diamond geezer

 Sunday, October 31, 2004

A little wine

Have you ever wanted to be a wine expert? Let me share a few vintage tips with you.

• There are two different types of wine - red and not red.
• There are two different types of wine bottle - those you can drip candlewax down to make a nice lamp and those you can't.
• Wine is made from grapes. Red grapes make red wine, green grapes make green wine and fizzy grapes make champagne.
• Rosé wine is made by mixing red and white wine together in equal measures.
• Wines either come from France or they don't. The best French wines come from the former location.
• Some wines are older than others. Very old wines are called vint-aged.
• Some of the most highly regarded wines are Liebfraumilch, Blue Nun, Black Tower and anything from China.
• Connoisseurs always patronise their local wine merchant.
• The best wines are to be found exclusively in restaurants. These wines are not the same plonk you can buy in Tesco for a fiver but are in fact exclusive classics well worth every penny of £40.
• White wine should always be chilled, but red wine should be removed from the fridge at least three hours before drinking.
• Always allow your wine to breathe by pouring it into the glasses before your guests arrive.
• Screwtop bottles are best because there is no risk of embarrassing yourself in front of an audience whilst attempting to use a corkscrew.
• Small pieces of cork floating around in a bottle of wine increase the flavour.
• When serving wine, only leave the price label on the bottle if the wine cost more than £5.99.
• Always sniff your wine before you drink it. This is called aromatherapy.
• Remember to describe the smell of a wine using at least three of the following adjectives:
• When tasting wine always swill the liquid around in your mouth, gargle and spit - rather like you would with mouthwash.
• The taste of a wine is called the 'palette'. This is the same palette that artists use only different.
• Always compare the taste of a wine to something else which isn't wine, eg
• Always drink your best bottle of wine first because by the time you get to the second you'll be too drunk to fully appreciate how good it is.

 Saturday, October 30, 2004

Update 1: I've finally made it back to my local sorting office to collect that mystery letter, just 240 hours after my postman first tried to deliver it. How I enjoyed making a second half-hour scenic round trip through the less idyllic parts of Bow. How relieved I was to discover that the sorting office was actually open this time. How thrilling to rip open the envelope to discover a new debit card for the bank account I never ever use a debit card for. How worthless the whole drawn-out escapade has been. And how revolutionary it would be if the Royal Mail could finally work out a way of delivering secure mail that suited us and not them. Until then my willingness to use Amazon, eBay or any other online retail service remains virtually zero.

Update 2: There are still no trolleys outside my local Tesco. Maybe they're all away at some trolley convention somewhere because they're certainly not being pushed round the store. There was one trolley in the trolley park down the side of the store but it was the wrong size and on the wrong side of the road so I couldn't be bothered. Instead I've decided to do all my shopping using a basket from now on, which will save me about £15 a week and no doubt seriously damage Tesco's corporate profits at the same time. Now all I need to do is reduce my weekly shop to 10 items or less and I can get through the queues at the checkouts in less than ten minutes too.

Update 3: No progress on the tea-at-work saga yet. Various additional excuses for our kettlelessness have been bandied about, including 'it would make the kitchen untidy' and 'there are no washing up facilities'. Our office kitchen area is indeed the most useless office kitchen area on the planet. It may boast a tiny fridge, two sinks and a worktop but apparently it isn't a kitchen, it's an office stores area. Open the cupboards where you'd expect to find crockery, glasses and cleaning materials and you'll find post-its, hole punches and padded envelopes instead. Soap and paper towel dispensers have been added as an afterthought, evidently purchased from the Cheap'n'Nasty supplies catalogue. The single mixer tap has been plumbed in nearer to the sink on the left than the sink on the right, with the consequence that the sink on the right is merely ornamental. Try swivelling the mixer tap round to the right and the ensuing stream of water misses the second sink by a good couple of inches, creating large puddles across the worktop. At least the kitchen area remains tidy, but that's only because barely anybody uses it. Meanwhile I make sure I have a nice cup of tea before I go to work in the morning and another when I get home in the evening, because there's no prospect of a nice cup of tea inbetween.

 Friday, October 29, 2004

Putting two and two together

2 + 2 = 5: Some people put two and two together and make five. Present them with some facts and they'll immediately read far too much into them. These people don't just jump to conclusions, they leap right over them and land somewhere in the middle of misjudgement. A few scraps of gossip quickly become half-baked certainty, and allegations can be based on nothing more than unfounded rumour. These people can be very hard to argue with because they know they're right and no amount of persuasion will change their mind. There is no grey in their world, just black and white.
2 + 2 = 10: Five years ago my ex used to put two and two together and make ten. No flight of fancy was too improbable, no wild accusation too unlikely. Never mind the truth, I could always be blamed for something I hadn't actually done (and frequently was). Not that I'd worked out why, because I was in the next category.

2 + 2 = 3: Some people put two and two together and make three. Show them the bleeding obvious and they'll somehow miss the point. They're the last to spot that someone in the office is pregnant, or that those two colleagues who keep arriving at work one minute apart are actually an item. They never get a nagging gut feeling, neither would they recognise a hunch even if it came with a big red flashing light attached. There is no black and white in their world, just grey.
2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 = 2 + 2 = 0: Five years ago I couldn't put two and two together at all. I was in a failing relationship at the time, and all the clues were there but I just couldn't (or wouldn't) see the wider picture. They say love is blind. More blinkered, perhaps.

2 + 2 = 4: Some people put two and two together and make four. They possess something commonly known as 'common sense', and they use it well. Faced by a mass of incoherent evidence they can pull together disparate threads and reach a sensible conclusion. Intuition guides these people through life, and rarely do they put their foot in it. There is no black and white or grey in their world, just colour. Lucky bastards.
2 + 2 = 4.00000000: Five years ago this evening, in a blinding and unprecedented moment of clarity, I made precisely four. The trick was to add the right two twos together so that at last all the clues meant something. I made one inspired phone call, came to one inescapable conclusion, and moved on. I've never looked back since.

2 + 2 = ?: I'm much better at putting two and two together now than I used to be. I still miss a lot of things that everyone else spots, but now I spot some things that some other people miss. For me two plus two now equals about 3.7 (near enough). How about you?

 Thursday, October 28, 2004

A Touch of Fools And Horses

Watching the National Television Awards on Tuesday night (as one does when giving one's brain the night off) I was jolted by a sudden frightening glimpse into the future. David Jason was unable to collect his annual 'Most Loved Actor In The World Ever' Award because he was "out on a night shoot" for a new ITV drama set somewhere in the north of England. It turns out that Mr Jason has been typecast again, this time as "a career criminal trying to convince a first-time-offender to join him in his next big scam". And the name of his new series? Diamond Geezer. I find this to be particularly disturbing news. Sometime next year my blog's brand image will be shattered, possibly even hijacked, by some cosy series featuring ITV's biggest banker. I shall be on the receiving end of hundreds of misdirected Google hits, and my chances of establishing myself as a British media icon will be seriously diminished. I wonder if I'll be able to sue for loss of intellectual property rights (conveniently ignoring the fact that the phrase 'diamond geezer' was hardly fresh when I appropriated it myself).

But why stop at 'Diamond Geezer'? Surely other blog titles could easily inspire hit television series of their own. Maybe the rest of you would do well to cash in now before someone else in the media steals your online identity. I've worked my way down my blogroll and picked out the ten sites that I think have the greatest TV spinoff potential...

Scaryduck: Farm-based children's cartoon series in which Mad Max Mallard rules the roost with his regime of intimidation, eliminating the local pondlife.
Blue Witch: Ann Widdecombe follows in Michael Palin's footsteps to the North Pole, but then stays there.
Big n Juicy: EastEnders spinoff sees Peggy Mitchell employed on Martin Fowler's fruit & veg stall. Fun and hilarity ensues as actress Babs Windsor thrusts her melons on the people of Walford.
Dummies For Destruction: A new late night version of Mastermind in which John Humphries invites the losing contestant to sit in a special electric chair at the end of the show.
Troubled Diva: Pop Idol with a twist. Simon Cowell slags everyone off as normal but the contestants then lie down on Ant and Dec's "Soul Couch" for immediate therapy.
Casino Avenue: Carol Vorderman invites whole streets to stake their savings on the spin of a roulette wheel, then gives their houses a full makeover using the proceeds.
Random Acts Of Reality: Dermot O'Leary surprises former Big Brother contestants by following their sad post-eviction lives on hidden cameras.
Over Your Head: A condescending version of a Question of Sport in which Sue Barker asks particularly stupid sportsmen particularly easy questions.
Wherever You Are: Judith Chalmers encourages you not to go on holiday but instead to make the most of your local park, library and other municipal facilities.
Hackney Lookout: New cop drama starring David Jason as a career criminal with a heart of gold - a real diamond geezer.

 Wednesday, October 27, 2004

dg's UK Eclipse Guide
Next Total Lunar Eclipse: tomorrow morning (starts 2:14am BST, total from 3:23am to 4:45am, ends 5:54am) (so you'll be asleep, won't you?)
Next Total Lunar Eclipse after that: Saturday 3rd March 2007 from 10:43pm to 11:58pm (so don't say I didn't warn you)
Next Partial Solar Eclipse: Monday 3rd October 2005 (just over half obscured in London at 10am)
Next Total Solar Eclipse: Saturday 23rd September 2090 (so you'll be dead, won't you?)

John Peel's Festive 50s (number 1, number 2)
1976 Stairway To Heaven (Led Zeppelin), Layla (Derek & the Dominoes)
1977 <seismic shift in British music>
1978 Anarchy in the UK (Sex Pistols), Complete Control (Clash)
1979 Anarchy In The UK (Sex Pistols), Teenage Kicks (Undertones)
1980 Anarchy in the UK (Sex Pistols), Atmosphere (Joy Division)
1981 Atmosphere (Joy Division), Anarchy in the UK (Sex Pistols)
1982 Temptation (New Order), Shipbuilding (Robert Wyatt)
1983 Blue Monday (New Order), This Charming Man (Smiths)
1984 How Soon Is Now (Smiths), Pearly Dewdrops Drop (Cocteau Twins)
1985 Never Understand (Jesus and Mary Chain), Just Like Honey (Jesus and Mary Chain)
1986 There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (Smiths), Kiss (Age of Chance)
1987 Birthday (Sugarcubes), Australians In Europe (The Fall)
1988 Destroy The Heart (House of Love), Nobody's Twisting Your Arm (Wedding Present)
1989 Can't Be Sure (Sundays), Kennedy (Wedding Present)
1990 Bill Is Dead (The Fall), Soon (My Bloody Valentine)
1991 Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana), Dress (PJ Harvey)
1992 Geek Love (Bang Bang Machine), Sheela-Na-Gig (PJ Harvey)
1993 Enough Is Enough (Chumbawamba & Credit To The Nation), Swim (Madder Rose)
1994 I Want You (Inspiral Carpets), Hey Student (The Fall)
1995 Common People (Pulp), Sorted for E's & Wizz (Pulp)
1996 Come Out 2 Nite (Kenickie), First Big Weekend (Arab Strap)
1997 Brimful Of Asha (Cornershop), New Paths To Helicon (Mogwai)
1998 Pull The Wires From The Wall (Delgados), Xmas Steps (Mogwai)
1999 Cognoscenti Vs Intelligentsia (Cuban Boys), The Hymn For The Cigarettes (Hefner)
2000 Twist The Knife (Neko Case & Her Boyfriends), Good Fortune (PJ Harvey)
2001 Chinese Whispers (Melys), Hotel Yorba (White Stripes)
2002 Girls Are The New Boys (Saloon), Quick, Before It Melts (Cinerama)
2003 Don't Touch That Dial (Cinerama), Theme From Sparta FC (The Fall)
2004 <irreplaceable loss to British music>

 Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The tea machine experiment

Hypothesis: The tea out of the vending machine at my workplace is proper tea.

Apparatus: One vending machine, one tongue, one sink, one carefully-positioned waste bin.
Control experiment: Press '90' on drinks machine to dispense small plastic cup of hot water. Cup takes 9 seconds to be filled. Water is steaming very slightly. Cup is very warm but can be carried. Finger can be dipped in liquid without scalding. Estimated temperature: not boiling.
Conclusion: Machine vended tea is not made from boiling water.
Experiment: Press '52' on drinks machine to dispense small plastic cup of liquid resembling tea (white, no sugar). Wait expectantly while machine buzzes and whirrs. Cup takes 27 seconds to be filled. Tea is not steaming. Colour of tea most closely resembles "Autumn Fern" on Dulux pH colour chart. Sip liquid. Grimace. Time between sip and emptying remainder of contents down sink: 3 seconds. Throw empty cup in bin.
Results: Time taken to dispense liquids as follows - hot water 9 seconds; black tea no sugar 23 seconds; white tea no sugar 27 seconds. Machine therefore takes 4 seconds to fill cup with milk powder, 14 seconds to 'freshly brew' tea and 9 seconds to fill cup with water.
Additional hypothesis: 14 seconds is long enough to 'freshly brew' tea.
Additional experiment: Dispense cup of not-quite-hot water (90). Add teabag pilfered from meeting room. Stir water vigorously with long thin plastic stirry thing for precisely 14 seconds. Remove teabag. Tea is not brown. Colour of tea most closely resembles "Muddy Puddle" on Dulux pH colour chart. Time between observation and emptying remainder of contents down sink: 1 second. Throw empty cup in bin.
Additional conclusion: Reject additional hypothesis. 14 seconds is not long enough to 'freshly brew' tea.
Conclusion: Reject hypothesis. The tea out of the vending machine at my workplace is crap.

Thank you for all your comments and support yesterday as I struggled to come to terms with workplace tealessness. And for all your suggestions...
Dave and Mat suggested moving to a new organisation where they take tea drinking seriously. Sadly I think I was asked to leave one of those a couple of months ago.
Jag suggested bringing a thermos of tea to work, while Lyle reckoned that a flask such as this might do the trick. However I fear for the health and safety of other commuters on the Central line were I to try wielding a lethal object of this size through the rush hour crowds.
Ross and Chz suggested using almost-boiling water from the vending machine to brew fresh tea using a teabag. Which would be fine except that the water from our machine isn't almost-boiling. And, even if it were, there'd still be no fresh milk available. We do have a small fridge where we could store fresh milk but it's shared between more than 100 people and it's already full of plastic tubs of salad. Fridge politics - now there's a whole new area to despair about.
Gordon very nearly suggested that I should defect to the dark side and drink coffee instead. Heresy, Gordon, heresy.
Quink suggested filling our teapot with hot water from the machine in the canteen. Unfortunately the canteen is a multi-floor lift journey away, and the carriage of containers full of hot liquids around the building is also banned under 'Health and Safety' rules.
Katherine and Em² suggested challenging all these supposed 'Health and Safety' rules on the basis that they might not actually exist. Hmmm, maybe I'll come back to you later on that one...

 Monday, October 25, 2004

Take it or leaf it

One of the best things about the office where I used to work is that we had a kettle. I'm not sure if we were meant to have a kettle because nobody else in the building had one, but we were just a small team in a space of our own so we got away with it. We put someone in charge of buying teabags and every now and then, when supplies were low, we'd all give her a quid and she'd pop out to the local Sainsburys Local to buy some more. Regularly throughout each day we'd sort of take it in turns to go into the kitchen area, stick the kettle on and make everyone a cuppa. We did it properly, with a big teapot and fresh milk and everything, and almost every cup used to taste great [9½/10]. Just enough to get us through the next two hours until somebody decided to brew up another pot. And then we moved.

We're not allowed a kettle any more. Apparently the use of a kettle would breach Health and Safety regulations, no doubt because boiling water is involved. Goodness knows how I've managed to use a kettle at home to make myself thousands of cups of tea over the years without fatally scalding myself, but it seems that at work I'm not even allowed to try. Fortunately my workplace has made alternative arrangements for the production of tea. Unfortunately, they suck. Here's how.

Tea from the machine
A large black vending machine has been positioned in the new kitchen area on our floor at work. There's a giant illuminated picture of a pot of frothy coffee on the front, which alas is not a good sign for us tea connoisseurs. The machine can dispense about six different types of coffee (including a nasty hot chocolate/cappuccino hybrid), as well as some tooth-rotting lemon drink and a thin pasty liquid supposedly called 'hot vegetable soup', but there's only one type of tea. This tea is described as 'freshly brewed', although goodness knows how it can possibly be fresh when it gets pumped out of the nozzle in ten seconds flat. The dispensed drink is very similar to that described by Arthur Dent as "a cupful of liquid that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea". It's weak, it's thin, it's insipid and it's desperately unsatisfying. So unsatisfying in fact that I've never once risked drinking a cup. This devil's brew may be free but it's worth no more than [1/10].

Tea from the canteen
We now have a canteen at work, which is great. It serves fry-ups for breakfast and big meaty meals for lunch, as well as the juice and rabbit food that some of my colleagues seem to prefer. Even better it's heavily subsidised so I'm saving money over buying sandwiches and not having to cook again when I get home. Unfortunately the canteen also attempts to sell tea. They've put a pile of paper cups by the till, along with a collection of teabags and a hot water dispenser which you then combine to form a brown liquid with a light greasy scum on the surface. I am not tempted, especially not at 40p a cup for an inferior version of a drink that I used to get virtually for nothing. It makes me wonder whether the supposed 'Health & Safety' ban on kettles isn't really to protect the fleecing rights of the canteen franchisers. Alas, I refuse point blank to fork out £500 a year for this scum. [3/10]

Tea in a meeting
What could brighten a lengthy meeting better than some surly youth arriving with the drinks trolley? Try not to think how much your departmental budget is being charged for a pot of coffee, a flask of tepid water and a plate of biscuits, just smile because it's better than the stuff out of the machines. Only just, though. Most of the teabags they provide are trendy herbal rubbish (a finely grated flower petal in an expensive packet) but there are always also a couple of ordinary teabags on strings. Drop the teabag of your choice into the far-from boiling water, watch as the brown colour fails to budge more than a millimetre from the bag, stir the liquid vigorously in an attempt to improve the brew and sob in despair as the string breaks and you have to squelch the teabag out of the cup unaided. But it is a china cup, and the tea is almost warm, so I have to score this [4/10].

Tea substitute
Imagine a cup of tea without the heat, without the milk and without the tea. That's all I drink at work now. It's a crying shame.

 Sunday, October 24, 2004

Reasons to be cheerless, part 1: During the week somebody sent me a letter by Special Delivery and I have absolutely no idea what it was except that it probably wasn't anything really important because I'm not expecting anything and when they tried delivering it on Wednesday I was at work so they stuck a message through my letterbox telling me that they were going to hold my letter hostage at the local Royal Mail sorting office until I could get round there to collect it which is difficult when the place closes at 3pm every day although it used to shut at 7pm until they adjusted the opening hours earlier this year "to improve customer service" which is rubbish so instead I had to wait until yesterday to go round except I arrived at ten past twelve and it turned out that the sorting office now shuts at noon on Saturdays and there was a postal worker waiting at the bus stop outside and he said I should arrange to get my letter redelivered and I told him that I had this alternative commitment called 'work' so I wouldn't actually be in if anyone came round again and he said that they could always deliver my letter to another address but only one within my local E3 postcode which is just as useless because I don't know anybody round here who's unemployed and doesn't go to work and he said that for a fee of 50p they could send it to my local Post Office instead except that my local Post Office shuts before I get home from work too which is no better so the upshot is that I won't be able to go back and collect my letter until next Saturday and even then it probably won't be worth the effort so I hope that next time I'm sent a Special Delivery letter my criminally negligent postman will do what he did last time and post it illegally without waiting for a signature because it'll save me a half hour detour to the sorting office.

Reasons to be cheerless, part 2: After my abortive Royal Mail trip I went round to buy a week's supply of food at my local supermarket which is the Tesco in Bow that used to be where the Big Brother producers did the housemates' weekly shopping and there's a trolley park out the front on the main road which always used to be full of trolleys but which recently has been getting emptier and emptier until today there were no trolleys left in it at all so I had to use a basket instead which meant I only bought half as much as I was planning to buy which is probably a good thing because I can easily live without half the stuff I normally buy except that by the time I reached the fruit and vegetable section I didn't have enough room left in my basket for anything else so I'll probably get scurvy or something because I doubt there'll ever be any trolleys sitting outside the supermarket ever again goodness knows why Tesco can't shuffle a few trolleys round from the car park on the other side of the store instead maybe they're afraid that local yobs will steal them all but the net result is that people aren't spending as much in their store as they could be the idiots.

Reasons to be cheerless, part 3: I've had a nightmare week at work so I was really looking forward to having a Saturday off except that it rained almost all day and all I did was go to the sorting office and Tesco and nothing else so Sunday had better be more interesting or else I may be forced to blog about something as tedious as the Royal Mail and supermarkets again.

 Saturday, October 23, 2004

Bow Road update (half time report?)

This weekend should have been the final weekend of renovation work at Bow Road station. Back in March when this whole redevelopment debacle began they promised us that our station would be fully reopened again by October 26th. Oh how I looked forward to admiring the gleaming new surfaces and restored Victorian architecture. Oh how I longed for a platform indicator that actually told you when the next train was due, not just where it was going. And oh how I dreamed of being able to use the station again after 10pm, rather than having to walk home late at night from the next station down the line. But no, all my aspirations have been dashed (or at least put on hold) because the brave new Bow Road station is not yet ready. Not by a long way.

It's not yet clear when the work will be finished. I'm indebted to a local correspondent for pointing out that nobody at Bow Road appears to be sure either. He's sent me photographs of four different posters at the station which give four different completion dates (and look, they're all in dg-approved colours!). The tube website until recently offered a different date ("until 26 October") until they updated the site to give yet another ("until the end of February 2005"). Some sort of campaign of public misinformation seems to be underway, raising our hopes just to dash them again when the due date arrives and the work is no nearer to completion. Further official details are now apparent, however:
District line General Manager, Bob Thorogood said "When this work is complete, passengers will be able to enjoy a modernised ticket hall and platforms and the new communications room will help us to make the service more efficient. We are extending the weekend closure to ensure that Metronet Rail SSL are able to complete the work by February 2005."
The first of these extended weekend closures merely resulted in some cable ducting being attached to the stairwells and a line of fluorescent tubes being bolted to the ceiling. The second seems to have been devoted to replacing the lighting in the ticket hall and draping a mass of black cables along the passageways and through a wall. It looks like a colony of giant snakes have taken up residence in the rafters, dangling down and weaving in and out of the ironwork. This is no sensitive Victorian reconstruction, this is infrastructure installation on the cheap. The station actually looks more unattractive than it did before redevelopment began and, because it's now much better illuminated, this just makes the ugly modern intrusions even more obvious.

The rebirth of Bow Road station should be complete in four months time, so they tell us. I remain to be convinced that the end result will justify months of inactivity and inconvenience to long-suffering passengers. Or indeed that this mismanaged fund-squandering fiasco of a project will ever reach a satisfactory conclusion. Watch this space.

 Friday, October 22, 2004

Disney quiz: Here are clues to the names of 20 feature-length Disney cartoons (and not too much of the modern rubbish either). How many can you identify? (Answers in the comments box)

  1) fade pot11) ash east backs all
  2) Heseltine12) Thatcher with bum
  3) he's cruel?13) she's chaos on top
  4) CI spotted14) drunken coin-op, hic
  5) Helen dozes15) steal in urban district
  6) pesabrebble16) Rainforests, Volume 1
  7) silent nothing17) note insect continent
  8 waterbed tack18) a headscratching in Utopia
  9) the mane man?19) small heptet in winter landscape
10) perfect 10 + 66620) degree before computer company returns

It's OK, I'm over my meridian fixation now.
Time for something a little less specialist, I think...

 Thursday, October 21, 2004

Marking the meridian: Down the line (a point and click guide)

North Pole
Arctic Ocean, Norwegian Sea, North Sea
E Yorks: Tunstall (the most northerly landfall on the meridian, although the monument here recently slipped down the cliff), Sand-le-Mere caravan park , Holderness peninsiula, Patrington (there's an inscribed stone here beneath a metal sign), Sunk Island Sands, the mouth of the River Humber.
NE Lincs: Cleethorpes (marked by a signpost on the Marine Embankment between the boating lake and the sand dunes at Humberston).
Lincs: Fulstow, Brackenborough Hall, Louth (right through the middle of this market town, with two plaques in Eastgate), Woody's Top Youth Hostel, Snipe Dales nature reserve (with Meridian stone), East Kirkby aerodrome (and aviation museum, with monument), the eastern outskirts of Boston, the mouth of the River Welland, Holbeach (marked by a millstone beside the road to Spalding).
Cambs: the Fens, Flood's Ferry Road, Somersham (with a pavement marker in the High Street), Swavesey (marked in the middle of the village), Great Eversden, Meldreth.
Herts: the Royston bypass, Hamels Park golf course, Noah's Ark Farm (Ware), Hoddesdon.
Essex: Lee Valley Park, Waltham Abbey, the M25 (the only UK motorway on the meridian), Gilwell Park campsite (home of outdoor Scouting).
London (north of Greenwich): Pole Hill, Waltham Forest, Stratford, the Dome, Greenwich (but I've written about those already).
Greenwich Observatory
London (south of Greenwich): Greenwich Park (bisecting the putting green, dividing the rose garden, then straight through the dining room, crimson parlour and gallery of the Ranger's House), Blackheath, Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School (Lewisham), the northern end of Hither Green railway station (site of the meridian's only train crash on 12th March 2001), Catford (through St Andrew's Church), Shortlands, West Wickham (with Meridian stone on the common), New Addington.
Surrey: the M25 (again), Oxted (commuter village), Lingfield Park racecourse (almost).
W Sussex East Grinstead (there are various stone markers at East Court, and the town's coat of arms features a vertical white line representing the meridian)
E Sussex: Sheffield Park (on the Bluebell railway, plaque on station wall), Chailey (meridian stone erected 1953), Lewes (another direct hit on a town centre), Peacehaven (the Meridian Monument looks out over the English Channel).
France: (except the French don't believe in our meridian, so I can't be bothered to tell you where it goes).
Spain: from the Pyrenees south to (just outside) Benidorm, then into the Mediterranean.
Africa: Algeria, the Sahara, Mali (straight through Gao on the the river Niger), Burkina Faso (through the northern town of Dori), Togo (just a tiny sliver in the northwest corner), Ghana (through Lake Volta, reaching the coast at Tema).
The Atlantic Ocean: the Equator, more than 5000 miles of ocean.
Antarctica: Queen Maud Land
South Pole

Along-the-meridian websites (in case you've not had enough already)
My journey up the meridian all on one page
My journey up the meridian with more photos
Peter Marshall's photographic journey along the meridian through London (beautiful pictures)
An interactive trail along the meridian in Greenwich
All the Ordnance Survey Explorer maps that cover the meridian...
... and some of the places along the way
Meridian markers - a Geocaching project
Bishop Tom walks up the Meridian
On The Line - an in-depth Oxfam educational project
the Degree Confluence Project - aiming to visit every global intersection of a line of longitude with a line of latitude, including 53°N 0° (nr Boston, Lincs), 52°N 0° (nr Royston, Herts) and 51°N 0° (near Haywards Heath, E Sussex) (highly recommended)

 Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Marking the meridian: Waltham Abbey

xlviii) Waltham Abbey is a curious mix of old and new. The meridian arrives in town across the 20th century M25 (between junctions 25 and 26), crosses cobbled 16th century Sun Street (site of the Meridian coffee shop), then promptly hits the ruined remains of an 11th century abbey. The main Abbey building lies a few metres to the west, a spectacular example of Norman architecture. Or so I'm told, because it was closed to the public on the day I visited so that three consecutive Essex weddings could take place. The local men looked slightly uncomfortable squeezed into hired suits, while the local ladies oohed and aaahed at the horse and cart pulled up outside the church. Lovely gardens for the wedding photos though.

xlix) Waltham Abbey Gardens are so ancient that they may well be the burial site of King Harold (think '1066', think 'came second'). The meridian passes between the moat and the cloisters, straight through the Rose Garden where a steel arch forms a Meridian Gateway (complete with moon, stars and giant red sextant). The line continues across a pile of stones that used to be the old blacksmith's forge, then narrowly misses an arched medieval stone bridge (called, imaginatively, Stoney Bridge). It really is a lovely spot for a picnic, just so long as you can ignore the traffic on the Waltham Abbey bypass a few metres to the north.

l) Cross the bypass, turn right at the Dragonfly Sanctuary and you come to Cornmill Meadows, possibly my favourite of all the sites along my meridian journey. This long thin peaceful woodland was once part of a Greater London Council arboretum which supplied many of the trees planted in London's parks. The meridian passes right up the centre, marked to north and south by two statues carved from granite blocks taken fom the old London Bridge. This unlikely pair are called Travel and Discovery, one (south) featuring a world map carved with 0° line of longitude and the other (north) blessed by some slightly strange human form. But my favourite bit wasn't the statues, it was the arrow-straight footpath that stretched between them. I followed this grassy track for a full 15 minutes through a multitude of trees, crossing a wooden footbridge over a tiny stream and tiptoeing through a couple of muddy meridian puddles. This green line had zero people but maximum charm. I was able to walk uninterrupted precisely along the meridian for nearly a mile, in a way that just hadn't been possible anywhere else on my journey. Having tracked as many as 50 meridian markers between here and Greenwich, this felt a perfect place to stop.

 Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Marking the meridian: Chingford

What are the chances of the meridian passing precisely through the summit of the tallest hill in northeast London? But it does.

This is the top of Pole Hill, a wooded hillock in Norman Tebbitt's old stomping round of Chingford. It's quiet, it's gorgeous, and it's unique. This is the edge of London, the border with Essex lying less than half a mile away. This is where the green belt begins, the northern slopes rolling down to form the edge of Epping Forest. And this is where the Greenwich Meridian passes, marked by not one but two stone pillars.

xlvi) The taller, western monument was built first. Unlike most of the other markers along the meridian it's not just ornamental but once served a real practical purpose. In the early 19th century the main telescope at Greenwich was James Bradley's transit telescope. This was used to observe the passage of stars across their highest point in the sky by timing them as they passed a fixed north line. Any transit telescope needs to be checked regularly to ensure that it really is pointing north and so a northern reference marker was required. It was an extremely fortunate coincidence that the Greenwich Meridian passed exactly through a hilltop 11 miles to the north - and that's why the Astronomer Royal of the day built an obelisk here on Pole Hill.
This pillar was erected in 1824 under the direction of the Reverend John Pond M.A. Astronomer Royal. It was placed on the Greenwich Meridian and its purpose was to indicate the direction of true North from the transit telescope of the Royal Observatory. The Greenwich Meridian, as changed in 1850 & adopted by international agreement in 1884 as the line of zero longitude, passes 19 feet to the East of this pillar.
xlvii) The shorter, eastern monument was built later when the Airy meridian was adopted at Greenwich. It's a stumpy concrete triangulation point, complete with Ordnance Survey benchmark (which is strange given that all OS maps are still constructed based on the Bradley meridian 6 metres to the west). Recently a few local yobs appear to have added some unnecessary streaks of red graffiti to this particular monument, but they're probably just aerosols.

Lawrence of Arabia adored this place so much that he purchased a plot of land on the hilltop and built himself a small timber hut and a tiny swimming pool. The hut no longer stands and I found no evidence of the pool, but there's still a great view from the top of Pole Hill. You can gaze down towards the City skyline, with the BT Tower and London Eye immediately recognisable in the distant Thames valley. Unfortunately the one place you can't see any more is Greenwich because the surrounding trees have grown up over the years and blocked the important line of sight from the great transit telescope. Maybe the view's better in the winter but I loved the place with leaves, long grass and and tiny spiders hanging from the trees. A place of true beauty on the meridian - what are the chances of that?

 Monday, October 18, 2004

Marking the meridian: Waltham Forest

Three cheers for the London Borough of Waltham Forest, whose marking of the meridian is nothing short of superb. You can't see the meridian in Stratford but, once you cross the border into Leyton, it's everywhere. Back in the year 2000 the council decided to mark the millennium across their borough in a most original way. They ordered some menial operative to paint a big blue and yellow circle on the pavement of streets in Waltham Forest that crossed the meridian. And there are tons of them. As a result it's possible to walk all the way up the zero degree line to Walthamstow without the need for a map. So I gave it a try.

xxiv-xxx) I found my first meridian circle (pictured left) outside a house in Crownfield Road. I got my first funny look too as soon as I started taking photographs of the pavement. The next street north was Drapers Road and yes, another pavement, another circle, but then I spent five minutes wandering up and down Stewart Road looking in vain for a circle that turned out not to be there. Better luck in Downsell Road, except that the pavement had been re-tarmacked after the meridian householder had erected a new front wall so only a quarter of the original circle remained. Up and down these residential streets I went, locating a total of seven blue and yellow circles within one 500 metre corridor and no doubt alerting a number of Neighbourhood Watch schemes in the process.

xxxi) After Langthorne Road the meridian entered St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cemetery, the final resting place of Jack the Ripper's last victim. It passed through some nuns' graves (may the Sisters of Wanstead rest in peace), clipped the corner of the chapel and headed north through a sea of ornate marble monuments. A crowd of mourners had gathered beneath a tree for a burial dead on the meridian, so I beat a hasty retreat. On across the Central Line (just east of Leyton station), the new A12 relief road and the lounge bar of the Northcote Arms.

xxxii-xliv) More rows of houses followed, and more circles. I saw a woman having a screaming row sitting in the front seat of her car on the meridian, and a boy sitting on a front garden wall combing his afro on the meridian. On through Norlington Boys' School (cutting through cycle locker number 8 and the technology annexe) and precisely through the side entrance of Barclay Infant School. On through the top left corner of Whipps Cross hospital (where David Beckham was born) and through a parade of shops on the Lea Bridge Road (more accurately through the Roti Roti Restaurant, specialising in 'grilled and Karachi dishes'). All in all I saw more than 20 blue and yellow circles on the meridian before I got bored and went home.

xlv) ...but not before I'd visited the one pre-millennial meridian marker in Walthamstow. This grooved concrete slab (pictured above right) lies on the eastern side of Wood Street, just south of Wood Street station (one of those rare slap-bang-on-the-meridian stations). It was odd place to find such a marker, set into the pavement outside an obscure lock-up beside the 14th Walthamstow Scout Group HQ, but no more odd than my meridian pilgrimage had been I guess.

 Sunday, October 17, 2004

Marking the meridian: Newham

The meridian now follows the Lea Valley, which means a mile and a half of inaccessible industrial warehouse-y marshland kind of stuff. Including the following...

xix) The original Big Brother House: OK, if I'm honest the meridian doesn't quite pass through the site of Nasty Nick's series 1 downfall, but the zero degree line does pass through the Bow field in which they built the house and within 100 metres of the original Diary Room. I've written about this now-empty field before of course - try here.
xx) Abbey Mills Pumping Station: It's probably inadvisable to cut straight through the middle of East London's Sewage Cathedral... unless you're an imaginary line of longitude, that is. I've written about this place before too - try here.
xxi) See also: Cody Road Industrial Estate, the District Line (between Bromley-by-Bow and West Ham), Bow Back Rivers, the Northern Outfall Sewer (now the Greenway), the Gala Bingo Hall on Stratford High Street, the Jubilee Line (by the footbridge just south of Stratford station), the car park round the back of Bridge House (home to Newham Council's Housing Department) and Stratford Box (contract 230 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link).

xxii) This is Time Spiral, a six metre high twisty-turny clock erected in the pedestrian forecourt of Stratford station to mark the meridian. According to the artist, Malcolm Robertson, this is a piece wherein "curved walls sweep in towards a central point from all directions and amalgamate to form a unified spiral structure that acts as a beacon to continuously draw the spectator's attention upwards and outwards. The beacons draw their energy from the surrounding area and combine forces to produce a strong visual landmark of dynamic unity." If this is indeed the case, and somehow I doubt it, then the people of Stratford don't seem to have noticed.

xxiii) The people of Stratford haven't noticed the meridian either, despite the local council naming the large public plaza outside the station Meridian Square. They don't realise when they're lurking around the public conveniences at the southern end of the bus station that the meridian passes immediately through the cubicles. They don't realise when they draw up beside the 108 bus stop in their Ford Focus to drop their mates off that they're parking precisely on the meridian as well as illegally on a red route. They don't realise when they use the pelican on the ring road to cross from the bus station to the nasty cheap shopping centre opposite that they're actually crossing from the western to the eastern hemisphere. And they don't realise when they're standing at the eastern end of platform 10 waiting to escape Stratford by train that there's one additional line here that's invisible to the naked eye. People of Stratford, your knowledge is less than zero.

Marking the meridian is also available on one page (here) and on my photoblog (here).

 Saturday, October 16, 2004

Marking the meridian: Tower Hamlets

xv) On leaving the Dome, the meridian takes a quick trip through the Blackwall tunnel (northbound southern tunnel opened 1897, southbound northern tunnel opened 1967).

xvi) The meridian hits the north bank of the Thames at a brand new Barratt housing development in Blackwall. They've been good and not built a stack of one-bedroom shoeboxes on the line itself, but have instead planted a cobbled avenue of trees with yet another brass line down the middle. By the river there's a circle of concentric cobbles with a compass at the centre, pointing north. This is Virginia Quay, and a memorial a few yards to the east commemorates the departure point of the first permanent settlers to sail from England to the New World. King James I came down to Blackwall Steps to wave the settlers off, unaware of the dangers they would face across the Atlantic from malnutrition, Indian chiefs and being turned into Disney cartoon characters. The First Settlers' Monument, which was unveiled by the US Ambassador in 1928, reminds us just how successful their journey of colonisation turned out to be.
From near this spot 19 December 1606 sailed with 105 adventurers the 'Susan Constant', Capt Christopher Newport in supreme command. Landed at Cape Henry, Virginia, April 26 1607. Arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, May 13 1607 where the adventurers founded the first permanent English colony in America under the leadership of the intrepid Capt John Smith. (Erected by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities)
xvii) The meridian crosses the Docklands Light Railway at (or more precisely fractionally to the east of) East India station. There used to be a red line on the track marking zero degrees but it's no longer visible.
xviii) Next heading northwards: a security man sitting at a small barrier on Saffron Avenue, the A13, a downcast council estate at South Bromley (the last houses on the meridian for the next two miles), Poplar gasworks, Bow Creek.

 Friday, October 15, 2004

Marking the meridian: North Greenwich

xi) After nearly a mile adrift in the Thames, the meridian comes ashore to clip the western edge of the North Greenwich peninsula. This is a grim industrial wasteland, still scarred with the remains of wharves and old factories. Even when the rest of the peninsula is reborn as a modern yuppie playground, this western sliver will be left unloved and underdeveloped. Except for the top bit.

The Dome
xii) When Michael Heseltine was looking for somewhere to dump his great Millennium attraction, it was the meridian that swung his decision in favour of Greenwich. This was otherwise a rotten location, an inaccessible brownfield site heavily contaminated by what had been the largest gasworks in Europe. Still, it was better than Birmingham. The chequered history of the resulting Dome is well documented. However, the Dome wasn't actually built on the meridian itself, which passes one radius away on the western side. And here it is...

     The Prime Meridian of the world, from which all time is measured, cuts the north-western edge of the Dome site. Marked with red light, it slips into the River Thames and emerges to cross the wildlife jetty. The area around the Line is raised and separated by a strip of water from the rest of Meridian Quarter. This is a space from which to look out beyond the Dome and Greenwich to other places touched by the Line and to the perspectives, experiences and cultures of the people of the world.
     A large mirror on the Living Wall takes the Meridian Line southward into infinity. This is a photograph opportunity as we catch ourselves standing either side of the Line and across time zones. On the mirror is a map showing the eight countries which the Line crosses: the UK, France, Spain, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo and Ghana. Large granite disks on the ground either side of the Line are engraved with poems from each of the countries.
(Official Guide to the Millennium Experience, 2000)
It doesn't feel quite so inspirational alongside the Dome today, four years after the Millennium. The Meridian Quarter has been barricaded behind a tall blue wire fence, the red light has long been turned off and the Living Wall is more of a dead pile of concrete blocks. The meridian line enters this deserted site through a grimy mirror (right of photo), then passes yellow Kodak photo point number 18 and a small pavillion full of old Dome exhibits. It's impossible to read any of the poems along the line from the perimeter footpath, not that you'd ever have been interested in the first place. There's no perspective, experience or culture here today, just a bleak, lonely and forsaken location. If any section of the meridian properly defines zero, this is it. (take a walk here)

xiii) The tall black totem pole you can see to the right of this photo is a Millennium Milepost, placed Dome-side on the Thames Path by Sustrans the transport charity. There are 1000 such mileposts on cycle routes across the country, each featuring a lettered metal disc which is a clue in a long-forgotten national treasure hunt. I could tell you what the letter is on this particular meridian-sited milepost but that might ruin the fun for all you cycle-clipped puzzlers out there. I can tell you that the sign has been placed two metres too far east.

xiv) Ordnance Jetty juts out into the Thames on the north-western side of the Dome, straddling the meridian. It's a T-shaped pier, once used for unloading ammunition but recently topped off with grass as a safe haven for plants and birdlife. A low metal gutter sticks out from the shoreline pointed towards two white posts on the jetty, along which that red light from the Dome's Meridian Quarter used to be channelled. No longer. The gutter now contains nothing but one uniquely positioned weed.

 Thursday, October 14, 2004

Marking the meridian: Greenwich

Greenwich Observatory
i) A brass line stretches across the courtyard, marked with the names, latitudes and longitudes of various world cities.
ii) There's a big silvery sculpture at the northern end of the brass line, consisting of a pole inclined at 23½ degrees to the vertical, an equatorial ring and two segmented sails (pictured above left).
iii) A tall stone plaque (with a vertical black meridian line) is set into the wall immediately beneath the observatory courtyard. A short brass line continues across the higher of the two footpaths.

Greenwich Park
iv) At the foot of Greenwich Park is a banana-shaped boating lake. The zero degree line cuts straight across the middle, making this your big chance to pedalo along the meridian. On the northern bank lies a raised circular platform supporting a big triangular sundial (shown in the photo above, at noon Greenwich Mean Time with the sun's shadow pointing due north). This is the Millennium Sundial and, like a certain other local millennial project I could mention, it's fatally flawed. The architect was given the wrong information and the sundial ended up being built 2 metres off the meridian, so it runs 8 minutes adrift. They should have built it dome-shaped.

Maritime Greenwich
v) On the first road north of the park, a plaque built into the wall of The Chantry reads 'Prime Meridian, zero degrees longitude'. A downward-pointing arrow divides East from West.
vi) North from the plaque there's a row of ten raised studs following the meridian across the road (pictured above right) before disappearing into the front room of number 2 Feathers Place.
vii) Old Woolwich Road School lies bang on the line, and so has been renamed Meridian Primary.
viii) The meridian crosses the grounds of Trinity Hospital, a retirement home for 21 local gentlemen and the oldest building in Greenwich.
ix) The green meridian laser passes directly between the four tall brick chimneys of Greenwich Power Station. This coal-fired station was built by London County Council in 1906 to generate power for local trams. More recently it was used by London Underground as a peak-time back-up station, before finally being mothballed last year (just in time for a serious power cut).
x) The meridian enters the Thames totally unmarked at Crowley's Wharf, a few metres west of the nasty modern development at Anchor Iron Wharf. Steps lead down to the beach (yes, the Thames has beaches) from which the meridian heads off north across the river, just missing the giant derelict coal jetty sticking out from the power station behind. Next stop, the Dome.

 Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Marking the meridian

The Prime Meridian is 120 years old today. That's the imaginary north-south line through Greenwich which divides the world into western and eastern hemispheres, and from which longitude and universal time are measured. It passes less than a kilometre from my house. And we'd be lost without it.

Noon was once simply the time when the sun was directly overhead. The advent of rail travel in the 19th century forced many countries to standardise time based on a national meridian. The UK adopted Greenwich Mean Time in 1880, while the French preferred their own meridien through Paris instead. A global standard was clearly required, so in 1884 US President Chester Arthur invited delegates from around the world to Washington to attend the first (and last) International Meridian Conference.

There were an infinite number of possible meridians, each stretching from the North to the South Pole, and any one of these could have been chosen. However, the Greenwich Meridian was pre-eminent because it had already been adopted by the UK and USA and was therefore being used by 72% of the world's shipping. The French backed down, but only in return for the rest of the world agreeing to think about adopting their system of metric measures. The crucial conference vote was taken on 13 October, with France and Brazil abstaining and only San Domingo in opposition. And so time began at Greenwich (latitude 51°28'38"N, longitude 0°).
"That the Conference proposes to the Governments here represented the adoption of the meridian passing through the centre of the transit instrument at the Observatory of Greenwich as the initial meridian for longitude."
Ayes 22; noes 1; abstaining 2. (13 October 1884)
To celebrate today's anniversary I'm taking you on a week-long journey up the zero degree line of longitude from Greenwich to the M25, stopping off at all the places where the meridian has been marked in some way. There are plaques and monuments, sundials and statues, and an awful lot of random everyday objects that just happen to lie on this most special of lines. Plus it's a great excuse for a walk through East London. Do join me.

Marking the meridian: The Royal Greenwich Observatory

Millions of tourists have stood precisely here, in the courtyard at the Royal Greenwich Observatory astride the famous brass meridian line. Cameras at the ready, left leg in the western hemisphere, right leg in the eastern hemisphere, click. The meridian passes directly through the observatory, and is precisely defined by the centre of the crosshairs of George Airy's 1851 transit telescope. Above the telescope on the outside of the building there's a clock counting the days since the Millennium, a silver plaque and a tiny hole out of which a green laser shines along the meridian after dark, visible for many miles to the north. The red line down the face of the building marks the precise longitude at which time begins. But it's not the original Greenwich Meridian.

Flamsteed House was built in 1675 on the highest ground within Greenwich Park, the perfect location for an observatory with unobstructed views of the sky over London. Unfortunately the windows of Christopher Wren's magnificent Octagon Room were found to be pointing slightly off the north-south axis, and so the first Royal Astronomer John Flamsteed made all his observations from a shed at the bottom of the garden instead. It was the telescope in this shed that established the first of four Greenwich meridians, each defined by a different telescope and each now marked by a silver plaque on the observatory wall.

Meridian 1: based on John Flamsteed's telescope, 1685
Meridian 2: based on Edmund Halley's telescope, 1725 (185cm east of Flamsteed's meridian) Established when Flamsteed's original telescope began to subside into the ground.
Meridian 3: based on James Bradley's telescope, 1750 (11m east of Halley's meridian). Still used by the Ordnance Survey for map-making purposes.
Meridian 4: based on George Airy's telescope, 1851 (5.79m east of Bradley's meridian). Selected as the Prime Meridian of the world exactly 120 years ago today.

With the advent of global positioning technology in the 1990s, a new virtual meridian has been introduced. It lies 102½ metres further east than the official Greenwich meridian and is the line used for all air and sea navigation. That's why when you stand in the courtyard at Greenwich wielding a handheld GPS device it doesn't show a longitude of precisely 0°0'0". However, for the last 120 years it's been Airy's Prime Meridian that is more properly recognised here at Greenwich and, quite literally, all around the world.

 Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Before desktop publishing, there was Letraset. I guess if you're much under 25 you may never have used these lettering transfers, but those of us growing up before the advent of the affordable printer originally knew no better.

I loved Letraset. I had sheets of the stuff in a variety of sizes, fonts and colours. Whenever there was some writing that needed to look semi-official then I'd pick the style that I liked the most, grab myself a bluntish pencil and prepare for a good rub down. Letraset offered a choice that my typewriter couldn't, and also the flexibility to write on almost any surface. Some of the fonts (as I would later learn to call them) were really quite adventurous, and if I didn't have the one that I wanted then I could pop down to the corner shop and buy another set for 49p. With a bit of practice I could produce a page layout which looked sort of professional. Almost, but not quite.

One of the biggest problems with Letraset was trying to line the sheet up properly so that the selected letters would appear on the page underneath in an approximately horizontal line. I also had to be sure that I rubbed over the whole of the letter and didn't leave a tiny limb flapping in the air when I lifted the sheet away. And, most importantly of all, I had to count the different letters in the phrase I was trying to write to ensure that there were still enough letters remaining on the sheet to be able to complete it. Far too often I'd start on a particularly lengthy sentence only to find that the 'e's or 'o's ran out halfway through and so the whole typesetting exercise would have to be abandoned.

Letraset was revolutionary when it was invented back in 1959, its stylish versatility bringing affordable graphic design to the masses. Many's the 60s revolutionary tract, 70s school project or 80s village show programme that was produced by pressing down really hard on a thin sheet of opaque paper. A whole swathe of public signage also owes its existence to this giant transfer lettering. The end for Letraset came with the rise of the home computer, the Apple Mac in particular, and now most of us can dash off a jumble sale poster in less than the time it used to take to line up a lower case 'u' next to a capital 'J'.

My Letraset stash was my introduction to the world of desktop publishing, and I owe it a lot. But I don't miss it, especially that annoying habit the letters used to have of peeling off at the crucial moment.

See also:
Dymo labels
John Bull printing sets
the fountain pen

 Monday, October 11, 2004

How we used to write

Before cut and paste, there was the typewriter. I guess if you're much under 30 you may never have used one, but those of us growing up before the advent of the word processor originally knew no better.

I loved our family's typewriter when I was a child. It was grey, it was made by Brother and it lived in a brown carry case in the cupboard under the stairs. I'd set it up on the desk in my bedroom and feed a couple of sheets of paper down behind the platen roller. Tap thwack tap thwack tap thwack - it was a noisy business trying to write in those days, and a messy one too if you managed to get the ink off the ribbon onto your fingers. But with a bit of practice you could produce a printed page which looked sort of professional. Almost. But not quite. Our 'i' key was very slightly out of alignment and so used to print a bit left of centre, whereas capital letters used to appear about half a millimetre higher than their lower case counterparts. It looked good enough to me, but then I also thought nothing of the fact that my typewriter had only one font, nor that it produced writing in only one font size.

The biggest problem with my typewriter was that I had to hit everything exactly right first time. Make even one mistake and there was no easy way to erase it, just an obvious scar left by a giant rubber or some of that new-fangled Tippex stuff. No, if I was seeking typed perfection and made a mistake then my best bet was to curse, rip the paper out and start again. And then, almost as bad, I had to know exactly what I was going to write before I started typing because there was no way to rearrange the sentences on the page afterwards. Backspace, delete, undo and cut and paste make life so much easier these days, as do bold, italic and underline, to say nothing of the massively time-saving "print multiple copies" command.

And yet the computer keyboard owes a great deal to the typewriter. The modern return key is just a replacement for the satisyfying swish of the carriage return lever. The shift button used to physically lift the roller to allow you to select between the two characters on each key. And that nightmarish QWERTY arrangement of letters on the keyboard really was designed to slow typists down so that the metal keys didn't collide and interlock when used too fast.

My grey typewriter was my introduction to the world of word-processing, and I owe it a lot. But I don't miss it, especially that annoying habit the ribbon used to have of running out of ink at the crucial momen

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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

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diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards