diamond geezer

 Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Diamond Geezer - the 2002 index

A accidents, alcohol, Apollo, Arsenal, astronomy, Autumn
B BB Houses, beards, blogposts, the Blitz, Blue Peter, British Summer Time, Brookside
C Celebrity Big Brother, cemeteries, Champions League, children's books, Christmas carols, cinemas, class, clubbing, Countdown, Countryside Alliance
D death, dentists, diamond blogs, diamond geezers, directory enquiries, DVDs
E early christmas, earthquakes, Emma Clarke, Epping
F Fall Fame Academy, fax machines, festivitis, fire strike, fireworks, football pundits, Freeview
G gay adoption, the Gherkin, Girls Aloud, Great Britons, greatest hits
H Harry Potter, hiccups, horrorscopes, hotels
I ice-skating
K Kittens
L Lakeside, Leeds, links, litter bins, London
M McDonalds, Mercury Music Awards, mobile phones
N 9/11
O office parties, Open House, oneword, online games, orange juice, overwork
P Paula Radcliffe, pedestrians, Pet Shop Boys, places to see before you die (50), pop charts (50 years of), Popstars (the rivals), pop quiz, poppies, post-Christmas, power cuts, pre-Christmas, predictive text, Premiership, pub toilets
R Rubik's cube
S Schott's Miscellany, the Second Coming, search engines, smog, shoe shops, Simon, single life, small change, sniffles, state of emergency, Stratford, sunset, supermarkets, surveys
T takeaways, taxis, technology, Thanksgiving, Top 3s, Top 40 rundown, total eclipse, touch typing, training travelcards, Treasure Hunt, triskaidekaphobia, tube strikes, tube tunnels, txt poetry
V village life
W Waitrose, weebl, weekday world, When I'm 64, wind, Windows, working at home, World AIDS Day
X xmas TV, xmas websites, xXx
the best of September, October, November, 2002 (film), 2002 (music)

2002 - Films of the year

January: Lord of the Rings. OK, so it came out late in 2001, but I didn't get around to seeing it until 2002. Longest ever advert for the New Zealand Tourist Board, and they never even paid for the publicity. Three hours of orcs, elves and even more orcs. I think I enjoyed the film most for the chance to see young Dominic out of Hetty Wainthrop Investigates, with hooves.

February: none. I blame the fact that I didn't go and see any films in February on the fact that this month is shorter than all the others.

March: Monsters Inc. Sorry, this has to be the film of the month, only because I didn't see any others. Actually, as Disney goes it wasn't bad, even quite clever in places, but I won't be buying the t-shirt, the cuddly toy, the video game, the Happy Meal....

April: another month I forgot to go to the cinema, sorry.

May: Spiderman. Woo, I got to see Spiderman on 42nd Street New York on its American opening night, in the very city where the film is set. A great superhero movie, mixing story, action and effects in just the right ratio. But just slightly un-nerving seeing Spidey and the Green Goblin battling out the finale over the very cablecar we'd just ridden across in from Roosevelt Island.

June: About a Boy. Nick Hornby's enjoyable tale about two North London blokes who shouldn't have got on, but did. Whilst watching this I tried to work out whether I was more like Will (thirty-something, single, happy, comfortable) or Marcus (teenage, loner, 'different', transformable), and ultimately decided I was a bit like both of them.

July: Minority Report. Blimey, an intelligent science fiction film! What would happen if the police could arrest people before they commited a crime. Not far enough away from current reality, i'm afraid. Any film with Tom Cruise in it has to be worth watching, but particularly the last five minutes of this film, I thought.

August: Austin Powers - Goldmember. You either loved this or you hated it. I loved it, and I haven't laughed more at any film (or indeed anything) all year. Who cares if it's all cheap mickey-taking and smutty innuendo, it's still exceptionally well done, and fantastically clever. Particularly the Japanese subtitles.

September: The Bourne Identity. Refreshing to see a spy film set in Europe rather than America for once, and the first car chase to do justice to the humble Mini since The Italian Job. And the only film worth watching on the plane over to San Francisco, twice.

October: Donnie Darko. It's a film about a schizophrenic teenager seemingly stalked by a 6 foot alien rabbit. It's either Back To The Future updated for the 21st century, or else it's Buffy crossed with the Lost Boys but without the vampires. It's wonderfully leftfield for an American movie, which is probably why it wasn't a big hit over there. It's one of those very rare films that I could actually watch again soon.

November: 28 Days Later. OK, so I nearly chose Harry Potter, but the last five minutes shunted that film down into second place. Instead I've gone for this excellent portrayal of a post-apocalyptic Britain, full of mad red-eyed zombies. Much like the East London I know and love, then.

December: Die Another Day. Unbelievably an enjoyable James Bond film, with just the right mix of action, stunts, humour and tongue-in-cheek. I can just about forgive them the inclusion of an invisible car but, that disused tube station, I'm sorry, the platform at Vauxhall Cross wasn't even long enough to fit one carriage in, let alone a whole train.

Tales of the City

I left my plane in San Francisco
high on a hill, it calls to me
to be where...

... little cablecars climb halfway to the stars.
... the weather is permanently London in March - fog, wind, sun, chill and showers (though it's been pretty sunny so far).
... the residents talk about the weather more than Londoners do.
... the city may only be 7 miles square, but it has more contours than the whole of South East England put together.
... a huge breakfast is one meal too many, unless you're a local.
... the gyms are full, presumably because breakfasts are so big.
... there are great views from Twin Peaks, which is the highest point of the city and not somewhere that serves cherry pie.
... mobile phones are rare and text messaging just doesn't happen.
... the 49 mile Scenic Drive is a great way to see all the sights, and that bridge is spectacular.
... garages advertise 'smog & lube', which sounds kind of interesting.
... half the population have a dog, often of a small and yappy variety, or a large and husky variety.
... all the plug sockets and most of the light switches look like they're out of the 1950s.
... only us tourists ride the cablecars.
... nobody lives in fear of an earthquake (and don't worry Mum, no rumblings yet).
... the locals are undoubtedly ripe for exploitation by any new natural health products company you might care to set up.
... there's only one real newspaper everyone reads, though news means 'happened within 10 miles of here'.
... the locals carry umbrellas because when it rains it pours (thankfully last night that was overnight).
... only the tv presenters have cloying insincerity - the locals are great.
... for the centre of Silicon Valley, it's surprisingly hard to find an internet cafe.

 Saturday, December 28, 2002

There is no Sanctuary

Last day: Capricorn 28s. Year of the city 2002. Carousel begins.

My best friend turns 30 today and, just like in the film Logan's Run, he's done a runner. That's 5373 miles of a runner, to be exact, to the West Coast of the United States. I'm sure it's not merely an excuse to escape the flashing crystal in his palm, but I'm sorry, he doesn't escape that lightly. So, like a good Sandman, I'm off to track him down.

If it's 8am in London it must be midnight in San Francisco and that 30th birthday has just begun. Clever that, delaying the onset of thirty for an extra eight hours.

A milestone birthday like 30 or 40 can really affect some people, although in my experience it usually affects other people more than it affects oneself. It's frightening how many people judge you by the first digit of your age. Thirty-something? That's old overnight to a twenty-something. Sorry, not interested. Of course, if you choose to define old as 'five years older than you' then you never get to be old yourself, but it does make a lot of other people permanently ancient. Personally I sailed through 30, twinged only mildly the first time I had to tick the '35-44' box in a survey questionnaire, and I'll have no problem with 40 so long as other people realise I'm still 24 inside. Aren't we all?

8am and I'm still here in London, so maybe I'm cutting it fine to get to San Francisco in time for tonight's 30th celebrations. However, it can be done, and my flight leaves Heathrow in just over six hours time. Thanks to the eight-hour time difference I shall be on the West Coast by 5pm tonight, after hours spent risking tedious in-flight movies and deep-vein-thrombosis. Those extra eight hours will make today a 32-hour day, the longest day I've ever experienced. OK, so maybe it's an extreme way to try to beat Seasonal Affective Disorder, but 17 hours of December daylight should do me the world of good. I just hope I can stay awake for a 30th birthday event that starts at 4am GMT and no doubt ends well after I'd normally have woken up, even on a Sunday.

Happy Birthday, Happy New Year, and diamond geezer'll be back in 2003.
...unless they have the internet in San Francisco too...

 Friday, December 27, 2002

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day?

Ten things that make a memorable Christmas

1) Standing in the crowds at Liverpool Street Station, surrounded by all the other Londoners going home to spawn for Christmas, all dressed in woolly hats and lumpy jumpers in an attempt to blend in with the locals, waddling along the platform with suitcases and rucksacks bulging with enough presents to keep an orphanage very happy.
2) Attending the 'Pantomime' Carol Service broadcast live on BBC Radio Norwich, complete with pantomime cow processing down the aisle behind the choristers and pantomime dame reading from the gospel according to Joyce Grenfell, all to be able to tell my niece how very beautifully she sang, even on the third repeat of the tape my dad kindly recorded off the radio.
3) Playing Ker-Plunk, Cluedo and Connect 4, because that's what you do at Christmas, at least while the Playstation isn't on.
4) Watching The Snowman walking in the air, twice, and noticing the complete lack of understanding on the face of a three year old on being told that you remember watching it for the very first time twenty years ago.
5) Being thrashed dismally in a Harry Potter quiz by an eight year-old.
6) Eating enough turkey, pudding, cake, roast potatoes, peanuts, chocolate oranges and little sausages wrapped with bacon to feed a small African country, so that you end up feeling as force-fed as the turkey no doubt was.
7) Watching all the old camcorder tapes of nephews and nieces opening their presents at Christmasses past, mainly so that the grandparents can coo over how much they've changed, but also so that the eight-year-old can discover that his 'Oh please turn that off' embarrassment gene has kicked in over the last year.
8) Buying the first Creme Egg of the season, and remembering to eat it before it melts.
9) Surviving four days in that rural ghost world beyond the reach of broadband and mobile phone reception, which I guess is much like a traditional Christmas used to be, ooh, at least five years ago.
10) Standing in the crowds back at Liverpool Station, surrounded by all the other Londoners going home to party for New Year, all dressed in designer sweatshirts and combat trousers in an attempt to blend in with the locals, waddling along the platform with suitcases and rucksacks bulging with enough unwanted presents to keep the local charity shop very happy.

 Monday, December 23, 2002

one day to ChristmasX is for Xmas

So Here It Is, Merry Christmas

The family Christmas - three things not to look forward to

1) Waking up on Christmas morning: I'm sorry, but during the holiday period there should be a complete and total ban on consciousness at 7am. OK, so all the children in the house will already have been up for two hours by that time, and they'll all be desperate to go downstairs and see what Santa has left them under the tree, and they'll all probably bear a subconscious grudge against me for the rest of their lives because I won't crawl out of my bed early enough, but sorry, 7am is just not on.

2) Presents: It is an unwritten rule of Christmas that the time taken to buy a present is always longer than the time that present will actually be used by the person you're buying it for. Therefore a book you've sweated for two hours to find will be received gratefully, the first couple of pages casually flicked through, and then shoved on a shelf in the spare room for the rest of time. Similarly if someone buys you a jumper, a CD or an amusing electrical gadget with less than 5 minutes thought, that object will be in a car boot sale before New Year. It's for this reason that I spent at least five days this month trying to buy Christmas presents, including four trips down Oxford Street last Saturday alone. Fingers crossed...

3) Christmas TV: There are some excellent TV programmes on over Christmas. There always are. The TV companies save them up for this special time of year (all except Sky, who continue to broadcast the Simpsons and Star Trek just like it's any other day of the year). I always look forward to buying the festive double issue Radio Times and looking through to see what gems I'd like to watch, and then I miss every single one of them. Unfortunately, there's no worse place to watch excellent TV programmes than with the family at Christmas. For a start the TV never gets switched on because someone's got a new board game with impossible-to-understand rules that everyone thinks it'd be a great idea to play, or there's a new bicycle to stand in the street and watch. If the TV is ever switched on it's only so that someone can watch their new Barbie cartoon video, or so that someone else doesn't miss out on their favourite festive Emmerdale episode. And at Christmas the TV set is always impossible to watch anyway because someone's built a huge Harry Potter Lego castle in front of the screen. It's OK though, you can always set your video to record all those excellent programmes back at home, except that you always set the video wrong and record three hours of Opera from Glyndebourne instead. Bah humbug!

The family Christmas - three things to look forward to

1) Food: Ah, the joys of festive food. Some people might baulk at the thought of turkey four days running but not me, especially when you're spending Christmas in Norfolk just a stone's throw from where the bird was slaughtered anyway. Then there's sprouts, which for some unknown reason I do actually like, despite them being miniature cabbages, which I hate. Add to that endless boxes of chocolates, bowls of peanuts, Christmas pudding... and yes, the diet starts in the New Year.

2) Christmas letters: These fall out of half the Christmas cards that the family's friends and relatives send, just so that we're all kept all in touch with people's thrilling busy lives at least annually. Christmas letters always start with the line 'Well, what a year it's been...'. They then either continue with a litany of woes, deaths, divorces and insurance claims, or else with a list of totally irrelevant non-events, like details of the family's summer barbecue or the time the cat almost disappeared for an hour. Easily the best reading material in the house at Christmas, and I can heartily recommend them.

3) The family: It really wouldn't be Christmas without them. It would just be a microwave-ready oven meal with a threadbare tree, two presents, a bottle of cheap wine and no spirit. Merry Christmas, every one!

2 days to ChristmasW is for Winter Wonderland

 Sunday, December 22, 2002

Girls Allowed: So, the Christmas number one goes to five tone-deaf non-entities, plucked from obscurity by cynical ITV executives to front a manufactured band with no talent. The girls have a singing ability so poor that they should never risk performing live, so it's a relief that they've all been been replaced by session musicians on the record. OK, I'll admit that the girls' song itself isn't that bad, plagiarising as it does various pop masterpieces, and some have even managed to come up with a list of 100 reasons why we should all have rushed out and bought the Sound of the Underground. However, Girls Aloud definitely follow in the Christmas footsteps of such renowned acts as Bob the Builder, Mr Blobby, Little Jimmy Osmond and Renee and Renato, it not being unusual for the festive chart-topper to be sung by a bunch of talentless no-hopers. Alas, the TV show Popstars - the Rivals is to blame for the entire Christmas Top three, including the tedious One True Voice and the execrable Cheeky Girls. I guess it's too much to hope for better in 2003. PopOriginals, anyone?

My three favourite Christmas websites

'Tis the season1) 'Tis The Season: "It may be the season to be jolly, but this time of year is also traditionally fraught with hazards involving etiquette, botulism, family and social trauma, economic depression and all sorts of other miseries. Sisters Meg and Anna (not in the nun sense of the word - they're actually related) answer your holiday questions and help you sail through the festive period relatively painlessly."

Everything you ever wanted to know about Advent, trees, shopping, holidays, religion, presents, turkey, cold, cards, lights, spending, pudding, music, pantomime, mistletoe, snow, carols, giving, receiving, stockings, etc. A dead impressive (and funny) collection of writings on what Christmas is really all about.

2) The Advent calendar at harpold.com. A masterpiece of design and content - each day "a happy Christmas memory, a holiday link and something special". And some of those somethings are special. Festive recipes, traditions, decorations and some stunning animations. Check out today's snowfall, for example, these candles, these Christmas lights or this snowman.

3) The Renaissance-style Advent calendar at ILoveFizzyPop. There are far too many advent calendars around these days which have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. Most of these have pictures of Gareth Gates, Bob The Builder or Barbie on the front, with tiny tasteless slabs of chocolate inside. At last, here's an online calendar which actually remembers the true meaning of Christmas - shepherds, angels, mangers, wise men, Mary, Joseph and all - and then shamelessly subverts the lot of it. My favourite window is definitely December 13 - not that I remember there being any cheese in the original Christmas story.

3 days to ChristmasV is for Virgin?

 Saturday, December 21, 2002

The End Of The World Is Nigh

Aliens are on their way, the Second Coming is imminent, the Age of Aquarius is dawning, the planets are aligning, and we're all going to die. Sorry to put a damper on your Christmas celebrations, but the end of the world is due, exactly ten years from today, on 21st December 2012.

All these predictions stem from the Mayan calendar, the timekeeping system of an ancient central American civilisation. The Mayan Long Count, as it's called, is a calendar consisting of 5 repeating cycles. In the Mayan calendar there were 20 kin (days) in a uinal, 18 uinals in a tun, 20 tun in a katun and 20 katun in a baktun. I do hope you're following this closely. According to Mayan chronology, the present age started on 12 August 3114 BC and is due to end exactly 13 baktun (5125 years) later on 21 December 2012 - a date otherwise known as

As well as being the last date of the Mayan Grand Cycle, 21st December 2012 is also the date of the Winter Solstice, and the exact date (stay awake at the back there) of an extremely close conjunction of the winter solstice sun with the crossing point of Galactic Equator and the ecliptic. In other words, in 2012 the plane of our Solar System will line up exactly with the plane of the Milky Way. This cycle has taken 26,000 years to complete.

On this date the Earth as we know it is to be destroyed by catastrophic earthquakes. Or maybe the Earth's magnetic poles will reverse. Or maybe there'll be a hyperspatial breakthrough. Or maybe we'll all ascend to Heaven. Or maybe every living thing on Earth will be translated into the 6th dimension. Or maybe our planet will be hit by The Third Comet. Or maybe the Solar System will enter a top secret photon belt. Or maybe we're shifting from an ego-based civilization to Gaian consciousness. Or maybe a birthing planet vibrating at a low tone is preparing itself to receive the chosen few. Or maybe we're all metamorphing into galactic humans. It all depends on which lunatic website you read.

As The End approaches in 2012, apparently we will all start to suffer from migraine headaches, tiredness, and flu like symptoms, although heaven knows how we'll be able to distinguish this from the usual excesses of the Christmas party season. Our DNA will be re-programmed, our eyes will become cat-like in order to adjust to the new atmosphere and light, and all newly born children will probably be telepathic at birth. It's clearly not all bad news, then.

Do enjoy the next ten years while you can though, because The End is nigh. It must be true, even the last ever episode of the X Files said so. See you in the 6th dimension then...

Winter solstice sunset times: 2:57 lerwick, 3:15 kirkwall, 3:27 aberdeen, 3:33 inverness, 3:39 edinburgh, 3:40 newcastle, 3:44 glasgow, 3:44 norwich, 3:46 leeds, 3:51 manchester, 3:52 dover, 3:54 london, 3:55 liverpool, 3:55 birmingham, 3:57 brighton, 3:59 belfast, 4:03 bristol, 4:06 cardiff, 4:15 plymouth, 4:23 lands end.

4 days to ChristmasU is for Unprepared

 Friday, December 20, 2002

Carols Ancient and Modern (6-20)

Away in a cardboard box, no roof for a bed.
Factories from the realms of GB, fling your filth o'er all the earth.
Good England men rejoice, Sven-Goran Eriksson's in charge.
How far is it to Baghdad? Not very far in a jet fighter.
I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas - that's global warming for you.
I saw three ships come sailing in - and that's navy cuts for you.
It came upon the wireless clear, that Ketchup song of old.
Jingle tills, jingle tills, credit cards all the way.
O come Tory faithful, disheartened and defeated.
O little town of Birmingham, how grim we see thee lie.
Once in loyal Belfast city, stood some gunmen head-to-head.
See amid the wrong kind of snow, Connex trains are running slow.
Silent night, warehouse site, police have banned the rave tonight.
The first Noel the public did see, was a small bearded DJ on evening TV.
While shepherds watched their clones by night.

5 days to ChristmasT is for 24 days

 Thursday, December 19, 2002

Thank goodness for 24 hour supermarkets located within walking distance of your house that sell sheets of white card. So, now, at last, that's all my Christmas cards printed out. If you're on my list, you'll be glad to hear that they're in the post...

Carols Ancient and Modern (5)

We three princes of Buckingham are,
On the civil list we travel afar,
We love horses and divorces
And one of us Camilla.

    O, year of blunder, year of blight,
    Year of royal death and fright,
    Windsor's bleeding, butlers feeding,
    End of monarchy in sight.

6 days to ChristmasS is for Santa

 Wednesday, December 18, 2002

What class are you this Christmas?

Where do you buy most of your Christmas presents?
(a) At Harrods, on account.
(b) At John Lewis, by Barclaycard.
(c) At Spar, when the shopkeeper's not looking.

How have you decorated your house?
(a) Great-grandfather planted fifty fir trees round the estate 100 years ago.
(b) A tasteful holly wreath on the door and lots of candles in the window.
(c) Flashing reindeer, a luminous Santa and 150 coloured lights on the roof.

How many people are you spending Christmas Day with?
(a) 17 - although we may give the butler the afternoon off.
(b) Just the 2 of us - we've paid extra to keep the kids on at boarding school this year.
(c) 17 - that's 7 children, 3 ex-wives, 5 grannies and 2 social workers.

What are you planning to cook for Christmas lunch?
(a) Whatever we go out and shoot in the morning.
(b) Everything that Delia tells us to.
(c) Pizza and chips.

What will you be watching on Christmas Day?
(a) The waves lapping against the beach in the Algarve.
(b) Just the Queen's Speech, then we'll turn the television off and play charades instead.
(c) Only Fools And Horses, plus whatever's on ITV for the rest of the evening.

Check your answers
Mostly (a)s - upper class
Mostly (b)s - middle class
Mostly (c)s - dead common

one week to ChristmasR is for Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

 Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Cheers? A large amount of alcohol gets drunk at Christmas. A large number of people get drunk at Christmas too. So, just in case you're tempted to drink far too much this Christmas party season, let these three sites be a warning to you...
It's Your Round

Carols Ancient and Modern (4)

Hark the single mothers sing,
Why blame us for everything?
Hell on earth and rampant crime,
Vice and sin, moral decline.
Our children aren't evil buggers,
Petty thieves or violent muggers.
With the establishment host proclaim,
Absent fathers are to blame.

    Hark the single mothers sing
    Why blame us for everything?

8 days to ChristmasQ is for Queen's speech

 Monday, December 16, 2002

Clue 1: G-BHXU + G-SPEY

Clue 2: One of Channel 4's first big ratings successes, it ran for seven years and was one of my favourite TV programmes of the 1980s.

Clue 3: Breathed new life into the career of an old BBC newsreader and a TV-AM weathergirl.

Clue 4: Part game-show, part geography lesson, but mostly close-up shots of Rice's Bottom viewed from a chopper.

Clue 5: And tonight, after a twelve-and-a-half year gap, Treasure Hunt is back on our TV screens. It's swapped channels (BBC2, 6pm, every night this week). It's swapped presenters (Dermot Murnaghan replaces Kenneth Kendall and Suzi Perry replaces Anneka Rice). It's got an updated theme tune (big mistake, the original version was a classic and the new version so isn't). But, having watched tonight's relaunch, the programme itself is still a winner. One of my friends is on the production team, which must explain some of its success. And I shall be sat here with my map of Kent every night this week, willing the contestants on to the final clue...

Stop the clock!

McUpdate: A month ago there was a plot of wasteground at the bottom of my road beside the Bow Flyover. Three weeks ago a drive-in McDonalds suddenly sprang up on the site. Today they're serving burgers to the three customers who've noticed the restaurant has just opened. Oh, and potato wedges are back - in which case they may have a fourth customer very soon.

9 days to ChristmasP is for Pudding

 Sunday, December 15, 2002

Carols Ancient and Modern (3)

Pack the malls with Sunday shoppers
    fa la la la la, la la la la
Supermarkets fill their coffers
    fa la la la la, la la la la
Push we now our brimming trolley
    fa la la, la la la, la la la
Spending lots of lovely lolly
    fa la la la la, la la la la.

Pews emptied by Sunday shopping
    fa la la la la, la la la la
Congregations dwindling, dropping
    fa la la la la
No respect for spire and steeple
    fa la la
The wrong aisles are full of people

10 days to ChristmasO is for Little Town of Bethlehem

 Saturday, December 14, 2002

Walking on the Moon

The Apollo space mission remains one of mankind's greatest ever achievements, along with the decoding of human DNA and designing milk cartons that open without splurting everywhere. The project required an enormous amount of time, an enormous amount of money and and revolutionary scientific expertise, all to get twelve men to the Moon and back. Even more impressively, the Americans managed all of this back in an age when computers were the size of wardrobes and the Ronco Buttonneer was cutting edge technology. Today your mobile phone probably contains more processing power than all of Neil Armstrong's onboard computers put together, although his Lunar Lander game was rather more realistic. The blurry black and white TV broadcasts sent back from the Moon made a huge impact on all of us alive at the time, however young we were, showing us our place in the universe and starting a global ecological awareness that still lives today. Perhaps even more importantly, the Apollo missions also brought us non-stick teflon saucepans.

I find it hard to believe, but today is exactly 30 years since the last man walked on the Moon. His name was Eugene Cernan (what is it about American names...?), and he was the twelfth and final man to walk on the lunar surface. And, in the 30 years since Apollo 17 blasted off from the Moon on 14 December 1972, not one manned space mission has been back.

Back in the fifties and sixties, science fiction portrayed rocket trips to the moon as part of our bright technological future. There would be lunar bases, settlers emigrating to the new frontier and the Moon would be our stepping-stone into space. We all thought that, by the year 2000, space travel would be commonplace and the Moon would be an everyday destination. It hasn't happened. We have managed a few space stations orbiting the Earth, the odd deep space probe and the Space Shuttle, although none of that ever caught the public imagination in the same way as Apollo. There has been no political will to return to the Moon, or maybe it's just that nobody's been willing to pour huge amounts of money into a project with no immediate profit to be made. It's a pity, because if we could send a lump of aluminium powered by a Sinclair ZX81 to the Moon thirty years ago, just think what we could do today.

I hope that another lunar mission is planned before the next thirty years is up. It would be great to watch real astronauts on the Moon again, rather than just another re-run of Star Trek. Our future is out there in space, but at the moment our future seems a very long way off. And who knows, maybe society's advanced enough since 1972 to send a woman next time.

11 days to ChristmasN is for Naughty or Nice?

 Friday, December 13, 2002

Word of the day: Triskaidekaphobia
Fact of the day: The 13th is more likely to be a Friday than any other day of the week.
Conspiracy theory of the day: The Apollo 13 mission was launched on April 11, 1970 (4+11+70 = 85, which when added together comes to 13) from Pad 39 (three times 13) at 13:13 local time, and was struck by an explosion on April 13.
Anagram of the day: eleven plus two = twelve plus one

five non-festive links
Europe 1900-2002: it's probably the best history lesson I've seen all year, unless you're German.
Googol Viewer: now there's a slideshow of your search results, surely the ultimate tool for lazy surfers.
Combovers: a warning to testosterone-afflicted males - be careful that you don't end up this way.
Binary clock: goodness knows why anyone would want a binary clock, but it is pretty all the same.
I have two dogs: try to pull two matching pooches - maybe web designers have too much spare time.

Windows R(eally)G(ood): How many hours of your life has Bill Gates wasted? It's probably days. Two minutes to log on... one minute to log off... three minutes thumping the keyboard when a really important document you're writing suddenly freezes... two hours to rewrite the aforementioned important document from scratch after you had to reboot... fifteen seconds to dismiss the box that asks if you want to send an error report to Microsoft telling them how rubbish their program has been... that sort of thing, repeated every single day of your computer's life. (Hmm, while writing that last sentence, my computer did indeed freeze up, everything crashed, I got to 'Not send' thirteen error reports and then had to reboot - maybe my PC noticed what I was writing...) If all this system-crashing sounds depressingly familiar, you should definitely spend a more productive ten minutes of your life exploring Windows RG, the alternative desktop interface. it'll make you smile and who knows, it may even work better than the real thing.    (via bitful)

12 days to ChristmasM is for Misery

 Thursday, December 12, 2002

Carols Ancient and Modern (2)

Ding dong Mario on high,
In bedrooms boys are playing,
Zap pow, kill and maim and die,
Their brain cells are decaying,
    Sony and Nintendo

        Pray we dutifully buy,
        Your products so inflated,
        Games at fifty quid a time,
        All vastly overrated.
            Sony and Nintendo

Records, board games, sport and toys,
Their decline now is endless,
Whole generation of boys,
Unsociable and friendless.
    Sony and Nintendo

        Spin a hedgehog, crash a car,
        Street Fighter, Terminator,
        All too violent by far,
        Society pays later.
            Sony and Nintendo

13 days to ChristmasNo L

 Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Night Boat To Woolwich

I can't believe it's taken this long, but tonight I attended my first ever office Christmas party. Just to be a bit different we hired a big boat from Westminster Pier, and 100 of us headed off down the Thames at dusk downriver past Greenwich. We were all trapped on board for a full four hours so that nobody could even consider sneaking off home early, and the view of London would have been absolutely spectacular had the windows not steamed up the minute we all got on board.

All the traditional features of the office Christmas party were present, except for the photocopier and the stationery cupboard. Copious drinks were ordered from the bar, everyone attempted to sing along to Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody, and someone grabbed the ship's mop and pretended to use it as a guitar. There was something especially surreal about sailing round the Thames Flood Barrier with the Ketchup Song blaring out. However, it was on the dance floor that work colleagues suddenly started to demonstrate uncharacteristic characteristics. Supposedly straight-laced revellers suddenly proved they had rhythm, one quiet bloke was transformed by a couple of bottles of Smirnoff Ice into a jiving disco queen, and there were just a few physical hints that certain people might just fancy you rather more than you could ever fancy them. I'm sure there's also an unwritten rule that says that bosses can't dance. Instead they move around between the various groups on the dance floor, sway vaguely from side to side, and smile broadly with a look that attempts to say 'See, I'm really just like you" but fails utterly.

It was a memorable first office Christmas party, and suprisingly enjoyable. But there were clearly some people who'd done Christmas parties before, because they took a camera with them. Sigh. I guess we should all await the blackmail photos in the office email system tomorrow...

two weeks to ChristmasK is for Kings

 Tuesday, December 10, 2002

192: So, the old Directory Enquiries number is being phased out. From today the BT monopoly is over and there are a whole load of new competitors, all hoping we'll ring them instead when we're stuck for a telephone number. All the new Directory Enquiries numbers are six-figures long and start with 118. See how catchy they all are...

BT has 118 500 (25p + 30p per minute), British Gas has 118 511 (£1.50 per minute), Orange has 118 000 (49p + 20p per minute), One Tel has 118 111 (35p), Telegate has 118 866 (25p + 20p per minute) and The Number UK Ltd has 118 118 (49p + 9p per minute).

Now, I challenge you to cover up the screen and see if you can remember any of those numbers, or which one is the cheapest for an 80-second phone call. See? So, come August when we can't remember any of these new numbers for Directory Enquiries, what number do we ring up to find out?

Carols Ancient and Modern (1)

In the bleak midwinter,
    Pensioners did freeze;
Hands were cold as iron,
    Chests began to wheeze;
Fear the rising price of fuel;
    Keep the heat down low;
Victorian conditions,
    Not so long ago.

15 days to ChristmasJ is for Jesus

 Monday, December 09, 2002

good news: We got Oxford United in the next round.
bad news: Beckham's team won at the weekend.
good news: This site just had its 2000th visitor.
bad news: My 2000th visitor lives in Melbourne.
good news: I've got tickets for The Streets.
bad news: Gareth Gates won R-R-Record Of The Year.
good news: I'm going on holiday after Christmas.
bad news: I'm flying with United.

16 days to ChristmasI is for Illuminations

 Sunday, December 08, 2002

Coming forth

I know it's still an hour until they announce the result, but I'd like to congratulate Paula Radcliffe on winning the BBC Sports Personaility of the year award. I've been watching Paula's career for many years, mainly because she used to go to my school. Well, she did when she was thirteen, and then she came back to present the prizes at sports day once. This was before she was famous, back when she kept coming fourth in every race she ran and we all wondered if she'd ever achieve athletic greatness. Back then Paula used to jog past me at 7 in the morning on her busy training schedule round an obscure North Bedfordshire village. Then in April this year she ran past me at Canary Wharf, a mile from my new home, on her way to storming the London Marathon. A world record in the Chicago marathon followed, and now Paula's unique nodding style is recognised by millions worldwide. Congratulations Paula, at last you have the world at your feet.

other listings magazines are availableIt must be Christmas, because the double issue Radio Times is now out. Yes, all the usual classic programmes are on at some point over the festive period. To save you buying a copy, here's when they're on:

The Good Life: Margot refuses to wear the party hat Tom made from a copy of the Daily Mirror (BBC2 Mon 23 Dec 8:30pm)
The League of Gentlemen: Three totally twisted festive tales from Royston Vasey (BBC2 Mon 23 Dec 11:30pm)
Blue Peter: Lighting the advent coathanger and singing carols round the Christmas tree (BBC1 Tue 24 Dec 2:00pm)
The Wizard of Oz: The classic fantasy, sure to be remembered long after Harry Potter is forgotten (TCM Tue 24 Dec 3:00pm)
The Snowman: Aled Jones reports back on his hallucinogenic trip to the North Pole (C4 Tue 24 Dec 3:10pm)
The Sound Of Music: Definitely the most fun to be had in leather jackboots and a wimple (Sky Movies Tue 24 Dec 4:00pm)
White Christmas: Bing Crosby sings that song, and lots of other very forgettable ones (BBC2 Tue 24 Dec 6:10pm)
Morecambe and Wise: The classic 1973 show, probably featuring Glenda Jackson (BBC1 Wed 25 Dec 11:15am)
It's a Wonderful Life: Heart-warming 1946 film to cheer up the suicidal this Christmas (BBC2 Wed 25 Dec 5:50pm)
Only Fools And Horses: Dodgy dealings from the back of a Robin Reliant in South London (BBC1 Wed 25 Dec 9:40pm)
Mary Poppins: No-nonsense childcare advice, plus some totally unconvincing Cockney accents (ITV1 Thur 26 Dec 5:25pm)
Some Like It Hot: Marilyn Monroe is completely outdressed by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon (ITV1 Fri 27 Dec 12:15am)
The Great Escape: The other classic wartime drama, not the one where all the nuns sing a lot (ITV1 Fri 27 Dec 1:50pm)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Thankfully Michael Ball is nowhere to be seen. Truly scrumptious. (BBC1 Sat 28 Dec 1:50pm)
Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em: Frank spends most of baby Jessica's first Christmas on a church roof (BBC2 Sat 28 Dec 6:15pm)

17 days to ChristmasH is for harpold.com

 Saturday, December 07, 2002


It's only been out in the shops for just a month, but it's already the publishing sensation of the year. It's Schott's Original Miscellany, 160pp, £9.99, published by Bloomsbury.

Schott's is a miscellany of essential information, uncommon knowledge and vital irrelevance. It includes the following:
How to fight a duel, the thirteen principles of witchcraft, the structure of military hierarchy, all of the clothing care symbols, a list of the countries where you drive on the left, useful words in Yiddish, a nursery rhyme about sneezing, the correct scoring at conkers, the supplier of bagpipes to the Queen, public schoolboy slang, iceberg sizes, the brutal methods of murder encountered by Miss Marple, wedding superstitions, how to wrap a sari, bed sizes, unusual deaths of Burmese monarchs, compound plurals (eg knickerbockers glory), the classification of clouds, words where the vowels are listed in alphabetical order, and the cockney alphabet.

The idea for the book came from last year's home-made Christmas cards Ben Schott sent to his friends. These were no ordinary cards but consisted of a little booklet containing all of the essential information he supposed that one needed to get through life, but could never find. Friends loved it and the book was subsequently snapped up by Bloomsbury and published on November 4. Last Tuesday evening, its amazon.co.uk sales ranking was 119. On Wednesday evening it was 42, on Thursday 29, and today it's the 6th best selling book in the country.

The book's popularity is all the more remarkable since it had up until this week received next to no press publicity. Word of mouth has launched it this far, and now the media are now catching up. Danny Baker on BBC Radio London has raved about it (interview with Ben here), and the Guardian gave it the lead article in yesterday's pullout G2 section. Desperate Christmas shoppers are gradually working out that this book is the perfect solution to their present-buying problems, so expect to be sent at least five copies in three weeks time.

This is viral marketing at its best, and the book is a sudden but well-deserved success. Two follow-ups are already planned. And, I must say, slipping a little booklet into the Christmas cards you send this year sounds like an excellent idea to me...

18 days to ChristmasG is for Gifts

 Friday, December 06, 2002

Now here's an original idea for a webpage. Oneword gives you 60 seconds to write about a random word that appears at the top of the screen. You write it, it's posted on the site, and then you can read what everyone else has written. It's surprising what people think of when the time pressure is on, and some of it is even worth reading... This week's word is one:

how cats count
one, one more than one, one more that one more than one. one more than one more than one more than one. one more than one more than one more than one more than one.
this is why cats havnt invaded poland but hitler has.

One is what we all are.
One is at the centre.
We can have more than one there, but always there's just one.
Just one.

one is the loneliest number that you ever knew. to me it brings up memories of walking underneath a tree on my way to school as a child in seattle washington. there was a footpath along the ride and when you walked off to the edge by the fence a giant tree created a great canopy for you to pass through. for some reason this always made me feel alone, yet at one with the rest of the world

one time i said i love you to a someone and meant it.
one time i said something i wish i hadn't.
one time i totalled my car.
one time i felt without thinking.
one time i listened without hearing.
one time i saw without eyes.

19 days to ChristmasF is for Flakes

 Thursday, December 05, 2002

Weather forecast

Killer smog, continuing over London for the next 4 days.

50 years ago today, London was beset by its worst ever atmospheric pollution. An anticyclone settled over London, the wind dropped, the air grew damp and a thick fog began to form. In many parts of the capital it became impossible for pedestrians to find their way at night, and in the Isle of Dogs the visibility was at times nil. High concentrations of smoke and sulphur dioxide in the air caused many Londoners to suffer respiratory or cardiac problems, and perhaps as many as 12000 deaths eventually followed. It was reported that a number of cattle at Smithfield Market died of asphyxiation, and a performance at the Sadler's Wells Theatre had to be suspended when fog in the auditorium made conditions intolerable. In response to the Great London Smog, the Government passed its first Clean Air Act in 1956 which regulated what could be burned in houses and created smoke-free zones.

50 years later, in spite of an unjustified international reputation, London is now only rarely beset by fog. There may still be pollution in the air, but it's of a very different kind. Modern pollutants from vehicle exhausts include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, benzines and aldehydes. They are less visible than the pollutants of yesteryear but are equally toxic, causing eye irritation, asthma and bronchial complaints. Perhaps we'd all do better to campaign against existing air pollution rather than worry about the vague threat of a terrorist gas attack on the tube.

txt poetry

the guardian competition winner
[I left my pictur on th ground wher u walk
so that somday if th sun was jst right
& th rain didnt wash me awa
u might c me out of th corner of yr i & pic me up]

my favourite runner up
One small vibration in my hand.
One giant leap in my heart.]

20 days to ChristmasE is for Christmas Eve

 Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Full Moon... Half Moon... Total Eclipse

As I write, a total eclipse of the Sun is speeding across the Indian Ocean. This magnificent natural spectacle has just crossed Africa in half an hour flat, and is heading for sunset on the southern coast of Australia. The path of the eclipse is no more than 55 miles wide, and the eclipse only just lasts for two minutes at its maximum extent, except you'd have to be in a boat off Madagascar to see that.

A total eclipse of the Sun is as rare as it is spectacular. On average, a total solar eclipse only happens about twice in three years, and you actually have to be in the right place at the right time in order to see it. For a given spot on the Earth a total solar eclipse is only visible about every 360 years on the average, although they're distributed so randomly that a given spot might not see a total eclipse for centuries, or might see two within a few years. There's a point on the west coast of Angola that's just been eclipsed this morning and was also in the path of the last total eclipse 18 months ago. However, the USA isn't due to see another total eclipse until 21 August 2017, and mainland Europe has 24 years to wait, and even then only across a bit of Spain. As for the next total eclipse visble from mainland Britain, alas that isn't due until 23 September 2090, which means that most of us alive today will have been eclipsed before the Sun is.

I went to Cornwall to visit Britain's last total solar eclipse on 11 August 1999. I'd been looking forward to it for years and I was really glad to have the opportunity to be there, in the path of the solar shadow. Every morning of eclipse week the sun peeked through the clouds at ten past eleven, except on the one day when it really mattered. At the appointed time on Wednesday the clouds suddenly got very dark, and then two minutes later they suddenly got very grey again. It wasn't quite what any of us there had hoped for. In fact it was rather like having to wait twenty years to visit a sweet shop, only to get there and find it closed. It was an eye-opening experience alright, but the whole trip was somewhat of a disappointment. Ah well, one day I plan to be in the right place at the right time.

21 days to ChristmasD is for Decorations

 Tuesday, December 03, 2002


Aarika writes from the US: So I typed "diamond geezer" into Google and ended up at your weblog. She's right, you know. I appear to be the top result if you do a Google search for that particular phrase. Wow! I'm also 11th, 12th and 16th, which isn't bad after less than three months in existence.

Aarika continues: But...still...what's a diamond geezer? Any information would be greatly appreciated. Well Aarika, it's an East London sort of a phrase, as you might expect. Your average Cockney might say that a diamond geezer was a reliable person, the salt of the earth, a decent bloke, a real gem. Others might say he was the sort of person you could buy a used car from without being sold a ringer. And others... well, for further information on other diamond geezers online check out my blog post from 8th October.

However, there is one perfect website to visit in order to answer your question, called Googlism. You type in a name (go on, try yours, everyone does) and the site searches Google to find out what the world thinks of you. And, for diamond geezer, the answer is apparently as follows:

• diamond geezer is a quins supporter that wears bright trousers
• diamond geezer is your personal diamond expert
• diamond geezer is the "original junglist" of the crew specializing in old skool & ragga jungle as well as playing the best in drum & bass
• diamond geezer is a strange
• diamond geezer is bluesy psych
• diamond geezer is not a prolific goalscorer
• diamond geezer is someone you will encounter a little later in your travels
• diamond geezer is in the hut across from that
• diamond geezer is a girl's best friend
• diamond geezer is all about
• diamond geezer is 'enery
• diamond geezer is big

So Aarika, I'm glad you stumbled upon my page and that you continue to read and enjoy. Thank you for your kind comments. And that 6th comment sums up a diamond geezer best, as I'm sure those who know me will agree.

Happy HannukahC is for Candles

 Monday, December 02, 2002

Popstars - the Rivals

I'm sorry, but I can see no redeeming features whatsoever in this programme. The music is bland, the singers are putty, the pundits are smug, the steady drip of 'news' is too carefully co-ordinated, and the Christmas number 1 is going to be soul-less drivel. I even met the producer of the TV show the other weekend. Admittedly only the producer of the ITV2 show, but even he couldn't convince me of the programme's worth. In fact he seemed a little put-out when I said I'd never voted for any of the contestants on the show. I had hoped I didn't look that vacant in public.

What worries me most about the whole Pop Stars / Fame Academy phenomenon is the prominence now being given by the music industry to young, supposedly good-looking singers, pre-packaged and manufactured, endlessly murdering cover versions of sub-karaoke classics. Even when someone does come up with an 'original' song it still just sounds like something Gary Barlow or Shania Twain would have knocked up on an off-day. Whatever happened to music with soul, music with a cutting edge, music with just a spark of originality? I could go to a wedding reception and hear something more exciting than this.

Now, I will confess that I think Hear'Say's Pure and Simple was a classic record, and that Darius's Colourblind was unexpectedly good, but most of the turgid pap being produced by these manufactured artists is insipid, uninspired and over-safe. I have a nasty suspicion that the musical tastes of 17-year-olds and 70-year-olds are rapidly converging.

Fifty years since the pop charts began, we're in danger of returning to the age of the big crooning ballad. I blame Robson and Jerome for starting the revival myself, with Simon Cowell as puppeteer. Now Gareth Gates is surely the anti-christ of original music, Westlife are the kings of musical saccharine, and even Robbie Williams is selling out to American tastes. Thankfully there are still some artists out there who can put a musical tingle down my spine, but it sure as hell isn't this lot.

One True Voice: Oh, very clever. Don't know if you've noticed, but this group's name appears to have been chosen because it shortens to 1TV. Is ITV so concerned about its ratings slide that it needs to resort to this kind of subliminal advertising?

Girls Aloud: Would have been much more appropriate for the girls' band to be called Girls Banned, I reckon.

23 days to ChristmasB is for Bauble

 Sunday, December 01, 2002

protect and surviveDecember 1st is World AIDS Day, the annual reminder that some problems in life never go away. Less than twenty years ago HIV was unheard of, but worldwide 40 million people are now infected with the virus, and 8000 people die every day.

A recent report published by the Department of Health shows that there were an estimated 41,000 adults living with HIV in the UK at the end of 2001, and 2002 is set to see a 25% increase in new diagnoses. Back in the mid 1980s a lot of media attention was given to HIV, including that dreadful iceberg TV ad, but it's now been too long since someone last demonstrated how to put a condom over a cucumber on daytime TV. It seems that many people, particularly young people, have forgotten that the problem exists, or else they think that if Mark Fowler hasn't died from it yet then there must be a cure. Fraid not.

Be careful out there.

24 days to ChristmasA is for Advent

The Clubbing-English Bilingual Phrasebook

Shall we go out to the nightclub? = Do you want to stand packed into a dark, sweaty, loud room for six hours?
Isn't there an interesting crowd here tonight? = Of course, normally I'd cross the road to avoid these people.
Two cans of lager and two bottles of water? That'll be £13 please = Just smile and pay up, you've been conned.
All I can see is a forest of Celtic tattoos = You're five foot one tall and standing in the middle of the dancefloor.
My head is spinning, my brain is flashing and I love all of you = That wasn't an aspirin you swallowed earlier.
I appear to be dancing to an uplifting remix of an old Bryan Adams tune = Your musical taste has temporarily vanished.
I'm sorry, I can't hear a word you're saying = You've been standing too near the speakers and will be buzzing til Tuesday.
My eyes are rolling, my teeth are grinding down to stumps and I can't sleep = See, I told you it wasn't an aspirin.
Ugh, this morning all my clothes smell of cigarette smoke = You really did go out last night after all, it wasn't a dream.
I'm posting this at 7am on a Sunday morning without spelling mistakes = You didn't really partake in much of the above.

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jack of diamonds
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