diamond geezer

 Thursday, June 30, 2005

The best of June

TV programmes of the month (two of which are highly predictable)
1) Doctor Who (BBC1): Back in March, only a few true fans dared to dream that a wobbly-setted seventies classic could be resurrected with any degree of dignified success. Now the whole country believes. Forget David Tennant's grinning debut - the most impressive regeneration has been the series itself.
2) Big Brother (E4): My Freeview box now gives me access to hours and hours of live feed courtesy of E4's big red button. Which is perfect passive viewing when there's nothing on any of the other 40 channels. Which is far too often.
(n.b. here's Eugene's failed attempt to become a county councillor and here's Orla's modelling portfolio)
3) A Digital Picture of Britain (BBC4): Each week this televisual gem, the sister programme to David Dimbleby's UK watercolour travelogue, provides three top photographers with a digital camera and asks them to go out and capture images from urban, rural and industrial environments. One of them usually gets a top-of-the-range model, but another is lumbered with a mobile phone camera and expected to perform miracles. Which, invariably, they do. The salutary lesson for all budding photographers that it's far more important what you point at rather than what you point at with. Get the light and framing right and you too could snap a mini masterpiece. Top advice here. Viewers are uploading their landscape portraits to create an ever-growing online gallery - why not submit something yourself?

Album of the month: Tales From Turnpike House is a concept album from top beat combo Saint Etienne. They've written a suite of sublime ditties about the residents of a (real) tower block in Islington, thereby constructing a new style urban concept album that's far sweeter than the Streets. It's sparkly, poetic and effortless, unexpectedly so, and utterly charming, My favourite track is Milk Bottle Symphony, possibly the only song ever to namecheck both Unigate and quilted dressing gowns. Anyone for a cuppa?

Film of the month: Child abuse is a difficult theme to pull off in the cinema without coming over as sensationalist or exploitational, but Mysterious Skin managed to be sharp, thought-provoking and entertaining throughout. There were fine performances from the lead actors too, one of whom is now considerably lankier than when he used to play the annoying kid in Third Rock From The Sun. Beware your Little League baseball coach, kids, he may just screw up your life.

Long walk of the month: I may have walked 12 miles due west, but you should see Huw's walk due south from Tufnell Park to Clapham. Such detail. Anyone else want to have a go?

Ballet of the month: While you lot were at work yesterday afternoon, I was sitting amongst the lavender-scented matinee audience in the Theatre Royal in Norwich watching my niece tread the boards in the English Youth Ballet's production of The Nutcracker. I'm a devoted uncle, me. The EYB work with local children in regional theatres around the country putting on full-length classical ballets, and yesterday they had 112 young East Anglians tiptoeing about on stage looking every inch the professional. Judging by the queue of bouquets arriving at the Stage Door, the rest of the audience were equally impressed.

 Wednesday, June 29, 2005

147 current* blogs with diamond geezer on their blogroll**
*(at least one post since June 1st)   **(blogroll must appear on site's main page)

affable-lurking, All I Can Do Is Try, Alone in the Spotlight, AmbiDextri Sports, An American In London, anglosaxy, Anji Patchwork, Another Place, arcite's day, Arrrgh!!!, Arseblog, a beautiful revolution, Bells and Whistles, Big n juicy, bitful, bizgirl, Black Dove, Blue Witch, Bob - A blog, By A Woman (again!), Casino Avenue, Confederacy Of A Dunce, contains mild peril, Counting Sheep, create my Life, crinklybee, Criticise.me, custard tart-ville blues, Dagbók Lilju, a day in the life of a Middle Manager, Depthmarker, D4D, Dogwood Tales, dsng.net, evilmoose, expecting to fly, FunJunkie!, Getting On, girl with a one-track mind, Gordon McLean, The Gospel According To Rhys, greenfairydotcom, GrocerJack's World, Hecho En Mexico, hello, my name is Sam..., Henri's World, In the Aquarium, It's good to be a guy, Jakartass, John Beardsworth, Justin Ruffles, katcha, Kebabylon, Kennamatic, KML's Monoblog, Knotted Paths, krn.me.uk, Lady Muck, Dead Letter Office : Late Delivery, letting loose with the leptard, L'homme qui marche, liam brady's left shinpad, The Life of Reilly, LinkMachineGo, Living in London, London Calling, London Underground Tube Diary, The Long Lost Lagomorph, lost in conversation and useless at scrabble, LukePDQ, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Mad Teacher, mad musings of me, Mike Edie's Blog-arama, Momentary lapses of insanity, Moooooooooo!, moosifer jones' grouch, my ace life, My Boyfriend Is A Twat, my London life, My Thoughts Exactly, Never Mind The Bloggocks, Nexus, Nik Rawlinson, No, Luton Airport, not enough drew in the world, Notes From A Strange Blue Ghost, Nutgroist, Oddverse, Onan Online, onionbagblog, O, Poor Robinson Crusoe!, Patience.org, Paul Holloway, Pete Ashton, Pig Sty Avenue, Planarchy, Plep, Purely for Self-Amusement Purposes, Purple Pen, quinparker.com, ramsey, Random Acts Of Reality, Random Burblings, theRatandMouse, RedRobin, The Report Card, Res Publica, Rest Area 300m, Retail Hell, rogue semiotics, Route 79, Samizdata.net, Scaryduck, screaming yellow fizz bang, A Sedgefield View, Silent Words Speak Loudest, Simply Stinni, a small life, so..., splee.blog, Smacked Face, Somewhat, Muchly, Storm in a Teacup, A Student's Life, Terradyme: Trials and Tribulations, terreus, these moments that I've had, 1000 Shades of Grey, 'tis an odd blog b'God, Too Late, troubled diva, T3G:2,Twenty Major, the Ulterior, Untamed Symphony, Vegetarian Mouse Slayer, A View from Middle England, The Voice of Reason, Volume 22, Waffle Mania, What was the score?, wibble3, The Willesden Herald, World of Chig, Yablog, The Zone

Reasons for this listing:
1) To say thanks
2) As a link back again
3) As an example of what Technorati can do
4) So that you lot can click away and read a few of them
5) Because some blogs have great names - which name is your favourite?

(Please let me know if I've missed you/anyone off the list)

 Tuesday, June 28, 2005

I was Andrew Gilligan's anonymous source

Yes, it's true. Oh ye of little faith. You probably thought that my daily reportage from Bow Road station [] was mind-numbingly boring trivia of the most anorakky kind. You probably thought that nobody would ever be interested in 16 months of regular updates on the renovation of my local tube station. You were wrong.

Yesterday the Evening Standard devoted a whole double page spread to the sorry saga of Metronet's wasteful procrastination at Bow Road station, including several paragraphs lifted from this blog and a big picture showing some workmen sitting on the platform doing sod all. And all this penned by Andrew Gilligan, the former BBC journalist at the centre of the Hutton Report debacle and now writing investigate articles for the Evening Standard. I'd love to link to the article so that you can read it in full, except that the Evening Standard appear to have downsized their online news presence in favour of advertising features and theatre ticket promotions so you'll have to make do with this photograph instead.

Last week Metronet's inability to complete station renovations to time finally threatened a huge £14 million financial penalty. This was big political news and, hey presto, Andrew Gilligan had the topic for his weekly investigative column in the Standard. In the course of his investigations he stumbled upon this blog, read my daily reports from the PPP's first station upgrade and sent me an email asking if I could shed further light on goings on at Bow Road. But of course. We had a 15 minute phone conversation in which I told Andrew more about what hadn't been going on, what I thought about the end results and how very little of the work had actually been of any benefit to my fellow travellers. And look, there was his full 1500 word article in the paper yesterday. Result!
The suspicion must be that Metronet chose an easy station to begin its £17 billion, 30-year spending programme. But what the company may not have realised is that Bow Road has its very own beady-eyed resident blogger. Every move Metronet made, or rather did not make, was to be chronicled for ever on the blog kept by one Diamond Geezer, who travelled to or through the station twice a day for the entire duration of the works.
As well as quotations from the blog ("Tuesday 10 February: A blue wall has appeared in front of the four Portakabins."), Andrew's feature concentrates on the lack of visible evidence that £3.3 million at Bow Road has been well spent. He uncovers the nightmarish PPP bureaucracy that required more than 50 sign-offs before work could begin, which is probably why nothing happened much happened here for the first six months or so. He gets Metronet's stations director, Clive Coleman, to admit that "nobody quite knew how [quality] assurance and scoping worked, how you brought people on site." Andrew discovers that there are an astonishing 70 new cameras at the station, even though CCTV was already installed at the station before the work began. And he confirms that Metronet have indeed declared "practical completion" on Bow Road this month, although this doesn't mean that the work is finished. Not quite.
"I do wonder where the money has gone", says Diamond Geezer (he will not let the Standard use his real name. Perhaps he fears Metronet will come round and refurbish his flat).
All in all the saga of Bow Road has been a litany of shame and profligate waste with no particularly worthy outcome. And I'm delighted, finally, to see this written in inch-high letters across London's evening paper. Today I can be fairly certain that my Bow Road diary, which started out as an obscure daily 'spot the difference' activity, has been brought to the attention of a readership of 1 million Londoners, including the top brass at Metronet and maybe a few other political movers and shakers too. Who says that blogging changes nothing?
Indeed, Metronet's entire, much trumpeted 152-station refurbishment programme includes almost no improvements whatever in the thing that really matters on the Underground: capacity. The changes will be almost all cosmetic: new vinyl walls, new CCTV cameras, rumble-strips on platforms to help the partially-sighted. New escalators, new entrances, wider platforms or passageways are not on the menu. Given this company's difficulties to date with even quite simple tasks, perhaps from one perspective this is just as well. But it is one more example of how the PPP will fail to provide the Underground with the improvements it actually needs.
And to my new Metronet audience today I say, "Please remember that there's still more work to be done at Bow Road, and I'm still watching you not doing it."

The latest Bow Road update

There are currently two functioning 'next train' indicators on each platform at Bow Road, one old and one new.

To your left is the old 'next train' indicator on the eastbound platform. It's probably about 30 or 40 years old, it relies on ancient lightbulb technology and, for the last umpteen years, it's correctly told us the destination of the next eastbound train. To your right is the new 'next train' indicator on the eastbound platform. It's been in place for the last two months and it relies on fantastic new 21st century electronic technology. It's only recently gone into active service, but alas it's not providing accurate information. My camera can't photograph the flickering display but, trust me, yesterday it was displaying 'Upminster' no matter what the destination of the next eastbound train, even if that train was only going as far Dagenham East, Barking or Plaistow. Which is a bit rubbish.

The situation on the westbound platform isn't much better. The old 'next train' indicator could only tell us whether the next train would be on the District line or the Metropolitan line. This is rather remiss because the Metropolitan line hasn't served this station for the last 15 years - the Hammersmith and City line took over in 1990. The new 'next train' indicator manages to name both lines correctly. It's also able to tell us the destination of the next District line train, although that's only of practical value to anyone travelling further than Earl's Court (which is 17 stations up the line). But, alas, the new indicator is actually less efficient than the old. Watch the two indicators simultaneously (as I did yesterday) and you'll see that the new indicator flashes up details of the next train five seconds later than the old one. Which is also a bit rubbish.

It's always useful to know how many minutes it will be until the next train arrives, and also the destinations of the second and third trains due into the station. They can provide all this information for passengers at Mile End, the next station along the line (and have done for years), but the old 'next train' indicators at Bow Road couldn't tell us any of it. Guess what. The new 'next train' indicators don't show this information either. The displays still only provide a minute's notice before the next train whooshes into the station, and there are still no clues as to what trains might be queueing up further down the line. The new 'next train' indicators are in fact no more functional than the old, they're just newer. Which is more than just a bit rubbish, it's a criminal waste of money. Yet another one. But then we're used to that here at Bow Road. You may have read about it in the paper...

 Monday, June 27, 2005

War of the Worlds: Woking at War

Welcome to Woking, population 68000, a dormitory town just outside the M25 roughly halfway between Staines and Guildford. Woking has three claims to fame dating back to the Victorian era. Brookwood Cemetery opened here in 1854 - then the largest cemetery in the world and the destination of London's Necropolis Railway. The Shah Jehan Mosque dates from 1889 and is the oldest purpose built mosque in Britain. And in 1898 HG Wells obliterated Woking in the opening chapters of his classic novel, The War of the Worlds. Not even the mosque was safe.
"I heard a muffled detonation from the common, and immediately after a gust of firing. Close on the heels of that came a violent rattling crash, quite close to us, that shook the ground; and, starting out upon the lawn, I saw the tops of the trees about the Oriental College burst into smoky red flame, and the tower of the little church beside it slide down into ruin. The pinnacle of the mosque had vanished, and the roof line of the college itself looked as if a hundred-ton gun had been at work upon it."
I walked in the footsteps of the invading aliens from Horsell Common along the Chobham Road into the town centre. There's some seriously expensive real estate in this part of town. I passed several imposing commuter enclaves tucked away behind high leafy hedges, all seemingly so serene and secure in the scorching noonday sun. But I took some pleasure, as had HG Wells before me, in imagining the destruction of this residential stronghold beneath the crushing feet of the Martian advance force.

At the foot of Chobham Road I found the giant stainless steel sculpture erected by the local council to commemorate the centenary of HG Wells' most famous literary association with Woking. An imposing alien tripod stands seven metres tall above the pavement, right next to British Home Stores, seemingly ignored by all the passing shoppers. It's extremely photogenic, although sadly the same can't be said for the surrounding shops and office blocks. A few metres to the south some decorative brickwork represents the crashed alien cylinder, and scattered across the precinct are several arty slabs depicting the bacteria that would finally put a stop to Martian plans of conquest. All credit to the council, and to artist Michael Condron, for this impressive splash of urban art, although there is a certain irony in spending taxpayers' money on commemorating the wholesale destruction of one's home town.
"In one night the valley had become a valley of ashes. The fires had dwindled now. Where flames had been there were now streamers of smoke; but the countless ruins of shattered and gutted houses and blasted and blackened trees that the night had hidden stood out now gaunt and terrible in the pitiless light of dawn... Never before in the history of warfare had destruction been so indiscriminate and so universal. And shining with the growing light of the east, three of the metallic giants stood about the pit, their cowls rotating as though they were surveying the desolation they had made."
Before I left Woking I ventured into a local bookshop to purchase my own copy of The War of the Worlds. I'm sure I read it as a child, and I know it's available to read online, but this felt the appropriate place to acquire the genuine article. I started reading this Victorian 'scientific romance' on the train back to London. I'd forgotten what a cracking story it was, literally decades ahead of its time, and still wholly believable even today. Wells writes in a snappy tabloid style, expertly placing the abhorrent amongst the mundane, and drives the narrative forward through graphic eye witness accounts. You can also follow nigh every step of the narrator's epic adventure on a map, and it's this attention to fine geographic detail that, for me, makes the book so utterly compelling.

My train headed back over the Maybury arch (steam train combusted, chapter 11), through Weybridge (obliterated, chapter 12), past St George's Hill (scene of great battle, chapter 15) and on through Wimbledon (sixth cylinder fell, Chapter 17). Once at Waterloo I was back in the capital city whose destruction Wells also so carefully chronicled, and where the novel reaches its deadly climax. From here millions fled for their lives in the face of advancing terror and toxic smoke until, high up on Primrose Hill, a few streptococci brought the invasion to an end. We take our well-ordered lives for granted these days, as did the citizens of late Victorian society before us. But, as Wells reminds us, the cosy trappings of civilisation are held together by fragile threads which can be stripped away all too easily, and with terrible consequences. May it never happen here.
"I go to London and see the busy multitudes in Fleet Street and the Strand, and it comes across my mind that they are but the ghosts of the past, haunting the streets that I have seen silent and wretched, going to and fro, phantasms in a dead city, the mockery of life in a galvanised body. And strange, too, it is to stand on Primrose Hill... to see the people walking to and fro among the flower beds on the hill, to see the sight-seers about the Martian machine that stands there still, to hear the tumult of playing children, and to recall the time when I saw it all bright and clear-cut, hard and silent, under the dawn of that last great day."

War of the Worlds: a few choice links
the book    the author
the films [1953] [2005 blockbuster] [2005 turkey]
the radio broadcast    the TV series
the album (Top 10 last week)
the graphic novel (via Mars Times)
the sculpture    my flickr photos

 Sunday, June 26, 2005

War of the Worlds: the original landing site

According to the latest remake of The War of the Worlds, the epicentre of global armageddon will be New Jersey. It's all part of the great Hollywood conspiracy whereby every alien landing and every potential meteorite strike on earth is drawn inexorably towards the USA, usually heading for some centre of population on the eastern or western seaboard. The 1953 film targeted California, while Orson Welles selected the tiny farming town of Grover's Mill (also in New Jersey) for his notorious 1938 radio broadcast. I suspect that most people around the world, brought up on a spoon-fed US-centric diet, think that War of the Worlds is an American story. But it isn't.

HG Wells located his 1898 sci-fi masterpiece on this side of the Atlantic, in Surrey, deep in the Home Counties 25 miles southwest of central London. He was living in Woking at the time, on the Maybury Road, and set his story in and around the cosy suburban Surrey town he knew so well. I remember reading (in the days before the internet, so it was probably true) that Wells chose Woking because he wanted to wipe his neighbours off the face of the planet. In this he was spectacularly successful - barely a greenhouse was left standing by the end of chapter 11. And it all began when the Martians crashlanded their first spaceship onto Horsell Common.
"Very early in the morning poor Ogilvy, who had seen the shooting star and who was persuaded that a meteorite lay somewhere on the common between Horsell, Ottershaw, and Woking, rose early with the idea of finding it. Find it he did, soon after dawn, and not far from the sand pits. An enormous hole had been made by the impact of the projectile, and the sand and gravel had been flung violently in every direction over the heath, forming heaps visible a mile and a half away. The heather was on fire eastward, and a thin blue smoke rose against the dawn."
I visited Woking for the first time last weekend, just to see if I could find the original Martian landing site that Stephen Spielberg and Orson Welles had so carefully ignored. And find it I did, about a mile to the north of the town centre, out where the fine detached houses melt away into a long strip of ancient woodland. Horsell Common is still an unspoilt expanse of heath dominated by thick forest, home to diverse wildlife and the odd Bronze Age barrow. Tall oak, beech and pine trees dominate, and spiky heather thrives in the dry sandy soil in the scattered clearings. A few well worn paths lead across the common from the trunk roads on the southern perimeter, but few venture out of their cars to explore further. Even on a sunny weekend at the height of summer I bumped into only a couple of families out for a picnic and a few tired dogs being exercised in the shadows. The 830 acres are seemingly just as peaceful as when Wells walked here just over a century ago.
"The Thing itself lay almost entirely buried in sand, amidst the scattered splinters of a fir tree it had shivered to fragments in its descent. The uncovered part had the appearance of a huge cylinder, caked over and its outline softened by a thick scaly dun-coloured incrustation. It had a diameter of about thirty yards... The early morning was wonderfully still, and the sun, just clearing the pine trees towards Weybridge, was already warm. He did not remember hearing any birds that morning, there was certainly no breeze stirring, and the only sounds were the faint movements from within the cindery cylinder."
In the centre of the common, in a clearing well screened from the world outside, are the sand-pits that Wells chose as the landing site for the first Martian cylinder. It's a beautiful and solitary spot. Around the perimeter gnarled tree roots have been exposed where the sandy soil has fallen away, and in the very centre lie the remains of a dried up pond. Once sold for a shilling a bag, the sand is now piled up along one edge as a 'beach' for local picnickers to enjoy. I watched one toddler busy trying to bury his dad in a shallow spade-dug hole, just like this was the seaside instead of Woking. It took a considerable leap of imagination to picture an alien cylinder buried in the sand instead, its heat-ray rising up to eradicate to the inquisitive crowds perched around the rim of this sleepy hollow... but then imagination was one thing that HG Wells was justly famous for.
"As the unseen shaft of heat passed over them, pine trees burst into fire, and every dry furze bush became with one dull thud a mass of flames. It was sweeping round swiftly and steadily, this flaming death, this invisible, inevitable sword of heat. I heard the crackle of fire in the sand pits and the sudden squeal of a horse that was as suddenly stilled. Then it was as if an invisible yet intensely heated finger were drawn through the heather between me and the Martians, and all along a curving line beyond the sand pits the dark ground smoked and crackled."
(more WotW tomorrow)

 Saturday, June 25, 2005

War of the Worlds: the premiere
"No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own... Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us."
Next weekend Stephen Spielberg's remake of The War of the Worlds will be released onto an over-hyped planet. It's the most expensive big screen adaptation of HG Wells' classic 1898 novel to date, although I thought the 1953 version had pretty impressive special effects for such an early sci-fi B movie. I vividly remember watching that film on ITV as a child, then being absolutely petrified when I had to visit the toilet during a commercial break in case some slimy tentacle should reach in through the window and whisk me away. I have my doubts as to whether the 2005 version will make such an impact, but I'm willing to be proved wrong.
"The chances against anything manlike on Mars are a million to one," he said.
The UK premiere of War of the Worlds was held in Leicester Square last weekend. You remember, there was all that fuss when pranksters from a crass Channel 4 show squirted water in Tom Cruise's face in the name of global dumbing-down. I'd walked past the front of the Odeon myself a few hours earlier where I'd watched a PR lady sticking the names of TV companies (including Channel 4) onto the crowd barriers. I wish I'd taken some photos of the press area now, but the chances of anything inhuman happening were a million to one, I thought. Yet across the gulf of sensibility, minds that were infinitely inferior to ours regarded this opportunity with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against poor Tom.
"Slowly a humped shape rose out of the pit, and the ghost of a beam of light seemed to flicker out from it. Forthwith flashes of actual flame, a bright glare leaping from one to another, sprang from the scattered group of men. It was as if each man were suddenly and momentarily turned to fire. Then, by the light of their own destruction, I saw them staggering and falling."
I wasn't in Leicester Square to see Mr (and the future Mrs) Cruise myself, I was there to experience the temporary alien destruction that had been wreaked in the central gardens by a 'special effects' team. I was expecting giant footprints, dead bodies and burning wreckage, but instead all I got were a few overturned benches, a tilting phone box and some carefully piled rubble. You'd see far worse after a night of binge drinking down any suburban high street. To say this was a lame experience would be an understatement, and quite pitiful compared to the special effects on show in the film trailer being screened by the garden entrance. Admittedly the Leicester Square scene looked slightly more convincing when framed by a camera than it did in real life (Steve grabbed some far better photos than me) but I guess that's Hollywood magic for you.
"I looked again out of the open window. In one night the valley had become a valley of ashes. The fires had dwindled now. Where flames had been there were now streamers of smoke; but the countless ruins of shattered and gutted houses and blasted and blackened trees that the night had hidden stood out now gaunt and terrible in the pitiless light of dawn. Never before in the history of warfare had destruction been so indiscriminate and so universal."
(more WotW tomorrow)

 Friday, June 24, 2005

A midsummer London night's dream  (with apologies to Oberon and Titania)

I don't know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where ox-lips and the nodding violet grows;
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine.

      I do know a bench where the old tramps doze,
      With tar-stained teeth and threadbare clothes;
      Quite over-powered with meths and cheap ale,
      With their life in a bag, and with odour stale.

I do know a park where the teenagers pose,
Where tarty girls hang out with hooded bro's;
Quite over-dressed with fake market-bought bling,
With pure white trainers, and with diamond earring.

      I do know a ditch where the dank sewer flows,
      Where trolleys rest and old newspaper blows:
      Quite over-ridden with fat rats and midges,
      With brown rusting cans, and with discarded fridges.

I do know a street where the slums stand in rows,
Where no woman ventures and no taxi goes;
Quite over-flowing with guns and sharp knives,
With pensioners in fear for the rest of their lives.

      I do know a London where the wild crime grows,
      No rural scene in Shakespearean prose;
      Quite over-burdened with sin it seems,
      But still a magic land of dreams.


 Thursday, June 23, 2005

sports news
summer edition

Welcome to sports news, the new number 1 online magazine for all your favourite summer sports. You know the ones. We have all the summer sports results you want, all the summer sports news you need and all the summer sports gossip you live for. Read on.

Apparently there's some cricket going on at the moment. You know, that game where men in white stand around for hours waiting for a small red ball to land in their general vicinity. I think maybe some teams based in distant county towns are playing each other, or maybe England are battling gamely against Johnny Foreigner, or maybe some six-a-side version has been invented for the benefit of modern audiences with attention deficit disorder, but quite frankly who cares? Who wants to watch indistinguishable men standing around in the middle of a big field for five days, particularly when the end result is very likely a draw. Cricket is possibly the most tedious game ever invented, and I'm delighted that most of it has been banished to Sky TV where I never ever have to watch any of it ever again.

GOLF Who cares?
FORMULA 1 Who cares?
Apparently there's some tennis going on at the moment. You know, that game in which hulking athletes repeatedly smash small bouncy balls across a net so that their opponent can't possibly reach them let alone return them. I think there's a big tournament on in SW London at the moment, because the BBC have wiped half their usual programmes off the screen in favour of a squad of white-clad barley water drinkers. Who wants to watch plucky Brits stumbling out of the competition in the early rounds while more skilful foreigners rally away untelevised on the outer courts? Tennis is possibly the most depressing game ever invented, and I'm delighted that it's completely ignored by the British public for fifty weeks a year.

Hang on a minute, shouldn't this scarily middle class sport be banished to the depths of winter on some mud-sodden pitch round the corner from a beery pub? Seemingly not at present because it seems there's a British squad working their way round Down Under, playing against obscure teams we've never even heard of and probably neither have they. But geography has come to our rescue, because the time difference between here and New Zealand means that all the matches are taking place while we're fast asleep. Sleeping through a rugby match comes as second nature to me.

Next season's fixtures are released today. Real sport returns in six weeks. Hang on in there.

 Wednesday, June 22, 2005

After my Go West walk, Ollie's gone Due South. Respect is due.

 The tobacconist's quiz: Given that you lot still appear to want to talk about smoking, here's another chance. Below are 15 clues to well known brands of cigarette, cigar or tobacco. Some clues are straight forward, others are a bit cryptic. How many deathbrands can you identify? (For the benefit of the pure of spirit who've never succumbed to the evil weed, one of the clues is actually the name of a disease which kills one in every four smokers. Can you spot it?)

1) harms not?
2) humpy animal
3) barrister knifed
4) last gospel actor
5) climbed mountain
6) north of Piccadilly
7) made from oasis glue    
10) crab respiratory organ
11) top medal for Ms Wade
12) the ambassador's house
13) US sitcom & field borders
14) East Wiltshire market town
15) tiny village (Shakespearean)
16) Reginald and Albert, in short
8) young sheep, Welsh actor, head servant
9) Mel Geidroyc's companion, near enough
(Answers in the comments box)

"The first station at which Metronet began work was Bow Road, in February 2004. In all, £3.3 million will be spent on the 102-year-old station. Work should be finished in spring 2005." (Metronet press release, 08/11/04... and they're not finished yet)
"Delays in modernising the London Underground could cost Tube contractor Metronet £14 million, it has emerged. Metronet has set aside the cash to cover the financial impact of the potential late delivery of station improvements, Metronet shareholder Atkins said in its own results today. The Metronet consortium, responsible for maintaining and modernising nine London Underground lines, said it was on schedule to complete on time only 16 station refurbishments out of a total of 26 that it is contracted to finish by next March." (Evening Standard, 21/06/05)

 Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Summer's here (solstice: 0746 BST), and here's how I know...

Tattoos: Haven't some of you been busy during the winter months? Not content with your body surface in its natural form, large numbers of you appear to have had gallons of ink injected beneath your skin and now you look like a walking art gallery. Until recently these new pagan graphics have been lurking hidden beneath shirtsleeves, blouses and trouser legs, but a bit of sunshine and you've whipped everything out to parade in public. I swear there weren't so many tattoos on proud display last summer. But, really, couldn't you have chosen something a little more, erm, tasteful? That cartoon dolphin is more crass than unique, those Celtic swirls are so passé and that posh foreign lettering could read anything for all you know. I'm not averse to the odd inky gem in the right place, but some of you have clearly taken things to extremes. Alas, acres of virgin flesh have been adulterated by art more reminiscent of Athena than the Tate. And however smart you lot think you look now, I must say I'm not looking forward to Summer 2025 when I'll have to endure sight of all your bleached, wrinkled designs with runny, purple edges. Still, your choice.

Sunburn: We Brits, we're not cut out for heatwaves. While the rest of the world goes brown, we go red. The tube yesterday was full of people who'd overdosed on solar radiation over the weekend but looked more like they'd just been for a ten mile jog. Still, a few hours in the summer sunshine is so much cheaper than paying some dodgy salon to microwave your torso throughout the winter just so that your skin looks 'healthy'. Of course a suntan is nothing of the sort, it's just the fast track to epidermal damage and rapid ageing, but such is the public's desire for a tan that looking pasty white no longer cuts it in trendy social circles. Me I'm lucky, I go brown pretty rapidly, but I don't take full advantage of the fact. Over the weekend at least three different people approached me and asked for the time because I appeared to be the only person in London still wearing a watch. While the rest of you may yearn for an even Bisto colour all over, I'm happy to sport that telltale white bracelet of untanned skin round my left wrist. You may look less freaky, but at least I know what time it is.

Daleks: The BBC went into pre-publicity overdrive for the Doctor Who season finale last week. You must have noticed. Website adverts, mammoth PR plugging and heavy rotation trailers packed with mega special effects - there can't have been many licence fee payers left in the dark by the time 7pm on Saturday came round. And yet the viewing figures for the final episode (at 'just' 6.19 million) have been revealed to be the lowest of the series. No matter that Chris Eccleston's doctor and Russell T Davies' direction have been lauded to almost universal critical acclaim (and rightly so), the British public just weren't interested. No, they were all out in their gardens enjoying the sunshine and overblackening a few dodgy-looking chicken legs. The BBC may have hoped that their reinvented flying Daleks would be invincible, but alas the conquerors of the galaxy have been defeated by a fleet of barbecues.

see also: sandals, body odour, unexpected thunderstorms, salad, baggy shorts, hayfever, flies (and other insects), hosepipe bans, children licking McFlurries, sweat, lethargy.

 Monday, June 20, 2005

Butt out

I've never been especially tolerant of smokers. When I was very young I crayoned a big 'No Smoking' sign and stuck it in our front window just before the arrival of a chain-smoking neighbour. I don't think our visitor was very pleased, and my Mum had a lot of diplomatic explaining to do afterwards. Smoking was twice as common in the 1960s as it is now and most public places reeked of swirling tobacco smoke. Cinema seating came with additional fog effects, pubs were more choking than drinking, restaurants had a bitter aftertaste and train journeys were to be endured rather than enjoyed. We've come a long way since then with the growing realisation that smoking isn't just bad for your own wellbeing, it's bad for those around you too. And how diverse the health warnings on cigarette packets are these days...

A total ban on smoking in most workplaces and on public transport has made living in the 21st century so much more pleasant than the 20th. At least until you walk out into the street, that is. There's a concentrated cloud of tobacco smoke round the entrance to most shops and offices these days, where addicted employees stagger out into the first available fresh air to suffocate everyone else attempting to enter or walk past. Walking out of tube stations in London is just as bad. Poor unfortunate smokers who've been deprived of their nicotine fix underground insist on lighting up and inhaling very rapidly the instant they exit the station, and continuing to do so as they stride along the pavement. I'm sick of walking out of stations in the trail of these mobile smoke factories, unable to overtake into the fresh air ahead. Banning smoking in certain places has just shifted the problem elsewhere.

I fail to understand why some people smoke, which is probably because I'm one of those angels who staved off peer pressure as a teenager and never took even a single puff. But I respect the right of smokers to kill themselves by inhaling shredded leaves if they so wish. If people want to waste money decreasing their life expectancy and staining their alveoli then that's their right. I'd just prefer it if I was well away from them while they were doing it. A ban on smoking in public places (that's all public places, including streets) would suit me just fine. Go indoors and kill yourselves in your own homes, please. And - a special message to my neighbours - that means not sitting out on your balcony during a heatwave practising your filthy habit when I'd rather have my windows open, OK?

 Sunday, June 19, 2005

The 8th wonder of the world (circa 1843)

Beneath the Thames in East London lies a pioneering tunnel, the like of which Victorian society had never before seen. The Thames Tunnel was the world's first tunnel to be built beneath a navigable river, and its construction pushed forward the very frontiers of engineering. Even better, the tunnel still exists, it's still open, and tens of thousands of people travel through it every day. Because the Thames Tunnel, constructed more than 150 years ago, lives on as the tube line between Rotherhithe and Wapping on the East London Line.

The Thames Tunnel is a Brunel construction, but was masterminded by Sir Marc Brunel rather than his more famous son Isambard. The tunnel took 18 years to complete, mainly because the soft clay beneath the Thames proved an absolute nightmare to dig through. Marc solved the twin problems of flooding and subsidence using solutions that were, literally, cutting edge. First he built a huge cylindrical shaft on the surface (see right of photo), then he got his miners to dig inside until the structure had sunk down beneath the level of the riverbed. Then he built a big engine house (see left of photo) to pump invasive water out of the tunnel works. Finally, and cleverest of all, he invented the tunnel shield, allowing his miners to edge slowly forward without the risk of London caving in on top of them. The same principle is still in use in civil engineering projects around the world today.

There were several deaths during the construction process, notably in early 1828 when the Thames broke through a weak spot in the roof of the tunnel, flooding the lower chambers and drowning several of the miners. Young Isambard, who had been supervising work in the tunnel at the time, escaped with serious internal injuries after swimming frantically to safety. Work stopped for seven years, and even then it was another seven years before the tunnel was finally opened to the public. Fashionable Victorians flocked to promenade through this new underwater marvel, an amazing twin-bore arched corridor lit by flickering gaslight. Two million visited in the first year alone. Gradually market traders and hawkers moved in until eventually the tunnel became a seedy backwater haunted only by pickpockets and prostitutes, surviving only as a curiosity. In 1865 the tunnel was sold to the East London Rail Company who laid tracks and ran services through from the Metropolitan line.

The Engine House just north of Rotherhithe station is now a small museum telling the story of the tunnel and the people who constructed it. It's only a small exhibition but it's packed with information and artefacts, and £2 feels a fair entrance price. You can read all about the Brunels and their subterranean struggle, peruse displays of tunnel-related ephemera and squint into a cardboard Victorian peepshow to get a feel of how the tunnel must have looked in its heyday. In the lower gallery there's also 20 minute video to watch, although half the film appears to be a London Underground propaganda piece explaining why ten years ago they felt the need to close the tunnel and spray almost all of Brunel's original brickwork with concrete 'for safety reasons'.

Here's the Thames Tunnel today, as seen from the northbound platform at Wapping station. The left-hand tunnel isn't normally illuminated, but it was yesterday afternoon as part of a special tour (and will be again this afternoon and next weekend). The Brunel Engine House Museum are arranging hour long 'guided journeys' under the Thames for a fiver (bring your own rail ticket), and I bumped into one of these tours at the mouth of the tunnel yesterday. At least 60 people were trying hard to concentrate on the commentary being given by the young French guide, and I managed to listen in from the opposite platform for a few minutes for free. The guide cunningly illustrated his talk with the aid of the many beautiful historical pictures on the panels that line the platform at Wapping, then ushered his group onto a passing train to return to Rotherhithe. On the way they enjoyed a sensitively-restored section of tunnel from its floodlit interior, although I doubt they saw much detail passing through at such close quarters. Book your place for next weekend here. This may no longer be the eighth wonder of the world but it's still well worth a pilgrimage.
by tube: Rotherhithe, Wapping

 Saturday, June 18, 2005

from today's Guardian - the guide (woohoo!) (reproduced below with clicky links)
Diamond Geezer
It is not uncommon to wonder where the people who write blogs find all the time to write blogs, but occasionally you're very glad they do. Take Diamond Geezer for instance - a few weeks ago he walked the entire length of the Regent's Canal and reported back his findings and semi-pointless lists along the way apropos of nothing at all. He also found time to mourn the passing of BBC TV weather symbols, naturally. Not that we begrudge him all the spare time because his world is full of wonder and bonhomie. A list down the side - reading Letraset, Arsenal, gherkins, sitcoms - will give you an idea of the randomness of this London-based blog, but that's only a small part of it's charm. The best bit is a rather spiky writing style and a witty audience of fellow bloggers.
(Woohoo! Readers are, however, invited to spot the Guardian's errant apostrophe)

Day by day: Some weeks I know exactly what I'm going to blog about (like the first week of July, for example). Other weeks I haven't got a clue what I'm going to write about until something crops up (like this week for example). This week has unfurled day by day, usually thanks to your intervention, with each day's blogpost developing from the post the day before...
Sunday: I posted my ever first on-location blog entry, via email from my mobile phone...
Monday: ...and so I was able to go for a 12 mile walk westwards across London, blogging along the way...
Tuesday: ...and so I decided to show you my photos, and then someone suggested geoblogging them...
Wednesday: ...and so I geoblogged the photos, and then someone wondered why the line wasn't straight...
Thursday: ...and so I discovered I hadn't walked true west, and then someone said "West is where the sun sets"...
Friday: ...and so I proved them wrong.
I think I'll break the chain there and go on to write about something completely different. Probably, unless one of you sends me off on yet another tangent. Thanks for all your suggestions this week.

 Friday, June 17, 2005

West is where the Sun sets* [* but only very occasionally]

People* [* see yesterday's comments box] often say that the Sun sets in the west (and rises in the east). But it doesn't. The Sun only sets precisely due west on the day of the spring or autumn equinox* [* even if you live on the equator]. Tonight (with the summer solstice fast approaching) the Sun will set in the northwest instead* [* as seen from London], having been precisely due west at around twenty past five this afternoon. How do I know? From this rather brilliant website. It features a Solar Location Diagram for every week of the year, showing exactly how high and in what direction the Sun appears in the sky* [* as seen from London]. The 'flapping' line at the top of the main page (showing the Sun's daily path throughout the year) is one of the most impressive 'summary graphics' I've ever seen. It's a fascinating* site [* and dead useful to anybody who takes photos and wants to get 'the light' right]. I've used the information provided to compile the table below, showing sunset data from winter solstice to winter solstice. See, the Sun doesn't* [* usually] set in the west.

Sunset information (London)
DateSunsetBearing*  Compass
Dec 213:53pm GMT231°SW
Jan 214:30pm GMT238°SW by W
Feb 215:26pm GMT254°WSW
Mar 216:15pm GMT    270°W
Apr 218:05pm BST290°WNW
May 21  8:54pm BST305°NW by W
Jun 219:21pm BST311°NW
Jul 219:04pm BST305°NW by W
Aug 218:10pm BST290°WNW
Sep 217:00pm BST271°W
Oct 215:54pm BST253°WSW
Nov 214:03pm GMT237°SW by W
Dec 213:53pm GMT231°SW
[* from true north, at the horizon]

 Thursday, June 16, 2005

But which way is West?
"One thing I note from your Geoblogging line: The line appears to be slightly rising (ie: not totally west?)... this I don't understand." [NiC]
"I was wondering if this is because true north is not (quite) the same as grid north." [dg]
Take another look at my Geoblogging map. Yes, the line of photos tracking my "Go West" walk really does appear to rise slightly as it crosses the map. You'd expect a westward walk to head precisely horizontally, but it doesn't. Why should this be? I've been digging around the internet and I think I've found the answer. Deep breath now.

Reason 1: There are three different types of north.
i) True north = the top of the axis about which the Earth rotates.
ii) Magnetic north = the point on the Earth's surface towards which all compasses point. Near enough, anyway. The Earth's northern magnetic pole lies in the Arctic Ocean somewhere around 84°N 115°W. More info here. It's been heading steadily northwards over the last century (maps here), and scientists reckon it's just (literally just) left Canadian territorial waters. Being fast-moving and off-centre, magnetic north isn't the most reliable means of navigation, not unless you know how far off centre it is. I've used a handy online calculator to discover that, here in Bow, east London, magnetic north lies approximately 2½° west of true north, decreasing very slowly year on year. But I wasn't using a compass on Monday, so that's not why I was walking in the wrong direction.
iii) Grid north = the direction of a vertical grid line on the UK National Grid. And here's the problem. The Earth is curved but maps have to be flat, so there's some distortion projecting one onto the other. See the UK maps here and spot the difference. The only places in the UK where grid north exactly matches true north lie along the 2°W line of longitude - that's a line down the middle of the country through Aberdeen, Birmingham and Jersey. For all places to the west of this line grid north is slightly to the west of true north, and for all places to the east of this line (including London) grid north is slightly to the east of true north. Here in Bow, for example, my local OS map tells me that the difference is about 1½°.

Reason 2: There are, therefore, three different types of west.
i) True west = a line parallel to the equator.
ii) Magnetic west = a line at right angles to magnetic north. Which is actually quite a freaky concept - take a look at the grid lines on this map.
iii) Grid west = the direction of a horizontal grid line on the UK National grid. And I planned my walk on Monday using an Ordnance Survey map, so my walk travelled grid west rather than true west. As with grid north and true north, again there's a 1½° difference between the two here in London. It doesn't sound much but, after my 12 mile walk, I actually ended up 600m further north than I should have done. The Hoover Building (here) may be grid west of my house, but had I been travelling true west I would have ended up on the other side of Ealing Golf Course at a non-descript footbridge over the River Brent (here) instead. Damn, missed.

Reason 3: There's more than one type of mapping grid.
i) The National Grid is a UK invention, designed to keep mapping inaccuracies within the UK to a minimum. Complete details here. In this age of global navigation, however, a national grid isn't much use...
ii) ...and so GPS devices use another grid called WGS84. This takes account of the fact that the earth isn't a perfect sphere - it bulges slightly at the equator - so the best global grid isn't a sphere, it's an ellipsoid. Google Maps uses location data based on this global egg-shape (where grid west is much closer to true west), whereas the Ordnance Survey uses a flat grid instead (which, here in London, is approximately 1½° out of true).

And that, NiC, is why my westward walk (planned on UK maps) rises very slightly on the Geobloggers map (which uses global data). It's because I wasn't walking true west. Bugger.

Simple moral of the story: Unless you live in Aberdeen, Birmingham, Jersey or points inbetween, map north isn't true north and map west isn't true west.
Even simpler moral of the story: Don't trust maps.
Conclusion: No, I'm not doing the whole walk again.

 Wednesday, June 15, 2005

"It would be nice if you would supply a map for your walks. I tried to follow you on www.streetmap.co.uk while you were walking but failed..." [Sekula]
"You thought of geoblogging the pics?" [Phill]
I know it's a bit late but, ever one to oblige, I thought I'd investigate how easy it is to forge a blogger's bond between photography and geography. And it's possible, but it's not easy. Here are some methods you could try.

Geoblogging: Want to know where a particular flickr photograph was taken? Geoblogging has the answer. All you do is add a couple of "geotags" (i.e latitude and longitude) to each photo so that viewers can identify the precise location of each shot. Instructions for adding the appropriate tags are here (thanks Ollie, that's the clearest explanation I've seen), and Multimap is brilliant for calculating the decimal latitude and longitude of any pinpointed location in the UK. To see Geoblogging in action there's a large collection of geotagged London photos here, and someone else's geotagged photo of the Hoover Building here [geo:lat=51.533417] [geo:lon=-0.318924]. The really ingenious bit happens when you click on the "GeoTagged" link in the description beneath the photo. Try it. Wait a while and a map of west London will open up showing the precise location of the shot and all the other photos taken in the surrounding neighbourhood. It's an extremely clever marriage of flickr and Google Maps to stunning interactive effect.
I've now geoblogged all of my Go West photos. This task took me a couple of hours to complete, mainly because the tags were rather fiddly, but I'm extremely pleased with the results. Click here (please do, it's really clever) to see the location of each of my 40 photographs strung out across London from east to west. You can even zoom in on the map to see my route in even more detail. See, I really was walking in a straight line. Dead impressive.

Geograph: The whole of the UK has been divided up into 1km grid squares by the Ordnance Survey, and it's the ambition of the Geograph website to collect at least one photo for each and every square. They've covered just over 5% of the country already, which may not sound much but it's pretty impressive when you consider there are a quarter of a million UK squares altogether. The towns and cities are filling up first, and you can keep track of everything on this handy UK map (zoom in until you find the square you want). Adding a new photo is a fairly simple operation (compared to geoblogging it's a breeze), just so long as you remember how four figure grid references work. Have a go at submitting a photo here.
I've geographed my Hoover Building shot (see it here), although other people had already beaten me to most of the grid squares further east across central London so I was just left to mop up the area around Bow instead.

Mappr: Great for Americans, not much use in the UK yet.
Memory Maps: These are satellite photos saved as flickr images and then annotated. Here's one of Steve's, and here are lots.
Degree Confluence Project: For photographs of those extra special spots on earth where lines of latitude and longitude meet (for example in a cowshed in Hampshire). Fantastic site.
• Any more?

 Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Michael Jackson Is Innocent (Honest) Jukebox
Pick your favourite record here

n.b: order of track listing is purely coincidental

Go West: the aftermath
• Draw a straight line on a map, walk along it and you'll sure to find several fascinating places along the way (in London at least).
• Bow to Perivale is a bloody long way. Take a look on a tube map and you'll agree.
• What looks like 12 miles on a map is definitely much more than 12 miles in real life, because I am not a crow and I cannot fly.
• Each blogpost took at least 15-20 minutes to write using predictive text on my mobile keypad. Much fiddlier than using a computer keyboard, and much harder to edit too. But I was pleased how few grammatical and spelling errors I made.
• My 10 hour walk could have been at least three hours shorter if I hadn't had to keep stopping to write emails (and another hour shorter if I hadn't stopped to take any photos).
• My mobile phone batteries gave up after writing and sending ten emails, so it's just as well that I didn't walk any further.
• Navigating though London by GPS isn't practical because the buildings block out the satellite signals.
• An awful lot of London is covered by ordinary houses where ordinary people live.
• My east to west walk really brought it home to me that East London is significantly less affluent than West London.
• I've reformatted all of yesterday's posts and stuck them in chronological order (with links) here. Because I can.
• Please take a look at a selection of the photographs I took along the route (or go back and read the posts you missed yesterday).

Take a virtual walk across London due west from my house.
Go on, you've got nothing better to do.

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