diamond geezer

 Friday, October 31, 2003

trickTreat or Trick?

When I was a child, Hallowe'en was just another day at the end of October. Nothing special. No ghosts, no ghoulies, just a distant and uncelebrated festival, and a normal night's sleep. I first got a clue that there was more to All Hallows Eve when my family took a holiday in Scotland one October half term when I was tennish. We may have missed all the wee bairns out guising, but the guest house landlady was kind enough to leave me and my brother a candle and an apple each, which was enough to make us wonder what the devil was going on out there.

Nowadays Hallowe'en comes second only to Christmas in a child's expectations. This pagan festival has become commercialised out of all recognition (it would be cheap and easy to blame America for this, so I will). Children start preparing for Spooknight weeks in advance, choosing costumes, stockpiling sugary sweets, making decorations and trivialising death. Maybe it's good for them, even if it's better still for Woolworth's shareholders. But it still seems a funny choice of festival to make light of with the under 10s.

We spend 364 days each year teaching children to keep safe and worrying where the hell they are and then, on the 365th, we tell them that the world is full of evil spirits and they should go out exploring. As long as we can come along too, just to make sure that the scary isn't really dangerous after all. Let's all cut up a giant pumpkin, but only if I'm the one to use the big sharp knife. Why don't we go out trick or treating in the dark, but only in the well-lit parts of the dark. Let's go knock on some strangers' doors, but only if we know them. Wouldn't it be scary to walk through that churchyard, but maybe it would be safer to walk round the edge instead. Off you go and accept lots of sweets off strangers, but we'll check them all for razor blades before we let you eat them. And we'd love you all to dress up as pretty skeletons, but whatever you do please don't end up looking like one. Have a happy Hallowe'en children, because I suspect we adults are far more frightened about the whole thing than any of you.

treatHallowe'en links
Ghostwatch (excellent 1992 BBC docudrama)
Samhain (surely Prince William's not a member?)
Hallowia'in (someone seemed to like him)
Goodbyeia'in (something of the night)
Blue Witch (all year round sourcery)
Bewitched (twitching TV comedy)
Buffy says (not really work-safe, this one)

 Thursday, October 30, 2003

Evolution of a cold

Stage 1: Infection
Life is healthy. Life is good. You're going about things as normal, doing stuff, eating stuff, moving through public spaces and breathing in. Someone, somewhere, passes by your nostrils and breathes out. Bastard. An army of little winged viruses flies down your throat, into your lungs, sets up residence and begins to multiply. You fail to notice and continue to go about things as normal.

Stage 2: Onset
Cough. Just the one cough to start with, indistinguishable from any other one-off cough you might experience every now and then. Sniffle. Just the one sniffle to start with, with no obvious liquid outflow. And is it me or is it getting cold in here? Ah, it's just me then. Bugger. Something's afoot.

Stage 3: Fever
You've turned up the heating, you've stuck an extra sweatshirt on, and still you're shivering. There's a battle being fought inside your body and it looks like you're losing. All of a sudden moving your legs feels ill-advised. Time to reacquaint yourself with your duvet, hoping that it will a) keep you warm b) let you sleep. It manages neither. Your appetite vanishes, and you wish that on your last visit to the supermarket you'd bought Lemsip instead of rather too many stodgy meat-based products. You would have taken the day off work, except that this sort of thing always happens at the weekend instead. You feel merely weakened.

Stage 4: Vesuvius
You wake unrefreshed feeling hot and stuffy. Your nose is blocked by sudden untapped reserves of mucus, so it's lucky you keep a box of paper tissues beside your bed. Fill four tissues, then get up and turn the central heating back down to normal. Splutter and wheeze in an uncontrollable manner, then rush back to the Kleenex as the yellow volcano continues to erupt. Every blow brings forth a surging avalanche of phlegm from the depths. Your stomach feels like a pint of milk has gone off inside. Cough again, with a seismic force that appears to be your only strength at the moment.

Stage 5: Cough
Time to continue with real life, even though your lungs continue to empty at much the same rate as before. Chilly outside isn't it? On public transport you try desperately hard not to cough or dribble into the face of a stranger, despite that being exactly what someone did to you a week ago. Everyone at work sympathises with how poorly you're looking, although secretly they wish you'd stayed at home so they didn't risk catching the plague off you. Unreal life.

Stage 6: Dribble (I'm here now)
You can't quite remember what feeling normal is like. A raw dry patch below your nostrils reveals just how overblown you've been. Even when it appears there's nothing more you could possibly deposit into a handkerchief, your body surprises you once again. You realise that your supply of clean linen squares is in danger of running out, so you should never complain about being given them for Christmas again. Surely this cold must be over soon. Cough.

Stage 7: Normal
The virus is beaten, the washing machine is full, and your weight loss has beaten anything the Atkins diet could have managed. It's good to be back. Life is healthy. Life is good. And may your next Stage 1 be a long way off...

 Wednesday, October 29, 2003


Ant & Dec
Most likely to be seen on: The National Television Awards, Pop Idol, I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, SM:tv, or any ITV show requiring two big smiles, cheeky banter and an audience teeming with appreciative menopausal women.
Started out on: Byker Grove (1990) as the angelic PJ and Duncan, purveyors of such high quality musical noise as Let's Get Ready To Rhumble and Our Radio Rocks, and they don't appear to have grown much taller since.
Likely next career move: Due to inherit the UK's Light Entertainment Crown on the death of Brucie, and will no doubt still be propping up Saturday evenings when you and I are watching from our retirement homes. Such nice boys.

Davina McCall
Most likely to be seen on: Popstars, Big Brother eviction nights, Streetmate, or any ITV show requiring a big smile, a safe pair of hands and and a comforting shoulder.
Started out on: God's Gift (1995, with Stuart Hall), Granada's very-late-night dating show in which four blokes tried to persuade the (usually) female audience that they had unsung talents with whipped cream. Mike remembers.
Likely next career move: Hosting the phone-in vote for Iain Duncan-Smith's successor in Tory Idol - The Rivals.

Dermot O'Leary
Most likely to be seen on: Big Brother's Little Brother, Born To Win, that thing with the SAS blokes, or any BBC show requiring a big smile, intelligent conversation and a bit of physical exertion.
Started out on: T4 (1999, C4) which let you wake up with Dermot every Sunday morning, and before that a DJ on BBC Radio Essex and the warm-up for Channel 4's Light Lunch. A few years ago I drove past the semi-obscure Dermot outside Colchester railway station and nearly stopped to offer him a lift to his old school's summer fete but, well, we all make mistakes.
Likely next career move: Either world domination or a nice photoshoot in Heat magazine. Expect full details here.

Graham Norton
Most likely to be seen on : So Graham Norton, V Graham Norton, or any C4 show requiring a knowing smirk, a complete lack of dress sense and a selection of sex toys.
Started out on: Father Ted (1996, cameo appearance), Carnal Knowledge, then a couple of weeks standing in on Jack Docherty's Channel 5 chatshow. Still lives just round the corner from me in Bow, but I have yet to bump into him in the local chippie.
Likely next career move: Moving his chatshow to America, now that faded starlets can't be tempted across the Atlantic on Concorde any more.

 Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Twelve little words: Each of the clues below spells out a different word, but can you work out what each word is?
All correctly guessed! Each question number now links to an appropriate page, and the answers are in the comments box.

1) 61 x 9464683
2) Papa Hotel Oscar November Echo Tango India Charlie
3) 261.6 Hz, down 3 semitones, up a tone, up an octave, down a tone, down a tone, down 3 semitones.
4) Argon Selenium Nickel Carbon
5) &#75 &#69 &#89 &#66 &#79 &#65 &#82 &#68
6) .. -. ... .--. . -.-. - --- .-.
7) Relief Brick 'Orses Mo Leather Husband
8) blue rectangle on white background; left half white, right half red; black circle on yellow background; white rectangle on blue background
9) 1009
10) flag to the right; flag down to the left and flag up to the right; flag down to the left; flag down to the right
11) Birmingham, London, East Anglia, Wales, Luton & Northampton
12) place thumb and index finger at either end of index finger; touch tip of index finger; touch tip of thumb; place first two fingers together across index finger

Two months to go:
• Odds-on favourite for the Chr**tmas number 1 is a cover version of John Lennon's Happy Xm*s (War Is Over), massacred by the ITV Pop Idol stable.
Walkers have released Roast t*rkey and Paxo flavoured crisps, and they wish you a "Merry Crispmas".
• Not-yet-illuminated sn*wflakes now hang over Oxford Street.

 Monday, October 27, 2003

10 pastimes to take up now the nights are drawing in

1) Astronomy: For those of you in the darkness of the countryside, this is the perfect time to spot Andromeda, the Milky Way and Mars. For those of us in towns, if you stand outside your house and squint, those sodium street lights should look exactly like Ursa Minor, near enough.
2) Candlecraft: Why not make the most of the darker evenings with the ancient art of waxdripping? Cover your surfaces with splatterings from IKEA-sourced tea lights, hold your nose as the whiff of essential oils wafts through your house, and prepare to meet your local fire brigade after your bathroom catches ablaze.
3) Night-gardening: In the dark it's impossible to tell whether that plant is a weed or a hardy perennial, so go on, just whip it out anyway.
4) Bored Games: What better way to pass a dark evening than by being ritually humiliated in a pointless game of chance by your four year old nephew? Or by changing the rules of Monopoly as you go along to make sure that your four year old nephew doesn't thrash you at that too.
5) Influenza: Curl up under the duvet with a pint of Beechams Hot Lemon, a wad of paper tissues and a bucket to cough your phlegm up into. Makes a very attractive display.
6) Hallowe'en: Knock up your own devilish costume out of an old sheet and a ski mask so that you can terrorise innocent children anonymously on the streets later this week.
7) Arts & Crafts: Fill up your evenings by creating something unique out of fabric, glitter, papier maché and ribbon. It'll greatly reduce your Christmas present bill, but don't expect to get any thankyou letters this year.
8) Fireworks: Spend a fortune on some small cardboard tubes of gunpowder, invite the neighbours round, stand in your garden in the freezing cold eating hot dogs and watch your money going up in smoke.
9) Needlework: A big stash of heroin, that'll help get you through the winter.
10) Book next year's summer holiday: Don't worry, it's only going to be dark until March. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

 Sunday, October 26, 2003

Turning back the years

Let's remember the top 10 records of exactly 20 years ago. (Why 20 years? Because 30=David Cassidy and 10=Meatloaf, that's why)

1) Culture Club - Karma Chameleon: Boy George's finest moment, saleswise at least, and also the top selling single of 1983 with five million copies sold worldwide. Nowadays, however, all this track can shift is that tacky chameleon telephone, as seen in last year's BT advert.
2) Lionel Richie - All Night Long: Lionel's second post-Commodores single, released before he scared the life out of us with that blind clay sculpture video. This upbeat hornfest is now a mainstay of London's 100%-inoffensive Heart FM radio station, where it gets played roughly twice an hour between midnight and dawn.
3) Tracy Ullman - They Don't Know: This Kirsty McCall cover was Tracey's biggest hit, two years after Three of a Kind and well before her US TV show spawned The Simpsons. This was the single with the video that didn't destroy Neil Kinnock's career.
4) Duran Duran - Union Of The Snake: The first hit off the album 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger', spearheading the UK invasion of a fledgeling MTV. But The Reflex was much-much-much-much-much better.
5) Howard Jones - New Song: The debut hit for the synth wizard from High Wycombe, complete with Jed the dancing handcuffed dwarf. Howard is now to be found writing tracks for Sugarbabes albums, and is hoping to rake in the royalties when yet another greatest hits album is released next month.
6) Rocksteady Crew - Hey You (The Rocksteady Crew): A bunch of one hit wonders (well, maybe not the 'wonder' part) performing their 'digital electric boogaloo'. The breakdancing crew were Crazy Legs, Baby Love, Prince Ken Swift, Buck 4, Kuriaki and Doze, if you care.
7) Billy Joel - Uptown Girl: On its way up to number one, the video featured Mr Joel as a car mechanic fiddling under Christie Brinkley's bonnet. Recently murdered by Westlife (the song, that is, not the long-legged model).
8) Men Without Hats - Safety Dance: In my humble opinion, the best of the ten records listed here, and the second to feature a dwarf in the video. A bunch of Canadians who've spent the rest of their career failing to emerge from the shadow of this three minutes of brilliance.
9) George Benson - In Your Eyes: This was the former jazz singer's final top 10 hit, nearly twenty years after his recording career began. It's more Heart FM fodder, and produced by the legendary Arif Mardin.
10) Black Lace - Superman (Gioca Jouer): Just to show that the past still has its fair share of crap, here are two Timmy Mallett clones with that nauseating cover version of an Italian holiday smash. Gert has the full story. I've still not recovered from this auntie-favourite being wheeled out at my brother's wedding disco ten years ago, but at least it's not Agadoo. Sleep. Wave your hands. Hitch a ride. Sneeze. Go for a walk. Let's see you swim. And ski. Spray. Macho man. Sound your horn. And ring the bell. OK. Kiss. Comb your hair. Wave. Wave your hands. Superman! Retch.

Turning back the clocks: Ah, the perils of entering a second year of blogging. I wanted to write a big long post all about Daylight Saving Time, how it started, where it happens and what it means, only to remember that I wrote exactly such a post exactly a year ago. It would be bad etiquette to cut and paste the whole piece back here, not that most of you would notice, but equally if I only provide a brief link then I know that none of you will bother to click on it. So, in a spirit of compromise, the whole of the next sentence is a link back to the previous article. Go on, you've got an hour to spare after all.

 Saturday, October 25, 2003

Global Flash Mob ##1 - Greet the world & Jump for Joy
London Flash Mob ##4 - Round and round the Garden

round and round the garden

What a fine idea - the world's first global flash mob. In 81 cities around the world at 2:15pm local time a crowd would gather, address the wider world in some way, and 10 minutes later jump for joy, cheer and disperse. That was the idea anyway. As I say, a fine idea that probably worked really well elsewhere, but alas it all fell a bit flat here in London.

Covent Garden was the chosen target of the London flashmobbers, the idea being for a huge crowd to walk in single file round the market building in the centre of the plaza. We were issued with a list of eight international greetings to use as we passed each corner of the building (bonjour, enchanté de vous rencontré). And that was about it.

If you know Covent Garden, you'll know that it's a magnet for tourists. There are jugglers, acrobats, guitarists trying to sell CDs recorded in their garage, and mime artists spray-painted silver in the hope that people will throw money at them for being complete aerosols. In fact, on a Saturday afternoon the whole of Covent Garden looks like it's already been invaded by a mob of tourists (ciao! Piacere di conoscerti!) and one more mob is going to be very hard to spot. And that was the problem.

At 2:14 you'd have been hard pushed to realise that a mob was assembling at the eastern end of the plaza, save for the bloke with the TV camera pointing his lens towards the cobbles where he hoped something was about to happen. At 2:15, magically coalescing out of the crowd, a surge of mobsters headed off in a clockwise direction. It wasn't so much single file as lots of people all out together for an afternoon stroll, and that made the queue rather on the short side. At each corner we tried out a new international greeting (ni hao! wo jiandao ni hen gaoxing) but it's a big market and we never got through all eight on the list.

We weaved our way slowly through the thronging tourists, completely failing to get noticed. Except by the press that is. A young gentleman from BBC Radio poked his big woolly microphone in my face and asked me if I'd mind telling him why I'd decided to come along today. He looked most hurt when I told him I did mind actually thankyou. At the next corner I was greeted by a beaming warmly-dressed young woman, to whom I would have replied privet, jarad tebja videtj if only she hadn't been standing primed with a TV camera in her face. Sadly de-press-ing.

After ten minutes, and not-quite-two circuits of the market, it was time to jump for joy. Only those members of the public in the north-east corner of the market heard the two hundred cheers that went up, and perhaps wondered whether this was just another piece of performance art. At least nobody threw any coins at us (hola, encantado de conocerte). And then we dissolved back into the crowd, as if we'd never been there, which we might as well not have been.

Nice idea, good try, no impact. It was good to have an audience for a change, but not one that was far bigger than the mob. Next time, if there is a next time, I hope it's all a bit more flash.

 Friday, October 24, 2003

Final approach

Mach 0Just before four this afternoon three ageing sisters appeared in the sky over London. Office workers stood respectfully on rooftops, pointing eastward as the first Concorde appeared. A second silver speck grew slowly in size to the south, and finally a third joined the procession across the capital. Nose down, landing gear down, engines blaring, the three planes cast their shadow across the city for the last time. I watched all three pass by, heading gracefully into the sun, towards Heathrow and into retirement. And then they were gone, and only a lump in the throat remained.


Mach 1The future of flight arrived in 1969. In July the Americans landed an Apollo rocket on the Moon, and in early Spring the French and English launched a Concorde into the sky. It wasn't until the following year that Concorde finally broke the sound barrier, and another six until it entered commercial service, but the technology was sixties through and through. Over the past three decades nothing has come close to Concorde for speed and glamour, and it still looks like the world's only 21st century passenger plane. But the era of supersonic travel draws to an end today with Concorde's very last commercial flight. Too expensive, too exclusive and, since that crash in 2000, too risky. Concorde, like Apollo, has no successors. At this rate, never again will man (or woman) stand on the Moon, and never again will transatlantic passengers be able to arrive in New York before they leave London. When Concorde lands for the very last time at Heathrow this afternoon, nearly one hundred years after the Wright Brothers' first flight, the future will be over. Anybody out there got any new dreams?


Mach 2I used to live under the Heathrow flight path, just a few miles away from the airport. Every evening at ten past seven I'd turn up the volume on my television to prepare for Concorde's daily flypast, awaiting the sudden arrival of a screaming silver bird in the sky, and then two minutes later return my TV to its normal volume. Anywhere else in the country a Concorde flypast would have been a special event, with crowds out on the streets to watch her pass over, but few of the locals round where I lived ever even stopped to look up. Their loss.

I used to live in Suffolk, where to spot any plane in the sky was a rare sight and Concorde was never seen. It still impacted on our lives though. On Tuesday 25th July 2000 a group of Suffolk students were on a summer trip to France and due to be staying in a small hotel in Gonesse, an obscure suburb of Paris. Their coach was still a few miles short of checking in when Concorde hit a metal strip on the runway at nearby Charles De Gaulle airport, burst into flames and crashed onto that very same hotel. Had the accident happened an hour later the terrible loss of life in that fireball would have been even greater, and would have included people I actually knew. Great loss.

I now live in London, rather further from Heathrow, but Concorde is still sometimes part of my sky. I remain one of those people who stops and stares every time she flies over, in the same way that an ornithologist would stop and stare at a passing osprey. Last year I took up position in Trafalgar Square for the Queen's Golden Jubilee flypast, not for the antique planes but for Concorde to fly directly overhead, flanked by nine Red Arrows. Most impressive. Today's final flypast sees three consecutive Concordes due to swoop into Heathrow at 4 o'clock this afternoon. I hope their final flightpath takes them over central London, because I'll be watching from my 7th floor office window just in case I'm allowed one last fleeting glimpse before the species becomes extinct. Our loss.

Supersonic facts
Mach 3• In 1962, Concorde was projected to cost £160m. By 1976, the year of commercial launch, more than £1.2bn had been spent.
• Concorde's fastest ever crossing of the Atlantic from New York to London took 2 hours 52 minutes and 59 seconds. Until last month, that was faster than London to Paris by Eurostar.
• Concorde holds 119500 litres of fuel, but uses up 25000 litres of fuel an hour and so has a range of only 3740 miles. And that's why Concorde can fly from London to New York or Paris to New York, but couldn't manage Frankfurt to New York.
• Concorde's wingspan is the same length as 3 London buses, whereas a Boeing 747 measures 8 on the same scale.
Peter took a trip on Concorde earlier this year - read his report here.
• The best record ever made about Concorde is There Goes Concorde Again by the Native Hipsters. What do they do down there that results in such an increase in size and weight? Genius.
Concorde, conceived 1962, born 1969, left the nest 1976, died 2000, retired 2003.

 Thursday, October 23, 2003

Time travel

Mach 2Today sees Concorde's very last commercial flight from London to New York. More about Concorde's demise tomorrow but, before this particular journey disappears forever, here's the timeline for a typical transatlantic supersonic journey.

Late afternoon A motley assortment of the rich, the famous, the botoxed and Sir David Frost gather in the posh lounge at Heathrow to be dripfed Pol Roger champagne by perma-grinned waitresses.
18:15 Everyone parades onto the plane, crowding into 25 rows each only four seats wide. All the tourists promptly make themselves known by nicking the in-flight magazines as souvenirs.
18:30 British Airways flight 001 departs Terminal 4 and taxis towards the runway. You could probably run faster.
18:45 UK time Four Rolls Royce engines kick into action and Concorde lifts off from Heathrow at 250mph. On board the maraschino cherries vibrate slightly.
19:00 Concorde has been climbing at half a mile a minute, heading up towards a cruising altitude of 11 miles. Only fighter pilots and astronauts fly higher.
19:05 The plane accelerates until it catches up with its own sound waves, creating the infamous sonic boom. The yellow LCD display in the cabin reads Mach 1. Regular passengers fail to notice.
19:35 Concorde is now travelling at 1350mph, more than twice the speed of sound. On board two passengers have just proposed marriage while the rest are now busy pilfering the safety instruction cards.
20:15 The highest cordon bleu restaurant in the world continues to fly westward. Due to heating of the airframe, Concorde is now eight inches longer than when it took off.
21:00 Just as well that the flight time for this journey is so short because there are no in-flight movies to watch, just tanned celebs bitching.
21:45 Concorde slows down to Mach 0.95 as it makes landfall over America. Last orders please, the high life is almost over.
22:10 UK time, 17:10 NY time Touchdown at JFK and, because Concorde flies faster than the Earth rotates, everyone has arrived in New York before they left London. That's why it costs £4000 a trip, you know.
17:25 Concorde noses into the terminal building. If you're a celeb then your chauffeur awaits and it's off to be a big cheese in the Big Apple. If you're a pleb then your signed photo awaits and it's back to London in economy on the red eye, no doubt with a bagful of cutlery ready to sell on eBay.

The Guardian's British Blog Awards 2003 continue to stir up debate in the UK blogosphere. So, given that you probably missed this message that appeared yesterday in my last-Friday's comments box, here's the latest news. Good news.

Sorry to interrupt… but just so you know. If anyone wants their name not to be revealed, that's fine with us. We do need to know who you are however, for tiny matters like: who do we write a winner's cheque to… and where do we send it? Just say you don't want your name to be revealed on the entry form. Incidentally: The reason we make it so that people have to nominate themselves (rather than just nominating their favourites) is to protect privacy: ie: we don't want people having their private blogs being thrust into the limelight without their permission.
Simon Waldman (Chair of the Judges)

 Wednesday, October 22, 2003

the weather projectThe Weather Project

It's said that we English talk about the weather far too much. That's probably because we actually have weather in this country, where it can be cold and dry one day but mild and wet the next. We love to kick off our conversations by telling each other the meteorologically obvious ("sunny, isn't it?"). And can there be another country in the world where the weather forecast starts off with what the weather has been before going on to tell us what it will be? Ah, the weather, we do love it, even if it doesn't love us.

Every year the Tate Modern attempts to fill its giant Turbine Hall with a giant work of art. In 2000 they installed a couple of tall twirly staircases and a giant spider, sculpted out of steel by Louise Bourgeois. In 2001 there were lifts disappearing upwards through a series of darkened rooms courtesy of Juan Muñoz, and last year Anish Kapoor's giant red ring thing that somehow I completely managed to miss seeing. But now for 2003, rising for the first time last week, it's Olafur Eliasson's solar-inspired The Weather Project. And what better way to fill a huge space than with light?

the weather projectI visited the Tate Modern yesterday for an early view of this new meteorological phenomenon. An enormous yellow sun now beams out from the eastern wall of the Turbine Hall. Clouds of fine mist hang in the air and the ceiling above is completely covered by mirrors, doubling the height of the sky. The whole place feels like a cathedral to the great sun god, which must be why half the population of London has come along to worship. Down on the floor a congregation has gathered, most gawping in awe and wonder at the great solar disc, others lying prostrate to gaze upon their distant reflection in the mirrors above.

If you walk right to the end of the hall to stand behind the sun, the illusion is shattered. Above your head is suspended a semicircle of yellow lamps, reflected in another mirror to form a ring of light. Look back into the hall and all you see now is a crowd behaving strangely, like a bunch of weather-obsessed primitives worshipping a scientific phenomenon they don't understand. But walk back into the light and the eclipse is over, the magic returns and you become a sun-worshipper again. Most impressive.

On leaving the Tate Modern yesterday it was back out into the autumn sunshine (10°C, northwesterly wind at 5mph, skies mostly clear, showers threatening later). There in the sky hung a distant small yellow globe, totally ignored by those exiting the gallery. Somehow the real thing couldn't hold a candle to the artificial sun inside. But then you can't walk round the back of the real sun to see how it works (well, not unless you're willing to wait for six months anyway). Let there be light. And do come and see it before it sets.

 Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Sixty things that are simply unpleasant: A plate of vegetables, waiting for the dawn, dusk, too many birthdays, a child's evil grin, someone else playing their favourite album for the 457th time, playing a disappointing album for the first time, birdshit, mayonnaise, a cold shower, unexplained aches, standing in a tiny space on a crowded train, low grey clouds, sleet, saying goodbye to a friend you won't see again for ages, thick fog, someone else's unwashed sheets, knowing that you'll never spot Concorde in the sky again, the first day in the Autumn when you need to wear a coat, disrespect, bad manners, finding £20 in a pocket after you empty the washing machine, staring at rain through a window, getting stuck on the first clue in the crossword, tears, an unwanted cup of coffee, watching a plant die, being overtaken by a caravan, tofu, having to pay to sit in the park on a deckchair, power cuts, Christmas in October, not getting a reply to a text message, frostiness, Manchester United winning, frothy sewage lapping on a beach, broken friendship, losing your hair, spotting items in half price sales that you bought at full price, 9pm Sunday evening, 9am Monday morning, empty Sundays, arriving on the platform just as your train departs, an inbox full of viagra, having nothing to do, living in the countryside, being lost in a big city, waiting for a nightbus, reading the last page of a book first, the smell of egg sandwiches, The Sound Of Music, drilling, waiting in an airport terminal, waiting in a foreign airport terminal, catching a sniffly cold from a stranger, being ignored by a stranger you'd really like to flirt with, being called sunshine, moonlighting, Rich Tea biscuits, discovering there isn't an afterlife.

Sixty simple pleasures (read this one first): A plate of fish and chips, dawn, sunset, birthday cake, a child's smile, playing a favourite album for the 457th time, playing a favourite album for the first time, birdsong, ketchup, a long soak in the bath, good health, finding a seat on a crowded train, a sky full of stars, a sky full of snowflakes, meeting a friend you've not seen for ages, a low mist, the cool side of the pillow, spotting Concorde in the sky, the first day in the Spring when you don't need a coat, please, thankyou, finding £20 in a pocket before you fill the washing machine, staring at a river, filling in the last clue in the crossword, laughter, a cup of tea placed beside your bed, watching a plant grow, overtaking a caravan, chocolate, sitting in the park on a deckchair, a cracking thunderstorm, Christmas in December, an unexpected text message, cuddles, Manchester United losing, the tide slowly creeping up a beach, friendship, spotting the toupee its owner had hoped was convincing, half price sales, 5pm Friday evening, 9am Saturday morning, Sunday lunchtime, arriving on the platform just as your train arrives, receiving an email that isn't spam, doing nothing, a walk in the countryside, exploring a big city, midnight, curling up with a good book, the smell of baking bread, the sound of music, silence, going away on holiday, coming home again, a smile from a stranger, a wink from a stranger, sunshine, moonlight, chocolate Hobnobs, life.

 Monday, October 20, 2003

When I'm 65

So, my Dad hits 65 today. It's one of those special ages that actually means something, rather like 16 means you can shag, 17 means you can drive and 18 means you can drink. Yes, 65 means you can stop. My Dad stopped as soon as the opportunity presented itself, back when his age still began with a five. Good move. This meant he didn't treat retirement as stopping at all, but started doing even more because now he had the time to do so. He's busier now than he ever was before, within the local community at least. Maybe life doesn't begin at 40 after all, but rather later.

Me, I still have a long way to go before I can stop. I checked. The Department for Work and Pensions reliably inform me that "You have 27 years until you reach state pension age." Hell, I've only been working for 16 years so far, so I'm not even halfway to stopping yet, not by a long way (come back in December 2008 and I'll tell you what halfway feels like). In the meantime, I reckon I still have about six thousand working days to go before my official stopping date, that's fourteen hundred weeks (and fourteen hundred Monday mornings). And that's assuming that no present or future government shifts the goalposts before I get there, adding even more years (and even more Mondays), just because the UK can't afford to pay us all if everyone stops too early. I'm sure most of us would like to stop early, like my Dad, but I suspect fewer and fewer of us will get the chance as we get older. Pity, because the later you get to stop, the less time you get to carry on and enjoy the health you have left. Cheers Dad, and long may yours continue.

happy 65th birthdayI don't care that none of the rest of you are going to find this the least bit interesting, but here are five things that happened 65 years ago on the day my Dad was born. Happy birthday Dad.
Fred Alsop, twice Commonwealth bronze medallist in the triple jump (and fourth at the Tokyo Olympics) was born just down the road from me in Plaistow on October 20th 1938.
• Hollywood actress Dolores Hart, who gave Elvis Presley his first on-screen kiss in King Creole, was born on October 20th 1938. In 1963 she abandoned her acting career to become a nun at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut, where she later became Mother Superior.
• The Armstrong Whitworth AW27 Ensign airliner, the first British large, four-engined, all-metal land monoplane, entered commercial service between London and Paris for the first time on October 20th 1938.
Orson Welles broadcast his infamous radio version of War Of The Worlds to an unsuspecting audience on October 20th 1938 (Ah, hang on, this and this are misprints, the actual broadcast was ten days later)
• Pipe Major Angus Macdonald, the finest classical bagpiper of the 20th century, was born in Glasgow on October 20th 1938. (OK, even I'm getting bored with this now...)

 Sunday, October 19, 2003

Look East: It's my Dad's 65th birthday tomorrow, so I'm making the pilgrimage up to Norfolk today for a special family meal. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, other than the 100 mile journey there and the 100 mile journey back, but today life is conspiring against me. Best Mate is over from America this weekend (as you'll remember) so we were out on the town rather late last night. My plan had then been to get the 10:30am train out of London up to Norfolk but, oh no, not today. Today there are major engineering works between Ipswich and Norwich so a new timetable is in operation and I have to catch the 9am train instead. Not good. Not good at all. I've had just over three hours sleep, and now I face a mystery tour on one of those ropey coaches the rail companies only drag out on non-special occasions. I'm going to be a zombie all day, no doubt, and in grave danger of slumping into my carvery gravy over lunch. And then, after a super family-type afternoon of birthday celebrationing, it's another nightmare coach and train journey home again. I'm starting to see a couple of advantages to being 65 - cheaper rail travel (which is all this travesty of a journey deserves) and no work to fall asleep at on Monday morning.

Still more than two months to go:
Boots the so-called chemists: decorations up in all stores; usual selection of sticking plasters, toothbrushes and batteries replaced by tins*l-wrapped shelves full of of useless overpriced pampering products; full TV advertising campaign underway featuring sn*w, m*nce pi*s and mistl*toe.
Huge Hits 2004: compilation album featuring pap pop hits released between October 2002 and October 2003, on sale tomorrow.

 Saturday, October 18, 2003

The Little Read

I hope the BBC have given whoever came up with the idea for The Big Read a pay rise. It's boosted book sales, as well as boosting the corporation's status as a successful public service broadcaster. Informative, educational and entertaining - Lord Reith would have been proud. Last year it was history, this year it's books - I wonder what highbrow theme we're in for next year. Britain's favourite painting perhaps, or Britain's favourite composer, or Britain's favourite soap opera character? Britain's favourite Top 100 books were announced earlier in the year, and tonight the BBC whittles that list down to just 21. So, today would seem to be a good day for a literary quiz, but more a tiny read than a big read.

Can you identify these books (all from the Big Read Top 100) from their first lines?

  1) The primroses were over.
  2) She only stopped screaming when she died.
  3) Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
  4) A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories.
  5) It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
  6) Fire swept through the bifurcated city of Ankh-Morpork.
  7) Once upon a time there were three children, Joe, Beth and Frannie...
  8) It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.
  9) All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
10) Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes.
11) 'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,' grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
12) The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it.
13) A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green.
14) It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in posession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
15) The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way towards the lagoon.
16) If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

 Friday, October 17, 2003

Seven fine pages of bloggy goodness
Puzzleblog - if you like puzzles, try this daily dose of Scrabble and Countdown. Beautifully presented.
Visual Speller - for checking the spelling on your blog, or any webpage (via Volume 22). Course, it's not yet prefect.
DJ Martian's page - "A diverse music weblog for the discerning listener". Absolutely everything about real music right now.
Sashinka - My fortnight in the newsagents is over, so it's time to pass the Web User Blog On baton to another London blogger.
Kaleidoscope - "An ongoing game project in which six weekly tasks are set, for players to interpret and complete within their own weblogs." Get your blog inspiration here.
FreakyTrigger - "The UK's 950+ Number One Hits since 1952, reviewed, in order, irregularly, for as long as I can bear to keep doing it." (via Troubled Diva) We're still in 1956 at the moment.
The Guardian's British Blog Awards 2003 - Last year's competition was what got me interested in blogging in the first place, and top prize went to the ever-readable Scaryduck (who's going to be one of this year's judges). I'll not be entering diamond geezer in the 2003 competition because I won't agree to one of their terms and conditions. But go on, you could have a try...

Teen Big Brother: So, it's just been me watching this then? Eight teenagers have proved that they can be even more shallow, rebellious, bitchy, stupid, flirty, loud-mouthed, emotional, offensive and irrational than their older counterparts. And therefore extremely watchable, in an "oh boy surely they're not going to.. oh god they just have" sort of a way. At last Channel 4 bosses have the duvet-jiggling footage they've been seeking for so long, without the aid of alcohol, and it only took 262 days of filming to achieve. But no condoms? Oh dear. Let's hope we don't end up with a real Big Brother's Little Brother next summer.

 Thursday, October 16, 2003

Spot the difference

My best mate is flying into town this morning, seven months after emigrating to the States to start a new life. He's only over here for (nearly) a week, and the place hasn't been the same without him, but we're planning to make up for lost time later. I know there are a number of things he'll have missed while living in America, like proper teabags, decent music and vaguely sane politicians. It'll be a joy for him to be able to drink non-refrigerated beer again, to drive faster than 55mph and to watch a BBC TV channel that isn't endlessly looping Changing Rooms. The pie and mash shop is definitely on our list of places to visit, as is the chippie, as well as any café that can serve up a perfect greasy breakfast. Best mate has also missed all our flash mobs, and he'll have left before the next one (on October 25th) but he does assure me he's been out mobbing in San Francisco instead.

But what will he notice has changed over here in London during the months he's been away? Trafalgar Square has reopened, as has the Central line, and Canary Wharf continues to grow ever bigger. The capital's roads now clearly show the effects of the decongestion charge, but cyclists are definitely getting more aggressive (or maybe red lights don't apply to them?). The Tate Modern has swapped a big red tube for a big yellow sun, and now there's an anorexic American hanging in a box beside Tower Bridge. The invasion of the wheelie suitcases continues apace (maybe they're breeding), and more citizens are insisting on wearing Burberry (it's getting worse, I tell you), as well as those beanie hats half-covered with graffiti, and brown trainers (since when did brown trainers become fashionable?). And I've stopped going out so often, as you may have noticed by the fact I've been writing more on here since March. So, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to show best mate what he's been missing, or maybe what I've been missing...

It's Blue Peter's 45th birthday today. I was going to write about it, but I've written quite enough about children's television already this week, so here's one I made earlier.

 Wednesday, October 15, 2003

No minutes, no seconds

The zero degree line of longitude slices down through Greenwich, dividing London into western and eastern hemispheres. As I've mentioned before, it's a totally arbitrary line, lying here only because Britain's navy was quite important at the time the decision was made. Altogether there are 180 lines of longitude around the Earth, spaced out approximately every 70 miles around the equator. Up here in southern England those lines are only about 45 miles apart as they head up towards the poles where all lines of longitude eventually meet. However, none of the 179 horizontal lines of latitude pass through London (51½°N 0°), the nearest two missing the capital by about 20 miles to north and south.

Scattered across the face of the planet, therefore, are a few special locations where a line of longitude exactly crosses a line of latitude. There's one such point just north of Alice Spings in the middle of Australia (23°S 134°E), while in the Caribbean another just hits land on the island of St Lucia (14°N 61°W) . A group of scientists have catalogued all 64,442 of these so-called confluences, and have set up a project to try to visit all of them. Well, those of them that are on land (or just offshore) which makes 24,429 altogether. Almost all of these confluences are randomly located in the middle of fields, forests or deserts, and are therefore surprisingly hard to reach on foot. Armed with satellite tracking devices, various people have set off to visit these remote locations, take photographs and write about what they found there. So far 2773 spots have been visited, and all the reports compiled on the Degree Confluence Project website. It makes a fascinating read, or map, if you like that sort of thing.

There are 6 confluences around London, only one of which hasn't been visited yet (and for good reason).
52°N 1°W, beside the River Great Ouse in a field just outside Buckingham.
52°N 0°, in a field south of Royston in the northeast corner of Hertfordshire.
52°N 1°E, in a field close to the A12 near East Bergholt in the Stour valley.
51°N 1°W, in a cowshed on a farm west of Petersfield in Hampshire.
51°N 0°, beside the River Ouse at the edge of a field to the east of Haywards Heath.
51°N 1°E (unvisited), less than a mile off the beach at St Mary's Bay near Dymchurch in Kent.

Wherever you are in the world, apparently there's always at least one confluence point within 50 miles of your location. I wonder if anyone's been there yet?

 Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Time flies by

Returning to Sunday's theme of children's television programmes, I was struck by how innocent they all were in those days. Children sat on the Magic Roundabout without wearing safety harnesses, Mr Benn lived alone on Festive Road with no questions asked, and the lift in Mary, Mungo and Midge's tower block was always free from graffiti. It's a different world now. If these shows were being made today, Postman Pat would only deliver 70% of his letters and nick the rest, Grange Hill would have been closed down by Her Majesty's inspectors due to serious weaknesses, and Captain Pugwash really would have had seafaring mates called, well, you know what.

A number of kids TV shows from the past have been remade recently, including Andy Pandy and the Flowerpot Men, and there must be more to come. I'd therefore like to put forward my pitch for the contract to update Trumptonshire for the discerning modern audience, bringing that ancient county into line with 21st century reality. For added accuracy I propose to stick a bus shelter full of used needles in the middle of Camberwick Green, replace Trumpton town square by a soulless concrete shopping mall and pepper Chigley with burnt-out hatchbacks. Heavens, I might even introduce some non-male non-white characters.

Windy Miller the miller --> Crusty Miller the eco-warrior
Miss Lovelace the hatmaker --> Beryl Loveless the baglady
Lord Belborough's steam train --> Mina Sharma's minicab service
Chippy Minton the carpenter --> Minty Chipman the white van man
Dr Mopp the family doctor --> Dr Mopp the holistic health practitioner
Jonathan Bell the farmer --> Johnny Martin the have-a-go gun-owner
Mickey Murphy the baker --> Mustafa McDonald the dodgy kebab vendor
PC McGarry number 452 --> Gary Percy the steroid-abusing security guard
Mrs Honeyman the chemist's wife --> Ms Honey the drugdealing single mother
Captain Snort of Pippin Fort --> ex-con Ken Stort jailed for interfering with his privates
The Mayor of Trumpton and his town clerk --> The Mayoress of Trumpton and her long-term girlfriend
Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb --> Dibble and Grubb, the slimmed-down fire service

Teen Big Brother: It's only on for a week, and it's already been filmed so you can't influence the evictions, but Channel 4's top reality show is back with a teenage slant. Filmed originally as an educational programme, a brief spurt of under-the-sheets action has timeshifted this series into a publicity-grabbing post-watershed slot. So far the eight housemates have learnt how to unblock a toilet, how to crash an aeroplane and how not to practice racial tolerance. I'm sure the public will be watching purely in order to learn more about vocational qualifications, and not to watch the trainee beauty therapist bitching with the gay hairdresser. Children's telly, it isn't innocent any more is it?

 Monday, October 13, 2003

Broccoli watch (1) Look who stalking
No, it's OK, I wasn't being serious about hosting a Broccoli week. I'm not sure how much further I could have gone after a James Bond quiz anyway. Broccoli is of course a nasty green vegetable, one which always seems to be served up in restaurants when you'd rather have something vaguely ordinary and therefore edible instead. I'm with President Bush (Senior) on this one. Should all be destroyed, in my opinion, which you can do here...

Broccoli quiz (1) Cubby Broccoli's greatest hits
Can you name these Broccoli-produced films?
  1) 8 cats
  2) Digital Au
  3) Mata Hari
  4) Lunar gardener
  5) Saturday's was 6
  6) Moscow Valentine
  7) Firearms certificate
  8) Single reincarnation
  9) Two bills, two explosions
10) Born 7:20am, died 6:10pm
11) Never share contact lenses
12) Allotropes of carbon do not erode
13) Facing the firing squad without a blindfold
14) "There's only one parachute and I'm having it"
15) Unpublicised communion at St George's Chapel
16) "Sarah-Jane, do you want to be killed by a Dalek?"
17) Richard Faulds (Sydney Olympics, men's double trap)

Last week's tube extravaganza went so well that I thought another theme week would be a good idea. So, this week is Broccoli Week on diamond geezer, a celebration of all things green and stalky. There'll be recipes, fascinating vegetable facts, horticultural quizzery and everything you ever wanted to know about florets. Expect a rich supply of vitamins and minerals, a fair amount of beta-carotene and all virtually fat free. So, turn up the heat and let's get cooking!

 Sunday, October 12, 2003

Five decades of children's television

Whenever two or three Britons are gathered together in one place, the conversation will always turn at some point to what everyone remembers watching on TV when they were young. But how much do you remember? Here's the diamond geezer guide to fifty years of children's television in the UK, featuring one classic programme that first aired in each year. It's been a tough list to compile, with some years proving very difficult to fill while others were overflowing with possibilities. I had to include Play School in 1964, for example, but that knocked out the Magic Roundabout and Vision On, and elsewhere there was no space for the Woodentops, Thunderbirds, Pipkins or even Postman Pat. I hope you enjoy looking back through the teatimes of your childhood. Oh, and every programme on the list links to a website brimming with appropriate nostalgia, so happy clicking!

The Fifties
50 Andy Pandy, 51 nothing new, 52 The Flowerpot Men, 53 Rag, Tag and Bobtail, 54 Zoo Quest, 55 Crackerjack, 56 Whacko!, 57 Captain Pugwash, 58 Blue Peter, 59 Ivor The Engine

The Sixties
60 The Saga of Noggin the Nog, 61 Supercar; 62 Animal Magic; 63 Doctor Who; 64 Play School, 65 Jackanory, 66 Camberwick Green, 67 Trumpton, 68 Magpie, 69 The Clangers

The Seventies
70 Here Come The Double Deckers, 71 Mr Benn, 72 John Craven's Newsround, 73 Rainbow, 74 Bagpuss; 75 Bod, 76 Rentaghost, 77 Think Of A Number, 78 Grange Hill, 79 Jigsaw

The Eighties
80 The Adventure Game, 81 Danger Mouse, 82 Number 73, 83 Henry's Cat, 84 Pob, 85 the Broom Cupboard, 86 Fireman Sam, 87 Knightmare, 88 Count Duckula, 89 Maid Marian And Her Merry Men

The Nineties
90 Byker Grove, 91 Dark Season, 92 The Animals of Farthing Wood, 93 Live And Kicking, 94 Elidor, 95 The Demon Headmaster, 96 Get Your Own Back, 97 Teletubbies, 98 SM:tv, 99 Bob The Builder

Seen this weekend (75 days to go)
• X**s decorations up in British Home Stores
• M*nce pi*s on sale in Tesco (with a November sell-by date)
• Electric cables strung across Oxford Street

 Saturday, October 11, 2003

Mind the gap

So, what have I missed during the last five days while I was busy blogging endlessly about the tube instead?

Football. Apparently it's the rugby football world cup or something at the moment, but I have yet to meet anyone who cares. Real football has dominated the news this week instead, which is odd because nobody's actually played any real football matches. Does anyone play football any more, or are they too busy playing a not-so-beautiful game elsewhere?

Politics: Californians have elected a ham actor with a dodgy past and debatable morals to the post of state Governor, confirming my worst suspicions that voters are very stupid celebrity is the new politics.

Art: I have a large damp patch spreading across the ceiling and walls in my hallway. It's about ten feet long, and it now looks like a grid of semi-interlocking giant earthworms. I suspect that the Tate Modern would be very interested in this installation were it a little more portable, but I'd rather the bloke in the flat upstairs fixed the installation of his new shower properly instead.

Wife Swap: Cow. Total cow.

Radio: London's first commercial radio station, LBC, was thirty years old on Wednesday. I suspect the same old grumpy taxi drivers still ring up the through-the-night phone-in and complain about everything. Jeremy Beadle started out on LBC you know. I wonder if it's too late to sue.

Music: I went to see an Arab Strap gig this week, just to be different. When a bearded man shambled on stage in an anorak, I thought it was perhaps David Blunkett on lead vocals, but no, it was amiable Scottish frontman Aidan instead. He mumbled his way through an hour of songs I didn't know but sort of liked, backed by guitars and an indie chamber orchestra. I was most impressed by his quick repartee with the more drunken elements of the audience, and by the final four-song acoustic all-requests encore.

Verse: Thursday was National Poetry Day. Here's a collection of Poems on the Underground. (sorry, I was trying not to mention that again...)

 Friday, October 10, 2003

Tube watch (5) This week terminates here
I wasn't sure whether an entire week devoted to the London Underground was a good idea or not. As it turns out, I needn't have worried. Either you lot out there are as obsessed with the tube as I am, or you've kept coming back to see how much lower I could sink. I'm stopping now and going back to whatever 'normal' on diamond geezer is, but I think I have enough material to try hosting another tube week sometime. Just not soon, OK?

To finish, here are some tube-related websites I've discovered this week, or used to aid my research:
Geoff's selection of silly tube maps, including a rude version, an upside-down version, a German version, a geographically realistic version, a motorway version, a blank version and a version without the Central line.
Rodcorp's Walklines map, showing all the stations less than 500m apart at ground level.
Owen's Mappers Delight page, which links to more than 30 different webpages about the London tube map.
• A London Underground report from a few years ago, with a zoom-in-able ultra-detailed geographical tube map on the back cover, plus tons of journey-related statistics.
Clive's UndergrounD line guides - his anorak is bigger than mine.
• The official London Underground webpage, with a lot of statistics hidden beneath the surface.
Transport plans for the London area, which hasn't been updated for a couple of years but is fascinating all the same.
• The h2g2 Ultimate Guide to the London Underground, an eclectic selection of facts, observations and trivia.
Tube Prune, the Underground seen from a tube driver's point of view.
Proposals to introduce Business Class and Cattle Class on the new-tube.
• Tons of stuff on disused tube stations (but that's for next time...)

Tube geek (5) Speed
It can take forever to drive across London. The streets are crowded, there are traffic lights every 200 yards and half the roads are in fact only bus lanes. The Underground is therefore a quicker way to get around, as you can always tell when your train hurtles round a sharp curve throwing you into the lap of an unsuspecting fellow-traveller. However, your tube train probably isn't going as fast as you might think. Even if the driver does manage to get the speed up to 40mph, it's never long before he has to slam the brakes on again to stop at the next station. And then another station, and another, stop, go, stop, go, getting nowhere fast.

I've had a go at finding London's fastest, and slowest, tube lines. I've measured the longest possible journey on each tube line (for example, on the Northern line that's High Barnet to Morden, via Bank). Then I've used London Underground's route finder to find out how many minutes that journey takes, and used that to calculate an average speed. Two of the longest lines come out on top, maybe because the distances between the stations are greater, although the equally long Piccadilly and District lines come a lot further down the list. The poor old Circle line is the slowest, its infrequent trains held up by services on other lines in endless queues round a never-ending loop, but it's still faster than your average car (just about).

Speed limit on roads in central London: 30mph
Central: 34 miles in 81 minutes (25 mph)
Metropolitan: 28 miles in 70 minutes (24 mph)
Jubilee: 24 miles in 62 minutes (23 mph)
Waterloo & City: 1½ miles in 4 minutes (22½ mph)
Victoria: 13 miles in 36 minutes (22 mph)
Northern: 23 miles in 69 minutes (20 mph)
Bakerloo: 14 miles in 43 minutes (19½ mph)
Piccadilly: 32 miles in 100 minutes (19 mph)
District: 27 miles in 88 minutes (18½ mph)
Hammersmith & City: 17 miles in 58 minutes (17½ mph)
East London: 4 miles in 15 minutes (16 mph)
Circle: 13 miles in 56 minutes (14 mph)
Average speed on roads in central London: 11mph

Tube quiz (5) All change
(Just the one problem today, but it's a really tough one)
The problem: There are 12 tube lines in London, plus the Docklands Light Railway. Your challenge is to identify a journey that travels along each of these 13 lines once, and travels exactly one station along each line.
Note: No walking from one station to another is permitted. You may not use transport other than these 13 lines (no buses, taxis, Thameslink, etc). After travelling one station along any line, you must change to another line.
Example: Start at Farringdon, travel on the Circle Line to Kings Cross, travel on the Northern line to Euston, travel on the Victoria line to Warren Street... and now you're stuck because you've already travelled on both the lines passing through this station.
The solution: As far as I know, this problem has a unique solution (apart from a couple of different options for the first and last stations on the route).
A hint to get you started: If you think about it, there's a couple of one-stop journeys that must be part of the correct route.
Chance of you lot coming up with the correct answer: Very small. Go on, prove me wrong.
(Bloody impressive James, spot on: Well done. And all while the rest of us were asleep.)

 Thursday, October 09, 2003

Tube watch (4) Ten ways to reduce tube overcrowding
Encourage short journeys: turn up the heating in the summer and install air-conditioning in the winter.
Increase overground capacity: double the number of buses and increase the Congestion Charge to £50.
Reflect best practice in mainline rail travel: demand seat reservations and pre-booking for all tube journeys.
Increase available space in carriages: confiscate all rucksacks and wheelie suitcases at the ticket barriers.
Introduce selection: demand that passengers pass an entrance exam before issuing them with travelcards.
Reduce demand: shut down the whole system, because if there are no trains there'll be no overcrowding.
Establish a culture of fear: place an accordion player on every train, or hang up gasmasks in every carriage.
Reduce passenger numbers: install razor-sharp sliding doors on trains and remove all safety notices.
Relocate excess capacity: swap station names to confuse foreign tourists, for example Chigwell with Oxford Circus.
Invest in tube infrastructure: sorry, I've been trying to keep ridiculous and improbable suggestions off this list.

Tube geek (4) London's busiest stations
Lurking deep on the tube's official website lie a mountain of facts and figures on a page called London Underground performance update. Click on 'customer metrics', and then 'entries and exits', and you'll find detailed information on passenger numbers for every tube station on the network (well, all except three, for some reason). I now know, for example, that I'm one of 2188 passengers who enter my local station during the morning rush hour, whereas 87653 people exit Oxford Circus station every Saturday. Anorak heaven.

I've been busy investigating the total number of passengers using each station during 2001, attempting to come up with some sort of league table. The figures are for passengers entering or leaving the station only, not those changing lines, so some stations are even busier than shown. And sadly Victoria is one of the three stations with missing data, which is a shame because I think it's top of the list...

More than thirty million: Victoria (millions), Kings Cross St Pancras (79 million), Waterloo (66 million), Oxford Circus (64 million), Liverpool Street (54 million), Baker Street (43 million), London Bridge (38 million), Leicester Square (35 million), Piccadilly Circus (33 million), Tottenham Court Road (32 million), Paddington (31 million)
More than fifteen million: Bond Street (28 million), Green Park, Euston, Hammersmith, South Kensington, Holborn, Finsbury Park, Bank, Charing Cross, Moorgate, Earl's Court, Tower Hill, Canary Wharf, Embankment, Brixton, Knightsbridge, Stratford, Covent Garden, Farringdon, Camden Town (15 million)

Meanwhile, down at the bottom of the list, below are London's least used tube stations. Most are on the edges of the tube network, although there are three poorly used stations in Zone 2 on the East London line, all of which are under threat of closure. The far reaches of the Metropolitan line are rather quiet, particularly the station that was my local while I was growing up. But it's the Hainault loop of the Central line that's especially underused, which would explain why a whole stretch of it shuts down at 8pm every evening. I guess everyone in Chigwell has a car...

Less than a million: West Finchley (947099), Hillingdon, Rotherhithe, South Ruislip, Northwood Hills, Chorleywood, Kenton, Canons Park, Heathrow Terminal 4, West Harrow, Wapping, Watford, Mill Hill East, West Ruislip, Ickenham, North Ealing, Upminster Bridge, South Kenton, Chesham, Moor Park (520850)
Less than half a million: Barkingside (471998), Croxley (447897), Ruislip Gardens (432271), Theydon Bois (388698), Shoreditch (327844), Fairlop (327036), Roding Valley (175851), Grange Hill (156065), Chigwell (110556)

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jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

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my special London features
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ten of my favourite posts
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quality & risk
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ten sets of lovely photos
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