diamond geezer

 Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Boris's New Year Message

People of London, hear my voice. It's been a rip-roaring rollercoaster of a year. Economic grimness, houses in Belgravia plummeting in value, the City in crisis, all sorts of terrible and ghastly things. But also a year of celebration. London elected a new Mayor for a start, and I got to wave a big flag in Beijing. So I'm throwing a big party down by the Thames tonight, and 180000 of you are invited.

New Year fireworks at the EyeLondon's New Year fireworks are the envy of the world. Nowhere else are taxpayers herded prematurely into a waterside enclosure to stand for hours in the freezing cold waiting for ten minutes of flashy pyrotechnics. Nowhere else do annoyingly tall men in bobble hats stand directly in front of you drinking imitation champagne out of plastic cups and blocking your view of the pretty explosions. Nowhere else do citizens turn to one another at ten past midnight and say "Oh, was that it, I suppose we ought stumble home through this enormous crowd and watch it properly on the telly." You really wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

At this point I must interrupt my speech for a message from this year's sponsors.
"New Year's Eve is a moment of optimism - when people forget the troubles of last year and celebrate the next. Now more than ever it is important to focus on the positive things in life. Put simply Life's Good on New Years Eve."
I thought it would be good to have a sponsor this year because big fireworks are terribly expensive. So I asked a fridge manufacturer to give us lots of cash, and in return I'm allowing them to write patronising PR drivel on websites, and plaster their logo across the Embankment, and give out thousands of branded hats in the hope that gullible members of the public will still be wearing them on the train home. Now where's the harm in that? It also saves me having to charge £10 a ticket for spectators (although, hmmm, maybe next year). Oh, and for the first minute of the display all the fireworks will be red and white, because those are the LG colours, but in no way has this compromised the artistic integrity of the event.
"We will be using LG technology to significantly enhance the experience on the night and ensure that London's New Year celebrations become a global talking point. Our sponsorship of the fireworks is aimed at building a greater emotional connection to the LG brand globally as millions of eyes watch the capital celebrate the strike of twelve. It comes hot on the heels of LG's other recent sponsorships in the UK, all of which are helping to move the brand from being purely a product-driven organisation to one that brings memorable experiences to consumer's lives."
alcohol ban, anyone?And there's one other big change this year. I introduced a new byelaw back in June which bans the drinking of alcohol on public transport, and yes, it still applies tonight. We must feel safe in our capital, and that means nanny knows best. I know under Old Ken things were different. I know swilling down cans of lager on Hogmanay tubes used to be commonplace. I know getting blotto on the bus was once an integral part of everybody's New Year's Eve preparations. I know late night trains on December 31st used to resemble pubs on wheels. But cease your beery singing, because it isn't happy hour on public transport tonight.

Now I like a drink as much as the next man, especially if the next man is the great Roman emperor Pistus Fartus. But it's important to be a responsible citizen this New Year's Eve and not to make our tube carriages a den of vice. By all means get blind drunk before you come up to town. By all means leave a trail of vomit from the bus stop to the tube platform. By all means bring a bottle of bubbly to enjoy in Trafalgar Square when you arrive. But whatever you do don't crack open a six pack on the Circle line and proceed to pour the contents down your throat, because that's now very naughty indeed.

Oh, and I'd be much obliged if you lot could police this alcohol ban amongst yourselves tonight. All the police are going to be extremely busy sniffing for knives in town, and our transport workers have more sense than to confront hordes of drunken yobs on New Year's Eve. Let's keep it dry out there, lest LG's firework sponsorship be tarnished by alcoholic impropriety. Together we can make the end of 2008 just that little bit less enjoyable. And let's see in 2009 with a value-for-money bang.

 Tuesday, December 30, 2008

dg 2008 index

Ten memorable London jaunts in 2008
Eltham Palace - entrance over Tudor bridge1) Eltham Palace: Oh my word, the Courtauld's suburban hybrid of Art Deco and the medieval is an utter delight. Do go.
2) High Street 2012: It's only my local road, from Aldgate to Stratford, but in August I saw it in a new (and highly detailed) light. [photos]
3) Rotherhithe Tunnel: You have to be mad to walk through this exhaust-fumed roadway (so I indulged in a bit of centenary madness).
4) Linked: An audio walk alongside the M11 link road, from Wanstead to Leyton, remembering the everyday stories that were buried beneath. Have you been yet?
5) Terminal 5: I turned up on day 1. Thank goodness I was only interested in taking a look around, not flying anywhere. [photos]
6) The 1908 Olympic marathon: 100 years on I followed the route of the first 26 mile 385 yard marathon, all the way from Windsor to White City. Bonkers, but great. [photos]
7) Beijing Torch Relay: What an unmitigated disaster, from the hordes of overzealous flame protectors to the dismal no-show outside my house. Never again.
8) A ride on the last unpainted "silver" tube train: Farewell to maple-floored carriages, and farewell to those dangling bobbly plastic grippy things.
9) Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture: A charming mini-museum of homely creations, just outside Cockfosters.
10) Hoover Building: The outside's impressive enough, but for Open House it was possible to take a tour around the rather special interior. [photos]
Runners up) New Year fireworks, Waterworks Nature Reserve, Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, Silvertown parks, Arsenal, RAF Museum, 43 bus, Kray country, independent bookshops, Regents Canal, Upminster Windmill, Ronan Point, City Hall, Telectroscope, 135 bus, Oriental City, Beverley Brook Walk, Westminster Abbey, Tobacco Dock, Trinity Buoy Wharf, Fairlop Fair, HMS Belfast, Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London Open House 2008, Shepherd's Bush stations, Landskip, Westfield, 16 bus, Hoxton Street, East London Woolworths, St John's Gate.
Random boroughs: Brent, Redbridge, Ealing, Harrow.

Ten favourite Out-of-London destinations
Shivering Sands1) Shivering Sands: The four-legged Maunsell Forts, eight miles off the north Kent coast, are best visited by speedboat from Herne Bay. Desolate, startling and wonderfully atmospheric. [photos]
2) Bexhill: If you have a camera, I urge you to treat it to a day out at the De La Warr Pavilion. Sunny days preferred. [photos]
3) Rye: A south coast jewel, a cobbled timewarp hilltop, a place of beauty and refinement, and too easily overlooked.
4) Rutland: I enjoyed a grand day out in Britain's littlest unitary authority, featuring horseshoes, a very cold boat trip and a semi-drowned church. [photos]
5) Tilbury: Take a walk along the grey northern banks of the Thames estuary from one historic sea fort to another. I picked perfect weather and basked in the industrial isolation.
6) Isle of Wight: How about a day trip to England's largest island, including a ride (in Ryde) down the pier on a tube train?
7) Thanet: I found Margate unexpectedly intriguing, with its Shell Grotto and (now charred) rollercoaster, but the highlight of my trip was discovering The 39 Steps on a private estate north of Broadstairs. [photos]
8) Coventry: Two historic cathedrals, ooh lovely, and a fascinating motor museum.
9) Box Hill: The southeast's favourite climb, rising up from a biker's takeaway to a National Trust restaurant.
10) Chartwell: Churchill's charming Wealden home, at the end of London's most southeasterly bus route.
Runners up: Southend, Henley, the Otford Solar System, Norwich elephants, Oxford, Milton Keynes.

Ten other favourite posts from 2008: 1996, Amy Winehouse, steam, Eggstreme Early Easter, dharma geezer, commenting competencies, Londo, next train indicators, remembrance, redundancy.

Half of my ten favourite photos of the year:
(or all ten here)

 Monday, December 29, 2008

Seven things to do in London over the New Year Hiatus

» (Monday) » Alexandra Palace Open Day: A rare opportunity to look inside the TV studio from which the world's first high definition television service was broadcast way back in 1936 (that's pre-iPlayer, kids, and well historic). The not-very-restored Victorian Theatre will also be open, with tours from 10am to 3pm. (Thanks to John for the tipoff) (Martin's taken some photos so the rest of you can see what you missed)
» (Tuesday) » Museum in Docklands: Rare amongst London museums because it costs money to get in, which is probably why you haven't been. But this Christmas the entire place is free to enter, at least until next Sunday, so this might be a great time to finally go.
» (Wednesday) » New Year Fireworks: If you enjoy standing like sardines for hours, then watching featureless pink smoke drifting towards you for ten minutes, then battling your way home through hordes of drunken revellers until you finally find a tube station that's still open, head for the Embankment around 10pm. Me, I'm giving it a miss this year.
» (Thursday) » New Year Parade: Believe it or not I've never been. Maybe this is the year I wake up in time to watch the inflatables (and the Coulsdon Old Vehicle Engineering Society and the Isle of Sheppey St John Ambulance Band) waving down Piccadilly. Or more likely not. (A much better option, suggested by Debster and Geoff, would be to celebrate 250 years of Kew Gardens with free entry all day on New Year's Day)
» (Friday) » Late at Tate: Where to go on a post-hangover Friday? Maybe to Tate Britain for their "first Friday" event, which this month features a bit of an artistic hotchpotch including zinesters Savage Messiah, synthpopsters Petit Mal and a selection of award winning contemporary films from Romania. Or go down the pub and get drunk again.
» (Saturday) » Winter Wonderland: Imagine a tacky over-priced funfair with disappointing rides, a Biggish Wheel and a fake German market. Imagine not, it's up and running in Hyde Park until Sunday. (unless, perhaps, the event's got a lot better than last year, but somehow I doubt it)
» (Sunday) » Geffrye Museum: Sunday's the last day to see the museum's period rooms decked out in all their traditional Christmas finery. And then on Twelfth Night (Tuesday) there's the annual burning of the holly and the ivy accompanied by carols, mulled wine and cake.

My Top 5 albums of 2008
(because I only bought five, so this is easy)

1) Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours: Because everybody needs a favourite obscure band nobody else loves, and mine's from Melbourne. You might try sampling Lights and Music as an introduction to their catchy electronica, or maybe Feel The Love (but I'd rather you didn't, and I kept their marvellousness exclusively to myself). I think my heart's still in 1981.
2) Neon Neon - Stainless Style: An 80s style DeLorean-themed concept album from one of the Super Furry Animals - it so shouldn't work, but so does. And should've won the Mercury.
3) Hot Chip - Made In The Dark: As soon as bouncy chugging Ready For The Floor was released back in January, I knew this catchy little album was going to be a 2008 favourite.
4) MGMT - Oracular Spectacular: Futuristic pop retro, including the majestic Time To Pretend (which I've adored since it graced the Skins season 2 finale)
5) The Streets - Everything is Borrowed: Not Mikey's best, but definitely heading back in the right direction.
(it's still all proper physical albums at DG Towers, none of this electronic download nonsense)
(and yeah, I know I'm carving a narrow musical niche here, but I know what I like)

 Sunday, December 28, 2008

The last days of Woolworths: Riverside Retail Park, Norwich NR1

A retail behemoth enters its dying phase. The first tranche of Woolworths closed down yesterday (farewell Bedford, Braintree and Bognor Regis), another batch go on Monday, more on Tuesday, a penultimate phase on Friday and the final nail in the coffin on Monday 5th January. As closedown approaches, watch the bargains deepen. From 50% off to 70%, 80%, even 90%, all stock must go. Fancy buying your shopping basket? That'll be another quid, thanks. That clothes rail's going too if you want it. But the girl behind the till, sorry, she's walking out of the door for nothing.

Woolworths, NorwichThe Woolworths in Norwich used to be huge. You know the one, sandwiched between Stadium Delia and the station, just off the inner ring road. It opened ten or so years ago as "The Big W", Woolworth's attempt to break into out-of-town pile-it-high warehouse shopping. Local people flocked to spend their boomtime cash in this vast cathedral-sized space, and it could take a good half hour to get round from one side to the other. The toy section had everything a child could want, and homewares stretched as far as the eye could see. Even Roys of Wroxham had nothing on this place. Alas, the good times couldn't last.

It's only half a Big W now, with one end sold off to Curry's to flog flat screen TVs and laptops. Woolworths has clung on to the dingier half, not quite so well heated, and not a laptop in sight. Several aisles are boarded off, and a sign apologises that the toilets are shut now that the in-store cafe has closed down. It's not a welcoming sight, but there are still massive bargains to be had if you happen to want the motley assortment of goods they've got left.

Worthit ironing boardsIn particular, toasters and ironing boards. There are still racks and racks of plain blue ironing boards to be snapped up. Nobody wanted them at £8, and even at half price they're hardly flying out of the door. Wait until Friday, however, and you might well get one for under a quid. Not that you need a new ironing board, obviously, but at those prices it would be a shame not to. And toasters too, very ordinary white toasters, very own brand, very Woolworths. Again they're hardly a necessity, but if you have any children who might be heading to university in the next 15 years it'd be criminal not to buy one for them.

The toy department was a pale shadow of its former glories. A few colouring books, some stickers, various Doctor Who action figures from less popular episodes, that sort of thing. Over in homewares just the last dregs remained - assorted crockery, plastic coathangers and an awful lot of WorthIt J-cloths. On one forlorn shelf I spotted the lemon squeezer I'd bought last month for £2 now down to just a quid (and soon, I suspect, to be even cheaper than a single lemon). There was rather more interest from the public in the entertainment section at the rear of the store. Mass produced mainstream CDs for a few pounds, unwanted books for less, and an assortment of computer games now reduced low enough to keep several teenagers happy.

Pick'n'MixI took the opportunity to stock up on a few more of life's essentials at rock bottom prices. A couple of plastic luggage tags for £1.24, a proper metal tape measure for 37p, twenty plastic wallets for £1.18, and six rolls of sticky tape for 49p. Sure it'll be possible to buy similar stuff in the High Street after next week, but no doubt tackier imports and not of equivalent value. I was even persuaded that what I really really need in my kitchen is one of those drawstring bags that holds scrunched up carrier bags, because at 26p it was almost as cheap as not buying one. I felt like a vulture picking the last scraps of fresh meat off a freshly dead carcass (but I tried not to show this in my eyes when I queued up at the till on the way out).

"7 days" proclaimed the sign in the front window yesterday, you have seven days to strip us dry. But I suspect there'll not be much left by Friday, just a few Daniel O'Donnell CDs, a selection of green check Ladybird dresses (age 7-8) and the unquenchable Pic'n'Mix. It's not how the place would like to be remembered. Come in store number 1247, your time is up.

 Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dear Auntie Jenny,

Thank you for my present. It was very kind of you to buy me a book that I did not want.

I only received three presents exactly the same. What were you thinking of, you stupid old witch. Do you not read my Facebook profile? I've got all my likes and dislikes listed on there and "books" do not appear. Nobody my age reads books any more. I even opened your present in front of my friend Dan because I thought it was going to be a well wicked computer game, but it was only a stupid book. Now Dan will tell everyone at school I got a book for Christmas and I will be homphobically bullied for months. I hate you I hate you.

Daddy says I have to thank you for letting us come round for tea on Boxing Day. God knows why because your cooking is pants. Your sandwiches tasted like cardboard and your Christmas cake was well sick. When I'm older I will sue you for making me fat and lardy, and it'll all be the fault of that extra slice of stodgy fruitcake you forcefed me.

Why did we have to play Monopoly all afternoon? Monopoly is the most boring game in the entire world, except perhaps for charades (which is maybe why we played that next). Do you not have a games console in your house? We have six. Daddy says that some old people never had games consoles when they were young and they had to make their own entertainment like collecting stamps or whittling twigs or even reading books. And there wasn't even the internet either. No wonder you're a bit screwed up.

I cannot believe you made us watch television. TV is for old people and for saddoes. I did not want to watch the bloody Narnia film. It is not 'family viewing' (or whatever you called it), it is a lot of posh kids talking to lions and it is for babies. I watched it at Dan's when I was about six, and it was rubbish then. At least his house didn't smell of lavender and rich tea biscuits. Yours does.

Next year please text me in advance and we can avoid any embarrassing scenes. You could even buy me something I actually want. A knife would be good. Daddy won't let me have one, but I'm sure you're more reasonable. In fact I bet you used to have one when you were little, so why can't I? I promise I'll only use it for whittling.

And next year, please do not kiss me. Not like ever.

Your ever loving nephew,
Alfie95@bebo.com

 Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas in Oxford Street

 Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas in Trafalgar Square

 Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas is a time of disappointment.
Sending out 60 Christmas cards, but only getting 20 back.
Receiving a card from someone you decided not to send to this year because they forgot last year.

Discovering which song Simon Cowell plans to hijack the Christmas charts with this year.

Ringing around for a must-have present that isn't in stock.
Waiting at home all day for a delivery that never appears.
Traipsing the shops in vain looking for nothing in particular.
Buying presents even when you know the recipients won't like them.
Trying to wrap something that isn't cuboid shaped, and making a mess.
Wrapping two CDs as presents, then going to write the label and forgetting which is which.

Arriving at your destination and discovering you left a bag of presents back home.
Meeting up with family and remembering you ought to visit them more often.
Remembering everyone who was here last Christmas but isn't here this Christmas.

First discovering that Santa lives closer to home than you were led to believe.
Trying very hard to stay awake, but falling asleep before Santa arrives.
Being woken at 4am on Christmas morning by a loud text message greeting.
Being woken at 5am on Christmas morning by a bouncy overexcited toddler.
Being woken at 6am on Christmas morning by the onset of 48 hour flu.
Hoping for snow, and pulling back the curtains to drizzle.

Opening a gift you didn't want, and trying not to let on.
Opening a gift expecting it to be one thing, and finding it's another.
Realising that the present somebody else bought you cost ten times what you bought them.
Realising that the present you bought somebody else cost ten times what they bought you.
Realising that your most special present won't work until the batteries are charged, probably tomorrow.

Discovering that the turkey won't be fully cooked for, damn, another three hours.
Scoffing countless seasonal foodstuffs in the full knowledge that they're very bad for you.
Serving up sprouts on everyone's plate "because it's Christmas".
Opening the box of Quality Street to find only green triangles.
Opening the fridge to find three more days of turkey leftovers.
Buying lots and lots of food before Christmas, but throwing half of it away afterwards.

Being forced to watch Emmerdale rather than Doctor Who.
Getting home after Christmas to discover that none of your favourite programmes recorded.

Checking your credit card balance on December 31st, then panicking.

And Christmas is also a time of hope.

Here's hoping.

 Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The low cholesterol diet
Christmas version

 OftenSometimesAvoid
Meatturkey (phew), venison (for the upwardly mobile diner), more turkey, tofu (for vegetarian pretenders), yet more turkeyturkey with the skin left on (and the odd hair), goose, duck, ham (with or without cloves), boar's head (for the stubborn traditionalist)crackling (obviously, but damn), cocktail sausages (with or without sticks), mini sausages wrapped in crispy bacon (doubly evil), pate, pork pies (it's not going to be a fun Christmas, is it?), Iceland creamy vol-aux-vents
Fishsmoked salmon, unsmoked salmon (especially that posh but cheap tinned stuff with bones in)prawns (includes cocktails)chip shop fish (looks like being five consecutive days of turkey, then)
Eggs & dairyskimmed milk (you can't make decent bread sauce with that), low fat cottage cheese (why o why?), meringuesemi-skimmed milk (from semi-skimmed cows) blancmange (how very retro), Edam, Camembert & Briefull fat milk, delicious double cream (mmm, but so very wrong), brandy butter, the rest of the cheeseboard (that's crackers), eggnog (it's like injecting cholesterol deep into your veins), Jacobs Cheese Footballs
Fatsnone (obviously)still none (obviously)buttery dollops (just don't), congealed spoonfuls of dripping, gravy (OXO-free), all that lovely thick fatty gloop which gives Christmas meat its taste
Fruit & vegalmost all fruit (especially cranberries), almost all veg (especially sprouts), salad (for that righteous Boxing Day side dish)olives (Islington party staple), avocado (Islington dinner party staple), picklesfried parsnips, honey glazed carrots, roast potatoes (nooooo!), peanuts & crisps (stop nibbling now), Meltis Berry Fruits
Sweet stuffmarzipan (typical, the only thing in the "often" column, and it's bloody marzipan)Turkish delightChristmas pudding (go on, just one slice can't hurt), cake (especially Christmas cake), anything with icing (especially Christmas cake), mince pies (sheesh), panettone, Lebkuchen, chocolate (in all forms, especially Toblerones, and gobbling down an entire box of Milk Tray in one sitting, and Quality Street, yes, even the green ones), creamy chocolatey biscuits (from that luxury selection tin your Auntie bought), Elizabeth Shaw mints (damn, everything nice is in this box)
Drinkswater, fruit juice, beer, brandy (flaming or otherwise), wine, mulled wine, sherry (it's zero cholesterol, all this alcohol, but don't overdo it)after dinner coffee with skimmed milkBaileys, chocolate liqueurs, hot chocolate
Misc.licking an After Eight (preferably without taking the wrapper off)swallowing three Pringles (but not the entire tube)scooping the contents of a Christmas hamper slowly and persistently into your mouth

Or just put your diet on hold until New Year (and then starve yourself throughout January).

 Monday, December 22, 2008

Sorry, I'm asleep at the moment.

I thought I'd have a lie in this morning because I'm not at work today. I didn't see the point of going into the office for three lifeless days in the run up to Christmas. The last two days of the week are bank holidays, rather special ones, and I'll be elsewhere gorging on sprouts and turkey. Then next week the office is closed so I couldn't go in even if I wanted to. Which means that I appear to have an entire complete fortnight off work, starting now. Which is why I'm still asleep. Sorry, you're obviously not.

Maybe you're one of the poor sods who has to go into the office this week. Perhaps you've been given a Christmas Eve deadline by some evil project manager, so there's no escape right up until Wednesday afternoon. Perhaps you've run out of leave entitlement for this year, so you're trapped at your desk no matter what. Perhaps you just like going in when it's quiet, because that way you get paid to surf the internet and look out of the window while nobody's looking. Whatever, I'm sorry, I've got a fortnight off and you haven't. Still, at least you might get most of next week off.

Maybe you don't work in an office at all. Maybe you'll be selling stuff in a shop today, hoping desperately that members of the public actually turn up and give you money. Maybe you work in banking instead, hoping desperately that members of the public go away and stop asking you for money because you haven't got any. Maybe you work in public transport, or in a restaurant, or on the dustcart, or delivering the post, and are busy counting the days until Christmas Eve. Whatever, I'm sorry, I've got a fortnight off and you haven't. Still, at least you might get a couple of days off later this week.

Or you might be one of the sterling public servants who work through Christmas to make sure the rest of us can enjoy ourselves. Possibly you keep the electricity going, or the gas flowing, or the water running, so that the rest of us can cook and flush and Wii. Possibly you work on a farm or in a care home, because growth and decline don't pause just because it's Christmas. Possibly you keep the health service afloat, so that hypochondriacs with manflu can ring 999 and waste the resources of a nation. Possibly you're a TV announcer, or a vicar, or the cleaner in a hotel, or some other profession that doesn't shut down for a festive break. Whatever, the rest of us are really extremely appreciative of your self-sacrifice. Still, at least you might get a quick nap between shifts sometime on Thursday if you're lucky.

Or maybe you don't work at all. If you're retired then a mere fortnight off is nothing special. If you're still at university then your break is probably twice as long as that. But if you have the misfortune to be unemployed then the coming two weeks probably look like more of the same, just hugely more expensive. It's a grim time of year to be struggling, and it's a grim time for more folk than usual this year. So look, I'm doubly apologetic. I'm getting paid a salary for the next fortnight even though I'm doing bugger all productive, and you're surviving on nothing much and grafting hard in an attempt to celebrate Christmas as tolerably as possible.

I love my fortnight off. Sorry. I may even wake up soon.

 Sunday, December 21, 2008

Designing Change
British Museum (Room 69a) until 1 March 2009

Just what's needed at a time of economic depression - a free exhibition about small change.

Britain's new coinage

You must have found some of these shiny new coins in your pocket by now, assuming you still buy things using cash and haven't completely defected to the plastic side. You might have wondered what they were, or even tried handing them back to the shopkeeper thinking they were foreign. I've not quite collected the full set yet, I'm still missing the 50p, and then I'll be able to twiddle around with the coins as the designer intended. Like this.

our new coinsHere's Matt Dent's grand coinage concept, enlarged to wall-mounted size with a notice underneath saying "Please touch". This tactile model shows precisely how the new bronze and silver coins were carved out from the historic Royal Arms. The 50p at the pointy bottom of the shield, the tiny fivepence crammed into the middle, and the big ten and two in the top corners. It seems this symmetrical arrangement wasn't quite Matt's original plan. The exhibition also contains his first paper draft, with six circular holes cut out to deliberately highlight the most interesting parts of the Arms. But no, much better to fit the coins closer together and to see what random images they contain. Matt moved over to his Mac to tweak 25 slightly different arrangements, again displayed here, before submitting just one to the Royal Mint Advisory Committee. Success.

plaster 20pThere are many stages from drawing board to pocket. A large plaster model is created, about a foot across, so that the intricacies of the design can be finalised. Here's the 20p version, featuring the rear end of a lion passant. This is then shrunk down to a real-size die stamp, shiny and perfect in every way, and the coin-to-be is slammed hard between the logo and the latest version of the Queen's head. It's all done with machines, millions of times, somewhere in South Wales, before being shipped out to banks and shops and businesses. And that's how Matt's most original concept went forward to grace the nation's purses and wallets for the foreseeable future. No numerals on the tails face, though, so visiting tourists had better learn our language fast.

2pAlso on show at the exhibition are the designs from the last time our coinage was updated, way back in 1971 for decimalisation. The designer was Christopher Ironside and he had to go through the process once in secret and then again in a public competition. Christopher put forward four different sets of linked designs, each featuring a selection of iconic images, but none of them quite the combination we see today. A futuristic gyroscope on the 2p (er, no thanks). A thistle on the 5p (yes, fine). A sailing ship on the 1p (too old school) and Britannia on a circular 20p (doubly wrong). All the old favourites are there somewhere, though, lovingly sketched on thin paper as designers had to in the 60s before computers made life simple.

It's not a big exhibition, little more than a handful of display cases in a tiny cell-like chamber. You'd be hard pushed to find it if you didn't know it was there, up on the third floor beyond a room full of Greek and Roman relics. Everybody I saw stumbling upon it yesterday appeared to be a foreign visitor, and all of them quickly deduced that this was a very British very modern exhibition and disappeared back out to their favoured classical antiquities pretty sharpish. But you might find it more fascinating, especially if you're interested in the evolution of good design, or if you just want to know where the art gallery in your pocket originated.

Many thanks to Martin, who's post yesterday first alerted me to Designing Change's existence. His report also contains far more photos than mine, so do take a look if the subject's of interest. But, sigh, the exhibition has already been running for three months and not a whisper of it had come my way before. Either I'm slipping or the British Museum's publicity department is obsessed solely by Babylon and statues. You have just over two more months to take a look yourself.

 Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas on Oxford Street

It's that special time of year again, where I waste a day of my annual leave entitlement in retail hell.

M&S, Oxford StreetAt least pre-Christmas Friday morning on Oxford Street isn't too nightmarish. I can wander from shop to shop relatively unhindered without being hemmed in by the bag-carrying hordes. All looks fairly normal - traffic jams, scaffolding, dull Christmas lights, buskers in Santa hats - apart from one thing... the sales! Not every shop has a sale, of course, but in any normal non-recessional year surely there'd be none. So why venture into a full price department store, not when there's a bargain basement chain store just across the road? BHS appears to have given up all hope of selling festive novelties and is flogging the lot off at half price. I'm easily tempted inside a shoe shop where 50% off appears to be the norm. The shop's interior already looks like it's January, with stacks of genuinely bargain cut-price footwear up for grabs, while a few hardline brands lurk at full whack in one corner only. I'm almost tempted, but move on unshod.

The pavement clears, and a smiling lady in a red tabard turns her gaze upon me. Oh bugger, I'm about to be chugged. Normally I'd be safely protected by my headphones, but the power's failed and I've made the fatal mistake of removing them. So I attempt to shoot her my best "piss off, curl up and die" face in the hope that she'll turn away and bother some other poor sod instead. No such luck. I frown a little more convincingly. She edges towards me with a beaming grin.

"Cheer up!"

Grrr. I was perfectly happy until she turned up. But with just two ill-chosen words my mood darkens and an inner gloom descends. Oh for goodness sake who do you think you are you patronising uncharitable scum? How dare you lecture me on my state of mind when you know absolutely nothing about it? I know it's your job to wheedle your way into conversation with strangers and thereby extract direct debit promises from the guilty and the gullible. But did your training really suggest kicking off with a tactless faux pas which serves only to demoralise your intended victim? I feel the urge to spit in her face or punch her in the stomach, but thousands of years of evolution prevent me.

"And you!"

Damn, that really wasn't insulting enough. I should have let rip with a four-letter riposte and told her what I really think, but my mouth retreated before my brain could speak. I should have told her to mind her own business, or to take lessons in positive customer engagement, or just to piss off, curl up and die. I should have vowed never to give another penny to the international charity she purports to represent, because ultimately her coin-shaking assault was their responsibility. Instead I walk swiftly past, inwardly huffing, every scrap of Christmas spirit instantly dissipated. And she turns to approach another innocent shopper with some alternative fixed-grin opening gambit. Cow.

Thankfully my inner smile returns a few minutes later, the incident overshadowed by a few bars of Jona Lewie pumping out onto the pavement from an empty clothes shop. And I continue to wander around shop after shop after shop, staring at all the unnecessary over-priced trifles, and buying nothing. Some time next week I'll probably return and stare at exactly the same festive fluff again, except this time I'll buy some of it out of sheer desperation. Because the only thing worse than buying a disappointing Christmas present is buying no Christmas present at all. Thank goodness everything's half price this year.

 Friday, December 19, 2008

A new bus for London

Seven months after coming to power, Mayor Boris has made good his pledge to find a replacement for the Routemaster. His New Bus For London design competition has been hugely successful, attracting hundreds of entries from top architects and ordinary members of the public. BoJo's inner circle of advisors has scrutinised the suggestions to see which they like best, and today the chosen design can finally be unveiled. And here it is!

the winning Routemaster designMagnificent, isn't it? It embodies everything that was great about the old Routemaster but with a firmly post-retro twist. It looks like it's straight out of a Sixties toy cupboard, which makes it extremely lovable and nostalgic. It has a knobbly roof. It doesn't bend in the middle. And it's red.

It's the "People's Bus", sent in by 8-year-old Rupert de Vries-Hoffman from Bromley. Young Rupert was encouraged to enter the competition by his father, who's a local councillor, and created this stunning design in just half an hour using plastic Lego bricks. A well deserved winner, I'm sure you'll agree. And now this lovely omnibus is going to be manufactured and reproduced hundreds of times over, before being rushed out onto the streets just in time for the next Mayoral Election.

Here are some of the key design features of the new design:

» Rear platform: A must-have. In Boris's new car-friendly capital, it's essential to be able to jump off the back when the bus gets stuck in snarled-up traffic.
» Grab pole: Perfect for tying a wheelchair to. Oh yes, this new bus is fully accessible.
» Conductor: A jovial clippie in a bright blue uniform, whose job it'll be to herd passengers down inside the bus and to tell teenage girls to take their feet off the seats.
» On-board announcements: These will be in Latin. Obviously.
» First class saloon: To increase profitability, customers wishing to use the luxury non-plastic seats on the upper deck will have to pay extra.
» Soundproof cell: Under the stairs, for locking up disrespectful kids who insist on blaring tinny R&B from their mobiles.
» Reserved seats for pensioners: Just inside the door, lovely, with a space for your shopping, nice.
» Special segregated area for pushchairs: Buses serving Dulwich will also include nappy-changing facilities.
» Live screening of security camera footage: "Look at him, he's picking his nose, and she hasn't washed her hair properly, and he's got an iPod worth nicking, let's mug him when he gets off."
» Drinks machine: Swipe with your Oyster for cappucinos, hot chocolates and a liquid resembling tea.
» Sealed-shut windows: Sorry, we know summertime ventilation is important, but we can't risk vandals throwing cappucinos out of the top deck windows onto innocent passers by.
» Drug and knife detector: Every bus will have a fibreglass sniffer dog located near the entrance to deter crime and make Londoners feel safer.
» Inward-facing exhaust pipe: To reduce carbon emissions, this bus belches its fumes inside instead.

Today's winning design will one day become a much-loved icon of London, replacing the evil cyclist-crushing bendy bus, and tourists will flock from all around the world to ride it. Londoners will once again have confidence in their elected officials, safe in the knowledge that their hard earned taxes aren't being wasted on pointless vanity projects. And residents in the Outer London suburbs will be able to say "Look, there goes Boris's new Routemaster, it's great to have this noble beast back on our streets again, now hop into the car darling and let's drive down to the shops."

It's a proud day to be a Londoner and no mistake.

 Thursday, December 18, 2008

tenlinks

• What you really need today, obviously, is to waste some time on one of those pointlessly addictive Flash online games. Here's two. Super Stacker tests your ability to pile up boxes without them falling over, while Assembler is about using physics to shift a box to the correct spot on the screen. [I finished the former in in 22 minutes flat, and I'm still going with the latter]

• If Twitter runs too fast for you, try the more sedate world of Dawdlr. Participants send lovely postcards to an address in Soho, and then the website updates twice a year to reveal the results. [participants needn't hurry, the next update's not until May]

Smoke 13• Hurrah! The latest edition of Smoke - a London Peculiar is now available in (London) shops. Smoke's a marvellous literary-ish periodical, all glossy and handbag sized, with atmospheric photographs throughout and a penchant for the quirkier side of the capital. Read snippets here, find stockists here. [some of us have all thirteen, you know]

• Lovers of windswept coastal beverages will mourn the loss of the Jug of Tea, a run-down refreshment kiosk on Morecambe seafront. Very recently demolished, there are photos of happier times on Flickr. [maybe it was the price rise from 99p to £1.50 which killed the place off]

• It's Review of the Year time again, and Geoff's is always one of the best. He's produced twelve monthly audio snippets mixing the year's best tunes with the biggest news stories, and all are downloadable, listenable or podcastable for maximum flexible enjoyment. [it's all desperately professionally done]

• How long does your blog take to load? Cut and paste your URL into Stopwatch and find out. If it takes too long, maybe your potential visitors get bored and wander off somewhere else instead of waiting. [my blog took 8½ seconds flat, apparently. I know of other blogs which take more than 60]

• It's been around a while, but the Multicolr Search Lab is a damned clever online tool which uses "visual similarity technology" to display colour-matched photos. [add colours, delete colours, it's addictive this]

• Have you seen a truly awful piece of Photoshop work? The Photoshop Disasters blog celebrates the visual commercial depths. [including rather a lot of brushed-up ladies, and several Daily Mail disasters]

• And finally (because a list like this wouldn't be complete without kittens) kittens! At Cute Things Falling Asleep. [plus bears, and babies, and the odd sloth]

 Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Closed shops
UK stores that no longer exist

Supermarkets: Bejam, Caters, David Greig, Fine Fare, Gateway, International, Kwik Save, Liptons, MacFisheries, Presto, Safeway, Wavy Line, William Low (the increasing dominance of the big few has throttled diversity)
Shoe shops: Bata, Curtess, Dolcis, Freeman Hardy Willis, Manfield, Saxone, Truform (they no longer fit)
Clothing: C&A, Dunn & Co, Etam, Foster, John Collier, Littlewoods, Chelsea Girl
TV rental: DER, Granada TV Rental, Multi Broadcast, Radio Rentals, Rediffusion, Visionhire (an almost completely vanished service industry)
Electrical: Dixons, Powerhouse, Rumbelows, Tandy, The Link
Homeware: Brentford Nylons, The Reject Shop, Timothy Whites
Restaurants: Berni Inn, Golden Egg, Happy Eater, Kardomah, Pizzaland (I'm getting quite nostalgic)
Pubs: Charrington, Courage, Ind Coope, Truman, Watney, Whitbread
DIY: Do it All, Great Mills, Payless, Queensway, Texas Homecare
Furniture: Courts, MFI, Perrings
Jewellers: Ratners (I mean "jewellers" in inverted commas, obviously)
Newsagents: John Menzies
Record shops: Andy's Records, MVC, Our Price, Tower, Virgin Megastore, V Shop (you remember records...?)
Bookshops: Dillons, Hammicks, Ottakars
Cinemas: ABC, Cannon, Classic, Gaumont, Granada, Ster Century, thefilmworks, UCI, UGC, Virgin, Warner Village
Toy shops: Beatties
Banks: Midland, William's and Glyn's (that's banks whose names have 100% vanished, so not TSB)
Off licence: Peter Dominic, Unwins
Travel agents: Lunn Poly
Catalogue shops: Green Shield stamps, Index
Energy: Electricity showroom, Gas showroom (I'm feeling my age now)

• Yes, inspired by comments to yesterday's post, thanks.
• Yes, I know I've probably made several mistakes, please point them out.
• Yes, I know I've probably omitted several stores, feel free to suggest more.
• These are the ones I remember, so your suggestions may not appear.
• I've updated the list three times so far, any more thoughts?
• I will confess to finding this forum thread very useful.
• Expect this list to get longer in 2009, alas.

 Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Woolworths in liquidation: 10 Vesey Path, Poplar E14
Three weeks since my last visit, and it's all change at my almost local Woolworths. Last time the shelves were full and the aisles were empty. Now it's the other way round. The store is closing, the merchandise is being liquidated, and the local population has been through the store like a plague of semi-efficient locusts. Buy now while stocks last.

Woolworths, Chrisp Street E14There's no security guard at the entrance any more, which says a lot about the quality of the goods remaining inside. Shelves of sweets, especially of the foamy sugary Haribo kind, are still particularly well represented. Will nobody buy the 20 boxes of mint green Mingles stacked opposite the checkout? And don't worry, because further inside there's still a plastic rack of multi-coloured pic'n'mix. I suspect these scooped candies are a bit like the ravens at the Tower of London - when they've vanished, all is truly lost.

The toy section's looking a little depleted. There's still plenty here to fill Santa's sack, but nothing any self-respecting kid would have written on their Christmas list. One aisle is already empty, taped off to prevent further disturbance. Close by is what's left of children's clothes. This aisle looks like a tornado's swept through it, with blouses and coats and tiny plastic wellingtons scattered haphazardly across the floor, intermingled with discarded cards from a single pack of Doctor Who Top Trumps. Look carefully, there might be something left in your toddler's size.

Homeware, now a far more eclectic mix than usual. Don't come looking for Pyrex or toasters, the decent stuff's long gone. But if it's something of the order of a pair of scissors or a novelty penguin mug you need, then you might still be in luck. Certain colours of paint are available, but not many, and the haberdashery section is not yet fully diminished. In the stationery department a mute store worker busies himself restacking the shelves. It seems there are plenty more notepads in the storeroom out the back, and an awful lot of packs of economy biros, but just the one book of raffle tickets.

Groups of local youths wander in and out, maybe searching for a bargain Wii game (all gone) or perhaps just hoping to shoplift a DVD before the doors close. A weary assistant returns an opened tin of Jelly Babies to the front desk - someone's helped themselves to a handful and the remaining sugar offspring must now be condemned to destruction. Two veiled ladies pick through the assorted remnants on a shelf of entertainment leftovers. Something here will do the kids for Christmas, not that they celebrate it, but you have to buy something don't you?

And on every shelf is a big red percentage mark-down, be it ten or twenty or 30% off. There's a helpful table underneath for those who can't work out what 20% is ("was £1, now 80p" "was £2, now £1.60"). Very little is priced at the maximum half price discount, just greetings cards and school clothes you'd never have dreamed of buying anyway. Signs everywhere warn "No Refunds, Exchanges only". The chain's wholesale buyer misjudged the local population when they purchased umpteen black laptop bags - no amount of downpricing will shift these. But nobody needs to leave empty handed, this is still a store filled with useful bits. For now.

I head to the snaking queue at the checkout, weaving my way through a canyon of under-a-quid sweet packets. I am conspicuously the most well-off person in the queue, and also one of only four white faces in the store. Three mixed-race schoolgirls stand together in front of the till, their hair in frizzy bunches, and with tasseled boots sticking out from beneath off-black leggings. As formulaic R&B plays over the in-store loudspeakers, they jiggle and sway and mime along to the lyrics. The assistant drops their pile of chocolate-based purchases into a bag, and takes their pennies, and eventually they move on.

I hand over my purchase selection to the nearly-redundant bloke at the till. I'm buying 80 large envelopes and some shoelaces and a roll of brown paper, because you never know when you're going to need brown paper and in the future you'll never know where to get it. I offer a twenty pound note from my wallet, and am pleased to be given more than fifteen back. I sigh at the message printed at the bottom of my receipt: "Avoid Jan Sale queues, Xmas returns can be accepted from Monday 29th Dec". Somehow I'm not convinced this store will last that long. But there are still some real bargains to be had here, and I fear that whoever takes over this shell of a building in 2009 won't sell any of them.

I wonder who'll be next?

Woolworths RIP - photos from Stratford and Hackney
Woolworths stores and merchandise - a Flickr pool
Flickr photostream - latest photos of Woolworths demise
Jag goes for a video walk round Woolies, NW9

 Monday, December 15, 2008

Anorak Corner (annual update)

London's ten busiest tube stations (2007)
1) Victoria (76.4m)  2) Waterloo (74.8m) 3) Oxford Circus (72.0m) 4) ↑1 Kings Cross St Pancras (66.4m) 5) Liverpool Street (61.3m) 6) London Bridge (57.0m) 7) ↑2 Bank/Monument (41.9m) 8) Canary Wharf (41.6m) 9) ↑* Leicester Square (38.7m) 10) Piccadilly Circus (38.1m)

London's ten busiest tube stations that aren't also National Rail stations (2007)
1) Oxford Circus (72.0m) 2) ↑1 Bank/Monument (41.9m) 3) Canary Wharf (41.6m) 4) ↑4 Leicester Square (38.7m) 5) Piccadilly Circus (38.1m) 6) Tottenham Court Road (37.3m) 7) Bond Street (36.7m) 8) ↑2 Holborn (31.1m) 9) Green Park (30.0m) 10) Hammersmith (District & Piccadilly) (27.2m)

London's ten busiest tube stations outside Zone 1 (2007)
1) Canary Wharf (41.6m) 2) Hammersmith (District & Piccadilly) (27.2m) 3) ↑1 Stratford (25.6m) 4) Finsbury Park (24.8m) 5) Brixton (20.6m) 6) Camden Town (18.8m) 7) Ealing Broadway (17.5m) 8) ↑* North Greenwich (17.3m) 9) Wimbledon (14.8m) 10) Bethnal Green ↑* (14.1m)

London's ten least busy tube stations (2007)
1) Roding Valley (201000) 2) Chigwell (380000) 3) Grange Hill (395000) 4) Chesham (432000) 5) ↑1 Theydon Bois (641000) 6) Fairlop (697000) 7) ↑1 Croxley (730000) 8) ↑2 Moor Park (735000) 9) Ruislip Gardens (771000) 10) ↑* Upminster Bridge (781000)

London's ten least busy tube stations that aren't on the Central line (2007)
1) Chesham (432000) 2) Croxley (730000) 3) Moor Park (735000) 4) ↑1 Upminster Bridge (781000) 5) South Kenton (806000) 6) ↑1 North Ealing (870000) 7) ↑1 Kensington (Olympia) (952000) 8) Mill Hill East (958000) 9) ↑* Chorleywood (999000) 9) Ickenham (1068000)

London's ten busiest National Rail stations (2006/7)
1) Waterloo (84m) 2) Victoria (67m) 3) Liverpool Street (55m) 4) London Bridge (48m) 5) Charing Cross (35m) 6) ↑1 Paddington (27m) 7) Euston (26m) 8) King's Cross (23m) 9) Cannon Street (21m) 10) ↑* East Croydon (20m)

London's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't central London termini (2006/7)
1) East Croydon (19.5m) 2) Clapham Junction (18.9m) 3) Wimbledon (15.9m) 4) ↑1 Stratford (13.1m) 5) ↑1 Vauxhall (10.5m) 6) ↑3 Surbiton (9.0m) 7) ↑* Romford (7.4m) 8) ↑* Putney (6.9m) 9) Richmond (6.5m) 10) ↑* Sutton (6.0m)

London's ten least busy National Rail stations (2006/7)
1) ↑2 South Greenford (14200) 2) Sudbury & Harrow Road (14400) 3) ↑2 Angel Road (16400) 4) ↑3 Birkbeck (23200) 5) Sudbury Hill (26600) 6) ↑* Crews Hill (42300) 7) ↑* Emerson Park (46500) 8) ↑* Walthamstow Queens Road (62500) 9) ↑* Morden South (71900) 10) Drayton Green (75400)

The UK's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't in London (2006/7)
1) Glasgow Central (21.0m) 2) Leeds (17.3m) 3) Edinburgh Waverley (15.2m) 4) Birmingham New Street (14.5m) 5)
Manchester Piccadilly (14.5m) 6) Reading (14.4m) 7) Glasgow Queen Street (14.1m) 8) Brighton (12.9m) 9) Gatwick Airport (11.9m) 10) Cardiff Central (9.1m)

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

 Sunday, December 14, 2008

There's nothing quite like Old Moore's Almanack. It's jam packed with horoscopes, dodgy adverts and superstitious tosh. If you want to know the highs and lows of the Saggitarian year or check your lucky lottery numbers or discover what the stars hold in store for Noel Edmonds, it's the publication for you. And who could resist the bonkers adverts for postal witchcraft, spriritual silver talismans and lucky Cornish piskeys? I like Old Moore especially for the 12 pages of astronomical information in the middle - high tides, phases of the moon, famous anniversaries, that sort of thing. Before the internet came along there was no easy way of finding out this sort of thing, and a quid or two was small price to pay for horological peace of mind. The almanac's been published every year since 1697 (I don't think celebrity astro-profiles featured in the first issue) and I own a copy of every edition since at least 1990. Except for 2009.

Old Moore's Almanack is published in midsummer each year, and normally I spot a copy in a shop soon after publication. In a box beside the till in Smiths in Stratford or lying on a shelf in some godforsaken provincial bookshop. But not this year. I've not seen a copy anywhere, not for six months, so I wondered whether the publication had finally gone bust. Aha no, there it is on Foulsham's website, which opens up the online purchase option I've had to use once before. And all for a totally reasonable £2.20 plus 33p postage and packing. Add to basket, go to checkout, type in personal details and card number... and click on "Make Payment".

Oh bugger, Verified by Visa.

Now, what is it that banks are always telling us? Never (repeat NEVER) enter your personal details on a suspicious website. And what am I starting at? A big white screen with a small amateurish frame in the middle, like some web designers idea of cutting edge page layout 2001 style. Distinctly suspect. There's also a completely different web address to the site I was originally on. I appear to have been transported to www.securesuite.co.uk (which, if I was an online crime spammer, is precisely the sort of fake URL I might select). Questionable, most definitely. The text on the screen isn't much more reassuring. "Simply complete the details below to activate this free security service." Precisely what a viral phishing site might say. And then space to enter all my most secret financial information. Call me paranoid, but there is absolutely no way I'm going to sign up to this supposed service mid-transaction. £2.53 unspent. Payment fail.

My bank hasn't yet thought fit to warn me about any of this in any official communication, which is one reason I'm a little apprehensive. But, as I understand it, Verified by Visa is an opt-in service designed to improve online security. Its watchwords are reassurance and trust. Once I've signed up to V-by-V, every online transaction will be one stage longer, demanding yet another password at the crucial purchasing moment just to delay things a little. It'll stop evil restaurant waiters from scratching down my card details and buying a new car with the proceeds. But, touch wood, no sneaky shop assistant has yet abused my financial identity, so I'm not convinced it's an extra stage worth having. Unfortunately, that's not a choice I appear to be allowed to make.

If I don't sign up to Verified by Visa, I can't complete this purchase. The added security is supposedly for me and not the retailer, but the store won't confirm my transaction unless I accept it. Unless I make every future online purchase more awkward, I can't pay for this one. And something tells me I'm doing them a favour, not the other way round.

So I refused. And Foulsham's website refused in return. Damn you, Visa, damn you and your imposed restrictive security system. Looks like my long-standing collection of Old Moore's Almanacks will have a 2009-shaped hole in it. Until I finally submit to Visa's online bullying, I fear my online purchasing days are numbered.

 Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Christmas appeal on behalf of the shopkeepers of Britain

These are desperate times. Severe economic decline has slashed the profits of countless UK companies. Customer numbers in our retail heartlands are in freefall. The credit crunch has bitten, and it hurts.

The situation is now critical. Many shops are struggling to sell things, especially luxury expensive goods, and their tills are empty. Merchandise that would normally be flying off the shelves is staying resolutely unsold. Store managers have become downcast and dejected, and many of their low-paid staff face imminent redundancy.

At this very special time of year, Britons are normally willing to buy anything and everything in the name of consumer commercialism. They head for the shops and rack up enormous debts purchasing novelty gifts, expensive gadgets and party nibbles. But this is not a normal year, and this is not a normal Christmas. The world has entered an era of deep depression, and it's all your fault for not buying stuff.

Today the Great British High Street faces a severe shortage of shoppers. Shelves are not being emptied, carrier bags are not being carried, and credit card transactions are at breaking point. Should this desperate situation continue much longer, many much-loved High Street names face certain liquidation. This is a national crisis and no mistake.

And it could get much worse. We're only a few weeks from the beginning of the sale season, which usually leads to manic purchasing and snapped-up bargains. But this year an already severe situation has been compounded by continuing cash shortfall. Traditional "25% off" notices have appeared earlier than ever before, several weeks before Christmas Eve, and it's not a pretty sight. The economic future looks bleak.

We need to act now. We need to show UK shopworkers that we care. We need to go shopping. And we need to go shopping today.

Get involved. Get down to your local High Street and throw some money in their general direction. Dig deep into your pockets. Take out a loan if necessary, but whatever you do don't come back until your arms are heavily laden with produce. Imagine the joy on the faces of the till staff as your VAT-free coppers tinkle loudly into their hands.

Remember, there are many exciting, valuable and easy ways to support UK Retail plc. Why not drive to your nearest out of town warehouse and take advantage of all the expenditure opportunities provided? Or log onto your favourite online store and donate large sums of money to their unseen coffers? Or pop round to Canary Wharf and offer your life savings to some needy bankrupt fund manager? Generating additional economic activity such as this is vital to the nation's continued productivity and wellbeing.

Give whatever you can afford, and then some. Stretch your credit to bursting point and pledge as much as you're able. Pretend it's an ordinary Christmas and buy things you don't really need and that other people don't really want. Your continued financial sacrifice can help to keep the nation's shareholders afloat.

Please buy something today. Every penny counts, and your selfless donation could save a job. Support the shopworkers of Britain today, and together we can make a real difference.

 Friday, December 12, 2008

At work, I always prefer to take the stairs rather than the lift.
It's a whole different world, a stairwell...



9th floor  Woman disappearing furtively into the disabled toilet
to do her make-up, and hoping that nobody spots her.

Bloke clutching cup of coffee without a lid,
in direct contravention of Health and Safety regulations.

8th floor  Nasty brown stain where someone
stumbled and spilt coffee all over the carpet.

Puffing bald man who's walked all the way up
from the ground floor and is now regretting it.

7th floor  Three young ladies having a chat about hair
straighteners and completely blocking the stairwell.

Suited woman having some sort of verbal disagreement
with an unseen boyfriend via her mobile.

6th floor  Guilty-looking bloke emerging from the gents,
hoping that nobody goes into the smelly cubicle too soon afterwards.

A single paperclip, accidentally dropped by some careless
passer-by with a sheaf of billowing project notes.

5th floor  Minimum-waged cleaner wheeling a trolley
piled high with paper towels, loo roll and disinfectant.

Beardy kid who looks like he should still
be at school, busy texting his beardykid mates.

4th floor  Bemused woman who's forgotten her security pass
and now can't beep herself back into the office.

Gorgeous fellow employee you've just spotted for the very
first time, and now you're wondering which floor they work on.

3rd floor  Senior manager popping upstairs to
tell three colleagues they're being made redundant.

Project administrator inadvertently revealing too much of
her private life whilst gossipping loudly on her mobile.

2nd floor  Friendless temp returning from the high street
to eat a box of greasy fried chicken at his desk.

Chas from Accounts, heading off for an illicit
coffee-based rendezvous with Katie from Admin.

1st floor  Scary-looking security guard on her hourly patrol,
watching out for intruders who are never ever there.

Bored IT dogsbody sneaking out yet again
for his 7th cigarette break of the day.

ground floor  Dejected worker entering the building
passing elated worker exiting the building.


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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
cube routes
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
penelope
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
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