diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Seaside postcard: Camber Castle
Now this is a particularly unhelpful report. Camber Castle is only open to the public on weekend afternoons in July, August and September, so I'm about to tell you about an attraction which won't be accessible until the second half of next year. But it was open for the last time this season on Sunday. And, if you like what you hear, you could always put Saturday 4th July 2009 in your diary now.


Camber Castle

A mile out of Rye, in the middle of a very big field, stands one of Henry VIII's most important coastal defences [photo]. Camber Castle is a squat cinquefoil fort with a central tower, hurriedly knocked up to protect the south coast from invading Spaniards. But the Catholic fleet never came, and the cannons probably wouldn't have been accurate enough to sink them anyway. The castle was eventually defeated not by an attack but by a retreat. Its original location was at the end of a long headland sticking out into the vast expanse of Rye harbour, strategically placed and surrounded on three sides by water. But storms and longshore drift caused the harbour waters to silt up, and within a couple of generations the coast had shifted far southward taking Rye's prosperity with it. Which is how Camber Castle came to be abandoned in an expanse of shingle-ridged marshland, quietly crumbling and nibbled by sheep.

I was relieved to find the front gate unlocked when I arrived, and a slow steady stream of Sunday strollers trickling inside. A husband and wife team from the Rye Marshes Nature Reserve were overseeing affairs - he running the guided tour and she at the entrance collecting the money. Just two quid to get in, now there's a genuine bargain, and the full colour mini-guidebook for £1 was possibly the best value for money I've seen all year. Visitors can explore the inside of the castle on their own but I plumped for the free tour, ably run by a knowledgeable showman who clearly adores being given temporary custody of this ancient structure.

Camber Castle - central towerThe interior of the castle, or at least what's left of it, is a bit of a maze. There's only one way into the central tower, along a low vaulted underground passageway, cunningly designed to force invading soldiers to duck. Around the perimeter is another circular passage with, if you're shown where to look, a hastily-etched caricature of piggy King Henry scratched into the wall. Our guide delighted in showing us these human historic features - a mason's mark here, a surviving hinge there, and an intricate Tudor Rose carved into a sheltered wall up there. Even the garderobes and bread ovens were described with due awe and reverence, interspersed with the more traditional story of the castle's rise and fall. Indeed it was the 90 minute tour that really brought the place alive - otherwise I could easily have explored every nook and cranny without fully understanding what actually went on here.

I never expected to spend quite so long inside this not terribly big castle. I had been planning on walking further round the bird reserve and maybe even strolling to the coast, but there was no time. Instead I had to walk swiftly back across the reclaimed marshland, across the waters of the former harbour, past sheep and lagoons and flocking birdlife, to ensure that I didn't miss the hourly train home. I'm not convinced the walk would have been quite so idyllic in cloud, mist or driving rain, but on the last day of summer there really was nowhere better.

Camber Castle
visiting; more visiting
history; history lite; history leaflet
photos; photos; photos (walk); aerial photos
recommended walk from Rye; more walks; map
nature reserve; local wildlife sightings; aerial shot

 Monday, September 29, 2008

Seaside postcard: Rye
Class. Sheer class. There's nowhere quite like Rye anywhere else on the coast of southeast England - not that I've yet found. I can best describe Rye as a "cobbled timewarp hilltop", and a damned elegant one at that. Indeed the former Cinque Port is so classy that today even the English Channel doesn't come here any more. Now Rye is just a gorgeous place to live, or to visit for the day. And yesterday was a perfect day for a visit.


Rye, from the southern marshes)

Rye's not an especially easy place to get to. It's on the Sussex coast between Hastings and Folkestone, and the indirect rail journey from London took me two hours. The last bit of the journey across Romney Marsh is single track, and trains run fairly infrequently so a bit of careful planning is required. You can probably get here much quicker by car, or indeed by boat, but not by ship - the harbour's not what it was back in the 16th century.

Lion Street, RyeYou might not be immediately impressed on leaving the station but keep going and, as the ground starts to rise, the cobbled heart of Rye should change your mind. There are several streets of shops, generally of a gifty boutiquie bijou nature, but definitely a better and less pretentious breed than usual. There are also plenty of decent-looking places to eat, from tea and pie shops to hotels and fish restaurants (many of which are celebrating "A Taste of Rye" over the next fortnight). And there's quaint street after quaint street of tightly packed cottages, interspersed with the occasional ancient pub, making a delightful labyrinth of desirable properties to explore. Nigh every building in central Rye is either Grade I or Grade II listed, and it shows.

The most enchanting street in Rye is probably Mermaid Street [photo], which rises steeply from the riverside with barely sufficient space for a car to pass. Some of the cottages have quirky names ("The House With Two Front Doors", "The House Opposite") although you'd have to have a sense of humour to put up with hordes of tourists forever walking past your windows. At the heart of Rye society are the houses around Church Square, all endearing cottagettes and half-timbered loveliness. Indeed it was here that former Mayor of Rye E.F. Benson set his series of "Mapp and Lucia" novels. These intricate comic tales of manners and bitchy social climbing are revered by many, although I remember switching them off when Channel 4 dramatised the stories back in the 80s. Standing here in "Tilling", outside dear Elizabeth's "Mallards", I wished I'd paid more attention.

the Rivers Rother and BredeA board outside St Mary's Church claims that the view from the top of the church tower is the best in Rye. They're not wrong. I bought my ticket from a faintly scary man at the foot of the staircase, then made my way up a series of very narrow stone passages and steep ladders to the belfry, and out onto the roof. Wow. From up here you get a real sense of three things. Firstly how far away the sea is these days - there's now two miles of glistening river to negotiate between here and there [photo]. Secondly how wonderfully preserved the buildings round here are - the homogenous expanse of chimneypotted rooftops to the north was a dazzling sight in the midday sun [photo]. And thirdly how loud the bells sound when you're perched in midair on the hour. If you're ever in Rye on a sunny day, the tower is a must.

And there's plenty more to keep visitors busy. Two museums for a start. One's in a 750 year old stone tower overlooking the river, the other's in the heart of town. Both are a bit amateur, the latter more endearingly so, and both close for an hour at lunchtime to allow the lovely volunteers a break. Down by Strand Quay is the local Heritage Centre, a more modern attraction complete with "town model light show". I didn't grace that with my money, but I did love the old amusement arcade upstairs where you can feed early 20th century slot machines with old pennies. Here the opportunity to see what emerges from The Haunted Graveyard, or view What The Butler Saw, or lose your balls in a mechanical bagatelle.

Rye was positively buzzing yesterday, not least because hundreds of bikers had descended on the car park by the riverside chippie and were busy revving round the ring road and surrounding villages. But hundreds more tourists were clearly making a late season return visit to a unique hilltop town they know well and greatly enjoy. I'm pleased to say I've finally caught up.

Rye: tourism, history, map
Rye: photos, photos, photos
Rye: culture, food, arts festival

 Sunday, September 28, 2008

Your carriage awaits

Fancy a look at the tube carriage of the future? Over the next few years TfL are introducing new trains on the Metropolitan, Circle, and Hammersmith & City and District lines, and this week you're invited to take a look inside. A big marquee containing a prototype carriage has been erected on the grass outside Euston station, and it's there until Thursday. Pop along and you can watch videos, chat to staff and even sit inside on the new moquette and watch the scrolling "next station" displays. [Just don't turn up today, it's closed today, but back open tomorrow]

I popped along up yesterday. It's not a proper carriage, it's more like the ends of two carriages joined in the middle, and with mirrors at each end to make the whole thing appear longer. They've done well in the presentation - it looks like the train has stopped at Euston Square station, and there's a fake platform alongside to help demonstrate low-floor accessible entry. It's all very bright, and spacious, and above all clean. But will these 191 new air-conditioned trains really be good news for London's commuters? You'd think so, and in most respects absolutely yes, but I doubt that everyone will see them as wholly positive.

Claim 1: Improved reliability
Well let's hope so... not that I've noticed the current trains being especially unreliable. You can expect the first über-reliable trains to start appearing on the Metropolitan line from 2010, on the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines from 2011, and on the District line from 2013. So be patient, this is no overnight quick fix.

New S Stock interiorClaim 2: More capacity
Rush hour on the Circle line can be absolute hell, more like climbing into a six carriage sardine can. The new trains should significantly increase the number of passengers who can squeeze inside. There'll be an extra carriage for a start, and wider aisles, and fewer seats. So that's brilliant... apart from the fewer seats. What "more capacity" really means is fewer people sitting and more people standing. Great if you're attempting to travel two stops at 8am, and brilliant if you have a pushchair or wheelchair, but less than ideal if you're travelling into town from Rickmansworth at 10am and have to stay on your feet all the way down. The new carriages have far fewer clusters of seats than Metropolitan travellers are used to - they reminded me more of DLR trains in this respect. But I guess with London's population growing and passenger numbers increasing, the priority has to be space rather than comfort. Welcome to cattle class.

Claim 3: Air conditioning
As you may have read, these will be the first air conditioned trains to run on the London Underground, and about time too. There's nothing worse than sweating on the tube in the summer, is there, and these new trains should finally end the spectre of rampant mutual perspiration. Although, I don't know about you, I'm perfectly capable of coping with a bit of excess heat every now and then, on the 20 or so days of the English summer. For the rest of the year air conditioning really isn't very important at all, and tube passengers have completely different grumbles. Plus these new carriages are only entering service on the sub-surface lines, with their broad shallow tunnels, where the problem is far less serious than on the deep level tubes. Bad luck to commuters on the Northern or Central or Piccadilly lines, where there is absolutely zero chance of any cooling breezes being installed any time soon.

Claim 4: Improved access
Wider doors will be a boon to travellers on the District line who currently have to squeeze in and out through a single door. Lower carriage floors will be a great help to wheelchair users attempting to get on and off, especially in comparison to some of the nightmare differences in elevation they currently face at certain far-flung stations. But low-floor trains are only useful if you can get your wheelchair down to the platform in the first place. At present there are incredibly few sub-surface stations with step-free access (on the Circle line only two) so it may be some years before this new feature is genuinely useful.

New S Stock moquetteClaim 5: Improved customer information
And you know what that means, don't you? "The next station is King's Cross St Pancras change here for the Northern Piccadilly and Victoria lines Eurostar and National Rail services change here for the Royal National Institute for the Blind when leaving the train please take all your belongings with you stand clear of the doors please." It's blessedly quiet on existing Metropolitan line trains, but alas not for much longer.

Claim 6: Better safety and security
Which means CCTV, not a supply of knife-proof jackets stashed under the seats. Plus a fresh innovation for the London Underground - all the carriages will be interconnected without doors inbetween. This walkthrough feature helps security, obviously, because you need never feel trapped in one carriage with a nutter. Unfortunately it'll also make it impossible to hide away from a nutter in the carriage nextdoor, and it'll make steaming through the train and nicking everyone's valuables a lot easier too.

So new trains are on their way (more pics here), and Boris is duly chuffed that they'll be entering service on his watch. Just don't call them bendy trains, however much the concertina-ed interior reminds you of bendy buses. And do try to ignore that fact that Ken announced these new carriages all of two years ago, and all that's really changed this week is that there's a now a prototype you can sit in. Or more probably stand in. All change please, all change.

 Saturday, September 27, 2008

"My round."

Good timing, I think. Those two over there are only an inch into their pints, so they won't want another. He's only drinking soft drinks, and doesn't look keen for a top-up. Which leaves two drinks to buy, plus another bottle of Becks for me. What could possibly go wrong?

"So, let me get this right. That's a vodka and diet coke..." (since when did you start drinking vodka and diet coke?) "... and a Fosters shandy" (likewise, I mean, what sort of a drink is that?) (it makes my bottle of Becks look positively masculine, that does). "No don't worry, I won't need any help carrying that lot back from the bar." I exit the West End pavement, past the security bloke on the door and back inside the pub.

There's a bit of queue at the bar. It's what you expect on payday Friday, so I hunt for the point of weakest resistance and stare earnestly towards the bar staff. This could take a while. Loud music pumps away in the background, and there's a steady stream of passers by to keep me alert. Another friend, a latecomer to the social gathering, appears behind me. "So what can I get you then?" The chosen drink this time is a lager, an Amstel please, definitely not a Fosters, definitely not a Carling. No problem, but I'm probably going to need some help with the carrying now, thanks.

I carry on waiting attentively. Some fresh bloke swans in off the street, creeps into an emergent space to my left and gets served immediately. I glare silently at the barman for breaking the golden rule of hostelryship, and wait some more. Eventually a rather small barman I've not seen before makes eye contact, and the game is afoot.

Hmm, which drink shall I kick off my order with? I'd better not start with the "Fosters shandy" in case he gives me two separate drinks by mistake. I'll leave my Becks til last. And maybe not the lager, whatever lager it was, not sure, so not the lager.... I'm being stared at now because I've failed to announce the name of any drink whatsoever within the first five seconds. Erm, OK, I'll start with the "diet vodka and coke".

"Smggll uhhdppel?" Oh bugger, I've got the barman who doesn't speak English very well. I have no idea what he just asked, even though he said it very pedantically. "Smggll uhhdppel?" "Smggll uhhdppel?" The loud bass thump from the DJ isn't helping, and I fear the barman could repeat himself for the rest of the evening and I'd still not twig.

"Singal or dowbal?" Ah, gotcha, it's a vodka query! Except I have no idea which of the two options my friend outside wants. Great mate I am. Is it polite to buy a double, or is the default a single? Erm, erm, how the hell do I know? "Go on, double." I hope that's right. "Diercoak?" Hang on while I process that muffled query. Ah yes, that's what I asked for earlier, isn't it? "Diet coke". Isn't it?

My mind has suddenly gone blank on the remainder of the order, so the barman heads off to pour drink number one while I compose my thoughts and try to remember which complex alcoholic beverage comes next. I can't be drunk already, not on two bottles, I must just be having a rough evening. Oh yes, "pint of Amstel".

"Avno Amztall." Oh great. Newly-arrived friend, who's been here many times before, has managed to ask for a drink the pub doesn't stock. And has disappeared. So, erm, I need a valid alternative. Not a Fosters, and not a Stella I think he said. I don't have the luxury of reading back six paragraphs to double check the precise request, and I don't want to get this wrong as well. I stare hopelessly at the barman, knowing that any in-depth conversation is doomed to fail. I give up.

Tell you what, I'll just have the vodka for now. "Just the vodka." I can deliver that outside, confirm what's still needed and come back for the rest of the order later. "Yes, just the vodka. Just vodka." I dunno, three pounds seventy-five for a squirt of spirits in diluted sugar syrup, it's daylight robbery. But hey, my round, whatever.

I head back to the door to return to the pavement clutching one measly drink. The bouncer stops me, pointing to the tumbler in my hand. "Oi, no glass outside!" Oh joy. I wonder if the barman did actually mumble something unintelligible about needing plastic, but I completely failed to notice. The bouncer looks very insistent, and demands that I return to the bar immediately to get the drink poured into something less breakable. He's clearly imagining untold health and safety risks to other patrons if I take even one step forward. I, on the other hand, am thinking swearwords.

I return to the bar with my one solitary defeated receptacle. I note, with mounting disappointment, that the queue is now two deep. The thought of waiting another few minutes to ask for a plastic beaker has become, suddenly, wholly unacceptable. I surrender.

Stuff this for a laugh. I've attempted to order four drinks and not even managed one. Does this place want to provide a service, or are they staffed by incompetents and jobsworths? So much for trying to buy everyone their chosen liquid refreshment. I abandon the undrunk vodka on the bar, and walk back outside past the smug doorman to rejoin my friends.

"My round. Failed. Sorry."

I give up on the evening, and the burgeoning social gathering, and head home. At least I can't go wrong with a drinking chocolate.

 Friday, September 26, 2008

Following the shock revelation that 60% of my readers are viewing this blog via an RSS feed, I realise I've got my priorities all wrong. The majority of diamond geezer's consumers are now viewing a stripped-out feed, not my main blog page. So I need to stop focusing on my web presence, and concentrate instead on keeping my RSS subscribers informed. Always realign to the majority - that's the best way to optimise market share. It's time to stop worrying about how my blog looks, because feedreaders don't care. It's time to maximise information and minimise presentation. It's time to go monochrome. Hey RSS readers, today's post is for you...

Hello. We don't normally get to chat like this, do we? I hope you're well. I thought you might like to know what you've been missing by only reading my RSS feed. It appears I've been deliberately making part of my blog inaccessible to you, the bit that doesn't appear in any my daily posts, namely my comments and my sidebar. And for this I apologise, because equality of opportunity is where it's at these days. We need to catch up. Sidebar first.

jack of diamondsThis is me. Well, it's the image I use to represent myself in the online world, the Jack of Diamonds. He's been perched up at the top of my sidebar for six years now. You probably saw him once, long ago, before you defected to the other side. Pleased to make your reacquaintance.

There are exactly 1400 days to go until the London Olympics begin. Good excuse for a party, I reckon. I've been counting down since the 2012 Olympics were announced, way back at 2578 days to go. Doesn't time fly? They'd better hurry up and finish that stadium.

You can email me if you like. Yes, I have an email address - who knew? And I have a Twitter account too. Given how much you like RSS feeds, you might be more interested in my Twitter RSS feed. But be warned that I use the service quite sparingly, so don't expect lots of inane banter about who I'm going drinking with and which social media sites I aspire to.

I have another blog, called lndn, where I re-post all my London-related blogposts. It's usually way out of date (about a month late at the moment), and you're not missing anything by not reading it. But you might be missing out on my photographs. You've probably heard me mention individual photographs a lot, but you can also access the whole stream direct (or more likely subscribe to yet another feed).

There are some great things going on in London this weekend. Apologies, you'd have known about them all by now if you read the main blog because I display in the sidebar. Fat lot of good that is to you feedreaders, I know. But here's this week's big list...
What's on this weekend?
Sat: Hackney Wick Festival (local Leaside fun, 1pm - 5pm)
Sat/Sun: Cultural Olympiad (nationwide launch events for the 2012 arts strand)
Sat/Sun: Open Rehearsal (behind the scenes at London arty venues)
Sat/Sun: Autumn Ambles (free guided walks along London's strategic walks)
Sun: Thames Barrier Closure {annual all-day maintenance closure, peaking around high tide at approx 1:30pm) (full info - pdf) (I went last year)
I also have a blogroll that you never see. There are always 20 blogs in it, and I update the list sometimes when someone great and new comes along (or when someone old goes on hiatus). Here's a list of the 20 blogs I'm linking to at the moment. I could link direct to their RSS feeds, to save you the trouble, but I think you deserve to view their main page at least once.
I like; arseblog; ian visits; geofftech; londonist; scaryduck; blue witch; big n juicy; silversprite; dummies4d; london 2012; onionbagblog; linkmachinego; in the aquarium; one post wonder; english buildings; the last bus home; london daily photo; nothing to see here; random acts of reality
And I have archives too! I know that in your feederworld, only the last few posts are probably visible. But there are about 3400 older posts still in the system which you can't easily access, plus a collection of 73 monthly archives to peruse. I'm not going to link to all 73, but I've selected one month at random should you get bored this afternoon and fancy a trip down memory lane.

As for comments, which are the most important thing you never normally see, I thought I'd cut and paste a couple from yesterday's 40-odd comments so you can see what you missed. Click here to be taken directly to yesterday's comment page without the need to pop-up via my blog first. Really, it was a great conversation - all lively and intellectual, and fascinatingly focused.
You make an interesting point about passivity. I'd like to counter that perhaps as the number of blogs grows, and as the number of blogs people read grows, people feel less inclined to comment as they feel that their point of view has already been represented elsewhere. Alternately, it could also be a symptom of troll fatigue. The feeling that there is no point making an intelligent observation because you'll be just drowned out by people arguing over trollish comments. Lokulin

The main thing is probably dilution by transfer to other forums, especially Facebook, MySpace and Bebo. Small clusters of people who used to read and comment on each others blogs, may now be in the friend lists on Facebook and so no longer posting "to the world" - which was always only theoretical, as only the same group ever read anything.
F Moon
And finally, if you'd like to contribute to today's comments thread, let me make it easy for you. It's here.

RSS - it's the future, you know.

 Thursday, September 25, 2008

Are there fewer comments about?

You'd think this would be an easy question to answer. Either there are or there aren't, and surely it's just a case of counting? But as we've discussed before, comments are a fickle breed. A fascinating post can gather no comments because people have nothing to add, while a throwaway post can gather tons of comments if it hits a nerve. So something a little more scientific is required. And I think we're heading for the answer "yes".

[I don't want this to sound like sour grapes. I know I'm damned fortunate to get any comments at all. I don't publish posts with the expectation that other people ought to comment on them, nor do I sulk if few people bother. But if the number of comments on offer is in decline, then this might well be a trend across a greater number of blogs than just my own. And well worth discussing in depth]

Evidence 1: Tuesday's post didn't get many comments
What do you mean, didn't get many? That "Mayor of Londo" post got 23 comments for heavens sake, and that's loads! Except I was expecting more. Based on past experience, I had a gut feeling that a cunning sarky post about Mayor Boris might get nearer 30. And it didn't, things spluttered out well before that. Sorry, this is all sounding very subjective, isn't it? Let me try something more convincing.

Evidence 2: Yesterday's post didn't get as many comments as the last time I posted it
Sorry, but yesterday's post was a repeat. Admittedly an updated repeat with additional information, but essentially identical in thrust and tone to the post I published on Wednesday 22nd November 2006. The same message each time, but two years apart. So response levels to this post should be a fairly good barometer to see if comment numbers have dipped. And yes they have, by roughly 20%.
date of postingnumber of comments
in the first 24 hours
22 Nov 200634
24 Sep 200828
Slightly more convincing, maybe? But still very much open to statistical variation, obviously, and by no means a watertight case. So I need to dig deeper.

Evidence 3: Yesterday's post didn't get as many comments as last time I posted it, even though I now have more visitors
Yes, I get more visitors to this site than I did two years ago, which is nice. Not hugely more, but more. And you'd think more visitors would mean more comments, but no, the opposite appears to be the case.
date of postingnumber of commentsnumber of visitorsvisitors per comment
22 Nov 20063482124
24 Sep 20082891233
Back in 2006 one in every 24 visitors left a comment, but now that's decreased to one in every 33. Every comment today requires about 40% more visitors than used to be the case. There, these figures are a bit more scientifically sound, aren't they? Although I suspect I can do even better...

Evidence 4: The number of visitors per comment has trebled over the last five years
I have vaultfuls of past blog statistics to draw on, so it's not difficult to tot up the average number of visitors I've received each year and to compare that to the average number of comments. This is for all posts, not just a few popular ones. From this I can calculate how many visitors I need, on average, before one of them leaves a comment. And look, commenting activity really is getting significantly quieter.
yearaverage number of
visitors per comment
200318
200419
200527
200646
200742
200858
Back in "the old days", about one in every 20 blog readers left a message. That's a phenomenally high response rate - perhaps reflecting more of a sense of community than we see today. And now it's more like one in every sixty. The other 59 of you just read and move on. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course, because there are a lot more blogs out there and you lot only have a finite amount of time to interact with each one. Reading takes long enough, and commenting can become just an occasional extra.

Except, hang on, I believe the situation is even more pronounced than I've described above. And it's all the fault of this little orange square . I first advertised my blog's RSS feed back in early 2006, and ever since then more and more of you have been creeping off to feedreaderland to read my blog there. That's fine, because you still get to read what I wrote (even if it doesn't always quite look the same). But it also means you don't have access to my comments. You can't read them and, more importantly, you can't add to them unless you click through and read my blog on the proper page. It's not rocket science - the more readers who switch to RSS feeds, the fewer comments I'm likely to get. So for more accurate results I've added my RSS subscribers numbers to my visitor numbers to get a total number of blog "readers". And let's see how considering readers rather than visitors shifts the statistics.

Evidence 5: Readers make eight times fewer comments than they used to five years ago
yearproportion of
you using RSS
average number of
readers per comment
20030%18
20040%19
20050%27
200620%58
200745%76
200860%145
Let's just unpick this. Before 2006 everyone who wanted to read my blog had to come to diamondgeezer.blogspot.com, and about one in 20 of them left a comment. Today 60% of the people who read my blog don't come to diamondgeezer.blogspot.com, they read it elsewhere. Which means that a majority of my readers now read this blog in a comment-free zone, buried deep in some feedreader somewhere, rather than visiting the homepage I serve up to them. And that's why I now need an amazing 145 readers, rather than 18, in order to attract each individual comment.

And I'm not complaining, really I'm not. But blimey, there really has been a seismic shift in blogging over the past few years, hasn't there? A genuine shift towards passive consumption rather than active interaction. More RSS usage means quieter comments boxes. Most of you read, but you don't respond. I'm sure that the one in 145 of you who contribute to my comments will have plenty to say about that. But I guess we'll never know what the other 144 of you think.

 Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The lifecycle of a comments box

A couple of years ago I did a survey to investigate when people comment on my blog. I selected 10 typical posts, then I counted your comments and the time at which you made them. The survey confirmed that most of my comments appear fairly soon after a new post appears, and then fewer and fewer new comments appear as time goes by. Not rocket science, but intriguing enough. Just recently I've had a hunch that things have sped up, and that the majority of my comments now appear even quicker. So I've carried out the survey again, just to check. And what do you know, I was right.

[For analytical purposes I've only considered posts posted on this blog at 7am on a weekday, and I've selected the ten most recent of these. That's about 200 of your comments under consideration altogether. I'm aware that I'm very fortunate to have this many comments, so thank you. I'm aware that most bloggers don't post a new post every day, instantly demoting yesterday's post to obscurity. And I'm aware that most bloggers don't post at the same time every day, with readers expecting a fresh post every morning. In fact I'm aware that my blog isn't typical in any way. But I still think the data's interesting.]

elapsed timecomments
the first 6 hours60%
the first 12 hours80%
the first 24 hours92%

More than half of the comments on my blog are posted within 6 hours of a post appearing, while it's still fresh and new. Four out of five comments are made in the first 12 hours, by which time most regular readers have checked out the page to see what today's post is. And more than 90% of comments are made during the first day, while the post is at the top of the page. After that I stick another daily post on top, and the old post is relegated down the page, and the comments dry up. All of which suggests that if you lot have anything to say, you say it quickly. And you say things quicker than before. Here are the corresponding figures for two years ago:

elapsed time (2006)comments
the first 6 hours50%
the first 12 hours75%
the first 24 hours90%

Two years ago half of my comments came in the first six hours, now it's the first five hours. Two years ago it took 12 hours to get three quarters of my comments, now I get 80% during that same period. And two years ago one in ten comments dribbled in after Day 1, now it's a mere one in twelve. The flurry of activity in my comments box peaks earlier, and dies off faster. Here are the latest results in more detail:

time comment made comments
2008
comments
2006
7am → 9am21%17%
9am → 12 noon30%28%
12 noon → 3pm17%15%
3pm → 6pm7%13%
6pm → 9pm7%10%
9pm → midnight8%4%
day 28%8%
later than day 22%6%

When I post a new post at 7am, most UK blog readers are still asleep (or otherwise occupied). But some of you are very quick off the mark and get in with an early comment. My busiest hour for comments is still usually 8:30-9:30am, just after many of you have arrived in the office for work, and while the post is still fresh. The rest of the morning is also relatively busy, comments-wise, but by early afternoon this interactive activity has already started to fade. Two years ago there was a slight peak at the end of the working day, around 5pm, but that seems to have disappeared. Things go fairly quiet during the evening, presumably because you're all busy being sociable and have no time to comment, or maybe everything's already been said. During the early hours, UK time, I receive only a handful of occasional comments (usually either from Americans or those Down Under). Then there's barely a flicker of interest as the second day dawns, and passes, because now there's something more recent to comment on. And very few people stumble across an 'old' post after more than two days and feel they have to add to the debate. Conversation by then is essentially dead and buried, and even if you do write a comment it's unlikely that anybody else is still going to be around to read it.

So, there you have it. If today's post is typical I'll get a quarter of my total comments by 9:30am, half of my comments by noon, three quarters of my comments by 6pm and nigh all of them by 7am tomorrow morning. Which, typically, is nigh exactly what happened yesterday.

(Oh, and another thing I've noticed... I suspect I'm also getting fewer comments than I used to. I have a theory as to why, and it might additionally explain the speeding up of comments. More research tomorrow)

 Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Press Release
(embargo 07:00 BST Tuesday 23 September 2008)


Mayor announces London to be renamed Londo

Mayor Boris Johnson has revealed proposals to shorten the name of our capital city by removing its final letter, in order to cut costs and save the planet.

The city of London will in future be rebranded as Londo, creating a 16% reduction in printing costs. This is in line with key manifesto pledges and creates a powerful environmental legacy in alignment with essential political priorities.

The Mayor said: “Over the past two millennia the name of London has served the capital well, achieving international awareness through a series of global expansion campaigns. But the name has also created needless expense, being longer than is strictly necessary, thereby ramping up the costs of ink, electronic display and signage. The taxpayers of Paris, for example, need print only five letters on their headed notepaper, and the good citizens of Rome pay even less. Our own six-letter wastage cannot be allowed to continue, and my lexicographical amputation will deliver better value for hard-pressed London residents.”

“The previous Mayor's cynical and irresponsible use of a superfluous 'N' is unsustainable, and has generated a funding gap that demands to be plugged. I am therefore pleased to take the lead by rebranding my own identity to become the Mayor of Londo. Let the red circle at the end of my personal logo signify aspirational zero wastage, which henceforth will be the watchword of the Greater Londo Authority.”

In order to deliver significant cost savings, the new Londo identity will be introduced immediately and not phased in over some namby-pamby transition period. All homes and businesses will be expected to comply by removing the second N from the penultimate line of their address. Airline tickets will be one letter shorter, helping to reduce aviation-related carbon impact. Electronic messages at Piccadilly Circus will scroll past quicker, ensuring that energy bills are substantially reduced. Not even leading bloggers will be immune from these important changes.

Kulveer Ranger, Director of Transport Policy said: “I am delighted to support the Mayor and all the people of Londo in increasing efficiency across our infrastructure network. As a result of the Mayor's innovative ecological enterprise, TfL will be renamed Transport for Londo with immediate effect. I'm also particularly excited to announce a radical redesignation of our tube network, which henceforth shall be known as the Londoground. This is an impressive 35% cut in lettering requirements, which will help to offset the scandalous rise in fare prices foisted upon the citizens of Londo by the previous incumbent.”

The Mayor's new initiative will be launched later this morning at a press conference on Londo Bridge. Stonemasons will chisel away the unnecessary Ns from the concrete beneath the bridge, creating an iconic symbol of the new City of Londo. Members of the press will then be invited to enter the Tower of Londo for a symbolic beheading ceremony, before boarding a Londo bus to the site of the 2012 Londolympics. It is anticipated that the carbon saved by this single journey will be sufficient to power one City Hall lightbulb for a week.

Commenting on the changes Boris Johnson said: “My forward-thinking strategy will spearhead sustainable development into the next century as the people and businesses of Londo move forward in adapting to meet the challenges of climate change. Through this simple-minded scheme I also believe we can cut knife crime, increase teenage participation in sport and bring back the Routemaster, all at no additional cost to the taxpayer. Three cheers for value for money, three cheers for Londo, and three cheers for Londoers everywhere.”

ENDS

 Monday, September 22, 2008

www.flickr.com: London Open House 2008
(A full 33 photos to explore)

London Open House (catchup): There are 700 potential buildings to visit on Open House weekend, so even when you think you've visited a lot you've barely scratched the surface. I managed 13 altogether, spread out across the capital. Here's a rundown of those I've failed to mention thus far.

Barnardo's collecting boxBarnardo's Village: When I was little, and every penny counted, I used to have a Dr Barnardo's collecting box in the shape of a cottage. It was given to me by a nice old lady who lived up the road, and every year she'd invite all the box-owning boys and girls in the village to a big party in her back garden. I always felt slightly guilty attending because I knew how few pennies were inside my box, and that my share of the sandwiches and squash on the table beneath the tulip tree had probably cost considerably more. Yesterday I went along to Barnardo's HQ in Barkingside, out on the loopy bit of the Central line, and discovered that these cottages are based on real life buildings that played a major part in the charity's work. More to the point, my old collecting box is rare enough that it would now be worth more empty that it ever was full. If only I'd have known, I could have eaten those sausage rolls and jelly with a clear conscience.

Dr Barnardo's initial work with ragged children had concentrated solely on boys, but a wedding gift of Essex land in 1873 allowed him to establish a home for girls as well. He created a Girls' Village of 14 cottages set around a rural green, each housing about 20 girls looked after by a supervisor called 'Mother'. Girls were trained in washing, cleaning and embroidery, all the sorts of skills that might get them a job as a household servant when they were older. The village grew with the addition of further cottages around a second green, until more than 1300 girls were being housed, fed and educated on site. It took until the 1930s for boys to be admitted, ending the practice of splitting brothers and sisters on separate sites. It wasn't until the 60s that institutional care was frowned upon and the village emptied of residents. One of the greens was developed as a (criminally hideous) residential school for disabled children, and another area sold off to the council (now, perhaps unsurprisingly, home to a Tesco supermarket).

Barnardo's village

The Barnardo village in Barkingside isn't usually accessible to the public, but for Open House we were shown an Ever Open Door. One cottage has been restored as a heritage exhibit, with charity memorabilia and a reproduction of the good doctor's office inside. There was also access to the Children's Church, normal-sized on the outside but with child-height pews on the inside. "Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not" reads the inscription on the arch over the chancel, and this might well have been Dr B's motto. I doubt there'd have been volunteers selling squash and biscuits at the back in his day, let alone Christmas cards, pens and mugs. I followed a most informative tour round the perimeter of the green, viewing the modern housing association infill and trying to block out views of the 60s monstrosity office block in the old apple orchard. And we ended up beneath the clock tower at the bronze memorial marking the spot where Barnardo's ashes were scattered in 1905. His heart will be forever here on the edge of the London suburbs, amongst his girls, and deserving of our thanks.

plus...
» Bevis Marks Synagogue: Another Sunday, another synagogue. I'm getting the hang of covering my head now, but the skull cap they provided kept trying to slide off so I had to hold myself upright to avoid unintentional offence. Considerably more photogenic than Nelson Street which I visited last week, but conspicuously unwilling to allow photographs. [exterior photo]
» Christ Church Spitalfields: Hawksmoor's triumphant Baroque box, permitted to fall derelict but recently restored to former glories and reopened in 2004. The congregation's on the evangelical side, and they were just clearing off when I arrived on Sunday which may explain the two toddlers whizzing round the nave on scooters. But what a place in which to worship. [interior photo]
» Kirkaldy Testing Museum: The centrepiece of the museum is a Victorian curiosity - a 47ft long metal device for testing the stresses and strains of metals. It works on hydraulics, and so attracts (extremely keen) enthusiasts of a mechanical bent who like wearing overalls and getting greasy. The museum's small but rammed, and opens on the first Sunday of every month. Ian can tell you more.
» The Linnean Society: Serious natural historians, tucked away in a side wing near the Royal Academy, as they have been for centuries. Darwin first announced his theories of natural selection at a meeting of the Society in 1858. And they have a lovely library.
» Old Turkish Baths: Looks like a mini minaretted temple on the outside, accidentally discarded between two office blocks near Bishopsgate. Enter inside, down the steps, and it's a pizza restaurant. A damned ornate fame-obsessed pizzeria, but a pizzeria all the same. [exterior] [interior]
» Blue Fin Building: Yet another new office block, home to IPC Media, in the shadow of Tate Modern on Southwark Street. "Sorry, we're closed." Damn. [exterior photo]
» Greenwich Yacht Club: No, completely missed this one. How the hell am I supposed to get (promptly) from the East End to the North Greenwich Peninsula when the Jubilee line's shut, the East London line's shut and the only bus under the Thames refuses to pick me up because it's full. Damned frustrating. Yeah, should have gone by boat.

 Sunday, September 21, 2008

London Open House (day 2): A perfect sun-dappled architectural weekend continues. I've been dashing around the capital again, lime green brochure in hand, although thwarted on more than one occasion by TfL's ubiquitous engineering works. A selection of Sunday reports are below, and I've saved a few more to post tomorrow.

One Bishops Square - 6th floor roof terraceOne Bishops Square: Every Open House catalogue contains, if you know where to look, free access to some brand new shiny City office block whose owners are keen to show off their cutting edge interior to the general public. This year, admittedly just outside the Square Mile, the proud parents are Allen & Overy in Spitalfields. I think they're a bank - the glossy leaflet they handed us failed to mention this, so maybe the Brand Manager will get the sack tomorrow morning. Instead our visit was all about the architecture, in a wholly jealous 'I wish my workplace looked like this' sort of way. Deep glassy atria contain unexpected features like a shower of illuminated balls or a cascade of fluttering fabric flowers. Viewed from the glass lift, the flowers open and close to the rhythm of your descent. You might recognise the animated figure striding across the basement walls - that's your fractured image filmed earlier at the top of the escalator. There's a state-of-the-art gym, which they must be very proud of because our self-guided tour took an unnecesary diversion looping past whole avenues of rubber-handled cardio treadmills. From the first floor meeting rooms managers can look directly down into Spitalfields Market, a reminder that acres of heritage retail was eradicated to give these bankers their fresh new home. But the best view is from the spacious roof terraces - one on the sixth floor, another on the tenth - where clients can be opulently dined and secretaries can enjoy a full-on Gherkin with their coffee. Had the credit crunch not intervened, all our City fringes might have been destined to be consumed beneath towering temples to capitalism such as this.

Queen Mary College, Institute of Cell & Molecular ScienceQueen Mary College, Institute of Cell & Molecular Science: If university science labs conjure up visions of acid-pocked benches in musty halls, think again. Queen Mary's took a completely different approach with their most recent research facility, a wacky vibrant building full of light, shape and colour. It's tucked away behind the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, which might be why so few other visitors managed to find it this afternoon. But, wow. First point of call was the Perrin Lecture Theatre, which might have been quite normal were it not bright green throughout (bar ten randomly selected seats upholstered in red) and lit by flying saucer lights. Next across the bridge linking the two halves of the building - in today's bright sun, a tunnel of dazzling pinky orange. And on the far side a vast hall with room-sized organic pods floating in the centre, the shape of nuclei and headless insects. Look down to the open basement and you'll see the benches where QM students toil to discover stuff, like a scientific bazaar selling experimental equipment arranged in neat blue-capped rows. You get the feeling that working here might just be fun, and it's easy to see why the Blizard Building won a RIBA award in 2006.

Hoover Building - 1st floor skylightHoover Building: If There's nothing worse than travelling way out into the suburbs to an iconic Open House location only to find no banner, no volunteer and no sign of activity. Every OH minute is precious, and Zone 4 isn't a good place to waste them. I've been to this Art Deco treasure several times before, even bought teabags in the supermarket at the rear, but never managed to get inside the building proper. Thankfully, bang on ten o'clock, the chained front door swung open and we were invited within. The shiny angular lights and lift fittings delighted us all, until our guide informed us that almost all the decor we'd see was nothing but a carefully crafted fake. Hoover executives worked in these offices for 50 years, but the current lease is held by cigarette manufacturer Gallagher who dutifully refurbished the shell of the building in the 90s and then promptly moved out. What remains are epic stairwells, branded doors and echoing workspaces, all of them a curious mixture of modern and modernist. This was the canteen... this was the vacuum cleaner design studio... this was the boss's office. Even the ladies in our party appreciated the almost-original fittings in the gents toilets, including two central tub-like sinks. And it was great to get out onto the 2nd floor balcony and walk behind the giant lettering above the entrance, looking down over the gardens and the busy A40. Behind this magnificent frontage a timewarped warren of rooms awaits a fresh caring tenant.

 Saturday, September 20, 2008

London Open House (day 1): Blimey, what magnificent late summer weather for a stroll around town looking at buildings. Lots of buildings, as it turned out. I even managed a walk through the middle of HM Treasury (past the coffee bars where scores of civil servants must have been fretting this week over a snatched latte), which isn't something you can do every weekend. Same again tomorrow?

William Booth CollegeWilliam Booth College: If you're training to become a Salvation Army Officer, you'll spend two years here in the southern suburb of Denmark Hill. The college was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, and is built throughout in typical Twenties austere brick. There's a main Assembly Hall where ceremonial flags are paraded, and in which the faithful meet before a Blood & Fire emblem. But the most noticeable feature is the 190 foot tower which dominates the local skyline. For Open House, visitors were allowed to climb to the top. First up three floors in one of the oldest operational lifts in London (they filmed Poirot here, it's that old). And then a succession of red spiral staircases, the first 58 steps to the mobile mast gallery and the final 58 to the very top. From way up here, on a gorgeous sunny day like today, there's a fantastic view in all directions. From the City round to Canary Wharf, and Crystal Palace round to Battersea Power Station, all with ordinary modern estates in the foreground. Join the Sally Army and you might be able to sneak up here for an after dark panorama, or even to watch the New Year fireworks. Well worth the tottery ascent, and another unique Open House experience.

Royal Institution Lecture TheatreRoyal Institution: Behind a pillared facade up a Mayfair sidestreet, an astonishingly high number of major scientific discoveries have been made. Here ten chemical elements were first identified, the first electric generator was powered up and the first laser beam was fired. You can see many of these pioneering experimental gizmos in a new museum in the basement of this just-reopened building. It's not yet quite complete, but the illuminated periodic table is ready for you to bash in time to Tom Lehrer's song The Elements. Upstairs is the Lecture Theatre, as viewed every year at Christmas on the TV. I got to sit on the newly refurbished pink seats and look down on the famous bench at which so many discoveries were first demonstrated. There's plenty for visitors to see scattered through the corridors and libraries, and a busy programme of upcoming events to herald the Institution's rebirth. Expect to hear a lot more from Albermarle Street in the future.

Marlborough HouseMarlborough House: This is one of those grand houses overlooking The Mall, the posh villas originally built by nobles but later snapped up the Royal Family. Not surprisingly the Duke of Marlborough built this one. His wife the Duchess supervised the interior design, shamelessly butchering a set of ceiling murals from the Queen's House in Greenwich by shrinking them down to fit her own central saloon. There are two main staircases, both fabulously decorated with oil paintings of the Duke's famous wartime victories. The house later passed on to the future Edward VII and his wife Alexandra. Hunt round the back of the garden and you might find gravestones to Caesar (Eddie's beloved fox terrier) and Bonny ('favourite rabbit' of the Princess of Wales). For the last 50 years the house has been at the disposal of the Commonwealth Secretariat, and world statesmen meet here every now and again to discuss matters of trade and sustainability and global stuff. Everyone has a seat crammed round the long oval table in the Red Drawing Room, arranged not by importance but in alphabetical order (the UK falls between Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania). A most elegant setting for such international relations.

Lambeth PalaceLambeth Palace: It's always tough to decide where to visit first on an Open House morning, and when to arrive. The ideal building is a rarely open architectural big hitter, and the ideal time is before the day's mammoth queues descend. I plumped for the Archbishop's pad on the Thames Embankment, and turned up an hour before opening time to ensure I was on the second tour and not still waiting round the corner at noon. We got a 50 minute look round, starting in the Crypt Chapel (which used to flood when the river was wider). There's a surprisingly spacious courtyard at the heart of the building, and a far bigger ornamental garden beyond. Outside the Great Hall is a 16th century fig tree, and inside is a spectacular hammerbeam roof carved with Moorish busts above the library. We were treated to tales of murdered archbishops, but didn't catch sight of the present incumbent (even though he was in the building somewhere). And finally to the main chapel, to sit on a bishop's chair beneath modern muralled vaulting. The complex is now too small to host the once a decade Lambeth Conference, but remains grand and reverential inside.

London Open House checklist
72-page Open House programme
list of updates and amendments
scribbled-on map of central London
list of weekend tube closures
pair of stout walking shoes
camera with fully-charged batteries
email-enabled mobile phone
suncream

 Friday, September 19, 2008

It's Architectural Christmas.
It's London Open House.
But where to visit?

10 Open House venues where you might spot me this weekend
Open House at Bow Church» Lambeth Palace: the Archbishop's ancient riverside pad (Saturday only) [photo]
» Royal Institution: just-reopened crucible of science, the one that hosts Christmas lectures (Saturday only) (tours and demos throughout the day)
» Old Turkish Baths: a tiny minaretted curiosity, now an underground pizza restaurant (near Liverpool Street) [photo]
» Hoover Building: Art Deco façade along the A40 which now conceals a Tesco supermarket (queues likely) [photos]
» Barnardo's Village: Victorian children's estate with church and 70 cottages (in Barkingside, of all places)
» Finsbury Town Hall: Art Nouveau civic HQ
» St Augustine's Tower: climb to the top of this lone 13th century tower beside Hackney's Narroway (ooh, I never realised you could go up that) (photo)
» Bevis Marks synagogue: the oldest synagogue in Britain, in the City (Sunday only)
» Greenwich Yacht Club: wood & metal pierhouse, stuck out into the Thames (with Dome/Barrier views)
» William Booth College: Climb the massive brick tower at the Sally Army training centre in Denmark Hill (Saturday afternoon)

10 Open House venues I can heartily recommend from previous years
» Crossness Engines House: gobsmacking Victorian water-pumping works on the Bexley riverside (queues likely) (Sunday only) [photos] [I've been]
» Foreign Office & India Office: opulent government building in Whitehall, paid for by the fruits of empire (queues likely) (gorgeous)
» Freemasons' Hall: ornamental inner temple in Holborn, and HQ of the rolled-up trouser brigade (trowel not essential) (Saturday only)
» Royal Courts of Justice: see behind the scenes of this vast Gothic building, including courtrooms and police cells (tons to see) (Saturday only)
» Severndroog Castle: triangular folly on Shooter's Hill, with panoramic views from the roof (long queues likely)
» Lloyd's of London: iconic City insurance behemoth, with the inside on the outside (long queues likely) (Saturday only) [photo]
» Shri Swaminarayan Mandir: giant Hindu temple made from 2,000 tonnes of Italian marble (in Neasden, of all places) (dress respectfully) [photo]
» Village Underground: two recycled tube carriages aloft on a Shoreditch viaduct, used as artists' studios (Saturday only) [photos]
» Roof Gardens: unlikely oasis atop Derry & Toms in Kensington High Street (Sunday 8am-11am) (the queues last year were scary, so arrive early) [photo] [I've been]
» Benjamin Franklin House: Take a unique acted tour round this American statesman's home near Charing Cross (Saturday only) [I've been]

10 Open House venues in Tower Hamlets
» Trinity Buoy Wharf: London's only lighthouse is here, opposite the Dome, along with Container City and Fatboy's Diner (there's a 10th Birthday regatta and arts festival this weekend, so well worth visiting for the extra activities) [I've been]
» Balfron Tower: Trellick Tower's older, shorter, and lesser known sister (it's in Poplar) (see inside a top floor flat) [I've been]
» 19 Princelet Street: Huguenot silk merchant's East End home, with a synagogue built into the rear of the house (now the Museum of Immigration and Diversity) [photo]
» Queen Mary University: tour the exterior of the main campus buildings, and the poddy interior of the molecular research laboratory (also amongst Londonist's many recommendations)
» Wilton's Music Hall: London's oldest surviving music hall, still with the wow factor (dark, rickety and atmospheric) (Sunday only) [photo]
» Kingsley Hall: pioneering E3 community centre, as stayed in by Gandhi (see his rooftop cell) (Saturday only)
» Bromley Hall: Henry VIII's former hunting lodge (on the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road)
» Donnybrook Quarter: modern Mediterranean-looking development in deepest Bow (award winning, innit?) [photo]
» House Mill: the UK's oldest and largest tidal mill, on the River Lea in Bromley-by-Bow
» St Mary's-by-the-Flyover: my local medieval church, the one in the middle of the road (it's not in the Guide but it must be open because the vicar's hung a big Open House sign outside)


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