diamond geezer

 Thursday, January 31, 2008

Steam

I gaze with mounting excitement at my beloved. You're finally coming, and not a moment too soon. Through the darkness I can just about make out your firm body and sleek curves, rushing headlong towards a deafening climax. Not long now, my darling.

In my mind's eye you slide to a halt, drawing me inside and smothering me with your steaming breath. Your throbbing vibrations cause me to shake and jerk, involuntarily, like a man possessed. I wait to be enveloped in your fiery embrace. It's a recurring fantasy of mine. It's my favourite train of thought.

Our intimate affair goes back several years. I fancied you the first time I laid eyes on you. I kept details of all your comings and goings in a notebook, and your number was firmly etched on my memory. I made it my business to know exactly where you'd be and when. I used to make tracks to your secluded woodland cutting, just to catch a glimpse of you as you passed by. You never looked back, and neither did I.

And now I have my dirty way with you every weekend. I always dress up for you, because I know you like it that way, and I always use protection. There has to be plenty of foreplay, for several hours if I can wangle it, before I'm willing to perform with you in public. Every Sunday morning I'm down on my knees with the grease gun, adding extra lubrication to ease your passage. Your coupling rods always need a good rub-down, and I love to buff up your double-action pistons. You can see the smile on my face, can't you, because I know I'll have you up against the buffers before the afternoon is out.

I hate having to share you with the other guys. I feel jealous when they wipe their filthy rags all over your body, or blow your whistle, or tighten up your nuts. When I see your shiny funnel, standing tall and erect, I feel like it's spitting white especially for me.

I long for the moment when I can reach out and rub my fingers over your iron belly again. I need to see you, to feel you, and to take dirty photos of you from every conceivable position. I want to climb up on top of you, wield my mighty tool and dig deep within your tender behind. I feel an unstoppable urge to fling open your flaps and fill you with burning fire. The fuel injection I bestow will drive us forward, together, inseparable. I need to stoke you up, to power you with energy, until the pressure within is released in shuddering motion. Soon my darling, soon.

You may be getting on a bit, but you're a lot more than an old boiler to me. I love the time we spend together. When I'm with you, I'm well chuffed. May our relationship never go off the rails.

 Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bloggies 2008How not to win a Bloggie: I've not been trying very hard, have I? Voting's been going on for a week now, and as yet I've failed to implore you to rush over to 2008.bloggies.com and cast a vote for your favourite "best european weblog". Instead I've been waffling on about deserted railway stations, canalside walks and IKEA tealights. It's not exactly the right stuff to inspire randomly-arriving international surfers to go away and vote for me, is it?

So, just in time for the last day of voting tomorrow, I'm going to try a completely different tack. I'm going to take a leaf out of the two blogs that have ruled this category for the last few years (girl with a one track mind and my boyfriend is a twat) and write more about emotional and passionate stuff instead. Because none of the four blogs I'm competing against regularly write about love and sex. Chocolate and Arsenal, maybe, which are damned close, but not cuddly relationships and rampant shagging. So I'm evolving in order to improve my potential success criteria. A world audience of mostly-Americans won't be able to resist my new intimate blogging approach, and are absolutely bound to vote for me just like they voted for the two Zoes. Shameless I know. But don't worry, it'll only be for one day. Normal service will be resumed once voting closes. [*cough* over here *cough*]

An alternative tour of Brent (from places I've visited before)
» Somewhere pretty: Gladstone Park
» Somewhere historic: Churchill's Secret Bunker
» Somewhere famous: Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
» Somewhere sporting: Welsh Harp reservoir
» Somewhere random: Neasden Parade
» Somewhere retail: the Ace Cafe (hang on, stick that on the to-do list)

www.flickr.com: my Brent gallery
(30 photos altogether)

 Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Random borough (16): Brent (part 3)

Somewhere un-famous: Sudbury & Harrow Road station
Harrow Road, SudburyLondon's most useless railway station is in Brent. It has fewer paying passengers than any of the other 300-or-so stations in the capital. According to official statistics it's used by only 2500 passengers a year. It's no remote halt in the middle of a field, it's in a proper urban location on a busy high street. It's served by trains only during the weekday rush hour, and then only in one direction at a time. It has just nine trains a day - four into town in the morning and five back again in the evening. It is a sorry apology for a station and owners Chiltern Railways clearly treat it with complete indifference. It is Sudbury & Harrow Road. And yes, of course I had to pay a visit.

I wonder if it's a coincidence that the number 18 bendy bus terminates on the Harrow Road precisely outside the entrance to this forlorn station photos. Catch the nasty evil articulated bus from here and you could be in Marylebone in less than an hour. Wait for a train and you could be waiting for up to three days. A lone British Rail sign and a tiny purple nameplate mark the station entrance for any would-be passengers. There's no ticket office, just a "Permit to Travel" machine and a pair of freshly-installed Oyster readers photos. I suspect that just the one reader would have been sufficient. The bike rack has just four spaces (don't all fight at once). Turn left to enter the dark concrete passage beneath the railway embankment. In a busier station this might smell of urine and sicked-up curry, but not at Sudbury & Harrow Road. I stepped inside, and headed up the central staircase to the station proper photos.

Sudbury & Harrow Road stationThere are two parallel platforms, a few metres apart, with the top of the stairs forming a small island between the two. If it's raining you can hide beneath the red arched plastic roof, or maybe take a seat on the single central bench. There's room for two, maybe three if you squeeze up close. To the right I spotted a padlocked cupboard containing "Adverse Weather Equipment", and to the left a yellow box labelled "Passenger Help Point" (singular, not plural). Oh, and also a couple of TV display screens transmitting flickering information from Chiltern HQ. These informed me that, not only were there no trains stopping today, there were also no trains running due to planned engineering work. Fantastic, I had this entire remote outpost completely to myself, with no interruptions.

I took a silent stroll from one end of the station photos to the other photos. Each platform was little more than a long wooden boardwalk, about a metre off the ground, with a spiky slatted fence rising up behind. Between the two lay a forgotten grassy trench, littered with discarded bottles, cans and the odd deflated football. A handful of thin blue lampposts broke the emptiness, on which were stuck scrappy stickers warning the occasional patron not to smoke photos. From Platform 1 I had a fine view down into the back gardens of Sudbury, towards rickety sheds and washing lines pegged out with damp undergarments. And down in Harrow Road were scores of people rushing around, buying this and that, rushing hither and thither, and queueing to catch a bus to somewhere else.

It's a shame that so few local residents look up to the embankment for a means of escape, but perhaps not surprising given that this station merits such a pitifully irregular service. 45 trains a week is no way to build up a regular clientèle, and so the vicious underfunded circle of transport decline continues. "The next train to London Marylebone will depart in 2500 minutes." I headed back down the stairs to the bus stop, and the station returned to timetabled hibernation.
by tube: Sudbury Town photos   by bus: 18, 92, 182, 245

Somewhere historic: Grand Union Canal
[A three mile walk from Harlesden to One Tree Hill, Alperton]

Whenever I explore a random borough, I always attempt to go for a long walk. Ideally a long walk that the local council has flagged on its website. Good old Brent Council provided a choice of four, each supplied by the London Ecology Unit. Excellent, I thought, I'll have one of them. So I printed out the map and instructions and prepared myself for a delightful three mile stroll along a 200 year old canal. "London Ecology Unit", eh? I should have spotted the clues before I set out.

McVities, AlpertonI haven't been to Harlesden for almost 25 years, back when I was doing a summer job on the Park Royal trading estate. If you bought any Marks and Spencer clothing during the latter half of 1983, I probably helped to produce the little hole-punched swing ticket that hung from the label. So I subconsciously recognised the first part of the walk from my teenage commute. Right out of the station, round the McVities factory (mmm, Harlesden smells nice) and down onto the towpath. Then past the tied up barge and westward, towards Alperton. My printed pdf advised me to look out for a purple bellflower, some blue tufted vetch and a patch of red campion. Not a sign. All I could see was a grassy green verge with no flowering vegetation at all. I should have guessed that a guided walk produced by the London Ecology Unit would be rather heavier on flowers than on history. And that perhaps such a walk was better suited to July than January. Never mind, ever onward.

Next I was advised to enjoy the "pleasant smells" nearby, probably emanating "from the Heinz factory" on the opposite bank. Erm, there was no Heinz factory on the opposite bank, just a long row of shiny white warehouses containing various non ketchup manufacturing businesses. I was sure I remembered an oppressive grimy factory last time I was here, with big pipes and sheer grey walls. And yes, as it turns out, I was right. But the Heinz Factory closed down in 2000 and the site has since been comprehensively redeveloped. My printed walk was seriously out of date... and with good reason. The London Ecology Unit also breathed its last in 2000, absorbed into the new Greater London Authority. So, I was following a walk that was at least eight years old, and already historically obsolete. Never mind, ever onward.

Grand Union Canal, AlpertonTwo pages of A4 description later and I'd seen almost nothing of what was being described. Just a lot of Park Royal industrial units and a few ducks. There was, however, a bit of a treat ahead as the canal passed over the North Circular Road on an aqueduct. Because aqueducts are cool. But unfortunately the view from this aqueduct was of a stream of rushing traffic and a very modern Travelodge. Even the aqueduct itself photos, with a magnificent Middlesex Coat of Arms lodged inbetween the twin channels, turned out to be nothing more than a 1993 replacement. There were a few highlights ahead. A couple of quietly puttering narrowboats photosphotos. A modernised footbridge being well frequented by locals. An extraordinary tumbledown old shed-like building beneath a Piccadilly line rail bridge photos. A swan photos. But on the whole this was a canalside walk where the canal was the only thing worth seeing, and not the stuff to either side. Never mind, ever onward.

The walk ended away from the canal, just before the scenery got good. My printed guide apologised for the detour, but the pretty stretch beneath Horsenden Hill was in Ealing, not Brent, and therefore off limits. Instead I was diverted along a busy road and up a lesser hill on the outskirts of Alperton, with semi-screened views over west London and the City. One Tree Hill, as it was called, boasted more trees than strictly permitted under the Trade Descriptions Act photos. Wembley Stadium was perfectly visible from the single bench at the summit photos, as were the stone pinnacles of an astonishing Hindu temple under construction at the foot of the hill photos. This was certainly the high point of the journey, in every way, but not a true peak. It had been more an anachronistic stroll than a historic walk. Never mind.
by tube: Harlesden → Alperton  by bus: 224

 Monday, January 28, 2008

Random borough (16): Brent (part 2)

Somewhere sporty: Wembley Stadium
Wembley Stadium from One Tree HillObviously. Where else. But I've written about Wembley Stadium several times on this blog before. Of Watkin's folly (1896), and the Empire Exhibition (1924), and the Olympic Games (1948). But I've never yet written about the revamped rebuilt stadium (2007). So here goes.

After a long hiatus for redevelopment, it was good to stride up Wembley Way on Saturday afternoon amidst a crowd of expectant spectators. They poured from the tube station, past the hot dog stalls and the ice cream van, heading south towards the epicentre of English football. But quite a strange crowd to be attending a big match, I thought. Almost all female (with just the odd bewildered husband tagging along), most over 50 or under 15, and not a stripy scarf in sight. So I wasn't entirely surprised when we reached the twin ramps up to the stadium and they continued onward at ground level and around the corner towards Wembley Arena. To attend the matinée performance of Strictly Come Dancing Live, as it turned out. The strictly macho stadium remained mostly untroubled by visitors, bar a few of us curious souls keen to view the arched wonder up close.

Bobby Moore statueThe wind whipped round the elevated concrete promenade. Up on level two the bronze figure of Bobby Moore stood watching over the stadium approach, a large St George's flag fluttering limply behind behind his right shoulder photos. Every 15 minutes or so a group of paid-up tourists emerged from the glass doors of "Club Wembley" to stand at his feet as their guide related the tale of our glorious 1966 World Cup victory. I understand that the rest of their £15 tour included rather more exclusive locations such as the Royal Box, the changing rooms and the Wembley Stadium Tour Cafe. Plus, of course, the official shop where you can purchase a souvenir tankard, a teddy bear or a patch of turf to remember your visit. Not for me. I held back for a few minutes to attempt to take a photograph that didn't contain a shaven-headed fan gawping in excited adulation photos. And then I continued on my free circumnavigation of the giant glass bowl. Which was closed.

The stadium has several entrances, all of them securely fastened with impregnable shiny metal doors when no event is underway. A long list of regulations informs spectators what they can and can't bring inside photos. No darts, air horns or explosives (obviously). No cameras, radios or umbrellas (good grief, I wonder how many unwitting visitors get those confiscated when they attempt to attend a concert or match). And no balls. One hopes that the England football team aren't required to abide by that last one.

Wembley Arch and Gate DWhat you can see from the outside of the stadium is the curved glass wall that rises up several storeys into the sky photos, and the great white arch above. Ahh, the Wembley Arch, a simple enough idea but so magnificently realised. It rises out of the walkway on opposite sides of the stadium, bolted into the ground with a big concrete plug, and launches into the sky in a sweeping white-piped curve photos. You don't really get a sense of its enormity from up close, but you do get some excellent arch-y reflections in the building as you walk round the perimeter photosphotos. And you get some mighty fine views out across the surrounding area, just as they can see right back towards the arch even from several miles away photos.

Time your visit right and you might end up sharing most of your walk only with a couple of bored-looking security guards. Or time your visit right and you might end being swept along by a crowd of jubilant spectators celebrating a glorious national victory. It's all or nothing at the New Wembley.
by tube: Wembley Park  by bus: 92, PR2

Somewhere retail: IKEA Wembley
IKEA WembleyBecause Brent Cross isn't actually in Brent. Who'd have thought. So I travelled instead to Brent Park in Neasden to visit that other retail colossus - the big blue IKEA on the North Circular Road photos. Me and thousands of others of northwest Londoners, all spending our Saturday in Swedish furniture purgatory. It's possibly the slowest, least efficient form of shopping anywhere on the planet, but that never seems to stop us turning up in search of yet another lampshade or cheap bookcase. Why did I go, why?

IKEA Wembley doesn't exactly welcome those who turn up by public transport. The walk from Neasden tube is long and tortuous, involving dubious road crossings and a seriously mucky footbridge. Even by bus you're directed through the murkiest, dampest corner of IKEA's multi-storey car park. Only car drivers are welcomed with bright shiny blue and yellow frontage, because only car drivers can drive away with three sets of flatpack furniture in their boot photos. Come on in, but only if you have two hours to spare.

At the top of the stairs there's a choice of a trolley or a big flappy yellow bag. Please, take neither. You won't need the trolley on the first floor, this level is full of furniture that can only be collected downstairs. And you don't need that bag either. The management sprinkle candle holders and coathangers amongst the fitted kitchens and bunk beds, just to tempt you, but they're all available downstairs too. The rest of us will find it much easier to negotiate our way around the tortuous winding pathway if you're not blocking the way with a huge metal basket on wheels. It's bad enough trying to walk past toddlers in pushchairs, and dithering wives uncertain quite which shade of wardrobe would look best in their bedroom, and bored shoppers sitting on every comfy sofa like they're part of the exhibit. Come on, where's the shortcut?

who lives in a house like this?Don't divert into the cafe/restaurant. The queues are terrible, the table-clearing service is non-existent, and you don't really like meatballs anyway. Head back down to the ground floor, into the Market Place, to be faced by a dazzling range of cheap household goods graced by a variety of obscure foreign names. And this is where IKEA's marketing brilliance kicks in. You weren't really planning on buying very much, but look over there. You need a storage jar like that, don't you? And that mat would go nicely by the back door, and you don't have enough dinner plates, and don't those pillowcases look jolly, and all at such reasonable prices. By the time you reach the exit you'll almost certainly be carrying more "essentials" than you expected.

Next it's time to be confronted by shelf upon shelf of wood-in-a-box, as you pass through the vast interior of the flatpack cathedral. And then the pace slows, and the throng of customers ahead grows deeper, as you approach the interminable inefficiency of the checkouts. There are 38 checkouts at IKEA Wembley. On Saturday afternoon, one of the busiest times of the week, fewer than half of them were open. Be warned, they're staggered in two rows, so the queue that looks shorter may actually turn out to be longer. I waited 15 minutes in my queue while the shoppers in front slowly unloaded and paid for a motley assortment of unnecessary consumer goods. The lady behind me caved in and sent her kids off to the "Bistro" to buy 35p ice creams to keep them quiet. Their queue was longer than ours.

And then the final indignation - having to pay for your own carrier bags. Obviously it's great not to be littering the environment with unnecessary plastic landfill, but it's also an expensive pain if you've forgotten to bring sufficient receptacles with you. I'd not planned ahead before leaving the house so I ended up with a weeny 15p carrier, whereas most other people were purchasing (and filling) several 30p sacks. And I got a very funny look from the cashier, and the surrounding shoppers, when I unloaded my handful of purchases onto the conveyor belt. I'd waited just over quarter of an hour to buy almost nothing, for less than a fiver. But then you can never have enough tealights, can you?
by tube: Neasden  by bus: 92, 112, 206, 232, 316, PR2

 Sunday, January 27, 2008

Random borough (16): Brent (part 1)

Brent, at the heart of northwest London, is the only local authority in the UK to have a majority of its residents born overseas. Communities and high streets around Wembley and beyond now boast a diverse mix of cultures, religions and cuisines. It wasn't always this way. A century ago Metro-land carved a genteel domestic swathe through the heart of the area, where once were only fields and villages. Suburban semis still rule, but the place is changing fast. Yesterday I attempted to catch up.

Somewhere to begin: Brent Museum
1948 Olympic memorabiliaI doubt that the old Brent Museum had many visitors. It was situated in a converted stable block in the middle of an extremely busy roundabout, just off the North Circular, in the middle of Neasden. Not a location especially conducive to major tourist influx. So the council moved the entire collection, a couple of years ago, and plonked it inside the brand new Willesden Green Library. And what do you know, when I visited on Saturday morning, I was the only person there. Not one other visitor, nor even a single member of staff on duty. Now that's my kind of museum. And I was unexpectedly impressed by the contents. It's not an enormous gallery, but the curators have crammed in all sorts of aspects of Brent-ian life, as it was lived then and as it's lived now. Enough to get you interested, if not deeply satisfied. Read about the world's first speaking clock, and the old Guinness brewery, and Graham Young the schoolboy "Teacup Poisoner". See Neasden FC's Cup Final appearance commemorated on the front cover of Private Eye, and learn about the political homeland of Rhodes Boyson and Ken Livingstone. There's quite a bit about the history of Wembley Stadium, as you might expect, including an actual Olympic torch from 1948. Oh, and in the "special exhibition" room nextdoor, a special exhibition about saris. No really, it was a lot more interesting than it sounds. As I would have told the curator on the way out, had they existed.
by tube: Willesden Green  by bus: 52, 302

Somewhere random: Chamberlayne Road
Chamberlayne RoadFew natural events are more random than a tornado. One minute you're sitting at home in your dead ordinary terraced house, and the next the wind is ripping your roof off and hurling tiles through your bedroom window. That's what happened to the residents of Chamberlayne Road in Kensal Rise on the morning of 7th December 2006. You must remember, it was big news, and surely not only because the tornado touched down within two miles of BBC Television Centre. So how are the residents coping now, just over a year later. Very well, by the looks of it. Most of the damaged houses look completely back to normal, although there are still a well-above-average number of roof repairs being carried out along the western side of one short section of the street. For at least the next few months the path of the tornado is still just about traceable, in scaffolding photos. And take a closer look at the side of the house at the junction with Whitmore Gardens photos. The exterior wall appears to change from new brick to old brick two-thirds of the way down, because this is the house that had its side completely ripped off by the T4 twister. The poor owner returned home after work that fateful Thursday to find a gaping hole in the side of her largest investment. But time, and insurance, heals all. A very ordinary wind whipped down Chamberlayne Road yesterday, and nobody seemed particularly concerned.
by train: Kensal Rise  by bus: 6, 52, 302

Somewhere pretty: Kingsbury
Shortscroft, Roe GreenThe great majority of modern-designed homes are routine identikit boxes with limited character. But in Kingsbury, to the north of the borough, a couple of architects once went out of their way to give local residents somewhere really special to live. The aircraft industry came to this part of rural northwest London during World War 1, and workers had nowhere to live. Sir Francis Baines was commissioned to rectify the situation. He designed a compact "garden village" of 270 flats and houses, just over the road from the de Havilland works on Stag Lane, and Roe Green Village was the result. There are a variety of charming buildings, some timber-faced and others plastered, each divided up into two, three or more dwellings photos. The homes were cutting edge at the time, though perhaps a little small by later standards. Roads on the estate are narrow and homely, clearly not designed for the motor car, and a sense of rural community still remains. The aircraft industry has long since moved away, of course, but these houses remain an aspirational enclave for those who want to live somewhere with real character.

Highfort CourtAnd then there are Ernest Trobridge's houses on Buck Lane. Oh boy. Whatever was he thinking when he created this handful of eccentric residences? Up on the hilltop, around a single crossroads, are a small cluster of striking individual castellated follies. Some merely have round towers and gothic staircases photos, but one is a full-on white-painted castle with battlements photos. John Betjeman came to pay homage to Highfort Court in his Metro-land documentary, you may remember. These bizarre creations all look like they've seen slightly better days, but it must be a joy to live in one of these houses or maisonettes today. Trobridge's other fascination was grand detached cottages, and there are a fair few of these dotted around the area too. He was a firm believer in the importance of social housing, as was Sir Francis down the road, and in modern Kingsbury it's easy to see where their special influence stops and the "ordinary" interwar semis begin.
by tube: Kingsbury  by bus: 204, 302

• Jag's Route 79 blog is based in Kingsbury - he can give you a full history of the area
St Andrew's Church (11th Century) is the oldest building in Brent photos
John Logie Baird received the first international TV transmission at Kingsbury Lodge Coach House in 1929 photos

 Saturday, January 26, 2008

Random borough (16): Time yet again for me to take another random trip to one of London's 33 boroughs. As I write I have no idea which one of the 18 remaining borough names will be revealed when I unfold the slip of paper I'm about to pick from my "special jamjar". I could pick any of London's other boroughs - inner or outer, urban or suburban, small or large, fascinating or dull. I just know it won't be Merton, Islington, Enfield, Sutton, Lewisham, Southwark, Kensington & Chelsea, Hackney, Hillingdon, the City, Bromley, Lambeth, Tower Hamlets, Haringey or Hounslow because they're the fifteen (dark grey) boroughs I've picked out already. What London delights will I get to inflict upon to my new international audience of Bloggie-voting readers? Will they be treated to the cultural highlights of somewhere central and important, like Westminster or Camden? Or will I be dispatched somewhere rather more peripheral and off-radar, like Harrow or Havering? Watch this space.

Once I've researched my randomly-chosen borough online then I'll head off and visit some of its most interesting places (assuming it has any). As usual I hope to visit somewhere famous, somewhere historic, somewhere pretty, somewhere retail, somewhere sporty and somewhere random. I might even take lots of photographs while I'm at it, if the borough's photogenic enough. Then after I've made my grand tour I'll come back tomorrow and tell you all about it. Let's see where I'm going this time...

fivelinks
• What was on the front cover of the Radio Times the week you were born? [ooh good, Pete and Dud]
• London's burning! Find out exactly where at the London Fire Brigade's latest incident webpage [regularly updated, often within minutes of a new blaze]
• The Double-tongued Dictionary records "under-documented words from the fringes of English, with a focus on slang, jargon, and new words" [anyone for "carbon-leakage", "vegangelical" or "electric police"]
• For all the UK's latest crusading travel news, make your acquaintance with the Campaign for Better Transport [including, for example, recently published detailed plans for a Brent Cross Light Rail scheme (pdf)]
• And finally, as is traditional on these occasions, something cute and fluffy - Caption My Kitten [I suspect you can think up better LOL captions than some of the rubbish on there]

 Friday, January 25, 2008

Exasperation

In today's post, to protect workplace confidentiality, I shall be replacing certain sensitive words with the names of fruits and vegetables. Thank you for your continued attention.

As part of my job, it is occasionally essential to transport confidential bananas from one part of London to another. I've been transporting bananas for many years now, every now and then, as the timeline requires, from my offices in Melon to the customer's offices in Pineapple. The bananas are always securely wrapped and hermetically sealed, lest some evil interloper should attempt to steal them during the journey, or in case I accidentally leave them on the bus. My colleagues and I have been transporting bananas from Melon to Pineapple for many years now, and we've never lost a single one.

Recently our customer in Pineapple introduced a new risk management procedure called kumquat. This means that we now have to transport an extra copy of every banana, rendered electronically, in addition to our normal paper-based delivery. I first attended a meeting about kumquat way back in 2002, but it's taken until now for the upper hierarchy to finally confirm precisely which of our bananas need to be copied and when. This month, after a final bout of high level deliberation, we at last have an agreed kumquat policy and kumquat schedule. So tomorrow I have to transport my usual banana across town from Melon to Pineapple, but I also have to take an electronic banana too.

You've probably seen a lot of bad press lately about satsuma loss. It only takes one carelessly mislaid banana and millions of pounds worth of sensitive satsuma can be lost, with major national repercussions. So we've also had a new satsuma policy imposed on us, whereby all electronic bananas must now be encrypted and cabbage-protected before being transported from Melon to Pineapple. Just in case, on the off chance, to minimise risk. Because minimising risk is now more important than anything else, even sanity.

I spent most of yesterday trying to cabbage-protect my electronic banana. I could have been doing some real work, but instead I spent most of my time on the phone to the customer in Pineapple attempting to work out what they deemed acceptable cabbage protection. Not that they could tell me. "You must do this", the top level asparagus insisted. But they could offer no practical advice or IT solution explaining precisely how. Three hours after I should have gone home I was still sat at my desk, copying and recopying individual apricots, attempting to meet a pointless new deadline created by leek-pedants.

So today I'll be crossing London from Melon to Pineapple clutching my double-wrapped electronic banana. Please don't mug me. You'd not be able to unlock my electronic banana anyway, not now that it's been comprehensively cabbage-protected. Security problem solved? Well no, because I'll still be carrying the usual double-wrapped paper-based banana too. And a lost or stolen paper-based banana remains perfectly readable by any opportunistic satsuma thief, just like it's always been. Even if no opportunistic satsuma thief has ever materialised. I love the sheer futility of my job sometimes. Because the customer is always right, even when they're clearly talking lychees.

 Thursday, January 24, 2008

The UK government yesterday launched a multi-million pound campaign to try to cut levels of obesity across Britain. Because too many of us are fat bastards, and we're all going to die. Obviously. The new campaign contains lots of sensible ideas, most of them old favourites, and most of which chubby and would-be-chubby people will ignore. And then there's this one...
"A single, simple and effective approach to food labelling used by the whole food industry, based on the principles that will be recommended by the FSA in light of the research currently being undertaken."
At the moment, as you've probably noticed, there are two competing approaches to presenting nutritional information on the front of packaged food. One is simple, and the other is a bit more complicated. One is favoured by the government and used by most supermarkets, and the other is favoured by sellers of nutritionally dodgy food and used by Tesco. But only one scheme can win out. And I'm quite surprised by which I prefer.

Traffic lights
traffic lightsThis is the straight-forward system, with the backing of the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health. Pictured is the Sainsbury's version, which looks like a Trivial Pursuit counter (but with proper full fat cheese). Five major nutritional types are depicted, and you can tell at a glance whether you should be cramming this food down your gullet or not. Green = good; amber = occasionally; red = imminent death. Very useful for quickly identifying which of several identical ready meals is jammed full of nasty salt and killer calories, and which isn't quite so bad. But not very useful if you're colour blind. And, ludicrously, the colours have nothing to do with the actual amount of fat/salt/etc inside the packet. The numbers do, but the colours don't. The colours are based on 100g of food, whether the packet contains 100g or not. A tiny pack of ten peanuts would show up red, for example, because 100g of peanuts have a lot of calories. But a huge bucket of fizzy drink might only show amber, because a mere 100g of fizzy drink (one third of a can) isn't going to kill you. It's all a bit basic, a bit broad-brush, a bit over-simple.
All about the traffic light system

Guideline Daily Amounts
GDA percentagesAnd this is the complicated system, with the backing of Tesco, Kellogg's, Nestlé and other stodge-peddling multinationals. Pictured is the label from a steak and mushroom pie I ate earlier, with figures based on recommended daily consumption. There are lots of pretty traffic light colours, but oddly these are completely irrelevant. Sugar may be coloured red, but it's actually the sugar in this pie that's the least unhealthy ingredient. Look, the fat content is huge, and that's for just a quarter of the pie. Eat half of the pie and you'd be eating a day's saturated fat all in one go. I like this label because it's based on actual portion size, and the figures depicted can (and do) actively stop me from eating too large a slice. But the label also contains supposedly difficult mathematics (ie percentages), which is enough to scare off most shoppers. If half the adult population can't quickly interpret this label in a supermarket aisle, then it's not going to provide any motivation to buy the healthy option. Shame.
All about the Guideline Daily Amounts system

I fear that, in the government's new drive to enforce one single food labelling system, lowest common denominator design will win out. Labels will show less information rather than more, because more information confuses stupid people. Red, amber, or green, that's all we'll get. But it won't really be enough. When every pizza in the freezer cabinet shows red for saturated fat, who's to spot that the triple-cheese feast is the real killer. Once I've bought my amber Pringles, what's to stop me from eating the entire tube? Obesity isn't just about what the nation eats, it's about how much. Fat chance of us winning the battle.

 Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The best five blogs in Europe (allegedly) [ooh, it's Bloggies time again]
Arseblog - dissecting Europe's finest football team (ssh, pretend we never lost against Sp*rs last night)
Londonist - dissecting Europe's finest capital city (churning out the very latest 24-ish hours a day)
Chocolate & Zucchini - mouthwatering stylish Gallic cuisine (it's amazing what you can do with a courgette)
Iceland Weather Report - Reykjavik calling (because Europe spreads even as far as the cold dark shiny bits)
diamond geezer - waffling on about East London and life and stuff (bloody hell, that's me isn't it?)

Amy Winehouse exclusive

ohmigod it's AMY WINEHOUSE. she has the voice of an ANGEL but she is not pure. she is always being seen with the powder and the rocks, sometimes in her car and sometimes up her nose. she is in the gutter oh yes, like a dirty woman. and she is MY NEIGHBOUR! well, sort of. i live in bow in east london and what do you know she lives IN BOW TOO! it is, like TOO EXCITING! and a scandal, obviously.

amy is an E3 girl now. she bought a pad here last month up by the river canals, and now she is never away from the place. well, it is dead convenient for the local magistrates court, innit? i was walking past the court on the bow road the other week and there was paparazzi ALL over the pavement waiting for amy to turn up. they had cameras and they had notebooks and they had those little ladders that they stand on to get a better photo of a lady's head. but there was no amy around yet. i should have waited to watch the scarlet jezebel shambling up the steps into the court to plead for her dipsy husband but instead i went home. but hey i was WELL CLOSE to fame and misery.

the omega works, fish island, bow e3amy lives in these posh flats beside the river lea, on the corner where it meets the hertford canal. the area is called fish island, which is appropriate because she drinks like one LOL. amy lives inside a big modern apartment block made of shiny glass, behind a security gate which helps to keep the tabloids out. she probably has wooden floorboards and a balcony and a large open space pretending to be a loft. i bet she has a cracking time there, know what i mean. and her place directly overlooks the olympics, so she'll have a great view of the basketball stadium in 2012, but only if she's still alive and hasn't dropped DEAD of evil overdoses.

because i live in bow i could bump into amy AT ANY TIME. if i go to the corner shop i could easily find amy there buying vodka and rizlas. if i go to the mcdonalds drive-thru i could see amy lolling beside the pay window guzzling an egg mcmuffin. if i go out up the A12 after dark i might come face to face with her scrawny red bra and scruffy tattoo flesh. and if i stand on the canal towpath i might be able to sell her a bag of lemon sherbet which she will take home and snort in a crazed POWDERBINGE. so i keep my eyes peeled for a dazed blonde waif wandering the bow streets, or staring blankly through a car window with pinhole eyes. i haven't seen her yet, my e3 sister, but it can only be a MATTER OF TIME.


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