diamond geezer

 Monday, December 31, 2007

Review of the year - 2007

Most reviews of the year concentrate on events which happened during the last 12 months. Disasters, triumphs, deaths, victories and other items of general important-ness. But at the end of another turbulent year I'd prefer to reflect on some of the things which didn't happen, even though people thought they might. And I'm not taking about uncovering the fate of possibly-abducted three year old girls, or General Elections that failed to materialise. I'm talking about much more important non-events than that.

During 2007 life on Earth was not wiped out by a passing meteorite. No amateur astronomer suddenly spotted a huge previously-unseen lump of rock hurtling through space on an incoming trajectory. No world leader was forced to go on television and announce the imminent end of global civilisation. No blazing fireball was increasingly evident in the evening sky, no riots broke out as society broke down, and nobody had to decide who to cuddle/snog/shag during the final five minutes of human consciousness. We didn't go the way of the dinosaurs. Not in 2007.
Near Earth Objects; The Torino Scale; list of past impacts; Apophis 2029

During 2007 bird flu failed to decimate the world's population. No evil virus mutated inside the bloodstream of an East Asian chicken, before accidentally transmitting itself to a small child during a freak papercut accident. No unstoppable epidemic spread across the globe unhindered by inadequate air travel safety regulations. No ambulances driven by gas-masked medics clogged the streets of Britain carting away the dead bodies of much-loved relatives inside zipped-up plastic bags. The human race didn't fall foul of pandemic viral evolution. Not in 2007.
Avian influenza; be prepared; UK contingency plan; WHO pandemic alert

During 2007 the atmosphere was not stripped away by rampant global warming. No melting icecaps caused irreversible continental innundation and the permanent cessation of the Gulf Stream. No rising sea levels destroyed coastal cities and inhibited worldwide agricultural production. No deadly radiation slipped through the wafer-thin ozone layer creating lifeless parched landscapes and causing permanent epidermal scarring. No unpredictable hurricanes swept across the face of the planet drowning every unfortunate town and village beneath their path. We're not all living underwater yet. Not in 2007.
climate change; UK climate impact; Bali 2007; American uncertainty

During 2007 the UK was not beset by a string of terrorist atrocities. No evil suicide bombers ran amok in our major cities causing death and destruction on an unprecedented scale. No religious zealots caused planes to crash or trains to explode, nor even managed to cause a mild detonation using bleach and peroxide in an obscure Midlands suburb. Either our security forces are extremely talented in weeding out potential killers or else our home-grown terrorists have been a bit rubbish. The forces of darkness don't appear to be converting threats into actions in quite the numbers our government might like to suggest. Not in 2007.
UK Resilience; London Prepared; defending civil liberties; current threat level

And you're still here. 2007 may not have been your best year, but you've made it through to New Year's Eve in one piece. You may have suffered major disappointments or failed at something you were hoping desperately to achieve. You may have been on the receiving end of bad news or learned something you'd rather not know about your health. You may even have lost loved ones who were very dear to you. But you're still here. And, on a global scale, that's a bit of a triumph. May 2008 be similarly uneventful.

 Sunday, December 30, 2007

Four of the most important conversations I had during 2007

1) On the Robert Elms Show (BBC Radio London, 12/01/07)
Mr Elms: Hello me old china, welcome to my show cor blimey. Tell us about this 2012 Olympic Marathon route then.
Me: [puts on best Estuary accent] Well, every Olympic Marathon has to end up at the Olympic Stadium, so that means running up the A11.
Mr Elms: Hehe lol. And then where does it go?
Me: There's this wasteland up the River Lea where the stadium's going.
Mr Elms: Hehe lol. I'm sorry, that's all we have time for.
Me: But that was barely five minutes. I had tons more to say.
Mr Elms: Sorry, your media career just peaked. And now we've got Joan from Streatham on the line to talk about fish.

2) At the boss's desk (in the office, 05/02/07)
The boss: I've got to read out this announcement word for word. There's going to be a restructure.
Me: Oh god, not another one.
The boss: We're splitting the team up into bits and recombining some bits elsewhere, because a consultant said it made sense.
Me: Oh god, oh god.
The boss: And, even though I don't yet know it, I'm going to get made redundant as a result.
Me: Oh god. But I bet they revert everything back to normal by the end of the year.
The new boss: Nearly normal... and yet utterly different.

3) In the hospital ward (Royal London, 23/05/07)
Pharmacist: Hello, I'm the nice lady who brings round the tablets every three hours. What medicines are you on?
Me: Erm, I'm not on any medicines at all. The nice ambulanceman only just wheeled me in.
Pharmacist: But everybody else in this ward is on huge handfuls of smarties eight times a day.
Me: I've never actually swallowed a tablet in my life.
Pharmacist: Well make the most of today, because from tomorrow you'll be gobbling down my goodies for the rest of your life.
Me: Blimey, imagine how much worse it would be if I was actually ill.

4) Outside the usual pub (West End, 16/11/07)
BestMate: So, the Americans just turned down my visa.
Me: But, but, but, you've been living over there for nearly five years.
BestMate: I know, but I can't go back now, they won't let me. So I'm going to have to move back to London permanently.
Me: Oh bugger, that's a shame. Where shall we go out tomorrow night?

 Saturday, December 29, 2007

The five albums I enjoyed most during 2007
1)
Except that, erm, it turns out that I only bought five albums during the whole of 2007
2) And it would be wrong to rank those five, because four of them don't really deserve their place
3) In fact there's only one I'm still listening to, and the rest are gathering dust on a shelf
4) I don't know where music and I fell out, but I really don't consume tunes like I used to
5) I blame downloads, and the X Factor, and the unexpected onset of middle aged disinterest
[sigh]

The seven links you clicked on the most during 2007
1)
Twitter, which I used to keep you up-to-date while I was spending a long weekend in Skegness and a week in Northumberland (and which I still use, intermittently, to get things off my chest to an audience of friends, acquaintances and stalkers)
2) The dead clever London Pedestrian Routemap Map, which shows how walking routes link together key central London locations (a prototype, alas not since updated)
3) The exceptionally hideous January 2008 tube map (still only available on a wall at Langdon Park DLR station)
4) The November tube map, the one with added London Overground, the one which looks like it's being strangled by an ugly tangerine octopus
5) Ollie's photo of the Moo card I hid somewhere in East London as part of the inaugural DG East London Treasure Hunt (really, it's not that exciting a photo)
6) The non-existent product details of the non-existent Z740xi mobile phone which I used back in January to blog "live" from an imaginary London-wide disaster (ah, golden days)
7) The Diamond Geezer Readers Network, which allegedly exists on Facebook (although I'm not a member and never will be, so I've never seen it) [erm, that was your 7th most-clicked link of 2007 but it doesn't work, apparently, this does]

 Friday, December 28, 2007

London Journeys: To the centre of Hampton Court Maze

Hampton Court Maze has been baffling visitors for more than three centuries. It was laid out in the palace gardens in 1690, one of four mazes planted for the enjoyment of King William III and his court. The original hornbeam hedges have long since been replanted in yew, but the same half mile of paths survive to this day. The key to the maze's longevity is its forward-looking design. This is no simple one-track medieval labyrinth. This is a proper puzzle with seductive junctions, frustrating loops and deceptive dead ends. Fancy testing yourself? [1]

this way to the Maze[1] "The aim of the Hampton Court Maze", reads the information board outside the entrance, "is to get to the centre." Just in case you though otherwise. Cough up £3.50 (or wave your Palace entrance ticket) and venture inside. It's not a difficult start. The dead end immediately to your right has been blocked off to form a storage area and an exit passage, so veer left and trek around the western perimeter. It's easy to be over-confident at this point, striding ahead as yet unchallenged. But the first junction - a narrow gap carved through the hedge - introduces initial indecision. Take your pick.
Through the gap and left? [2] Through the gap and right? [3] Or continue along the original path? [3]

[2] This looks promising. A long twisty-turny-path between high green walls, with what looks like a hidden right turn at the end. Damn, no, it's a dead end. OK, time to save face. Turn round slowly and head back, grinning innocently at the steady stream of equally misguided tourists shuffling to a similar fate. Should any of them ask whether this is a dead end or not, just smile and lie. Then pray you don't meet them again further along in your travels. Try that first junction again.
Straight ahead? [3] Or through the gap and straight ahead? [3]

[3] That's right, it doesn't matter which of these two paths you take, you still end up at the same second junction. This is one of those cunningly-designed loops where you could keep walking round and round in circles for ever. But don't. It's just a short distance ahead to the next fork in the path.
Hmm, isn't it foolproof to keep your hand on the left-hand hedge? [4] Or maybe it's the right-hand hedge? [5]

[4] On into the heart of the maze, bend after bend after bend. But rounding the fifth and final corner reveals - damn - an impenetrable green barrier. You've been unlucky here. Contrary to what you might expect there are only three dead ends inside Hampton Court Maze, and you've just wandered down the longest of them. If it's any consolation, King William III probably made exactly the same mistake.
Retrace your steps to the previous junction and take the other path [5]

four-way yew junction[5] This long path skirts around the central clearing, where jubilant finishers can be glimpsed oh-so tantalisingly close on the other side of the hedge. But no premature short-cut through the foliage is possible - the maze's iron-railing skeleton makes certain of that. Although you can pass through the hedge at the next junction, where 20th century gardeners have cut an elegant archway to link two of the original pathways.
Are you tempted through? [left 6, right 8] Or will you ignore the arch and carry on round the bend? [6]

[6] Two of the paths from the arch follow opposite ends of a single hedge, recombining at another junction on the maze's perimeter. A motion sensor is hidden here, one of several installed a couple of years ago as part of a permanent "sound installation". Your passing might trigger genteel laughter, or some softly spoken quotation, or the clang of tiny cymbals - a randomly-generated sound at every location. Rest assured that the overall effect is enchanting rather than intrusive. And that any swearing you might hear is real-life frustration, not art.
Head north, away from the arch [7] Or go back [5]

[7] When Harris took a stroll around Hampton Court Maze in Three Men in a Boat, it was probably within this eastern section that he and the baying crowd got horribly lost. There's one pathway in particular where, no matter which wall you try to follow, the maze will always bring you back to the same spot. Bring along a penny bun and drop it in the right spot, and this truth is easily proved. But Jerome K Jerome was undoubtedly exaggerating the maze's difficulty for comic effect - eternal entrapment is an entirely improbable outcome.
Back west? [6] Down south? [8] Or away to the east? [9]

trim that hedge, boys[8] If you've brought a toddler with you, they're probably gurgling merrily by now. You'd better run after them before they totter headlong down the next leafy canyon and disappear round yet another corner.
Back west? [6] Up north? [7] Or away to the east? [9]

[9] At this point your sense of direction will be screaming that you must, surely, be going the wrong way. The centre of the maze is far behind you, and you really ought to be heading back. So when a new path appears leading even further away from the centre, you'd be forgiven for ignoring it, wouldn't you?
Take it [10] Ignore it [7] or [8]

[10] A single decision stands between you and salvation. One of the two paths ahead looks like the correct route but is in fact a dead end. And the other looks like a dead end but is in fact the correct route.
You know which way to go [11]

[11] Look, the mazekeepers really do have a big green stepladder, over there on the other side of the hedge. Presumably they clamber up and bark directions during periods of labyrinthine crisis, such as when a school party is in danger of missing their coach home. But no assistance is needed from this point on. A small green sign is now visible ahead, blatantly announcing that the "centre" is just around the corner. They've had to erect it here in case disoriented punters stop at the gate labelled "fast exit" immediately beforehand, and pass out through the turnstile without ever reaching their goal. It would be a crying shame to miss out.
On to the centre! [12]

centre of Hampton Court Maze[12] Is this the central courtyard, or is this a concrete patio knocked together by some Channel 4 lifestyle programme? Bland wooden trelliswork holds back a ring of replanted hornbeam. To left and right, where two tall trees once cast a welcome shadow, sit clumps of squat stools awaiting weary backsides. And, in the very centre of the centre, an upturned conic pedestal bears the legend "We found the Maze Centre at Hampton Court Palace 2007" (with the final "7" daubed on in thick temporary paint). You might want to ask those two foreign students over there to take your photograph, before they ask you. Smile - you’ve just solved a classic 17th century puzzle.
Bet you want to go back and solve it again [1]


Originally butchered by over-zealous sub-editors in Time Out Magazine London [12 September 2007]

 Thursday, December 27, 2007

20 ways to use up your leftover turkey

• With chips
• Curry, obviously
• Lightly fried in a pesto sauce with diced shallots
• Take the leftovers back to the supermarket and demand a refund
• Mince it up to create vol-aux-vents for your New Year's Eve buffet
• Drive up to Norfolk and post it through Bernard Matthews letterbox
• Leave it outside your local police station inside a plastic bag labelled "Extreme Danger - Bird Flu"
• Throw it out for the seagulls
• Whatever the meat is on page 47 of Nigella's latest, try using turkey instead
• Dip a chunk in cocoa, hide in a box of chocolates, and watch auntie's face when she tries one
• Hide it in your neighbour's recycling bin and see how long it takes them to work out where the smell's coming from
• Wrap in tinfoil and post to starving people overseas
• Fondue
• Dig a hole in your back garden and bury the lot
• Make some turkey sandwiches and leave them on the bus
• Cut into snowflake shapes, spray with varnish and hang on the tree as decorations
• Stick the rest at the back of the freezer and get it out for Easter
• Why not just buy a smaller turkey next year?
• Or go vegan - they never have this problem with nut roasts
[I'm sure you can come up with a 20th]

 Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas at Canary Wharf

 Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas at St Pancras

 Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Tale of Two Cities

Cartier, Old Bond Street1 Now when Christmas was nigh in Mayfair of Westminster in the days of Nigella the Great, behold, there came fur-coated ladies from the shires to Old Bond Street,
2 saying, Where are they who are selling Bling and the shoes? for we have seen their adverts in the glossies, and have driven our 4×4s to worship him.

3 When Ken the Mayor had heard these things, he was troubled, and all London with him.
4 And when he had gathered all the chief policemen and councillors of the people together, he demanded of them where this shopping madness should be borne.
5 And they said unto him, In Mayfair of Westminster: for thus it is written by the Evening Standard,
6    And thou Mayfair, in the land of Congestion Charge,
      art not the least among the wealth of aristocracy:
      for out of thee shall come luxury purchases,
      that shall tempt my people decadently.


7 Then Prince Boris, when he had privily called the fur-coated ladies, inquired of them diligently what time the pre-Christmas sales appeared.
8 And he sent them to Mayfair, and said, Go and search diligently for the shiniest jewellery and designer-iest handbags; and when ye have found them, bring me word again, that I may come and spend my fortune also.

vulgar Bulgari9 When they had heard the floppy-fringed one, they departed; and, lo, the deluxe brand awareness, which they saw in the West End, went before them, till it came and stood over where the exclusive retail destination was.
10 When they saw the shops, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11 And when they were come into the boutiques, they saw the fabulous riches with Dolce and Gabbana, and fell down, and worshipped them: and when they had purchased their treasures, they presented unto themselves gifts; gold, and fine fragrance, and accessories.

12 And being warned by Boris in a dream that they should not return to Ken, they hailed a taxi and departed into their own country another way.


Chrisp Street Market1 And there were in the same country East Enders abiding in the estates, keeping watch over their budgets by night.
2 And, lo, the economic decline of the country came upon them, and the taxation of the Chancellor shone round about them; and they were sore afraid.

3 And the market inspector said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all immigrants and indigenous Cockneys.
4 For unto you is sold this day in the market of Chrisp Street a Special Offer, which is Three For Two.
5 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the bargains wrapped in a blue plastic bag, lying on a trestle table.

Market Way, E146 And suddenly there was with the inspector a multitude of the heavenly stallholders trading goods, and saying,
7    Glorious plastic toys are the cheapest,
      and on racks t-shirts,
      fake trainers toward men.


8 And it came to pass, as the stallholders were gone away from them into Fred's Cafe, the residents said one to another, Let us now go even unto the pawnbrokers, and sell our things which have come to pass, to pay for that which the Christmas adverts hath made known unto us.
9 And they came home with haste, and found three Uncles and Grandma, and the kids lying on a sofa.
10 And after they had seen Christmas, they made savings which were required of them concerning the New Year.

11 And all they that heard it wondered at these things.

 Sunday, December 23, 2007

No longer true...
There are 12 London Underground lines. No longer true. There are now 11, and will be for the foreseeable future. When the East London line reopens in 2010 it'll be part of the London Overground, not the Underground network.
The Underground has 274 stations. No longer true. There are now 268. Today we've lost Wapping, Rotherhithe and Surrey Quays, which now exist only as replacement bus service stops. We've lost New Cross and New Cross Gate, which now exist only as National Rail stations. And we've lost Shadwell, which is now only on the DLR (which isn't a London Underground line, as any fule know).
terminating New Cross GateThe Underground runs over 253 miles (408km) of line. No longer true. Now it's 248 miles (400km)... plus four particularly useless replacement bus services.
The East London Line is the only line without a station in Zone 1. No longer true. All the remaining lines do.
Five London boroughs are not served by the London Underground. No longer true. Today Lewisham joins that list to make six, along with Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Sutton and Kingston.
The Jubilee line is the only Underground route that connects with all others. No longer true. (I wonder how long it'll take the O2 website to change this one. Ages probably, given the number of other howlers on the same page). Let's work this one out. Any line which connects with all others must connect with the Waterloo & City line. So we're only interested in lines that pass through either Waterloo or Bank. Through Waterloo we have the Jubilee, Northern and Bakerloo (all of which link up). And through Bank we have the Central (which also links) plus maybe the Circle (if we're allowed to treat Bank/Monument as one station, which TfL increasingly do). But we can't have the District, because that just misses the Metropolitan by a few metres (at Aldgate). So the newly-updated statement should be "The Jubilee, Northern, Bakerloo, Central and Circle lines are the only Underground routes that connect with all others." Which just isn't interesting any more, sorry.
The Thames Tunnel is the oldest section of tunnel in the London Underground. No longer true. Now the oldest is along the original Metropolitan railway tunnel between Paddington and Farringdon, opened 1863. Probably. Unless you know better.
Wapping is the only station which has no letters in common with the word 'lobster'. No longer true. Now every Underground station shares at least one letter with the word 'lobster'. Is nothing sacred?

The East London line, now departing
If you ever seek to meet London's entire population of trainspotters, take a ride on the final service to an about-to-be-disused tube station. And if the last train runs well after midnight don't worry, because you'll easily spot them earlier in the day too. They're the blokes wielding big-lensed cameras on the platforms, and the blokes sitting by themselves in each carriage with a sad but contented smile on their face, and the blokes who stay aboard the train at the end of the line so that they can travel straight back again. And so it was yesterday on the East London line. It's not every day an entire line closes, even if it is only for 30 months, so any excuse to spend a Saturday well away from the wife and the Christmas shopping. Even if the last day is actually the very worst day to try to take photos, because every shot ends up full of other blokes trying to take photos.

the Thames TunnelAll the stations on the East London line were busy, noticeably busier than usual. TfL appeared to have rostered an additional member of staff on every platform keeping an eye on the all the additional enthusiasts lest they accidentally misbehave. You know the sort of thing - using flash photography, or trying to walk into off-limits bits of the station, or leaning out in front of passing trains in search of the perfect photo. I'm not sure what grim fate faces these members of staff today now that their stations are closed until 2010. Pointing passengers towards replacement bus services, maybe, or perhaps redeployed in less important posts at other stations elsewhere. Amputating a limb from the Underground network has a human cost as well as a financial price.

I do wonder what the line's usual passengers made of it all. They expect to be sharing their carriage with the odd well wicked hoodied bro, not a crowd of excitable photographers. They expect to have plenty of room to stand on the platform, not having to walk round a phalanx of eager snappers. And they expect to be able to walk up the stairs at Rotherhithe unhindered, whereas yesterday afternoon I wandered straight into a bunch of paid-up enthusiasts on the Brunel Museum's Tunnel Tour. Thanks for turning on the floodlights in the tunnels, guys, I got a much better photograph as a result. Erm, yes, I admit, I was there taking a few photographs myself. Sorry if I got in the way of your shot.

 Saturday, December 22, 2007

The East London line: a farewell

terminating WhitechapelToday is the very last day of service on the East London line. Tonight, after the last train to New Cross Gate (probably about quarter past one), the entire line faces prolonged shutdown. Come back in June 2010 and the tracks and stations will have been re-engineered and reborn as part of the London Overground network. But come back tomorrow and you'll have to ride the replacement bus service instead. It's not an exciting prospect.

As you'll remember from my in-depth feature 18 months ago, the East London line is a historic little railway. It includes Sir Marc Brunel's pioneering Thames Tunnel, the very first tunnel to be bored beneath a navigable river, as well as some wonderfully atmospheric subterranean Victorian brick stations. And it's also a very modern railway. The entire line was shut down for three years as recently as 1995, enabling the tracks and tunnel to be restored and a brand-spanking new station to be built at Canada Water. As you'll remember. Look, I'm not going to go into all the history again. It's over here if you're interested, in 6000 words and 70 pictures. Think of it as a pen portrait of an endangered species, facing extinction tonight.

Wapping southboundBut for this week at least, it's been business as usual on the East London line. At Whitechapel folk still descend the steps from the District line platforms to catch a little four-coach train south. At Shadwell they still ride the lift down to almost-platform level rather than taking the stairs. At Wapping they still stand somewhat precariously on what must be the narrowest platform on the entire tube network, watching down the tunnel beneath the Thames for the headlamps of an approaching train. At Rotherhithe they still listen to the ominous dripping of pumped-out water rushing somewhere above their heads. At Canada Water they still swarm down the escalators to ride the much more popular Jubilee line into town. At Surrey Quays they still wait beneath the orange-topped columns and ornate iron work clutching bags from the nearby shopping centre. And at bifurcated New Cross and New Cross Gate they still wait patiently for an all-too-rare train to arrive, and pause, and eventually depart. Nothing ever happens quickly here, nor on a grand scale, and that's part of the line's subterranean charm.

shuffling away from Canada WaterThe East London line's not the busiest on the tube network. If you ever want to get a seat during the rush hour, head here. A mere 34000 souls use its services daily (compared to half a million on the Piccadilly and two-thirds of a million on the Northern), perhaps because it doesn't really go anywhere useful. But for local residents and cross-river commuters it's an extremely convenient lifeline, and one they're going to have to learn to live without. Let's hope that the shiny new East London Railway which finally emerges in 2½ years time will be worth the wait.

East London line history
East London line photos
East London line last day arrangements (rumour has it that a not-terribly-special special train will be running the length of the line from about 3pm until shutdown)
East London line replacement bus services (30 months of hideous inconvenience)
East London line future (including a fly-through explanatory video of the new project)

 Friday, December 21, 2007

Britain's top names for baby boys 2007
1) Jack (2006 1st) (2002 1st) (1994 3rd) (1984 74th) (1964 >100) (1944 81st)
2) Thomas (2006 2nd) (2002 3rd) (1994 1st) (1984 11th) (1964 34th) (1944 19th)
3) Oliver (2006 4th) (2002 10th) (1994 23rd) (1984 48th) (1964 >100) (1944 >100)
4) Joshua (2006 3rd) (2002 2nd) (1994 7th) (1984 78th) (1964 >100) (1944 >100)
5) Harry (2006 5th) (2002 11th) (1994 30th) (1984 >100) (1964 >100) (1944 65th)

New entries in the top 20: Mohammed, Jacob, Dylan
New entries in the top 50: Jayden, Isaac, Finley
New entries in the top 100: Zak, Louie


Britain's top names for baby girls 2007
1) Grace (2006 2nd) (2002 19th) (1994 47th) (1984 >100) (1964 >100) (1944 >100)
2) Ruby (2006 4th) (2002 66th) (1994 >100) (1984 >100) (1964 >100) (1944 >100)
3) Olivia (2006 1st) (2002 10th) (1994 24th) (1984 >100) (1964 >100) (1944 >100)
4) Emily (2006 5th) (2002 2nd) (1994 8th) (1984 36th) (1964 >100) (1944 >100)
5) Jessica (2006 3rd) (2002 3rd) (1994 3rd) (1984 40th) (1964 >100) (1944 >100)

New entries in the top 20: Isabelle, Evie
New entries in the top 50: Summer, Ava
New entries in the top 100: Evelyn, Sara, Victoria, Rose, Maria, Hollie, Lexie, Julia

Britain's longest-lived monarchs
1) Elizabeth II: 29829 days (81y 8m)
2) Victoria: 29828 days (81y 7m 29d)
3) George III: 29823 days (81y 7m 25d)
4) Edward VIII: 28463 days (77y 11m 5d)
5) George II: 28109 days (76y 11m 15d)

• Elizabeth II slips into first place today (well, actually 5pm yesterday afternoon)
• The longest-lived British ruler is Richard Cromwell (86y 9m 8d). Our Queen will overtake him on 29th January 2012, a week before her Diamond Jubilee.
• Prince Charles won't enter this Top 5 list (assuming he lives long enough, and becomes King) until October 2025

Britain's longest-reigning monarchs
1) Victoria: 23226 days (63y 7m 2d)
2) George III: 21644 days (59y 3m 4d)
3) James VI (of Scotland): 21066 days (57y 9m 3d)
4) Henry III (of England): 20482 days (56y 0m 28d)
5) Elizabeth II: 20407 days (55y 10m 15d)

• Elizabeth II has been in 5th place on this list since 2002 (when she overtook Edward III)
• She'll leapfrog into 4th place on 7th March next year, into 3rd place on 11 October 2009 and into second place on 20 May 2011.
• She'll become Britain's longest reigning monarch (assuming she lives long enough) on 10th September 2015.

 Thursday, December 20, 2007

Making the unmissable unmissable

Where will you be watching telly on Christmas Day? On a television set, probably. But this Christmas there's going to be a brand new alternative - on your computer. The BBC has chosen 25th December to launch its iPlayer service, making the last 7 days of original BBC programming available to watch again online. If you have a UK broadband connection, this new broadcast opportunity might revolutionise your viewing.

Christmas Day is a strange date to launch a new online service. Will there be any BBC technicians around if things go wrong? And don't most people spend December 25th being sociable rather than hunched over a computer? But the launch date has been chosen, apparently, because there are so many great festive specials to watch at this time of year. Miss the Top of The Pops Christmas Special because you you were eating lunch? Watch it on your computer after the Queen's Speech. Sick of Strictly Come Dancing later in the evening? Click through and watch Oliver Twist instead. Miss the Doctor Who Kylie Special because granny wanted to watch Emmerdale? Sneak off and watch it on your laptop later after she's fallen asleep. And yes, you could do all of that already using a videotape or DVD recorder. But with the new service you can watch anything, even programmes you hadn't realised were on and therefore didn't think to record in advance. Trust me, it's a winner.

iPlayer has been running in beta since the summer, and I've been fortunate enough to be signed up as one of the triallists. Until very recently this beta trial has been download only, and Windows only, and Internet Explorer only, and really rather slow. Programmes sometimes took hours or days to be made available online, or maybe never even appeared at all. And each programme had to be downloaded from the website before you could watch it, which often took well over an hour and significantly slowed down my computer while it was arriving. No instant gratification there. What was fantastic was being able to watch each downloaded programme offline, at any time during the following month. But the hassle and delay involved in downloading everything meant that I lost interest in the service, and pretty much stopped using it.

Suddenly, iPlayer is different. Now there's a really simple streaming option, and I can be watching a new programme in less than a minute. Pick something fresh from the index (arranged by transmission date, initial letter or category), click on "Play" and off I go. Watch the programme in a small window, or expand it and watch a slightly pixellated version full screen. Good news - the streaming service isn't restricted to Windows or to Internet Explorer, so Mac and Linux users should now be rather happier. Viewers won't need to be logged in with a username any more either. But post-watershed programmes will bring up an advisory message (yes, I am over 16, honest) and parents can lock down dodgy programming with a password if they so choose.

Want to fast forward to the really good bit five minutes from the end of the program? No problem. Can't hear the soundtrack? Pump the volume up to 11. Want to start again when the videostream breaks down ("There seems to be a problem playing this video - please try again"). Sigh and refresh the page. Want to watch something from 7 days ago? Sorry, you only get the last 6 to choose from. Want to download the programme (with much higher video quality) to watch offline later? Well, you can still do that with some/most shows if you want. But I shall be streaming from now on, because I prefer the here and now.

With the Christmas launch of the iPlayer, the BBC enters YouTube territory. Watching videostreams online is where it's at, and the younger generation may now start viewing BBC programmes they'd normally have ignored. And look what this does to blogging. In the past I'd have had to write "Did you see Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe Xmas Special last night, it was great?" and you'd all sigh because you missed it. And now I can write "Did you see Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe Xmas Special last night, it was great?" and you can all click through and watch it for yourself. Well, if you've got nothing else to do at work this afternoon, why not? And if you've got nothing else to do on Christmas Day, maybe you could watch it again then too.

Update: Or, even better...

 Wednesday, December 19, 2007

With the Christmas last post deadline fast approaching, I've been busy writing lots of addresses on envelopes. You know, the sort of addresses you only write to once a year, belonging to people you no longer see but can't bear to lose contact with. And, every December, I have the same pangs of mild guilt as I write the first line of each address on each envelope. Like this...

To <Forename 1> <Surname 1>
Hmmm, I wonder if that's still the right address? He didn't send me a card last year, so maybe he's moved. Maybe he thinks I didn't send him a card last year, even though I did. But if he's moved then I sent it to the wrong address, so he never got it, so he thinks I don't care any more, whereas I do. Maybe I'm wasting my time every year sending a card to an old address where the new owners just throw it in the bin. But not sending a card at all would be wildly impolite. Oh it's so difficult when you only communicate once a year.

To the <Surname 2> family
Hmmm, I wonder if I ought to reply to the letter they sent in their card 12 months ago. There were lots of fascinating things in that letter, but it's probably too late to reply to them now. I bet that this year's card, and letter, are winging their way through the post as we speak. Maybe I ought to wait until they arrive and then reply to this year's letter in this year's card. But if I wait too long I'll miss the last posting date, and then they'll get my card too late. Perhaps I won't reply to their letters at all, I'll just sign my card and post it. Even though that would be wildly impolite given all their effort in writing me an annual letter. Oh it's so difficult when you only communicate once a year.

To <Forename 3> <Surname 3B>
Hmmm, I wonder if that's still her surname? There was a hint in last year's card that she was having marital problems, so maybe she's split up with her evil cheating husband by now. In which case the last thing she'll want is to see <Surname 3B> on the envelope. But I can't risk going back to her maiden name and calling her <Surname 3A> because, if the two of them are still together, that would be wildly impolite. I've got to write the same surname as last Christmas, but I could be really putting my foot in it. Oh it's so difficult when you only communicate once a year.

To <Forename 4i> and <Forename 4ii> <Surname 4>
Hmmm, I wonder if both of them are still alive. There was a hint in last year's card that he was distinctly unwell, perhaps chronically, so maybe she's been widowed by now. In which case the last thing she'll want to see is <Forename 4ii> on the envelope. But I can't risk missing him off because, if he's still hanging on, that would be wildly impolite. I've got to write the same two forenames as last Christmas, but I could be really putting my foot in it. Oh it's so difficult when you only communicate once a year.

To <Forename 5> <Surname 5>
Hmmm, I wonder if he's still alive. He's getting on a bit, and he didn't send me a card last year. If he has died in the last couple of years then nobody would have thought to write to me about it, because all I do is send him a Christmas card every year. But maybe this year I'm sending a card to a dead man's house. The new owners might be throroughly sick of receiving a dead man's mail by now. And I'll probably now carry on sending a pointless card to a dead man every year because nobody's told me it's pointless. But I can't risk not sending a card, because assuming that he might have died would be wildly impolite. Oh it's so difficult when you only communicate once a year.

 Tuesday, December 18, 2007

London 2012  Olympic update
  The earth moved


Olympic Stadium site - December 2007Well that didn't take long. It's still less than six months since the 2012 Olympic Park was sealed off, but the wholesale demolition of the site has been extremely rapid. Back in July there were warehouses and factories where the running track will be laid, but they've all been knocked down. Back in July there was a river where the grandstand will be erected, but that's been piped underground. Back in July there were trees where the hotdogs will be sold, but they've all been cut down. Back in July the view from the Greenway bridge was green, but now it's brown. Not one single building now remains on the stadium site, bar a couple of electricity substations just to the south. All that's left are the original roads, a row of lampposts, some walls and fences, and an awful lot of piles of earth.

There are now enough piles of earth in the Lower Lea Valley to make me think that London ought to have applied for the Winter Olympics instead. All it would take is a major snowfall and, hey presto, we'd have ourselves a ready-built range of mountainous downhill sporting facilities. But no, by next summer this entire area needs to be flat as a pancake, ready for the construction of the Olympic Stadium to begin. All the piles of earth and rubble have to be moved out, or at least moved to a different part of the site to be recycled as landfill. This is a sustainable Olympics, remember, so little of the rock-y brick-y debris will be wasted.

the Olympic foothills

No time is being wasted in clearing the land. On Sunday morning the Olympic Park was crawling with big yellow lorries, each carrying yet another truckload of former-factory away from the site. A steady stream of lorries, approximately as frequent as buses along Regent Street, rumbled up and down Marshgate Lane. Each branched off down some different sideroad, through the wreckage of some demolished building, or away across some newly constructed temporary bridge. Diggers swarmed over every distant hillock, like giant orange ants on a compost heap, busy removing every trace of the area's former existence. It won't be long before their endless scavenging leaves the land barren, level and ready for renewal. The only constant in my monthly series of bridge-top photos is irreversible change. Hmm, do you think that curvy embankment down there could be the very first signs of the stadium perimeter?

 Monday, December 17, 2007

T9onyms

It's annoying, isn't it, when you try to type one word into your mobile phone using predictive text and it insists on writing another. You're trying to write "me" and it writes "of". You're trying to write "home" and it writes "good". You're trying to write "bastard" and it writes "word not in dictionary".

Well, there's a special name for words that are different but are typed the same way on a mobile. They're called T9onyms (after the T9 system of predictive text). So I wondered whether we might be able to construct a list of T9onyms. I'm not interested in two or three letter words, preferably five letters and above please. And nothing over-obvious either (like "reduce" and "seduce"). I'm only after interesting T9onyms, the ones that don't have lots of letters in common and are maybe a bit clever.

Here are a few T9onyms to start you off...

4: book/cool, kiss/lips, golf/hole, pint/shot/riot, game/hand, meal/neck, cock/anal, Anna/bomb, lazy/jazz
5: alone/blood, brief/aside, rifle/shelf, vogue/unite, Scots/pants, rides/sheep, queue/Steve, awake/cycle
6: autumn/button, quakes/sucker, dosage/enrage/forbid/forage, sorted/posted, unused/toupee, afford/before
7: barmaid/carnage, fancies/damages, emptier/forties, tongued/vomited, Heather/heavier, biscuit/circuit
8: selected/rejected, Smirnoff/poisoned
9: equitable/fruitcake

 Sunday, December 16, 2007

First sight of the new January 2008 tube map, at Langdon Park DLR station, has made me shudder. From a simple and elegant 1930s design, the tube map appears to have evolved fairly recently into a rampant visual monster, jam-packed with unnecessary information. The emphasis has shifted very much from lines to stations, with every square inch of the map increasingly crammed with "local" detail. It's about close-up complexity, rather than zoomed-out ease of use. It's a mess. And it can only get worse.

Here are a few photo snapshots of some of the latest abominations on the new map...

ELL replacement busesHere's the reason the updated January tube map is needed. The East London Line closes next weekend, and will eventually reopen as part of the new London Overground. There'll be no more tubing from Whitechapel to New Cross, just four replacement bus services for the next 2½ years. Two of those bus services meet here, at Canada Water. Previously this was a very simple-looking single-blob interchange, but not any more. Now it appears as a triple-blobbed mega-interchange, as does Whitechapel on the opposite side of the river. This over-complex rearrangement ensures that nobody thinks they can travel from Rotherhithe to Surrey Quays on one bus, because that would be a terrible mistake to make. Incidentally the replacement bus service will be wheelchair accessible, but the wheelchair symbol is only used to show step-free access to a platform. Brilliant, eh?

ELL extensionHere's the first appearance of the new stations being built on the East London Line extension. It's good news for residents of central Hackney, but perhaps not for tube map users. These stations don't open until summer 2010, but they'll still be clogging up the map and confusing tourists for the next 30 months. Even more uselessly, the "under construction" connection from Dalston Junction to Canonbury is also shown, and that won't be opening until 2011. Meanwhile the southern section of the extended ELL (from New Cross Gate to West Croydon) also appears on the new map. It's already open, but still being run by Southern trains so Oyster pay-as-you-go isn't yet valid. As a lot of very small orange print tells you.

Canary WharfHere's a ghastly redesign of one major interchange, attempting (but failing) to better represent reality. As anyone who's ever changed trains in Docklands will know, there are two Canary Wharf stations, a five minute slog apart. The new map makes this a lot more explicit, replacing a single interchange blob with this triangular mess. Linkage is now via the walking distances between Canary Wharf Jubilee line station and its two DLR neighbours. If your eyesight is good enough you may be able to spot that Heron Quays DLR is 50m nearer than Canary Wharf DLR. If the map designer had been good enough he/she might have spotted that the DLR stations are to the west of the Jubilee line, not to the east. And above it, not below it. Come on TfL, if you're attempting to better depict reality, at least do it consistently.

West HampsteadHere's an even grimmer interchange revamp. There are three stations at West Hampstead, all along the same busy road - one on the Jubilee line, one on the London Overground and one served by First Capital Connect. As this graphic attempts to make clear, it's a 100m walk from the Jubilee to the Overground. The third station, West Hampstead Thameslink, is apparently 200m away - but from which of the other two? Real life evidence suggests it's 200m from the Jubilee, but you can't tell this from the map. Would a single blob really be so bad?

Zones 8 and 9Here's the northwest corner of the new map. The big difference here is the appearance of ticket zones 7, 8 and 9 (replacing A, B, C and D). This isn't too messy - it actually makes more sense that the previous zoning. Except in nearby Watford. Watford Metropolitan line station is in Zone 7, but nearby Watford High Street station is in Zone 8 and even nearer Watford Junction isn't in a zone at all, not even zone 9. Oh, and doesn't Chalfont and Latimer station look complicated? The perfect example of how the designers think they've added clarity, but have actually taken it away.

Heathrow AirportAnd finally, here's the new map layout for "Heathrow Airport". There are three stations named after terminals, one of which doesn't open until Easter. I hope you can understand how the loopy one-way system works. Travellers can't get directly from Terminal 4 to Terminal 5, nor directly from Terminals 1, 2, 3 or 5 to Terminal 4. I'm sure that tourists just arrived by plane will find this crystal clear to understand and to follow. Oh, and see that big red dagger next to Terminal 4? There are more than 30 of these littered across the tube map, and they all refer to additional text in the station index beneath. In this case TfL want to warn you that Terminal 4 station closes at quarter to midnight (whereas most stations close nearer half past). Somebody presumably cares. One day, maybe, all this "crucial" red dagger information will be plastered across the map itself. Like I said, the way tube map design is going, information pollution can only escalate.

 Saturday, December 15, 2007

The new January 2008 tube map, first seen in the London Overground timetable, has already appeared on the platforms at the new Langdon Park DLR station. Here's a photograph of some of the most offensive redesign.

not luvverly Jubilee
More tomorrow...

X-10

So far I've still only spent £1 on Christmas presents. One Christmas present. Is this a) lunacy? b) cautious? c) procrastinating? d) miserly? e) astute? f) saving the planet?
I still haven't written any Christmas cards yet. And time is fast running out. Must try harder.
Thanks to the two of you who've sent me homemade cards, they're lovely.
So far this year I've only received 12 Christmas cards. I know it's still "early", but that's a bit rubbish isn't it? And not one single card from anybody at work, pah!
Last Christmas I sent out 70 cards, but received only 34 back. Two to one against. That really is a bit rubbish.
The people who do send me Christmas cards tend to be family members, people I'm still in touch with from university, the odd friend and a few select former work colleagues. But very few current work colleagues. Maybe I shouldn't bother this year. Their loss.
I suspect that, by the end of this weekend, I'll have written lots of cards but still only have spent £1 on Christmas presents. I may have my priorities completely wrong. Or I may not.

 Friday, December 14, 2007

London 2012  Olympic update
  High Street 2012


Bow Church, in the middle of the A11, with the Bow flyover in the distanceThe road east from Aldgate to Stratford has a long and mighty history. It's been the main road to Essex from London for the best part of a millennium - the route taken by armies and revolting peasants and stagecoaches and trams. It's part of one of the UK's great trunk roads, the A11, home to traffic jams and exhaust fumes and bendy buses. And in five years time, for a few short hours, it'll be part of the route of the Olympic Marathon. Hundreds of the world's fastest long-distance athletes will be puffing past my front door, just one mile from glory in a billion pound stadium. But Tower Hamlets wants the Olympic legacy to last a bit longer than a couple of brief afternoons. They've had a transformational idea. And that idea is called "High Street 2012". Anybody interested in bringing their vision to life?
"Title attributed to the contract by the contracting authority:
UK-London: High street 2012
- Consulting services for preparation of vision study and strategy for delivery of future public realm improvements."
An invitation to tender has just been issued, attempting to recruit a team who can enable the delivery of transformational change along three and a half miles of East End street. Someone, surely, can breathe new life into the Whitechapel Road, Mile End Road, Bow Road and Stratford High Street. Someone, surely, can suggest improvements which will enhance the area's ambience for both visitors and residents alike. And hopefully something a bit more exciting than tying multi-coloured balloons to all the lampposts.
"Short description of the contract or purchase(s):
High Street 2012 is a programme of initiatives to encourage the A11/A118 (which is a key part of the Olympic and Paralympic Marathon route) from Aldgate East to Stratford, to become a focus for regeneration, community pride and the visitor economy in East London. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets its High Street 2012 partners (Design for London, London Borough of Newham, Transport for London, London Thames Gateway Development Corporation and English Heritage) are seeking to appoint a suitably qualified and experienced design-led multi-disciplinary team to undertake a Vision Study and Strategy that will facilitate short and long-term benefits and public realm improvements along this strategic route for all communities. High Street 2012 will incorporate existing planned projects along the route into an overall coherent concept to develop an engaging public space that is a 'street for everyone'."
The original plan was to name this scheme "Olympic Boulevard", but presumably that was too difficult for local people to spell (and a bit too French), so "High Street 2012" it is. The chosen scheme could be a really exciting blueprint that brightens up my local linear neighbourhood and acts as a catalyst for future regeneration. I could be stepping out of my front door into a thriving cosmopolitan community buzzing with excited tourists and re-energised East End citizens. There might be landscaped public spaces, dynamic transport projects and fully-restored historic buildings. How exciting. But it'll be crucial to assemble the best possible planning team, or else the end result might be nothing more than a few replaced roadsigns and the 2012 Olympic logo painted repeatedly onto the pavement.
"The commission will include vision development and integration of existing studies, street design and landscape strategy, historic built environment, enhancement strategy, highways and traffic, community engagement strategy, vision attraction study and the development of an implementation strategy for projects identified. The multi-disciplinary consultant team needs to comprise of a range of specialists with key services including architectural, urban design and regeneration, project management, community engagement and stakeholder management."
The successful planning team will have between 150 and 200 thousand pounds to play with, and six months to deliver a coherent vision strategy for the High Street 2012 project. There's nothing in the tender application which says that ordinary citizens can't apply, so long as they have economic, technical and financial capability. So I wondered if any of you lot were interested in joining me to form a multi-disciplinary consortium to take on the big guys and bid for the big prize. Any architects out there, or urban planners, or bureaucrats who like writing mind-numbing technical documents in project management-speak, please make yourselves known. We've got until noon on 11th January to put together the pre-qualification questionnaire, and then the council will let us know by 21st January whether or not "DG Regeneration Inc" will be invited to participate in the tendering process. Wouldn't it be exciting to be asked to formulate an overarching design vision to shape the foundations of legacy-based renewal in a challenging inner-urban environment? Because I'd love to live somewhere great, and not a street full of plastic palm trees and Starbucks.

Some fascinating places along High Street 2012: Whitechapel Art Gallery, Whitechapel Bell Foundry, East London Mosque, Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel Idea Store, the Blind Beggar pub, William Booth statue, Mile End Park, the Green Bridge, Bow Church, the Bow flyover, the Greenwich Meridian. (hmm, I can feel an August "local history month" coming on...)

 Thursday, December 13, 2007

Anorak Corner

London's ten busiest tube stations (2006)
1) Victoria (73m)  2) Waterloo (72.9m) 3) Oxford Circus (68.4m) 4) Liverpool Street (57.9m) 5) Kings Cross St Pancras (52.5m) 6) London Bridge (51m) 7) Paddington (38.7m) 8) Canary Wharf (38.5m) 9) Bank/Monument (38.2m) 10) Piccadilly Circus (37.6m)

London's ten busiest tube stations that aren't also National Rail stations (2006)
1) Oxford Circus (68.4m) 2) Canary Wharf (38.5m) 3) Bank/Monument (38.2m) 4) Piccadilly Circus (37.6m) 5) Tottenham Court Road (32.8m) 6) Bond Street (32.7m) 7) Leicester Square (32.6m) 8) Green Park (28m) 9) Hammersmith (District & Piccadilly) (27.7m) 10) Holborn (27.5m)

London's ten busiest tube stations outside Zone 1 (2006)
1) Canary Wharf (38.5m) 2) Hammersmith (District & Piccadilly) (27.7m) 3) Finsbury Park (26.3m) 4) Stratford (22.4m) 5) Brixton (19.7m) 6) Camden Town (18m) 7) Ealing Broadway (14.9m) 8) Wimbledon (13.6m) 9) Highbury & Islington (13.3m) 10) Tooting Broadway (12.2m)

London's ten least busy tube stations (2006)
1) Roding Valley (179000) 2) Chigwell (258000) 3) Grange Hill (287000) 4) Chesham (404000) 5) Fairlop (526000) 6) Theydon Bois (562000) 7) Barkingside (620000) 8) Croxley (656000) 9) Ruislip Gardens (672000) 10) Moor Park (694000)

London's ten least busy tube stations that aren't on the Central line (2006)
1) Chesham (404000) 2) Croxley (656000) 3) Moor Park (694000) 4) South Kenton (697000) 5) Upminster Bridge (822000) 6) Mill Hill East (872000) 7) North Ealing (894000) 8) Kensington (Olympia) (902000) 9) Ickenham (921000) 10) West Harrow (957000)

London's ten busiest National Rail stations (2005/6)
1) Waterloo (61m) 2) Victoria (48m) 3) Liverpool Street (47m) 4) London Bridge (37m) 5) Charing Cross (29m) 6) Euston (27m) 7) Paddington (26m) 8) King's Cross (20m) 9) Cannon Street (18m) 10) Fenchurch Street (16m)

London's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't central London termini (2005/6)
1) East Croydon (15.4m) 2) Clapham Junction (13.4m) 3) Wimbledon (11.8m) 4) Kings Cross Thameslink (8.8m) 5) Stratford (7.7m) 6) Vauxhall (7.7m) 7) Richmond (7.3m) 8) Ealing Broadway (6m) 9) Surbiton (5.8m) 10) Finsbury Park (5m)

London's ten least busy National Rail stations (2005/6)
1) Sudbury & Harrow Road (2500) 2) Drayton Green (5300) 3) South Greenford (6100) 4) Sudbury Hill (10200) 5) Angel Road (15800) 6) Castle Bar Park (19900) 7) Birkbeck (21600) 8) Blackhorse Road (22600) 9) Silvertown (now closed) (24800) 10) Woodgrange Park (25300)

» Tube passenger data here (total annual entry and exit frequencies)
» Rail passenger data here (total annual entry, exit and interchange frequencies)

 Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Things are rarely as bad as they first appear. Not usually. When bad news strikes we often assume that there'll be unbearably terrible consequences. We let our thoughts run away with us and jump to unnecessarily pessimistic conclusions. But that's not usually how situations work out. Just because something really awful could happen doesn't mean that it will. Real life is rarely as dire as our first thoughts suggest.

Things are rarely as bad as they first look. The reason why you can't find your front door keys might be because you left them at home, not on the bus. That brown envelope on your doormat might be junk mail, not a bill. Just because your train stopped between stations doesn't mean you're going to miss your connection. The bland-looking meal your mother-in-law just served up might actually taste quite nice. The row you just had with your partner doesn't mean your relationship is over. That glare your boss just gave you doesn't mean you're about to get the sack.

Things are rarely as bad as they first seem. That newspaper headline hinting at mortgage meltdown might just be the same old story repackaged. Those two lost data discs are probably misfiled in a store cupboard somewhere, not in the hands of evil online crimelords. Sudden plane turbulence usually ends in the air, not on the ground. Eating processed meat probably won't kill you, it'll just make you feel unnecessarily guilty. That lad in a hoodie advancing towards you up a dark alley is almost certainly holding a mobile, not a knife.

Things are sometimes far worse than they first seem. That first swear word your child just uttered might mean they'll grow up to be an uncouth brat. That crack you've just spotted in your wall might mean that your house will soon be worthless. That gathering storm cloud may contain a lightning bolt that strikes you. That lump you just found might get bigger. All these terrible things happen somewhere, to some people, in the evil lottery of life. But usually these worst case scenarios are exactly the things we fear might happen, but never do.

Sometimes bad news is merely the herald of instability. You've been used to your world running one way, but suddenly there's an unplanned diversion ahead. You thought you knew where you were heading, but you were wrong. That exam you didn't pass, maybe the failure will set your career on a different, more appropriate track. That worrying diagnosis your doctor just gave you, perhaps it'll finally encourage you to change your lifestyle and prevent the onset of something far worse. That job you're about to be made redundant from, maybe losing it will be just the kick you've long needed to find something better. Bad news might rock your boat, but it probably won't sink you.

When faced with bad news, always stop and consider how bad that bad news really is. If, genuinely, the worst has been confirmed then grit your teeth, hold tight, and try to ride out the storm. But if things aren't yet really bad, or if this is merely unconfirmed speculation, then don't panic. Hold fire, and wait to see how events pan out. Because things are rarely as bad as they first appear. Most probably. Fingers crossed.

 Tuesday, December 11, 2007

With just a fortnight to go until Christmas Day (ulp) it's time to do a little forward planning, courtesy of the double issue Radio Times. Because if you don't organise your Yuletide viewing in advance you might well end up surrounded by grannies watching Emmerdale or trapped with the nieces watching CBeebies, rather than enjoying the festive sitcom special you'd hate yourself for missing. Select yourself a happy Christmas from the list of options below...

Christmas Eve afternoon - shopped and wrapped (2pm-ish)
My Fair Lady: luvverly musical (BBC2)
The Railway Children: knicker-waving drama (ITV1)
The Snowman: ice-hearted classic (Channel 4)
Wallace and Gromit: cheesy adventures (UKTV Gold)
Mince Pie Masterchef: homebaked tastiness (kitchen)

Christmas Eve early evening - excited and expectant (5:30pm-ish)
The Princess Diaries 2: sugarsweet movie (BBC1)
Carols from Kings: choral perfection (BBC2)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: truly scrumptious (ITV1)
The Simpsons: 500th repeat (Sky One)
Turkey Giblets: a fowl task (kitchen)

Christmas Day afternoon - bloated and stuffed (4:30pm-ish)
Romeo and Juliet: the annual ballet extravaganza (BBC2)
All Star Family Fortunes: celebrity trifling (ITV1)
The Simpsons: 60th repeat (Channel 4)
The Simpsons: 600th repeat (Sky One)
Monopoly: bankrupt in Mayfair (dining room table)

Christmas Day early evening - tipsy and comatose (7pm-ish)
Doctor Who: drowning with Kylie (BBC1)
Andrea Bocelli: highbrow operatics (BBC2)
Emmerdale: rustic Dales gossip (Channel 4)
The Simpsons: 700th repeat (Sky One)
Scrabble: a night on the tiles (living room)

Boxing Day afternoon - bored and restless (3pm-ish)
Carmen: keep yourself Bizet (BBC2)
Moonraker: traditional Bond outing (ITV1)
Deal or No Deal: Noel's Christmas presents (Channel 4)
Robbie Williams: not The Simpsons (Sky One)
Ten Pin Bowling: Grandpa plays Wii (living room carpet)

Boxing Day evening - relaxed and mellow (9pm-ish)
Ballet Shoes: girls' own drama (BBC1)
QI: some Fry-ed outtakes (BBC2)
The Old Curiosity Shop: what the Dickens? (ITV1)
Prime Minister's Questions: despatch box repeat (BBC Parliament)
Charades: give us a clue (round the fireplace)

 Monday, December 10, 2007

...new station

Langdon Park DLR
Opened: 9 December 2007 [i.e. yesterday]
Initial feasibility case: May 2000 [blimey, look how long it takes to launch a station]
Reasons for opening: neighbourhood regeneration, too long a gap between adjacent stations.

Langdon Park DLR

When the DLR was built, back in 1987, there was a glaringly long gap on the Stratford extension between Devons Road and All Saints. It might have looked obvious on a map but nobody really cared, because there was nothing important in the gap apart from a couple of crumbling housing estates. There was no "business case" for a station here, apparently. And anyway wasn't it more important that Essex commuters travelling to and from Canary Wharf should be able to save precious seconds by speeding through without stopping? So residents of the Lansbury and Teviot estates got used to watching DLR trains whizzing by behind a big fence, and carried on catching the bus instead. It's taken 20 years to finally put a stop to this rather blatant case of transport neglect.

Langdon Park DLRHere we are in Poplar, just north of the East India Dock Road and close to Chrisp Street Market. The Germans bombed the area quite heavily during the war, and the existing landscape owes much to the un-pretty era of postwar council block redevelopment. The authorities did at least try - the Lansbury was a showpiece estate built for the Festival of Britain, and Erno Goldfinger's Balfron Tower is almost as big an icon as its big sister Trellick on the other side of town. But years of neglect and disinterest eventually led to increasing crime levels and greater marginalisation. If Tower Hamlets ever offer you a council flat here, you'd think twice.

But now there's a new way out, with the opening of a brand new DLR station at the heart of the community. It opened yesterday without any fanfare whatsoever, not even a mention on the TfL website (which still has the opening date listed as "Late 2007"). I think the Mayor is due to pop along and perform some official ceremony sometime this week, but presumably he has better things to do on Sunday mornings than eulogise about regeneration in a speech littered with media soundbites. The station was, I suspect, due to open on Saturday because the DLR had scheduled a mini "open day" with leaflets and giveaways for local residents. But the entrances remained boarded up while workmen scurried around finishing off a few urgent paving slabs, leaving a surprisingly long queue of damp souls waiting patiently beneath umbrellas in the howling rain. Anything for a freebie.

Langdon Park footbridgeThe new station gleams like a shiny alien mothership, miraculously landed in the midst of some decaying backwater spaceport. Its signature feature is the elegantly curved glass footbridge, with a splayed metal cone at each end encircling a pair of liftshafts. Unlike the footbridge it replaced, you'd not feel unsafe crossing the tracks here after dark. Access from Chrisp Street is fairly mundane, up a brief alley, but the plaza on the eastern side is rather more impressive. Up on the roof the station's name has been picked out in big white plastic letters, a bit like at Wembley Park, while down below a row of black bollards prevents local joyriders from smashing into the glass platform walls for a laugh. They would do, I'm sure, given half a chance.

So, will you be stopping off at Langdon Park DLR in the near future? Probably not. Really, there's nothing much around here you might want to come and see. Langdon Park itself is just a threadbare grassy quadrilateral with playground equipment and football pitches - you probably have one of those where you live. Across the road at Langdon Park School (sorry, "Specialist Sports College") there's not yet a blue plaque commemorating Dizzee Rascal's musical scholarship. And festival-goers may have traipsed round the Lansbury Estate in 1951, but you wouldn't want to wander inbetween the apartment blocks today, not for the fun of it. But for those who live here the new station is a precious lifeline to the outside world, and a beacon of hope that somebody somewhere actually cares. Every five minutes, in both directions, life round here just got better.

Langdon Park DLR - the backstory
Life on the Teviot Estate (and some photos)
2nd DLR platform at Stratford (also opened yesterday)
Update: Mayor Ken officially opens the station (10 December 2007)


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