diamond geezer

 Sunday, July 31, 2005

The best/worst of July

Month of the year: You may have thought April was busy (royal wedding meets dead Pope meets election campaign) but when they come to write those 'review of the year' programmes/articles at the end of 2005, surely it's July that's going to stand out. Not just for the wake-up call of London's sudden terrorist nightmare but also for the totally unexpected Olympic victory, the global unification of Live 8, the wholly anti-climactic G8 Summit, the end of 35 years of IRA violence and a huge tornado ripping through Birmingham. Months don't get much more memorable than July 2005. Please, could the next five months be a little quieter?

Short-term London event of the month: Eight bombs (four grimly murderous and four thankfully incompetent) have shaken London out of an ill-judged cosy complacency, but life will get back to normal. It may take weeks, or months, or even years, but one day we will all feel (pretty much) safe sitting on a tube train again. One day.
Long-term London event of the month: Just two votes in Singapore, on the other hand, proved sufficient to rewrite east London's future forever. The five-ring circus is coming to town and no terrorist campaign can stop it. I remain optimistic that in seven years' time July 2005 will be remembered far more for Wednesday 6th and not Thursday 7th.

TV programme of the month: I've always been a sucker for the seaside (ooh, cliffs, mmm, beaches, ahhh, lighthouses) so BBC2's Coast is a twice-weekly must-see. It's a fascinating mix of geography, history, archaeology, anthropology, zoology, geology and travelogue, and I'm continually amazed how much they manage to cram into one hour (ooh, the Severn Bore, ooh). It's North Wales tonight (BBC2, 9pm), including Portmeirion, the Menai Straits and Borth beach (where I once went on a geography field trip). But don't bother buying the book accompanying the series - it's all big pictures and lightweight text, and most disappointing.

Album of the month: It's been three years since the release of Röyksopp's essential Melody AM, an album much loved by advertisers and those who commission TV backing music. The follow-up (The Understanding) is now out, and I can report that it's almost as lovely but not quite as magical. Every tune pleases, but it's the Eple-like 'Sombre detune' that's earwormed into my brain.

Film of the month: Last night I watched Tim Burton's remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and suddenly I was ten years old again. Which was great. The special effects were top notch (although I understand the performing squirrels were real), the script was witty (even the great glass elevator joke worked more than once) and the cast were whipple scrumptious. Johnny Depp played Willy Wonka with an endearing gaucheness (like how Michael Jackson used to be) and his performing Oompa Loompas stole the show every time they appeared. But the true star remained Roald Dahl's wildly inventive plot, full of political incorrectness and moral preaching (even if I bet he never once used the abysmal American word 'candy'). Sweet.

 Saturday, July 30, 2005

I-SPY The Sights Of London (revised and updated)

    "I-SPY is an old game. But played the modern way it is the most fascinating game in the world. The best of it is you can enjoy it wherever you are - by yourself or with others. The more you play it, the more exciting it becomes.
    Big Chief I-SPY - Head of the MetPolice - appears every day in the Daily News. He records I-SPY triumphs in tracking and spotting. He tells of his adventures with Muktar, Hassan, Ramzi and Osman. To the Great London Tribe he sends press releases and warnings about unexploded packages. And in his unique way he manages to set everyone I-SPYing."

I-SPY six policeman patrolling outside a tube station (10 points)
I-SPY a policewoman standing in my tube carriage (20 points)
I-SPY a security announcement about looking after your belongings at all times (5 points)
I-SPY a rucksack (-10 points)
I-SPY being stared at because I'm carrying a rucksack (-20 points)
I-SPY an Asian man with a rucksack (-30 points)
I-SPY a seat at the other end of the carriage to the Asian man with a rucksack (30 points)
I-SPY jumping to stereotypical racist assumptions (-50 points)
I-SPY a very empty-looking office every Thursday (-25 points)
I-SPY using the police hotline to shop a neighbour (100 points)
I-SPY a tear gas assault on the flat over the road (-200 points)
I-VIDEO a tear gas assault on the flat over the road (£5000)
I-SPY a potential suicide bomber before he runs into a tube carriage (200 points)
I-SPY a innocent Brazilian lying in a pool of blood on the floor of a tube carriage (-500 points)
I-SPY two bombers in their underwear surrendering on a balcony (1000 points)
I-SPY an uncertain future (-1000 points)

 Friday, July 29, 2005

Advance warning A: We established last week that some of you love reading my posts about London. In which case you are hereby warned that next Monday sees the start of diamond geezer's 3rd annual local history month, so there might be rather a lot of London stuff for you to read. Two years ago I explored fascinating places within 5, 10 and 15 minutes walk of my house, and last August I took a long walk along historic Piccadilly. I won't tell you yet whereabouts in London I'm heading this year (except to say that it doesn't overlap with either of my two previous projects) but I hope that you'll enjoy the whole month-long event. See you on Monday.

Other dg London projects for you to enjoy:
All the churches in the Oranges and Lemons nursery rhyme
Investigating the lives of the real EastEnders in London E3
Everything there is to see along the Greenwich Meridian
Exploring every station on the thrilling Jubilee line
All my fascinating London posts in one blog

Advance warning B: We established last week that some of you usually skip reading my posts about London. In which case you are hereby warned that next Monday sees the start of diamond geezer's 3rd annual local history month, so there'll probably be a lot of London stuff to avoid. Two years ago I droned on and on about lots of dull places within walking distance of my house, and last August I scrutinised Piccadilly in far far too much detail. Now there's four more weeks of tedious geo-historical drivel heading your way. But don't worry because there'll still be plenty of non-London stuff scattered in amongst all my capital ramblings. See you on Tuesday.

Other dg London projects for you to avoid:
All that interminable drivel about the London 2012 Olympics
An eight mile walk along the stagnant Regent's Canal
Frankly monotonous stuff about five London A roads
Several dreary bus journeys around the capital
All my tedious London posts in one blog

Big Brother 6
Just 14 days to go. Who's still in with a chance of winning?
1) Anthony: favourite to win for the last two weeks [current odds: 1-2 fav]
2) Eugene: second favourite to win, unbelievably [current odds: 5-1]
3) Makosi: favourite two, four and six weeks ago [current odds: 9-1]
4) Derek: joint favourite to win three weeks ago [current odds: 11-1]
5) Craig: favourite to be evicted in week one [current odds: 16-1]
6) Kemal: favourite five and eight weeks ago [current odds: 18-1]
7) Orlaith: favourite to be kicked out tonight [current odds: 50-1]
(with incredibly clickable names)

 Thursday, July 28, 2005

London - an apology to the rest of Britain: If you've been reading the UK media recently you'd think that nothing of any interest was happening anywhere outside London. The Olympics will benefit a few million people, living in London. Last week's failed bombings killed nobody, in London. The hunt for the bombers has been continuing apace, across obscure London suburbs. Tracking down a bomber in Birmingham is of major interest, but only because he threatened London. Trigger happy police on the tube place innocent lives at risk, in London. No Londoners are feared lost in the ghastly Sharm al-Sheikh bombings, which happened a very long way away from London. So, look, we're sorry. We know that 90% of the UK population live outside London and don't give a damn about our 'local' news. It's just that 90% of the UK media are based in London and they like writing articles about how scared they are on the tube and how they've taken up cycling, even if most of their readers live many miles away and drive to work in complete safety. So we Londoners would like to acknowledge that there are lots of interesting things going on around Britain that deserve national news coverage and we apologise for being so self-obsessed. Sorry.

Not haPPPy: Transport for London have issued their second annual report into the performance of the PPP - the Public-Private Partnership that funds investment on the Underground. Both Metronet and Tube Lines have so far been given approximately £2 billion out of the public purse to upgrade the system and its infrastructure, but TfL are not impressed. Reports are normally woolly, positive things (I know, I've written a few) but this one is openly damning:
"There has been some progress in the first two years, but there are also some worrying trends and overall there is a shortfall compared with the expectations created by the private sector Infrastructure companies' bids. In short, performance is not good enough and is less than what was promised."
There follow several pages of paragraphs, tables and graphs that show exactly why performance isn't good enough. 'Availability', 'capability' and 'ambience' aren't improving fast enough, rolling stock is unreliable, track renewal is well behind schedule and a lot of projects are having to be 'rephased'. Meanwhile shareholders continue to receive profits, although most of them are probably sensible enough to live well outside London and drive around in nice big cars all day. If you fancy reading the full report then you can find it here (beware, 90 page pdf), or you might just want to look at the pretty photographs. Of course, I was particularly interested in any reference to the renovation fiasco at my local tube station, and I didn't have to look far:
"Metronet BCV was due to complete enhancements at West Ruislip, Roding Valley and Chigwell by 5 March 2005, as was Metronet SSL at Bow Road, Turnham Green, Plaistow, Dagenham Heathway and North Harrow. All of these projects are running late. The latest plans from Metronet show the remainder of the programme running to time. This is hard to believe given current performance and the acceleration required for year three and beyond." (page 54)

"Although Metronet has met early milestones in its Victoria line upgrade project, it strains credulity to credit progress on such a complex project when, currently, much simpler renewal work is consistently late." (page 5)
Or, in other words, if Metronet can't deliver on a piddly little backwater station like Bow Road (and so far they still haven't ), then what hope does the rest of the crumbling network have? See, I told you my local station was important.

 Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The London Olympics 2012

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Olympic opening ceremony

08:00 Spectators start queueing by the Bow flyover to ensure they get through 12 hours of security checks before the opening ceremony begins.
19:59 Olympic bureaucrats arrive at the Olympic Stadium and are ushered directly to their seats.
20:00 Mayor Ken Livingstone, 67, releases a flock of 'pigeons of peace' to signal the start of the 2012 Olympics.
20:01 It starts raining.
20:02 A procession of Pearly Kings and Queens, beefeaters and members of the cast of EastEnders parades around the arena.
20:12 (oh yes, very symbolic timing) Local schoolchildren flood into the arena dressed as chimneysweeps to perform a medley of songs from Mary Poppins, just to keep American TV audiences happy.
20:25 Heather Small is wheeled on in a giant billowing dress atop a red Routemaster bus to sing 'Proud' - the Official Download of the 2012 Olympics.
20:29 Everybody in the audience holds up a piece of coloured cardboard which, when seen from the TV airship floating above high above Stratford, spells out the words "Up yours Paris".
A half hour tap-dancing ballet extravanganza follows, commissioned for half a million pounds which appears to have been spent on crepe paper costumes, big swirling ribbons, some big torches and a few primary-coloured hats.
20:59 Still no sport yet.
21:00 Greek athletes lead the parade of nations into the arena, followed by the five-strong Albanian contingent, then some grinning Algerians in full national costume, then one goatherd from Andorra (maybe this would be a good time to go and make a cup of tea).
20:18 - 20:31 Half the population of China appear to have turned up.
21:47 ... Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sri Lanka...
22:05 The UK team bring up the rear, waving and grinning inanely because they've saved a fortune on travelling costs this year.
22:10 Brooklyn Beckham enters the stadium holding aloft a Bic cigarette lighter which he then uses to ignite the Olympic Flame (housed in an old skip rescued from the long-gone Marshgate Lane Trading Estate).
22:20 IOC Chairman Sebastian Coe welcomes the nations of the world, then HM King William V makes a hesitant speech and looks a bit embarrassed.
22:30 The Olympic flag is raised, still water-stained in one corner after the flash floods which inundated City Hall's basement storage cupboards last summer.
22:38 Dame Paula Radcliffe leads the athletes in the Olympic oath - "We swear that we will take part in these Olympic Games in the true spirit of sportsmanship, that we will wear the correct brands and logos at all times, and that we are not taking steroids honest."
Parade of the Sponsors (Coca Cola, Mastercard, Sony, Jamster, etc), featuring a bevy of teenage beauties throwing sweets from the back of a procession of converted lorries.
22:50 Firework display cancelled at the request of the chief of the Metropolitan Police, because Londoners are still a bit twitchy about simultaneous explosions.
22:55 Let the Games begin!
22:56 commercial break
23:00 Whoopee, the synchronised swimming and volleyball start in 8 hours time.

 Tuesday, July 26, 2005

20 things I really ought to do but can't quite be bothered: buy a new sofa to replace the dire orange monstrosity my landlord left me, take the rubbish out, complain vigorously about my endowment mortgage, purchase some more Earl Grey tea bags, convert my big jar of copper coins into £15 of useful money, back-up the files on my hard disc, dust the skirting board behind my bed, throw away three years' worth of old telephone directories, clean the oven, finish off my last six Creme Eggs before the use-by date at the end of this week, dead head the geraniums on my balcony, go tell the smokers nextdoor that their nicotine habit is filthy and invading my personal airspace, go tell the guitar nuts upstairs that their penchant for loud MOR rock music is selfish and invading my personal headspace, iron 10 shirts for work, throw away the microwave oven that stopped working 18 months ago and is now lying gathering dust under the kitchen table, fill in my income tax form, find an alternative to Norton Anti-Virus that doesn't slow my computer down, clean my windows on the inside (even if I can't reach the outside), set the clock on the cooker forward an hour because it's still on GMT, go out for the evening.

10 new BBC programmes under development
[Nine are real (and you can apply to take part) but one I've made up - which one?]
Beat The Bailiff: Do you enjoy splashing the cash and are the bills piling up?
B&B Inspectors: Do you need to kick start your bed and breakfast business?
Car Booty: Sell your collectable clutter with the Car Booty team!
Come Buy with Me: Are you desperate to get on the property ladder?
Does Politics Turn You Off?: Do you find politics a yawn? See if these hardened campaigners can change your mind.
The Dog House: Is your dog a nightmare? Have you tried everything but nothing has worked?
Golden Girls: Does your grandmother deserve a complete beauty and wardrobe makeover?
He's Having a Baby: Are you and your partner about to become parents for the first time?
Mechannibals: Think you can build a fully armoured tank capable of destroying your neighbour's shed at 50 yards?
Mirrors Signal Manoeuvre: Are you learning how to drive? Do you long to be Master or Mistress of the open road?
Sun, Sea and Bargain Spotting: Can you find bargains in a French flea market?
(check here)

 Monday, July 25, 2005

What London commuters are thinking this morning (but trying very hard not to)

What comes next?

1) three tubes and a bus, three tubes and a bus,

2) north south east west, north south east west,

3a) Thursday, Thursday,
3b) 7/7, 21/7,

4) morning rush hour, lunchtime,

5) Aldgate, Edgware Road, Russell Square, Oval, Warren Street, Shepherd's Bush,

6) Circle, Circle, Piccadilly, Northern, Victoria, Hammersmith & City,

7) bus number 26, bus number 30, bus number

8) rucksack, rucksack, rucksack, rucksack, rucksack, rucksack, holdall, rucksack,

9) Asian man, Asian man, Afro-Caribbean man, Asian man, Asian man, Asian man, Asian man, Asian man,

10) life, death,

 Sunday, July 24, 2005

Quickmap: The best map for finding your way around inner London isn't the A-Z, it isn't Multimap and it isn't Streetmap. And, despite being an all-time design classic, it isn't Harry Beck's tube map either. No, it's the Quickmap all-on-one map. Trust me on this one. If you're trying to get from one part of town to another (and you're not mad enough to be driving) then this tiny fold-out masterpiece has everything you need. See which buses go where, which tourist attractions are in the local vicinity, how far it is to the nearest station, which street that is just round the corner, where the all the markets are, which zone you're in and where all the nightbuses go. I've used it to negotiate the Richmond riverside, to work out where the hell my number 23 bus was going and to find the quickest way home from Highgate when the Northern line failed. And all this for just £2.50. Even better, at this time of 'increased travel difficulties', they've made the entire map available as a free download. Which is great if you have an A3 colour printer (or, ahem, if your place of work does). But I'd still recommend buying the real thing (unless of course you live in Melbourne) - you never know when you might be lost without it.

Quickmap links (hours of fun)
full details of the Quickmap all-on-one London map
free download of the all-on-one all transport map (pdf)
Central London walk map
• dead clever bus maps, including Baker Street, Bank, City, Euston, Holborn, Kings Cross, Liverpool Street, Marble Arch, Paddington, St Paul's and Victoria
central London tube trains (this map is so therapeutic)
trains (underground and overground) and the DLR
transport to the new Wembley Stadium
Notting Hill Carnival route and transport map
maps of Reading, Winchester and Glasgow

Smoke #6: The sixth issue of Smoke (a london peculiar) has just been issued. Smoke, if you remember, is a sort of London literary fanzine, full of "words, photos and graphic art inspired by the city". It only comes out sort of quarterly (which in real life seems to mean 4/5-monthly) but Smoke is always well worth the wait. In the latest edition you can read about former archaic practices at Foyles bookshop, currect archaic practices at a Jermyn Street barber, the unexpected view from a Dalston kitchen window, Soho's long lost northern sector, footbridges across the Thames, bus of the month (lucky Uxbridge), taxi drivers and London's campest statues (plus much much more spread over 52 shiny pages). Smoke 6 has a slightly more fictional bent than past issues, and there's also a bit of a bias towards locations close to the Thames (not much Barnet or Croydon, then), but as ever it's well worth two quid of anybody's money. Further details here, where to buy a copy here and how to get hold of a copy if you live nowhere near London here. Perfect reading matter for your next tube journey, I reckon, especially to take your mind off wondering which of your fellow passengers the police plan to shoot next.

 Saturday, July 23, 2005

Going back to my roots: Portnall Road, London W9
great grandfather Edward lived (and died) here

I considered writing about Portnall Road back in March when I was investigating my family tree, but I decided not to. I thought that this particular street was far too average and far too unexceptional to bother you with. Nothing interesting ever happened here. And so it was until yesterday afternoon, when police searching for the London tube bombers suddenly sealed off the central part of the street, forced residents to stay indoors and launched a tear gas attack on one of the houses. Suddenly Portnall Road was the frontline in the battle against terrorism, with the possibility of something completely out of the ordinary lurking in this very ordinary northwest London street.

My great grandfather (the one who lived in South Molton Street and got married in Selfridges) spent the last few years of his life living in Portnall Road. The street stretches two thirds of a mile south from Queens Park tube station to the Harrow Road, and Edward lived roughly halfway down at number 98. It's a very typical three-storey Victorian terrace, and yesterday's police raid took place in a similar property on the opposite side of the road. My great grandparents' house would have been long and thin, comprising an entrance hall, sitting room, parlour, kitchen, bathroom and several bedrooms on the upper floors. 100 years ago your average Londoner lived in all of a house, not just part of it subdivided off by chipboard walls. All that interior space would have been especially useful because my great grandparents had several children, although there still wouldn't have been much of a back garden for them all to run around in. And this was where Edward breathed his last, or struggled to because he'd had breathing difficulties ever since being involved in a gas attack in the trenches of World War 1, and he only just about made it into the 1920s.

I went back to Portnall Road earlier in the year to see for the first time the place where my family had once lived. Number 98 is no longer one house but three flats, although the only hint from the exterior is the triple doorbell. The ground floor looks like it's been renovated by the artiest couple in the street, with a thin grey grille across the bay window in the form of twisted tree branches. There's also a matching twiggy gate and some impressive real greenery crawling up the side of the house next door. I could quite imagine some breathy Channel 4 property show presenter getting very excited at the possibilities to be had here with all those lovely period features and Victorian fireplaces to be scrubbed up and scumble-glazed. I noticed that one of the flats was for sale so I checked out the details when I got home:
Two bedroom, first floor flat with lovely high ceilings and converted from this delightful period building. The property comprises: reception room (13'11x10'9), fitted kitchen and bathroom/wc. £245,000
That's a quarter of a million pounds for one third of the family home that Edward probably bought for just a couple of hundred pounds. How London changes. And my great grandparents would notice one other enormous change around here since 1920 - the neighbours. West Kilburn is now a mixed multicultural neighbourhood where people of all races and creeds live, and work, together. Shops along the Harrow Road sell foods my great grandfather would never have heard of, and people speak languages that my great grandfather would never have heard. This is modern London, where several cultures live together in harmony. Or, at least, almost everybody does. You never know quite who's living over the road, behind the twitching net curtains.

Routemaster RIP
15 11 23 94 6 98 8 7 137 9 73 390 12 36 19 already passed away
14 (Putney - Tottenham Court Road) died yesterday [bittersweet report from Matt]
22 (Putney - Piccadilly Circus) deceased yesterday [report from Inspector Sands]
13 (Golders Green - Aldwych) expires 21st October 2005
38 (Victoria - Clapton Pond) goes bendy after 28th October 2005
159 (Marble Arch - Streatham) extinction date 9th December 2005 [and that's it]
[with just two 'heritage routes' to follow]

 Friday, July 22, 2005

Commuting home from work - a Qualitative Risk Analysis

Risk 1: Being in the office
Hazard: Fatal paper cut; scalded by machine-vended hot chocolate; electrocuted by rogue photocopier; tie caught in paper shredder; crushed by toppling filing cabinet; inappropriate use of hole punch.
Risk: Negligible [only about 200 people are killed each year in the UK in workplace accidents]

Risk 2: Sitting at my desk, refreshing a selection of internet webpages in an attempt to discover the latest news on the failed London bombings
Hazard: Repetitive strain injury; long term spinal damage from poor seating posture; eyestrain leading to premature sight failure
Risk: Nil [obviously my employer's detailed health and safety policies protect me completely]

Risk 3a: Taking the lift to the ground floor
Hazard: Plunging to my doom following a terrible accident involving a severed lift cable
Risk: Fictional [these things tend to happen only in Hollywood movies]
Risk 3b: Walking to the ground floor
Hazard: Slipping accidentally on the top stair and breaking my neck in the ensuing fall
Risk: Relatively tiny [there are only approximately 100 annual fatalities on non-domestic stairs]

Risk 4: Exiting the office and walking along the pavement outside
Hazard: Tripped by passing wheelie suitcase; forced to inhale clouds of cancerous cigarette smoke wafting from office doorway; mugged by evil London street-vermin; hit on head by falling scaffolding; approached by charity representative with clipboard and forced smile; innocent victim of drive-by shooting; bitten by giant rat
Risk: Particularly hazardous [as everyone outside London knows, the capital is much more dangerous than where they live]

Risk 5: Using a pedestrian crossing at a busy central London road junction
Hazard: Swept along by crowd of passing French tourists; dragged beneath wheels of passing bendy bus; mowed down by procession of cyclists ignoring yet another red traffic light; suffering lung damage after inhaling ozone and exhaust fumes; crushed by white van accidentally mounting tiny traffic island; tempted to cross road during brief gap in traffic, only to be splattered by speeding motorcyclist
Risk: Unexpectedly perilous [the pedestrian crossing outside Holborn tube station must be one of the most dangerous in the country]

Risk 6: Going home on the tube during a time of heightened national security
Hazard: No, really, I'm not thinking about it (much)
Risk: Still insignificant [compared to the daily horrors lurking on the pavements and streets outside]

 Thursday, July 21, 2005

What we learnt from yesterday's comments about comments

Time taken to write post1 minute3 hours
Length of post12 words908 words
Effort expendednegligibleconsiderable
Number of daily website visitors
(measured in double decker busfuls)
7 buses8 buses
Number of comments4154

• An effortful post can get more comments than a effortless post

What sort of blogposts get more comments?
• Posts about universal topics which everyone can relate to (e.g. food, TV)
• Posts on topics (or news) about which readers have strong opinions
• Posts that are short, sharp and to the point ('quickie' posts)
• Posts about blogging (e.g. why do people write comments?)
• Deliberately interactive posts (e.g. quizzes)
• Deliberately provocative posts
• Posts that pose a question

What sort of blogposts get less comments?
• Posts about places that readers have never visited
• Posts about things that readers have never experienced
• Posts so long that people don't have the time to read them
• Posts so long that the comments box doesn't appear on the main screen
• Posts so comprehensive that there's nothing more to add
• Posts that are informative rather than opinionated
• Overlooked posts (i.e. those more than a day old)
• Posts made at weekends

• It is worth writing effortful posts
• It's hard to write a comment when you have nothing to say
• Just because people don't comment doesn't mean they're not interested
• Just because people don't comment doesn't mean they're not appreciative
• Some effortless posts get comments, but a blog with only effortless posts will get none
• Sometimes comments boxes are much more interesting than the post they're commenting on
• People who only read blogs via RSS or newsfeeds are missing out on the comments, and on commenting
• An effortful post can get more effortful comments than a effortless post
• Gratuitous comment whoring is shallow and vacuous
• You like my London stuff even if you don't comment on it (roll on August!)
• It's great to read comments from readers who don't normally comment - thanks
• You're all lovely

What we learnt from the day before yesterday's comments about doughnuts
• You like talking about doughnuts almost as much as you like eating them
• You're twice as likely to prefer a filled doughnut to a holey doughnut
• Your favourite filling is jam (which is well ahead of apple or custard)
• You know sugary doughnuts are bad for you but you still want 'em
• The Krispy Kreme invasion has begun - beware
• It's doughnut, not donut

 Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Why bother?

Thank you for taking part in yesterday's experiment. You confirmed all my worst fears. And it had nothing whatsoever to do with doughnuts...

On Saturday I went on a thrilling random tour of the London Borough of Southwark. The whole visit (including valuable drinking time at the London United festival) took eight hours. Writing up the whole experience took several more hours, plus even more time to find a shedload of appropriate weblinks and still more time to upload various photos into flickr.
On Tuesday I wrote an incredibly brief post about doughnuts.

The results were somewhat disappointing:
Time taken to research post8 hours0 minutes
Time taken to write post4 hours1 minute
Length of post805 words12 words
Number of photos uploaded460
Weblinks incorporated in text461
Effort expendedtonsnegligible
Number of daily website visitors
(measured in double decker busfuls)
6 buses7 buses
Number of comments537

There are two types of blogpost - those that take a bit of effort to compose and those that don't. And it appears from my experience of the last couple of days that short, focused, effortless posts get a much more positive response than sprawling, diffuse, effortful posts. My 12 word post about doughnuts elicited seven times more comments than my 800 word Southwark monster (that's an astonishing 3 comments per word as opposed to 40 words per comment). With absolutely no effort on my part whatsoever, you lot wrote Tuesday's blogpost for me. Thank you. On Tuesday I also got 15% more visitors than on Monday, and all for minimal outlay. Looking deeper behind the scenes, Monday's 46 weblinks received an average of less than five clicks each (most rather less, and none more than 17), whereas Tuesday's single weblink (which wasn't even very good) managed 41. And all those flickr photos of Southwark that I pleaded with you to flick through? Just 10% of you did, and less than 5% of you made it all the way through to photo number 46. Why do I bother?

But there are two types of blogpost for a reason. Weblogs started out as logs of websites, lists of bookmarks that internet users considered might be interesting to others. Blogs were never meant to be effortful, they were just meant to be useful. And then people started annotating their weblinks, and writing more, and writing more, and maybe not including any weblinks at all. Nowadays most blogs more resemble a journal, or a diary, a platform for sounding-off or just a playground for creativity. There are of course still several posts out there that take no effort at all (linking to inane quizzes such as "What breed of hamster are you?" springs to mind). But an awful lot of bloggers, even if they're not investing 4 hours per post, put a lot of effort into their blogs. And it can really suck not to get any positive feedback. Why do they bother?

A lot of bloggers bother to blog because they like to get feedback. That feedback can come from the number of visitors you receive, or the number of other blogs that link to you, or the number of comments you get. All of which can make for very dispiriting non-feedback when you first start blogging. It can take ages to get your daily number of visitors up to a respectable number, even into double figures, even when you know that what you're writing deserves a wider audience. It can take ages for other bloggers to link to you, especially when it seems all the established bloggers are just linking to other established bloggers. And it can take ages to start getting regular comments on your posts, even when you have regular visitors, because writing comments takes effort on the part of the reader. And all this perceived lack of interest can feel like a lack of validation. Why do we bother?

Well, I know why I bother. I blog for me, and if I get a positive response from you lot then it's a bonus. If you're not interested in something I'm writing about, well, bad luck. My week-long walk down the Regent's Canal, for example, attracted 25% fewer visitors than usual, and you lot wrote only a quarter of your usual number of comments. But I didn't care because I wanted to write it, and because I don't equate a lack of comments with a lack of interest. That's why I bother.

So I think that blogs would be much more functional with one additional valuable element of feedback - something more than visitor numbers, trackbacks and comments. When I read someone else's really good blogpost I'd like to be able to tick a little box at the bottom that says "Thanks, I really enjoyed reading this". It would take virtually no effort on my part to tick this particular box, but it would also allow me to give positive feedback even when I don't have a worthwhile comment to add to the debate. Individual TV programmes have a Audience Appreciation Index, so why can't blogposts have something similar? It would be really great if there was a little box like this at the bottom of your blogposts, because I'd probably tick it frequently. But, honestly, I can live happily without such a box on mine.

Thanks, I really enjoyed reading this (59)

 Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Doughnuts (or is it donuts?)
Are they better with or without holes?

 Monday, July 18, 2005

Random borough 6: Southwark (part 2)

Somewhere historic/famous: the Thames
Southwark drips with history, particularly the northern slice alongside the Thames. This was the rough lawless side of the river, safely tucked away from the wealth of Westminster and the pomp of the City, a bolthole for criminals, prostitutes and the poor. But Southwark also developed as a thriving home to traders, travellers and entertainers, thanks in particular to its location beside the one bridge across the Thames out of London.

So, when I came to select 'somewhere historic' to visit in Southwark, I was spoilt for choice. All along the Thames there were far too many fascinating sites to choose from. So I walked the lot, from the Oxo Tower in the west to Greenland Dock in the east, and very pleasant it was too. Below are the highlights. For the full walk, go view my annotated photos. Go on, I took them for you, you know.

www.flickr.com : Take a virtual walk through Southwark-on-Thames.

A riverside stroll from the Oxo Tower to Greenland Dock
Mile 1: The first mile took me along the world famous South Bank, beside the Tate Modern and past the recreated Globe Theatre. Tourists streamed along the gleaming river's edge, flitting from sight to sight and from pub to pier. Just before London Bridge there was an embarassment of historical riches, including the infamous Clink prison, Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hinde and the immaculate Southwark Cathedral. Beat that, Barking & Dagenham.
Mile 2: Further along the Thames the testicular City Hall is still totally eclipsed by the iconic sight of Tower Bridge. Redevelopment is key along the cobbled Shad Thames and past the Design Museum. All along Bermondsey Riverside wharves are being converted, or more likely demolished, to make way for new blocks of housing. Nobody works here any more, they just live where work used to be. An old lady stopped me in Chambers Street, bemoaned the lawless nature of the local children and then encouraged me to go and view a local apartment being sold by a friend of hers. Just in case any of you have £425K to spare here are the details, and tell them Brenda sent you. New London is way out of my price bracket.
Mile 3: It was quieter through Rotherhithe, but with a brief stretch of genuine historical significance around Brunel's Thames Tunnel Engine House. The Pilgrim Fathers set sail in the Mayflower from the quayside here in 1620, and Captain Christopher Jones returned to be buried at St Mary's in 1622. The rest of Rotherhithe's riverfront would be unrecognisable to him now - an endless swathe of modern apartments hugging the river's edge.
Mile 4: It's a very long way round the rim of the Rotherhithe peninsula. Every now and then a watery inlet hints at the area's maritime past - originally 85% of the peninsula was dockland, now it's almost all residential. One of the few docks not to have been filled in is Greenland Dock, now an attractive backdrop to several waterside developments. Read the full redevelopment story here, or take a BBC 'Coast' walk here.
by tube: Southwark, London Bridge, Bermondsey, Rotherhithe, Surrey Quays, by bus: 381

Somewhere diverse: the Rise London United festival
Every year the Mayor (or rather his hard-working staff) organises a free music and dance event celebrating the capital's diversity and promoting anti-racism. Every year the festival is hosted by a different London borough, and last Saturday it was Southwark's turn. So I went along. In the aftermath of last week's terrible events the official title of the festival had been changed to 'London United', but it had been too late to change the Rise programme, the Rise stickers and most of the other Rise branding. Still, if the day was meant as a celebration of all things multicultural then it was a huge success. I joined the masses flooding into Burgess Park, many no doubt from the neighbouring Aylesbury Estate, to bake in the afternoon heat. Every colour of skin was present - except white, because that had all tanned a nice shade of brown thank you very much. A huge crowd mixed around the main sound stage enjoying performances from such global superstars as Raghav, Horace Andy and (erm) Goldie Looking Chain. Elsewhere there was an Urban stage, a Mela stage, an African stage and a Cuban stage - there really was something for everyone. Alcohol became an essential tool for quenching one's thirst, while an understated police presence ignored the funny cigarette smoke wafting over certain parts of the crowd. There were the usual worthy stalls supporting downtrodden workers and communities. But most of all there were the happy smiling faces of a cohesive London community out enjoying themselves, together. London, united.
by train/tube: none, by bus: 42, 343

 Sunday, July 17, 2005

Random borough 6: Southwark

The London borough of Southwark has pretty much everything. It stretches five miles top to bottom, from the historic south bank of the Thames through the multicultural estates of Camberwell and Peckham to the green suburban avenues of Dulwich. Just for once I was spoilt for choice for where to visit, so the borough's comprehensive tourist websites were most useful in planning my itinerary. I hope I've managed to sum up Southwark's diversity and vibrancy in what follows. Part one today, part two tomorrow.

Somewhere retail: Borough Market
When Waitrose isn't good enough, where better to buy food of quality and distinction than underneath the railway arches beside Southwark Cathedral? There's been a market here for 250 years, but it's only recently that Borough Market has evolved into a foodie gourmand's paradise. Assuming you like scallops and camembert, that is. This is more of an open-air delicatessen than your normal fruit and veg market. The food divides subtly into traditional British fare (like game, strawberries and chutney) and fine European specialities (like chorizo, falafel and dolmades). So, every weekend, the dark arches beneath Borough Viaduct buzz with those special kind of people who love to spend all day faffing about with food. The morning's for shopping ("hmm darling, venison or partridge?"), the afternoon's for cooking ("could you chop the samphire, dear, and throw in the olives?") and the evening's for slow, glittering dining ("heavens, these quail's eggs are divine, and the smoked eel is to die for"). Personally I couldn't resist a fine steak, kidney, herb and ale pie (from Bristol bakers pieminister - highly recommended) for a bit of top quality lunch-on-the-go. But I suspect, having spotted a Sainsburys on the high street and a Lidl down the road, that very few of the Borough Market shoppers actually live locally.
by tube: London Bridge

Somewhere pretty: Dulwich Art Gallery
Like many London other suburbs Dulwich started out as a small hamlet but, unlike most other suburbs, it still retains a little rural charm. That's probably because Dulwich College (established by Edward Alleyn in 1619) owned most of the land around here, so when the railways came they were careful to restrict the impact of suburban sprawl. And now Dulwich is about as sought-after as it gets (hell, even Margaret Thatcher bought a top-notch gated pad round here). The avenues are broad, but the houses are broader. Dulwich, Common? It's nothing of the sort. So you'd expect the local art gallery to be a bit special, and it is. This is Britain's first public art gallery, opened in 1817 to house a bequest of top European paintings. The gallery is small but perfectly formed, just a handful of high-walled rooms subtly lit by overhead roof-lanterns. The collection covers the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries - a lot of portraits and landscapes, and a fair spattering of cherubs and peasants. But it's still pretty impressive to stumble across works by Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Canaletto and Rubens - here in the quiet London suburbs. At the moment four of the galleries are given over to the 20th century artist Graham Sutherland, a brief but fascinating restrospective of twisted red and yellow landscapes, and bombed streets from the 1940s. I bypassed the modern cafe on the way out and headed instead for a chocolate ice cream across the road in Dulwich Park. And I can quite see why Charles Dickens chose to retire Mr Pickwick in a Dulwich cottage, "contemplating the pictures in the Dulwich Gallery or enjoying a walk about the pleasant neighbourhood on a fine day."
by train: North Dulwich, by bus: P4

The London Olympics 1948
Somewhere sporting: Herne Hill Velodrome
Southwark is surprisingly under-endowed with top sporting venues. There may have been bear-baiting pits on the southern bank of the Thames 400 years ago but thankfully they've long gone. There is still top Ryman League action down at Dulwich Hamlet (at the foot of Dog Kennel Lane, next to a giant Sainsbury's), but they were playing a pre-season friendly in Surrey on Saturday so I didn't stop off there either. But in 1948 the cycling events at the London Olympics were held here, on the western edge of the borough at the Herne Hill Velodrome, so that's where I went. The very place where good old Reg Harris stormed to win the silver medal in the 1000m matched sprint. I knew it wasn't Olympic standard any more, and I knew there had been some serious leasehold problems here recently, but I hoped I'd be able to gain access or at least peer inside. No such luck. The velodrome lies hidden and locked away behind a veil of houses, and a smokescreen of bitterness. Southwark Council's lease expired six months ago but, with £7m needed to refurbish the stadium, the Dulwich Estate rejected their request for a five year extension. Instead they have plans to develop the site as a "leisure facility", which might mean more cycling or it might mean a casino, you never know. There's certainly no love lost in this bickering bureaucratic row, with the unfortunate two-wheeler brigade left watching impotently from the sidelines. Further details at the Velodrome's official site, or get your cycle clips on and pedal over to onionbagblogger. [July 19 update: Velodrome reopens Aug 5!]
by train: North Dulwich, by bus: 37

(more tomorrow, including a riverside walk and a big festival in a park)

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