diamond geezer

 Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap day - 29 leap facts for February 29th

1) Today is the 512th leap day to be observed since the first in 45BC.
2) Leap years occur every four years. They're required because a solar year is almost exactly 365¼ days long, and over a four year period those four quarter-days add up to make one whole extra day.
3) There are only 24 leap years this century because 2100 won't be a leap year.
4) Leap year babies celebrate their birthday only once every 1461 days. Raenell is quite passionate about it. Great site.
5) You have a 1 in 1461 chance of being born on February 29th. The odds are a lot higher if your parents have sex on May 29th the previous year.
6) Over a 400 year period, the odds of being born on February 29th lengthen to 1 in 1506.
7) About 40000 people in the UK are leap day babies. Meet some of them here.
8) About 200000 people in the USA and 4 million people worldwide are leap day babies. Meet some of them here.
9) The Queen sent no centenarian birthday telegrams on February 29th 2000, because there was no February 29th 1900.
10) The composer Rossini was born on February 29th 1792, Pope Paul III on February 29th 1468, actor Joss Ackland on February 29th 1928 and rapper Ja Rule on February 29th 1976. More leap day birthdays here.
11) In a leap year you probably get paid the same for doing one day's extra work. Schoolchildren, on the other hand, get one day's extra holiday.
12) The Gilbert & Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance revolves around a February 29th birthday. Frederic is a pirate's apprentice, free to return to respectable society on his 21st birthday, except that at the age of 21 he realises he still has 63 years to go. A leap child's lot is not a happy one.
13) Today is the first February since 1980 to have five Fridays (and the next will be 2036).
14) If you have a leap year birthday, like one of my work colleagues, you have to decide when to celebrate it in non-leap years - February 28th or March 1st. In legal situations, UK law dictates February 28th.
15) Ladies, today's the day to propose marriage to your man. Hurry up, if you wait another 4 years just think how old he'll be. Why not send a postcard?
16) Is your watch showing the wrong date today? It probably is.
17) When Julius Caesar introduced leap years the extra day wasn't February 29th, it was February 24th. The Romans repeated the sixth day before March 1st, or "dies bissextus", and leap years are still sometimes called bissextile years.
18) Living through a leap day means one day longer to wait for your birthday and one day longer to wait for Christmas.
19) The National Trust is giving all its workers the day off today so that they can each do something good for the environment. Join the Great Green Leap Day here.
20) Leap Day number 1s of the past five decades would make a fascinating compilation CD: Anthony Newley (Why, 1960), Cilla Black (Anyone Who Had A Heart, 1964), Esther & Abi Ofarim (Cinderella Rockefella, 1968), Chicory Tip (Son Of My Father, 1972), Four Seasons (December '63 (Oh What A Night), 1976), Blondie (Atomic, 1980), Nena (99 Red Balloons, 1984), Kylie Minogue (I Should Be So Lucky, 1988), Shakespear's Sister (Stay, 1992), Oasis (Don't Look Back In Anger, 1996), All Saints (Pure Shores, 2000), Peter Andre (Mysterious Girl, 2004) and Duffy (Mercy, 2008).
21) Leap day is also St Oswald's Day, named after a 10th century archbishop of York who died during a feet-washing ceremony on February 29th 992. His feast is celebrated on February 28th during non leap years.
22) The Academy Awards have twice been awarded on February 29th - in 1940 (best picture: Gone With The Wind) and 2004 (best picture: Lord of the Rings III).
23) Are you tempted by a Leap Day birthday poem, some Leap Day clothing or perhaps a Leap Day tattoo?
24) Webpages about the date February 29th here, here and here.
25) IT-type people feared computers might go wrong on Leap Day 2000, misinterpreting the date as February 29th 1900, a date which didn't exist. They were wrong.
26) Leap year babies endured seven consecutive years with no birthdays from 1897 to 1903, and will again from 2097 to 2103.
27) Every leap year the town of Antony on the Texas/New Mexico border holds a Leap Year Festival. This weekend they're celebrating with hot air balloons, a parade, parachutes and special birthday cake for all.
28) There has, just once, been a February 30th. It happened in Sweden, and it happened in 1712. The Swedes needed to lose 11 days to come in line with the Gregorian calendar, but forgot to miss out February 29th in 1704 and 1708 so had to add an extra leap day in 1712 to get back in sync. Pity the Swedish babies born on on February 30th 1712, because they never saw another birthday.
29) Brothers and sister Heidi, Olav and Leif-Martin Henriksen of Stavanger, Norway were all born on February 29th - in 1960, 1964 and 1968 respectively.

 Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Count 2008

During February 2003 on diamond geezer I kept myself busy by counting things. Ten different counts, to be precise, in a none-too thrilling daily feature called 'The Count'. My 28-day tally chart may have been deathly dull to the rest of you, but I've continued to count those ten categories again, every February since, just to keep tabs on how my life is changing. Below are my counts for February 2008, accompanied by the previous statistics and some deep, meaningful pondering. Should you care, that is.
note: in leap years, only the first 28 days count


Count 1 (Blog visitors): Another year, another abnormal February. More than 10% of this month's visitors have stumbled in unintentionally from a single teasing link on a sexblog. I bet almost none of them came back. But I'm still getting an increasingly healthy number of genuine visitors a day - probably double if all you RSS feed readers are included. And, blimey, what a rise since 2003! Thanks.
Total number of visits to this webpage in February 2008: 32006
(2007: 23082) (2006: 42277) (2005: 9636) (2004: 6917) (2003: 2141)


Count 2 (Google searches): I'm only counting these in case too large a proportion of my visitors are coming here 'accidentally' rather than deliberately. And they're not. So that's alright then.
Total number of Google referrals to this webpage in February 2008: 3833
(2007: 3919) (2006: 3473) (2005: 908) (2004: 947) (2003: 316)


Count 3 (Blog content): I'm always convinced every year that I'm writing far more than I was last year, but this turns out not to be the case. OK, so this is my most prolific February yet, but not by much. It looks like I'm really astonishingly consistent, generating about 500-700 words a day. Good, I'd hate to think my blogging was increasing out of control like an addiction or something.
Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2008: 17606
(2007: 17102) (2006: 15817) (2005: 16016) (2004: 16214) (2003: 14392)


Count 4 (Spam): Good grief, what happened there? Not one willy-stiffener or potency substitute has slipped into my inbox this month! My magnificent ISP has managed to filter out every single spam message I've been sent since the start of February (damn, bar one brief Russian missive which slipped through late on day 28). I do hope they haven't deleted any of your real emails in the process.
Total number of spam emails I received in February 2008: 1
(2007: 119) (2006:82) (2005: 54) (2004: 31) (2003: 30)


Count 5 (Nights out): At last, partial social recovery! I am no longer a complete after-dark hermit, having managed to go out every Friday this month and on a handful of other evenings as well. I think I've finally put my mid-decade drought behind me, thanks particularly to the permanent return of BestMate to UK shores. But I still have some way to go to return to the hedonistic days of 2003 - whatever was I up to?
The number of nights in February 2008 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 7
(2007: 3) (2006: 2) (2005: 2) (2004: 7) (2003: 21)


Count 6 (Alcohol intake): That's my Becks intake significantly upped since last year, from an average of one bottle a month to one bottle a day. The figures suggest that my nights out are getting boozier (or just that I'm going to the cinema less often). But my Becks addiction still falls well within government guidelines on alcohol unit intake.
Total number of bottles of Becks I drank in February 2008: 28
(2007: 1) (2006: 7) (2005: 0) (2004: 17) (2003: 58)


Count 7 (Tea intake): Apart from one dodgy year when workplace kettle usage was banned, my tea consumption remains wonderfully consistent. As, incidentally, does my coffee intake (still zero).
Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2008: 134
(2007: 137) (2006: 128) (2005:81) (2004: 135) (2003: 135)


Count 8 (Trains used): Again, very regular and fairly high. You can tell I live in London, can't you?
Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2008: 117
(2007:100) (2006: 107) (2005: 117) (2004: 109) (2003: 103)


Count 9 (Exercise taken): I'd like to assure you that any apparent decline in escalator-climbing since 2003 is due to the nature of my daily commute, not to any increasing levels of breathless unfitness. Honest. I still walk up every escalator I ascend (and I can't believe how many of you lazy Londoners just stand there - wimps).
Total number of escalators I walked up in February 2008: 33
(2007: 31) (2006: 35) (2005:38) (2004: 72) (2003: 73)


Count 10 (Mystery count): Sorry to disappoint you all, again, but the legendary diamond geezer Mystery Count continues to be zero. Indeed, it's not just been zero this February and zero last February, it's been zero since last February. Damn. Maybe next year...
Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2008: 0
(2007: 0) (2006: 0) (2005: 0) (2004: 0) (2003: 0)

 Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Soundtrack to my commute
yesterday: home 7:35am → work 8:02am
(iPod shuffle on random)


Air: Kelly Watch The Stars
Striding along Bow Road, heading for the tube. Caught red-handed Mr Gladstone. A rain shower just rolled by and the pavements are damp. Mustn't walk too close to that gutter puddle, or passing tyres will splash me through. Oh for goodness sake PRESS THE BUTTON. That pelican won't change itself. Watch the stars the stars the stars. She wasn't looking was she? A few seconds slower and that bus would have turned the corner and flattened her.

China Crisis: Arizona Sky
Omigod I love this track. Can't I turn the volume up any higher? Stride a little faster, a little brighter. The sky is bigger there, it took my breath away. Here's my exact money Mr Newsagent. I've got my small change right today, unlike last week when I underpaid you. Do stop smirking. Into the station, pausing behind a drowsy mare trying her Oyster for a second time. No, it still doesn't work, does it? No reason to give up on the illusion. Sweep down the stairs and straight onto a steamed-up Richmond. Just the one stop, then bundle across the platform at Mile End. Swish, and I'm in.

Barry Gray: theme from Stingray
Stand by for action! We are about to launch... The Central doors close. Grab a pole and hold tight. Squeeze in by the far door, hemmed in tight by three coats and a rucksack. No chance of opening my newspaper, is there? Beat those jungle drums, Marina! Anything can happen in the next half hour.

New Order: Bizarre Love Triangle
A seven-foot cityboy climbs aboard and pushes his way to the centre of the carriage. His gelled tufts scrape the ceiling. The lady hanging next to me reads the Times letters page, oh so slowly. Every time I see you falling I get down on my knees and pray. Half of Essex stands expectantly on the platform, but it's no entry. Is that Danny Wallace down at the end of the carriage? No, it's just that half the blokes in London look like Danny Wallace these days. Why can't we be ourselves like we were yesterday? Hold on tight.

M People: Renaissance
Stop jiggling to the beat, people'll notice. I'm coming home I'm coming home (to your house). Sheesh, you're gorgeous. Yeah, you sat down there with your hands clasped across your lap. If I saw you on the way home I might. But, you know, we've both got work to go to, so there wouldn't be time. And you're not even looking anyway. Have mercy mercy mercy.

XTC: Towers of London
I have a rather-too-close-up view of a brown corduroy hat with the label sticking out. Maybe it's high fashion this winter, how would I know? The next station is... Holborn. You with your plastered hand poised on the door, you in a hurry to get out? Ha, you won't beat me. I'm tenth off the platform, but third up the passageway, and first up the escalator. Pavements of gold leading to the underground. Overtaking all you side-standers as I mountaineer past. Best exercise of the day.

Mark Brown ft Sarah Cracknell : The Journey Continues
Emerging into Zone 1 sunlight. Waiting at the station, feel no hesitation and begin the ride. Oh good grief, what have they done to the Holborn traffic lights? It's suddenly a rejigged coned-off junction with shifted pedestrian priorities and longer waiting times. Hate it hate it hate it. I hope it doesn't rain all day. Cor, when was the last time I saw a milkfloat piled high with loaves and pintas? And the office already. Doesn't time fly when you're plugged in and happy?

London 12:57am: Coathangers sway on a rocking rail. Bed shakes lightly. Old Victorian building creaks, once, like it never has before.
First thought: the new couple in the flat upstairs are shagging rather vigorously.
Second thought: er, earthquake?
Result: blimey, earthquake! My very first...

 Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Plasticbag

I popped into my local supermarket on the way home last night. I wasn't planning on going, but somewhere on the Central line I realised that my fridge was pretty much empty and that a trolleyful of comestibles might be a good idea. And so it was that I ended up at the checkout with a motley collection of fruit, vegetables, Worcester sauce flavour crisps and 12-for-the-price-of-6 hot cross buns. At which point I suddenly noticed that, just behind the bloke on the till, an environmental sea change had occurred. Where the heck had all the plastic carrier bags gone?

Every time I've been to the supermarket for the past few decades there have been stacks of plastic carrier bags hanging ready and waiting beside the checkout. They may have needed careful ripping to detach safely, and it may sometimes have taken me well over a minute to prise apart the twin layers of plastic and shove my purchases inside, but those free bags have always been there. Alas, now displaced. Up on the hooks where once hung flimsy white pouches there's a new dominant carryall in town. The "Bag for Life", in all its hessian/jute glory, has been promoted to pride of place in the packaging department. Please buy one, or several, to cart your purchases home. It's the only truly green option you know. And OK, they'll still let you take some plastic bags if you must, but there's only a handful lying around, and the cashier'll shoot you a disappointed "planet-destroyer" look if you dare pick one up.

And hurrah for that, I hear you say. Plastic bags are a monstrous invention, scarring our natural environment and clogging up landfill sites for centuries to come. Imagine a better world where fields and beaches weren't permanently scarred with blue polythene, and where good citizens took responsibility upon themselves to use only reusable recyclable bags made from proper non-synthetic materials. Well I'm sorry, but that's not a crusade I'm yet willing to join.

I could have bought myself four big posh long-life unplastic bags to carry home my shopping last night, but I point blank refused. For a start all the designs were a bit, well, girly. Flowers and green writing and stuff, like we're all a bunch of swirly-dressed tent-dwelling hippies. And then there was the cost. Did I want to fork out 40p to carry my groceries home, or did I want to take the nice freebie placcy bags instead? No contest. But most of all I knew didn't want to buy big thick reusable carrier bags because, for me at least, they'd be even more wasteful than the plastic ones.

I popped into my local supermarket on the way home last night. I wasn't planning on going, so I didn't have four previously-used reusable bags stashed away in my pocket. Even if I'd previously bought four "Bags for Life" they'd still have been sitting at home in my kitchen when I arrived at the checkout with groceries to transport. For me supermarket shopping is a one-way homeward journey, not a two-way trek pre-planned with military precision. It's alright for you people with cars - you can store your environmentally friendly bags in the boot and always have them ready whenever the retail need strikes. But I don't want to have to lug empty canvas bags around with me everywhere I go on the off chance that I might decide to buy something, because I think I look stupid with bulging pouch-sized pockets.

I hope that the powers-that-be never ban plastic bags outright. Yes, plastic bags can always be recycled, and I always aim to recycle mine whenever the opportunity arises. And yes, I can see why reusable shopping bags are a great idea, and why as many people as possible should be encouraged to utilise them. But they'll never be the solution for unplanned purchases, like what I tend to make. And I fear we're all at risk of ending up with a kitchen full of thick, expensive, wasteful, un-reused reusable bags instead.

 Monday, February 25, 2008

dg's postbag

I'm always impressed (and slightly surprised) when somebody who reads this blog sends me an email out of the blue. Sometimes they're asking a question, sometimes they're making an observation, sometimes they're just sending a brief note of appreciation, but I do try to reply to all of them. So today I thought I'd say a big general thank you, because your emails really do add a special extra dimension to writing online. And I thought I'd share with everyone else just some of what you've been missing.

• My recent post about Lyle Park reminded Sharon about her Silvertown childhood. "My main memory is that it was never quiet. Living on the main road there were always lorries going past our front door & the day was interspersed with the regular changes of shift at the factories that were all along the road back then (the late 50's). The docks were always full of ships & the roads were often full of sailors from exotic locations; dark skinned men in turbans, Chinese in their blue Mao suits & Russians with their funny sailor hats."
• Ed wrote to TfL about the ridiculous East London line replacement bus services, and forwarded me their rather lengthy reply. "We looked into the possibility of running a cross-river boat service but it was clear from very early on that this wasn't a feasible alternative." And, what do you know, one of the four buses has just been withdrawn through lack of use.
• Paul sent through links to two fantastic Flickr collections of vintage London photographs - one from the 50s and a bigger one from the 60s. Yes, "the past is another country - a much better looking one."
• Dora wrote with an unusual request. "In one of your entries you said you got a letter with the postmark South East Anglia. Where was it from? This postmark has also greatly irritated me as that is where my Valentine's card was posted from apparently!" Alas, I was unable to provide a precise answer.
• Marc sent me an Out of Office Auto Reply - "I am out of the office on a bus route survey all day." Am I in the wrong job?
• Ian emailed me the secret link to some photos he took in a subterranean location that I'm not allowed to mention. That's Ian's blog I've just added to the sidebar, by the way.
• Eleanor wrote to correct an inaccuracy in something I wrote 18 months ago, regarding the big house in Croxley where I went to nursery school. "You mention that Madame Tussaud sculpted her waxworks at the big house in New Road. She didn't! She died in 1850 and the Tussaud that owned the house didn't move in until 1901. It was her great grandson!" An enlightening email correspondence followed. It's educational this blogging lark, innit?
    I'm often annoyed (and mildly pissed off) when some PR weasel sends me an email out of the blue. Sometimes they're offering me a freebie, sometimes they're after a reciprocated link, but usually they just want me to plug some website or service that they can't get sufficient publicity for. Sorry guys, I don't do that. So today I thought I'd annoy my recent link-beggars by mentioning their projects but not linking to them. And I thought I'd warn future media desperados not to waste their time asking.

• Dan was keen for me climb aboard his online monetization platform by recommending advertisers' products and services. His email kicked off by reminding me that "earning money whilst retaining your blog's integrity is a tough balancing act". And you know, Dan, that was precisely why I turned you down flat.
• Ken wondered whether I'd agree to link to his new content-lite London website for visitors on a tight budget. "Please feel free to mention it in your diamond or london geezer blog." Er, no.
• Andrea hoped that, as a "key-blogger", I might be interested in "web-ready assets" to plug her nationwide tourist portal. She hoped wrong.
• Claudio wanted to offer me an advance behind-the-scenes tour of a major infrastructure development project somewhere on the outskirts of London. This special pre-visit was a very exciting prospect. And then Claudio asked me to email him my scanned passport details. And you know what, suddenly I lost interest.
• Jim requested that I swap links with his travel fashion blog. Alas, Jim, I wouldn't be seen dead in tweeds.
"Hi," said Amy. "We just posted an article - 10 Resources to Help you Find and Purchase Blood-Free Diamonds. I thought I'd bring it to your attention just in case you think your readers would find it interesting." You be the judge.
• Kim sent me an e-flyer for an East End music hall knees-up taking place in five weeks time. I fear there may be numerous follow-up reminders.
• Lev emailed from New York to ask whether a "smart and active individual such as yourself" would like to "help show American travelers what the non cliché British character is". I failed to dignify his request with a reply.
• Steve works for the marketing division of a major mobile phone company with a new phone to plug. He wondered whether, as a "thought-leader", I might be interested in being "seeded" for a free trial. Cruelly I left him to search elsewhere.

• Dear PR merchants: further info here

<watches inbox>

 Sunday, February 24, 2008

Highbury revisited

East Stand, HighburyNever go back. Never return to a much-loved place to see what it looks like now, not if you value your memories. Because you know what you'll find. Crumbling perfection, decaying reality, and misplaced priorities. And so it is with Arsenal's old Highbury Stadium. Two seasons ago this was the red and white home of football, and now it's a building site with residential aspirations. I went back. Mistake.

What's happened to the East Stand? This used to be a pristine Art Deco masterpiece, with an imposing white facade and bold red detail. And yes it's still standing, the shell of the building at least, but now looking pretty sorry for itself photos. All the glass in the windows has been removed, there's scaffolding propping up one end, and the paintwork has a distinctly weatherbeaten look. A series of big rectangular holes has been punched through the wall, presumably to house joists that will support the new apartments to be packed inside. A hundred yard stretch of pavement outside has been fenced off, and a small red sign on the main entrance door bears the single word "SOLD". It's as if institutional rigor mortis has set in, and it's rather sad.

East Stand, HighburyAnd where's the Clock End gone? There used to be a stand on the south edge of the stadium, and now there's isn't. It's been completely demolished to make way for a mighty apartment block of steel and glass. It's not even an impressive block, not in any way, just the perfect 21st century way to cram as many house-buyers as possible into a confined space. Same up at the other end, where the North Stand used to be. All gone, and a series of characterless cuboids being erected in its place. It's amazing how much acreage the developers have found on which to build within the confines of the old Highbury site, leaving only the old pitch as a central garden feature. Purchase one of the 711 apartments around "Highbury Square" and you're buying little more than a living space on the site of eradicated history.

Emirates StadiumAcross the railway at Ashburton Grove, the new Emirates Stadium gleams in a way that Highbury never did. Like many a modern mega-stadium it has the appearance of a giant glass bowl surrounded by a windswept concrete plaza, severed from the surrounding streets to make crowd control a little easier. On non-match days the footbridges and walkways are merely a cut-through for the occasional passer-by, or red-striped Gooner families trying to locate the club shop, or a few kids kicking a football around photos. This is no longer the heart of the community, this is a tacked-on fortress.

And even here, around Arsenal's new football focus, the emphasis is on residential cramming. A string of new apartment blocks has sprung up above the railway cutting, bringing glee and delight to the face of many an N5 estate agent. To the north, squeezed in between pincered railway tracks, stands the 11-storey Ashburton Triangle development. This grey and red rollercoaster-style design is Europe's largest zinc-clad building, and houses 249 affordable apartments for key workers. No chance of any Arsenal players living here, but more than a few keen supporters have already moved in. A glowering concierge guards the entrance, and doubled-up security doors keep out all but the most persistent undesirables. It's a bit of a rabbit warren inside, and no expense has been spent on decorating the internal corridors. But select your flat carefully and the view from the balcony is really rather impressive photosphotos. Maybe those new Highbury flats in the distance won't be quite so awful after all.

 Saturday, February 23, 2008

What to do this Saturday?

1) Do you have to go to work?
→ If yes, sorry. → If no, go to question 2

2) Have you got some big event booked, like a wedding or a holiday?
→ If yes, enjoy. → If no, go to question 3

3) Are you feeling sick or unwell?
→ If yes, recover. → If no, go to question 4

4) Do you have family to visit?
→ If yes, do your duty. → If no, go to question 5

5) Have you got dependent offspring?
→ If yes, keep them happy. → If no, go to question 6

6) Do you have kittens?
→ If yes, they'll keep you occupied. → If no, go to question 7

7) Do you feel the need to go shopping?
→ If you must, go indulge. → If no, go to question 8

8) Is your garden starting to wake up for Spring?
→ If yes, start digging. → If no, go to question 9

9) Is your weekend only complete with a trip to IKEA?
→ If yes, get a life. → If no, go to question 10

10) Do you have some "urgent" bathroom retiling to do?
→ If yes, your priorities are all wrong. → If no, go to question 11

11) Do you have a significant other?
→ If yes, find some "together" activities. → If no, go to question 12

12) Hmmm, what the hell are the rest of us going to do all day?

 Friday, February 22, 2008

Bow fly-over

Another day, another consultation. This time it's the skies over London and the South East that are under review. There are plans to relocate several flightpaths around certain major airports to relieve mid-air congestion, and this may mean significant changes to noise levels where you live. If you're unlucky then the current peace and quiet above your house and garden may be imminently shattered. But if you're more fortunate then the existing roaring whine overhead may soon be shifted elsewhere. It might be wise to check out the full details.

Ah, now this is a proper consultation website. None of this feeble one-page-of-text stuff. There are six majorly-detailed sections, from the overall restructuring rationale to various individual regional proposals. If you want a huge fact-packed 50-page pdf stuffed with noise contours and other background information, you can download one. And, best of all, there are maps. When you're trying to trace a flightpath across your local neighbourhood, what you need is maps. And in this case there's a damned clever interactive map that pinpoints any postcode you care to type and displays adjacent flghtpaths both old and new. Time to get worried?

London City Airport (east)Let me have a look at the skies above Bow, where I live. Oh my word. Every single plane taking off westbound from London City Airport will fly ABSOLUTELY DIRECTLY OVER MY HOUSE. Not half a mile up the road, but BANG OVERHEAD. If one of those minijets should accidentally plummet vertically from the sky, I'm a dead man. And at all other times I'll be bombarded by the relentless roar of whining engines, careering on their upward trajectory and keeping me awake at all hours. Look, according to the map these evil aircraft will be buzzing less than 2000ft above my roof. It's going to be A LIVING HELL, I tell you.

Only, ah, hang on, I've been looking at the 'Now' map. If I switch to the 'Proposed' map then things look very different. As of 2009 the London City Airport flightpath is changing, with less of a sharp northward bend immediately after takeoff. Planes are going to be curving over Mile End and Victoria Park instead, and my personal airspace will suddenly be crystal clear. Fan-bloody-tastic. Unless you happen to live in Mile End, that is. Although I wouldn't worry, because it's not exactly been hell on earth in Bow for the last couple of decades. Five flights an hour carrying a handful of be-suited businessmen to mainland Europe aboard specially quietened minijets, they've been almost no intrusion at all. Honest, not even mildly annoying. Fear not the spectre of London City Airport, not unless you're stupid enough to live right at the end of the runway.

[Of course, if you live near Luton or Stansted, then you might have more to be concerned about. And sorry, they're not fiddling with the fearsome noise corridors into Heathrow, not in this consultation. Sleep well]

 Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hello would-be Citizen.

Do you fancy relocating to the UK? We thought so. I mean, who wouldn't? But Great Britain is a great country, and we want to keep it that way. So we at the Home Office have just invented lots of additional petty rules to try to keep you out of our country for as long as possible. We're calling it the Contract for Citizenship. We're going to compel you to learn our language and force you to follow our customs. We hope to fleece you with an admission fee and to exploit you as part of a nationwide scheme of community chaingangs. We might even ask you to dress up as a morris dancer and hit yourself with a pig's bladder, just for a laugh, if it makes you think twice about coming over here and filling our hospitals.

We've also come up with a compulsory entrance exam for would-be immigrants. You need to complete this online, and then click on the "submit" button at the bottom. Score enough points and you're in. And if not, well, sorry, but maybe some un-British country will have you instead.


1) Can you speak English?
Yes    No    Sorry, I don't understand the question

2) Have you ever committed any of the following naughty crimes?


3) How intelligent are you (please tick all that apply)?
I have a PhD (25 points)
I have a degree (15 points)
I can do plumbing (25 points)
I'm a qualified dentist (75 points)
I have a cub scout badge (2 points each)

4) Which British Values do you have?


5) Complete the following well known phrase or saying.
Send her victorious, and glorious,
Long to reign over us, God save the .

6) Would you like to trial our new ID card scheme?
Yes    Yes    I don't really have a choice, do I?

7) How many dependent children do you have?


8a) How much extra tax are you willing to pay? £
8b) How much of a backhander can you slip us? £

9) Do the nasty people back in your own country want to kill you?
Yes, and I have scored 100 or more points (hurrah)
Yes, but I have scored less than 100 points (sorry)
No, I just fancied moving to the UK anyway (hmmm)

10) How do you propose to benefit your local community?



 Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Royal Mail has just announced that it's planning to shut the third-closest post office to my house. The Devons Road branch is one of 169 London post offices that face the chop as part of a major national restructuring plan. There are currently 850 post offices in London, and Royal Mail chiefs want to cut that number to 681. It's for our own good, apparently. If they don't butcher the post office network by 20% nigh immediately, then business viability plans may founder. It's our own fault for not buying enough stamps, obviously.

Malmesbury RoadRoyal Mail has also announced that it's planning to shut the second-closest post office to my house. The Malmesbury Road branch is an under-frequented shop in a brick parade, battened down behind metal shutters on a grim estate. See how unappealing the brick parade looks in this photo. Postman Pat would never have starred in his own TV series if he'd been based here. And yet for many an elderly resident this place is a regular weekly lifeline. Not everyone has an internet bank account, and not everyone can work out those new-fangled charges for over-sized letters without asking the nice man behind the counter for assistance. Sorry, but closure is apparently essential. Many corporate apologies.

Royal Mail is not proposing to shut the closest post office to my house. The Stroudley Walk branch will remain open, for the purveyance of premium bonds and pet insurance to an enlarged E3 community. So I'll still be able to go and stand in a gloomy concrete cuboid and watch paint peel while queueing for ages to buy stamps from someone who doesn't quite understand English. I'm one of the lucky ones. But my wait will soon be even longer because displaced customers from Devons Road and Malmesbury Road will be queueing up with me. Assuming they can walk this far, that is. And one day, in a couple of consultation periods time, I expect to see even Stroudley Walk on the PO hitlist. Fight back now, while the latest 6-week consultation period lasts, because they could be coming to pull the heart out of your neighbourhood next.

The cover feature in this week's Time Out is a list of "the 50 best London websites". The list is nothing of the sort, obviously, it's just a subjective collection of fifty London-y websites that some of their journalists happen to quite like. Including this one, as it happens. But the Time Out list must be a good list because I'd already bookmarked more than half of the sites previously.

If you've not seen the list, it's here.
Don't forget to check out all five categories.

And if you've just arrived from Time Out and are planning on clicking your way through the list, here's a choice of five recommended links that you might try next:
» Blog: The London Review of Breakfasts - for regular fry-up reportage
» History: London Remembers - documenting every plaque, every memorial
» Going Out: London Is Free - because there's plenty going on that needn't cost
» Shopping: Dalston Oxfam Shop - charity retro mixtapes for you to download
» Communities: Stitch and Bitch London - for smart knitters everywhere

 Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Thames Barrier Park, Silvertown

The London Dockland Development Corporation had a tough job on its hands trying to get people to move to the Royal Docks. Why would anyone want to live on a forgotten industrial site beside a murky grey estuary? So they carved out a big square park down by the river, on the site of a contaminated tar works, and tried to make it as lovely as possible in an attempt to boost property prices. And it appears that they were successful. Thames Barrier Park was opened in Silvertown as long ago as 2000, and the surrounding area is only just starting to catch up.

The Green Dock, Thames Barrier ParkThis is not so much a park as a big lawn scattered with landscape features. The most striking of these is a deep broad chasm, filled with undulating yew hedgerows, which cuts diagonally across the park. It's best seen in the summer, but the greens and browns are photogenic enough in winter sunlight. At the northern end is a fountain plaza, once home to 32 dancing waterspouts, now alas fenced-off around 32 bare holes in the stone floor. The southern end is rather lovelier. The grass rises gently to a wooden Pavilion of Remembrance, sort-of modern Chinese in style, with a flat roof supported on 26-foot-high poles. From the embankment there's an excellent very-close-up view of the Thames Barrier, with nine piers glinting above the low tide mud. Another long gravel path criss-crosses the park from corner to corner. And, to either side, great white housing blocks look down onto a much enjoyed local amenity.

Thames Barrier Park is a fine place for a stroll with the pushchair, or a game of cricket on the lawn, or a romp in the play area, or a good long stare out across the Thames. The 1km periphery is just right for a jog, or for taking a hound or two for a circular walk. Wrap up warm and enjoy the views, or maybe wait until spring and sprawl out in one of the wildflower meadows with a good book. Or maybe you'll end up hiding from the elements in the much-frequented coffee shop in the Visitor Pavilion by the DLR station, open at weekends especially for those who can't go anywhere without caffeine and muffins.

Oh yes, this is a very civilised park, very millennial, very 'new Silvertown'. I rather like it.
    Lyle Park, Silvertown

But there was already a park in Silvertown, just a couple of hundred yards up the road, built three quarters of a century earlier. You wouldn't guess it was here - Newham Council don't signpost it from the main North Woolwich Road. But take a few steps up a sidestreet, past a row of council houses, and you can enter a proper old municipal mudpatch. At the entrance is a threadbare patch of lawn, close to the tennis courts where you might spot a runty Staffs terrier padding about between the lobs. Mind where you step.

This is Lyle Park, a thin strip of land donated to the local populace by sugar magnate Sir Leonard Lyle in 1924. The big Tate and Lyle factory isn't far away, and the employees needed somewhere for their infrequent recreation. I bet they were extremely grateful at the time. Follow the narrow path down to the right, beneath the piled-up chemical canisters, and you'll reach the main body of the park. It's not huge - it's just a single unkempt football pitch with a dusty path around the perimeter. The changing rooms and toilets are firmly padlocked, and look like they've been closed for years. In the northwest corner is a WWI memorial drinking fountain, relocated behind some drooping shrubbery in the hope that passing yobs won't notice it.

Harland & Wolff gates, Lyle ParkThe whole place is hemmed in on three sides by up-close industrial units, quite at odds with the open expansive feel of the newer park to the east. And considerably emptier. There's nigh nobody here, just a single mum from the local estate and her quietly-rampaging kids. Up the steps to the broad riverside terrace, where the bandstand used to be, stand two grand iron gates erected across a flower bed. They used to grace the entrance to the Harland and Wolff shipyard downriver, but now live out their retirement unseen and unnoticed. A pair of empty benches overlook the water's edge, looking out across nothing much of immediate interest. And yet the council's gardeners have obviously gone to a lot of effort to plant out each border with due care and attention. Heather, crocuses, daffodils, snowdrops - all bloom here for the benefit of the handful that come to enjoy.

Oh yes, this is a very ordinary park, very municipal, very 'old Silvertown'. I rather love it.

[and I bet most of you Londoners have never been to either]

 Monday, February 18, 2008

Millennium Mills

» There used to be three large flour mills beside the Royal Docks in Silvertown. Two were knocked down in the 1990s and now only the granary of the Millennium Mills remains.
» It's a huge building, at least eight storeys high, and my photograph shows only the relatively narrow western end. It's a lot longer than that.
» Millennium Mills now lies fenced off and derelict, behind 59 acres of empty wasteland and a 24-hour security fence.
» A few years ago you could wander up to Millennium Mills and take a peek inside, but not any more (unless you're very naughty).
» There are plans to turn the surrounding area into Silvertown Quays - a brand new mixed development complete with "new homes, offices, workspace, retail, leisure, entertainment and community facilities" (sigh) and an international aquarium.
» There are also plans to redevelop the mills into loft-style apartments. A lot of renovation will be required to make this crumbling building habitable.
» I hope the new residents stock up on earplugs, because City Airport is nextdoor and (as you can see) the flight path passes damned close.

threelinks
• I've waffled a lot about Olympic Park construction recently. Now the ODA have released an aerial photo of the 2012 Stadium site. Wow, I didn't realise they'd got that deep already! Look, they've scraped away all the factories and warehouses east of Marshgate Lane (bar one solitary tarmac road) and dug a big arena-sized hole. Fast work, chaps. [There's even more detail in the extra-big size photo]
• Interested in the quirkier side of the capital? Let me recommend The Shady Old Lady's Guide to London where you can uncover a motley assortment of themed historic locations [or click on the Lady's giant map and discover what happened near you]
• For your London route-planning needs, Gregory's Interactive Underground Map might be able to help. Just click twice on the map and it'll plot a timed journey between the two points [although it might send you for a very long walk, or ask you to swim across the Thames, so be careful]

 Sunday, February 17, 2008

post-Gallowatch: I received a letter from my new MP yesterday. Or at least I received a letter from the woman who'd like to be my new MP. I know I'm going to get a new MP at some point in the next 2½ years because my current MP George Galloway is buggering off to stand in the constituency over the road. His headlong escape allows a free-for-all to fill the void left by his gaping personality. And, who knows, we might even get an MP who spends more time representing us in Parliament than spouting off on talk radio.

My letter was from the prospective Labour Party candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow, the not-yet Right Honourable Rushanara Ali. It was very nice of her to write and introduce herself, although a bit slow given that she was selected nine months ago and I'd never heard of her before. If elected, Rushanara would become Britain's first ever Asian woman MP*. Possibly joint first, depending on how other selection decisions and elections go elsewhere, but Ms Ali might soon be the one to end this desperately poor national record.
*Bethnal Green elected its first Asian male MP in the 19th century

Rushanara uses her letter to introduce herself to her electorate. She tells us how very local she is and about the core values of an East End upbringing. She tells us how proud she is of Labour's record, although she's quick to distance herself from the war in Iraq (because that's how previous candidate Oona King lost support). She rather pointedly promises to stand up for the local community rather louder than our current MP (which shouldn't be difficult). And finally she promises to campaign for local jobs, local housing, local education and local old people (I suspect because Labour Party HQ asks all its prospective candidates to mention this particular list).

At the bottom of the letter is an invite to visit Rushanara's website, which goes by the utterly unmemorable URL of www.RushanaraAli4BethnalGreenandBow.org. You're lucky, you only have to click on my link to view the site, whereas I had to correctly type 39 separate characters (including two consecutive As) which I suspect will be beyond the ability/effort of most of my fellow constituents. And what do you know, her official campaign website is rubbish. A mere four press releases lined up one below the other, with the most recent wishing local residents a happy religious festival that ended four months ago. So thin and slapdash is her site that anyone would think we were expecting a snap election last October. Must try harder, Rushanara.

For political balance, here are the attempted websites of other possible local candidates:
Rushanara's personal website (utter blankness - "registered on behalf of a client by 123-reg.co.uk")
Bethnal Green Conservatives (more recently registered blankness - and no candidate either)
Respect Coalition - Abjol Miah (they have a candidate, but they're saying nothing)
Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats (another local group with no candidate)
» Hopeless all round. Enjoy the mid-term political doldrums while they last.

the Andrewh comments quiz
Hmmm, when was the last time that I wrote a blogpost and reader Andrewh didn't comment on it?
(not including this post)
(not yet anyway)
(just wondered)

 Saturday, February 16, 2008

Last train to Ealing Broadway

last unpainted 'silver' train, 4:45pm, Bromley-by-BowFriday, early evening, almost the rush hour. Bromley-by-Bow, tip of the platform, between the swearing lads playing football and the being-demolished hospital. A steady trickle of brightly painted District line trains rumbled through the station, delivering and collecting a handful of disinterested locals, then beeping shut and moving on. And then, round the curve from West Ham, came the distinctive silver-and-red front of the last ever unpainted Underground train. Nobody else noticed, but I whipped out my Cybershot for a final photo. One of the three LU staff in the driver's cab smiled, and I smiled back. He recognised a transport geek with a camera when he saw one.

On board, in the maple-floored carriages, a handful of travellers continued on their westward journey as per usual. There was an inkjet-printed clue stuck to the window with sellotape (Last unpainted "Silver" passenger train, 1952-2008) for those who cared to notice, but most didn't. Never mind, the driver had a 30 second non-automated tannoy message up his sleeve to alert passengers to their unwitting part in history. "Ladies and gentlemen, you are travelling aboard the last unpainted etc etc will be taken out of service at the end of the day etc etc the next station is Mile End change here for etc etc." Some passengers looked around and smiled, others checked out a few vanishing heritage features for the last time, but most just carried on reading the paper or staring at the tunnel wall.

a final dangleAt Tower Hill the train suddenly got a lot busier. A crowd of young American tourists bundled aboard before the doors closed, filling the aisles and grabbing every dangly bobble they could find. This was suddenly a very ordinary rush hour train, standing room only, rattling beneath the City. At Monument I gave up my seat to a half-term family, and rose to grab one of the remaining black drop-handles in the maelstrom above. Because, you know, you can't ride on the last train with dangly bobbles without embracing the full dangly bobble-swing experience. There's something comfortably reassuring about hanging onto a firm but flexible plastic teardrop as your train rocks and judders from station to station. It may be easier to find something to hold on to when they're all ripped out in favour of replacement green grab-bars, but it won't be half as much fun.

At Embankment an impossibly optimistic number of commuters attempted to enter the carriage. I think they were all just trying to get home, rather than to enjoy one final dangly bobble experience for themselves. I left them to it. I had a blogmeet to attend in a nearby pub, and they're even rarer these days than nostalgic last-train farewells. So I disembarked and watched the unpainted train slide slowly out of the platform, before heading back to the real world above. During the next seven hours I met lots of lovely old school bloggers and drank lots of bottles of Becks, while the train continued on two last end-to-end journeys.

And, what do you know, at quarter to midnight we both just happened to be back at Embankment station, the last train and myself, so I nipped aboard for one really-final ride in the wrong direction. The train was semi-packed with comatose revellers and burger-munchers, plus (hanging around behind the driver's cab) a slightly more obvious presence of transport geeks with cameras. After a couple of stops I left them to their final journey to the sidings, switched platforms and took the red, white and blue train home. They'll all be red, white and blue trains home from now on. And no hanging around.

 Friday, February 15, 2008

District farewell

Another slice of London Underground history disappears today. A classic design is about to vanish forever, having been gradually vanishing over the course of the last three years. Those old silver District line trains, officially called D Stock, 75 of them in total, they're all being upgraded. And the very last unrefurbished train rides the rails from East to West London today. Bye.

pigeons on the District lineD Stock trains were first introduced on the District line almost 30 years ago. Big chunky trains with unpainted exteriors, appearing silver to the eye as they glided down the line. Inside were furrowed wooden floors, bright moquette-covered seats and big dangly strap-hangers - everything a classic tube carriage ought to be. Except that (in a slight design faux pas) they were built with single doors, not double doors, which has slowed down passenger throughflow ever since. Beside each door was placed a big metal button marked "Push to open", which customers in outer London had to press to be able to get on or off. But this attempt at temperature control didn't last. Before long the doors were adjusted to swish open at every station and the buttons were disconnected, although that doesn't stop unfamiliar travellers urgently pressing them even today. But not tomorrow.

A few years ago every D Stock train was scheduled for a major revamp, one vehicle at a time until the entire fleet was upgraded. The first of the old silver trains was whisked out of service in the summer of 2005, refitted up the M1 in Derby and then returned to London in gleaming new form. Gone were the classic ridged maple floors, replaced with sparkly vomit-resistant underfoot plastic. Gone were the fire-red seat covers, refitted with something distinctly blue with green blotches. Gone were the springy bobbles that once hung from the roof, replaced by bright green grab-poles both across and down the carriage. Engineers threw in a couple of extra windows at each end, and ripped out a few seats to make way for wheelchairs, and covered over the door buttons so that nobody was tempted to press them any more. They added dot matrix displays and pumped the voice of Emma Clarke into each carriage to tell passengers where they were. And they painted the outside of each carriage in corporate red, blue and white, because that's how you brand tube trains these days.

unpainted D StockSince 2005 there's been an ever-changing mixture of original and reborn trains running on the District Line. In 2006 the next train to pull in at your platform was more likely to be a silver classic, while by 2007 it was more likely to be a modernised paintjob. Today the odds of getting on an untainted train are 74-to-1 against, because there's only one untouched survivor left. This Friday the final oldie is making one last day of journeys up and down the District Line, and then on Monday the six carriages will be slapped on the back of a lorry and sent up to the Midlands for reprocessing.

If you want a quiet journey, today's your last chance to travel from Upminster to Ealing Broadway without being interrupted by endless announcements. If you want to travel on an unpainted train, or walk on a wooden floor, today is your last chance to do so anywhere on the tube network. More to the point, today is your very last chance to grab hold of one of those dangly handles with the plastic bobble on the end and swing your way through a tunnel under London. After today, all dangly bobbles are extinct. Farewell, oh dangly bobbles.

Should you want to take a ride on today's final train, here's where to find it.
»
Upminster 16:14 → Ealing Broadway 17:44 [via Tower Hill 16:59 & Earls Court 17:23]
» Ealing Broadway 17:54 → Upminster 19:24 [via Earls Court 18:15 & Tower Hill 18:39]
» Upminster 19:33 → Richmond 21:02 [via Tower Hill 20:18 & Earls Court 20:43]
» Richmond 21:13 → Upminster 22:40 [via Earls Court 21:34 & Tower Hill 21:58]
» Upminster 22:54 → Ealing Broadway 00:22 [via Tower Hill 23:37 & Earls Court 00:01]

Well that's the plan anyway. It'd only take one signal failure or train-jam to muck up the whole schedule, so only the first train out of Upminster and the last run into Ealing Broadway are pretty-much guaranteed. Be warned also that the train is likely to be full of last-train-riding transport geeks with cameras, and that the security meatheads at Upminster aren't terribly keen on people taking photographs. But either you put up with that or you never again experience underground travel the way it used to be. And never will be again.

"This is a District Line train, to Ealing Broadway."
Oh shut up Emma. Just one last time in silence please.

 Thursday, February 14, 2008

14 paths to planning the perfect last-minute Valentine's Day

The perfect Valentine's Day is one you've already planned. The whole 24 hours is pre-choreographed to run like clockwork, from the eternity ring hidden in the cornflakes packet to the delivery of fifteen red roses halfway through the meal at the posh restaurant you booked nine months ago. But if perchance that's not how your 14th February is lining up, then read on...

1) "Oh damn, has the post not arrived? You really can't trust the Royal Mail to get anything right these days, can you?"

2) Tell your beloved that it's National Chip Week (it is, it really is) and then take them out for a slap-up saveloy. If that doesn't work, they're not worth dating.

3) Set the alarm clock for 60 minutes earlier than usual, then use the extra hour to burrow down under the duvet and provide unlimited pleasure. After all, isn't that what VD's all about?

4) Pop down to the butchers and ask them for a recently severed heart - a proper one with various dangly tubes and still dripping with blood. You could staple it to a card, or hide it in an empty box of chocolates, or just serve it up for dinner. (n.b. not recommended for vegetarians)

5) Write them a poem. If you're feeling lazy you could just copy out one of Shakespeare's sonnets with the names changed, and claim it as your own. Verily and forsooth, they'll never notice.

6) "No, obviously I didn't book us a surprise meal at a swanky restaurant, just in case you'd double-booked us a surprise meal at a different swanky restaurant. Do I have to do everything round here?"

7) Rush down to M&S and buy some sensible lingerie, then use your computer to knock up a fake Ann Summers product label and tie it to the gusset with a bit of red wool. Make sure that your partner unwraps this "special gift" in the dark, urge them to wear it as soon as possible, get sweaty, and then offer to throw it in the washing machine immediately afterwards. Works every time.

8) Hire a string quartet. There must be one in Yellow Pages somewhere, and they can't all be booked up. Then they can come round and serenade your loved one while he/she does the washing up.

9) Buy a lottery scratchcard from the newsagents on the way into work. Then stick it in an envelope and scribble "yacht" on the front. And then keep your fingers crossed.

10) Dump your partner (by text or otherwise) on 13th February, then get back with them (by text or otherwise) two days later. Saves an absolute fortune.

11) There's still time to send one of Meg's anti-Valentines. Hurry now, while bandwidth lasts.

12) Come on, try harder. There are websites out there where you can find the perfect VD partner in minutes, and agree to hook up in a public place, then head down to the pub for a flirty drink, then go back to their place for wild passionate sex, then have a massive row and storm off home, and then never see them again. It's like having an entire relationship in one day, only cheaper.

13) Get an agreement from your partner, in advance, that you're not going to waste any time or money whatsoever on the rampant commercialism of Valentine's Day.

14) Stay single, it's so much easier. Valen-what?

 Wednesday, February 13, 2008

London 2012  2012 Olympic update
  Flat out


When my eldest nephew was little, he had a thing about diggers. Big yellow earthmovers, huge scoop-fronted lorries, giant grab-arms on wheels, that sort of thing. He'd insist on getting all the digger books out of the local library, and playing with his Bob the Builder workshop, and watching and rewatching his favourite digger documentaries on video. And if we ever passed a building site he'd demand that we stop to take a look at all the fluorescent men in helmets and all the digging they were doing. He'd have absolutely adored standing on the Greenway bridge within the Olympic Park.

Olympic Stadium site - February 2008Every day, seven days a week, the Lower Lea Valley is crawling with dumper trucks and front-shovel lorries busy rumbling across the uneven landscape. Watch for only a minute and a queue of dirty vehicles will emerge from behind a heap of earth and head off up the temporary road over the spoil heap, before dumping their load and crawling back for more. There are more diggers here than a boy could ever dream of seeing across the building sites of East Anglia. "Look, digger! Digger! Digger!" Shame he's now a decade too old to appreciate the view.

There were two big problems with the site of the 2012 Olympic Stadium. Problem one (it was covered with warehouses and factories) is now solved, thanks to a lot of lawyers and some demolition squads. Problem two (it's not flat) is taking rather longer to sort out. You wouldn't think that this part of East London would have many contours, especially surrounded by quite so many rivers, but there's a distinct mound-iness to the area that's proving a challenge to flatten out. The hill where the medals are going to be presented, that summit's got to be removed. And the riverbank where the burgers are going to be sold, that's got to be raised up so that the stadium doesn't tip down into the water. The ODA are spending months moving all the earth from one spot to the other, just to balance things out.

But considerable progress is already being made. To the west of Marshgate Lane, where local kids used to buzz their motor scooters over rough hillocks and down muddy slides, that's all flat already. There's now an extensive earth platform with a steep bank that curves round in a giant arc - not yet a complete semicircle but gradually heading that way. It's the first physical sign of the edge of the 2012 stadium, or at least of the surrounding piazza where all the spectators will mill around to buy hotdogs and souvenir t-shirts. Two temporary buildings have already been erected, each piled high with gleaming white portakabins, each three storeys high, and roughly the same size as a small secondary school. The white flag of Sir Robert McAlpine flutters from the roof above this busy HQ, from which the surrounding deconstruction and re-landscaping is being coordinated. And deep within these buildings are hundreds of grown-up kids who used to love watching diggers when they were little, now earning a tidy packet building London's Olympic dream. Never fear, everything's on track.

The latest in my monthly series of photos of Olympic Stadium development (and reverse slideshow here)
Fantastic aerial photo of the nearly-levelled Olympic site (with just a few uplifted roads remaining)
The latest earth-moving update from the 2012 Olympic blog
Meanwhile, just in case you thought all the construction news was good, the relocated plotholders from the Manor Garden Allotments tell all about the incompetent migration process...
...and are still discovering just how muddy, waterlogged and useless their replacement site is

 Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Business cards

When I started my current job, way back in 2001, one of the first things I was told to do was to order some business cards. I couldn't quite see why I was going to need them, but I was told it was absolutely essential that I had some. So I filled in the official form with my job title and contact details, and waited. A few weeks later a little package arrived containing 200 business cards. It was inefficient to print fewer than 200, apparently, so 200 I received. I was quite excited because I'd never had any business cards before. I gave one to my mum, and then I stuck three in my wallet just in case they were ever useful. They weren't.

And then the company I was working for changed its logo. They chucked away all their existing stocks of headed notepaper, shredded hundreds of boxes of compliments slips, and told us all to order some new business cards. I couldn't quite see why I was going to need them, but I was told it was absolutely essential that I had some new ones with the correct branding and an updated mission statement. So I filled in the official form with my job title and contact details, and waited. A few weeks later a little package arrived containing 200 new business cards. I gave one to my mum, and swapped the three cards in my wallet for three new ones. And then I threw 190-something old cards away.

And then the company I was working for restructured itself. They shifted my team into a different division where everybody had subtly different job titles, and told us all to order some new business cards. I couldn't quite see why I was going to need them, especially based on past experience, but I was told it was absolutely essential that I had some new ones. So I filled in the official form with my new job title and contact details, and waited. A few weeks later a little package arrived containing 200 new business cards. I didn't give one to my mum this time because the novelty had worn off, but I still swapped the three cards in my wallet. And then I threw 190-something old cards away.

And then my team got sold off to a completely different company. I kept the same job and job title, but I now had a new address, new telephone number and new email. I was immediately told to order some new business cards, so I filled in a different official form with my job title and updated contact details, and waited. A few weeks later a little package arrived containing 200 new business cards. They were lovely posh business cards, in full colour, as befitted a private company with an image to maintain. I gave one to my mum just in case she ever had to ring me at work, and again I swapped the three cards in my wallet. And then I threw 190-something old cards from the old company away.

And then the new company I was working for restructured itself. They removed one word from the title of my team, because this fitted better with revised core values, and then they told us all to order some new business cards. So I etc etc here we go again etc threw 199 old cards away.

Just recently my team has been sold on again, to yet another new company. I have the same job, same job title, same work address and same telephone number, but a brand new email address. So, obviously, I've been told that it's absolutely essential that I order some new business cards. I've filled in yet another official form with my identical job title and slightly new contact details, and now I'm waiting for 200 new business cards to arrive. I'm sure they'll be miniature works of art, even if I still have nobody to give them to. But the previous batch are already obsolete, so yesterday morning I reluctantly threw two completely unopened boxes of old business cards away. That's a total of 1000 business cards I've had over the last seven years, and I've ended up binning 990-something of them.

And now I have a sneaking suspicion that my job title is going to be changing, very soon, in a slightly-too-late attempt to make it more comprehensible to an international audience. So when my next batch of 200 business cards arrives I reckon I'll be able to chuck them straight into the bin. Just to save all that annoying hanging around inbetween. I hope they get recycled into something useful.

 Monday, February 11, 2008

Consultation?

When it opened in the 1840s, Victoria Park was a social innovation. West London may have had Royal parks aplenty, but this 200 acre site by the Regent's Canal was home to the first proper municipal park in the East End. Many argued that the working classes wouldn't use or respect such elegant open air utilities as a bathing pond, a carriage drive and a bandstand, but they were proved wrong. Even today, for many residents of Bethnal Green, Bow and Hackney, the idea of living without this much-loved green lung on their doorstep is unthinkable.

the Burdett-Coutts Fountain, Victoria ParkOn a mild sunny weekend in February 2008, the park is still a hive of recreational activity. Several lively football matches are afoot, played out between official goalposts or unofficial jumpers. Families take lunch at the pavilion by the western lake, their Sunday papers spread open while littl'un rides her pink tricycle not too far away. Divorced dads take their occasional offspring to let off steam in the central playground, skidding down the long metal slides with shrieks of delight. Gangs of foul-mouthed kids play hide and seek in the ornamental garden, while leashed dogs strain and yap on the other side of a scrubby hedge. Every face bears a smile.

But, you know, Victoria Park could be nicer. A bit more like the 19th century original and a bit less like a cobbled-together collection of disjoint 20th century updates. So Tower Hamlets council is devising a Victoria Park masterplan in the hope of gaining lottery funding, and they've been running a roadshow over the last week to see what local people think. It's one of those old fashioned consultations consisting of two noticeboards and a stapled questionnaire, moved round from library to library to see what a handful of random residents think. None of this modern online interactive dissemination, oh no, just some laminated boards and a big space to stick some scribbled-on post-its. I managed to bump into the mini-exhibition in Bethnal Green over the weekend, and got to talk to one of the landscape-y architect-y designers responsible for the new plans. She was appropriately excited - especially when the leader of the council popped by, unexpectedly, for a brief look round. Afternoon ma'am.

There are two potential masterplans for the park, labelled (excitingly) A and B. Both are based on the original 1840s design, restoring original features such as the dog statues by the main gate and the water features round the de-fenced Burdett-Coutts fountain. Plan A restores the full-sized central lake to the eastern half of the park, while Plan B creates a new playground-based nucleus around the old boating pond. Both plans try to open up the park by removing fences and adding access points, and attempt to brighten up the two eastern entrances adjacent to the Olympic Park in time for 2012. Expect wild flower borders, and realigned sports pitches, and extra tea-selling facilities - all to make Victoria Park an even more special place to visit.

I'd love to give you a link to the two schemes but, despite promises in print, the masterplan details appear nowhere on the Tower Hamlets website. So it looks like the future of Victoria Park is down to the 100 or so of us who bothered to fill in a questionnaire (I hope future generations like Plan A, because that was my vote). And then the final decision, by the autumn, will be down to the Heritage Lottery Fund and their board of trustees. Let's hope that they haven't donated so much of their funding to the Olympics that there's nothing left for the Victorian jewel nextdoor.


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