse Yard, Smithfield EC1
2) Newington Butts, Elephant & Castle SE1
3) Tobacco Dock, Wapping E1
4) Puffin Close, Beckenham BR3
5) Stubbers Lane, Upminster RM14
6) Weedington Road, Gospel Oak NW5
7) Ashburton Park, Croydon CR0
8) Lighter Close, Rotherhithe SE16
9) Fagus Avenue, Rainham RM13
10) Forest Hill, Lewisham SE23

 Friday, June 29, 2007

Welcome to diamond geezer, East London's hottest property blog. As regular readers will know, this is the place to come for everything that's fresh, new and exciting in the world of bricks and mortar. So today I'm delighted to be able to welcome visitors from The Times newspaper's Property section. Their esteemed housing gurus have scanned cyberspace for the best property blogs on the web, and diamond geezer has been duly selected as one of their "Top 25 Property Blogs". We're a happy family here at number 19, so please step inside. I do hope you'll feel right at home.

The view from London E3
prime E3 propertyIf it's a prime London location you're after, you can't do better than Bow. This bijou East End jewel stands astride the old Roman Road to Colchester, and the area still drips with historic charm to this day. Some of the rugged brownbrick apartment blocks overlooking Bow's medieval church date back almost to the 1950s. Thousands of local residents wake each morning in their council-owned maisonettes, fling open their windows and breathe in the exhaust fumes from the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road. These are perfect family residences, often sleeping four to a room, with the smell of spice wafting gently across washing lines and threadbare lawns. To the west the three towers of the Crossways Estate soar majestically into the concrete sky. Take the unpredictable yellow-stained lift to the top floor and soak up the glorious view across East London's almost-gleaming rooftops. Local services are second to none, with a launderette on your doorstep and an off licence conveniently situated for that mid-morning can of bench-slurped low-cost lager. For the perfect dinner party, the friendly chefs at the Bow Fish Bar will pack you off home with gift-wrapped cod and vintage Panda Pops. Who needs cottage living when you can have urban style? There's nothing artificial about Bow. I can't imagine why it doesn't feature in the property supplements more often.

Property Exchange
Poplar E14: Two bed double flat on third floor with entryphone. Fitted kitchen with small balcony, bathroom with shower and toilet. 3 massive storage points. Near all amenities. 2 mins walk to Limehouse DLR. Would like 3-bed house or flat in any area within Tower Hamlets.
Tower Hamlets Homeseekers
Brodick House, Saxon Road, E3
flat, 2 bed 4 person, 4th floor, one lift, separate bathroom and w/c, electric storage heater, no garden, wet-floor shower, no bath.
£102.20 weekly
Landlord: Tower Hamlets Council.

Olympic chic
Clays Lane housing cooperative and Travellers siteIf property investment is your forte, now is the time to cast an eye over London's Olympic Quarter. New nine-storey buy-to-let opportunities are springing up all along 2012's Marathon Boulevard, and the wise entrepreneur is already making plans to move in. These elevated apartments make an ideal second home, perfect for stumbling back to bed late after all the excitement of the javelin finals in five years time. The finest prime estate potential can be found on the northern outskirts of up-and-coming E15, nestling beside the leafy pastures of Hackney Marsh. It's here that the Athletes Village will be established, rammed full with sports-friendly carbon-neutral dwelling spaces. But the athletes won't be around for long. After the Olympics these stylish designer boxes can be snapped up for peanuts - ideal for those in need of a little luxurious loft living. There'll even be a state-of-the-art John Lewis nextdoor, and on-the-spot connections to Paris, the Riviera and beyond. Whose property portfolio could possibly resist?

So it's almost inexplicable that the current residents of this blessed plot are moving out. Members of the Clays Lane collective are abandoning their low-cost high-rise homes and dispersing across the capital. The Romanies of the Clays Lane Travellers site, and their colleagues at nearby Waterden Crescent, are packing their caravans and travelling on. And the allotment holders of Manor Gardens are relinquishing their tumbledown sheds and vegetable plots to be ploughed up by the Olympic bulldozers. How kind and thoughtful of these honest East End folk to sacrifice their existing property holdings so that the rest of us can pounce in 2012 and snap up a buy-to-let bargain. Because the Lower Lea Valley is heading relentlessly upmarket. The time for exploitation draws near. You might want to contact your estate manager now to ensure that you have all the relevant funds ready. Who'd want to miss out on the Olympic goldrush?

Our partner sites
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theRatandMouse: a genuine property blog (unlike this one) which actually deserves its place on The Times' list

 Thursday, June 28, 2007

Last requests

request stopLondon has a new endangered species. They're tall and red, with a grey stripe and a white underbelly. They tend to perch by the roadside or stand on street corners. They're almost always seen in pairs. They're request stops. And they've been earmarked for extinction.
TfL have been reviewing the current system of request and compulsory stops in London. We propose to remove the distinction between compulsory and request stops. This will result in a single approach to the use of all bus stops. Both passengers and drivers will be affected.
Bus stops - both compulsory and request - have been used in London for about 70 years, and there are now more than 18000 of them. At compulsory stops (red roundel on white) buses always stop, even if no passenger requests it. At request stops (white roundel on red), buses only stop if someone on the pavement gesticulates or if someone on board the bus dings the bell. That's what's supposed to happen anyway. But not for much longer.

TfL want to simplify the current system because it's a bit confusing for customers (especially tourists and those with an IQ below 70). Starting this autumn all London bus stops will be compulsory bus stops, with just one set of rules. Passengers won't have to think "Ooh, is the next stop a request stop? Do I need to ring the bell?" because there wont be any request stops any more. And because they will have to ring the bell.
The changes are as follows:
• When a passenger is waiting at a stop, buses must stop at that stop. Currently, this is the current practice for compulsory stops, unless the bus is full.
• When a passenger is on the bus and wants to get off at the next stop, they must ring the bell to indicate they want the bus to stop. In effect, this is already the current practice for most passengers.
Ringing the bell to get off the bus shouldn't be too much of a hardship because, according to a TfL survey, 80% of people do it already. And everybody does it on nightbuses. But passengers may take rather longer to get used to the new waiting arrangements. Look, here comes a bus. Dont worry, you don't have to wave at it, because it's going to stop anyway. It won't drive past, honest it won't. Because drivers are going to be following new instructions.
Bus drivers will be instructed that they must stop if:
- There are people waiting
- There is a possibility that people are waiting
- Their view of the bus stop is impaired
- Someone has rung the bell

Drivers can only drive past a bus stop if:
- No one has rung the bell
- They believe beyond reasonable doubt that no one is waiting at the bus stop
- There are passengers waiting at the bus stop, but the bus is full
Yes, that's bound to work isn't it? Drivers will love stopping all the time, even when it's obvious that nobody wants to get on, just in case somebody does. And this change will mean that bus services in London can only get slower. Previously buses only wasted their time by pulling in at every compulsory stop. Now they're going to waste their time by pulling in at every stop. If ten different routes use one particular bus stop, all ten routes will have to stop even if a passenger is waiting for only one of them. If a couple of teenagers are having a chat on the pavement within a few feet of a bus stop, all the buses are going to have to stop. The drivers will flap their doors open, sit and wait for a few seconds while the kids ignore them, and then close the doors and wait to pull back out into the traffic again. Simpler rules to understand, yes. But faster bus services? Afraid not.
Proposed date for changes to the bus stop flag: TfL is establishing the costs and viability of covering all request stop heads with a temporary white bus stop overlay - as a short-term measure this will eliminate customer confusion. Longer term, a programme of replacement would take place as equipment became life-expired or warranted exchange for some other reason.
compulsory stopSo, the days of the request stop appear to be numbered. If you have any thoughts on these proposals, TfL's Head of Stakeholder Engagement for Surface Transport would like to hear from you. There's a consultation period until 20th July, including a "response framework" questionnaire for interested parties to fill in. Unless responses are numerous and negative, expect all of London's red bus stops to turn white in the Autumn. And be prepared to spend even longer travelling on buses as drivers are forced to pull in to pick up people who didn't wave because they didn't want to get on board. Ding ding.

 Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A brief biography of Gordon Brown MP, PM

1951: Born in Glasgow, the eldest son of Dr John and Bunty.
1954: Having experienced extreme poverty for three years, moves to Fife where life is slightly less dour.
1958: Spends every Sunday going to church, taxing his younger brothers and pulling the legs off spiders.
1961: Joins Kirkcaldy Academy where he specialises in hard sums, social justice and heavy frowning.
1965: Passes his O Levels two years early, like the big girly swot he is.
1967: Attempts to keep healthy by playing rugby, but carelessly dislodges his retina instead.
1972: Graduates from Edinburgh University, where he gains a taste for power by being elected Rector.
1976: Evolves into a long haired dope-smoking lecturer-type (but without the dope-smoking, honest).
1980: Sells his soul to the media by becoming a Scottish TV journalist, attracting several hundred viewers.
1983: Elected as the new MP for Dunfermline South. Dr John and Bunty are very proud.
1985: Starts crawling his way up the Labour Party by becoming Shadow Tradebloke and Shadow Economicman.
1994: Agrees power sharing deal at the Granita restaurant in Islington. Gordon gets 50%, and Tony gets 95%.
1997: Election win. Tony gives Gordon the economy to play with, and Gordon gives it away to some bankers.
1998: Starts fiddling with the tax system, and taxing with the fiddling system.
2000: Growls defensively at the Euro, which cowers in a corner and scuttles off.
2001: Election win. Takes from the rich (but not enough) and gives to the poor (but not enough).
2002: Gives Tony a hard stare for not quitting yet, and storms off to bash a pension fund in anger.
2003: Becomes a father, and suddenly transforms into a soft, caring family man (honest, it's not all spin).
2005: Election win. Stares even harder at Tony, who is now assuming God-like proportions on the world stage.
2006: Starts planning his first 100 days in power, and picking new curtains for number 10.
2007: Ruthlessly sweeps aside all competition for Labour leader and is crowned King of the Country in an unopposed bloodless coup. Spends his first 24 hours as PM announcing constitutional reform, affordable housing, retreat from Iraq, an end to world poverty, a new moral order and free lollipops for all. Dr John and Bunty would have been very proud.
2008: Alas the replacement Chancellor isn't terribly good, and blows Gordon's economic stability in an orgy of financial incompetence.
2009: Election loss. Oops, that was a bit careless. Gordon retires and becomes a monk.
2015: Refuses invite to appear on 'The Tony Blair Hour', now the highest rated chatshow on American television.

 Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How many UK Prime Ministers have you lived through? It may be fewer than you think. Me, I've only lived through six, all of whom I can actually remember. Recent residents of 10 Downing Street have had a remarkable longevity, with both Margaret and Tony managing more than a decade at the top. One wonders whether the next incumbent will perhaps let the side down.

AgeBirthday between...    Number of Prime Ministers
0-102/5/1997 → today1Blair
10-1628/11/1990 → 1/5/19972Major, Blair
16-284/5/1979 → 27/11/19903Thatcher, Major, Blair
28-315/4/1976 → 3/5/19794Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair
31-334/3/1974 → 4/4/19765Wilson, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair
33-4216/10/1964 → 3/3/19746Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair
42-4319/10/1963 → 15/10/19647Douglas-Home, Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair
43-5010/1/1957 → 18/10/19638Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair
50-527/4/1955 → 9/1/19579Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair
52-5526/10/1951 → 6/4/195510Churchill, Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair
55-6710/5/1940 → 25/10/195111Churchill, Attlee, Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair
67-7028/5/1937 → 9/5/194012Chamberlain, Churchill, Attlee, Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair
70-727/6/1935 → 27/5/193713Baldwin, Chamberlain, Churchill, Attlee, Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair
72-8423/5/1923 → 6/6/193514MacDonald, Baldwin, Chamberlain, Churchill, Attlee, Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair
84+before 23/5/192315+ 

Please note: this table may not be terribly accurate tomorrow. Enjoy now while stocks last.

3/4: I may not have posted anything last week but still you came, and on Friday diamond geezer received its three-quarters-of-a-millionth visitor. Woo. This may be a wholly meaningless milestone but hey, any excuse for an update of my regular 'league table' of top linking blogs. As usual it's rank-ordered according to the volume of visitors clicking here from there. And this time I've also included the 'highest climbers' since the half million last August. It's all kicking off.
  1) girl with a one track mind
  2) arseblog
  3) casino avenue
  4) random acts of reality (↑2)  
  5) scaryduck
  6) blue witch
  7) linkmachinego (↑2)
  8) my boyfriend is a twat
  9) route 79 (↑2)
10) london underground
11) onionbagblog (↑1)
12) funjunkie
13) planarchy (↑1)
14) london calling
15) big n juicy
16) d4d (↑1)
17) geofftech (↑11)
18) troubled diva
19) londonist (↑11)
20) london daily photo (↑40)
Thanks for linking, because every click-through is appreciated. And do all feel free to click on a few of the above blogs and return the favour. I'll see you back here for an update sometime next year, maybe, for the magic million.

 Monday, June 25, 2007

The Millennium Dome reborn
(closed 31st December 2000, reopened 24th June 2007)

branded blue bubblesIt's been a very long time coming, but North Greenwich's giant white elephant finally reopened to the public yesterday. There had been a couple of trial events last week, one for Greenwich residents on Wednesday and a knees-up for sponsors and their employees on Saturday. But Sunday was the first day that anyone could go inside and experience the new "hub of entertainment" for themselves. So I did. And I took photos. And it was great to finally get back inside.

Day O1
Rather brilliantly, the owners of the revamped Dome synchronised their reopening with the last day of the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival. The public spaces in and around the Dome were filled with stilt walkers, musicians and eccentric street art, and there was much to see and enjoy. Crowds stood spellbound in the main entrance watching acrobatic "conedancers" [photo]. Milling spectators blocked the foot of the cinema escalators while a deaf drag act camped it up (in sign language) to a diva-esque musical medley [photo]. Elsewhere there were bungee tumblers to admire, giant mechanical insects to experience and intimate one-on-one performances by unembarassable face-painted actors. The annual GDIF is always spectacular, and this was no exception.

Cinema PlazaThe O7
But what's left beneath the Teflon tent once the street theatre departs? Not as much of interest as I was hoping. The main public space is Entertainment Avenue, a fake street stretching two-thirds of the way round the perimeter of the Dome. Only half of it is open at the moment [photo], lined by a selection of pizzerias, steakhouses and Mexican grills. So, it's great if you fancy lunch, but not terribly exciting otherwise. The passage isn't especially broad, particularly with al fresco dining tables spilling out of the surrounding restaurants, which has caused considerable congestion for early visitors. In the main entrance hall there's a bubbly blue chandelier [photo] and also a single mobile phone shop (you can guess who) which looks like a cross between the Apple Store and the Rainforest Cafe. In London Piazza [photo] (is that really the best name you could come up with guys?) there's a knobbly translucent igloo called the Chill where you can "recharge your personal batteries" with the aid of headphones and a piped "audio landscape" (no thanks). And in Cinema Plaza [photo] (good grief, that's even worse) you can act out your own music video and have it uploaded to your mobile phone. It didn't take me long to work out that I'm so not target audience for this place.

The RadiO2
At the heart of the complex is the main arena, surrounded by a grey concrete walkway blessed with numerous lavatories, bars and ketchup dispensers [photo]. From what I could see through the doors on Level 4 the main arena looks like any other modern cutting-edge arena with a capacity of 20000 - lots of identikit blue stacked seats and corporate boxes. From others' photos there appears to be a giant O-shaped walkway in front of the main stage with a large "2" lower right so that, presumably, the name of the main sponsor imprints itself on your retina during every performance. I truly hope that this was only a temporary debut feature. Bon Jovi were the first paid-for act yesterday, and a succession of stadium-sized ultra-safe Radio-2-friendly acts are lined up to follow them. Which is great, because music of this calibre usually inspires me to stay at home instead, which should save me a lot of money in the future.

The Onoyoudon't
Entrance to the ArenaBlack shirted security guards were everywhere yesterday [photo]. It was their unenviable job to keep tens of thousands of curious non-fee-paying visitors at bay, and to stop us from going where we shouldn't. Not up these stairs, not past this rope, and most definitely not inside that arena. One told me off for walking through a restaurant seating area when I was trying to find the way into the cinema (signage is pretty poor, so it wasn't as obvious as you might think). The bloke who frisked me (front and back) before I could pass into the outer arena walkway [photo] was rather friendlier, and declined to confiscate my phone when I told him it wasn't the officially preferred network. But most scary of all was the shaven-headed bloke in a fluorescent jacket labelled "Trademark and Copyright Team" [photo]. He was scanning visitors as they arrived, no doubt on the alert for any outbreak of unofficial ambush marketing. Because, you know, the main Dome sponsors have paid a lot of money to splash their name everywhere, and our appreciation of their brand monopoly needs to be enforced.

The Ozero
The reborn Dome is clearly going to be a great success, if only because of the arena at its heart. Anywhere that can sell Barbra Streisand tickets at £500 a time is most definitely onto a winner. The Indigo nightclub should draw in the punters after dark, and people will always want to eat overpriced pizzas. But that's as far as it goes for now. I'm not convinced that North Greenwich needs another multi-screen cinema (there are 11 screens here to add to 18 more just half a mile down the road). A third of the available internal space is wasted on a walled-off concrete void where the Super Casino was going to be, but isn't [photo]. Indeed, despite the vastness of the site there's not really anything here (yet) to make this a must-visit spur-of-the-moment destination. Maybe they should bring back the acrobats, drag queens and stilt walkers because, alas, I'm not sure why I'd want to go back inside otherwise.

 Sunday, June 24, 2007

www.flickr.com: Northumberland gallery
30 holiday snaps from the top half of England's toppermost county

 Saturday, June 23, 2007

Northumberland flagI'm back home again, after an improbably rain-free week in Northumberland. If you want to read about some of the places I've visited, look below (I'll be filling in the six-day gap bit by bit over the weekend). If you don't care about where I've been, come back on Monday (you miserable Londonophiles).

 Friday, June 22, 2007

Northumberland flag  Postcard from Northumberland
  Craster and Dunstanburgh


CrasterThe north Northumberland coast forms one of England's official Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are no major towns or industrial estates along this coastline, just dunes and rocks and beaches and several tiny fishing villages. One of these is Craster (population 370), whose shell-shaped stone harbour is protected from the fiercest North Sea storms by a natural rocky breakwater. The local economy was based on the humble herring, unladen at the quayside and cured in smokehouses above the harbour. They still smoke Craster kippers here today, but the herring is imported (and the seafood restaurant nextdoor is unexpectedly unwelcoming). Almost all of the cottages along the harbour are now holiday homes, which is all very well at this time of year but sadly bleak and soulless during the windswept winter. It seems that we tourists are busy destroying the very communities we've come to see.

Dunstanburgh CastleA mile and a half north of Craster lie the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle. You can't drive there, so the coastal footpath is awash with ambling tourists. A National Trust volunteer lies in wait at the start of the walk, eager to pounce on passers-by and sign them up for long-term heritage membership (direct debit preferred). It may be several minutes along the path, especially in misty weather, before the long wall of the castle appears spread across the headland in front of you. Don't get over-excited - this one long wall is all you're going to get. The rest of John of Gaunt's fortress was destroyed during two sieges in the Wars of the Roses, so the only buildings standing within the invisible ramparts are the ticket office and a couple of portaloos. A single spiral staircase ascends the crumbling gatehouse tower photos, through whose arrow-slit windows dart hungry swifts in search of food. From the top storey you can look back along the coast to Craster, or maybe out across the pristine sandy curve of Embleton Bay (if the mist isn't too thick). Oh yes, this is truly Natural Beauty. Outstanding.

Also worth a visit...
Howick Hall:
Ancestral home of Earl Grey (yes, him, the Prime Minister who introduced bergamot-blend tea to Britain in the 1830s). The gardens are exquisite photos, the new arboretum is extensive, and the tearoom serves proper Earl Grey. Unexpectedly adorable.

 Thursday, June 21, 2007

Northumberland flag  Postcard from Northumberland
  Alnwick


Alnwick CastleAlnwick (pronounced 'Annik') is a market town on the Great North Road which owes its importance to a large Norman castle. It's the second largest inhabited castle in Britain, after Windsor, and you'll have seen it many times on the small and big screen. The first Edmund Blackadder lived here, as did Kevin Costner's arch-enemy the Sheriff of Nottingham. More recently it's doubled up as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films - many's the Quidditch lesson that's taken place on the pristine lawn between the main keep and the Barbican tower photos. Alnwick Castle is home to the Duke of Northumberland, one of the more important British noblemen, who graciously allows the public to troop around his state apartments to see how the other half 0.001% live. Every room on the tour is over-ornate, über-showy, and littered with old portraits and modern family photographs. The ubiquitous photos feel like a Hello centrespread ("In medieval magnificence we meet Ralph, Lady Isobel and their utterly gorgeous offspring") and no opportunity is missed to point out that the family are jolly good friends with the Queen and several of her ancestors. The view from the battlements photos is of a totally unspoilt verdant valley and, after the tourists go home in the evening, this must be a magical place to live. Don't be jealous now.

the Grand Cascade, Alnwick GardenA new attraction just down the road is the Alnwick Garden, the horticultural brainchild of the Duchess of Northumberland. She's created a new green public space for locals and tourists alike, complete with water features, sculptures and acres of plants. The garden has only been open since 2002 and isn't quite finished yet, but there's still plenty to see. Centrepiece is the Grand Cascade which tumbles valleyward with choreographed fountains spurting half-hourly into the sky photos. At the top of the slope is a well-tended Ornamental Garden, and lower down a series of smaller themed areas. Particularly popular are the sweet-smelling pergolas of the Rose Garden and the metal water sculptures in the Serpent Garden photos. A deadly Poison Garden has been established behind locked gates, inside which tour guides delight in pointing out all the killer plants that lurk unnoticed in your own back garden. Toddlers play happily on the mini-tractors at the foot of the main fountain, scooping water from the cascade and dumping it unceremoniously on their parents' feet. Older children, meanwhile, are more likely to enjoy swaying across the rope bridges of the big wooden Treehouse. It's a glorious half-day out, especially in midsummer sunshine, but you're probably better off coming back when the place is finished.

Also worth a visit...
Barter Books:
a huge second-hand bookshop housed inside Alnwick's disused railway station photos

 Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Northumberland flag  Postcard from Northumberland
  Holy Island


St AidanIf you want to visit the cradle of English Christianity, you need to pick your time carefully. A three mile causeway is the only road link between Holy Island and the Northumberland mainland, and for ten hours each day it lies underwater. Cross at the wrong time and you'll have to abandon your vehicle and climb a ladder into a wooden refuge above the incoming waves. There are no traffic lights, no warning signals, just a set of tide tables in a glass case at either end of the causeway. If you and your submerged car end up splashed across the local press, it'll be your own fault.

Alternatively, if you're even more careful, you can walk across the bay by following a line of tall wooden posts. A monk called Aidan came this way in 635 AD, sent to the island on a mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria to Christianity. Modern Britain bears the stamp of his religious legacy to this day. His monastery's most famous treasure are the ornate Lindisfarne Gospels, rescued from the island when the Vikings invaded and now to be seen... ah, damn, 350 miles away in the British Museum.Lindisfarne Priory Benedictine monks returned to Holy Island in 1082, founding a Priory whose imposing ruins still stand today photos, just down the road from the post office, two pubs and several gift shops. Don't come here today expecting peace and spiritual solitude.

The southwest corner of Holy Island has evolved into a tourist-oriented village. Coach parties stream across the causeway between high tides. Visitors wander the narrow lanes clutching ice creams and tea towels. The street down to the parish church is lined with holiday cottages. A hoppa shuttle ferries elderly visitors a few hundred yards from car park to interactive Heritage Centre. The boathouses by the harbour are swarming with artists and amateur photographers photos. The beach is infested with schoolkids munching crisps and sandwiches. And yet, against all the odds, a tangible sense of spiritual enlightenment remains.

Lindisfarne CastleThe southeast corner of the island is very different. Here, atop a lone rocky crag surrounded by sheep, sits the lonely outpost of Lindisfarne Castle photos. There's nothing overly special about the outer structure, an old Tudor fort, but the inside is quite spectacular. 100 years ago this crumbling pile was transformed into an intimate holiday home for the founder of Country Life magazine by renowned architect Edwin Lutyens. He converted the internal space into a series of arched rooms and twisty passageways, with steps and low ceilings which no doubt today would be banned under Health and Safety legislation. From the roof you can look out in splendid isolation across the village, harbour and bay photos. From the bedrooms the view is a little bleaker, but offset by the Gertrude Jekyll garden - a stone-walled quadrilateral of hardy plants. You'd probably love a stately pile like this, but the original owner sold up after just ten summers and the "Castle" is now under the ownership of the National Trust. Don't stay too long yourself either, you don't want to have to swim home.

Holy Island
Lindisfarne Priory
Lindisfarne Castle

 Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Northumberland flag  Postcard from Northumberland
  Cragside


Cragside, from belowBack in industrial Victorian Britain, Sir William Armstrong was an all-round inventive genius. He was an expert scientist with an interest in electricity and hydraulics. He was a successful engineer who designed ships and weapons of mass destruction. And in 1880 his Cheviot moorland house, Cragside, became the first anywhere in the world to be lit by electricity photos.

Sir William's thirst for invention led him to design several labour-saving devices which kept his household ticking over more efficiently. In his kitchen he installed an automatic rotating spit and an elementary dishwasher – not bad for the 19th century. To help his staff to move around the house quicker he installed a fully functional hydraulic passenger lift. And to power all of these appliances, in an age well before the National Grid, he created a series of artificial lakes and used them to generate a steady supply of hydroelectricity. Which is how, in 1880, he became the first person to adopt Joseph Swan's brand new electric filament bulb to light his house. Thomas Edison may have been first to the patent office, but William Armstrong was first to flick the domestic switch.

The original four table lamps – resembling glowing glass globes perched on top of elegant china vases - still light the drawing room today. Most visitors fail to notice their significance, preferring instead to ooh and aah at all the fixtures and furnishings preserved throughout this vast 100-room house. Cragside's setting is spectacular, perched halfway up a hillside overlooking a thick coniferous valley. At this time of year Sir William's 400 acre estate is resplendent with pink and purple rhododendrons (not all of which have yet wilted, not quite). The National Trust faithful come in their hundreds to enjoy the heady combination of horticultural expertise and engineering brilliance. And a very nice teashop, of course.

 Monday, June 18, 2007

Northumberland flag  Postcard from Northumberland
  The Farne Islands


aww, ickle puffinA couple of miles off the north Northumberland coast, close to Bamburgh Castle, lie a chain of 28 rocky islands with a population in the hundreds of thousands. Seabirds, that is, who flock to the Farne Islands in early summer to breed and to nest. And for less than £20 you can sail out to see them, and walk amongst them, and even get aerially bombarded by them. What a treat.

Pick your day carefully (becalmed and blue sky-ed is perfect) and head for the small coastal resort of Seahouses. Down by the harbourside are the ticket offices of five different boat companies, each fighting for a share of the seasonal tourist trade. Some appear to be doing rather better than others (although the more popular your tour operator, the more squashed you'll be in the boat that takes you out around the islands).

On the chugging journey across to the islands you start to notice cute little birds bobbing in the waves, and scudding low over the North Sea like tiny guided missiles, and soaring with wings outstretched over the boat, and... good grief, there are puffins everywhere! These adorable little birds are the most populous on the islands, but they share the rocks with guillemots, kittiwakes, cormorants and gulls. In May and June the cliffs of the larger islands are covered with squawking breeding pairs (and a nasty smelly white substance whose origin you can all too readily imagine). The boat sails right up close to several of the larger colonies where parents are nesting, chicks are hatching and neighbours are squabbling. It's like starring in your very own episode of Springwatch.

the Longstone LighthouseOut on the furthest islands the boat pauses beside a colony of grey seals. The seals stare back at the human intruders with a mixture of disinterest and disdain, before flopping inelegantly into the water or closing their eyes for a good long bask. Just round the corner is the Longstone Lighthouse, from which Grace Darling and her father set out in a tiny rowing boat in 1838 to rescue nine survivors from the wreck of the Forfarshire. Had Blue Peter been broadcast in those days, 22-year old Grace would undoubtedly have won a gold badge for her endeavours. As it was, sadly, she dies from tuberculosis just four years later. It's a tough life living in a windswept wavestruck tower in the unforgiving waters of the North Sea.

Arctic tern attackHighlight of my tour was a landing on Inner Farne – an NT-owned historical site and utterly-teeming bird sanctuary photos. It's chick-feeding time at the moment, and the island is a seething mass of avian life. And dangerous too. Walk up the boardwalk from the harbour and you can expect to be repeatedly dive-bombed by angry Arctic terns photos. They're enraged that you've ignored their angry guttural squawks and have dared to intrude so close to their nests. Down they swoop, aiming for the top of your head, ready to peck and poke in the hope that you'll move away quickly. And ouch, that nip hurts. Well-prepared trippers wear a protective sunhat, or wave an arm above their head in an attempt to keep beak away from bonce. Meanwhile the island's four semi-resident bird wardens walk around serene and unperturbed beneath guano-splattered headgear.

St Aidan lived on Inner Farne back in the 7th century, and very sensibly he built a small stone chapel which provides refuge from aerial attack. But don't hide away, be brave, because the footpaths further up the island are all perfectly safe too. You can walk right up to the clifftops and look down on guillemots and razorbills packed and stacked across the rockface photos. Some are nesting only a few feet away, with greedy gaping beaks peering out expectantly from beneath their parent's black oily wings. Meanwhile in the grassy centre of the island are crowds of lovable puffins, guarding over the burrows in which their single offspring are busy hatching photos. Off flies Dad across the sea, returning with a mouthful of sprats which he attempts to get back to Mum before a diving gull snatches them away. You could easily stay and watch this natural spectacle for hours, but the boat'll be leaving soon. Good luck getting back to the harbour unassaulted.

 Sunday, June 17, 2007

Northumberland flag  Postcard from Northumberland
  Flodden Field


stone memorial atop Flodden FieldOf all the pitched battles fought between the English and the Scots (eg Bannockburn 1314, Wembley 1977), the largest and bloodiest skirmish took place nearly 500 years ago on Flodden Field. King James IV of Scotland thought it would be a good idea to declare war on England while King Henry VIII was away fighting in Italy. And so, on a damp September afternoon in 1513, a huge Scottish army assembled high above the Tweed Valley on the eastern edge of the Cheviot Hills. Their defensive position was strong, but a cavalier advance down from the hilltop proved a costly mistake. Within just three hours the advancing English army had slaughtered ten thousand men, and one of those was the King himself.

They grow barley in Flodden Field today, beneath a tall stone cross which commemorates the dead from both sides photos. Standing atop the ridge you can look out across the battlefield, now verdant farmland, towards the slopes down which so many Scottish pikemen made their final charge. A narrow boggy gully divides the enemy positions, once running with blood, where skylarks now play. Recently a mile-long walking trail has been established around the heart of the battlefield, with a series of excellent information boards relating different chapters in this sorry tale of mass inter-national carnage. A couple of miles to the north the Scottish border weaves invisibly across a silent valley. The site has an eerie silence, and an inappropriate beauty.

Also worth a visit...
Ford and Etal:
A historic Borders estate, featuring a riverside narrow gauge railway which chugs aimlessly from Heatherslaw Corn Mill to Etal Castle.

 Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ahm off up north

It's been a year since I last took a week's holiday, so I thought it was about time I did the same again. I'm not going quite as far as Scotland this time, but nearly. I'm off to the toppermost county in England which, scandalously, I've never visited before. I'll be staying in a fishing village along the utterly gorgeous coast, with a bedroom view straight out across the North Sea. Let's hope it doesn't chuck it down with rain too often.

I have severe doubts that this rural location will be blessed with leaky wi-fi connections, so blog updates are unlikely until I return (but you never know). In the meantime I shall attempt to provide you with a steady stream of Twitters by uploading text messages direct from my mobile phone. Don't expect thrilling hourly updates, but I'll try to bring you a flavour of the glorious North East whenever the opportunity arises. Because I'd hate you to think that you were missing out.

If you get bored while I'm away, here are some other things to look at:
• The Millennium Dome reopens on June 24th as a mobile-sponsored entertainment hub - The O7. A new public space has just been opened outside, called Peninsula Square, and I've been along to take some photos. To see 20 of them, either click on the photo link in my sidebar or click here photos. It'll never be this empty again.
• You could always go and Walk the Olympic Park.
• There's plenty of old diamond geezer stuff to look through instead. This blog now has 58 monthly archive pages listed in the sidebar, so you could pick one of those at random every day and re-read it. That'd keep you busy until August (but I promise I'll be back a lot quicker than that).

 Friday, June 15, 2007

London 2102
From Wikipedia, the lightly-sponsored encyclopedia

London
South Croydon Rocks
EU Nation: ReUnited Kingdom
Country: English Archipelago
Area: 609 sq mi (1,577 km²)
Depth below sea level: 138m
This article is about a location in the ReUnited Kingdom. For other uses, see London (disambiguation).

London is the former capital city of the English Archipelago.

An important settlement for around two millennia, London is today one of the world's leading underwater theme parks.

Only a few remnants of Old London remain above sea level, notably Purley Cliffs and Biggin Hill. At low tide the London Eye, rebuilt following terrorist attack in 2039, can just be seen poking above the waters of Westminster Bay.

London forms part of the Northwest European continental shelf, and falls under the administrative jurisdiction of the ReUnited Kingdom.

Tourism and culture
Visitors to London usually set sail from the nation's capital, Birmingham-on-Sea. Hoverskims depart from Bullring Beach every hour, taking approximately seventeen minutes to reach the Greater London Maritime Zone. On arrival at North Greenwich Floating Pierhead, visitors descend by glass elevator into the world's largest underwater seadome - The CO2. Here all Carbon Passports are scanned and debited, and those with Negative Emission Equity are quarantined until their personal account equalises.

The Canary Wharf Islands
The highest of the Canary Wharf Islands
Bay-top attractions include the Hammersmith Lightship, Harrow Weald Island and the Dagenham International Surfboard Marina. A honeymoon resort has been established on the Canary Wharf Islands - an artificial archipelago of submerged skyscrapers. Couples can get married on a variety of themed lagoon beaches, taking full advantage of the area's tropical climate. Because the site lies in international waters, inter-species marriages are permitted here.

London's largest underwater resort is the Bayswater Seabed Spa, visited by an estimated 3.7 million people in 2099 [citation needed]. There are four thousand luxury pressurised hotel rooms, each with a view over the Hyde Park Coral Reef. The most popular subaqueous excursions are the Big Ben Diving Bell Experience and the Harrods Emporium Retail Blowout. In April 2103 the hotel's Banqueting Centre will host the 91st "Global Warming - Fact or Fiction?" Conference, sponsored by the George Bush IV Memorial Foundation.

Environmental history
Main article: History of pre-Innundation London.
Much of London was lost beneath the sea during the three-day winter of 2063 when the Thames Riverwall gave way. The subsequent tidal wave caused 13 million deaths in the Woolwich area alone, and finally ended a century of property price rises across the capital. Private equity consortium Metrowet was later found guilty of gross negligence and its directors banished to Lunar Penal Camp 7. English First Minister Jadine Mbutu was forced to relocate Parliament first to Hampstead and then, as water levels rose further, to a village hall just outside Coventry.

Archaeologists recently embarked on a series of deep-level dives to recover artefacts from the London surface[27]. Beneath Livingstone Square they found evidence of an ancient means of submarine travel called Oyster, whereby residents used blue cards to propel themselves along flooded tubes in leaky metal carriages. They also discovered millions of abandoned rusty four-wheeled vehicles, each powered by a petrol-driven engine banned under the Mumbai Convention of 2070. Carbon Police are currently attempting to trace the former owners of these vehicles so that their descendants can be sued for contributing to global flooding.

This article is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.

 Thursday, June 14, 2007

It's getting more and more crowded on the tube, and not because there are more passengers. It's because of bags. People never used to carry quite so many bags around with them, but now nearly everybody has at least one. Handbags, shoulder bags, carrier bags, gym bags, the list is almost endless. And what a lot of carriage space they take up. There you are trying to squeeze onto a train in the rush hour, but it's almost impossible to get on because a significant percentage of the carriage space is being taken up by bags. See that suited City bloke with a laptop bag in his hand and a holdall slung over his shoulder? Don't get too close or he'll squash you. Selfish space-hogger. See that secretary standing in the doorway with her cavernous handbag and three designer shopping bags? She may be thin herself, but these bags make her the spatial equivalent of an obese whopper. Selfish space-hogger. See that paint-stained workman with a chunky fat toolbox down on the floor where everyone keeps tripping over it? Nobody can get close to him. Selfish space-hogger. See that shaggy student type with a bulging rucksack drooping from his back? He's taking up double the space he would normally, because nobody can stand in the shadow of his artificial hunchback. Selfish space-hogger. This crowd and their excessive bag quotient are smugly clogging up the train, and there I am left standing on the platform as the doors close. Bags don't buy tickets, bags don't have a job to go to, but bags are travelling by tube in place of genuine passengers. If only a few more people would leave their carriers at home, more of the rest of us could be carried ourselves.

It's getting more and more crowded on the tube, and not because there are more passengers. It's because of newspapers. People never used to carry quite so many newspapers around with them, but now nearly everybody has at least one. The number of free papers being thrust into Londoners' hands is almost endless. And what a lot of carriage space reading those newspapers takes up. There you are trying to squeeze onto a train in the rush hour, but it's almost impossible to get on because a significant percentage of the commuters inside insist on reading their newspapers. See that suited City bloke with a Financial Times flapping in his hands? He's not shutting it for anyone. Selfish space-hogger. See that secretary standing in the doorway engrossed in her London Lite? She's not noticed you, so you'll have to squeeze round to one side (if you can). Selfish space-hogger. See that paint-stained workman checking out the back of a red-top tabloid? Nobody's getting in the way of him reading the latest sports news. Selfish space-hogger. See that shaggy student type flicking through a discarded Metro? He's taking up double the space he would normally, because nobody's allowed to stand within his quarantined newsprint triangle. Selfish space-hogger. This crowd, and their refusal to stop reading when more commuters want to get on, are unnecessarily clogging up the train. Nobody has a divine right to read in an overcrowded carriage, nobody's open newspaper deserves to leave other passengers stranded on the platform. If only a few more people would learn to tolerate unstimulated commuting, more of the rest of us could climb on board.


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