diamond geezer

 Thursday, March 31, 2005

And then there were five

Tomorrow is the last day of Routemaster operation on route 19 between Battersea and Finsbury Park. I took a ride on the 19 last week, just because I can't next week. They've already started the changeover, so I had to wait beside Battersea Bridge for 15 minutes while a couple of dull modern double deckers emerged from the old shed that doubles as a bus garage. But then I nabbed the top deck front seat view on the next vintage vehicle for a snail's pace crawl across Central London, and suddenly the wait was worthwhile. We got stuck in a jam in Knightsbridge for 20 minutes, but (unlike next week) the Japanese tourists sitting to my right were still able to hop off the open platform and escape. We paraded up Shaftesbury Avenue which, until tomorrow night at least, is the only road in Central London where every bus is still a Routemaster. We transported some Chelsea nobs to the art galleries up Piccadilly and we delivered a smiling kid with an Incredibles balloon (and her dad) to the estates of Highbury. At least four different middle-aged blokes took our photograph as we passed. During the journey the conductor's memory failed him and he asked to check my ticket twice, although admittedly the two occasions were over an hour apart. I sincerely hope he has a job lined up for next week, but somehow I doubt it.

For the second half of the journey I got to share my top deck view with a bus fanatic and a genuine minor celebrity. The minor celeb was BBC London 94.9FM weekend breakfast DJ Simon Lederman. You've probably never heard of him, and neither had I, but his name was written on an envelope and Google is a wonderful thing. Simon had an on-board rendezvous with the bus fanatic to collect some prize tickets to give away on air for a special Open Day being arranged by Cobham Bus Museum this weekend. He also got to check the Radio London advert in the Open Day programme and got shown all the spelling mistakes in the accompanying advertising leaflet. I'm afraid that Simon's on-bus conversation was rather more interesting than the first 10 minutes of his show last Saturday, but that's local talk radio for you.

If you want to see some fine old buses in action, you could chug down to Surrey on Sunday. Or you could just stay in town and ride a Routemaster for £1.20, while you still can. There are several guest vehicles serving the 19 tomorrow, if you're interested. But there'll be just five routes left to choose from after tomorrow, and none at all before the year is out. Ride now while stocks last.

Still Routemastering:
14 Putney - Tottenham Court Road (last day of operation: 22 July 2005)
22 Putney - Piccadilly Circus (last day of operation: 22 July 2005)
159 Marble Arch - Streatham (last day of operation: 30 September 2005)
38 Victoria - Clapton (no final date set, but likely to be replaced by bendy buses in October)
13 Golders Green - Aldwych (no final date set, but will go before Christmas)

 Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Return of the Mac
"McDonald's has offered to pay top hip hop artists to incorporate the 'Big Mac' into their song lyrics. According to Advertising Age magazine, the fast food chain will pay rappers up to $5 every time a song namechecking the burger is played. McDonald's said the US deal reflected the appeal of hip hop to young people."
Words fail me. So, instead of coming up with some (c)hip hop lyrics of my own, I've reappropriated some old songs in the hope of making a tidy sum myself. Well, it beats eating the burgers.

Takeaway That - Relight My Frier
Donna Summer - McBurger Park
Los Del Rio - BigMacarena
Madness - Bagel Trousers
Fleetwood BigMac - Little Fries
Martha and the McMuffins - Echo Belch
Bobby McFlurry - Don't Worry, Eat Happy Meal
Deep Fried Something - Breakfast McMuffin At Tiffany's
Sarah Brightman - I Lost My Heart To A Quarter Pounder
John Travolta & Olivia Newton John - Grease Is The Word

I'm sure you can do better (I recommend this search engine to help you) and maybe you'll find a song about artery-clogging that I missed. Suggestions in the comments box please.

50 really dull things I did yesterday: woke up before my alarm, poured milk over some cereal, brewed a cup of tea, had a very warm bath, ironed a shirt, took three attempts to tie my tie to the right length, brushed my teeth, shivered, observed leaf growth on the conker tree outside Bow Road station, jumped on a train just before the doors shut, got a seat on the Central Line (it must be the school holidays), walked up a very long escalator, smiled inanely at the security guard at work, got a drink of water from the machine, finished all the day's urgent work by 10am, looked out of the window, reorganised all the emails in my inbox, sneezed, got another drink of water from the machine, planned stuff I could have left until June, pretended to look busy, went out for a sandwich, found nothing of interest in a bookshop, ate a sandwich at my desk, got another drink of water from the machine, refiled some paperwork, sharpened a pencil, looked out of the window again, reorganised my intray, watched the clock, filled the shredder, waited for the end of the working day, smiled inanely at another security guard, bought next week's Radio Times, got another seat on the Central line, took two minutes to untangle my headphones, arrived home in broad daylight, found a takeaway menu in my letterbox, threw it away, brewed a cup of tea, grilled some pork chops on the George Foreman grill you lot suggested I buy, failed to set my video properly because the clock was still on GMT, reset the clock, ate an apple, watched the rain drip down the windowpane, brewed another cup of tea, watched an old That's Life show on BBC4 (there's Spitting Image and Blott On The Landscape tonight), brushed my teeth, snuggled up in bed, looked forward to a more thrilling Wednesday.

 Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Ronnie Kray's funeral: Wednesday March 29th 1995

Ten years ago today the East End came to a halt for the funeral of Ronnie Kray. The gangland boss suffered a heart attack in Broadmoor at the age of 61 and died in Wexham Park Hospital a couple of days later. Poor bloke - not even a convicted psychopath deserves to die in Slough. Ronnie's body was taken, after a post mortem, to the funeral parlour of W English and Son in the Bethnal Green Road, from where his final journey began on the afternoon of 29th March 1995. Thousands gathered in the surrounding streets to see the funeral procession, either to pay their last respects or for a final sneaky look at an East End legend. Reggie's coffin was placed in a glass-sided hearse, pulled by six plumed horses and overflowing with floral tributes. The cortege halted briefly just round the corner in Vallance Road outside the site of the twins' former home, although the original two-up two-down at number 178 no longer stood as it had been rebuilt as community housing. And from here it was just a few short yards up the road beside the railway viaduct to the church where the funeral service was to be held.

St Matthew's Church stands alone in the middle of a postwar housing estate, a beacon of brown on a patch of green surrounded by grey. There's been a church here for 250 years, although the increasingly multicultural nature of the surrounding area suggests that it may not last as a functional place of worship for very much longer. I paid a visit last week, wandering through the churchyard past dogwaste bins and teenagers gulping underage alcohol. Peering through the church's glass front door I saw a bright modern interior with a few wooden chairs gathered in the middle of a empty polished floor. It was hard to imagine, but ten years ago the church was completely packed out.

Ronnie's funeral was a massive East End affair. They played "My Way" during the service, as well as the rather schmaltzier "I Will Always Love You". The churchyard was full of shaven headed thugs, suited and booted for one day only. Four gangsters from rival 'firms', including Ronnie's brother Charlie, came together to act as pallbearers. Barbara Windsor and Morrissey sent wreaths, while another floral tribute was thought to be from the New York Mafia. But it was surviving twin Reggie who stole the limelight by attending handcuffed to a prison warder, having been let out of Maidstone for the day. He looked old and he looked distraught, but he was still happy enough to give interviews for local TV news. Perhaps he realised he'd be back here soon enough, this time inside the box (and he was, five years later, for a repeat performance).

After the service the funeral procession headed east towards Chingford Cemetery where Ronnie was to be buried beside his beloved mother. 26 black Daimlers followed the hearse at an equine walking pace, causing gridlock through the streets of the East End. And they took a most indirect route to the cemetery, heading out across the Bow flyover (and past my house). But then legend has it that the Kray twins buried the body of Frank "Mad Axeman" Mitchell in the concrete supports of the Bow Flyover while it was under construction in 1967, so maybe Ronnie was having the last laugh after all.

 Monday, March 28, 2005

Bank Holiday Monday checklist

Develop sudden and inexplicable urge to redecorate house
Drive to well known DIY superstore on outskirts of town
Spend fortune on paint, paintbrushes, mysterious tool for erecting shelves and some more paint just in case
Drive 100 yards to other end of car park to visit garden centre
Buy lots of ready-grown plants at extortionate prices
Stop off at furniture warehouse to be enticed by new sofa
Drive 20 miles to nearest IKEA, only discover that everyone else in your area has had the same idea
Walk through store at a snail's pace, picking up several must-have items along the way, then join endless queue at checkout
Attempt to park car in crowded loading area, then struggle to fit large flatpack box through door
Drive home cautiously, unable to see through rear window
Make a start on redecorating the living room by tearing down quarter of the old wallpaper and painting a narrow strip of magnolia
Drill gratuitous hole in wall where new shelving unit might be located
Realise that this is a very big job and wish you hadn't started it
Attempt to assemble IKEA flatpack furniture, but give up after an hour and a half of swearing
Look out into garden where nature has reawoken uncontrollably after her winter sleep
Divert attention to pulling up weeds, cutting back shrubs and oiling the lawnmower
Get barbecue out, despite it not quite being warm enough for one yet
Continue to fill binbags with leftover foliage while coals fail to catch light
Go back inside as darkness falls and fall asleep on sofa
Wake up on Tuesday morning ready to go back to real work
Wait until next bank holiday weekend and repeat

 Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter Eggs hunt: Here are clues to 20 words that sound like they start with 'eggs', but don't. Each clue has two parts - a definition of the complete word and a definition of the non-eggs part of the word. For example, "shout demand" would be eggsclaim and "modify swap" would be eggschange. How many can you identify?
  1) praise levy
  2) eject island
  3) destroy end
  4) outclass flog
  5) trade games
  6) reveal model
  7) quality sword
  8) surpass spore
  9) rouse location
10) tax dimensions   
11) specialist gush
12) treasury tester
13) dear thoughtful
14) rapturous stable
15) illustrate ordinary
16) generous specimen
17) stress enlargement
18) precise performance
19) marquee magnitude
20) symbolise journalism
(Answers in the comments box)

Who's London
(March 2005)

Ahh, that's better. Saturday teatime, curtains closed, BBC1, and that familiar diddly-dum diddly-dum theme tune filling the airwaves. I even went to the effort of travelling 100 miles so that I could watch the whole programme from my parents' sofa, although it was positioned rather too close to the wall for me to be able to hide behind it at the appropriate moments. My initial thoughts were that the programme was bland and derivative, full of grinning monsters in spandex with shiny teeth, but then I realised I'd tuned in 15 minutes too early and was watching Graham Norton in Strictly Dance Fever by mistake. But I needn't have worried because the actual programme was dramatic, original, engrossing and witty, just the way proper Doctor Who used to be.

As an echo to the past, new assistant Rose lived on a dreary council estate somewhere in London, though they filmed her local scenes on a glorious day in summer when even a concrete wasteland could look endearing. She worked in a non-existent department store in London where she came face to face with the walking plastic shop dummies that haunted my youth. Her world was turned upside-down by the arrival of a grinning Mancunian in a battered leather jacket, whose history she uncovered via a search engine (do check out the genuine webpage, it's brilliant). Her cowardly boyfriend was replaced by a grinning plastic replica, though (like so many relationships) it was often hard to spot the difference. And she helped to defeat a shapeless alien living in an industrial vat beneath the London Eye, saving the planet (and her outrageous mother) in the process. No wonder she wanted to run away from it all in the Tardis by the end of the episode. All the classic ingredients were there, mixed with wonder and a little magic, and I was duly relieved that I loved every second of it.

I would like to discuss the new series of Doctor Who later this afternoon with my ten year old nephew, him being target audience and all that, except that he exists in a Murdoch TV bubble so he almost certainly wasted his Saturday evening watching Yu-Gi-Oh! and Dragonball Z instead. If you missed the first episode of the new series too, you can catch it repeated on BBC3 tonight at 7pm. But maybe you'll want to put the wheelie bin out first.

 Saturday, March 26, 2005

Who's London
Spearhead From Space
(September 1970)

The first Doctor Who story I ever remember watching was Jon Pertwee's first - this delightful tale where plastic objects suddenly spring to life. Just my luck to start watching in time for one of the scariest scenes ever, the one where plastic dummies burst out of shop windows and shoot innocent passing members of the public. One minute people were going about their everyday shopping, the next they were gunned down by lumbering mannequins with firearms concealed within their drop-down wrists. How was a five year old supposed to face shopping in the local high street after that?

Still, at least my local high street wasn't Ealing Broadway where these particular scenes were filmed. I paid my very first visit to Ealing last Saturday afternoon in an attempt to lay my childhood demons to rest. The shop I came to see was John Sanders, a traditional department store from the era before bland corporate retailing. No stranger to disaster, the building had survived a direct hit from a V1 bomb during World War Two 25 years before its glass was again shattered during the Auton Invasion of 1970. But John Sanders couldn't hold out as an independent retailer forever and so its mythical shop window now belongs to Marks and Spencer instead. And there are still dummies in it.

Looks evil, doesn't she? She's one of the three mannequins still keeping watch over the unsuspecting people of Ealing Broadway, staring through faceless eyes out across the pelican crossing towards Christ The Saviour church. Three more dummies lurk just inside the M&S entrance, bedecked in red 'sale' t-shirts, awaiting the signal that will snap them back to life. Because, haven't you heard, the Autons are invading again, tonight at 7pm. This time it's Oxford Street that's going to be attacked, but don't worry because a new Doctor will be on hand to save the day (and to lure one of the shop assistants off to a new life). I'm delighted not just that the show is returning but that script writer Russell T Davies has chosen to relaunch the new series using my very first Doctor Who nightmares. And I really hope that, next Saturday, there'll be small five year old boys walking down Ealing Broadway keeping an especially tight hold on their parent's hand, just in case that nearby shop window shatters and the invasion begins for real.

Spearhead From Space

 Friday, March 25, 2005

Who's London
(November 1989)

The very last Doctor Who episode was set in London, just like the very first. It wasn't meant to be the very last episode, it just turned out that way when the Doctor finally met his match in the form of evil programme controller Michael Grade. Had the production team known that this was the end of the line, I suspect they'd have wrapped up the show somewhere slightly more glamorous than the streets of Perivale. But I guess it was kind of appropriate to end somewhere suburban, somewhere ordinary, somewhere London.

Perivale is very London. John Betjeman described the place as a "parish of enormous hayfields", but you'd be hard pushed to agree with him today. Now it's a patch of 1930s semis built alongside the A40, just west of the Hanger Lane gyratory system. Perivale's most famous landmark is probably the Art Deco Hoover Building, a Grade 1 listed white structure now sympathetically converted to a Tesco hypermarket. It's even lit up emerald green at night, just to show how much loved it is. But that's about as thrilling as Perivale gets. There is the Grand Union Canal, and the Central line and a huge Royal Mail sorting office, and even a very big hill (of which more later). But Perivale is mostly houses.

This is the house on the corner of Bleasdale Avenue and Colwyn Avenue, outside which the Tardis materialised at the start of the final Doctor Who story. We're on the Medway estate, a well-kept network of mock tudor semis and desirable council housing complete with spring blossom and multi-car ownership. In the TV series these leafy avenues were supposed to be where Ace grew up, popping down to the shops on Medway Parade and hanging out in the recreation ground opposite the station. Here the feline Cheetah People struck, carting off the local adolescents to hunt as prey on their distant homeworld. I watched as a silent milkfloat hummed by, and shuddered slightly as a small cat stopped to look at me from the pavement. All wonderfully ordinary, just like the streets where I grew up, and so typical of Doctor Who to place the terrifying slap bang in the middle of the mundane.

The final scenes of the final show were shot atop Perivale's highest point, the summit of Horsenden Hill. It's a beautiful wooded peak of green contours, rising unspoilt above the surrounding housing estates. I climbed the wooded path from the hump-back bridge by the canal, arriving halfway up in a grassy clearing populated by shifty-looking semi-clad blokes. At the summit four boys were kicking a football around while their mothers sat patiently waiting for them to run out of steam. I stood for a while to take in the fantastic views over West London, including the new Wembley arch rising to the east. I liked the place rather more than I thought I was going to, but I'm still glad that by 7pm tomorrow evening this attractive hilltop will no longer be the site of the final Doctor Who episode.

"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on Ace, we've got work to do."

• ace Perivale website (including in-depth Doctor Who location guide)

 Thursday, March 24, 2005

Who's London
An Unearthly Child
(November 1963)

The very first Doctor Who episode was set in London, supposedly somewhere around Shoreditch, which just goes to show how before-its-time the show was even then. The show opened with an atmospheric shot of a dimly-lit junkyard. What was that mysterious looking police box doing there in Totters Lane, and why was it humming? The scene then switched to a nearby secondary school where we were introduced to the Doctor's granddaughter, Susan, and to her teachers Ian and Barbara. Two key Doctor Who locations... or they would have been if only the first episode hadn't been filmed entirely in the studio. There is no such London street as Totters Lane, let alone a Foreman's junkyard at number 76, neither is there a Coal Hill School anywhere in the Ofsted database. But I still managed to find them both, within a mile of each other in west London, thanks to two stories that revisited these locations more than 20 years later.

76 Totters Lane
The Doctor returned to Foreman's junkyard in 1985, as part of the two-part story Attack of the Cybermen (UK Gold, Saturday, 3:10pm). Colin Baker and assistant Peri parked the Tardis here before setting off to tackle a gang of diamond thieves in the London sewers, like you do. The junkyard scene was only brief, but it provided a geographical location for the original 1963 series, and nowhere near Shoreditch. This is Becklow Road in Acton, London W12, at the crossroads with Cobbold Road and Gayford Road. It's a quiet residential backwater surrounded by old Victorian terraces. All old, that is, except for the one glaringly new block of flats you can see in my photo. Closer inspection confirms that these redbrick apartments have been built (at some time during the last 20 years) on the precise site where the filming of 76 Totters Lane took place. Residents do normal things here now, oblivious of the site's former history, things like watching television, doing the hoovering and not running away from Cybermen. The old junkyard has vanished forever... unless you've got a time machine, of course.

Coal Hill School
This old school building, by contrast, looks just the same as it did when Sylvester McCoy screeched to a halt outside in the search for renegade Daleks. It's a big old Victorian school building, just off the main shopping street in Hammersmith, with separate entrances for "Boys", "Girls" and "Infants". In 1988 this was the home of St John's School, dressed up for the series as Coal Hill School (1963). The headteacher was the actor who played Mr Bronson, the playground had alien scorchmarks on the tarmac and, most importantly of all, this was the place where Daleks first demonstated they could travel up stairs. But in 2005 there's no school here any more. The northern half of the building is now the Macbeth Centre, the local Adult Education base where you can do courses in feng shui, pilates, welding and web design (but not time travel). And the southern half of the building is now a key stage 4 pupil referral unit for excluded pupils. Exactly the sort of place where troublesome Ace might have ended up... as indeed she did, smashing the chemistry lab to smithereens with her baseball bat before the whole room exploded. Evidence suggests that today's troubled teenagers are rather more well behaved.

Episode guide
An Unearthly Child
Attack of the Cybermen
Remembrance of the Daleks

 Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Who's London

I don't know whether you've noticed, but Doctor Who is back on our TV screens this Saturday after a 16-year hiatus. The return of this sci-fi classic will either fill you with nostalgic childlike joy, or leave you reaching for the remote in total indifference. For the next few days, I'm hoping it's the former.

With the entire infinite universe at his disposal, the Doctor instead chose to spend an inordinate amount of his time on just one small blue-green planet - our own Earth. Careful scrutiny of videotape records narrows down his particular interest to protecting the UK from imminent alien invasion and, more specifically, in safeguarding residents living within five miles of BBC Television Centre. A surprisingly high proportion of the Doctor's adventures took place in the capital and, as if to make the point, the first episode of the new series is set here too (somewhere on the number 16 bus route). OK, so the latest stuff was actually filmed in Cardiff with the help of a few hijacked Routemasters, but many of the old stories really were shot in London, just for added realism. I spent last Saturday visiting a handful of these choice locations, just to see what's left after Who's gone. First location report tomorrow.

In the meantime, courtesy of this splendid (but now defunct) website, here's a rundown of Doctor Who's London film locations.

William Hartnell (1963-66)
The Dalek Invasion of Earth (filmed August 1964): Classic shots of Daleks in Trafalgar Square, rolling along the Embankment and perching on top of the Albert Memorial (how did they get up the steps?)
The Massacre (filmed January 1966): New companion Dodo runs inside what she thinks is a police box, near the windmill on Wimbledon Common.
The War Machines (filmed May 1966): The Doctor discovers that the new Post Office Tower is in fact the base of an evil computer bent on taking over the world.

Patrick Troughton (1966-69)
The Invasion (filmed September 1968): Cybermen crawl out of the sewers and invade the capital (including that iconic shot of silver-suited robots walking down the steps in front of St Paul's Cathedral.

Jon Pertwee (1970-74)
Spearhead From Space (filmed September 1969): Shop window dummies spring to life in Ealing High Street.
The Terror of the Autons (filmed September 1970): The Master's first appearance, in a circus tent on land now covered by the Lea Bridge Ice Centre, Leyton.
The Mind of Evil (filmed November 1970): Exterior shots of UNIT headquarters are shot in Cornwall Gardens, South Kensington.
Day of the Daleks (filmed September 1971): Ogrons emerge from a time tunnel underneath Bull's Bridge, Hayes, Middlesex.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs (filmed 1973): The Doctor parks his Whomobile outside a deserted Moorgate station, only to be hemmed in by a stegosaurus.

Tom Baker (1974-81)
Terror of the Zygons (filmed March 1975): The Loch Ness Monster emerges from the River Thames beside Lambeth Bridge, beneath Millbank Tower.
The Talons of Weng-Chiang (filmed December 1976): Seminal Victorian East London fogbound mystery adventure, featuring Clink Street, St Katherine's Dock and Wapping Old Stairs.
Logopolis (filmed December 1980): The Tardis materialises on Cadogan Pier beneath Albert Bridge, where The Watcher is standing guard.

Peter Davison (1981-84)
Mawdryn Undead (filmed August 1982): The Brigadier has become a maths teacher at a minor public school, located in Trent Park, Enfield (just north of Cockfosters station).
Resurrection of the Daleks (filmed September 1983): The deserted warehouses to the east of Tower Bridge turn out to be full of Daleks (and not yet trendy restaurants).

Colin Baker (1984-86)
Attack of the Cybermen (filmed May 1984): Those evil silver creatures swarm all over some obscure backstreets across Acton, including a certain junkyard that turns out to be where the series began.

Sylvester McCoy (1987-89)
Remembrance of the Daleks (filmed April 1988): The Doctor goes back to school (off Hammersmith High Street) and uncovers the Hand of Omega in a grave in a cemetery in Kilburn (the same one where my great-grandfather is buried).
Survival (filmed June 1989): The final story of the final series sees Cheetah People invading a sleepy Perivale estate.

 Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Easter marches on

Isn't Easter early this year? Well yes it is, actually. Easter only falls in March about 22% of the time. More specifically Easter only falls on, or before, March 27th about 10% of the time. If you want a really early Easter you need to wait another three years, because Easter 2008 falls as early as March 23rd (which is stunningly rarely early). But even March 23rd isn't the earliest date that Easter can fall, because that's today, March 22nd. And here's why.

Easter Day falls "on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox". This year the spring equinox was last Sunday, the next full moon is this Friday, and that makes Easter Day next Sunday. Simple (ish). Except that the church doesn't use the real spring equinox, it uses the date of the spring equinox in 325AD (which was March 20th). And the church doesn't use the real full moon, it uses an approximate one called the Paschal Full Moon, with dates that repeat every 19 years. If (and only if) this Paschal Full Moon falls on Saturday March 21st, then Easter Day can be as early as Sunday March 22nd. I'll leave the full explanation to others (here), but the upshot is that Easter Day can fall on any date from March 22nd (today) to April 25th (5 weeks time) inclusive.

Here's a list of really early Easters, so you can see how rare they really are:
Easter on 27th March: last happened 1932, next happens 2016 (but then not again until 2157)
Easter on 26th March: last happened 1989, next happens 2062
Easter on 25th March: last happened 1951, next happens 2035
Easter on 24th March: last happened 1940, next happens 2391 [falls on or before this date only 3% of the time]
Easter on 23rd March: last happened 1913, next happens 2008 [falls on or before this date only 1½% of the time]
Easter on 22nd March: last happened 1818, next happens 2285 [falls on this date only ½% of the time]

10 fantastically geeky Easter date links:

A touch of Jason: As I predicted, the screening of ITV's comedy drama Diamond Geezer on Sunday night brought Googlers rushing to this page in large numbers. They started trickling in during the show, rising to a flood at 11pm as the final credits rolled, and they've been gushing in ever since. Apparently the programme had 9.4 million viewers, of whom only a tiny proportion have ended up here, but I still had more visitors in one day yesterday than I've ever had in any day before.
Moral of story: If you want lots of traffic, name your blog after a TV drama icon.
For example: I suspect that renaming your blog "Doctor Who" might pay huge dividends next weekend...

 Monday, March 21, 2005

the diamond geezer tourist map of London Regents Park

The perfect spot for a picnic, or to see lots of endangered zoo animals holed up in grim concrete bunkers
Kings Cross

Will eventually be a magnificent gateway to the continent, but in the meantime it's just a seedy dump full of hookers

Trendy shopping area full of overpriced antiques, multi-ethnic restaurants and severe traffic congestion

Even trendier area full of arty types, media dahlings and people in danger of disappearing up their own arsehole

Godforsaken hotel zone full of cafes and bureaux de change, named after an immigrant bear from Peru
Oxford Street

Great Britain's most over-hyped high street - it doesn't even have a Woolworths, for example
Tottenham Court Road

Spiritual home of all things electrical, at a knockdown price if you learn to haggle properly
British Museum

Lots of old relics stolen from ancient civilisations during the less enlightened days of the British Empire
The City

The bit of London that makes all the money - all posh shirts and shiny glass towers (closed weekends)
Hyde Park

Huge green space where Princess Diana's memorial water feature stands decaying beside the Serpentine
Buckingham Palace

Big Georgian mansion behind whose closed doors the Royal Family slag each other off and sleep with corgis
Piccadilly Circus

Busy road junction filled by tourists taking photographs of one another beneath a boarded-up statue
Trafalgar Square

Large paved space, home to several minority interest cultural festivals (and no longer full of pigeons)
The Tower

Once William the Conqueror's most feared castle, but now the site of London's most feared admission charges

Posh area full of toffs where entrance to the excellent local museums is the only thing that doesn't cost the earth

Soulless urban hub thronging with hotels, coffee shops, faceless offices and a variety of bland chain stores

Seat of government since medieval times (at least until the Home Secretary decides the place is a security risk and shuts it down)
London Eye

A giant ferris wheel where you can enjoy spectacular views while locked in a glass pod with several French schoolkids
Tower Bridge

Victorian icon featured on souvenir teatowels, novelty keyrings and every single movie ever made about the capital
dg 2005)

 Sunday, March 20, 2005

The diamond geezer tribute to David Jason

Britain's most well-loved comedy actor returns to our television screens tonight in another award-winning role of genius. David Jason stars in Diamond Geezer (ITV1 9pm) as an old lag who masterminds an audacious jewel robbery from the comfort of his cosy prison cell. It's sure to be a two hour drama masterpiece, adored by the non-demanding Sunday night audience, and if we're really lucky a heartwarming series will follow. Because, if there's one thing thing you can never accuse lovable rogue David Jason of, it's typecasting.

1940: Born David John White in Edmonton, son of Arthur (a Billingsgate fish porter) and Olwen (a charlady).
1955: Leaves school to work as an apprentice mechanic. Joins amateur dramatic company.
1965: First professional acting role, in a Noel Coward play for Bromley Rep (replacing his brother Arthur who leaves to take an acting role in Z Cars).
1967: TV debut alongside Michael Palin, Eric Idle and Terry Jones in Do Not Adjust Your Set (a forerunner of Monty Python's Flying Circus).
1969: Jason (briefly) plays a gardener in Crossroads (surely the pinnacle of his career).
1973: Ronnie Barker makes a series of seven one-off comedy dramas for the BBC, and invites Jason to play bumbling shop assistant Granville in Open All Hours. Another of the seven dramas later becomes Porridge, in which Jason is cast as elderly inmate Blanco.
1976: Open All Hours is turned into a much-loved series, which will be used to plug the gaps in early evening BBC schedules for several years to come.
1981: Jason makes his debut as lovable rogue Del Boy Trotter in the seminal Peckham-based sitcom, Only Fools and Horses. Sales of Reliant Robins soar.
1981: Immortalised as the voice of DangerMouse in DangerMouse.
1987: Wins BAFTA for portrayal of grumpy college porter Skullion in Porterhouse Blue.
1988: Immortalised as the voice of Count Duckula in Count Duckula.
1989: Plays bluff Yorkshire businessman Ted Simcock in David Nobbs' A Bit Of A Do
1991: ITV offers Jason the 'perfick' role of Pop Larkin in The Darling Buds of May, thereby making him the first old codger in the life of Catherine Zeta-Jones.
1992: ITV realises that Inspector Morse can't go on forever, so Jason is drafted in to play a grumpy detective in A Touch Of Frost (which proceeds to go on forever).
1999: The BBC shows the comedy clip of Del Boy falling through the Only Fools and Horses bar for the 500th time.
2002: Jason writes and stars in The Quest, a homely nostalgic drama for ITV.
2003: Awarded a BAFTA Fellowship for being the most much-loved actor in the history of television, ever.
2005: Right up-to date with prison drama Diamond Geezer which, if nothing else, will bring Googlers flooding to this page by mistake.

 Saturday, March 19, 2005

School dinners revisited (the pudding recipes)

Red jam tart
Line large aluminium tray with pastry, open catering-sized tin of red jam, spread really really thinly over base, add a couple of twisty pastry strips to add depth, bake in large school oven, cut into small rectangles, serve.
Chocolate Concrete
Melt 250g margarine in saucepan, add 300g plain flour, 150g demerara sugar and 25g cocoa, press into greased tin, prick the top and bake at gas mark 5 for 30-40 minutes, brush with water, sprinkle with castor sugar.
Prunes and custard
Fill large vat with milk and custard powder, leave to bubble overnight until lumps appear, add pink blancmange for colour (optional), ladle into battered serving jugs, wait until skin depth has reached 2mm; meanwhile share out huge can of prunes into several metal trays, dump unceremoniously on table, force children to eat, watch them sob.
Butterscotch tart
Melt 250g butter on low heat, add 200ml milk and 500g brown sugar, stir until dissolved, whisk in 2 heaped tablespoons of flour, reduce heat when mixture thickens, pour onto pre-cooked pastry base, wait to cool.
Rice pudding
Wait until children have finished their free milk at morning break, ask milk monitors to bring crates to school kitchen, pour leftover liquid into cauldron, add marble-sized rice grains, simmer on low heat until tepid, serve with dollop of jam.
Gypsy tart
Whisk together 400g tin of evaporated milk and 350g sugar for 10 minutes until light and fluffy and coffee coloured, pour mix into shortcrust pastry case, bake at gas mark 6 for 10 minutes, serve cold.
Line large bin with black bag, place near exit to school canteen, wait.

 Friday, March 18, 2005

A lot of balls

The world is split into two distinct camps - those who like rugby and those who don't. I spent yesterday at a meeting in the company of both worlds. Over a lunchtime tray of bland corporate sandwiches the conversation suddenly turned to this weekend's Six Nations tournament. Half of those present discussed the imminent international confrontations with passion and fervour. They knew which teams were doing well and which players were on form. They discussed scrummage tactics and fly half potential. They bemoaned England's post-World-Cup decline and they knew precisely how long it had been since Wales' last Grand Slam success. In short, they actually cared about who would win what on Saturday. The rest of us merely shut up and listened, unable to contribute, secretly hoping that the conversation might revert to something more inclusive.

I've always hated rugby. To be honest I probably didn't realise it existed before I was 11, because my enlightened primary school played (proper) football instead. OK, so I may have been rubbish at playing that too, but at least my life wasn't in danger every time I had a PE lesson. My secondary school, alas, believed that rugger was the one true sport. I spent every winter for five years freezing to death in a stripy jersey while boys who'd already hit puberty wrestled with each other in muddy puddles. I tried hard to keep out of the way, in case the ball might accidentally be thrown in my direction and a horde of lumbering animals launch themselves on top of me. I cowered every time I was selected for the scrum in case some crucial body part of mine be squashed or wrenched off in the grunting mêlée. And I scored a try only once, when my sadistic PE teacher noticed me standing beside the touch line and threw me the ball, no doubt expecting me to fumble it and then be crushed in a pile of adolescent limbs. He was disappointed, but only on this one single miserable occasion.

And yet some people live and breathe rugby. They follow Harlequins or Saracens with a fervent zeal, like other people might follow Arsenal or Chelsea. They wouldn't dream of actually playing in a match but they love to spectate, shout and sing rude songs, usually while wearing oversized replica jerseys. They read sports pages I never even skim, trying to keep track as their favourite players fall foul of serious ligament injury. They'll even travel business class to international matches at Murrayfield or Lansdowne Road, presumably as an excuse to get away from the wife for a few glorious pissed-up weekends every year. All this for a game which they no doubt would describe as elegant, but which to me looks like two teams of lardarses beating the hell out of each other egged on by an adoring middle class fanbase.

And then there's rugby league. To a namby pamby southerner like me this game is a complete irrelevance, barely afforded media space. It's a scarily regional phenomenon, of minimal interest to anyone living more than 20 miles away from the M62. I think there are less people in a team, and they play throughout the summer, and they have stupid team names dangerously similar to American baseball, but I'm not certain. I encountered league frenzy when I lived in Hull for a year, which felt somewhat like being surrounded by disciples of an alternative religion. But then I'm a complete rugby atheist anyway, as you'll have gathered. My apologies if you care who wins in the Six Nations tomorrow, but this says nothing to me about my life. You may try, but I am not converted.

 Thursday, March 17, 2005

St Patrick's Day Quiz

As you know, St Patrick's Day is the most important day in the entire history of Ireland. But how much do you really know about this ancient and traditional festival? Can you separate fact from drunken myth? Take my simple quiz, then click to find out.

1) Who was St Patrick?  a)  b)  c)
a) A leprechaun from the banks of the river Shannon
b) U2's original bass guitarist
c) A Roman slave who became the first Irish Pope

2) Why is St Patrick famous?  a)  b)  c)
a) He invented Guinness in the 6th century
b) He banned boa constrictors from entering Ireland
c) It was his idea to paint the Blarney Stone green

3) What happens on St Patrick's Day?  a)  b)  c)
a) Everyone in Ireland gets very drunk
b) Everyone all around the world pretends to be Irish and gets very drunk
c) Ken Livingstone pretends to be Irish and gets London very drunk (four days early)

4) What is the national dress of Ireland?  a)  b)  c)
a) A tall green hat with bells on it
b) A large flappy felt comedy shamrock
c) Pointy buckled shoes and a ginger beard

5) What is Ireland's most famous export?  a)  b)  c)
a) RiverDancing - gyration as if paralysed from the waist up
b) The Craic - a 'class A' narcotic grin shared by friends
c) Ryanair - the cheapest way to get nowhere fast

6) Where do 95% of Irish people live?  a)  b)  c)
a) In tumbledown cottages next to potato fields
b) In Dublin's fair city
c) In America

7) Who is the most famous Irishman?  a)  b)  c)
a) Father Ted - Roman Catholic Archbishop of all Eire
b) Oscar Bernard Joyce, who wrote "The Importance of Pygmalion's Wake"
c) B Jesus

8) Are Irish stereotypes offensive?  a)  b)  c)
a) Begorrah, to be sure
b) Don't get in a paddy about it
c) Shut up and carry on drinking

 Wednesday, March 16, 2005

dg's School Dinners

That Jamie Oliver has been doing sterling work on TV recently (final programme tonight) showing up modern school dinners for the fat-soaked nutrient-free snacks that they really are. Rich greedy catering companies spend a mere 37p a head serving up cheap fried horrors to the nation's children, and we allow them to get away with it. It's truly scandalous.

We never had this problem when I was a kid. No turkey twizzlers or fishy shapes were served up in the good old days, oh no. My daily dinner money was nearer 15p, and for that I got a plateful of real food, lovingly produced on the premises by battleaxes in pink hairnets. There was no such thing as choice back then - I either ate what I was given or I was forced to eat it anyway. And it never did my waistline any harm (not when I was a kid anyway).

So today I'm proposing a new culinary revolution in the world of school catering. None of this namby-pamby organic vegetarian rubbish that Mr Oliver is proposing to foist on the nation's youth. Instead we should return to core food values, back to nutritional basics and revert to the heritage school dinners of old. If it was good enough to stave off rickets in the 1960s and 70s, it's got to be good enough to feed obese lardbucket kids today. Here's my proposed fortnightly menu:

Week 1
Week 1
Week 1
Week 1
Week 1
Macaroni cheese.

Jam sponge with coconut sprinkles,
lumpy custard.
Liver and bacon,
boiled potatoes,
shredded cabbage.

Arctic Roll.
pastry slice,
mashed swede.

Tinned peaches,
ice cream.
Gristly beef,
burnt roast potatoes,
bullet peas,

Dry fish finger,
lumpy mash,
cold baked beans.

Jam roly poly,
pink custard.
Week 2
Week 2
Week 2
Week 2
Week 2
Cheese and egg flan,
diced beetroot.

strawberry jam.
overcooked carrots.

Spotted dick,
custard (with skin).
Spam fritters,
scoop of potato,
stewed tomatoes.

shortbread finger.

Boiled fish in white sauce,

Chocolate sponge,
chocolate custard.

As you can see, there's still one day's menu left to complete. Any suggestions?

 Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Bow Road station update: It's exactly a year since Bow Road station was first closed at 10pm every night so that renovation work could (supposedly) take place. A year of early closures, and a year of me having to take a longer route home whenever I've been out late. Had I been mugged on the walk back, which thankfully I wasn't, maybe I could have sued. But in the last fortnight, all of a sudden with absolutely no publicity whatsoever, the station's opening hours have been returned to normal. Trains are now pulling into a very different Bow Road station to that which used to exist a year ago. Take a look.

This used to be a dark, gloomy platform with peeling paint on the walls and a grimy low ceiling. It was unappealing, uninviting and seriously unlookedafter. For eleven months its grubby surface was covered by a makeshift blue wall, screening the leisurely metamorphosis behind. And now, with the protective shell removed, this place has been reborn as a fresh, bright platform with gleaming white panels on the walls and a slightly repainted ceiling. The opposite platform, also newly revealed, looks much the same. All of a sudden, the 21st century has arrived.

Except they promised us it wasn't going to look modern. This station upgrade was supposed to retain all of the station's key Edwardian architectural features. I'm sure they're all still there, somewhere underneath this modern veneer, but both platforms now have rather more of an 'airport terminal' feeling to them. There are little four-seater benches that wouldn't look out of place at IKEA, there's strip lighting that might be found in any office, and there's an artificial white coating covering the full length of each wall. It's even less traditional up the stairwells where giant alien globes have landed, masquerading as light fittings. And everywhere, absolutely every-bloody-where, there are all-pervasive security cameras. I suspect these are to be monitored from the brand new control room that's magically appeared off the ticket hall, which should give the station staff somewhere warm to sit and read their newspapers while they continue to ignore all the passing passengers.

The end of the long drawn-out modernisation process at Bow Road seems (at last) to be in sight. The platforms have reopened, the scaffolding is coming down and all opening restrictions have been lifted. But there's still a lot of mopping up and finishing off to be done, which could take months. And I have yet to be impressed.

Five ten-word reviews (in descending order of loveliness)
Kaiser Chiefs - Employment (album): sparkly Britpop debut, packed with quirky jewels (nod to Blur)
Smoke #5 (magazine): superior capital fanzine reaches fifth edition, and better than ever
1000 UK Number One Hits (book): expensive coffee table slab packed with essential in-depth chart-topping trivia
The Bravery - The Bravery (album): heroic opening track followed by plucky guitars (but hardly courageous)
A.N. Wilson - London: A Short History (book): concise, opinionated and informative chronology, spoilt by final up-to-date chapters

 Monday, March 14, 2005

National <insert your PR campaign here> Week

Did you invite some friends round for a curry last week to raise money to fight HIV and AIDS in India? Or were you made increasingly aware of Endometriosis, a enigmatic disease of the female reproductive system? Or did you make a special effort to investigate Jewish literature? Probably not, but last week was officially Spice Up Your Life Week, Endometriosis Awareness Week and Jewish Book Week, so maybe you should have done. The country is awash with special awareness weeks, not all of them as worthy as the three I've just mentioned. For example, October is blighted by National Sausage Week, June plays host to National BBQ Week while July sees International Bog Day. Many of these campaigns are merely shameless attempts by corporate PR departments to get us to buy something. All it takes is a headline grabbing survey, a couple of evangelical press releases and a three minute appearance on the GMTV sofa. Anybody could do it, and anybody does.

Here are ten current marketing campaigns. Seven are genuine, while three I've made up. Can you spot the fakes? (either work it out for yourself, or use the very wonderful online resource that is the Count Me In Calendar)

National Ideas Day (14 March): A special day to focus on creativity and innovation in the workplace on the anniversary of Einstein’s birth (and, by coincidence, tomorrow there's a one-day seminar which you might like to attend).
Commonwealth Day (14 March): A well-meaning attempt to keep alive an outmoded institution by remembering people from other countries who win more Olympic medals than we do.
Water Conservation Week (14-20 March): A national campaign to encourage us not to take baths (but shower instead), not to clean our teeth (with the tap running) and not to flush the toilet (quite so often).
Obesity Awareness Week (13-19 March): Eating too much can make you wobbly, which is why TOAST (The Obesity Awareness & Solutions Trust) are launching a special National Obesity Hotline today.
National Outdoor Week (12-20 March): Apparently going outside and taking part in various outdoor leisure activities keeps you fit and healthy (although personally I think it just increases the possibility of sustaining a nasty injury and ending up in hospital).
National Science Week (11-20 March): A nationwide programme of science, engineering and technology activities - clearly organised by ignorant scientists who really ought to know that a week has seven days, not ten.
Mini Roundabout Safety Week (14-20 March): A desperate campaign to teach UK drivers how not to kill passing cyclists when confronted by a small white circle painted in the middle of a road junction.
National Bed Month (1-31 March): The annual cynical attempt by the 'Sleep Council' to persuade us to buy a new bed, usually by running a pointless survey hinting that our current bed isn't big/comfy/modern enough.
National Frozen Food Month (1-31 March): It's American, this one, based on the frankly feeble premise that "there's no better time to check out your grocery store for some of America's leading freezer favorites".
Diamond Geezer Awareness Day (14 March): A recent survey revealed that 99% of the British public have never heard of this blog, let alone read it. You can remedy this shameless state of affairs and increase levels of national optimism by linking to this site today.

 Sunday, March 13, 2005


There's a new blogtool on the block called MyBlogLog.com. It's a simple unobtrusive service (one line of javascript) that keeps count every time a visitor to your website clicks on one of your links. It tallies all of these clicked links and then it lists them in a daily league table. And it's fascinating. Here's what I've discovered about you.

a) You don't click much
Evidence: Last week, no link got more than 20 clicks in one day (and only five links got more than 10 clicks)

My blog is teeming with links. Sometimes I spend ages finding what I think are interesting and appropriate links. And then you ignore them. Obviously this is your prerogative, but maybe I shouldn't bother.

b) The more I link, the less you click
Evidence: On Monday I gave you 28 new links to click on. Each received an average of only 1.7 clicks

On days when I shower you with links, they drown and you barely notice them. One or two clicks each, that's all they get, from less than 1% of my readership. Hardly worth them being there.

c) The less I link, the more you click
Evidence: On Friday I provided you with only three links. Each received an average of 7.7 clicks

On days when I'm link-lite, each link shines like a glowing beacon in a sea of text. And so more of you click on them. Still less than 2% of my visitors click on them, though, which is still a bit feeble.

d) You're more likely to click if I ask you to
Evidence: On Thursday I asked you to go and do Tom's quiz. 29 of you did.

But 253 of you didn't, which is 90% of you, so that's still not very successful.

e) You like clicking on the stuff at the top of my sidebar
Evidence: Over the course of a week, the five links at the top of my sidebar get an average of 18 clicks each

Either you're nosey, or people arriving here for the first time are more interested in working down my sidebar than they are in the rest of what I have to write. It looks like I'm under-utilising all that dark grey space over there, and maybe I should change my listed links more often.

f) You rarely scroll down the screen to click anything
Evidence: 90% of yesterday's 80 clicks were to links visible at the top of the screen

As I suspected, most of the writing on my blog has a shelf life of two or three days maximum. After that it passes so far down the page that almost nobody reads it any more, and nobody clicks on it either.

g) You really don't click much
Evidence: I had over 1000 unique visitors last week, but less than 900 offsite clicks

My blog is teeming with links that you ignore. But that's OK, because I like linking even if you don't click. To be honest, I probably ignore most of the links on your blog too. And now you can find out, with MyBlogLog.com. It's free for the first seven days (and free forever if you stick with the basic service). Go on, it'll be fascinating. </advert>

 Saturday, March 12, 2005

Weekend tube closures

Tried using the tube at the weekend recently? It's not easy. London Underground keep shutting down large chunks of the underground network every weekend 'due to planned engineering works', and every weekend it's a different selection of track. What may look like a simple journey across town can become a nightmare diversionary trek via rail replacement bus services once various line segments have been erased from service. Particularly badly hit at the moment are the Metropolitan and Jubilee lines in the Wembley Park area, and the District and Circle lines across the centre of town. I know that all these engineering works have to take place sometime, and that the network may even be better once they're all completed, but I'm sure we never used to have quite so many simultaneously.

To help the struggling London traveller, the tube website now kindly lists all the planned network closures for the next six months (all 135 of them). It's a rather scary list, so I've decided to summarise it in this easy-to-swallow table of weekend tube shutdowns. Every coloured blob indicates a weekend shutdown along part (or all) of a particular line. Now you can plan to be elsewhere as required (or maybe stick to the East London and Piccadilly lines, just to be on the safe side).

 5 121926 2  9 162330 7 142128 4 111825 2  9 162330
East London
Ham & City
W & City
dg 2005)

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