diamond geezer

 Saturday, December 31, 2005

Diamond Geezer - the 2005 index

A AdSense, Advent, almanacs, April fool, Arsenal, Audioscrobbler, awareness weeks
B bank holidays, Big Brother, bird flu, birthday, blogads, bookclub, Broadcasting House, British Gas, Brit nominations, Buncefield, buzzwords
Bethnal Green & Bow: constituency, Galloway HQ, Oona demo, shortlist, Galloway wins, Gallowatch (1) (2) (3) (4), (5)
Bow: the real EastEnders, Bow Road station, Mam's Fish Bar, poetry
C calendar, carbon neutral, cashpoints, celeb spotting, Charles & Camilla, Christmas cards, Christmas presents, Christmas shopping, cigarettes, cinema, clicks, Cockney rhyming slang, cold weather, comments, the Count, Countdown, Creative Lounge, cricket, crossword
D dance records, dashes, David Jason, dawn, Day 1000, death, decades, detox, disaster planning, Doctor Who, doughnuts
E EastEnders, Easter, eBay, eclipse (annular), Europe map, Eurovision, eye test
Election 05: political blogs, newspaper votes, opinion polls, Question Time, UK v US, first past the post, voting, results, stats
F favicons, Fleetway comics, forever, forums
G geoblogging, greatest hits, grandmother, Guardian guide, guitar
Great British Roads: A roads, A1. A2, A3, A4, A5
Going back to my roots: Newport, Widdington, Harefield, Battle, Waltham Abbey, South Molton Street, Selfridges, Portnall Road, Croxley, Watford
H Harry Potter, hate, Hiroshima, hurricanes
I I blog too much, ITV 50, ITV Digital
J Jerry Springer
L Little Britain, lowest common denominator
London: bendy bus, bombings, Clapton Pond, Columbia Road, Crossness, Drury Lane, Go West, I-SPY, Kensington and Chelsea, Kew, Lewisham, Lord Mayor's Show, Open House, place names, Prime Movers, Primrose Hill, Quickmap, Regent's Canal, River Fleet, Ronnie Kray, the last Routemaster, (the 38 Stops), Southwark, Sutton, telephone exchange codes, Thames Tunnel, Trafalgar Square, tourist map, tube week, Walthamstow dogs, weekend tube closures
London attractions: Cabinet War Rooms, Canal Museum, Design Museum, Dr Johnson's House, Geffrye Museum, Houses of Parliament (tour), Imperial War Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Ragged School Museum, Royal Gunpowder Mills, Sir John Soane's Museum, Tower of London, Whitechapel Art Gallery
M McDonalds, Michael Jackson, midlife crisis, midsummer, Milton Keynes, missing links, mobile dependency, more4, muffins, MyBlogLog
N New Year, nibbles, nightbuses, Number 1s
Olympics: scrap the bid, countdown, final report, 1908, 1948, Lea Valley sites, Stratford Marsh, stadium, Stade de France, 2012!, Trafalgar Square, transport, opening ceremony, Mervyn Day
P Paris, petrol, pigeons, Pope, product placement, puzzles
Q Queen in Docklands, Quiz Call
Quizzes: Andrews, anniversaries, cricket, countries, dashes, eggs, five 5s, 40, French, Google, horoscopes, London boroughs, Number 1s, Old Testament, rivers, tobacco, saints
R recycling, repeats, retail therapy, ringtones, road pricing, rugby
Reviews: Creep, Harry Potter, Hitchhikers, Kylie, League of Gentlemen, Star Wars
S sandwiches, school dinners, search engines, Seven Ages of Blog, shaving, single life, soap operas, Space Cadets, square toes, Starbucks, Star Wars, St Patrick's Day, sudoku, summer, summer sports, sunrise, sunset
Silver discs [1980]: April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December
T television, titan arum, Top 40 (with downloads), tourist tips, 24 hour drinking, two minute silence
V VE Day, visitors, volunteers
W Watch With Mother, weather symbols, west, working hours, World Cup draw, WW2 commemoration
Who's London: 1963-1989, Acton, Perivale, Ealing, Rose
the best of January, April, May, June, July, August, October, November, 2005

How many seconds are there in a minute?
Normally there are 60, of course, but occasionally there are 61.
There are 61 seconds in the last minute of 2005, for example.
Which runs like this...
2005 December 31 23h 59m 58s
2005 December 31 23h 59m 59s
2005 December 31 23h 59m 60s
2006 January 01 00h 00m 00s
2006 January 01 00h 00m 01s
This unusual situation arises because a leap second is being inserted tonight, just before midnight. Yes, there'll be 7 pips instead of 6, yes Big Ben will be delayed by a second and yes, by tomorrow morning your watch will be running very slightly fast. Leap seconds are added just before midnight GMT, when required, and only ever on December 31st or June 30th. They're also very rare - tonight's is the first leap second since 1998 (and only the 23rd since the first in 1972). Tiny temporal adjustments are necessary because tidal friction is causing our days to lengthen, albeit imperceptibly, and these occasional extra seconds keep Co-ordinated Universal Time (UTC) in line with the rotation of the Earth. The true explanation is rather more complicated than all that, of course (for example, GPS devices use a slightly different timescale established in 1980 that is now running 13 seconds ahead of UTC). [Readable explanations here and here] [Techie stuff here, here and here]. But whether all of this makes sense or not, just remember that you're going to have to wait one second longer for the start of next year. Have a great 2006 (when it finally arrives)!

10 ways to celebrate New Year's Eve in London (despite today's tube strike)
1) Leave for your chosen destination early. Get there by noon and the tubes will still be running. You'll have to suffer a 12 hour wait, but that's not necessarily a bad thing if you're spending New Year drinking.
2) All Londoners live within walking distance of a pub, even if it isn't a West End mega-boozer. Go there instead. It'll still cost you an arm and a leg to get in, but you can stumble home in the early hours with relative ease.
3) There are plenty of nightbuses you could catch instead of taking the tube, even if that means slumming it with common drunkards, babbling cokeheads and students gobbling down smelly kebabs.
4) Take a taxi. Except that you should have booked it about three weeks ago because you've not got a hope in hell of flagging one down on the streets tonight.
5) Stay in. They're showing those London Eye fireworks on BBC1, you know. Saves going out to stand in the cold for a mere ten minutes of colourful explosions.
6) Wait and go to London's New Year Parade at noon tomorrow instead. Except, damn, the tubes still won't be running even then.
7) Move south of the river where there are so few tube stations that most residents probably won't notice the difference.
8) Pull yourself together. London survives every other Saturday night without overnight tube trains. Honestly, you're all a bunch of once-a-year pubbing/clubbing wimps.
9) Imagine RMT boss Bob Crow under the wheels of a train. It won't help you get home from your NYE celebrations any quicker, but it might make you feel better.
10) It could be worse - you could be a London Underground worker. Not only can they not get into town either, but they're not being paid today.

 Friday, December 30, 2005

London 2005

You can tell the story of London's year in a single week. You know which one.

Saturday 2nd July: Live 8
Short term importance: ****   Long term importance: *****
20 years on, time for another Geldof-driven publicity bandwagon to engage in global hype on behalf of the world's poor, this time from a mega-stage in Hyde Park. I stood in Park Lane to watch the crowds queuing (and queueing) to gain admittance, no doubt waiting so long that they missed Sir Paul open the event and several subsequent acts too. I sat at home to watch the middle of the concert on TV, sickened by the gaping chasm so clearly visible behind the VIP enclosure and in front of the 'standard' audience. I stood drinking in a bar in Soho while Madonna strutted her stuff, one of the few highlights of an unexpectedly lacklustre line-up. And I fast forwarded through much of the remainder on video once I got home, pausing only to note how well Pink Floyd were reinventing themselves for a new generation. The event itself may have been somewhat underwhelming but its impact helped to encourage 8 old men to cancel the debts of 18 of the very poorest countries in the world a few days later, and that rocked.

Wednesday 6th July: Olympics 2012
Short term importance: **   Long term importance: ****
Thousands of us stood packed into Trafalgar Square on that damp grey lunchtime, all expecting the capital's protracted Olympic bid to end in a valiant but ultimately irrelevant second place. We waited patiently in front of the stage beneath Nelson's Column until, finally, IOC president Jacques Rogge attempted the world record for the slowest ever opening of an envelope. 200 miles apart, two capital cities stood in expectant silence. And then, as the wholly unexpected word 'London' dripped from his lips, the crowd around me erupted in jubilant celebration. People gasped, and cheered, and leapt, and hugged, and waved flags in the air, and generally grinned in elated disbelief as a shower of multi-coloured tickertape rained down from the sky. The five-ring circus was coming to town, and there was no better place in the world to be. Later that same afternoon I took a stroll around the riverside industrial estate which the 2012 Olympics will soon wipe from the map. The centre of the main stadium was much quieter than Trafalgar Square had been a few hours before, but in seven years' time the full glare of the world's media spotlight will shine down right here, just up from the Bow Flyover, in my manor. No doubt about it, East London will never be the same again.
Flickr photoset: London's Olympic Zone 2012

Thursday 7th July: Bombings
Short term importance: *****   Long term importance: ***
I travelled into work early on that fateful Thursday. My ticket was one of the million or so lucky ones. But for the unfortunate few, on the wrong bus or in the wrong place in the wrong carriage in the wrong train at the wrong time, this was to be the last journey they ever made. Hundreds more would be scarred for life by the experience, both physically and emotionally, and all because four misguided zealots had a posthumous political point to prove. Perhaps even scarier was the climate of fear that followed, complete with false-alarm copycat bombers and one single act of trigger-happy incompetence which instantly lost the Metropolitan Police all public support. But now, several months later, most Londoners are perfectly happy to travel again by tube without giving their potential dismemberment a second thought. I remain strangely comforted that, despite repeated warnings and the continued erosion of our civil liberties, no plot so abominable has played out in the capital since that bleak July morning. But let's hope that we Londoners don't have to play the lottery of death again, because we can't all be lucky all of the time.

 Thursday, December 29, 2005

Re-viewing 2005

'Tis the season for looking back and reviewing the events of the last year. Newspapers like reviews of the year because they fill pages during a quiet spell (and because they can be compiled in advance giving journalists a bit of extra time off over Christmas). Bloggers like reviews of the year for, I suspect, much the same reasons. And, by the looks of the A4 inkjet missives that fall out of Christmas cards these days, an awful lot of other people like reviews of the year too. Why write letters or send emails to friends and family during the year when you can sum up the whole 12 months in a couple of sides of close-set text littered with thumbnail photos of smiling relatives?

From what I've read over Christmas, other people's reviews of the year tend to revolve around the same few topics:
a) Achievements:
"Emily (11) earnt her Girl Guide petkeeping badge and passed her Grade 3 trombone exam, Ben (13) is captain of the school rugby team (he scored three tries against St Bridgets!) and Jemima (16) got seventeen As in her GCSEs but then left school to take up a multi-million pound modelling contract etc etc etc"
b) Holidays: "In May we went hillclimbing in the Andes (Ross was so resourceful when our passports were stolen), then in July we spent three weeks mountain biking round the vineyards of Southern France, and our October short-break in Shanghai was simply divine etc etc etc"
c) Hobbies: "We both love our church hall salsa lessons, Barry's model train layout goes from strength to strength, and I've started quilting for African orphans and now have nearly enough patchwork squares for half a blanket etc etc etc"
d) Jobs: "I was delighted to be promoted to Chief Administrative Officer in January but then the company went into liquidation and so I've spent most of the rest of the year at home watching Countdown etc etc etc"
e) Illness: "My aches and pains got worse this year, just like last year and the ten years before that, and then I had to spend the whole of August in hospital, and I've not been the same since etc etc etc"
f) Deaths: "Uncle Michael was taken from us in February (the funeral was very sad but it was lovely to meet so many of the family), then cousin Joan passed away in April, etc etc etc"

I don't send out a letter in my Christmas cards, much to the disappointment of some of the recipients. "Do write and tell us how you're getting on" they urge, as if I should somehow feel guilty for not matching their annual letter with a full list of revelations of my own. But I have nothing to tell them. I have no prodigious offspring with Pony Club certificates to gloat over, neither did I venture any further abroad than a day trip to Paris. I've not taken up ballroom dancing or some other thrilling hobby, and my job ticks over much the same as ever. I remain fit and well (apart from the post-Christmas cold I'm currently sniffling through) and there haven't been any deaths in my world this year, unexpected or otherwise. My Christmas letter, had I sent it, would have amounted to the one line "Same as ever, thanks". It might not satisfy my inquisitive correspondents but, quite frankly, it sounds bloody good to me.

 Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The top 3 albums of 2005

1) Tales from Turnpike House - Saint Etienne (released June)
"A suite of sublime ditties about the residents of a (real) tower block in Islington, creating 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?"

2) I Am Zero - Iko (released in early 2006, but I got hold of a promo copy in August)
"Following the untimely demise of the wonderful Buffseeds, singer/songwriter Kieran Scragg returns with a new band, taking the blueprint of his original outfit and expanding it with lush wide-screen arrangements. Scragg's new songs will appeal to those in love and those wishing that they weren't - you can hear the emotion in every note. His floating vocals sound so fragile it might break at any moment - it is this tension that makes Iko's songs stand out." (National Student, Nov 05)

3) Demon Days - Gorillaz (released May)
"The Gorillaz album is definitely worth purchasing. It's very good." (Ant)
"Even our youngest has the Gorillaz album DG... get with it!" (Nic)
"Gorillaz - it's worth it just for the track featuring Dennis Hopper." (Gordon)
"The Gorillaz album gets better with every listen." (quin)
"Blimey you were right, it's consistently excellent and very marvellous. Thanks!" (dg)

Honourable runners up:
4) The Understanding - Röyksopp
5) Supernature - Goldfrapp
6) Generation - Audio Bullys

And 2005's ten top tunes (in alphabetical order): Avalon (Juliet), Dirty Harry (Gorillaz), Doctor Pressure (Mylo), Every Day I Love You Less And Less (Kaiser Chiefs), Milk Bottle Symphony (Saint Etienne), On A Building Site (Go Kart Mozart), Precious (Depeche Mode), So Much Love To Give (Freeloaders ft The Real Thing), They (Jem), Yr City's A Sucker (LCD Soundsystem)

 Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Exciting things to do in the Norwich area between Christmas and New Year

• The traditional Christmas funfair has set up in Chapelfield Gardens, so you can buy candyfloss, ride all the big whirly twisters and throw hoops over goldfish every day between now and Friday.
• Isn't it quiet in Norfolk now half the county's turkeys have been slaughtered? Head for the kitchen and shove the last scraps of breast meat into a curry or something.
Norwich FC, Delia's finest, are playing a Championship match against Burnley tomorrow night (no doubt the half-time nibbles will be exquisite).
• Snow is expected (imminently) across coastal East Anglia, but don't bother getting your sledge out of the shed because there are absolutely no hilly slopes worth sliding down. (12 noon: snowy photo update)
• This year's pantomime at the Theatre Royal is Peter Pan, featuring Derek Griffiths and that local bloke who's in it every year, but not featuring my niece so we're not going.
• The Christmas lights are lovely this year, aren't they?
• Now would be a good time to stay in and play that board game the family got for Christmas, just the once, before it goes into the cupboard never to be played again.
• Norfolk's sky is naturally dark, so wrap up warm and head out after sunset to see all the hundreds of stars you can't see from central London (Orion's looking particularly fine, I thought).
• Hungary's champion figure skater Bertalan Zákány is starring in the enchanting tale of Pinocchio on Ice at the Norfolk Showground. How can you resist? As the website says, "the special experience is strengthened by light effects and pyrotechnical elements which impart to the audience a lasting impression". Hurry before the European tour moves on to Denmark and the Czech Republic.
• There's a temporary winter ice rink outside the Forum where you can spend an hour wobbling, falling over and getting your mittens stuck to the ice.
• The sales are on in Norwich, assuming you can bear the queues waiting to get into the town's multi-storey car parks. By the looks of it there are some top bling'n'hoodie bargains to be had.
• The train back to London departs tomorrow.

 Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Sudoku

Fill in the grid so that every row, every column and every 3×3 box contains the letters M, E, R, r, Y, X, m, A and S

Hand-crafted for your festive pleasure. And yes, it is possible. Merry Christmas!

 Friday, December 23, 2005

Pre-Christmas checklist

All Christmas presents bought, eventually (following visit to large institution in South Kensington)
All price labels and 'Half Price' stickers removed (without leaving too much sticky excess)
End of sellotape found (eventually)
All presents crudely wrapped (even the annoying hexagonal prism and the nigh-impossible cylindrical tin)
All receipts stored safely (just in case somebody else has identically good taste in purchasing gifts)
Bets taken on which one of my presents is destined to end up in the cardboard box on the top shelf in the garage (but hopefully just the one)
Remaining wrapping paper returned to the spare room ready for next Christmas (assuming I remember where I put it)
Scarily huge number of plastic carrier bags dumped under table in kitchen (must take them out for recycling in the New Year)
Double issue Radio Times scrutinised to find the eight hours of programmes I'd most hate to miss over the next five days (damn, there's 14 hours of it)
Video recorder set for everything I'd like to watch over Christmas but probably won't see because I'm being sociable (or because there's a six year-old standing in front of the screen)
Final Christmas card tally counted (damn, I sent twice as many as I received, again)
All appropriate clothing washed and packed (damn, those smart trousers don't fit any more, and I haven't even started on the turkey yet)
Digital camera, iPod shuffle and electric razor fully charged (because there's nothing worse than finding yourself powerless in the middle of the countryside)
Phone fully charged (despite there being almost no mobile reception in the wilds of Norfolk)
Buds on my Christmas cacti about to burst into bloom (probably immediately after I leave the house for several days)
Reading matter selected for train journey (and for that quiet Boxing Day afternoon after everybody else has fallen asleep)
Last of the 2005 season Creme Eggs finally consumed (only five months after the sell-by date, mmm)
Tomorrow's blog post ready to go up at 12 noon today (because most of you won't be online tomorrow)
Braced to enter 'Uncle' mode (it's not much of an act, honest)
Deep breath (let's party!)

 Thursday, December 22, 2005

Another final Bow Road update: Sorry, there's more. Just when I thought Metronet had finally left my local tube station alone, they suddenly sneaked back in the middle of last night to install a massive new erection outside the front entrance. And here it is - a big tube sign on a stick.

It seems that a big tube sign on a stick is just what Bow Road station has been missing for the last 100 years. Personally I'm not convinced it was necessary to install a new one in the middle of the forecourt given that there's already a big tube sign on a stick a few feet away just above the station entrance. But surely this new roundel-topped totem pole must be here for a reason. Maybe it's been installed to facilitate instant brand recognition for passengers effecting multi-modal interchange at this major transport node, or some other Transport for London buzzphrase. Maybe it's meant to attract new customers into the station who hadn't previously realised there was a station on the site. Maybe it's a memorial to honour Metronet's big blue portakabins which stood for nearly two years blocking the pavement on this very spot. Maybe it's meant to replace the cycle racks which they removed when Bow Road's modernisation programme began. Maybe it's really a giant sundial, installed as part of some oh-so-worthy East End arts project, except that nobody's got round to painting the hours on the pavement yet. Maybe it's meant to become a focus for wholesome community activities such as carol singing or maypole dancing. Or maybe it's just for local residents to tie their pitbulls to. Whatever the case, it's good to see that £3.5 million of public money continues to be well spent.

9 things I did yesterday (and a blatant lie*)
1) Went Christmas shopping again and was a bit more successful (but still didn't buy very much).
2) Failed to spot a famous journalist walking straight past me, and had to have them pointed out (by which time it was too late and they'd disappeared).
3) Watched as TV cameras filmed the shelves at HMV being stacked with Shayne's new (bland, banal and utterly dismal) X Factor single.
4) Discovered something unexpected, gobsmacking and unprintable about a major soap star.
5) Increased from seven to eight the number of bloggers on my sidebar who I've actually met in real life - cheers!
6*) Received a Christmas card out of the blue from somebody I went to university with (damn, I need to send them one now).
7) Despaired at Arsenal's close-scrape win against Doncaster in the Carling Cup (on penalties, after extra time, oh the near-shame of it)
8) Went on a guided tour behind the scenes at BBC Television Centre (the studios were so empty that you'd think all the Beeb's Christmas shows were pre-recorded).
9) Found a book in Waterstones which shouldn't have had a 'Half Price' sticker on the front, and got it for half price.
10) Queued for ages to buy an advance train ticket so that I can escape the metropolis tomorrow.

 Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Christmas shopping update
Time taken: 5 hours
Destination: all of Regent Street, all of Oxford Street
Celebrity shopper seen: Vic Reeves
Number of presents bought: 1
Number of presents still to buy: all the rest
Amount of annual leave entitlement wasted: 4%

Conditions in the West End weren't too unbearable yesterday. The pavements weren't too congested, the shops weren't too crowded and the queues at the tills weren't ridiculously long. But that still didn't make my shopping any easier. I prowled the hallowed halls of Selfridges, but found only squirty smellies and labelled luxuries. I scoured high and low in Waterstones and Borders, but found nothing more recent than all the same old books that have been piled high since November. I investigated the absolute bargains in the closing down sale at Dickins and Jones, but was left unmoved by several floors of cut-price women's clothing. I ventured deep inside various well-known high street chain stores, but decided their pre-packed gift sets made less than perfect presents. And I even made it as far as the top floor of Hamleys, but the only thing I left the store with was a light sprinkling of snow from walking down their 'Narnia Staircase'. Abject failure.

I hate Christmas shopping, mainly because I'm not very good at it. I see other people swanning down the street trailing an abundance of bulging carrier bags, but I just can't follow suit myself. It shouldn't be so difficult. After all, the advertising and media industries have been telling me precisely what I ought to be buying since the middle of October. But where others see must-have gift ideas and purchasing possibilities, I just see lots of over-priced products that nobody (surely?) really wants. I just can't match up presents to people because I lack retail empathy. And by the end of yesterday's weary trudge round central London I decided I might eventually end up this Christmas without finding anybody anything worth buying. Where am I going wrong?

I think I worry too much about what I'm giving. I agonise over every purchase I make because I want it to be right, even though I don't usually have a clue what right is. A badly-chosen present reflects badly on the buyer, I reckon, so I take care to ensure that each person I'm buying for will actually like what they receive. I hope that when they unwrap my gift they won't just grunt semi-appreciatively whilst glancing briefly at the contents with a disinterested stare, then later (when I'm not looking) stick it unused in a drawer, hide it in a cardboard box in the garage or donate it to the Oxfam shop down the road. I'd rather buy somebody nothing than buy them thoughtless rubbish. Lofty ambitions, I know, and clearly very wrong.

What I really need to learn is that Christmas isn't so much about what I give, it's about actually giving something in the first place. People would much rather receive rubbish than receive nothing, because buying nothing looks thoughtless (even when it isn't). So I'll be back out on Oxford Street again today, ploughing through all the tat and trinkets in a continued desperate attempt to keep everybody else happy before I run out of shopping days to waste. Maybe I should just buy them all socks and be done with it.

 Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Extract from The Nibbles Diet (dg Books, £12.99)

Mid-December sees the start of the party season (or, if you move in media circles, the continuation of the party season). It's at this very special time of year that many rational human beings abandon all thoughts of coherent nutrition and exist instead on a diet of alcohol, vol-aux-vents, salsa dips, canapes and sausage rolls. It sounds like a deadly combination, but you can help to avoid the risk of a premature festive heart attack if you follow these ten simple steps.

1) Don't go to a party on an empty stomach.
If your gut is already full of something bulky like toad-in-the-hole or pizza before you arrive, you won't feel like topping it up with tiny mini versions of the same food.

2) Mingle.
Never sit or stand in the same place for too long at a party, otherwise you run the risk of polishing off that nearby large bowl of olives all by yourself.

3) Go vegetarian.
Vegetarians rarely risk eating the food at parties because they can never be 100% certain whether that breadcrumbed globe contains cheese or chicken - not until it's too late, anyway.

4) Have another drink.
It's strange how shovelling fat-soaked pastries into your mouth feels wholly guilt-free when you're rat-arsed.

5) Always eat five portions of vegetables every day.
Three celery sticks, a carrot baton and a lettuce leaf should be enough. Just don't ruin the effect by dipping them into something oily and calorific.

6) Don't start eating the peanuts.
Peanuts are more addictive than crack cocaine. Just one nibble and you'll be compelled to finish the whole bagful. Keep clear.

7) Think how many third world children could be fed for the cost of that dainty melt-in-the-mouth filo tartlet you're eyeing up lasciviously.
Probably a villageful.

8) Sign up for that January gym membership now.
After all, these nibbles are nothing compared to the munchfest of turkey, pudding and chocolates that you're about to pour down your gullet over the next week.

9) Imagine that the mysterious breadcrumbed parcel you're about to put into your mouth is in fact from the set of I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and contains either fish eyes or kangaroo gonads.
Works every time.

10) Become an anti-social recluse.
If you never get invited to parties in the first place, your waistline should be perfectly safe.

 Monday, December 19, 2005

Olympic train

Platform 12 at Stratford station is a lonely place. Not quite as lonely, admittedly, as the tumbledown boarded-up buildings on platform 11 opposite, but pretty bleak all the same. It lies tucked away out of sight to the north of the station at the end of a twisting whitewashed subway, up which almost nobody ever ventures, and a world away from the station's busy mainline and Underground platforms. Earlier in the year this forgotten platform saw just two trains a day - one inbound from Cheshunt at about 8am and the other outbound just before 6pm. This was one of Network Rail's ghost services, of absolutely no use whatsoever to regular travellers but still sufficient to keep the line open. But as of last week, with the introduction of the new winter timetable, platform 12 now host to a full regular rail service to Stansted Airport. It's only one train every hour, which is a bit feeble for a cross London service, but it's still a great improvement on one single journey in each direction each day. Between Stratford and Tottenham Hale the new service runs along three miles of track last used for regular passenger services in 1992. This part of the route meanders along the more remote stretches of the Lea Valley, including the edge of the proposed Olympic site, with no intermediate stations or major centres of population for nearly five miles along the way. Not surprisingly the trains aren't exactly packed at the moment, but there's still plenty to see out of the window... as I discovered when I rode the ghost train at the weekend.

Stratford International: Peer north through the buddleia as the train pulls out of Stratford station and all you can see is a vast expanse of flattened building site. In the near distance surrounded by mud is a giant glass box, its windows covered by a swirling Olympic ribbon. In 18 months time this giant glass box will be Stratford International station, sparkling jewel of the East London rail network and gateway to the continent via the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Look carefully as the train heads north and you can see down into the new station box, a vast cavern carved deep out of the earth, and maybe catch a glimpse of several parallel rail tracks and one of the new platforms. Give it a few more years and the surrounding wasteland will be transformed into a Stratford City, a major regional development centre complete with shops, businesses and housing. It's hard to believe, rumbling past, that this nowhere will soon be a really important somewhere.
Eastway Cycle Circuit: Just before the railway plunges beneath the A12, look up to the left and you might catch sight of a silhouetted mountain biker zipping across an artificial hillock. Beyond this embankment lies East London's finest cross country cycling circuit, now doomed to be demolished and replaced by the Olympic Village and a hockey stadium. Perversely a new velodrome will then be built a few hundred yards away on land to the north of the A12, although this cycling facility ought to be permanent once the Olympics have finished.
New Spitalfields Market: Most Londoners know Spitalfields Market as that quaint building in Shoreditch where they sell stripy knitwear, mystic tat and veggie noodly-type snacks. But for three centuries Spitalfields was London's main fruit and vegetable market, until in 1991 all business moved out to new custom-built warehouses in Leyton. The new Lea valley rail service chugs right alongside, allowing you to view the exterior of this vast market building (pictured) and maybe peer in through aluminium shutters to see where London's barrowboys now ply their trade.
Hackney Marshes: A curving meander brings the wooded banks of the River Lea right up beside the train. The extensive marshes to the west were only reclaimed from the river sixty years ago, filled in by lorryloads of Second World War rubble. Nowadays Hackney Marshes are most famous for their record-breaking set of 87 football pitches, packed out each week with a succession of amateur Sunday league matches. A real East London institution (but, alas, partially threatened by future Olympic plans).
Walthamstow Marshes: An almost-untouched swathe of common grassland, used by local people for the grazing of cattle since at least medieval times. Only the railway intrudes across the marshes, leaving the remainder of the area as a refuge for wildlife, walkers and cyclists. A blue plaque on one of the railway arches commemorates a British aviation first - "Under these arches Alliott Verdon Roe assembled his Avro No1 triplane. In July 1909 he made the first all-British powered flight from Walthamstow Marsh". Unfortunately I got to experience the silent desolation of the marshes for a full 50 minutes thanks to an unexpected points breakdown at the junction ahead (where the Stratford line joins the existing line out of Liverpool Street). Our driver may have been helpful, informative and even sociable as we waited for signalmen to shift the rails to let us pass, but I suspect I could have reached Stansted considerably faster by coach.

 Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmas in E15

Stratford Shopping Centre is littered with cheap baubles and artificial garlands
The tinny sound of Slade echoes through a shop doorway
Deck the malls with plastic holly

This year's must-have bargains are box-shaped (batteries are not included)
Bulky bags dangle low from sovereign-ringed hands
Everybody's buying dreams for Christmas

Toddlers queue to see Santa's hideaway beneath a magic fibreglass windmill
A council clown twists balloon headgear in pink and yellow
Wide eyes gaze in awe and wonder

Market traders hawk two quid towels, loose satsumas and stacks of pirate DVDs
Shuffling pensioners queue for a gossip and a warm mince pie
Fat fleeces fill the aisles

Mum tries to keep her brood occupied while Dad sneaks unnoticed into Argos
Hoodied couples squander their dole money on one another, with love
Everybody's in a shopping daze

Local residents may not believe in Christ, but they believe in Christmas
Poor families are afflicted with consumption
Stratford's stocking up

 Saturday, December 17, 2005

Cards posted

I spent much of last night slaving over a hot inkjet, printing off scores of Christmas cards ready to go in the post this morning. I had a mild scare when my printer refused point-blank to print in colour, although closer inspection revealed that the 'new' cartridge I'd just installed had a use-by date of August 2003 and had therefore self-destructed or clogged-up or something. A fresh replacement cartridge (expires 2007) solved the problem, but that means I've now spent at least three times as much money on ink as I have on stamps, card and envelopes. I sometimes liken printer companies to organised drug dealers, luring us in by selling us an implausibly cheap reproductive device, then fleecing us at regular intervals as we struggle to feed our machine's insatiable ink habit. Anyway, cards printed.

I spent much of last night copying addresses onto envelopes ready to go in the post this morning. As I slogged through the list it dawned on me that I'd not sent anything to the great majority of these addresses since the same time last year. It was particularly grim to realise just how few people from my past I'm still in communication with. I have just one contact to show for over a decade of schooling, a mere five from my time at university and only one from the large group of people I worked with during the first job I ever had. It's amazing how so many people who were once at the very heart of my life are now forgotten footnotes, lost somewhere out there in an anonymous corner of Britain at an unknown address doing unknown things. And as for my current work colleagues, all 30 of whom are getting a card this year, I wonder how few will still be on my Christmas list in ten years time. Anyway, envelopes written.

I spent much of this morning trudging up to the local sorting office to post my cards, and to collect a package which couldn't be delivered yesterday while I was at work. It's possible to fit either 72 CDs or 20 books in my letterbox (I just checked) but, once Amazon have slapped a great big slab of protective cardboard packaging around them, my postman can't even get one CD and one book through the slot. Never mind, it was a lovely, crisp morning for a walk, and my envelopes dropped into the big red pillar box with a deeply satisflying clunk. So, cards posted.

When I got home I found that three more cards had just arrived. One contained a brief potted summary of what had been going on in the sender's family's lives over the last twelve months (Sarah's joined the police, Julie plans to go to Ghana and Nicola's working in an orphanage) and then, rather pointedly, asked me what I'd been up to. But too late, because their card went into the postbox half an hour earlier, so they'll have to wait another 52 weeks for my reply (assuming I remember). And the other two cards both contained brief "we really must get together soon" messages, just as they have done for the last few years, with the usual absolutely tiny probability of either of us actually deciding to make it happen. It's a strange thing, sending small pieces of folded cardboard every Christmas to people we'd not otherwise speak to, just to maintain the illusion of continuing communication. Sometimes I think that if it weren't for Christmas, I'd have lost contact with almost everybody I ever knew. And, even though most of that contact is a sham anyway, I'm glad we all still at least try. So, Happy Christmas, whoever you were.

 Friday, December 16, 2005

Silver discs (December 1980)
A monthly look back at the top singles of 25 years ago

The not-quite-Christmas Top 10 (16th December 1980)
1) (↑20) John Lennon - Just Like Starting Over: One week after Lennon's untimely death, his latest single rose twenty places to top the chart (which is still one of the biggest ever leaps to reach the number 1 position). Joined in the Top 10 the following week by both Happy Christmas War Is Over and Imagine. The nation expressed its grief in sales of vinyl.
"It's been too long since we took the time, no-one's to blame, I know time flies so quickly. But when I see you darlin', it's like we both are falling in love again, it'll be just like starting over "
2) (→) St Winifred's School Choir - There's No One Quite Like Grandma: Was there ever a more sickly-sweet chart-topper? Performed by a choir of pink angels in sensible school blouses and short trousers, bought by their peer group as a thought-free festive gift, and adored by a doting generation of grandmothers who probably didn't even own a gramophone on which to play it. A rare outbreak of emotional distaste saw this record topple John Lennon from the Christmas number 1 slot the following week. And I still cringe when I hear that girl singing.
"And one day when we're older, we'll look back and say, there's no one quite like Grandma, she has helped us on our way"
3) (→) Jona Lewie - Stop The Cavalry: Surely one of the finest Christmas records ever made (which would have made number 1 in the New Year had it not been for John Lennon's murder). A bouncy breathy melody with a haunting brass band backing and some subtle anti-war lyrics sprinkled on top for good measure. Absolutely enchanting, and still hasn't lost its sparkle 25 years later.
"Bang goes another bomb on another town, while the Czar and Jim have tea. If I get home, live to tell the tale, I'll run for all presidencies. If I get elected I'll stop, I will stop the cavalry"
4) (↓3) Abba - Super Trouper: The last of Abba's nine chart-toppers, and the only Number 1 song ever written about a) Glasgow, and b) a 1956 followspot stagelamp.
5) (↑4) Police - De Do Do Do De Da Da Da: Some deep meaningful words there from the pen of philosopher Sting.
6) (↓2) Madness - Embarrassment: If you ever thought this was a cheery chirpy cockney record, think again. No, think mixed-race pregnancy and narrow-minded family prejudice instead.
7) (↓2) Boomtown Rats - Banana Republic: If you ever thought this was a jaunty bubbly reggae record, think again. No, think "Bob Geldof really pissed off by petty Irish bureaucracy" instead.
8) (↓2) Spandau Ballet - To Cut A Long Story Short: I mentioned last month how much I adored this record. In December the rest of the country caught up with me.
9) (↑1) Stray Cats - Runaway Boys: Do you remember this as an uplifting rockabilly street anthem, or do you just remember lead singer Brian Setzer's unfeasibly large quiff?
10) (↑6) Adam And The Ants - Antmusic: Stuart Goddard's signature tune spent its first week in the Top 10 (so unplug the jukebox and do us all a favour).

20 other hits from 25 years ago: Do You Feel My Love (Eddy Grant), Flash (Queen), Lady (Kenny Rogers), Lies (Status Quo), Celebration (Kool And The Gang), Rock'n'Roll Ain't Noise Pollution (AC/DC), Rabbit (Chas'n'Dave), Love On The Rocks (Neil Diamond), Don't Walk Away (ELO), Over The Rainbow (Matchbox), Lonely Together (Barry Manilow), Never Mind The Presents (Barron Knights), December Will Be Magic (Kate Bush), Too Nice To Talk To (Beat), Blue Moon (Showaddywaddy), Looking For Clues (Robert Palmer), Do Nothing (Specials), This Wreckage (Gary Numan), It's Hard To Be Humble (Mac Davies), Lorraine (Bad Manners) ...which hit's your favourite?

 Thursday, December 15, 2005

diamond geezer's three hundred thousandth visitor just dropped by. If you're reading this then it wasn't you. But I thought I'd take this milestone opportunity to say hello to some of my regular readers. Hello. In particular I'd like to say hello to my regular readers who access this site from work and really ought to be doing something productive instead.

A bit of digging around in my site stats over the last couple of days has revealed regular readers of this blog at the following major organisations: Houses of Parliament, Ministry of Defence, European Union, Westminster City Council, the BBC, News International, The Royal Society, IBM UK, Goldman Sachs, a big US Army Base in Germany
And (you loafing scoundrels) at the following universtities: University of Nottingham, University of York, University of Bradford, University of Liverpool, University of Leicester, Queen Mary's University London, University College London (at least three of you!), Imperial College London, City University, University of Greenwich

Hello to you all. Go on, identify yourselves in the comments box, I dare you. And my apologies to those of you who I've missed out because your IT departments use less obviously recognisable server addresses (unless, of course, that's a good thing). Back to work now!

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