diamond geezer

 Monday, June 30, 2003

Capital Numbers

Today sees the end of my month-long Capital Numbers project, an attempt to list as many interesting number-based London-related facts as I possibly could. I was intending only to go from 1 to 30 but, as you can see, I got rather carried away and went up to 33 instead (mainly because there were still some really good facts around that I hadn't used yet). It's been frustrating trying to find something interesting for every number, sometimes desperately so. Thanks for your help if you contributed any of the facts that I used. It's been intriguing to discover how much more interesting some numbers are than others (17 is far more interesting than 18, for example, and 25 beats 24 by miles too). It's also been pretty challenging to link all these facts to other London-based websites, just to make the list hyper-dimensionally interesting, so I hope you've managed to click on a lot of those as well.

I've decided that all this effort throughout the month deserves to be commemorated in some way, so I've assembled all the facts onto their very own Capital Numbers website. You can click here to find your way in. There's also a new link at the top of my sidebar to the right. As a bonus for website readers I've gone a bit further than 33 on one of the pages, just to use up a few more ideas that wouldn't fit on this page, and I've finally managed to find another vaguely interesting fact about the nigh-impossible number 18 too. I hope you enjoy all of it. And I shall look forward to having a rest in July, from all the numbers at least.

33• There are 33 London boroughs - Barking & Dagenham, Barnet, Bexley, Brent, Bromley, Camden, Croydon, Ealing, Enfield, Greenwich, Hackney, Hammersmith & Fulham, Haringey, Harrow, Havering, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Islington, Kensington & Chelsea, Kingston, Lambeth, Lewisham, Merton, Newham, Redbridge, Richmond, Southwark, Sutton, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, Wandsworth and Westminster, plus the City of London.
• Only 33 of London's 275 Underground stations are located south of the Thames.
Bus route 33 runs from Hammersmith to Fulwell, the final destination of London's last ever trolleybus on 8 May 1962.

32• The London Eye has 32 capsules, each of which makes 8000 rotations in one calendar year at a speed of 26cm per second.
• The tallest building at Canary Wharf, One Canada Square, has 32 lifts, capable of travelling from the lobby to the 50th floor in 40 seconds.
Bus route 32 runs from Edgware to Kilburn Park.

31• There are 31 bridges over the Thames in London - 20 road bridges, 8 railway bridges and 3 pedestrian bridges.
• There are 31 junctions on the M25.
• The glass front of City Hall is inclined at an angle of 31 degrees to the vertical.
Bus route 31 runs from Notting Hill Gate to Camden Town.

30• A red London Routemaster bus is 30 feet long and can seat 72 people.
• The Gherkin can be found at 30 St Mary Axe. It has 40 floors, 18 lifts and is 180m tall.
• The A30 trunk road runs from Hounslow to Land's End.
Bus route 30 runs from Marble Arch to Hackney Wick.

 Sunday, June 29, 2003

Blogger Mean Time

I got converted to new Blogger during the week. It wasn't a painful physical operation, but the mental scars of the operation are still visible.

New Blogger is blue, or at least the interface you get to type into is. It's a simple two-screen window, one for editing and one for saved messages, just as before. In fact, Blogger is a wonderfully simple system that allows you to concentrate on what you write, not how you write it. If you're a blog-reader but not a blog-writer I can heartily recommend signing up and giving blogging a try, just to see how it works. There's no pressure to write for an audience, you don't even have to make your blog public if you don't want to, and it's a great way to pour thoughts out of your head onto virtual paper. Other blogging websites are available, for example Moveable Type or Greymatter, but Blogger's certainly the simplest way in for the less technical amongst us. I like Blogger, please remember that as you read on. But they're not perfect, and they've just got a little more imperfect.

Blogger first announced that they'd be updating our user interfaces one-by-one about about six weeks ago. By the middle of last week I was beginning to wonder if they'd missed me out, but oh no. They were just waiting to convert the last batch of us all at the same time, which I guess must be why they had to take us all offline for about 12 hours to do so. Which was annoying. But, like root canal work, I assumed it would be worth all the hassle in the end. I'd heard tales from early adopters that new Blogger was still slightly bug-ridden, but I was sure that they'd have fixed all those bugs before they updated the rest of us. Wouldn't they? After all, if it's not broke, why fix it? But they fixed it anyway. Which was also annoying.

I can cope with new Blogger's insistence on checking the HTML code of everything I type and telling me off if it's not perfect. I will eventually learn to press the new buttons in their new positions in the correct order without accidentally deleting or over-writing something I wrote three months ago. I'm confident that somebody will eventually update all the Blogger help pages to tell me how the new system works, not the extinct one that disappeared last week. I may even get used to using <strong> and </strong> instead of <b> and </b> for bold text, and using <em> and </em> instead of <i> and </i> for italics. However, unless somebody at Blogger HQ sorts out their timezones soon, I am likely to get mighty pissed off indeed.

Last week, I was registered in the Blogger GMT timezone, which was good because this was indeed the timezone in which I live. All the posts that I posted did indeed appear in my blog at the correct time when I posted them. (Actually that's not true, because the server clock at Blogger HQ is currently running about four minutes fast. This means that to get this post to appear on my blog at exactly 19:00. I have to press the 'Post' button at exactly 18:56. But I can cope with that.) When I reappeared on Thursday in new Blogger, I was still in the GMT timezone, which sounded about right. Unfortunately the new GMT timezone is one hour behind the old one, because the new Blogger coders have managed to completely forget about British Summer Time. This may not sound disasterous but, by moving all my posts exactly one hour earlier, Blogger managed to shift everything I'd ever posted between midnight and 1am back into the previous day. I post a lot of stuff during that particular first hour of the day, and I was not at all pleased to discover, for example, posts specifically about the 25th moved back into the 24th instead. Which was very annoying.

There is a way round this timezone problem, thankfully. I'm currently pretending I live in France. Not only is the weather warmer and the food better but all the clocks in this timezone are one hour in advance of those in Britain too. By this sleight of hand, Blogger is now posting my current posts at the correct time, even if for all the wrong reasons. However (yes, there is another however), this doesn't work for anything I posted between last November and last March. It may be British Summer Time now but it wasn't then. So, if I update any of my winter archives, Blogger will change the all the times of all those posts to French time, shifting them one hour forward and into the wrong days again. Which would be very annoying. Which is why I haven't dared to republish my winter archives since Blogger got upgraded. Which is why the archives on those pages are now completely buggered. Which is very annoying.

There's one more timezone problem with new Blogger, namely that the internal operating system now works only on Californian time. No matter that I'm sitting here in London, my Blogger interface thinks I'm sunning myself in San Francisco instead. According to the Blogger operating system, all days start at 08:00 GMT, which is midnight Pacific time. When I try searching for anything I posted on a particular day, Blogger only shows me anything I posted between 8am GMT on that day and 8am GMT the following morning. When my main blog page updates each day, anything posted before 8am on the very last day on the page no longer appears. And my republished monthly archives also now run according to Californian months, so anything I posted in, say, the early hours of April 1st, has disappeared to be shifted into March instead. Which is exceptionally annoying.

I have of course emailed the technocrats at Blogger to ask them what the hell is going on. Surely it can't be that difficult to publish blogs according to the timezone we actually live in, taking any daylight saving into account. No reply as yet. Which is more typical than annoying, to be honest.

Update: As you'll see below, there is one more unexpected problem with new Blogger. I know this is a big post, but I've just had to rewrite large parts of it from memory because apparently it was too big and Blogger just completely lost it. Hmmm, what was that I said earlier? Moveable Type? Maybe...

BIG POST ERROR, POST ID 105690603973205537

29• According to the latest Census, 29% of London's residents are from a non-white ethnic minority.
• Only 29 runners have completed every London Marathon, from 1981 to 2003.
Bus route 29 runs in two overlapping sections, from Palmers Green to Camden Town and from Wood Green to Trafalgar Square.

 Saturday, June 28, 2003

dgeezer.netOther Diamond Geezers are available

As a long-time user of the Alta Vista search engine, I was delighted to discover that they've finally added my page to their search engine listings. Took long enough. Google have had me listed for months, almost since I first started writing, but then they were always easily swayed by gratuitous linkage.

Anyway, this seems like a good time to update my list of other websites about diamond geezers: (previous list here)

• Live in the South West? Need a band who play songs by late 70s artists like David Bowie, Ian Dury, Elvis Costello and The Jam? You do? You need The Diamond Geezers. Nice.
• What do Diamond Geezers wear? Classy brown leather jackets with personalised labels, that's what.
• I know you'll want to find out more about Dave and Tony, two Diamond Geezers from Margate. And meet their wenches too.
• If you're in London and you need a pukka plumber or a sorted sparky, look one up in A Diamond Geezer, the online directory of decent hard-working tradesblokes. Bit thin at the moment though.
• Remember those robbers who tried using a JCB to nick twelve priceless jewels from the Millennium Dome? Diamond Geezers the lot of them, obviously.
• Should you ever want to send me a birthday card, I wouldn't say no to this one, complete with surprisingly tasteful ID badge.
Diamond Geezers is a work of art, from painter George Underwood.
Diamond Geezers is also an urban thriller, from author Greg Williams.

28• Greater London stretches 28 miles down from Crews Hill in the north to Old Coulsdon in the south, and 36 miles across from M25 junction 14 in the west to North Ockendon in the east.
• London's highest-numbered postcode is that for Thamesmead, SE28.
• There are 28 stations on the Hammersmith and City Line.
• The steepest gradient on the Underground network is 1 in 28, between Bow Road and Bromley-by-Bow.
• The Croydon Tramlink is 28km long.
Bus route 28 runs from Wandsworth to Westbourne Park.

 Friday, June 27, 2003

My fortnight of jury service is over.

This second week was particularly unimpressive. They didn't need me on Monday, but I had to ring back on Monday afternoon to see if they wanted me in on Tuesday. They didn't need me on Tuesday, but I had to ring back on Tuesday afternoon to see if they wanted me in on Wednesday. They did need me in on Wednesday, so I turned up at 10am, sat around and started my book, eventually got allocated to a trial, sat around and continued my book, ate an identical lunch from an identical menu to last Wednesday, sat around again and finished my book, then finally got called to the jury bailiff's office just before 3pm to be told that the case had collapsed and we could all go home. But they wanted me in on Thursday. When I got home they rang me up and said no they didn't want me in on Thursday after all and I was now discharged from jury service. So I had to go back to work on Thursday, having not seen the inside of a courtroom since last Thursday. I was not impressed.

Supposed length of jury service: 10 working days
Actual length: 8 days
Days required to attend court: 5 days
Number of days spent at least partly in a courtroom: 3 days
Number of trials attended: 1
Number of interesting trials attended: 0
Total amount of time spent in court: 3 hours
Shortest amount of time spent in court in one day: 12 minutes
Total amount of time spent deliberating in jury room: 4 hours
Number of books read whilst sat around waiting for nothing to happen: 3
My value to society over the last fortnight: minimal

Some tips for future jurors:
• Don't get excited, you probably won't get the John Leslie case, or the human cannibal case, or indeed any juicy case at all.
• You may be sat around for some time. Take lots of reading material. Remember, a tabloid newspaper won't keep you occupied even a quarter of the way to lunch.
• Male jurors tend to turn up wearing shirts, while many women go for something safe and M&S. You can wear a t-shirt, or a posh suit, but don't think the judge will let you get away with shorts and sandals.
• Don't be late. They can't start the trial with a jury of just 11 so you'll be holding up the entire legal system. It's OK for the legal system to keep you waiting around for hours, of course, but don't you dare do it to them.
• The lunchtime food is very poor value for money. Your £4.60 daily subsistence allocation goes absolutely nowhere. But, hey, where else are you going to eat?
• Should you ever find yourself arrested for a heinous crime after you've done jury service, at least you'll know how the system works.
• The key word concerning jury service is 'random'. You have been chosen at random from the electoral roll. You will be allocated to a random trial of random length and random importance, which may or may not get as far as needing a jury. You may, or may not, get to sit on more than one trial. You may not even get to sit on a trial at all. Your fellow potential jurors will be chosen at random from the pool available, and then slimmed down to just 12 in court, again at random. When the jury finally gets to retire to ponder its verdict, 12 random viewpoints on life, truth and justice will be brought together, with random effect. Justice is, you'll discover, random.
• Don't get excited. But I bet you get to be more excited than I was.

27• There are 27 stations on the Circle line, and 27 stations on the Jubilee line.
• According to the latest Census, 27% of the population of London were born outside the UK.
• The London station with the longest name is Silvertown & London City Airport on the North London Line, which has 27 letters.
Bus route 27 runs from Camden Town to Turnham Green.

 Thursday, June 26, 2003

Dear Sir or Madam,

We at Big Brother Inc are pleased to announce that we have recently taken over from MI5 as the chief contractor for individual covert civilian surveillance in the UK. We would therefore like to take this opportunity to keep you updated with your own personal Statement of Whereabouts, updated via police, CCTV, internet, mobile phone, speed camera, satellite and supermarket records so far this week. A more detailed statement covering the period since 1991 is available on request. We apologise for accidentally sending this statement to your mother in 1998.


Client number: 47319478XP
Client name: Restricted
Date processed: 26/06/03

22/06/03 [12:47] local high street: Accidentally mistaken for known sex offender by experimental CCTV image-matching software. Your mugshot now scheduled to appear in tomorrow’s Sun newspaper.
22/06/03 [12:49] local high street: Caught by CCTV picking your nose in public – this video-clip will appear next weekend on You’ve Been Framed.
22/06/03 [15:12] local superstore: Detected buying whole-fat milk – insurance company automatically raises your life insurance premium by 17%.

23/06/03 [17:37] M1 junction 11: Speed camera registers you travelling at 72mph (that's 3 penalty points, plus an enormous fine to help provide us with even more cameras).
23/06/03 [17:42] M1 junction 12: …and, hang on, if you’ve just driven 5 miles in 4 minutes, that’s 75mph on average, so we’ll take your licence away as well thanks.

24/06/03 [11:03] your office: Illicit access of latest cricket score via the internet at work.
24/06/03 [11:16] your office: Office spyware reports you to your boss for repeatedly accessing latest cricket score – you are dismissed.
24/06/03 [16:32] the dole office: Automatically credit-blacklisted after signing on and joining the social underclass.

25/06/03 [06:08] not your house: Spotted by satellite emerging from house unwashed and tired, but whistling and smiling broadly.
25/06/03 [07:45] your house: Spotted by satellite emerging from house pursued by angry spouse/partner wielding large object.
25/06/03 [22:59] local woods: Spotted by satellite burying the body of your spouse/partner in a two-metre deep hole.

26/06/03 [00:01] hiding out in the woods: Mobile phone transmits details of your location to local police. It's only a matter of time before we catch you, you know.

Cumulatives to date - Gross offences: 26; Minor offences: 48,803; Impure thoughts: 19,575,168; Hail Marys required since last statement: 6 billion.

We apologise if this record of your actions is in any way incorrect. However, we would like to reassure you that there is absolutely nothing you can do to change our records, and this information will remain on your file for not less than thirty years. Should you have any other concerns about issues surrounding civil liberties, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. Just walk outside your front door, look straight ahead and start talking – we’ll hear you.

Yours omnipresently
Winston Smith

26• At the 1908 Olympic Games in London, the 26 mile marathon race from Windsor to White City was extended by 385 yards to finish in front of the Royal box. All modern marathons have been 26 miles 385 yards long ever since.
• The boardgame Monopoly features 26 London streets, from the Old Kent Road to Mayfair.
• A London football team has won the FA Cup 26 times (Arsenal 9, Spurs 8, Chelsea 3, West Ham 3, Wimbledon 1, Charlton 1, Clapham Rovers 1).
• The Docklands Light Railway is 26km long.
Bus route 26 runs from Waterloo to Hackney Wick.

Your blog is currently being converted to a new-and-improved version of Blogger.
Please bear with us. It should be back in a couple of hours later today eventually, and in a right mess.

 Wednesday, June 25, 2003

The man who invented Big Brother

Eric Blair was born in India exactly 100 years ago today. You'll know him better as George Orwell, the famous author of Animal Farm. And that other book.

bio: Eric grew up in the early years of the 20th century in an environment he later described as "lower-upper-middle class". He was sent to Eton but refused to go on to university, and later resigned his job as a policeman to live instead among the poor of London and Paris. He learnt his trade as an author whilst sitting in a miserable bedsit on the Portobello Road, and changed his name to George Orwell in 1933 on the publication of his first book, Down And Out In Paris And London. He continued to write about the British class system in such books as The Road to Wigan Pier and the classic satire Animal Farm. He fought in the Spanish Civil War, then became ill with tuberculosis, worked for the BBC during the Second World War, and later moved to live on the remote Scottish island of Jura. It was here, in 1948 (swap the last two digits around for the title) that he wrote his most famous book, before his untimely death two years later.

1984: Nineteen Eighty-Four is a bleak portrait of a totalitarian society. [Big Brother is watching you] The world exists in a state of permanent war, as the three superpowers of Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia take it in turns to gang up on each other. [WAR IS PEACE] Newspeak is the official language of the party, a simplified language designed to make impure thoughts unthinkable. [unpersons rewrite fullwise upsub antefiling] London is the chief city of Airstrip One, one of the provinces of Oceania, and here we find our hero Winston Smith, rewriting history at the Minisitry of Truth. [times 14.2.84 miniplenty malquoted chocolate rectify] Every move Winston makes is observed by the ubiquitous telescreens, on which are broadcast the daily Two Minute Hate. [FREEDOM IS SLAVERY] Winston becomes sceptical of the ruling dictatorship and writes about his doubts in an illegal diary. [thoughtcrime - doubleplusungood] He seeks the company of other dissenters, but is betrayed to the Thought Police and ends up being brainwashed in the notorious Room 101. [IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH] For Winston the book has a happy ending, but we the readers are left free to believe otherwise.

BB: Orwell's Big Brother was merely a face on the hoardings, a voice on the telescreen. Nobody ever saw him, but he was always watching. The concept of the Surveillance State was new and frightening in the late 1940s, but many would say that Orwell's predictions have since come true, and more so. CCTV watches us almost everywhere we go. Our mobile phones betray our location down to a few hundred metres. Credit cards and supermarket 'loyalty' cards help others to keep track of patterns in our spending. When you surf the internet, as you're doing right now, you leave a traceable electronic trail behind you. There are even plans to take a DNA sample from all of us at birth, supposedly in the name of medical advancement. It's becoming virtually impossible to live an anonymous life any more.

100 years on from Orwell's birth, a different kind of Big Brother is a nightly experience on our telescreens. More than 100,000 people requested an application form to be part of the latest series, seeking to live for nine weeks under constant scrutiny in a controlled environment. The rest of us maybe haven't realised yet that we're destined to live in similar conditions for the rest of our lives. So, next time you have that uncanny feeling that you're being watched, remember that you probably are. Should you think that your thoughts are likely to get you arrested, be afraid. And, if you ever hear the clocks strike thirteen, get out while you still can.

Doubleplusgood Orwell links:
1984 - read the entire novel online
1984 - a detailed synopsis and study guide
George Orwell - all about his life and works
Orwell Today - how the themes of 1984 echo in today's society (very impressive site)
Newspeak - Orwell's appendix explaining the evolution of the new language
Goodspeak - today's news from Google translated into Newspeak (dead clever)
Big Brother 2003 - could he be watching you? (from Scaryduck)
Has 1984 come true? - a few contrasting views.

25• The M25 motorway nearly encircles London, running 118 miles from Dartford to Thurrock (but not the two miles over the Dartford Crossing). The London Orbital cost £909 million to build, was completed in 1986 and the western sections carry 180,000 vehicles every day.
• There are 25 wards in the City of London, each with its own alderman.
• The new London Assembly at City Hall has 25 elected Members.
• It costs £25 to adopt a rabbit, dormouse, starfish, seahorse, ant, stick insect, giant millipede, gecko, lizard, duck, dove or chicken at London Zoo.
• There are 25 stations on the Bakerloo line.
Bus route 25 runs from Oxford Circus past my house to Ilford.
Nightbus N25 ferries drunken revellers home from the West End to the East End every night, and is exceptionally convenient should I ever want to be dropped home at dawn.

I've posted more than 50 weblinks on this page today. I know most of you don't ever bother to click on any of them, but there are some real gems in there today, and you'll never know what you're missing otherwise...

 Tuesday, June 24, 2003

"I was carrying a bag which could have had a bomb in it. I was just yards away from the Queen and Prince Charles. If I had been a real terrorist the entire Royal Family would have been wiped out."

• Ah, but not quite the entire Royal Family, Mr 'Comedy' Terrorist. It turns out that the entire top ten from the line of succession were present (Charles, William, Harry, Andrew, Beatrice, Eugenie, Edward, Anne, Peter, Zara), except for Edward, who was otherwise engaged in Canada. So, had Mr Barschak succeeded in wiping out everybody in Windsor Castle at the weekend, we'd now be entering an extended period of nationwide mourning lead by King Edward IX. All sounds very unnatural to me. No doubt we could have expected a tedious documentary on the subject shortly afterwards, and the end of the British monarchy through nationwide indifference a few years later.

• The last time that terrorists decided to break into a top royal gathering and mow everyone down in a sea of blood, the idea was laughed off the screen as being completely incredulous. Mind you, this was at a wedding in Moldavia and the family in question included Blake Carrington, his plastic wife Krystle and a new son-in-law who looked distictly like Robin of Sherwood. You may remember that Joan Collins was forced to flee the scene of this bloodshed dressed as a nun to avoid being recognised. Who's to say this could never happen to our own royal Dynasty, eh?

I can't believe that it's 20 years ago since I first... well, don't think I'm telling you exactly what, but it is 20 years ago since the first time it ever happened to me. Ah, I remember it clearly. It was the day of my last ever A-level examination and, incidentally, a couple of weeks after I'd voted in my very first general election. I bet it happened to you before you first voted and not after. If you think you've guessed what I'm talking about then you're almost certainly wrong (some of your minds need wiping clean, you know), and I reckon it's probably just as well that the comments boxes are down because I wouldn't tell you even if you'd guessed right anyway. But I just thought I'd mention it.

24• The tube station with the most escalators is Waterloo, which has 24.
Kiefer Sutherland, star of the TV show 24, was born in Paddington in 1966.
• The A24 trunk road runs from Clapham Common to Worthing.
Bus route 24 runs from Hampstead Heath to Pimlico.

 Monday, June 23, 2003

Out of Africa

In honour of Big Brother's African housemate swap and Prince William's African-themed 21st birthday party, can you name these ten African countries? Answers in the comments box.

1) Big Brother housemate with one repeated letter
2) Sounds unexpected
3) Scam, leave
4) Hole in a ballot paper
5) Heavyweight who beat S Liston
6) £1.05
7) Takeaway
8) Crazy oven injury
9) Found in a hug and a kiss
10) White bird seen in broken boat

23• Only 23 countries took part in the 1908 Olympics, held in London.
• The Crystal Palace transmitter broadcasts ITV on channel 23.
Big Ben's four clock dials are 23 feet square.
• The A23 trunk road runs from Westminster Bridge by County Hall, through Brixton and Streatham, past the site of the old Croydon Airport and on down to Brighton.
Bus route 23 runs from Liverpool Street to Westbourne Park.

 Sunday, June 22, 2003

Big Brother - the sewage connection

Yes, there really is a direct connection between Big Brother and raw sewage. It's just probably not the connection you're thinking of...

East London's cathedral of sewageYou'll remember that a few weeks ago I wandered down to the site of the old Big Brother house in Bow. Just a few hundred yards away from that site lies a startling Victorian building, shaped like a cross, topped by an ornate dome. Is it just an extravagant folly, or is there a reason that someone appears to have built a cathedral in the middle of an industrial wasteland? For the answer to that question you have to go back to the 1850s. A cholera epidemic swept London in 1853, spread by the appalling sanitary conditions in the capital. Cesspits emptied into streams that fed straight into the Thames and often overflowed into the streets. Diseases from insanitary drinking water killed thousands each year. Then in 1858 came the 'Great Stink', when the combination of an unusually warm summer and an unbelievably polluted Thames made living conditions in the capital almost unbearable. A solution to this foul-smelling solution was required, and urgently.

The Greenway starts hereThe man who cleaned up London was called Joseph Bazalgette. He was the Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and his solution to London's sewage problems was nothing short of revolutionary. He ordered the building of 85 miles of new sewers to intercept the many smaller sewers that ran into the Thames, redirecting the effluent to East London where it was discharged into the Thames and flowed out to sea. (map here) North London's waste was conveyed to Abbey Mills Pumping Station in Stratford, the magnificent building in the photograph above, completed in 1868. From here the Northern Outfall Sewer continued eastwards to a huge treatment works at Beckton. That huge sewer still exists and still carries North London's effluent to the sea. The embankment covering the sewer is now the 'Greenway' - a footpath and cycle route at roof-top height through east London - although perhaps the name 'Brownway' would be more appropriate.

Abbey Mills pumping stationsThere are now two pumping stations at Abbey Mills, pictured here from the site of the old Big Brother House. The old pumping station (just peeking out to the left) raised sewage between two levels of the Northern Outfall Sewer, and originally housed eight coal-fired beam engines. Nowadays its pumps are on stand-by to supplement the newest ones in the building on the right, its modern replacement. However, there's a more direct connection between Big Brother and Abbey Mills than merely location. The gothic Victorian pumping station at Abbey Mills was designed by Joseph Bazalgette, great-grandfather of Peter Bazalgette, the creative director of Endemol productions who produce Big Brother. Peter is the godfather of reality TV in the UK, and also the brains behind such shows as Changing Rooms, Ground Force, and Ready Steady Cook. And his family's history lies in sewage. So remember, next time someone tells you that Big Brother is basically a load of shit, they may just be correct...
(Click on each picture to see it full size)

Capital numbers

22St Paul's Cathedral, at 112m tall, is the 22nd tallest building in London. It was the tallest for over 200 years until the Crystal Palace transmitter (222m) was erected in 1950. Now, in 2003, six of the top ten tallest buildings are in Docklands. (from Smoke magazine)
• The A22 trunk road runs from Purley to Eastbourne.
Bus route 22 runs from Piccadilly Circus to Putney Common.

Another reminder that this is a daily 1-to-30 trawl through the many and varied numbers of London. I could still do with a lot of help on 24, if anyone has any appropriate ideas...

 Saturday, June 21, 2003

William and Harry

Prince William is 21 years old today. 21 years ago this fact would have had the British nation celebrating with street parties, Union Jack bunting and a set of four commemorative plates bought from an advert on the back page of the Radio Times. Not any more. The Royal coming of age has been largely ignored by the public, who all seem far more interested in Prince Harry instead. That's Harry Potter, of course, the new pretender to the nation's hearts. Today's street parties were held outside bookshops in honour of Harry, not William. Groupies will spend the afternoon sunburning in their gardens, flicking eagerly through the latest 768-page volume, not sticking their birthday stamps into a commemorative album. Even the death of a Hogwarts character, however minor he turns out to be, can create many more column inches in the media than the departure of a minor royal.

The Royal family are fighting back at this literary assault on their popularity by attempting to appear more in tune with British youth culture. Prince William was seen in Wales this week assisting DJ Floyd J with his scratching. The suit and tie may have been a serious sartorial mistake, but being pictured behind some record decks makes for a good photo opportunity. William admits he downloads most of his music off the internet, is known to be a fan of comic rapper Ali G and did some DJ work during his gap year in South America in 2000. The rebel. Maybe a name-change to Billy W isn't too far away. Today the Poet Laureate has written a commemorative rap to celebrate the prince's 21st, complete with A-side poem and B-side poem. Yes, it's as poor as it sounds.
Better stand back
Here's an age attack,
But the second in line
Is dealing with it fine.
It's a threshold, a gateway,
A landmark birthday;
It's a turning of the page,
A coming of age.
It's a day to celebrate,
A destiny, a fate;
It's a taking to the wing,
A future thing.
The rap continues in that vein, if not worse, but at least nobody's tried to record it and hype it into the pop charts. Yet. It may be badly misjudged, but at least it's not as dreadful a piece of modern literature as the trendy text message version of the Lord's Prayer I saw on an official church website earlier in the week [Gsus said... dad@hvn, ur spshl. we want wot u want &urth2b like hvn]. Maybe J K Rowling has the right idea after all, basing her timeless stories of heroes and wizards in the traditional world of a Blyton-esque boarding school. The British public seem all too happy to lap up this fairy-tale world of nostalgia, an area the Royal Family once had sewn up for themselves. Have we elevated Harry above William, and Gryffindor house above the House of Windsor?

Summer solstice sunset times: 9:14 dover, 9:18 brighton, 9:21 london, 9:22 norwich, 9:26 stonehenge, 9:31 bristol, 9:31 plymouth, 9:33 cardiff, 9:34 birmingham, 9:36 lands end, 9:41 leeds, 9:42 manchester, 9:44 liverpool, 9:49 newcastle, 10:03 edinburgh, 10:04 belfast, 10:06 glasgow, 10:08 aberdeen, 10:19 inverness, 10:29 kirkwall, 10:34 lerwick

(and, for comparison) 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, 4:02 stonehenge, 4:03 bristol, 4:06 cardiff, 4:15 plymouth, 4:23 lands end.

21• There are 21 underground stations inside the Circle Line.
• Royal gun salutes mark special royal occasions on certain days of the year in London. The basic Royal Salute is 21 rounds. At the Tower of London 62 rounds are fired on Royal anniversaries (the basic 21, plus a further 20 because the Tower is a Royal Palace and Fortress, plus another 21 'for the City of London') and 41 on other occasions.
Campaigners are trying to get 100,000 signatures on a petition to keep the tube open late until 3am on Friday and Saturday nights - that's 21 hours a day.
• The A21 trunk road runs from Lewisham to Hastings.
Bus route 21 runs from Lewisham to Moorgate.

 Friday, June 20, 2003


No, I don't mean the ghastly American show where six people sit on sofas, drink coffee and pretend not to fall in love with each other. The show where the director thinks you need to see a five second external shot of the building everyone's in every two minutes, and then plays a burst of saxophone music to give the canned laughter from the previous scene time to fade away. Sorry, but I don't do Friends.

And, to some extent, I don't do friends much either. Go back ten years, and I'd have been hard pushed to point at anybody and call them a really good friend. I've done a bit better recently, but you could still count the number of really good friends I've had in the last five years on the fingers of one hand. Even on the fingers of one hand if you're one of those pedants who insists that one finger is in fact a thumb so it doesn't count. I'm someone who's usually quite happy filling his own time, and doesn't need to be socially attached all the time to feel occupied, complete and worthwhile. Having said that, I've discovered in the last five years that having friends improves the quality of one's life no end, especially when you live near enough for them to make a regular contribution to your waking hours.

I met one of those good friends exactly five years ago today. Good friends always seem to come along when you least expect it, and standing in the middle of a field in a large tent was one such place. I'd been dragged along to an agricultural show, full of blacksmiths, prize cows and self-righteous foxhunting types. Stuck behind one particular table, surrounded by people old enough to be their grandparents, were a couple who were keen to sign up some new blood into their rural-pastime organisation. I can't quite remember why I agreed to sign up for a year's membership (I suspect I'd have been shouted at if I hadn't) but I got a whole lot more out of that meeting than a year's supply of newsletters. Not that I realised at the time. About a month later we were invited to a barbecue at this couple's house (Oh god, barbecue, it'll all be earnest pensioners and under-cooked chicken) and things sort of grew from there. Again, not that I realised at the time. I didn't realise properly until about a year later, when my relationship was quietly disintegrating around me, that there was actually someone else I could talk to who understood the situation and could offer the advice I needed to get me through. And get me out.

Good friends are always there for you. They're there to go to the pub with, to help you out with your gardening because you're rubbish at it, to ring you up and ask you how you are, to broaden your social horizons, to give you advice when you need it, to give them advice when they need it, to stand in the audience at gigs with, to share your sense of humour, to sit in cafés and restaurants and share experiences with, to keep in touch with even when they're many miles away, to burn you a CD and tell you they almost liked the last one you burnt for them, to indulge in deep meaningful email conversation with, to disappear off on holiday to America with, to help guide you through life without making any stupid mistakes, to pick you up out of deep dark holes should you fall into one, to buy the odd special present for, to ask you if you fancy a ride out on the back of their bike, to ask your advice and take it seriously, to know what you're going to tell them even before you say it, to accompany you to places you'd never dream of going to by yourself, to bring you a much-needed cup of tea at work, to listen to while they tell you how their life's going, to listen while you tell them how your life's going, and to introduce you to other people who are going to end up being good friends too.

Thanks to those special friends who've made my last five years a better place. You know who you are. And, thankfully, so do I.

Congratulations, you are the 20000th visitor to this website
20000Well, one of you was the 20000th visitor to this website.
Visitor 20000 arrived at 7am this morning, surfing in via arseblog.
Whether you were the magic twenty thousandth or not, thank you all.
Thanks for coming, thanks for reading, and thanks for coming back.
Congratulations, you are the 20000th visitor to this website

20• There are 20 road bridges across the River Thames in London - Hampton Court, Kingston, Richmond, Twickenham, Kew, Chiswick, Hammersmith, Putney, Wandsworth, Battersea, Albert, Chelsea, Vauxhall, Lambeth, Westminster, Waterloo, Blackfriars, Southwark, London and Tower.
• Medieval London Bridge was 20 feet wide and was supported by 20 stone arches.
EastEnders is set in the fictional London borough of Walford, E20.
• Since April 2000, all London telephone numbers have begun 020.
• The roof of the Millennium Dome covers 20 acres.
• London has 20 regional radio stations.
• The A20 trunk road runs from New Cross down the Old Kent Road to the docks at Dover.
Bus route 20 runs from Walthamstow to Debden.

 Thursday, June 19, 2003

Case closed: Today was the last day of the court case I've been sitting on. The judge summed up (which took at least five times longer than I was expecting) and then we jurors were taken upstairs to retire to discuss our verdict (which also took at least five times longer than I was expecting). We were shut in a private room, separated from our mobile phones and left to deliberate. We could only communicate with the outside world through the court usher, he had to bring us sandwiches at lunchtime, and the whole debate was very interesting. Can't tell you any more than that though, because discussing what goes on in the jury room would be contempt of court (see here). OK, I'm an expert now. Next case please...

Harry Potter and the record-breaking pre-Order

It can't have escaped your notice that the new Harry Potter book is finally published at one minute past midnight on Saturday. It's been a three year wait for the fans, but they'll soon have 768 pages to read, re-read, dissect and analyse. J K Rowling has been particularly secretive about the plot, but she has released a couple of short extracts as a teaser. What might the adolescent Harry have on his mind in this new volume? Could it be any of the following?

"The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive. The only person left outside was a teenage boy who was lying flat on his back in a flowerbed outside number four."

 a) "Oh my head," said Harry. "Even my magic powers are no match for three pints of Snakebite."
 b) "I hope that's long enough in the sun," said Harry. "Hermione's bound to fancy me if I get a really good tan."
 c) "I'm such a rebel," thought Harry. "But I hope Uncle can't smell this roll-up when I go back indoors."

"Dumbledore lowered his hands and surveyed Harry through his half-moon glasses. 'It is time,' he said, 'for me to tell you what I should have told you five years ago, Harry. Please sit down. I am going to tell you everything.'"

 a) "Good," said Harry. "It's about time we had sex education classes."
 b) "It's Real Madrid, said Dumbledore. "They want to buy you for £25 million"
 c) "Hang on", said Harry, "book one was set only four years ago, not five." "I know," said Dumbledore. "I always was rubbish at maths."

19• There are 19 tennis courts at the All England Club in Wimbledon, SW19.
Victoria and Waterloo stations both have 19 mainline platforms, more than any other stations in London.
• London is the 19th largest conurbation in the world, with a population of nearly 12 million people.
Bus route 19 runs from Battersea to Finsbury Park.

 Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Courtroom drama

Jury service, day 3, and at last we were in court for more than 12 minutes. Still not for more than two hours altogether, but in court all the same. Today, all the drama of the prosecution and defence cases. Actually, perhaps 'drama' is too strong a term, because if they dished this sort of thing up on The Bill or Kavanagh QC, you'd be changing channels pretty quickly. On television a court case is always conducted between commercial breaks, comprising a brief session of pointed questioning, a pair of witheringly concise speeches, an instant jury decision and a final sentence. Not so in real life, where even the simplest case seems to take forever.

Our case was adjourned this afternoon just before the judge's final summing-up. We all walked out of the courtroom bursting to talk about the case but still unable to do so. The twelve of us must wait until tomorrow before we can retire to the jury room, discuss all that we have heard and finally reach a verdict. What conclusion will tomorrow's exciting instalment bring? Which of the courtroom arguments will we believe? Will the accused be found guilty or not guilty? Maybe it does sound like a TV cliffhanger after all, but with a far far smaller audience than John Thaw normally commands. And more breaks.

Five fantastic versions of the London Underground map:
1) The Real Underground - as it is now, and as it was in 1933. Flash-bloody-tastic.
2) Tubez + Trainz - how therapeutic is this?
3) Motorways around the capital - as you've never seen them drawn before.
4) Underground London - including rivers, sewers, bomb shelters and the Post Office railway.
5) Rude tube map - all the stations have [ahem] different names.

18Bus route 18 runs from Euston to Sudbury.
Bus route 18 also runs from Sudbury back to Euston.
• At night, bus route N18 runs from Trafalgar Square to Harrow Weald.
• At night, bus route N18 also runs back from Harrow Weald to Trafalgar Square.
I told you I was stuck on 18...

 Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Just in case

Back to court this morning for jury service, day 2. Back to sit on the almost-comfy chairs. Back to wait.

Some of yesterday's new jurors were already sitting in their groups of twelve, ready to continue with whatever case they'd started on yesterday. They were talking and chatting, not about the case of course, but because they'd been grouped together and they 'belonged'. The rest of us sat back and waited to be allocated to one of the new trials starting today. We weren't already talking and chatting, because we were still individuals without any sort of group identity. Even when today's groups were announced we still couldn't attach each name to a face, so we continued to sit there solo, flicking through reading material and watching the clock.

As the morning wore on, all the other juries were called for and all the other groups went off to become juries, until only my group was left. At last, because we all finally knew we had something in common, we were able to start talking. Nice safe conversation, like where have you come from, and my son used to live there, and what travelling expenses are you claiming, and I wish they'd hurry up and serve lunch because I'm starving. By the time we'd done lunch we were onto traffic wardens, child-minding arrangements and what it's like to play football for a top Premiership club. A much better way to fill the time than re-reading the newspaper for a fifth time.

At last, just after lunch, my group was called down to our court room to be selected and sworn in. We were a jury now, although not all of us made it through the random card shuffle that decided exactly which twelve people would fill the jury's benches. Only then did we discover the exact nature of the trial to which we'd been allocated. I can't tell you anything about what happened next of course, but the case continues tomorrow. 12 minutes must be the shortest day's work I've ever done in my life but, for someone, it's possibly the most important.

Today's book review: Man and Wife, by Tony Parsons. I have a signed copy, you know. At least, I assume that the scribbly zigzag line is Tony's signature and not something the bookshop asked one of their junior staff to forge. This is the follow-up to the hugely successful Man and Boy, another sharply-observed commentary on modern relationships and how to survive them. The story resembles an emotional ping-pong match, and you could never really imagine all of it happening to just one person, but each individual page reads perfectly like real life. Recommended.

1717 London boroughs lie alongside the River Thames, from Hounslow and Richmond in the west to Bexley and Havering in the east.
• The longest continuous tunnel on the Underground is 17.3 miles long between Morden and East Finchley on the Northern line.
17% of all the workplaces in the UK are in London.
17 different nightbuses terminate in Trafalgar Square.
• The popular beat combo East 17 were named after the postcode of the area of London they originate from - the lovely village of Walthamstow. (from Scaryduck)
17 mosaics at Leytonstone tube station commemorate the films of Alfred Hitchcock, who was born just down the road at 517 High Road.
Bus route 17 runs from London Bridge to Archway.

 Monday, June 16, 2003

You the Jury

My jury service began today. A two-week campaign for truth and justice. A fortnight holed-up in a well-hidden Crown Court somewhere in the Southwark area. And all reasonable expenses paid.

There were just over 60 of us there bright and early this morning, all standing around in the foyer of the court looking a bit lost. We were ushered upstairs to what can best be described as the jury lounge, a bland featureless waiting room complete with almost-comfy seats, a sort-of-canteen and a selection of year-old magazines. We had to prove that we were who we said we were (I wonder sometimes if the best thing I got out of a year's worth of driving lessons was just a very expensive identity card). We sat through an informative video which contained everything we should have read in the booklet they sent us a month ago, only this time with a really naff synthesiser backing track. We listened to the jury officer telling us about what we might expect over our 'ten working days' and found out that we can claim a massive £2.34 each day for lunch. And, finally, we were divided up into one of four randomly-selected groups, one group per new trial.

Looking round the lounge, it was fascinating to see what a random selection of the British public actually looks like. In fact it was quite reassuring to see that random selection appears to produce what looks like a rational and reliable group of upstanding citizens. Could be useful if you're ever falsely accused of some heinous crime at some point in the future, and it gives you some faith in the whole jury system.

And then the wait started. It was well after ten o'clock by this time, and last week's jurors were only just dribbling in for the start of their second week. After a few minutes, one of the four new groups was called down to be sworn in for their trial. Everyone else sat and waited with traditional British reserve. One or two people started up a conversation, but not for long. Most people just opened up the reading material they'd brought with them and buried themselves in it. Half an hour later the rest of the group were no doubt wishing that the canteen sold paperbacks or magazines as well as packets of crisps and bananas. A second group were called down to court, and the rest of us looked at the clock and wondered when our time would come.

Hours passed. The seats got less comfortable and people got more restless. Eventually I finished the paperback I'd brought with me, all 200-plus pages of it. I know I read far too fast, but I was very glad I'd thought to bring a reserve with me. Then, just two pages into the new book, there was a crackle over the intercom and my group were called to the jury office. It turned out that our trial never ever got to the needing-a-jury stage, following some protracted legal stuff downstairs, so we were all told we could go home for the rest of the day. Tomorrow we start again from scratch, get allocated to a new trial, and see if anybody wants us this time. I bought a new book on the way home. I have a feeling I may be needing it sooner rather than later.

Today's book review: Twelve, by Nick McDonnell. It seemed the perfect book to read while waiting to sit on a jury of a dozen people. The Twelve of the title turns out instead to be a designer narcotic messing up the lives of gun-toting drug-dealing New York rich kids. I'm sure you can guess how it all ends. The author was only 18 when he wrote the book, which you'd never guess, but you can tell he's nowhere near literary maturity yet either. Worth reading, but probably not worth buying.

16• There are 16 stations on the Victoria line.
Sixteen floating barges were used to create the River of Fire along the Thames for London's Millennium celebrations, each with around 2½ tons of fireworks that were launched in a sixteen minute display.
Bus route 16 runs from Victoria to Cricklewood.

 Sunday, June 15, 2003

Trial by Jury

I'm up in court tomorrow. On the right side of the law, I should hasten to add. My name has come up in the lucky lottery draw they call jury service, and I'm due to attend court at 9:00 tomorrow morning to find out exactly what they want to do with me. I've cleared my calendar at work for the next two weeks, I've ironed a presentable shirt and I'm all aquiver in eager expectation. If you've recently been suspected of commiting a crime in the London area then beware, your future may be partly in my hands.

Jury service is a very rare event in anyone's life. Nobody in my family has ever done jury service before, and very few other people I know can shed any light on the secret service I'm about to undertake. The Court Service scanned through the electoral roll, selected a few names at random and sent me my call-up papers in the post about six weeks before my stint was due to begin. I could have turned this summons down, or at least delayed it, had I had a really good excuse, but they've actually managed to pick the perfect time for me to abandon work for a few weeks with minimum fallout, so I'm going.

You may remember last Tuesday that two "extremely dangerous" prisoners escaped from a Securicor van during an armed ambush outside a court in south London. Two men leapt out and attacked the van just as it was about to deliver a cargo of prisoners from Brixton prison. The driver was shot in the knee, a security guard was struck with a gun, and two men escaped. It made all the news front pages and TV news broadcasts. And the court outside which all this happened? Yes, the one I'm going to tomorrow. Delightful. Ah well, I'm sure I'll be safer tucked up inside the court than hanging around on the streets outside.

I have to be at Blackfriars Crown Court first thing tomorrow morning. This sounds rather glamorous, a bewigged world of City justice, until you read the small-print of the address and realise that you're going to be stuck in a building halfway between London Bridge and Elephant and Castle. Lovely. Ah well, I'm sure the events inside the building will be more interesting than the area around it. I get to watch a video about being a juror, and then to hang around in the waiting-room until I'm called in to attend a case. Even once I'm in the court room they still select the twelve jurors at random using cards, so I may get sent straight back out again to wait for another case, or even not get picked at all.

I'm advised that jurors in Crown Courts normally try the more serious cases like murder, rape, assault, burglary or fraud, so at least it sounds interesting. I'm advised to take a good book to read during any long waits there may be (I've bought three - one about mindless violence, one about drug-dealing and one about marital infidelity, just so that I'm ready for anything). I'm advised not to take a mobile phone or a personal stereo because I'll have to leave them outside the courtroom. And, of course, I'm advised that I must never discuss the case with anyone who is not a member of my jury. So, come back here tomorrow and I'll tell you all about my first day at court. And absolutely nothing of any importance.

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