diamond geezer

 Friday, January 31, 2003

The best of January

Tacky TV programme of the month: Tough competition between Crossroads and Footballers' Wives, but the neanderthal team members of Earls Park Football Club and their dysfunctional spouses get to run the lap of honour. Kidnapping, murder, adultery, cocaine, more adultery, designer suits, christenings and not a football match in sight. Just a suspiciously high number of shower scenes. Unmissable.

Football result of the month: Farnborough 1, Arsenal 5. It may have been a walkover, but better that than to be walked over. And the FA Cup, the double and the treble are still in sight.

Film of the month: 1st place to Lord of the Rings - the Two Towers. OK, so the film may just one big battle with a lot of wandering around beforehand, but brilliantly done, especially Sméagol. However, that audience...
2nd place to Star Trek - Nemesis. The cast are getting on a bit, so probably just as well there wasn't too much running around to do. Moral paradoxes tend to be anaerobic like that, I find.
3rd place to Chicago. Expertly done, the rest of audience adored it, and I bet it wins awards and sells millions on DVD, but I could live without ever seeing it again.

Book of the month: Flood by Richard Doyle. As reviewed here earlier in the month. You'll be glad to know that the story has a happy ending, with only several thousand Londoners drowning horribly in the rising floodwaters as a surge tide invades the capital. At least it's only fiction, for which it seems we've been extremely lucky for the last fifty years. Exactly fifty years ago today, as it happens.

Singles of the week:
w/b January 6th: "Electric Six: Danger, High Voltage" (number 2) - A leftfield smash, weird but utterly brilliant, playing live in London tonight, and have you seen that video?
w/b January 13th: "Layo & Bushwacka: Love Story" (number 8) - Some dance tracks work and some don't. This one does. Third time it's been released, and third time lucky.
w/b January 20th: "Lemon Jelly: Nice weather for ducks" (number 16) - The standout track from the Lost Horizons album. I can imagine this being the theme to a school's radio programme back in the 1970s. Would have made country dancing more bearable anyway.
w/b January 27th: "t.A.T.u: All the things she said" (number 1?) - Lesbian teenage sisters? It's probably just (very successful) hype, but Trevor Horn has worked his epic magic again and this is great.

Album of the month: This category is still suspended until at least February. Because.

Gig of the month: Only been to the one this month, so The Cling it is. Their best live performance yet, and I hope the record company A&R men in the audience finally did the decent thing and signed them up. One day, boys, one day...

Musical discovery of the month: Playgirl by Ladytron. If you've ever been to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco you'll know that it's a hellhole tourist tackfest of souvenir shops and rip-off restaurants. However, whilst down there buying a souvenir mug in the 'After The Quake' tourist shop I heard this great unknown track over the loudspeakers, and I knew I had to download the mp3 as soon as I got home. An important message to record companies - if you don't want us to track down your best tunes and download free music over the internet, don't allow your artists to sing the song title 28 times in four minutes. However, in this case I'm delighted that's exactly what Ladytron did. Sadly the mug cracked the minute I got it home and poured hot water into it. Perfect souvenir of an earthquake-prone city.

The 7am puzzle (10): What's the eighth letter in this list? F, S, T, F, F, S, S, ?

 Thursday, January 30, 2003

The 7pm puzzle: What comes next? 55, 19, 38, 1, 1, 242, 38, 19, 55, 1, 55, 38, 242, 1, ...

Answer: I don't know. After standing around at a bus stop in New Oxford Street freezing to death for twenty minutes waiting for a 25, I couldn't be bothered to wait any longer... so I wandered off in the direction of the nearest eastbound tube station, which was a mile away due to the general travel chaos and the Central Line still being shut down, so I got even colder, so I guess what comes next is pneumonia.

The not-7:00 puzzle (9): What time is it now? The number of minutes is four times the number of hours. In quarter of an hour the number of minutes will be three times the number of hours. (bonus points if you can post your answer at the right time!)

 Wednesday, January 29, 2003

What happened next?

24/01/03 Bloggies: "It's time for the annual Bloggies awards, the international online January vote-fest to pick the world's best blogs in 30 categories."
Blimey, the intrigue! It seems that the Bloggies nominations were not all that they seemed... or rather that it was too easy to get nominated if you lived in Dallas. I blame Cliff Barnes myself.

16/12/02 McBurgers: "Three weeks ago a drive-in McDonalds suddenly sprang up at the bottom of my road. Today they're serving burgers to the three customers who've noticed the restaurant has just opened."
I have the misfortune to live exactly one burger's distance away from our new McDonalds. The pavement outside my house is therefore now littered with Big Mac wrappers, squashed french fries and discarded brown paper bags. McDonalds have been community-minded and put litter bins right outside their restaurant, except that nobody walking home has finished their burger by that point in their journey. The council have woken up and installed another new litter bin further up the road, but that's permanently full and most people walking home don't get that far while they're still eating. So, please, could someone stick a litter bin somewhere inbetween, like outside my house, just so that I don't have to walk round a spreading pool of strawberry milk shake every morning?

16/12/02 Treasure Hunt: "Tonight, after a twelve-and-a-half year gap, Treasure Hunt is back on our TV screens."
More good news! The week-long revival of this excellent show was a success, so BBC2 want to make a new series. Particularly good news if you work on the show, eh Jez? And should you want to be a contestant, or rather a pair of contestants, just send an email here.

10/01/03 Going Underground: "My local station was 100 years old last year, and is rather less glamorous. It would be good to think that one day the politicians will stop arguing about how the tube is funded and just get on with improving the whole system so it actually works."
They've finally decided to spend some money on improving conditions at my local station. They could have added another four seats on the platform, doubling the number available. They could have updated the 'next train' indicator so it tells us how many fictional minutes we have to wait for the next train. They could have staffed the ticket office so it's actually open occasionally. But no. Instead they've spent our money making room for 54 posters to be put up on the stairs, and they've filled every single one of these 54 spaces with the same advert advising us to stand on the right on escalators. Which would be great except that there are no escalators at my local station, nor are there any for at least two miles in either direction. In my humble opinion it would have been rather more useful to put up a poster saying 'If you can read this you're walking down the stairs too slowly - please get out of my way, I have a train to catch'.

28/01/03 Grange Hill: "It must be Britain's most well known comprehensive school, it's 25 years old this year, and it's back on our screens tonight."
Ah, it seems we do all remember Tucker and friends. You can read my review of the new series here.

The 9pm-last-night puzzle (courtesy of Ian):
(8i) Name two artists who've covered David Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World.
(8ii) Place these four David Bowie 1980s hits in order, highest chart position first - a) Absolute Beginners, b) Cat People, c) Let's Dance, d) Blue Jean
(8iii) What fifteen words follow: "Well he trotted back to my house and he sat beside the telly with his tiny hands on his tummy chuckling away laughing all day. I ought to report you to the Gnome office....."?

 Tuesday, January 28, 2003

happy 25th birthdayGrange Hill

It must be Britain's most well known comprehensive school, it's 25 years old this year, and it's back on our screens tonight. It's Grange Hill, and it's also one of my favourite TV programmes. I remember the first episode, I've set my video for the latest episode, and I reckon I've watched virtually all of the 500 or so episodes inbetween. Admittedly it's not the most realistic TV show ever to be screened - any school with that many dysfunctional staff, let alone pupils, would have received a vist from Her Majesty's Inspectorate many years ago (actually, in the last series there was this great Reservoir-Dogs-type scene when the grey-suited men from OFSTED walked up to the school gates...). However, a ground-breaking drama series set in an anonymous suburban comprehensive was always going to strike a chord with a viewing audience just home from school, and so it is that Grange Hill chalks up a quarter of a century tonight.

So which era of Grange Hill do you remember? Trisha and Tucker maybe, or Gonch and Zammo, or perhaps Miss Carver and Mr Hankin? Did your school dinner ladies ever serve up a glowing sausage like that one in the opening credits? Was your school bully called Gripper, Imelda or Mauler? Did you ever wish that Mrs McClusky was your headteacher, or rejoice that Mr Bronson wasn't? Was your PE teacher firm but fair like Mr Baxter, a psychopath like Mr Hicks, or unexpectedly catapulted to headteacherdom like Mr Robson? Were there really ever any children in normal schools with nicknames like Pogo, Ziggy or Tegs? Did your class ever have a bolshy school refuser like Danny Kendall, or a misunderstood kid with Asperger's like Martin Miller (you've not been watching lately, have you?). Was Cartman from South Park based on Row-land Browning, did Boy George ever learn any fashion tips from Suzanne Ross, and would Nancy Reagan ever have learnt to 'Just say No' without Zammo's heroin habit? Or are you just sitting there reading this in the States thinking 'Grange What?', doesn't he mean Degrassi Junior High?

I was forever endeared to Grange Hill in 1994 when they filmed a scene betwen Mr Robson and his illicit love interest outside the house I grew up in. This was, however, a sign that the emphasis of the show was moving dangerously away from the lives of the children towards the lives of the staff. This change, at last, is to be reversed. The latest series of Grange Hill is being produced by Phil Redmond, creator (and destroyer) of Brookside. Phil wants the show to return to concentrating more on the antics of the children, not all of whom will be suffering from stereotypical medical conditions and social inadequacy. He also arranged that the old school building be burnt to the ground at the end of last year's series (oh, that evil deputy head Mr Deveril), so the Class of 2003 will now be attending a new school set somewhere in the north-west of England and no longer anywhere up the eastern end of the Central line.

Tucker Jenkins returns tonight as the uncle of one of the new characters (probably just as well, given that he's only got days left to live on EastEnders). I'm sure this reappearance isn't just a shameless publicity stunt - Phil Redmond normally crashes a plane into a series if he really wants to make an impact in the media. But it's good to know that I won't be the only character from 1978 still attending Grange Hill tonight, 25 years on.

the gridThe 7am puzzle (7): The following five numbers fit either across or down into this grid, along with one other number. What is that other number?
121, 213, 221, 312, 313

 Monday, January 27, 2003

The Luck of the Draw?

Number twelve - Manchester United ...will play... Number eleven - Arsenal

That's probably the most exciting match the FA Cup fifth round draw could possibly have thrown up. All of which just goes to show that, when you let chance play a part, something improbable always happens. But, in a random draw of 16 teams, exactly how improbable would that be?

14 to 1 against: Arsenal to play Manchester United
29 to 1 against: Arsenal to play Manchester United away from home
239 to 1 against: Arsenal to play Manchester United away from home in the first match to be drawn
5 to 1 against: 3rd Division Rochdale to have been sure of a plum tie at home against Premiership opposition (didn't happen)
2 million to 1 against (near enough): this particular draw of 16 balls coming out of the bag in that order

Most football pundits have no idea at all about the laws of probability. This is why they'll have spent the ten minutes after this lunchtime's draw saying "How remarkable is that?", and why they'll spend the two hours before the fifth round matches trying to prove who's going to win on the basis that in past cup matches between these two teams the side wearing the red away shirt has always won by two clear goals whenever there's been an R in the month.

All that is certain is that, before May is over, 19 out of the 20 teams still in the FA Cup will have had all their hopes of glory cruelly dashed. Just one team will remain to pick up the silverware, and following today's draw it's a little less likely that'll be Arsenal. However, come February 15th, 1-5 would be perfect. And please not 6-0.

The 7am puzzle (6): How do you get from Epping to Oxford Circus?

 Sunday, January 26, 2003

Home: That was possibly the dullest Sunday ever, at least since I left Ipswich. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, nobody to see. So, instead of going out, I've stayed in and spent the whole day giving my homepage a radical update. Not this page, that page. The list of postcodes below is just an example of what you'll find on there. If your Monday at work turns out to be as dull as my Sunday at home, why not waste some time having a look?

East London postcodes

In each London postcode area the postal district nearest the centre of London is given the number 1.
The remaining districts are numbered in alphabetical order of the main delivery office in each district.

E1    Whitechapel, Stepney, 1.6km End
E2    Hoxton, Shoreditch, arty trendy stuff
E3    Bow, Bromley-by-Bow, home
E4    unsafe ecstacy dosage
E5    Hackney, Ghetto, Gunbattle
E6    Beckton, World’s End
E7    Upton Park, relegation
E8    A hearty breakfast
K9    Barking, Isle of Dogs
E10   Posh school just north of Windsor
E11   Lleytonhewitt
E12   To The Manor Park
E13   Plaistow, pronounced Plarstow
E14   Docklands (Poplar), Millwall (unPoplar)
E15   Stratford, West Ham, Olympic Village
E16   Victoria Docks (no Beckham jokes please)
E17   Stay Another Day
E20   Walford, Angiesden
E25   the new name for the EU from 2004
E101  Riboflavin
E102  the chemical in Sunny Delight that sends kids hyper

 Saturday, January 25, 2003

derail News flash: 32 people have been injured and hundreds more evacuated from Chancery Lane station after a train derailed and hit a platform. London Underground said the last three carriages of the train appeared to have left the track. Eye-witnesses said "Something snapped underneath when we were at Liverpool Street. When we got into Chancery Lane the doors just ripped off." "The windows caved in and the doors opened in the tunnel and we were just bouncing up and down." "There was smoke and everything and the driver came on and said everyone to get to the front of the train and started shouting 'mayday'."

The accident happened on the Central Line just before 2pm this afternoon. Fifteen minutes earlier I was coming back from the V&A on a train going through the same station... but in the opposite direction. Ulp. My thoughts are with the injured, and how glad I am not be amongst them.


Where better to head on a Saturday morning than South Kensington - home to most of London's top museums. It's great to have our national treasures on view for free again, and I don't make the effort to go and look at them as often as I should. I battled through crowds of middle class parents (it's surely no coincidence that the Piccadilly line goes direct from Islington to South Kensington) and their disinterested offspring, and headed to the delightfully child-free Victoria & Albert Museum.

I went to the V&A to see Rewind, an exhibition charting 40 years of developments in British design and advertising. Rewind covers a range of creative disciplines from graphic design to poster advertising, and from packaging to radio ads. On view, amongst other things, were posters for the film Trainspotting, the British Rail logo, old Radio Times covers, record sleeves from the Pet Shop Boys, Blur and Spritualized, tins of pears from Harrods, some Airfix-type football hooligans, a great online Compaq bird hunts worm game, Silk Cut posters and a suspiciously high number of Apple products. An unitentional additional exhibition was also on view - the fashions being worn by the creative types attending the show. So that'd be baggy shorts, NHS specs and facial hair trimmed into unfeasibly-stripped goatees.

My favourite exhibit was a showreel of the very best adverts and onscreen design of the last 40 years. I wouldn't normally sit in a gallery and watch a video presentation for 55 minutes, but this was creative nostalgia of the highest order and exceptionally watchable. What a joy to sit and wallow in the original 1960s Dr Who opening titles, the legendary frothy Cresta bear, classic ads for Heineken, Stella Artois and Holsten Pils, the 1982 Channel 4 and 1991 BBC2 channel logos, J R Hartley's Yellow Pages ad, the orange Tango man's facial slap, the Guardian 'point of view' ad with the skinhead (alas, not the Persil one), Parklife with Nike on Hackney Marshes, that Levis launderette ad, and the stunning Dunlop tyre ad with the Velvet Underground backing track. It's amazing how much creativity and effort is poured into products like cars, lager and jeans which without a brand profile would be virtually indistinguishable.

The exhibition's only on until next weekend. Should you want to visit there's a special late viewing next Friday, complete with pub quiz, debate and table football. It's a reminder that British creativity is amongst the very best in the world. And I love it.

 Friday, January 24, 2003

I'm going out tonight.
If you're not going out tonight, may I recommend isketch?
I discovered it 45 minutes ago, and I nearly considered not going out tonight as a result.
It's a sort of online Pictionary-type interactive game thing.
You get to draw words and guess them.
Obviously it's much better than it sounds.

Bloggies 2003 (^O^)

It's time for the annual Bloggies awards, the international online January vote-fest to pick the world's best blogs in 30 categories. For the first two weeks of 2003 anyone and everyone was invited to nominate their favourite blogs, then last Thursday a selection of 50 randomly-selected voters was asked to pick their five favourites from a shortlist in each category. On Tuesday the five nominees in each category were revealed, and you still have until the end of the month to vote. The final winners will be announced in March. Alas, no individual that I'm linked to made it to any of the final fives, but there do seem to be some worthwhile finalists in the final list all the same. See if you agree.

Last Thursday's Bloggies shortlist was originally kept secret, but one of the chosen random 50 voters has decided to post the list on his site, here (via troubled diva). These are the most nominated blogs in each category, and it's more a longlist than a shortlist really. But blimey, look's who's number 27 in category number 28! That'd be diamond geezer then. Best new (began in 2002) weblog? In the world? Cor! Thanks to anyone and everyone who nominated me, I'm chuffed. And... wow! \(^o^)/

Now to go and check out the other sites on that list, see what good company I'm in...

 Thursday, January 23, 2003

Smiley culture (^_^)

From Hiroette (via b3ta) comes this charming selection of Japanese emoticons. You read them straight on, not sideways, and there's precisely the Anime/Hello Kitty slant to them that you might expect. And, unlike most of Japanese technology, ours are smaller than theirs :o)

(^_^) :o)
(^_^)/ hi!
(>_<") ouch!
( ^)(^-^) kiss!
(^O^) being glad!
{{ (>_<) }} it's cold
( ^_^)(^_^ ) good friends
(^_^ )( ^_^) deny strongly
o(^-^o)(o^-^)o o(^-^o)(o^-^)o dancing
(^^)(^^ )(^ )( )( )( ^)( ^^)(^^) turn by smiling
\(^o^)/ wow! - he is pleased so much by raising his hands
(^_-)db(-_^) make a promise by linking little fingers with each other
(^^)// applause - we use it when we want to appreciate so much something
(=^_^;=) a cat which has cold sweat
(^_^X) yakuza (japanese mafia)
<*))>=< fish

If you ever wondered what journalists do at weekends, it appears they go to dinner parties and then murder each other. The Evening Standard reported yesterday on a new game from New York called Mafia that's supposedly sweeping London's top social and student gatherings. Mafia is a sort of 'Murder In The Dark' for the educated classes, the ultimate party game for 12 or more people. According to the rules you need nothing more than your brain and a pack of cards, so it's a lot cheaper than the usual awful party games that cost £29.99 for a box, three dice and six counters. The cards are dealt at the start to decide who the three killers will be, then the persuasion, discussion, analysis, surreptition, death and intrigue get underway. I'm certainly intrigued anyway. Can anyone see the attraction of wiping out a few Evening Standard journalists at a dinner party? I wonder how easy it is to get an invite...

 Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Pressing problems

Dear DG
I have been standing at this pelican crossing for ages but the traffic hasn't stopped yet. Should I press the button?

There's nothing more annoying than arriving at a pelican crossing where somebody else is already waiting, standing around for what seems like an age, and then suddenly realising that the idiot has been standing there for ten minutes without pressing the button. The traffic doesn't stop all by itself you know. As the first person to arrive, it was your responsibility to press the button, to save you from the red-faced embarrassment of me having to walk over and press it for you.

Dear DG
There are lots of people standing at this pelican crossing but the traffic hasn't stopped yet. Should I press the button again?

The button at a pelican crossing only needs to be pressed once. Perhaps you are that special kind of person who believes the more often you press the button, the quicker the traffic will stop. Not so. Pressing the button more frequently and with increasing frustration merely goes to show that you are a stressed and impatient individual and are highly likely to die of a heart attack before the age of 45. Personally I'd like to wire up all pelican crossing buttons to the mains so that anyone pressing the button more than five times in three seconds receives a fatal electric shock.

Dear DG
I've been waiting patiently on the 7th floor for ages but the lift still hasn't arrived. Should I press the button again?

It's a well known fact that the more often the buttons on a lift system are pressed, the more confused the lift becomes. Pressing too many buttons too many times on too many floors merely sends the lift to all the wrong floors, where it then waits for people who aren't there to travel to floors they didn't want to go to. Probably best to take the stairs.

Dear DG
I'm waiting to get onto an underground train but the doors haven't opened yet. Should I press the button?

It's a complete mystery why anyone ever decided to put 'Open' buttons on the outside of tube train doors. These are never used, not even at far flung suburban overground stations where all the doors still open automatically to let the cold wind whip through the carriage despite the fact that nobody wants to get on or off. Only tourists ever press the 'Open' button. They then stand their scratching their head wondering why the button doesn't work and end up getting their fingers smashed in the doors when they close too quickly afterwards.

Dear DG
I'm waiting to get onto a Docklands Light Railway train but the doors haven't opened yet. Should I press the button?

The doors on a DLR train only open if you press the button. This can be very confusing for those tourists who've finally managed to work out that you never press the button on tube train doors. These people tend to stand there like lemons waiting for the doors to open automatically, only for the train to glide off suddenly towards Canary Wharf. It can also be very difficult to reach the button on a very crowded DLR train, particularly if you've lost some of your fingers in an earlier door-closing accident elsewhere.

Dear DG
My name is George W Bush and I have a friend called Tony. Should I press the button?

Enough said.

 Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Up my street
"We have just looked at some flats in Bow Quarter and are thinking of buying one."
Don't, particularly if you have a cat you might want to swing.
Up my old street
"I'm canvassing likely interest in a local community web site and newsletter."
I doubt the internet has yet reached this far into the countryside.
Up the street where I was born
"My family and I are planning to move to the Watford area and were just wondering if someone could suggest a few nice and desirable areas for investing in a property."
Erm, anywhere except Watford, I guess.
Up a street I used to live in
"I need to rent a garage in Bedford. Anybody know of one that is available?"
Maybe I could lease you my old parking space, for a very reasonable fee.
Up another street I used to live in
"We've had to buy a parking permit to park outside our house. we live very close to the train station and we're getting a lot of cars without permits parking down our road."
That'll be the people of Bedford having to park their cars all the way down here, I bet.
Up yet another street I used to live in
"am thinking of moving to kingston upon hull. where are the areas that are popular? no children.
Sadly there are no areas of Hull without children, pity.

Delia Offline: Television chef Delia Smith is quitting the cookery business to concentrate on her first love - Norwich City Football Club. Delia said she had simply run out of recipe ideas. "I just cannot think of any more recipes right now - I've been doing it for 30 years and I've had enough. So Delia, how about...

    Canary Soufflé
    Take 11 vegetables.
    Add one level teaspoon Colman's mustard.
    Serve with yellow and green dressing.
    Strain for 90 minutes.
    Beat to a pulp, frequently.
    Leave to simmer in Division 1 for years.
    Place in centre of table.
    Wait in vain for ingredients to rise.
    Serves 120,000

 Monday, January 20, 2003

Off/On/Off/On Digital: You'll remember that all we ex ITV Digital box owners were being asked to pay £40 or return our boxes, or else get sued. Apparently only 8000 out of a million of us bothered to pay up (income = £320,000), so they've given up (cost = £2,800,000) and now we can all keep the boxes for free. At least the 0.8% who paid up will get their money back, but I wonder how annoyed the people who decided to return their box instead must be now?

3 links 4 you
Fly Guy: Whoever wrote the programming for this delightful online folly clearly had too much time on their hands, but I'm delighted they did.
Think Zoo: Missing Big Brother? This animal animation may fill a hole. They'd have bleeped chunks of the dialogue out if this had been live on E4 though.
On This Day: New from the BBC news archives, some of today's top anniversaries. Go on, look up your birthday - is it as dull as mine?

The 7am puzzles (1-5): Blimey, that generated a bit of discussion! All five puzzles now now appear to have been solved, except for the last part of puzzle number 3 which is still up for grabs. I might try another round of questions again in the future, but not this week because I have absolutely no intention of being awake at 7am either tomorrow or the day after...

 Sunday, January 19, 2003

An open letter to the patrons of the Picturehouse Cinema, Stratford

Dear Audience

I have just spent three hours watching the The Two Towers in your company, and I feel I need to write to you to explain the manner in which cinema audiences are supposed to behave.

Attending the cinema is
not the same as watching a film on DVD on your own sofa. At home you can talk as much as you like, sneak out to the kitchen for more popcorn, even nuzzle the ear of the person sitting next to you if you so desire. In front of the big screen this behaviour is generally considered taboo.

When the film starts and the opening titles are rolling, you should not let rip with a noise like a giant raspberry. This is a childish reaction, demonstrating your uncomfortableness at experiencing a protracted silence in a public place, and especially unpleasant if there are children in the audience who may think this to be funny and laugh out loud.

You should ensure that your mobile phone is turned off so that it does not distract other punters during the performance. Admittedly the film
was called 'Lord of the Rings', but a Cheeky Girls ringtone was not what the producer of the film had in mind as backing music.

Three hours is a long time to sit still in a cinema. If an airline were to try to force you to sit in similarly confined conditions for such a length of time they would undoubtedly leave themselves open to legal action. However, please exert a little bladder control and try not to file out to the toilet at regular intervals during the screening, particularly not passing in front of me.

It is certainly unusual to see a walking talking tree at the cinema, particularly one with that young detective out of
Hetty Wainthropp Investigates sat precariously in one of the upper branches. However, the appearance of this tree should not have been the cue each time for some insane woman in Row K to shout something indecipherable at the screen. Please check that you are taking the correct medication before leaving home.

The Two Towers is
not a comedy. Admittedly Gimli the dwarf did seem to be present in the film merely to deliver a number of supposedly-comic lines that certainly never appeared in the original book, but that is no excuse for two of you braying out loud every time he opened his mouth. Had I desired to hear an audience laughing hysterically at inopportune moments, I would have watched the film in America instead.

It is true that Mr Tolkien wrote very few parts for women in his book, and therefore there is little for female cinemagoers to relate to. In fact some reckon the relationship between Frodo and Sam to be particularly questionable, perhaps to fill that very gap. However, when the film's producer
does spend three minutes on some romantic mushy angle of the story, this should not be the cue for yawning, snoring or standing up and stretching one's legs.

The cinema is
never a substitute for a good baby-sitter. If you are a fat mother whose three obnoxious teenage daughters have no interest in the film whatsoever then you should leave them at home, not plonk them down in the seat in front of me. Should the middle daughter insist on leaving the auditorium on three separate occasions to brush her hair, you should give her a good slap and tell her to shut the hell up, not that you might possibly tell her off a bit once back at home. But what a good idea to have prepared a large collection of bags of sweets to pass to your daughters at regular intervals throughout the film. This will have kept them busy while they were not otherwise occupied texting their friends, and with further force-feeding they could potentially end up as obese as you.

To conclude, I attended today's screening with the intention of watching the film, which was clearly excellent. However, I spent too much of my time watching you, the audience, and your alternative epic performance. Next time that any of you decide to attend the cinema I would be most grateful if you could go on a Wednesday evening instead, so that I can go in peace on a Sunday afternoon and have the whole auditorium to myself. Many thanks.

Yours sincerely

 Saturday, January 18, 2003

Saturday afternoon: spent here, here, here and (where else?) here.

Forthcoming Harry Potter books
• Harry Potter and Yet Another Secret Cavern Beneath The School Containing A Big Monster
• Harry Potter and the Golden Franchise
• Harry Potter and the Sudden Onset Of Puberty
• Harry Potter and that Fixed Slightly Startled Look
• Harry Potter and The Famous Five Have A Wizard Time
• J K Rowling and the Mysteriously Late Book
• Hermione Weasley and the Drat, I’ve Given The Ending Away

 Friday, January 17, 2003

According to the website Psycho-ex.com, we are all allowed to make one very big mistake. In which case it's exactly five years ago tonight since I made mine.

I'm sure most people have the wrong idea about psychopaths. The word psychopath probably conjures up mental images of a mad axe-wielding maniac with soulless eyes, but in real life it's not like that at all. Not in my experience. According to expert psychologist Dr Robert Hare, psychopaths are in fact social predators who use charm to manipulate and intimidate others to satisfy their own needs. They're completely without conscience, ruthlessly doing as they please without the slightest sense of guilt or regret. On the surface a psychopath will look just like anyone else, but they get to know you much faster than you get to know them. If lying were an Olympic sport, these people would be world-beaters. They leave behind them a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations and empty wallets. Psycho-ex.com has a whole stack of stories sent in by those who've had their hearts and expectations shattered. You are not alone.

It's true that you learn from your mistakes. I certainly learnt a hell of a lot from mine. Now, five years on, I look at the world with my eyes open, living a much better life and generally having a fantastic time of things. And, happily, there's not a psychopath in sight.

The 7am puzzle (5): What word is missing from this set of four? SEAT, SHOUT, STEW, ?

 Thursday, January 16, 2003

Dead-line 2012

Pack up your troubles: The Government are doing a fine job of pouring cold water on London's Olympic bid. We shouldn't bid, we might not win, it might cost too much, it might not encourage enough young people to take up sport, the money could be better spent on hospitals, our transport might not be up to it... and now the latest excuse is that it might not benefit the rest of the country enough. London would have to foot the entire bill itself, despite the fact the great and good from rest of the country would be only too happy to buy tickets to fill the stadium's executive boxes come 2012. Speaking as a resident of the country's poorest local borough, right next to the proposed Olympic site in Stratford, I hope the bid goes ahead. Politicians shouldn't be able to put a price on hope and dreams.

Yes, we have no bananas: Scientists report that edible bananas may disappear within a decade because they're not having enough sex. The world's favourite fruit is under imminent threat from pests and fungal disease, and all because all bananas are sterile. Apparently they're all evolved from a strain of seedless mutant bananas from South-East Asia dating back 10,000 years. No seeds, no reproduction, no chance of evolved genetic protection, no bananas, no easy-to-pack fruit available for the nation's lunchboxes. Maybe this is all just a scare story to get us to accept GM crops in our shopping baskets. Or maybe 2012 is just shaping up to be a really grim year.

So, Cilla's leaving Blind Date, Nasty Nigel from Pop Idol has had a heart attack and now even Matthew Kelly may be otherwise indisposed. The viewing public may have to come to terms with a three hour shutdown on ITV on Saturday evenings. I'm sure they'll cope.

The 7pm puzzle (4): Exactly one digit in this sum is wrong. 143+528 = 731 Correct it.

 Wednesday, January 15, 2003


In alphabetical order, here's what 20 bloggers had to say today:

arseblog: I have done this before and it is a nice way of celebrating. It would have been nice to go over with the fans, with Dennis Bergkamp who has also scored 100 goals, and both raise our shirts.
as above: Entrances to Hell is one of those little ideas that will hang around and overlay itself on your worldview forever - it's a collection of photos of forgotten-looking doorways and bricked-up alleyways from around the UK.
big man restless: A 20 out of 20 victory at the Retro Bar Quiz, with a nail biting tie breaker that, for once, I won. As ever I picked the alcoholic prize which I'm sure my team mates appreciated even if I didn't.
bitful: Four weeks exactly to my birthday. Do not worry, you won't have me post about my birthday every day until February 11th.
blogjam: Once again I find myself back in Santiago. As a teaser, I can tell you that I met the former head of the Chilean boy scout movement, and discovered a new kind of ostrich.
blue witch: As the sun has just come out, I went out to talk to the doves (just remember, if you talk to yourself, or animals, you never get silly answers).
by a woman: I really dislike January and February. They are long and boring. Everyone keeps on about a new start for the New Year but I just feel sluggish and in desperate need of a major make-over or failing that hibernation.
diamond geezer: If you'd posted today you might have been here. And maybe it's the weather, but there's a lot of people out there today blogging about smut and filth. Sorry if I didn't pick your best line but, hey, my Mum reads this :o)
green fairy: It occured to me today that it's become impossible to get hold of a packet of Golden Wonder crisps. It pains me terribly to think of a generation growing up that knows nothing but green for Salt & Vinegar.
it makes no difference: There's nothing more romantic and soul enriching than sitting on a wet door step, probably getting gigantic piles, in a large cosmopolitan city with lots of bright, shiny lights, as you watch your packet of fags get soaked in a gutter and wonder why, oh why don't you love me anymore.
minor 9th: How much does music taste prejudice you against other people? This is a question that's been bugging me ever since a conversation with a near stranger a couple of months ago.
my ace life: I'm not a great flyer - it's not that I'm phobic, but I do get a bit anxious strapping myself into a cylindrical tube hurtling through the air. I loved planes when I was a kid, maybe I've just seen too many disaster movies.
over your head: After many months it was a welcome return to the Retro Bar Pop Teasers Quiz last night. I was preparing myself for what I hoped would be an easy quiz. How wrong I was.
popjustice: CD:UK is starting an extra show, CD:UK Hotshots, in reaction to complaints about Ms Aguilera's dirrrty antics on a saturday morning being unsuitable for "the kids".
rereviewed: I'm really not sure I'm getting Diamond Geezer's brain teasers, but I think the answer is: [censored]. Unless it's a trick question, in which case he can kiss my rss.
scaryduck: Schools always seem to have trouble hanging on to Religious Instruction teachers. They always seem to be sensitive types, stuck in a world midway between their religious calling and real life. We'd get through three or four a year, dragging them in, sucking out their life-blood and spitting them out at the other end.
troubled diva: It's official, then: weblog redesigns are the new rock and roll. Preferably in a nice crisp monochrome, it would seem. I can only conclude that this must be a January Thing. Rebirth and renewal, and all that jazz.
so...: I first tuned in to Coronation Street when I was 7 years old and I've been watching it on and off ever since. Yesterday saw another landmark episode with a huge audience tuning in to see Richard bludgeon Maxine to death and Emily to within an inch of it.
volume 22: The class I just got out of is being taught by the dullest and most disorganized human I've ever been subjected to in a classroom. Being eaten alive by hundreds of squirrels is preferable to this grinding tedium.
wherever you are: I think I'm becoming agoraphobic (as opposed to angoraphobic, which is simply a fear of long-haired goats or rabbits). Not wanting to leave the house. A desire to stay indoors. Of course, it could just be the effects of winter.

The 7am puzzle (3): If you wrote all the numbers from one to one thousand in alphabetical order, which number would be first in the list and which number would be last?

 Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Speaking of woolly hats...

... they relaunched Crossroads on ITV yesterday. It sank.

Crossroads first hit our screens in 1964 and became Britain's first daily soap, renowned for wooden acting, wobbly sets and sensational storylines. At its peak in the 1970s it had 16 million viewers, but even that wasn't enough to save the show from the axe in 1988. Two years ago ITV tried to revive Crossroads as the heart of its daytime TV schedule, only to find that the cardboard sets had gone but the cardboard scripts remained. This week's rebirth at Kings Oak is surely the show's last chance.

Crossroads has finally ditched its downmarket image and is instead aiming squarely at the world of glamour and high camp. You can tell this because the familiar theme tune has been remade in the style of a Blackpool ballroom organ. Jane Asher has been cast as Angel Samson, the hotel's power-mad new owner and Birmingham's answer to Alexis Carrington, although you feel she'd be more at home in the kitchen icing cakes. They've cadged Madge from Neighbours and Tracey from Birds of a Feather, so goodness knows where the upmarket glamour is coming from. Certainly not from Lionel Blair, nor from the camp bellboy who delivers lines even Lily Savage would have rejected. So far there's been a murdered mistress, adultery in a jacuzzi, a mysterious blond motorbiker, one heart attack and a big family argument about not going to church on Sunday. Watching the show you almost expect Kate O'Mara to walk in at any minute... which must be why they've cast her as the local magistrate. Certainly the show is reminiscent of both Triangle and The Colbys at their very worst.

The Guardian's TV critic thought the naff approach might work, but wondered just how many fans of ironic postmodern self-referential camp are at home in front of the telly at five o'clock on a weekday afternoon? Victor Lewis-Smith, always the most readable contributor to the Evening Standard, was less impressed. Carlton, he says, is eventually going to have to accept that it's built a ship out of granite and it will never be seaworthy, no matter how many times the hull is resprayed.

Of course the one daytime soap we really want back on our screens is Acorn Antiques. If you're going to do Crossroads naff, then at least do it properly. If only Victoria Wood would take over as producer, scriptwriter and lead actress five times a week, then we'd really have something postmodern self-referential and camp to rush home from work for.

What was that terrible noise? It sounded like a tray of coffee being dropped on someone who's just been electrocuted!
Crying won't bring him back, Miss Babs. Why don't we all have a mug of my delicious home-made sherry and a couple of sausage dumplings?

The 7am puzzle (2): On Ellen's birthday this year, her age will be the same as the number formed by the middle two digits of the year she was born. What year was that?

 Monday, January 13, 2003

These records and news stories are not connected in any way, allegedly:
The Who - Won't Get Fooled Again
The Bee Gees - Stayin' Alive
Queen - Under Pressure

It got a lot milder in London overnight, so all that freezing weather is at last behind us. However some people clearly never heard the weather forecast this morning and so dressed for work as if it was still Siberia out there... and this of course meant the tube was full of woolly hats. Black hats, pointy hats, hats with dangly flaps, pink hats, hats like gnomes, furry hats, balaclavas that only your eyes can peer out of, sad hats, hats clearly knitted by grandmothers using all the scraps left in the wool basket, and so on. These limp fashion disasters are surely worn by the same people who in six months time will be strutting down the beaches of Ibiza parading the latest designer gear. I can see only two advantages of wearing a woolly hat. Firstly it keeps your ears warm, and secondly you can't see how ridiculous you look wearing it.

The 7am puzzle (1): Add one more six-letter word to this list so that every letter of the alphabet appears at least once: CYMBAL, QUARTZ, HONKED, EXPAND, FAVOUR, ??????

 Sunday, January 12, 2003

Full time: Do you remember the good old days when all football matches used to be at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon? OK, so you couldn't watch any of them on television until Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon, and even then only twelve minutes of highlights if you were lucky, but at least you knew where you stood. By 5pm Saturday every match was over and there was a definitive league table that would stand for the following 166 hours. Now there are matches scattered across the week for the benefit of the satellite audience, and league positions are much delayed and far more meaningless. "Manchester United closed the gap on leaders Arsenal to two points as they beat West Bromwich Albion" may sound good on a Saturday, but 24 hours later "Arsenal re-established their five-point cushion at the top of the Premiership" is rather more like reality. I'm sure one day Rupert Murdoch will succeed in getting all ten Premiership matches played (and screened) at different times during the week, just to maximise viewing figures, but give me the 4:45 final score videprinter any day... Birmingham 0-4 Arsenal

Star Trek: Nemesis

One of the following ten Star Trek cliches did not appear in this film - can you guess which one?
• It turns out that the Earth is in mortal danger from a secret weapon of mass destruction, but the Enterprise saves the future of mankind.
• Two of the major characters meet another version of themselves, and both struggle to come to terms with the emotions this stirs within them.
• The baddies are one-dimensional characters intent only on war, revenge and global domination.
• Two of the major characters get married, then one nearly dies clinging onto a metal walkway over a huge gaping chasm.
• "I'm detecting a strange and previously-unknown form of radiation, Captain."
• Our heroes shoot at an army of invading aliens, all of whom are fatally injured. The army of aliens shoot at our heroes, all of whom survive unhurt.
• There are at least three deep meaningful speeches about what it is to be human.
• "We've lost rear shields, decks 12 to 14 and the warp engines, Sir. We can't hold out much longer."
• One of the major characters dies nobly, only for a plot twist right at the end to suggest that maybe they haven't died after all.
• "That makes me angry, and when Dr. Evil gets angry, Mr Bigglesworth gets upset. And when Mr Bigglesworth gets upset, people DIE!"

 Saturday, January 11, 2003

Three other websites you could be looking at instead right now

1) Pubfight: Ever wondered who would win a fight between Queen and the Queen? Or between Eminem and some M&Ms? Or between Clare Rayner and Claire from Steps? Or between Daddy and Chips? This site tells you, and a whole lot more. (Of course, it's chips)

2) Pedestrian Killer: Take out your frustration at the imminent arrival of the congestion charge in London by running down as many of those pesky pedestrians as you possibly can.

3) Law of the playground: Remember all those insults you used to be called at school. Come on, you're an internet-using geek, of course you do. Go get all nostalgic over tefal heads, joey deacon, unattended blackboards and the real meaning of adidas and puma... or just sit on a bench by yourself and cry quietly.

This post is an impostor. It wasn't written in January at all but is in fact a time traveller from next September. It's landed here using Blogger's new time-shift technology, like an alien visiting from the distant future. It's all very wrong if you ask me, a temporal paradox of the worst kind. It's the sort of thing that science fiction films like to tell us couldn't possibly happen. But here it is all the same. You may have some comments to make about that. Or you might just want to leave a message in the comments box to say that you found it...

 Friday, January 10, 2003

mind the gapGoing Underground

The first underground railway in the world started 140 years ago today with the opening of London's Metropolitan Railway between Paddington and Farringdon on 10th January 1863.

This was the first railway line anywhere in the world built in tunnels under urban streets. The new railway was only three and a half miles in length but it was operated by smoky steam trains so the conditions in the confined tunnels weren't at all pleasant. No change there. The opening day also saw London’s first rush hour. So many people wanted to ride on the new railway that it was impossible to get on a train after it had left the Paddington terminus at Bishop’s Road. So, no change there either.

The underground map used to be very simple 140 years ago - see here. The tube map then evolved - seriously anorakky link here - until Harry Beck turned the map into a design masterpiece in 1931 - see that here. Today the map looks like this, and it's completely transformed the way Londoners and visitors view their city.

Back in 1863 there were only 7 stations and it took 33 minutes to chug from one end of the line to the other. Now there are 275 stations, and the record for visiting all of them in one day is 19 hours, 18 minutes and 45 seconds. ITV are screening a documentary about a recent attempt on this record next week (7.30pm on Thursday January 16th), which you can read all about here. The skills needed for this particular record are a mixture of detailed planning, athletic ability and sheer luck, plus of course an anorak with a fur-lined hood.

That very first underground line is now part of the Metropolitan, Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines, and the station at Baker Street has been magnificently restored to its former Victorian splendour. My local station was 100 years old this year, and is rather less glamorous. It would be good to think that one day the politicians will stop arguing about how the tube is funded and just get on with improving the whole system so it actually works. Having said that, there's nothing quite like the London Underground anywhere else in the world and I've always had a sneaking fascination for it. In fact, if any of you are ever planning another assault on that tube record, can I come too?

 Thursday, January 09, 2003

they're all winnersThe 2002

Best record of the year: Point of View by DB Boulevard
Simple, to the point, to the heart, with a hook like barbed wire. Those opening bars will mix into almost any other record, and they'll get me onto almost any dance floor as well. As for the video, not since Blue Peter has corrugated cardboard been put to a more creative use. And a great singalong too. Can't you see life's easy, if you consider things from another point of view.

Best album of the year: Original Pirate Material by the Streets
Cheeky UK rap as urban poetry, and the perfect cockney geezer record. Fresh-faced Mikey really should have won the Mercury Music Award, no contest, but alas not. Expect a lot more success at the Brit Awards next month, which'll be just after I've been to see them in concert - can't wait. They've even heard of this bloke on breakfast TV in the States! Essential.

Best unreleased song of the year: Second Time by the Cling
This band aren't even signed yet, unless someone had the sense to do so after last night's impressive gig in Camden, but this is my second favourite song of the year. One day this could be a huge hit, or else there'll only ever be three of us who've ever loved it. Hear it here and make up your own mind.

Best hook of the year: Nice Weather For Ducks by Lemon Jelly
All the ducks are swimming in the water, fal-de-ral-de-ral-do, fal-de-ral-de-ral-do. From an album for people who don't think they like albums (Lost Horizons) comes this completely off the wall track that so shouldn't work, but so does. It's released as a single (with video) in two weeks time, and even Radio 1 have stuck it on the playlist, so there's hope.

Best International Act: Röyksopp
A Norwegian duo who do dance music properly, in a way that doesn't sound like dance music. You'll know So Easy from the T-Mobile picture messaging advert (or from every chillout album released in the last six months) and the video for Remind Me is outstanding. If you haven't yet bought the album, Melody AM, do yourself a favour.

get your miniBUFFSEED at minibuffs.tk!Best live band of the year: the Buffseeds
There is indie life outside the charts, and it rocks, but only in a very British sort of way of course. Thoughtful, melodic and catchy. Strawberry is a particular favourite of mine, but sadly that's already been wasted on a B-side. Three charming unassuming lads from Devon, plus Ella the drummer. You really should hear Kieran's unaccompanied version of Genie In A Bottle. Oh, and that's Ella, by the way, in miniature.

Best song from a film: Mad World by Gary Jules
Is is really 20 years since Tears for Fears emerged into the 1980s with the original version of this song? Who would have thought that a quiet piano-based cover version could send shivers down the spine so effectively, but Gary's does. It's from the closing credits of what is undoubtedly the best film of the year - Donnie Darko.

Best record my brother might like: Strange and Beautiful by Aqualung
Clearly the best record Coldplay never made, and used very successfully in that VW Beetle car advert. Not so strange, but certainly beautiful.

Best band from the mid 90s not discovered until this year: Denim
How did I ever miss this band first time round? And how could anyone fail to fall for a group with songs called Wear Your Foghat With Pride and Ankle Tattoos, not forgetting the utterly enchanting Internet Curtains? Wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, a sort of Half Man Half Biscuit with synthesiser backing. Alas, Denim have since evolved into the not-quite-so-good Go Kart Mozart.

Best tune on my mp3 player I'd never own up to having on there: Peak Performance by Zack Lawrence
That'll be the theme tune to Treasure Hunt, and the original theme tune, not the extremely poor update. Sigh, I wasn't supposed to admit that was I?

Best record by a Popstars-type Act: Colourblind by Darius
Can you believe that seven of the top 20 best selling singles of 2002 are by Popstars-type acts. That's two Gareths, two Wills, Girls Aloud, Liberty X and this track. Don't ask me why I really like it, and I know I shouldn't, but at least it isn't Baby One More Time.

Best song released this week most likely to be in people's Best of 2003: Danger! High Voltage! by Electric Six
I first thought this lot sounded like a bunch of quirky central Europeans trying to outcamp Sparks or Army Of Lovers but no, they're an American guitar band from Detroit. Catch them live in London at the end of the month. In the meantime gasp at the astonishing video, and add this gem of a electro disco rock anthem to your list of favourite records of 2003.

 Wednesday, January 08, 2003

The Yes/Snow Interlude: Central London looks beautiful in the snow. Imagine Big Ben topped with icing, the Houses of Parliament with white thatching, Green Park renamed White Park, and Buckingham Palace enveloped by thick cotton wool. Well, today it actually happened, for the first time in 9 years. The snowflakes started falling in central London just after 8am, not many to start with but gradually more and more until the capital was carpeted in white. OK, so two inches is nothing compared to the blizzards faced regularly by Muscovites and New Yorkers, but there's a certain magic to snowfall over London. My office has a 7th floor view over all four of those landmarks listed earlier, which made for a morning of childlike excitement in the workplace, particularly for the Australian who'd never seen snow before. Alas, at this rate it may be 2012 before this winter spectacle returns - no doubt that'll bugger up our Olympic bid.

they're all winnersThe

This blog's now four months old, so what feebler way to celebrate than with some trivial statistics about visitors to the site?

Top websites referring people here
1st: arseblog; 2nd: swish cottage; 3rd: blogger; 4th: google; 5th: by a woman; 6th: bitful
booby prize: 1 arrival from dailypundit

Top internet search words leading people here
1st: geezer; 2nd: diamond; 3rd: freeview; 4th: sue perkins; 5th: christmas
booby prize: 1 occurrence of the word 'legwarmers'

Busiest hour of the day
1st: 10pm - 11pm; 2nd: 11pm - midnight; 3rd: 11am - noon
booby prize: 4am - 5am

Busiest day of the week
1st: Tuesday; 2nd: Friday; 3rd: Thursday
booby prize: Saturday

Most visitors in one day
1st: 10th October; 2nd: 13th December; 3rd: 10th December
booby prize: 6th November

Most popular computer operating system
1st: Windows 98; 2nd: Windows XP; 3rd: Macintosh
booby prize: 1 Web TV user

 Tuesday, January 07, 2003


One further feature of global warming is the increased risk of flooding in the future. More unpredictable and extreme weather systems, more frequent and violent storms, all will doubtless lead to more widespread flooding and drought. (That's unless you're President Bush, of course, in which case global warming is merely a fiction invented by anti-capitalists and we should just all get out there and buy more petrol). There's been an awful lot of flooding recently, all over, and insurance premiums are rising almost as fast as the floodwaters. Major floods that have only happened before say, every 100 years on average, may now start to happen every 10 or 20 years. And this is not good news for London.

50 years ago a huge storm surge swept down the East Coast of England towards London. East Anglia was badly hit, and 1307 people lost their lives. Expect to hear a lot more about this appalling disaster in the media as the anniversary approaches at the end of this month. Look East will no doubt devote a week to special reports from Kings Lynn to Felixstowe. However, the floods subsided just in time to save the city of London, where only Docklands was submerged, and being well before the arrival of corporate bankers and Pret A Manger this didn't actually kill anyone. The Thames flood barrier has since provided Londoners with some much-needed protection, but with global warming even this may not be enough in the future.

Yesterday I bought a new paperback telling the fictional story of a future flood surge on London. Flood by Richard Doyle (Arrow, £6.99, but currently £3.99 at W H Smiths) is a book outlining what could happen if the worst possible tide came upriver towards an unprepared capital. I can usually devour a good book in less than 24 hours, although work's got in the way of that particular target today. As a result I'm only halfway through, although it's great to read about places you know suffering doom, death and disaster. I can say this because I live right on the edge of the flood zone, although the McDonalds just down the road is doomed, which is good news. So far it's been a pleasure to read about the destruction of Suffolk and Canvey Island, and not a moment too soon I reckon. The Dome looks like it'll go under next, a fire is about to sweep upstream from a blazing chemical terminal, and something terrible but as yet unspecified looks imminent on the Jubilee Line.

The author's come up with an excellent website, both to plug the book and to fill in lots of detailed background information about the threat of flooding in London. I would have to be a cynic to think that the book has been launched to ride the tidal wave of publicity due to mark the anniversary of the 1953 floods (OK, OK, I'm a cynic) but it's a good read and disturbingly plausible. Now, where did I get up to? Ah yes, Bluewater, your turn to go under next...


Central London looks beautiful in the snow. Imagine Big Ben topped with icing, the Houses of Parliament with white thatching, Green Park renamed White Park, and Buckingham Palace enveloped by thick cotton wool. Unfortunately all you can do is imagine, because it never snows in central London. There may have been snow in the south-east last night, and children in the suburbs may have gone back to school to make snowmen in the playground and throw snowballs at their teachers, but central London remained virtually untouched. Big Ben was still brown, Green Park was still green, and Whitehall wasn't white. There may have been a very light sprinkling of flakes on the ground but that had long gone by sunrise. Pity.

As a huge urban area covering over 600 square miles, London generates a lot of heat. This is the heat island effect, and it keeps the temperature in central London a couple of degrees above that of the surrounding suburbs. In a heatwave London often has the country's highest daily temperature. London can escape a frost even when the suburbs are frozen. And clouds that drop snow around the capital may still just be warm enough over central London for the flakes to melt and fall as rain. Last night London was indeed the warmest place in the country, even though temperatures only scraped freezing. Blame the microclimate.

So, we missed out on snow in London again. According to scientists, global warming means that snow is less and less likely round here in the future, so that future generations of locals may never see another snowflake except on their Christmas cards. Instead they can look forward to suntans, palm trees, olive groves, melanoma and malaria. Which is a pity, because I imagine central London looks beautiful in the snow.

 Monday, January 06, 2003

Footballers' babies

Just released, it's that annual barometer of public good/bad taste - the top 100 babies' names of 2002.

What have post-natally-depressed women been naming their kids over the last 12 months? Jack and Chloe, mostly, it seems. The top 100 boys' names feature the usual nice safe middle-class names, like Thomas, James, Daniel and Oliver. Meanwhile most of the top 100 girls' names wouldn't have been out of place in Victorian times, like Emily, Charlotte, Molly and Eleanor.

It's fascinating to watch names rise (Lily - 62nd, 53rd, 47th, 36th, 29th) and fall (Christopher - 32nd, 38th, 42nd, 49th, 56th) over the last five years, and equally fascinating how some names barely change in popularity at all (Alexander - 19th, 19th, 21st, 20th, 19th). My name is nowhere to be seen in the list any more, despite being top 10 in the early seventies. Instead a whole new range of ridiculous first names is on the rise. I pity schoolteachers having to take the register in a few years time, trying to face a class of Alfies, Harrisons, Paiges, Baileys and Aaliyahs without laughing.

And perfectly timed for the return of Footballers Wives on ITV on Wednesday comes the disturbing news that last year 51 mothers decided to name their daughters Chardonnay. No doubt they thought they were bestowing upon their children a little bit of class, but to be honest they might just as well have named their daughter Lambrusco instead. Even more worryingly, it seems 14 mothers managed to name their daughters Chardonay by mistake - I guess a little family planing would have helped there.

 Sunday, January 05, 2003

Jet log

I flew back from San Francisco today. Or rather, given that it was a ten hour flight plus a four hour delay, I flew back yesterday and missed Sunday out completely.

On the flight out from Heathrow I was stuck in the Economy seat from hell. Middle of a block of five, as far away from the aisle as possible. My chair didn't recline far, but alas the lady in front's chair reclined all the way, for the whole journey. The inflight movies were all dire, all six of them. The video map of the flight, the one they let you watch to see how far from south-west Iceland you are, stopped working for most of the journey. Five minutes after I got a book out to read they dimmed the cabin lights, at which point I discovered that my overhead lamp didn't work. I could barely strain my eyes to read, not that I had any room left in front of me to turn the pages over anyway.

On the flight back I was rather luckier. I got an upgrade and joined the posh travellers in Business. I was right at the back of Business, so I was very aware of all the common people in the front row of Economy looking over my shoulder to see what I had that that they didn't. I had champagne and nuts, they had a bag of complimentary cocktail nibbles. I had Saturday's Times newspaper, they had the inflight magazine. I had filet mignon with roast red potatoes and Chardonnay, they had a microwaved portion of pasta with 7-Up. I had the vaguely presentable air crew, they had the old hags nearing retirement. I had room to stretch my legs out and get some sleep, they developed deep-vein thrombosis and bags under the eyes. I'd spent 15000 mileage points, they were suffering everything I'd suffered on the flight out. Naturally I felt really guilty at my good fortune in being upgraded, for at least three minutes.

It's good to be home, even if it is cold, and quiet, and flat. But I may have huge difficulties trying to get some sleep, given that my body still thinks it's mid-afternoon. Maybe if I try to go to sleep sitting in my armchair, pretending I'm somewhere over Northern Canada...

 Saturday, January 04, 2003

Postcards from San Francisco

New Year's morning, looking down over the City of San Francisco from Corona Heights. There are numerous hilltops like this one all over San Francisco, surrounded by houses and great for walking the dog. And the view from all of them is excellent. Look, no fog!

To the left, the Malin Headlands, a wonderfully unspoilt stretch of dramatic coastline. To the right, the Golden Gate Bridge, spanning the entrance to San Francisco Bay. In fact the bridge isn't gold at all, it's painted 'international orange'.

That'd be the International Orange Bridge, then.

The perfect street for a geezer to live down.
Like most SF streets it's flat, steep, straight, narrow, wide and long.

You want ice with that?

Coffee is clearly the beverage of choice of the modern San Franciscan. Most inhabitants can barely stumble out of bed in the morning without feeling the urge to wander out to the nearest Starbucks and reach for a grande latte moccachino, or whatever. People walk down the streets clutching hot cups of coffee in much the same way that we Brits insist on walking everywhere fingering our mobile phones. Having said that, I still think there are more Starbucks per square mile in London than San Francisco.

Tea, however, is another matter. Order 'tea' in a restaurant and you'll be presented by a liquid that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. This abomination is called iced tea, and for some reason it appears to be remarkably popular over here. This may be because you can get endless free refills of iced tea in restaurants, or it may be because Americans like drinking cold weak brown liquids resembling week-old flat cola in large quantities. This evil drink is a criminal waste of good honest hot tea, poured over mountains of ice to instantly remove all its natural appeal.

Of course, there is 'real' tea in America, but you have to be sure to ask for hot tea instead. At this point you're offered a number of herbal abominations or else a bag of Liptons, the one ubiquitous brand of American 'normal' tea. I'm sure most Americans believe that Mr Lipton lives in London, wears a bowler hat and sells in huge quantities in the British teabag market. Sorry to disillusion y'all, but Liptons - the 'Brisk' tea - is unknown in England. Admittedly Liptons did try launching their iced tea in the UK a few years ago, but we weren't to be persuaded and the whole Liptonice brand folded very fast. And alas, their teabags make equally bland hot tea too.

So, if there is a reason why I'm looking forward to getting back to the UK it's to enjoy a freshly-brewed cup of Typhoo. But I will admit I'd be even more pleased if London branches of Starbucks ever decided to stick caramel apple cider on their menus.

I thought that as my New Year's Resolution I'd make sure I posted at least one thing on here every day. Blown that one already then...

 Thursday, January 02, 2003

How's San Francisco looking now?
What's the weather like over here?
What's news?
Planning a trip?
Where's worth visiting?
Show me some photos
Any recent earthquakes?
There are a lot of blokes here aren't there?

It's 01/02/03, or at least it is over here in America. Just in case you weren't awake at 04:05:06 this morning to celebrate, us Brits get another chance at this rather unique date on 1st February.

More Tales of the City

If you're going to San Francisco
be sure to...

... wear some flowers in your hair.
... grow a beard.
... take your photo ID - you're not allowed to enjoy yourself without one.
... wear a jacket at night - it almost always gets chilly.
... be in good shape if you're walking up any of the hills - the views are literally breathtaking.
... catch the stunning Pacific sunset.
... head over to Alcatraz and stand in the maximum security cell.
... grow an extra stomach - for digestion purposes, you understand.
... avoid drinking eggnog - which should be easy if you stay away during the holiday season.
... ignore the homeless sitting on every street corner.
... use your numeracy skills to add 15% service tips to all restaurant bills.
... expect the constellations to look a bit different, like all at the wrong angle.
... avoid chatting to the friendly people near Fisherman's Wharf - 15 seconds later they'll be trying to sell you something.
... gasp at the average age of all the TV presenters - at least 60.
... get your cholesterol checked on your return home - all breakfasts feature eggs.
... stop dead on a red light - nobody ever drives past one.
... avoid thinking "If there were to be an earthquake right now, I'd be crushed to death by that freeway above me."
... have an excellent time.

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