diamond geezer

 Saturday, April 30, 2011

I nearly watched it on the telly. I'll get a much better view from my sofa, I thought, and I'd have been right. But with actual genuine history happening up the road it seemed better to go and experience the Royal Wedding first hand. I could always watch it on telly later, and fast forward through Fearne Cotton for good measure.

Getting into St James's Park before 9am was easy, no queues, no security checks, nothing. Nobody was queueing for burgers or Pimms - too early - and the police were merely smiling intently and offering directions. At the Radio 2 bandstand, where Chris Evans was wandering round in an oversize Union Jack hat, the crowd sounded much larger than it really was. But I was still far too late to get a decent vantage point alongside the Mall. All the front pitches had gone on Thursday, and I'd have needed to arrive rather earlier to be less than five rows back. It was still possible to see the road surface, but only because I was tall enough, and only in thin slivers between earlybirds. And every time a vehicle - any vehicle - went by, the entire view disappeared behind a sea of flags, periscopes and raised cameras. Best move on.

I plumped for a pitch at the far end of St James's Park, on a slight mound overlooking Horseguards Parade. Still five rows back, but here any passing horse or carriage should be visible, plus I'd have the chance to watch the procession snaking away across the parade ground. My fellow watchers were a mixed bunch, from Home Counties ladies to foreign students, plus girls in Middleton masks and extremely bored eight year-olds. The first Bentley earned whoops and cheers, not that the crowd around me had a clue it contained William and Harry until they were told. And then came seven royal coaches, although these were executive coaches with tinted windows ferrying tails and millinery to the Abbey [photo]. Charles and Camilla waved past later, then the primrose Queen and finally Ms Middleton wearing her no-longer secret dress. Snap snap blur snap gone.

While you were watching the service (assuming you bothered), we were listening to it. Radio 4's commentary boomed out from well-disguised speakers, from the opening I Was Glad to the final Crown Imperial. Some in the crowd sang along to the first hymn, most applauded the I Wills, but we could only imagine what the rest of the world was seeing. A detachment of Coldstream Guards took the opportunity to line up along the roadside, precisely, but seemingly not impeccably enough for the officer who then walked past tweaking and fluffing up each soldier's bearskin. Every so often a Scout wandered behind us trying to flog official programmes, but most already had one, and the rest didn't dare step out from their spot in the crowd. A bottle of champagne popped to Jerusalem, while the lady next to me celebrated by declingfilming a ham sandwich.

Expectant chatter, until finally the State Landau emerged through the Horseguards arch. Bloke in red, woman in white, smiling broadly [photo]. They'll do hundreds of royal appointments as a married couple, but waving at us was their very first. The next coach dwarfed its bridesmaid contents, then came some trotting horsemen, then the Queen again. I saw them all for a fleeting few seconds, and would have seen them for longer if only the crowd hadn't been quite so obsessed in taking umpteen souvenir photos and videos of everything that passed. Once it was enough simply to attend an event like this, but now you need a Facebook album to prove it.

After the royal minibuses came the Westminster council cleaning vans, reversing as necessary over piles of horse manure to remove them from the road. And then nothing much, apart from several soldiers and policemen, so I relocated to the top of The Mall and waited. The place to be, I'd heard, so as to be near the start of the pedestrian charge down to the Palace. First came the Scouts, the Brownies and other uniformed youth, behind a slow-moving mounted police cordon. When would we mere bystanders be permitted to follow? Not long, because some opportunistic spectators nearby took matters into their own hands and broke apart the double-layered metal barriers. Had they tried this anywhere else a police officer would surely have noticed and gestured us back, but we were in a security blind spot so slipped out with ease. To the balcony!!

It's a long walk down the Mall, but there was something rather special about being almost near the front of this genteel stampede [photo]. Those with flags waved them, especially when the press photographer in our midst ran up his stepladder and requested a cheer. And you could tell that those trapped on the other side of the barriers, who'd previously been in prime position, were now secretly seething that they were stuck impotently within the confines of the Park. We fortunate throng moved ahead in stages, so as not to encourage running, eventually reaching the broad circus around the Victoria Memorial. It was important to get further ahead than this, because the Victory statue perfectly blocked all views of imminent snog action. Left or right, take your pick, then scuttle forward [photo]. And by the end of the manoeuvre I was so much closer to the railings than I'd ever dreamed it was possible to get.

"Excuse me" said the pushy lady trying to squeeze in from the right. She passed by, but the bloke she was with stopped immediately in front of me and held aloft a camera on a pole. "Take that down!" yelled the crowd behind, and he did, but only temporarily. When the Duke and Duchess stepped out onto the balcony up it went, then briefly down so as not to get lynched, than back up again. If you're reading this, you selfish twat, you're a selfish twat. But look, there they were, temporarily the two most famous faces on the planet, beaming out across a mammoth crowd stretching way back towards Admiralty Arch. The other senior wedding guests emerged and spread out, from the unlikely Middletons across to next-up Harry [photo]. So trusted are the British public that we thousands had been allowed to get right up close to this premier shooting gallery, unfrisked, on the basis that we'd only take aim and fire with our cameras. And that gamble paid off, in spades.

They kissed. You'll have seen it, courtesy of the mass wall of media lenses lined up beneath the Victoria Memorial [photo], but some of us saw it for real. They kissed again, in case anyone missed it, which was a bonus. And then they gestured up the Mall as a low drone grew steadily louder, and three wartime warhorses approached [top photo]. Much more impressive from beneath their path than they appeared on TV, and far more so than the four technological marvels which followed. With the marriage thus blessed by engines of aerial death, it was time for the royal party to withdraw. One last chance for the next-but-one King and his bride to stand and wave, then back inside to the reception and the start of a decades-long wait.

I nearly watched it on the telly. But how much more historic to say "I was there".

 Friday, April 29, 2011

Monday, April 29, 2041


The marriage of HRH Princess Daisy Windsor to Kylie Beckham

05:00 Smog fans activated
06:00 Congestion Charge lifted (Upper and Lower layers)
07:00 Somewhere in the middle of Mayfair, the hen night finishes
08:00 Police use laser cannon to remove ardent republicans who've been camping out overnight along Whitehall
09:00 Security gates open (spectators should ensure that their ID chip has not expired)
09:30 King William departs his Westminster council flat and catches the number 453 bus
10:00 BBC Royal Wedding 4DTV broadcast begins (subscribers only)
10:15 Queen Caroline and the King Father arrive at the Abbey to polite applause
10:17 Major terrorist atrocity averted (but sssh, nobody will ever know)
10:20 The bride's parents, Lord David and Lady Posh, arrive in a crystal carriage pulled by unicorns
10:30 Deadline for members of foreign royal families to board the High Speed link from Heathrow
10:35 Holographic Princess Diana takes her seat in the South Transept
10:40 Candles lit (subject to EU Renewables Directive 2034/#378b)
10:45 Princess Daisy boards the Royal Barge for the short paddle across St James's Harbour to the Abbey
10:46 Ooh, isn't the dress lovely? How many clothing coupons did she have to save up for that one?
10:55 Ms Kylie lifts her sleeve to answer the biggest question of the day - what will her new tattoo look like?
10:57 Three minute pause for Sky TV commercial break

11:00 Archbishop Icke welcomes the world to Westminster John Lewis Abbey
11:08 The choir sings "Love Divine/Smells Like Teen Spirit (medley)"
11:15 Bishop of London checks Facebook for any just cause or impediment why couple may not legally marry
11:23 Princess Daisy stumbles endearingly over her wife-to-be's middle name
11:31 The choir sings "Wannabe (zig-a-zig-ah remix)"
11:47 Dame Sandi Toksvig delivers the sermon
12:06 Sir Simon Cowell's latest talent protégé sings "Jerusalem (auto-tuned)"
12:15 The happy couple emerge from the Abbey and board the Bulletproof Coach

12:30 Celebratory public execution in Parliament Square
12:44 The Scottish army invades Northumberland while the English army are all busy prancing around ceremonially down south
13:00 Copies of the bride's dress now available for €20 at Primark
13:26 Freeze-framing Google StreetView confirms that the kiss on the balcony was "with tongues"
13:30 Formation flypast by 200 of the RAF's drone missile bombers
13:45 King William bestows the title "Duchess of Walthamstow" on his new daughter-in-law
14:00 Now back to work everyone, this recession won't end itself

 Thursday, April 28, 2011

At half past one tomorrow afternoon, immediately after Wills and Kate have publicly snogged for the first time, the RAF are engaging in some "Unusual Aerial Activity". A Lancaster, a Spitfire and a Hurricane will fly past, followed thirty seconds later by two pairs of more modern Typhoons and Tornados. The very best place to watch them swoop up The Mall will be from the balcony at Buckingham Palace, which is fortunate if you're a newlywed princess getting used to the day job. But you might also get a great view of the flypast if you're fortunate enough to be standing underneath elsewhere along its path.

Royal Wedding flypast timings
» 1.25pm Fairlop Waters (51°35.78N, 0°06.21E)
» 1.30pm Buckingham Palace (51°30.09N, 0°08.51W)
» 1.33pm RAF Museum, Hendon (51°35.87N, 0°14.35W)

Fairlop Waters (1.25pm)
On the outskirts of northeast London, just up the road from one of London's least used tube stations, there's a big lake. Previously it was a gravel pit, and before that during WW2 an RAF airfield. Maybe that's why this place is used as the mustering point for royal flypasts (but more likely it's because it's a big open space located precisely along the line of The Mall, if that were to be extended by 12 miles). Most people come here for the golf or for the sailing. The golf was much more popular yesterday, but there were a number of Redbridge schoolchildren pootling around in the water aboard a variety of oared craft. The lake takes about half an hour to walk round... slightly less to scamper if you're a dog. Children are well catered for, with ducks and geese for younger bread-chuckers, and a variety of clambery things for the more active. A particular attraction is the Boulder Park - a dozen-or-so oversized artificial rocks ideal for scrambling up and then waving down contentedly from the summit. OK, so Al's Adventure House has recently been knocked down to make way for a bland prefabricated marquee, and the historic Fairlop Oak is long gone. But all in all a most pleasant place to visit on a sunny spring day, especially with the promise of additional aerial entertainment, although potentially very exposed should it be showery or thundery as is forecast for the big wedding day. Watch the skies tomorrow and the Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane will enter a holding pattern centred around the island in the middle of the lake (which presumably makes an ideal visual cue). Their circling will continue until the precise moment comes to head towards Central London (1.25pm and 45 seconds), followed shortly afterwards by four modern fighters zooming in from Essex.

Fairlop, Barkingside, Wanstead Park, Wanstead Flats, Leytonstone, Olympic Velodrome, Hackney Wick, Victoria Park, Cambridge Heath, Shoreditch, Moorgate, Barbican, St Bart's, Fleet Street, Somerset House, Charing Cross, The Mall...

Buckingham Palace (1.30pm)
The wedding may not be until tomorrow, but the world's media have already arrived. An entire corner of Green Park has been segregated off and filled with white vans, some with dishes on the roof, others with lots of dishes on the roof. They're back-of-house for the main TV presence, which is a semicircle of makeshift studios surrounding the Victoria Memorial. The BBC, ITV and Sky have the prime pitches closest to the palace, then there's a highrise terraced quadrant, painted green [photo], followed by a one-storey tented curve on the other side of the Mall [photo]. Never mind that the happy couple aren't due until Friday, there are hours of global TV to fill before then and these journalists are busy filling it. "Excuse me madam, could you speak to our audience back home, why are you here?" The Mall is bedecked with flags, from that special bottomless cupboard of giant flags they wheel out for state occasions [photo]. Halfway towards Admiralty Arch an old man in an ill-fitting crown-logo baseball cap is readying his place for the wedding procession. He's wrapped a strip of white paper round and round one of the metal railings, and is now spraying it repeatedly with some kind of aerosol. "Can I ask what you're doing?" queries a bemused mother passing-by, but the old man is so engrossed in his devotion that he never answers. They're a lot more vocal, the royalist campers staked out in their tents on the pavement opposite Westminster Abbey, but not half as endearing [photo]. Back at Buck House there's currently plenty of space in front of the palace, plenty of room to walk right up to the railings and peer through at that balcony [photo]. Nobody's standing up there yet, nor will they be for long, just time enough for a wave and a kiss and the roar of seven planes directly overhead.

...Buckingham Palace gardens, Park Lane, Marylebone, Lord's, St John's Wood, West Hampstead, Fortune Green, Child's Hill, Brent Cross, Hendon...

RAF Museum, Hendon (1.33pm)
The fighter planes arrive here in Hendon a full minute before the wartime trio, such is the improvement in airspeed over the last 70 years. But what an appropriate destination - the capital's premier aeronautical attraction, which I always think is one of the top museums Londoners fail to remember exists. It has Spitfires and Hurricanes all year round, not just for a fleeting few seconds whenever royals wed. If you have nothing better to do over the long weekend, these history-packed hangars will easily fill a day. And if you go tomorrow lunchtime, you might just get the buildings to yourself and a flypast to remember.

...and then disperse, via Brookmans Park

All the technical details of the flypast are here, in this MoD pdf.
I've knocked up a Google map showing the approximate route of the flypast over London. It's probably more accurate on the first leg than the second, because a mighty sharp right turn is planned over the Buckingham Palace gardens. Please don't complain if you go stand on my line and nothing flies directly overhead... but you should be close.
Ian has details of all this year's London flypasts here.

Friday update:
Flypast

 Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nice lads like Zammo don't take heroin. Or so we thought, until that shocking teatime when he appeared slumped in the toilets round the back of an amusement arcade. Poor old Roland just hadn't spotted the clues. Gaunt faced-youth popping in at all hours. Mysterious demands for instant cash. Feeble excuses about needing to buy a bike. And then it all ended so unpleasantly, after hours, spilled out across the floor by the sinks. To those of us of a certain age in 1986, this was shocking stuff. And now it's "culture".

Last night, 25 years on, the British Film Institute screened that particular classic episode of Grange Hill to a paying audience. They're running a short season of 80s children's TV drama, based particularly around the series Dramarama (no, me neither), and on this occasion threw their net a little wider. That episode of Grange Hill, the first ever episode of Press Gang, and a one-off Dramarama piece. An audience of mostly thirty-somethings turned up. And oh yes, so did some of the stars.

That's Lee MacDonald that is, sitting on the edge of the stage with a smile. He looks just like he used to, only 42, and without any dodgy gear scattered across his lap. And next to him that's Erkan Mustafa, who doesn't look at all how you think you remember him until he starts speaking, and then he couldn't be anyone else. Zammo and Ro-land, two classic characters from my (late) childhood, here to introduce their seminal episode. Unfortunately no sign of Jackie or Janet, but you can't have everything.

The sausage in the opening titles earned a giggle. And then we were into the drama, setting the scene at the arcade, plus a parallel story about two girls sneaking out to an all night party. Nothing from the school itself, this was one of those set piece episodes taking the drama elsewhere, reflecting society outside. The party tale hadn't dated well, with the girls swanning around like they wanted to be in Dynasty but had been kitted out at Miss Selfridge. Their parents bickered unconvincingly, as the script demanded, but with an unspoken menace which suggested there was a child-beating scenario around the corner. Always one for slipping in the controversial where you least expected it, was GH.

Lee remembered how the producers had first proposed his smackhead storyline, and checked up front that his parents were OK with it. How he'd gone to rehabilitation centres to learn some background for the role, and how he never sang on the "Just Say No" record because he's tone deaf. How he's getting back into acting again and has a couple of films coming up. And how he'd not seen this particular episode for at least 15 years, but still can't get through a day without someone reminding him of his Zammo heritage. Erkan meanwhile reassured us that going to the White House was indeed a big thing, and that yes he has met up with the lovely Janet since.

Next up was Press Gang, from the very beginning, as lead writer Stephen Moffat established the characters he'd lead through the following five series. A ridiculous premise, as if any local newspaper would ever staff a junior version with unstable adolescents - indeed almost as ridiculous as ITV ever making another children's drama aimed at 17 year-olds. I hadn't seen the show before (I was out at work by 1989) but I am forever being told that I look like that bloke out of Press Gang, so it was useful to check. Tightly plotted, nicely rounded, and full of actors who were destined to go on to bigger things. Like that Dexter Fletcher, for example, and good grief he was here in the auditorium in person too. With a shock of hair resembling Medusa, he gabbled happily about the good times and how everyone now thinks he's American even though it's only an accent he put on for the series.

Three children's television legends for a fiver - you don't get that sort of special offer every day. And a three-part retrospective placing youth screen culture in a historical context - how very South Bank was that? Keep your eyes open for other intriguing video screenings at the British Film Institute - you never know when they'll choose to indulge the TV generation again.

 Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ridgeway It's 87 miles from Wilts to Bucks, as the acorn flies, but only the last few are on my walking agenda. The official path passes Tring station, easy. Up the road, up the track.
beech Officially 'beech hanger' woodland, the best in Herts, that's Aldbury Nowers. Gnarled tree roots, budding ferns, supposed to be full of butterflies (but maybe the lady striding ahead scared them all off).
skylark Above the grassland, one tiny bird sings its heart out, then swoops down. I ought to recognise it, don't - thankfully a crowd of excited ornithologists are on hand with binoculars and raised voices.
chalk The escarpment goes on and on, tumuli above, broad views down across fields and flat distant villages. The postmill is almost 400 years old, on a wheat island surrounded by hedges. Climb the track above the dry valley... a glacier carved that.

Ivinghoe Up on the beacon, almost the top of the Chilterns. Not so far from the car park, so it's busy here, mostly families, even little princess Rosie can manage this.
gliders Four men are hurling gliders off the escarpment into the thermals - they soar, they stall, they swoop, somehow they stay up. Unpowered flight only, insurance papers must be shown, aerial combat strictly prohibited.
Easyjet Roaring engines descend, casting a moving shadow across a field of bright yellow rape. Luton airport's over that ridge, just beyond the Whipsnade chalk lion. Landing gear down.
angry farmer The walk through the forest emerges in a farmyard. Big red sign on the barn says "the footpath now goes this way", but "this way" is ambiguous so I go the other. Two yappy dogs appear, followed swiftly by their yappy owner. "Oi, did you not see the sign? Next time you come this way, go that way." Two minutes later, the next ramblers receive the same frosty reception.
lamb Mum chews in a field, littl'un rests contentedly in her shadow.
bluebells A carpet of blue covers the Ashridge woodland, in selected glades, heads bowed in dappled sunlight beneath the beech trees. I'm not impressed - I walked to Emmetts Garden on Sunday, and the bluebells there were simply stunning.
Egg Trail Hundreds of children, parents in tow, wander past clutching an official Cadbury's leaflet. Look, here's the answer Rufus, write it down. They're not venturing too far from their cars, are they?
car park It's rammed, more crowded than the National Trust's chief marketing could ever have imagined. Bodies lounge across the clearing, it's a long wait for shepherd's pie, and don't even ask about the queue for the ladies loo.
monument The Bridgewater Monument - a Doric colum - has 172 spiral steps. Hold tight on the upper platform beneath the copper flame, there's not much room. On a good day you can see Canary Wharf, but only when it's smog-free. Keep your fingers crossed you don't pass too many climbers on the way down.
stocks Aldbury village has a duckpond, two old pubs and a medieval place of punishment. They're an ancient monument, the old stocks, but too ancient to be functional, let alone touch.
lolly The lady behind the counter in the village stores is chatty and lovely, though not overrun. If this were Midsomer Murders (and Aldbury has been), she'd so get it in part three.
Tring It's a long way from the station to the town of the same name, far further than I was expecting. A two mile slog, across the canal, knowing it's still two miles back.
quagga Baron Rothschild loved his zebras, lived in the park nextdoor, started his collection aged 10. Now his taxidermy menagerie is an official outpost of the Natural History Museum, six galleries of stuffed cassowaries and tigers and slow loris. Stick it on your "to visit" list.
whale Remember that bottlenose whale which swam up the Thames five years ago? It's here in Tring, or at least its skeleton is. And its dorsal fin, in a pickle jar. Good to see you again, ma'am.

PS If this rambling is of no interest whatsoever, perhaps today's the day you need my Olympic ticket tips.

 Monday, April 25, 2011

It's 60 years since the Festival of Britain launched on London's South Bank.
(Actually, no it isn't. The Festival of Britain opened on 3rd May 1951, but the 60th anniversary of that falls next Tuesday, immediately after the mega-bank-holiday double-weekend is over, so they've started 2011's celebrations several days early)

Ah, the Festival of Britain. That marvellous moment when the UK shook off the shackles of austerity, built a monument to Empire on the banks of the Thames, and looked to the future. A concrete playground emerged on a former bomb-site, and the people of Britain came in their millions to celebrate hope, technology and achievement. Truly "a tonic for the nation".
(Actually, that's over-stating it somewhat. Post-war life didn't somehow brighten because a few temporary pavilions had been erected on the South Bank, did it? And exhibits like "Minerals of the Island" and "The New Schools" didn't exactly have the public overflowing with joy)

Ah, the glorious Festival of Britain, much loved by all. How much livelier and more worthwhile than the New Labour travesty which came along to blight the North Greenwich foreshore half a century later. Conceived as an echo of the Festival of Britain, the Millennium Dome turned out to be a tawdry waste of government cash besmirched by scandal.
(Actually, that's not entirely fair. The Dome's reputation suffered greatly at the hands of a venomous media, which had been non-existent 49 years earlier, and the event was much enjoyed by many of its visitors. Equally, the Festival of Britain was so hated by the incoming Conservative government of October 1951 that PM Winston Churchill ordered the site to be cleared and the 'socialist' Skylon to be dismantled, chopped up into pieces and sold for scrap)

So how wonderful to see the Festival of Britain commemorated on the South Bank in 2011, with a variety of evocative displays, exhibits and pavilions.
(Actually, don't get your hopes up. There's no Dome of Discovery, although there is a row of painted beach huts. There's no "Land of Britain" pavilion, although there is a dry-stone wall and something coal-related as a token reminder that Britain extends beyond the Home Counties. There's no "Lion & Unicorn" crowdpleaser, although there is a multicultural work of art of the same name comprising several paper poems on string. And as for the most popular attraction, the "Appearing Rooms" fountain, that's popped up here several summers before)

Thousands came at the weekend to bask on the pretend beach, stare at the giant straw fox and take photos of the seaside garden. They strolled beneath the Guinness-approved world's longest bunting, paused for thought at the portraits from Helmand, and climbed the yellow staircase to the roof garden. All in all, a proper inspirational day out.
(Actually, not really. I mean it's quirky, and it's a lot more interesting than the usual concrete promenade with skateboards, but everything's a bit on the low-key side. Take the roofgarden, for example. In 1951 they'd have had astroturf because it was futuristic. In 2011 we've got astroturf because it's cheap)

One of the most successful aspects of the Festival of Britain was its funfair. Over 8 million visitors passed through the Battersea Pleasure Gardens in 1951, delighting in such attractions as the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Railway, the Guinness Clock and the legendary Big Dipper. All now long gone. But sixty years later, yes, of course there's another funfair.
(Actually, 'fun' is probably not the right word. The 2011 pleasure gardens are laid out on a scrap of car park, hidden from the passing crowds behind an inflatable purple cow. The stallholders wait around in case any family with small kids should stumble upon them and want to fork out cash for a ticket for a ride. There won't be a queue for the helter skelter, I can guarantee that)

The 1951 festival was famous for its design, with architecture playing a key role in delivering the 'vision' on site. And then there was the acclaimed festival logo, designed by Abram Games, which cleverly combined Britannia's profile, compass points and bunting. Sixty years on, its reappearance still stirs the heart.
(Actually, not quite. Some marketing philistine has taken Abram's original and slapped a giant MasterCard logo in the southeastern quadrant, which looks ghastly. It's a sharp reminder that the original Festival was paid for by a government in post-war financial trouble, whereas this latest recreation comes courtesy of a company which makes its profit from public debt)

2011's commemoration of the Festival of Britain continues on the South Bank until September. In truth it's nothing but a clever bit of promotion to get you to book tickets for a series of events at the Royal Festival Hall and other nearby venues over the next few months. Sorry, you won't be telling your grandchildren about this one with a special nostalgic lump in your throat.
(Actually, it's not that bad. There's plenty to see around the complex, at least once, and if the weather holds then that fake beach could be the place to be this summer. And it's hugely more impressive than was the Mayor's cut price attempt at a St George's Day extravaganza in Trafalgar Square on Saturday, where two catering trucks and various no-fee orchestras turned up to serenade flag-wrapped families from the suburbs. Sometimes government does it better, but alas not always)

 Sunday, April 24, 2011

Extreme
Late
Easter

(Sunday April 24th 2011)

Good morning, Happy Easter, and welcome to the latest Easter Sunday in living memory. It might not be the latest Easter you've ever experienced, if you're over retirement age that is, because Easter fell one day later back in 1943. And it won't be the latest Easter you'll ever experience, assuming you live for another quarter of a century, because it'll fall one day later in 2038 too. But for a sizeable middle-aged proportion of the world's population, Easter on 24th April is as late as it'll ever get.

And here, very simply, is why it's so late. Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. And this year, 2011, everything in that list has happened really really slowly...

    Equinox*: Monday 21st March
    Full Moon**: Sunday 17th April
    Easter Sunday: Sunday 24th April

There was a full moon on Saturday 19th March (the super full moon, you remember). But 19th March was slightly too early to trigger the date of Easter because the spring equinox hadn't quite taken place. So things skipped ahead 29 days to the next full moon, which was last Sunday 17th April. But the rules state that Easter has to be the next Sunday after the full moon, so here we are on Easter Sunday 24th April.

* Sorry to get complicated, but this year the true spring equinox fell just before midnight GMT on Sunday 20th March. But the church chooses to ignore such astronomical fripperies, because Greenwich never once appears in the Bible, and so takes the date of the equinox as 21st March whatever. Don't worry, be it Sunday 20th or Monday 21st, Easter 2011 would still have ended up being today.
** Sorry to get more complicated, but this year the true Easter full moon occurred around 3am GMT on Monday 18th April. But the church chooses to ignore such astronomical fripperies, because Greenwich never once appears in the Bible, and so takes the date of a "Paschal full moon" on 17th April instead. Don't worry, be it Sunday 17th or Monday 18th, Easter 2011 would still have ended up being today.


The only way to get a later Easter than 24th April is to have full moons on 20th March and 18th April. This happens roughly every 19 years, which is a fairly common event. But we only get the ultimate late Easter when 18th April is a Sunday, delaying Easter until Sunday 25th April. There are seven possible days of the week on which 18th April can fall, and only when it's a Sunday does the ultimate late Easter occur. A one in 19 chance, multiplied by a 1 in 7 chance, that's an event of 1 in 133 year rarity.

Here's a list of really late Easters, so you can see how rare they really are:
Easter on 21st April: last happened 1957, next happens 2019
Easter on 22nd April: last happened 1984, next happens 2057
Easter on 23rd April: last happened 2000, next happens 2079
Easter on 24th April: last happened 1859, next happens 2095 (and this year, of course)
Easter on 25th April: last happened 1943, next happens 2038 (but then not again until 2190)

If you're interested in this sort of thing, do check out the series of detailed "date of Easter" posts I wrote three years ago when there was an extremely early Easter. And if you're not interested in this sort of thing, then just revel in the longest Creme Egg eating season of all time.

Easter trivia
Here are two excellently long lists of Easter dates: 1875 to 2124; 1583 to 3000
The cycle of Easter dates repeats every 5,700,000 years. During this period, Easter falls on 24th April only 81,225 times (less than 1½% of the total).
Although Easter can fall on any date from 22nd March to 25th April, the two most likely dates are 19th April and 18th April.
Almost exactly half of our Easters occur on the same date 11 years later (but never more than four in a row). For example, Easter will fall on 21st April in 2019, 2030, 2041 and 2052, but not in 2063.
Consecutive Easters are always separated by 350, 357, 378, or 385 days (that's 50, 51, 54, or 55 weeks). For example, Easter 2011 is 385 days after Easter 2010, but 350 days before Easter 2012. So we've just had the longest possible gap between Easters, and we're about to enter the shortest.
Until this weekend, the UK's warmest Easter was in 1984, when the temperature in Jersey on 22nd April reached 26°C. Tons more Easter weather records can be found here.
It's extremely unlikely to have an extremely early Easter (2008) so close to an extremely late Easter (2011), and this won't happen again until 2160/2163.

 Saturday, April 23, 2011

London 2012  Olympic update
  Lee Valley White Water Centre


There's one new Olympic venue that's providing a legacy even before the Games have started. Three years ago it was an overspill car park just off the road to Waltham Abbey. Two years ago it was a sprawling pile of earth dotted with red-and-white striped cylinders. Last summer it was structurally complete, though still surrounded by a building site. And yesterday it threw its doors open to the public for the first time. On many levels, damned impressive.

This rapidly-constructed marvel is the Lee Valley White Water Centre, which in fifteen months time will host the 2012 Olympic canoe and kayak slaloms. But it would be a complete waste to build a swirly water course for only five days of international competition, so they haven't. It's been designed to give serious paddlers somewhere to train, and also as somewhere that members of the public can come, hire a raft and get wet.

Lee Valley White Water Centre

Yesterday's weather was so glorious that we earlybird visitors were in for a treat. Local families from Waltham Cross and Waltham Abbey wandered in through the previously-locked gates, not quite believing they were going to be allowed quite so close to the new downhill course. But yes, once you're in you've pretty much got the run of the place, with the exception of the central area where the canoeists get changed. We packed out the main facility building, the one that looks like a giant timber-clad hardback book. We stood around the edge of the concrete channel, some waiting for wetsuited loved-ones to pass by. And we crowded the narrow footbridge to get the best view of those passing underneath. Smiles, sunshine, and 300 metres of frothy splosh.

At first the course looked somewhat tame, a bit like the Diana Memorial Fountain but on a larger scale. A small child could wade through these shallows with ease - where was the danger? But then a siren sounded, and the five pumps at the top of the course powered up, and water started to surge downhill. Now there was an Olympic-sized torrent, gushing between artificial barriers and spilling over unseen ledges. That was more like it, and more worthy of the whopping £49 pricetag each seat aboard a raft demands.

Three teams of helmeted paddlers were getting ready on the lower lake, learning fast that if they all did what they were told, the raft would manoeuvre itself in the correct direction. They spent about half an hour pootling about on flat water, while the crowds milling around the course wondered if they'd ever see any action. But then it was time, and the three rafts moved to ascend the conveyor belt ramp which joins the lower and upper pools. Up and over, like a fairground ride, with the participants now geared up for their first circuit. Ready team? Paddles up!

The spectators may not be quite so numerous later in the year, but every step of yesterday's descent was under close scrutiny from the banks. Most of the time the rafters made it past each obstacle without incident, but every now and then one (or more) was catapulted out and a gasp (or a cheer) went up. Not a problem - if ejected you simply lift your legs and let the water carry you into an eddy, where one of the helpful support staff can attempt to tug you out so you can clamber back onto the raft.

Other than that, it was drops, turns and splashbacks all the way down. At one central pool the instructors extended the experience by getting their rafters to perform the equivalent of three-point turns, nipping across the torrent into the quieter shallows alongside, then rotating to dip the boat's prow into the cascade. And once back at the lower lake it was up the conveyor belt and round again, and round again, and round again, until time finally ran out. There's no set number of circuits here, so yesterday's rafters managed a full hour on the white water before finally returning to the land.

Around 3pm the staff winched a series of slalom poles out across the course, ready for the appearance of some more serious canoeists. They whipped through the water between the hanging obstacles, appropriately up or downstream according to whether the gates were red or green. And they made the circuit look easy, surely too simple for international competition in fifteen months time? But no worries, the plastic blocks can and will be rearranged to create a variety of different courses as need demands, as will no doubt occur when the Centre shuts down for a pre-Olympic overhaul in the autumn. I couldn't quite picture where the 2012 grandstands will go, nor how good their view will be, but this is definitely a venue to consider adding to your ticketing shopping list.

Prior to the big competition, there's much to recommend a visit. Of course the owners hope you'll book a proper ride down the rapids, either aboard a team-building raft or in your own canoe. There's a smaller course for less-skilled canoeists, something to practice on before switching to Olympic standard, although its channel was mostly devoid of water yesterday. For landlubbers, the visitor centre was definitely the place to be in Friday's sun, with the sustainable sofas on the upper-storey decking packed out. The cafe was selling decently-priced Olympic-themed burgers (the Rio, the London, the Atlanta... you get the idea) and chips, which were going down a treat.

All in all, I got the feeling that the good people of Hertfordshire couldn't quite believe their luck that this world-class facility has landed on their doorstep. Many of those who thought they'd only come along for a peek ended up taking home a leaflet with the express intention of saving up for a proper return visit. I'm a water-borne wuss and wouldn't dream of risking my uncoordinated body in the water. But if you have a more adventurous character, oh yes, you so would.

www.flickr.com: my Lee Valley White Water gallery
There are 20 photographs altogether (including several action shots)

 Friday, April 22, 2011

This looks like a damned good idea for a book.

Profusely illustrated throughout by an acclaimed photographer.
Fascinating background information on 22 of London's vanished rivers/streams/ditches.
Plus eight filled-in canals, and eight lost docks/wharves, for good measure.

I haven't seen any more than the sample chapter as yet.
And it's not due to be published for another fortnight.
But I will absolutely definitely be buying a copy.

 Thursday, April 21, 2011

When somebody invites you to write a book, obviously you do.
But when writing that book makes you unhappy, obviously you stop.

Which is how I found myself, one summer Sunday, staring out of the window at the nigh perfect weather and wondering why the hell I was sat indoors writing nothing much, very slowly. Another day of researching, drafting, tweaking, dithering, timewasting... and all with so very little to show by the end of it. Sure if I carried on long enough I'd eventually have enough words to put a book together. But with my deadline now greatly extended, I knew there'd be dozens more Sunday afternoons like this. All I'd extended was the pain.

So I gave up on the chapter I was writing and instead penned an email to my commissioning editor. I didn't quite say 'No', I left that to be inferred, which turned out to be a mistake. Instead I was enticed to get stuck in again, and cajoled to write more please, in that relentlessly positive way that editors have when one of their authors goes into an unproductive sulk. They even proposed that I take a month off before diving back in, refreshed, but with slightly less time to get the remaining chapters written. But I wasn't having it. I sent another email that much more nearly said 'absolutely No', and they got the hint.
"But if you're just no longer interested in the project then of course it's best to call it a day. Books need to flow from interest and passion - and if you're having difficulty finding those, then I can see that it makes sense to walk away.
With all best wishes"
That comment about "interest and passion" hit home. I have plenty of interest, in many things, but I really don't do passion, ever. I know it might look like I do, but my character is fundamentally unexcitable.

There was no problem disentangling myself from the contract because I'd never signed that, nor taken my advance. Which left me hassle-free and book-less, back in the same position I'd been a year previously. And I was fine with that, really I was. I mean, it's lovely to have a book of your own to bequeath to the world, but the world doesn't end if you don't have one. My Dad told me he completely understood why I'd thrown in the towel, and BestMate said he was amazed I'd hung on for so long. And anyway, to look on the positive side, at least I now had a third of a book in the bank should I ever find the time to complete it.

Which would have been the end of the story, until I received one more email out-of-the-blue six weeks later. My commissioning editor had been keeping the project alive, it seemed, and very politely informed me that they'd come up with an alternative author. I shouldn't have been surprised. The entire project had been their idea, so all they were doing was transferring their concept to somebody more willing to complete it. It had never been 'my book', and now it never would be.

So here we are in April 2011, and the book I nearly wrote is due out in a fortnight's time. It was originally scheduled for release next Thursday, but I think they shifted the publication date at the last minute to avoid the Royal Wedding. I now face the fascinating scenario of watching what might have happened had I finished the manuscript, but all happening to someone else.

Will there be radio interviews with the book's proper author? I shall be listening, just in case. Will there be mega-splash features in national papers or local listings magazines? Consider them bought. Will there be interviews on regional TV, or YouTube, or wherever it is that publishing companies parade their writers these days? Bring it on, let's find out. And will there be official signings, or launch parties, or alternative kinds of personal appearance. Nah, don't worry, I'll be leaving those well alone. I won't hear a word said against author number 2, really I won't, because I know for certain that the publishing company never told him who author number 1 was.

But next time I'm in a London bookshop, wandering round the "blimey what a lot of books there are about London" section, there it'll be, the book I didn't write. There'll be no escape, it'll be in all of them, tucked away on the very shelves I'm most likely to peruse. I bet every museum in London will be flogging it too, with a copy or three lurking near the pile of maps and the souvenir tea towels. And not just next month but next year, and for several years to come. This is a book with serious longevity, which won't be going away any time soon. I am so not going to be allowed to forget that I gave up the chance to write it.

I have of course given due consideration to repurposing my partial manuscript for use on this blog. It would be a shame to waste those few thousand words, and all the effort that went into writing them, so you lot might as well enjoy them for free. Being stubborn, I'm also just the sort of person who'd go on to complete the entire project online, all those chapters I had such trouble writing before, simply to prove that I could. They won't appear in purchasable form on high-quality paper for you to treasure, but they'll not be lost forever.

No really, I think you might be more annoyed by the whole situation than I am. Rest assured, I'm absolutely bloody fine about how things have turned out. And I might still write a different book one day, but if I do it'll be because I want to, not because someone else wants me to.

 Wednesday, April 20, 2011

If anyone ever tells you that writing a book is easy, they're either lying or their book is rubbish.

I found writing a book unexpectedly difficult. I didn't think it would be, because I write for my blog pretty much every day. I write to a series of regular self-imposed deadlines, which is an essential book-writing skill. I write mostly factual stuff, so I'm used to researching things. I write for a potentially critical audience, so I know it's important to get facts right. And the total amount of words they wanted for the complete book was less than I normally knock out in a month. So it really shouldn't have been difficult., shouldn't have been difficult at all. But that's how it turned out.

I was asked to include as many facts as possible. That's fair enough for non-fiction, and not something I'm unused to. Except there were a lot of facts to find out, some highly obscure, and I had to find them out properly. That meant lots of research out in the field, and digging for information at more than one library, and not believing something was true just because one page on the internet said it was. I was also asked to cut out the flippant, the observational and the personal, which often make up a large proportion of what I write. Objective yet rich, that's what the text had to be.

I was asked to write in 150-word chunks. I don't normally, but that's the length things had to be to fit the required look and feel of the book. Whereas I might sometimes write 15 words about something, or 1500, instead it had to be approximately 150 every time. This meant padding things out when there was nothing to say, and cutting things out when there was tons. Trimming was tough, but padding proved tougher because the extra words had to be relevant rather than filler... or maybe that was a rule I invented solely to make my life harder.

I was asked to rewrite several of my paragraphs after I'd submitted them. I know that's absolutely par for the course when writing a book, and every editorial suggestion I received was spot on, but I'm so not used to being proofed. Normally I sit here and churn out words for the blog completely independently, so the text's all my fault when the time comes to hit publish. For the book I had to get used to critical feedback, but even so spent far too long trying to polish every individual sentence as if I was still writing independently.

I was asked to include a full-page photograph to match each chunk of text I'd written. This meant lots of trips out, sometimes more than once to the same location if the weather was poor or someone had parked a car in the wrong place. I was also asked that every photograph be portrait, whereas I'd much rather have shot landscape because this suited my subject matter better. In the end the photography took almost as long as the writing, because I was being a perfectionist and wanted precisely the right shot for the right information.

I was asked, as I mentioned yesterday, not to blog anything. And one of the biggest problems this created was that I couldn't involve you. Normally when I write something and it's factually incorrect, one of you chips in and puts me right in the comments box. I can nip back in and edit the offending passage, then republish, and all's well. This doesn't work in print. Every unspotted error submitted I'm stuck with, in perpetuity, no going back. And without your input, I made several.

I was asked to write the book in a dozen or so chapters, and to submit each chunk separately. Normally I write to daily deadlines, which enables me to build up quite lengthy series in manageable doses. Here I had three or four weeks to get each section sorted, which was much harder to stick to. I was determined to keep up my usual level of blogging (you never noticed, did you?), and of course I had a job to go to, so much of my remaining spare time was suddenly occupied trying to assemble each complete package for submission. This was no fun, no fun at all.

I was asked to write the book by September 1st. That sounded wonderfully distant at first, then grew menacingly nearer. The first submissions (and reviews) took longer than they should, leaving less and less time for the remainder. My editor had to introduce individual deadlines for each chapter to try to keep me on track, sending me polite but firm reminders as every date approached. And then I missed a deadline, because I was having a life, and discovered that there were no immediate consequences. I was simply urged to please complete the submission soon, asap, maybe next week... which I didn't manage either. Sure, I realised that workflow was going to get nightmarish as September 1st approached, but that could be a problem for later.

I'd been asked to do a lot of things, and thereby hung the problem. The idea for the book was excellent, but it wasn't my idea. What I'd been asked to write was perfect, but how I'd been asked to write it wasn't me. I'd have written different sized chunks, in a less atomised way. I'd have included a bit more subjective content, with differently-orientated photographs. And I'd have shoved all the subject material up on the blog first, bit by bit, more sustainably, and allowed you lot to fact-check it for me. The end result wouldn't have been half as good as the stuff my editor had coerced me to write, but it would have been hugely easier.

So when chapter 4 failed to materialise by the requisite date, I realised what I had to do. I wimped out. I fired off a plaintive email saying there was no way I could continue to this schedule, and that the September 1st deadline was frankly untenable. With publication needing to take place in April, I knew that no further slippage would be possible and therefore the entire project was doomed. Well that's what I thought. Instead, by return email, I received a message of deep disappointment but proposing a whole extra year to write the damned thing. Deadline autumn 2010, publication spring 2011. And that was still absolutely ages away. How time flies.

 Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The email arrived late afternoon, mid-November. Would I be interested in writing a book?

Usually I wouldn't, but this request was different. It was from one of Britain's largest book publishers. It was from a named editor, rather than a generic spamlist. And the suggested topic was an excellent one, aimed squarely at a decent-sized hole in the market. I'd already written a little about it on my blog, hence their interest. Would I be interested in writing more, shoving a cover on it and then living in perpetuity on the nation's bookshelves? How chuffed was I? It seemed only wise to explore the idea further.

An exchange of emails followed, in which I expressed polite enthusiasm, and my contact told me not to worry about how long the writing might take. And so we agreed to meet up a few days hence, at Publishing HQ, somewhere in London.

I wondered whether I might be ushered past security to some comfy commissioning sofa, but instead I only got as far as the café. Here I met two of the company's editors, both female, both about half my age, both with the power to immortalise me in print. I'd brought stuff, they'd brought stuff, so we had a chat about that and the general publishing concept. It did seem to be a terribly good idea for a book, and one for which I might be ideally suited.

Publication had to be in April, I was told, because that's when the ideal window for this kind of subject matter opens. But not the next April, the April after that, because publishing's a snail's pace kind of a business. I'd have until September to write everything I needed, then they'd spend some time tweaking it into an appropriate form to create the necessary electronic files for production. My book would be bulk-printed in colour in China, apparently, then shipped back on a slowboat for three months to trim costs to a minimum. And then April would be a whirlwind of publicity, plugs and promotions before my volume was launched upon a now-suspecting world. The Aprilness, I quickly learned, was very important.

Knocking out the requisite number of words shouldn't be too hard. The editor's concept wasn't a novel-size paperback, but a smaller tome with plenty of white space. They only wanted a hundred and fifty-something words on a page, for heaven's sake, and every other page was going to have a great big photo on it. Oh yes, that was the other exciting thing, they wanted me to illustrate my own subject matter with 100-or-so photos, and these would pad out half the book. Photography and text, I could do that no problem, I do that every day.

I went home and knocked up a sample chapter based on stuff I already had and sent it in. This only took two weeks of spare time, which could have been worse. And shortly afterwards I heard back that they liked it, which was nice, and they wanted to offer me something proper. They attached an official proposal letter, detailing required length of text and a submission date, plus details of all the relevant royalty payments I might receive. I hadn't previously twigged quite how little authors of non-fiction earn from each sale, so this was a timely nudge not to expect anything life-changing.

A 20-page contract arrived, in the name of 'Diamond Geezer', which I read very carefully. I assumed that all the scary bits in the contract were fairly standard, in that the publishing house has lots of rights whereas the writer has lots of responsibilities. All deadlines must be hit, all content must be appropriate, all advice must be taken - that sort of thing. But I was still very reticent to sign, even though there was a financial advance waiting once I did, because I was nervous that section X paragraph Y sub-section Z might contain something legal I'd later live to regret.

By now I'd recognised that the truly important thing wasn't the book's content, but how well it could be promoted. When the April publishing date finally came round, the company needed to make as big a splash as possible to ensure that copies of my book actually sold. That meant publicity, interviews, feature articles - whatever interest the press office could manage to stir up. They reassured me they'd not force me onto local TV, not if I really didn't want to, but seemed visibly relieved when I had no objection to the occasional radio broadcast. The key marketing opportunity would be a serialisation in the printed media, they hoped, if only they could acquire such a prize. A glossy weekend newspaper magazine was the Holy Grail, however unlikely, but even half a page in Time Out would have had the publicists salivating.

And this obsession with promotion also meant curtains for the way I originally thought I'd get the book written. I thought I'd research and publish each chapter on my blog, bit by bit, post by post, like I normally do. But apparently not. With everything destined for publication, I was nudged in no uncertain terms to keep all the material off the internet. My book must not be a printed copy of content already freely available in pixellated form... not because thousands of potential purchasers might already have read it, but for the specific reason that pre-publication might reduce the opportunity "to negotiate some good serial deals".

Like I said, that Aprilness turned out to be very important. So I did what any budding author would do in these circumstances, I knuckled down and carried on writing...

 Monday, April 18, 2011

Seaside postcard: Turner Contemporary
The last time I was in Margate, three years ago, a nice lady in the Tourist Information Centre pointed at the neighbouring car park and told me it would one day be an art gallery. She was right. Margate's latest landmark, the Turner Contemporary, opened its doors on Saturday bringing a much needed splash of culture to the Thanet foreshore. It's built on the site of the lodging house where artist JMW Turner used to stay, and whose landlady was to become his long-term mistress. It sits beneath the same 'loveliest skies in Europe' which Turner so loved to paint. It's been designed by top architect David Chipperfield, brought in after the previous seafront design proved too challenging. It's the seaside town's best hope for regeneration, bringing an influx of well-to-do visitors, fingers crossed. Just don't bring your car, because there's no longer anywhere to park it.

I know not to visit a new art gallery on Day 1. The building's rammed, the artwork's obscured and the weather's rarely up to scratch. Day 2, on the other hand, was a belter. I arrived early enough for the galleries to be relatively clear, well before long queues set in later in the day. And the weather was just lovely, bright blue skies all day long, which made my visit to Margate sheer joy. The cloudlessness might have disappointed Turner, but he'd surely have been hugely honoured by the thousands who turned out in his name.

The first thing to be seen as you walk up the steps to the Turner Contemporary is its café. Important things, cafés, because some Londoners can't be tempted out of the capital without the promise of a frothy coffee and organic lightbites. Next up, through the glass doors, comes the shop. That's important too, because the gallery charges no admission fee so needs every penny it can raise from flogging greetings cards and arty knicknacks. Rest assured, the shop's tastefully stocked.

Despite being fairly enormous, there are only two works of art in the entrance hall. One's a neon page-turner on the wall above the information desk, while the other fills most of the northern window, floor to ceiling. Daniel Buren has fixed parallel strips of grey and yellow stickytape to the glass, leaving a giant empty porthole in the centre, then added large mirrors to either side so that the effect appears to go on for ever. So simple, and yet this dramatic scene commanded the attention of every single visitor (and their cameras too). Most will have assumed this to be part of the permanent design of the building but no, come September the tape will be ripped off and the full North Sea skyline made visible.

Down the corridor near the toilets hangs a Victorian painting showing Margate as viewed from the end of the (now-destroyed) pier. The canvas was purchased by a town councillor in 1925, ready to be hung in the town's first art gallery, but only in 2011 has that particular dream been realised. The main galleries are upstairs (themselves a work of art). There are a couple of exhibits on the landing, but only one (on one wall) in the huge studio to the right. For this first show - Revealed - alas the art works are few and far between. The curators would argue that this gives each piece a chance to shine, whereas critic Brian Sewell was disappointed by the "meagre handful of examples of the familiar Serota-Saatchi orthodoxy". He was downright disappointed by the entire experience, to be honest, describing the building as "a cluster of super-industrial sheds" more suitable for the outskirts of Slough. Bit tough, Brian, but if you prefer your art to be either classical or bountiful, it's probably best to heed his words. At least not everyone agrees.

Only one of Turner's works is on display - it was never the intention that the Contemporary would act as a retrospective. This is his depiction of an erupting Caribbean volcano, one he never actually saw, only heard about, but its vibrancy shines through all the same. Nextdoor is Conrad Shawcross's installation Projections of a Perfect Third, which was the only thing in the gallery Brian liked. A giant three-armed whirly-thing hangs from the ceiling, each arm controlling two further limbs, while a light on the very tip creates mesmerising repeated patterns in the artifical gloom. Local visitors were especially taken by Ellen Harvey's Arcadia, an entire wooden room whose interior walls are covered by engraved mirrors showing a panoramic view of Margate Bay. Less so perhaps by the dangling globes in the West Gallery, shaded then completed with flowing text about the natural landscape. "I could have done that" was my first thought, except obviously I couldn't, and didn't, and wouldn't.

One of my favourite works was a tableau of modern Britain housed in an alcove at the top of the stairs. It comprised two families with pushchairs, a pair of elderly couples, plus an attendant - immobile and perfectly spaced, as if awaiting some unseen call to arms. And then the doors closed and they all sank slowly back to the ground floor (the gallery, it must be said, has one hell of a spacious lift).

Worth a visit? Most definitely, especially over the forthcoming week with a continuing series of artistic events under the "YOU ARE HERE" banner. Be warned that the TC is closed on Mondays, except for Bank Holiday Mondays, which will be damned useful over the next fortnight. But be warned too that the Turner itself is never going to fill even half your day. Its true aim is to lure you into the town, where you'll then discover copious other means to spend your time and money. This weekend, that plan has worked in spades. "I haven't seen it this busy in years," exclaimed an old lady in a wheelchair being pushed along the Harbour Arm by her husband, and I fear she was right. Sunday's glorious weather brought summer-like crowds to the centre of town, and I reckon the event's official photographer must have been able to snap sufficient scenes of mass contentment to fill next year's tourist brochure several times over. Further inland, conveniently out of sight, the town's many social issues lurked unseen and unresolved. But Margate's entire community hopes that Turner heralds something new, something positive, which might help revive the contemporary landscape.

www.flickr.com: my Turner Contemporary gallery
There are 30 photographs altogether.

See also...
» Harbour Arm
: Decently tarted up over the last few years with cafés, artists studios and ice cream vans, this is a great spot to sit and gawp out across Margate Bay. [photo] [photo]
» The Old Town: A charming maze of alleyways, boutiques and cupcake dispensaries (and therefore the complete antithesis of Margate's main High Street). [website]
» Margate Museum: Closed in 2009 when council funding elapsed, but opened specially this weekend to great interest, and thus with high hopes for the future. [museum website] [an ace 1950s poster]
» Tudor House: A row of three 500-year-old cottages, intermittently open to the public. [sometimes is]
» Shell Grotto: Margate's underground mystery, which most visitors seem to think too far from the seafront to bother seeing (shame). [I've been]
» Dreamland: The famous amusement park, mostly razed, one forlorn burnt rollercoaster semi-remaining (but hurrah, there are plans to rebuild). [photo from 2008]
» Margate beach: A perfect crescent of sand, which makes you wonder why Londoners ever go to Southend or Brighton. [photo]

 Sunday, April 17, 2011

The London Maze is a local history fair for London. It doesn't come round very often, roughly every 2½ years by my calculations, and it came round yesterday for the first time since 2008. Did you go?
For one day the City of London opens up the whole of the Guildhall complex to host displays by community history groups, local societies, museums, archives and libraries; talks; guided walks; tours of the Guildhall Art Gallery and the Roman Amphitheatre; film shows from the City’s archives and performances from youth and adult groups.
There's something rather brilliant about holding a local history fair in the Guildhall. No musty church hall for these stallholders, but instead a medieval Grade-I listed Great Hall, one of the oldest surviving buildings in the City. Here they set up their display stands on the ancient floor and laid out their wares beneath the stern gaze of Gog and Magog. You might think it'd be tricky to flog books about minor suburban history under such overwhelmingly diverting circumstances, but by golly they did.

I enjoyed wandering around and being courted by local history groups from various different parts of London. No, sorry, I don't live in Wandsworth. I only nearly live in Hackney, but give me your leaflet anyway. Oh go on, you've put a lot of effort into that booklet on Wanstead Flats, I'll buy one. Top marks to Barking & Dagenham council who'd not only brought along a lady in period costume but were also handing out envelopes stuffed full of information on the borough's Heritage Sites. I've filed that particular package away as a lifesaver when my jamjar finally delivers. One of the inner London history societies sold me a booklet I'm tempted to use as the basis for this blog's local history month in 2013. And, following an animated conversation with one of their volunteers, maybe I really should join up with the East London History Society to take advantage of all their excellent research into my home patch.

If you didn't make it to the Guildhall, and local history's your thing, then here are the local London groups you missed out on.
North: Camden History Society, Edmonton Hundred Historical Society, Enfield Society, Hornsey Historical Society, Islington Archaeology & History Society
East: East London History Society, East of London Family History Society, Eastside Community Heritage, Jewish East End Celebration Society, Walthamstow Historical Society
South: Clapham Society, Streatham Society, Wandsworth Heritage
West: West Middlesex Family History Society
City: City of London Archaeological Society, Friends of the City Churches
General: London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, London Topographical Society, The London Society, London Metropolitan Archives
And if your local London local history society isn't there, it might be here. Great list, David, thanks.


As well as advice and selling stuff, there was plenty of other Maze-y stuff going on at the Guildhall yesterday. Guided walks, lectures and poetry readings, for a start. The chance to dress up as an ancient Roman, especially if you were little. Down in the Livery Hall I sat entranced by an hour-long documentary about Thamesmead, in which today's residents were shown two over-optimistic public information films from 40 years ago, and invited to pass comment with the benefit of hindsight. Now there's social history for you. Alas one particular "medical history" event had to be cancelled due to illness, but the poster apologising for this quite made my day.

And never let the opportunity to explore the Guildhall slip you by. The crypt has vaulting to die for. The Old Library boasts several portraits of royal banquets. And the Guildhall Art Gallery, which recently scrapped its admission fee, has a lot more than several rooms of old paintings. A marble statue of Margaret Thatcher, for example, which has to be displayed behind toughened glass in case anyone else pops in and attempts to decapitate it. A temporary exhibition of 'Marf' financial cartoons. And, greatest of all, the remains of Londinium's Roman Amphitheatre in its basement. Gets me every time, that does. So if you can't wait until autumn 2013 for the next London Maze, rest assured that there's enough amazing around here to fill the gap.


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my special London features
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E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
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lea valley walk
olympics 2005
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ten of my favourite posts
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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
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london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
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