Tuesday, January 31, 2006
The best of January
TV programme of the month: Predictable I know, but Celebrity Big Brother had me glued to my screen for three weeks (and probably not for the reason you expect). Yes, I adored the growing realisation that my local MP was making a complete and utter fool of himself, hammering another nail into his political coffin with every smug self-righteous outburst. Yes, I loved the inspired mix of celebs and non-celeb ricocheting their fragile personalities off one another. But most of all I admired the sheer creativity of the Channel 4 production team in devising ever more devious tasks and situations which allowed the housemates' true selves to shine through. You probably didn't see Big Brother singing '100 Green Bottles' to Preston in the Diary Room on the penultimate day, for example, but it was yet another example of ingenious simplicity. Much like "Now, would you like me... to be the cat?" - simple, but deadly.
Single/Album of the month: Very very occasionally I hear a song from an unknown band on the radio, once, and then feel an urgent need to rush out and buy the album. It doesn't happen very often, but it happened with Australian band Cut Copy and a single play of their latest single, Going Nowhere, on BBC 6 Music. I thought, if the rest of the album's like this, all indie rock with an 80s electro twist, sort of Daft Punk meets New Order, then it'll be excellent. And it is. The best tracks are the two previous singles, the chugging 'Future' and the bleeping 'Saturdays' (both of which can be heard on the band's myspace site), but the rest of Bright Like Neon Love is pretty damned good too. I'm just eight months late in appreciating it.
Football result of the month: Arsenal 7, Middlesbrough 0. Please concentrate on this blinding performance, and you might not notice Arsenal's poor league form and dismal cup exits during the rest of the month. Thankyou.
Book of the month: Publishers appear to have decreed that January is self-improvement month, forcing upon us a seasonal diet of diet books and exercise manuals. Anyone would think we were all fat and depressed after Christmas or something. Stuff that, I thought, so I went out instead and bought the paperback edition of Christian Wolmar's snappily titled The Subterranean Railway: How the London Underground Was Built and How It Changed the City Forever. What can I say, except that if you like this sort of thing then you'll really like it. Highly detailed and authoritative. But you won't lose any weight reading it, sorry.
Film of the month: I suspect I should have gone to see Brokeback Mountain, or maybe Jarhead, or even King Kong. But I didn't. Never mind - I'm sure they'll be on telly at Christmas in 2008, so I'll watch them then.
posted 07:00 :
Olympic update: Yesterday morning I lived 250 metres from the edge of London's Olympic Zone. This morning I live twice as far away. I haven't moved, but my corner of the Olympic site just shrunk. It's all part of the 2012 authority's revised plans to appease angry local businesses by not relocating quite so many of them. The Fish Island industrial area will no longer be completely obliterated to make way for a month-long temporary coach park. And the planned International Broadcast Centre will now be relocated closer to the Olympic Stadium, reprieving several acres of polluting incinerators, scrapyards and waste disposal units. See the new masterplan here. It's good news for 95 businesses and 1200 existing jobs, even if it does leave intact a big industrial eyesore down by the Bow Flyover. But I'm pleased, because this decision shifts the edge of the Olympic construction zone just that little bit further away from my house. I don't mind a slightly longer walk to the Olympics in 2012 if that means not having to look at a grim high-security building site every day for the next six years.
posted 00:05 :
Monday, January 30, 2006Important Memo from the Chief Blog Executive: Internet Downsize Redeployment Update
As you will no doubt be aware, the final report of the International Working Party on Blog Rationalisation has recently been published. The committee was established last year to explore viable methods of counteracting excessive bandwidth sprawl originated by unnecessary web journal diversification. In short, there are far too many blogs out there.
The report's conclusions are as follows:
Every global event is documented and dissected at great length in several thousand blogs.
Content duplication wastes valuable human resources.
The internet contains approximately 26.6 million blogs, which is 26 million too many.
It is therefore with regret that we announce that your blog, diamondgeezer.blogspot.com, has been selected for immediate rationalisation. Please comply with the three key realignment objectives below. Together we can create a more efficient blogosphere.Current location: LondonRemember, all restructuring is for the good of the community, not for the benefit of the individual. Only with your cooperation can current levels of web journal overstaffing be downsized. The blogosphere must be slimmed-down, and you are destined to be the only intermittent kitten blogger in the Canadian Prairies. Please comply with this directive immediately. Your new audience needs you.
There are too many London-based weblogs. There are at least 2579 here, for example. And 392 here. And 231 here. The committee is aware that London is one of the largest and most vibrant urban areas on the planet, but there's really no need for quite so many of its residents to waste their time writing about it. You have therefore been allocated a new (currently under-represented) geographic focus. Please start writing about the quirks and foibles of this new location immediately.
Redeployed location: Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada
Current genre: mixed
Whilst diversification is generally to be welcomed, our analysts have established that your website lacks focus. One day it's local history, the next it's music, the next it's something rather more idiosyncratic. Readers just never quite know what to expect when they arrive here, engendering unnecessary brand niche confusion. Your blog's core mission statement values are therefore demonstrably unidentifiable, and this position is clearly untenable. Please restrict all future posts to the three tag categories indicated below.
Redeployed genre: Military, knitting, and kitten photos
Current post-rate: daily
Long-term statistical research confirms that daily blogging is unnecessarily labour-intensive. You could be out having a life, contributing to your local economy, rather than staying in every evening and writing stuff. The carbon footprint of your readers' combined electricity consumption is also excessively wasteful. Were they to learn to log in less frequently, say a couple of times per month maximum, then global warming might be reversed. Please refrain from posting again until mid-February.
Redeployed post-rate: intermittent
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, January 29, 2006The Year of the Dog (Kung Hei Fat Choi!)
New Year Question: Dogs. Do you like them? Or not?
Please select the appropriate comments box below, and tell me why.
(or just 'woof', if it's easier)
I'm a dog person: I'm not a dog person:
I hate dogs. Nasty slobbery smelly creatures. Their tongues droop with spittle and their fur crawls with fleas. Their breath reeks of decaying flesh and their fangs gleam with evil intent. I hate small dogs which fuss and yap. I hate large dogs which bound and bounce. I hate toy dogs which preen and trot. I hate ferocious dogs which sneer and bite. I hate over-excited dogs which bark and wag. I hate feral dogs which stalk and pounce. I hate wide-eyed dogs which dribble and pant. I hate defensive dogs which guard and growl. I hate the lot. Sorry, but I just can't stand bloody dogs.
I've hated dogs ever since one particular day when I was very little. I was out in the street strapped into my pushchair, defenceless and vulnerable, when a local mongrel had the audacity to bound up and lick me on the face. Apparently it was just trying to be friendly and say hello, but as far as I was concerned this evil dog had invaded my personal space and physically assaulted me. The whole experience quite freaked me out, and I've been nervous and uncomfortable around canine company ever since. I can't sit down in a room containing a dog for fear of being nuzzled. If there's a dog anywhere in the building, I can't settle. I cross the road to avoid an unleashed pet. I think twice about walking down a footpath or country lane just in case I meet a dog halfway along. I'm no recluse, don't get me wrong, but I'd still be much happier in a completely dog-free world.
Dog owners themselves are a strange breed, unfailingly devoted to their shaggy pets. They treat and pamper their dogs like surrogate children. They think nothing of leaving bowls of raw meaty chunks in the corner of their kitchen. They go out walking in all weathers to prevent their dog from becoming restless and gnawing the furniture. They pick up turds in the park in a plastic bag. They get moist-eyed when they see a little puppy on TV advertising toilet paper. They holiday at home rather than have to send their little darling away to kennels. They often think more highly of their dog than they would a small child.
So over the years I've come to realise that my real problem isn't with dogs themselves, but with their owners. If they could keep their pets under control and out of my way, I'd be much calmer. Dog owners don't seem to understand that the rest of us might not share their love of all things canine. They ignore signs reading "Dogs must be kept on a lead" whenever they think it's inappropriate. They watch impassively as their dog sniffs around your private parts, insisting that it's merely "getting to know you". They let their untrained dog run rampage in the park, because they can't be bothered to train it not to. They invite you to sit on their sofa or in the back of their car, causing your clothes to become covered by hundreds of strands of sticky white hair. They insist that their dog isn't vicious, but just playful. They erect signs outside their house which read "Warning: this dog bites", then wonder why they never get any visitors. They look shocked if you ask them to lock their Alsatian away in the kitchen when you come to visit. They tell you not to be frightened of their over-eager barking pet because it can "smell fear". In short, they think of their dog first and other people second.
Yes, I know that not all dog owners are quite so selfishly short-sighted, and that not all dogs are untrained malevolent beasts. But dogs are not this man's best friend. I suspect, when it all boils down to it, that I'm with the Chinese on this one...
posted 00:00 :
Saturday, January 28, 2006Waterloo Sunset - The Kinks (1967)
"Terry and Julie cross over the river
Where they feel safe and sound
And they don't need no friends
As long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset
They are in paradise"
posted 08:00 :
Friday, January 27, 2006Streets of London
The Road To Hell - Chris Rea (1989)
And finally to the very outskirts of London, to the orbital motorway notorious for gridlock and misery. The M25 usefully bypasses the centre of town, but combines this convenience with considerable congestion. Here long-distance lorry drivers jam together with suburban commuters in a never-ending crawl of traffic, and stress levels spiral ever upwards. It's enough to drive any sane motorist to distraction. Chris Rea very sensibly expressed all his road rage in song and made a fortune out of the experience.
"Well I’m standing by a river but the water doesn’t flow
It boils with every poison you can think of...
This ain't no upwardly mobile freeway
Oh no, this is the road to hell"
25 (highly clickable) M25 facts:
The M25 is approximately 118 miles long (and slightly longer clockwise than anti-clockwise).
The M25 isn't a complete circle. The six mile section across the Thames from Thurrock to Dartford is designated the A282 (so that non-motorway traffic can cross the river).
The M25 interchanges with nine other motorways - the M20, M26, M23, M3, M4, M40, M1, A1(M) and M11.
Keep an eye on M25 motorway jams here.
Today's photograph comes from Jag over at Route 79. He normally goes out of his way to avoid the M25, but decided to risk it for the first time in ten years on his way to a wedding reception last summer. Alas the journey from Slough to the M11 took 2½ hours (causing foot-ache, shoulder-ache, neck-ache and severe driving-nowhere-stress) and he arrived both shattered and late. I'm sure most local readers have similar stories, don't you?
The M25 has 31 junctions, from J1 (south of the Dartford Tunnel) clockwise round to J31 (north of the Dartford Tunnel). [full exit list here]
Most of the motorway has six lanes (three each way), but road widening means there are now ten lanes between junctions 12 and 14 and twelve lanes between junctions 14 and 15.
At junction 5 near Sevenoaks drivers have to follow the slip roads to stay on the M25, or else they end up on the M26 or A21 instead.
Five key destinations are used on all the direction signs round the M25 - Dartford Tunnel, Gatwick, Heathrow, Watford and Harlow.
My brother and I would like to apologise to my Mum for 'accidentally' directing her onto the M25 a few days after passing her driving test.
Pre-war planners proposed four concentric ringroads around London. Much of Ringway 2 became the North and South Circular Roads, while the M25 is based on parts of Ringway 3 and Ringway 4. [read a very full history here]
39 different public enquiries were held before the M25 was completed. Several extra junctions were added to appease local residents, which is one of the reasons why congestion on the motorway is far worse than originally planned.
The motorway north of the Thames was originally going to be called the M16 [here's a map], but planners later decided that the loop should be called the M25 all the way round.
The M25 finally was built in several short stages between 1975 to 1986. The first section, between South Mimms and Potters Bar, was just three miles long. [here's a map]
Margaret Thatcher officially opened the final stretch of the M25 (again at South Mimms) in October 1986 by cutting a ribbon across the tarmac. "I must say I can't stand those who carp and criticise when they ought to be congratulating Britain on a magnificent achievement."
Only J14 (Heathrow), J25 (A10), J28 (A12) and J29 (A127) fall inside Greater London. All the other junctions are outside.
The M25 is at its closest to Central London near Potters Bar (12 miles) and at its furthest near Byfleet, Surrey (20 miles).
The tiny village of North Ockendon is the only settlement in Greater London outside the M25.
Watford (population 80000) is the largest town outside Greater London to lie inside the M25.
Author Iain Sinclair describes his walk all the way round the M25 in the book London Orbital. I so wanted to enjoy it, but I found his prose over-treacly and pretty much unreadable.
Approximately 200,000 vehicles use the section near Heathrow Airport each weekday (double the total of 20 years ago).
There are only three service stations on the M25 - at Clacket Lane (J5-6), South Mimms (J23) and Thurrock (J30-31). A fourth at Iver (J15-16) was planned but has never been built.
I once tried to drive off the M25 to stop at South Mimms service station. Instead I kept ending up in the wrong lane and, after three circuits of the giant roundabout, gave up and returned to the motorway.
The M25's construction costs averaged £7.5m per mile, making it the most expensive motorway ever built in Britain.
Far too much detail about the construction of the M25 can be found here.
posted 00:25 :
Thursday, January 26, 2006Streets of London
Rossmore Road - Barry Andrews (1980)
This week I'm visiting five London streets celebrated in song. Today's song is desperately obscure, which is kind of appropriate because it's about a totally insignificant north London street - Rossmore Road. But this obscurity has one major drawback, which is that only a tiny handful of you will ever have heard this utterly charming song before. And that's a shame, because today's post won't make much sense otherwise.
"Rossmore Road" was written by Barry Andrews (the founder keyboard player with XTC, and later one of the geniuses behind Shriekback) during his brief solo period. For inspiration Barry paid a visit to this minor Marylebone backroad, looked around at the local street furniture and then composed this modest ballad about what he saw. I've loved the song for years, so I went on a pilgrimage to see what's changed down Rossmore Road over the last quarter century. Does Barry's "fine proto-Psychogeographical anthem" still hold true, or not?
"The 159 runs along it" Not any more it doesn't. The 139 took over in 1992. Which is a shame, because I'd liked to have seen London's last Routemaster down Rossmore Road.
"Around the corner from Baker Street" Yes, only a five minute walk from yesterday's location.
"There's a dolls house shop on the corner of Lisson Grove and Rossmore Road" Alas, the miniature furniture emporium on the corner has closed down, replaced by the very ordinary Food Fayre mini-market (pictured). And all because newspapers and samosas are rather more useful to local residents than tiny four-poster beds and replica Welsh dressers.
"Turn left at the DHSS in Lisson Grove, you find yourself in Rossmore Road" No you don't Barry, you find yourself in Hayes Place or Shroton Street. I can't believe you've been lying to me all these years. Rossmore Road's a good 150 yards further north.
"And there's a number of public buildings" A right mixture of public buildings in fact. There's the Fourth Feathers youth and community centre (a 70s brick fortress secured behind unwelcoming steel gates). There are a couple of churches (one offering repentance to ungodly sinners, the other offering line dancing and short mat bowls). And there's also the very marvellous Sylvia Young Theatre School (in a converted Victorian building, complete with hanging baskets) whose previous students include Denise Van Outen, Billie Piper, Emma Bunton and three quarters of All Saints. Bravo.
"And a safety barrier down the middle of the road, in Rossmore Road" No Barry, you're lying to me again. There's a safety barrier along the edge of the road, to stop pedestrians accidentally falling several feet onto Taunton Place or the Chiltern railway, but nothing down the middle.
"In Rossmore Road...
white and yellow lines" Several, although the yellow lines all look rather thin and distinctly amateur. [photo]
"and street signs" Several, mostly parking-related. [photo]
"and public phones" Two, painted black [photo], up at the eastern end opposite the drive-thru florist. [photo]
"and traffic cones" Several, with flashing lamps on top, but only because they're currently doing building work on the railway bridge. [photo]
"and belisha beacons on the central reservation" There is no central reservation, Barry. And any old fashioned flashing yellow globes are long gone. [photo]
"To the north: the Grand Canal" It's hardly Venice, Barry, but the Regent's Canal (about which I wrote tons last summer) runs nearby.
"Round the corner: Regent's Park" True, and much more worthy of a visit.
"Next stop on the tube: Marylebone Road" There is no tube station called Marylebone Road, nor has there ever been, but the platforms of elegant Marylebone station extend almost to within touching distance. [photo]
"And you can see Balcombe Street from Rossmore Road" You can indeed see Balcombe Street, if you look through the blue iron railings just to the right of the London Business School [photo]. Balcombe Street is the kind of glorious London terrace which barristers aspire to live in and English Heritage rush to protect. It's also a notorious street where, back in the 1970s, four IRA gunmen holed up with two hostages for a week long siege. In fact Balcombe Street is far far more characterful and interesting than poor old Rossmore Road, and Barry might well have chosen to write his song about it instead. But I'm glad he didn't.
"All humming now, all humming now, all humming now..."
www.flickr.com : Rossmore Road gallery
(possibly the dullest flickr gallery ever in the history of the world)
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, January 25, 2006Streets of London
Baker Street - Gerry Rafferty (1978)
I'm sure most people who've never been to Baker Street have a very romantic view of Sherlock Holmes' home patch. Perhaps an imposing terrace of Victorian townhouses, with hansom cabs parked up outside and street urchins playfully wheeling hoops over the cobblestones. Or maybe a wide tree-lined boulevard of gas-lit Georgian villas, barely visible through the all-enveloping fog. I hate to disappoint you, but it's not like that at all.
"Winding your way down on Baker Street
Light in your head, and dead on your feet"
Gerry Rafferty was right. You can only wind your way 'down' on Baker Street these days, not up. This key London thoroughfare has become a one-way three-lane arterial highway, complete with partial bus lane and eight sets of traffic lights. Not the best road to cross if you're light in your head, because you do indeed risk ending up dead on your feet. It's as characterless as it sounds, and I really wouldn't bother visiting.
"Well another crazy day, you drink the night away
And forget about everything"
You might expect there'd be several watering holes down a mile-long Central London street but no, there's only the one. That'd be The Volunteer, located right up at the northern tip of Baker Street, close to Regent's Park. I thought the pub's spacious interior looked cosy and welcoming (in a leathery yet homely way), but I bravely resisted the temptation to go inside for a foaming pint. Alcoholics further down the street have to make do with off-licence wine or tinned Tesco lager instead, or perhaps a fine vintage to accompany their meal at one of the elaborate middle-Eastern restaurants.
"This city desert makes you feel so cold,
It's got so many people but its got no soul"
The majority of Baker Street sums up all that's wrong with uninspiring urban development. Imagine the architectural merits, or otherwise, of a postwar office block called 'Accurist House'. Imagine glass-fronted shops selling conservatories and carpets. Imagine identikit banks with beds of flattened cardboard boxes spread outside their entrances. Imagine Marks & Spencer's imposing corporate HQ being systematically demolished to make way for a "450,000 sq ft mixed-use development". And imagine the corporate smothering which is a KFC nextdoor to a Starbucks nextdoor to a Costa nextdoor to a McDonalds nextdoor to a Pret A Manger. In fact the only stretch of road with a modicum of soul is the short section immediately alongside Baker Street tube station, which may just be why HG Wells once lived here.
"Way down the street there's a light in his place
He opens the door, he's got that look on his face"
The most famous address in Baker Street is 221B, the fictional home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's deerstalkered detective. Sightseers attempting to visit the site of Sherlock Holmes' London residence will have been disappointed in the past to find nothing more than a feeble display of cardboard cutout characters in an Abbey building society window. Today they'll probably be even more disappointed to discover no building at all, because the whole of Abbey House has been demolished (bar the the very top tower) and currently awaits a total rebuild. Never mind, because enterprising entrepreneurs have set up a Sherlock Holmes museum-cum-shop just up the road, complete with jolly policeman standing outside the entrance for the benefit of happy-snapping tourists. But be warned. The gold lettering on the lamplit window above the door may read '221B', but the fact that the shop is located immediately between '237 Baker Street' and '241 Baker Street' should suggest that this mock-Victorian emporium is really a bit of a fiddle.
Read 48 (out-of-copyright) Sherlock Holmes stories, for free
posted 07:00 :
Celebrity Big Brother Gallowatch: (24/01/06)
"You're the most selfish, self-obsessed person I've ever met." (George Galloway to Michael Barrymore)
"You're the type that goes out and gets papers to see if you're in them." (Michael Barrymore to George Galloway)
Please evict my local MP tonight (09011 323304 - calls cost 50p)
posted 00:00 :
Tuesday, January 24, 2006Streets of London
'A' Bomb in Wardour Street - The Jam (1978)
"'A' bomb in Wardour Street, it's blown up the City
Now it's spreading through the country"
You get the feeling listening to this angry anthem that Paul Weller and pals weren't particular fans of late 70s Wardour Street. This was the heart of London clubland, home to the Wag and the Marquee, and also the epicentre of the burgeoning punk rock movement. Alas the new wave scene was in danger of being overtaken by violent racist thugs, so the Jam penned this retaliatory two-finger salute in unbridled defiance. Much of the street has since fallen victim to stifling commercial dullness, but certain buildings stand out as more odious than the rest. I took a walk from Leicester Square to Oxford Street to see which three sites still deserve to be nuked. With a very small, target-specific, people-friendly 'A' bomb, of course. Here's my choice of three ground zeros:
'A' Bomb 1: The Swiss Centre
"Where the streets are paved with blood,
with cataclysmic overtones"
In 1962 the Swiss tourist board erected this plastic palace as their London showcase. You probably remember the Swiss Centre as the building with the chiming cowherd clock. Every hour, on the hour, passers by assembled in mass amazement beneath this mechanical marvel to gawp at a few Alpine marionettes jerking along to a cowbell symphony. As musical spectacles go it was semi-charming the first time you saw it, and downright irritating on all subsequent occasions. But time has not been kind (who is this 'Switzerlad', for example - some kind of teenage lout in lederhosen?). Many of the Centre's more exclusive businesses have moved out to be replaced by cheap souvenir shops, and the stilted musical milkmaids no longer perform. But it looks like my desire to see this building demolished is about to come true, and within the next few months. An Irish property company recently snapped up the freehold and plan to build a new hotel on the site with penthouse apartments and "ground and first floor brand retailing, bars & restaurants." This new development may give Leicester Square a valuable facelift, but I fear I might just prefer the building the way it used to be.
'A' Bomb 2: Scotch Steak House
"Fear and hate linger in the air,
A strictly no-go deadly zone"
These garish restaurants lie in wait on every other street corner in the West End, alternating with the disturbingly similar Aberdeen and Angus Steak Houses. The 'traditional' menu ensnares passing tourists and theatregoers who probably believe they're about to experience genuine Highland cooking. Alas not. Indeed one sure sign of Scottish culinary excellence is that there are no Scotch Steak Houses north of the border. Potential diners are likely to be ushered into one of the restaurant's nauseatingly plush red-green booths (probably designed by a colour-blind vegetarian). Here they risk ordering bland sirloin and damp French fries, served up by disinterested Eastern European waitresses who've never been anywhere near Aberdeen in their lives, then picking the watery tomato out of their limp salad and vowing never to return. Americans be warned. Next time be brave enough to cross Shaftesbury Avenue and sample some genuine Chinatown cuisine instead.
'A' Bomb 3: Ann Summers
"Through the haze I can see my girl,
15 geezers got her pinned to the door"
When I was about ten years old, my Mum had to accompany me to visit an upstanding musical instrument shop located just off Wardour Street. I'd never ventured this far into deepest, darkest Soho before, and I couldn't understand why I was being led so cautiously, and yet so quickly through these narrow streets. Little did I know at the time how many dodgy establishments existed in the vicinity, peddling lurid literature and latex accessories of a dubious nature. I'm rather older now, but I'm still somewhat shocked every time I see a full-on display of sexual accoutrements in a Soho sex shop window. I know very well what lurks inside without having it thrust in my face, so to speak, but I still fear for the continued innocence of any passing ten year-olds. "Mummy, why is that nurse's uniform so short?" "Mummy, what's a pussy pouch?" "Mummy, can I have a rampant rabbit?" Hell, even mainstream Oxford Street contains an upfront Ann Summers pornmart these days. OK, maybe this backstreet branch doesn't need an 'A' bomb, just a carefully whitewashed window. But thanks Mum, all the same.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, January 23, 2006Streets of London Electric Avenue - Eddy Grant (1983) "We're gonna rock down to Electric Avenue And then we'll take it higher" Turn left out of Brixton tube station, walk a few paces past the Iceland supermarket and stop when you reach the dodgy geezer selling cheap fags for a couple of quid a packet. There, to your left, is the narrow market street of Electric Avenue. It curves sharply round towards the railway viaduct, hemmed in between tall Victorian terraces like a deep urban canyon. It's not a long street, barely a couple of minutes' walk from end to end, but you'd be hard-pushed to walk that fast when the market's in full swing. Few streets in London have quite so much character compressed into such a short space. Electric Avenue is so named because, back in the 1860s, it was the first street in the South London area to be lit by new-fangled electricity. The shops in their tall terraces were erected in 1888, and Electric Avenue rapidly became the fashionable retail centre of Victorian Brixton. Gents in top hats and ladies in crinolines came to buy daily comestibles from the butcher's counter or the baker's van. Well-scrubbed shops lined up along both sides of the street, with the pavements covered by a continuous row of elegant iron canopies. And so the good life continued, until wartime bomb damage wiped out the southwestern terrace, and the buildings' remaining ironwork fell gradually into disrepair and was removed. Electric Avenue is still very much a shopping street, but its importance and prestige are long gone. Full pictorial history of Electric Avenue (from urban75) "Working so hard like a soldier Can't afford a thing on TV Deep in my heart I abhor ya Can't get food for them kid, good God" Can't afford a thing on TV? No problem, because nobody down Electric Avenue sells anything that might have been advertised on TV anyway. And you'd have to be in dire financial difficulties not to be able to afford the food on sale here either. Fruit and vegetables appear to be the top seller, many of them with a Caribbean flavour, reflecting the area's post-Windrush population. Stalls and shopfronts are piled high with plantains (five for a quid), pineapples and coco yams, as well as boxes full of mysterious, white, knobbly globes (which I still can't identify). Several butchers shops remain, most of them advertising halal meat, and each staffed by a crowd of eager young men in blood-stained aprons. Here scrawny plucked chickens hang limply from rails above the counter - this is 'best boiling chicken', apparently, and a real bargain at three birds for a fiver. Other stalls sell West Indian sauces and Rasta-themed clothing, as well as the usual market mix of mobile phone covers, cheap cleaning products and suspiciously counterfeit DVDs. A multi-ethnic mix of shoppers throng the narrow pavements, with blue plastic carrier bags and tartan trolleys their receptacles of choice. Pensive pensioners pick patiently through piles of peaches, or else search out a nice bit of fish for their supper. An old man in a tall woolly hat stands smiling in front of an nail salon, the portable hi-fi hanging from his left hand pumping out muffled reggae into the busy street. And it's not difficult to scratch the surface and spot the illicit black market trading going on here, particularly every time some anonymous bloke approaches you muttering "skunk, weed, skunk, weed" under his breath. "Now in the street there is violence And a lots of work to be done No place to hang out our washing And I can't blame all on the sun, oh no" The most violent incident in the history of Electric Avenue occurred in April 1999. Extremist loner David Copeland kicked off a fortnight of terror in the capital by leaving a bag containing a homemade nailbomb beside a busy bus stop in Brixton High Street. Market traders were suspicious and moved the sports holdall into Electric Avenue, where it suddenly exploded seconds later injuring 39 people. A plaque on the wall of the Iceland supermarket commemorates the victims, and the united strength of the local community. During my visit I was a little perturbed to be targeted by earnest churchfolk standing on the very spot where the explosion took place. Presumably they thought my soul might be suffering from "disapointments", "panic attacks" and "inner emptyness", and that their miraculous tales of healing might motivate me to join their chain of prayer. Also no. Shady deals and petty crime may be rife down Electric Avenue, but the street's not that depressing. But Eddy Grant was right about one thing - whatever you do don't try to hang out your washing, because the pigeons will almost certainly spoil it.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, January 22, 2006Streets of London
The streets of London have inspired thousands of songs (and even the odd symphony) over the years. Far more music than has ever been written about Birmingham, Belgrade or Baltimore, that's for sure. Maybe it's the brooding history of the place, maybe it's the bustling arty culture of the city, or maybe it's just that so many musicians actually live here. Whatever the case, there's certainly a lot of London music about. [Wikipedia list here]
So I've been to visit five London streets celebrated in song, and over the coming week I'll report back on what's there and whether they were actually worth singing about in the first place. Starting tomorrow.
They're all roads, not places, so no White Man in Hammersmith Palais or (I don't want to go to) Chelsea. And they're all about London, so no Do the Strand (which is a dance) or Stanley Road (which is in Woking). Maybe you can second-guess which roads I'll be visiting. But I've picked my five songs and places already, so you won't show me somewhere that'll make me change my mind.
posted 09:00 :
Streets of London (music, if not words, by Ralph McTell)
Have you seen the young men every hundred metres
Selling the Big Issue in their worn out shoes?
Two quid a time in pity, to survive our winter city,
Then off to sleep in doorways under yesterday's news.
So how can you tell me London’s lovely
And say the pavements here are made of gold?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through a sea of litter
I'll show you something to make your blood run cold.
Have you seen the charity workers lurking with their clipboards?
"Can you spare a minute for leukaemia or the blind?"
Whenever they start talking, you just keep right on walking,
Sometimes it's much better to be cruel to be kind.
Have you seen the tourists outside the Trocadero,
Blocking up the pavement with a camera in their hand?
They make you slow your pace, shove a rucksack in your face,
The Mayor should pass a law to get their wheelie cases banned.
Have you seen the young girls along the streets of Mayfair
Heads all facing downward, made up older than their years?
They came here seeking fame, but now they’re on the game,
London's fascination isn't all that it appears.
posted 08:59 :
Saturday, January 21, 2006LONDON - a tourist guide for Whales
London has always welcomed visitors from around the world. Visitors from every continent, every race and creed. And now, with the appearance of a bottlenosed whale in the River Thames, London welcomes its very first non-human tourist. I suppose it was only a matter of time before higher-order mammals recognised our city's cultural heritage, lively nightlife and period charm. There's certainly plenty in our capital for a highly intelligent sea creature to enjoy. Here are the top ten Thames-side tourist attractions for whales:
1) Thames Cruise: Join thousands of other tourists and take a trip up the meandering river past countless famous landmarks. It's the best way to see the capital (and, if you're a whale, also the only way). Try to avoid the boats full of TV crews, port officials, cameramen and marine experts.
2) London Aquarium: London's only 5-star hotel for whales, dolphins and other fishy life. Unfortunately most residents don't seem to have the option of checking out.
3) Houses of Parliament: This riverside Gothic palace is more well known for its sharks than its whales. And whatever you do don't swim too close, because the over-twitchy inhabitants have set up an exclusion zone (which extends out even into the river).
4) Billingsgate Fish Market: Where better to dine out than at this fine fish restaurant (turn right at West India Dock).
5) Tower of London: Come swim in the historic waters beside Traitor's Gate, the riverside entrance to London's medieval fortress. And if you could blow your spout in the waters beneath Tower Bridge, that would make the perfect photo opportunity for the thousands of whale watchers lining the riverbanks. Thanks.
6) Chelsea Harbour: Larger-than-life Russian émigrés are always welcome here (and at the football club just up Battersea Creek).
7) Windsor Castle: If you've swum upstream as far as Windsor then you're probably in big trouble. But please note - the Prince of Whales doesn't actually live here.
8) Pool of London: Why not rest awhile on a luxurious pebbly Thames-side beach? Just try not to look sick or ill, otherwise boatloads of 'caring' animal rescue workers will be along like a shot to give you a lethal injection.
9) National Maritime Museum: This Greenwich treasurehouse tells the story of how Britain once ruled the oceans. It carefully ignores the fact that whales ruled the oceans for several millennia before that.
10) Greenland Dock: Don't mention it out loud, but this huge man-made harbour used to be the home of London's 17th century whaling industry. Big ships would sail to the Arctic, harpoon a few lovable mammals and then bring them home to Rotherhithe to be cut open and sold. Sssh, we all love whales now.
posted 08:00 :
Friday, January 20, 2006What if... station names on the London Underground were renamed after multinational corporate sponsors?
(Come on, it could happen)
Heinz Park Corner Nestlé Hill Gate Toblerone Court Road Colgate Garden Mornington Crest Elastoplast & Castile Walkers-loo Oxo-ford Circus Black & Decker Friars Canon Street Kitkat St Pancras Basildon Bond Street Vicks-toria Paddington Pro-V Panasonic Circus Maxwell House L’Oreal Street Seven Up Sisters Cock Fosters Canada Dry Water Great Potnoodle Street Vauxhall Astra St Arbuck’s Wood Charing Cross & Blackwell
Wednesday 9pm update:
Pimmslico Swissair Cottage PizzaHutty Circus IKEAnham Brooke Bond Street Dyna-Roding Valley Angel Delight Strong-bow Road Arm & Hammersmith Oval-tine Old Spice Street Brillo Paddington Alpen-ton Findusbury Park Lambert & Butler North Archers-way Ladbrokes Grove Russell Hobbs Square IBM-bankment Network-Q Gardens Bethnal Greene King Argos Grove Google Street Alliance & Leicester Square
Can you think up any more?
(Here's a map if you need one, and here's a list of stations)
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, January 19, 2006Performance Management Appraisal 2006
It's that time of year again. Your blog performance review is now due. This important annual procedure encourages improved achievement by identifying key objectives and core competencies against an agreed framework of developmental targets. The process recognises and rewards good practice by utilising interactive feedback based on functional communication priorities, thereby providing timely opportunities to focus continued professional development in key result areas.
Your blog appraisal is, to put it bluntly, very important. Appraisal is not a mindless paperwork exercise dreamed up by evil administrators to make the winter months really miserable. Appraisal is not a load of meaningless jargon sprinkled liberally across a ten page grid full of interminable tick boxes. Appraisal is not a complete waste of time and effort for all concerned. Appraisal is absolutely essential. Modern life could not possibly function without it.
Part 1: Review your blog objectives for 2005
You do have blog objectives for 2005, don't you? You were supposed to agree a list of objectives last January as part of your 2005 appraisal process. You'd better not have lost them.
Review your 2005 objectives against the centrally-agreed list of blog criteria.
You've not achieved many of those objectives, have you? We're not allowed to call it failure (because all feedback must be positive), but your blog is the perfect example of deferred success. It's a no-win no-win situation.
Part 2: Grade your 2005 performance from 1 to 3
Please consult with your immediate line manager, then select an appropriate grade for your blog.
Grade 1 is reserved only for massive American blogs with millions of devoted readers.
Grade 2 is reserved only for semi-massive American blogs which quote the New York Times a lot and aspire desperately to become Grade 1 blogs.
Let's face it, sorry, you're 3.
Part 3: Set your blog objectives for 2006
Select a list of objectives which you think are attainable over the next 12 months. At least 10 objectives, please. I know it was seven last year, and five the year before, and three the year before that, but remember, administrative pressure never decreases.
All your objectives must be SMART. We know it's bloody hard writing specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-related objectives but they are now absolutely essential. Even though we didn't insist on them in last year's procedure.
Nothing woolly please. No namby-pamby "I will blog better"-type objectives. We want specifics. Try "I will quadruple my visitor numbers" or "I will increase my blogad clickthrough ratio by 47%" or "my blog will accumulate at least five comments by December" or even "I will stop blogging in June and get a life instead".
Part 4: Establish your 2006 personal development plan
Decide what actions and procedures you need to put in place to achieve your new objectives. Sign up now to relevant motivational programmes and interactive online learning resources.
Have you considered the possibilities of blog-mentoring, blog-shadowing or blog-coaching?
Sorry, you've completely lost interest in the entire appraisal process by now, haven't you? Alas, opting out of this annual irrelevant charade is not an option.
» Performance review appraisal documentation available here
Please note that all documentation must be completed and emailed to this address by January 31st 2006. Or else.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, January 18, 2006Silver discs (January 1981)
A monthly look back at the top singles of 25 years ago
1981 was the best year ever for music. Ever. You may disagree, but then you probably weren't 16 at the time. I was, so this was the year when I discovered the subculture of records bubbling beneath the mainstream, and duly revelled in it. Humour me as we trawl through what I think were the best records of the best year ever, a quarter of a century ago. And remember, your favourite year is probably equally embarrassing.
The three best records from the Top 10 (20th January 1981)
Phil Collins - In The Air Tonight: There really was a time when Phil Collins had solo street credibility, before his descent into grinning MOR blandness, and that time was January 1981. This atmospheric track managed to sound simultaneously angry, ethereal, heartfelt and, with that startling drumbreak partway through, wholly original. Alas, 25 years of over-exposure on dull-stream radio has completely dampened my enthusiasm for it.
"Well, I was there and I saw what you did, I saw it with my own two eyes. So you can wipe off that grin, I know where you've been, it's all been a pack of lies"
The Look - I Am The Beat: I still adore this record. It ought to be a bog standard synth-guitar song, but the melody and rhythmic percussion instead elevate this into something unexpectedly magical (listen here). It's a real happy clappy tambourine-shaker of a tune, sung in tribute to the great god Music, and you can't help but join in with a smile. "I Am The Beat" was the first record that Damon Albarn ever bought (really, honest), but it's perhaps best remembered as the longest song ever to appear in the UK single charts. The run-out groove on the 7" single used to stick, so the final line of the song repeated and repeated and repeated and the track never ended, not until you finally grew tired of the scratching and lifted the needle. Sadly this charming quirk has no place in the digital age, so when I re-listen to the song now on CD or iPod I only get thirteen "Beat"s before the music fades. But pure genius at the time.
"Girls are dancing all around and just for me. And the party wouldn't swing if not for me. I've made your hearts jump, I've caused the heat, I'm in demand, I am the beat."
Yarbrough & Peoples - Don't Stop The Music: That's Cavin Yarbrough and his wife Alisa Peebles, discovered by the Gap Band in the late 70s, and soon scoring #1 hits on the US R&B scene. Here in the UK we only got this one soulful smash, complete with chipmunks-on-helium backing vocals, but this was gorgeous gospel grind (listen here). Even today it still drips class. Proper 'old school'.
"Everything we do is right on time, the beat's so smooth it blows my mind. Don't stop the music, it's so satisfying, it feels so good to me, there is no denying."
My three favourite records from January 1981 (at the time)
Visage - Fade To Grey: Enter the New Romantics, lipgloss blazing. The backstreets of London brought forth an ostentatious scene of androgynous foppery, with Steve Strange's Blitz club at its heart. His music was theatrical, even pretentious ("devenir gris", anyone?), but this shady minimalist anthem and its dark brooding video captured the moment perfectly. Still an essential part of any '80s compilation'.
"One man on a lonely platform, one case sitting by his side. Two eyes staring cold and silent show fear as he turns to hide."
The Freshies - I'm In Love With The Girl On A Certain Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk: Another record breaking record, this time the hit single with the longest (unbracketed) title, ever. The title would have been slightly longer (I'm In Love With The Girl On The Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk) had the band not craved a place on the advert-free Radio 1 playlist. Despite such national acclaim the record peaked at only number 54 in the charts, although presumably the checkout girl in question sold more than her fair share of copies. Further verbose titles followed, notably "I Can't Get (Bouncing Babies By The Teardrop Explodes)", by which time I suspect I was one of a rapidly diminishing group of the band's admirers. But lead singer Chris Sievey later evolved into a rather more successful alternative persona - that of Northern bulb-headed singer Frank Sidebottom - so I'm delighted that his musical ingenuity lives on.
"She takes money... she gives change... She sells records... And that's special!"
The Look - I Am The Beat: Hang on, I've already eulogised about this one. The band were from Ely, you know. And, believe it or not, they're still going too. The Beat goes on.
"And who made the Zombies all tap their feet? I'm in demand, I am the beat."
10 other (post-Christmas) hits from 25 years ago: Woman (John Lennon), Rapture (Blondie) I Ain't Gonna Stand For It (Stevie Wonder), Young Parisians (Adam and the Ants), Scary Monsters and Super Creeps (David Bowie), Twilight Cafe (Susan Fassbender), Burn Rubber On Me (Gap Band), Guilty (Barbra Streisand), Sergeant Rock (XTC), The Freeze (Spandau Ballet) ...which hit's your favourite? ...which one would you pick?
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, January 17, 2006A special message to my readers using WAP, Bloglines or some other newsfeed aggregator
Hello. This is a special message to all of my non-standard readers. All those of you who read my blog using a newsfeed, or web-TV, or a mobile phone, or some other RSS-style delivery system. It's great to have you here. After all, you're the future. You're cutting-edge. You're dynamic flexible trendsetters, unconstrained by the internet's usual technical restrictions. You're Web 2.0. You're very welcome.
But what about all my 'normal' readers? You know, the backward people still using ordinary traditional web browsers. Well, they can't read today's post because I've hidden it. All of today's text is written in light grey. More specifically it's written in HTML colour #cccccc, which is the same as the background colour on my webpage. And grey on grey disappears, so my normal readers can't read anything at all. They're probably wondering why I've posted a big blank space today. But you can read what I've written, because your blog-reading software ignores my web template. Your blog-reading software ignores my background colour. Your blog-reading software might even ignore my proper text colour for all I know. So you're not reading grey on grey. So you can read today's post. Congratulations.
But all you're seeing of my webpage are my individual posts. You're not seeing my blog layout. You're not seeing my posts laid out in daily chunks. You're not seeing my sidebar. You have no direct access to my archives. You can't see my blogroll, nor that I've added another blog to it since yesterday. Essentially you're not seeing the entire diamond geezer experience the way I originally intended. I could redesign my blog and you'd not notice. I could change my template and you'd be none the wiser. I could install blogads and you'd not see them. In effect, you're blinkered to see only my main post content and none of the surrounding extras.
I'm sure it's convenient reading my blog your way, but I'd be fascinated to know why you do it. Maybe you're sitting on the bus with your WAP phone and have no choice. Maybe you can't be bothered to wait for my whole page to load. Maybe you stay away until you know I've posted fresh content. Maybe you're just lazy. Whatever the case, do please leave me a message in the comments box and tell me why. Except, erm, you probably can't see my comments either, can you? Good grief, you really are missing out!
(quick, before my normal readers work out they can read today's text just by highlighting it)
posted 07:00 :
Monday, January 16, 2006British Day
PM-elect Gordon Brown gave a speech at the weekend in which he proposed that Britain should have a "national day of patriotism to celebrate British history, achievements and culture." Hell, why not? A special British Day might well be a very good idea (especially if we all got an extra day off work to celebrate) just so long as the occasion wasn't hijacked by tedious political correctness. But which day to choose? Gordon, with mind-boggling stupidity, has picked Remembrance Sunday as his favoured national day. Wrong, Gordo. For a start Remembrance Sunday is the one day of the year when we remember the bravery and sacrifice of our ancestors, and to bring in even a note of jubilant celebration would be abhorrent. There's nothing especially British about remembering the Armistice, either - most of the other countries in Europe have just as much to commemorate on that day, if not more. And Remembrance Sunday is on a Sunday, for heaven's sake, and you can't have a bank holiday at the weekend. So no, Gordon, Remembrance Sunday just won't do.
So which day should be selected as 'British Day' instead? Here are some suggestions:
1) The day on which our nation was established (like 26th January in Australia and 1st July in Canada)
Ah, but when exactly was 'Britain' founded?
19th March (1284): Wales became part of England in a statute signed at Rhuddlan Castle by King Edward I. But I can't see the Welsh wanting to celebrate their nation's crushing defeat. And 19th March is too near Easter.
24th March (1603): Unofficially the nations of England, Wales and Scotland were first brought together on the day Queen Elizabeth I died and King James of Scotland took to the throne. But again, 24th March is too near Easter.
1st May (1707): It took an Act of Parliament nearly a century later to officially unite the nation states of England, Wales and Scotland, forming the Kingdom of Great Britain. But 1st May is already a bank holiday.
1st January (1801): It was another century before Ireland joined in legislative union with the rest of the British Isles. But that was all of Ireland, both north and south. And 1st January is already a bank holiday.
6th December (1922): The United Kingdom in its present form has existed only since Eire declared independence in the early 20th century. But we might not want a national day to remind us of that. And 6th December is far too close to Christmas.
2) A day of enormous historic national importance (like 4th July in the US and 14th July in France)
Except we don't really have any, do we? Not British ones.
14th October (1066): The one important date every schoolchild knows, except it predates the creation of Britain by several centuries, so it's no use.
21st October (1805): Ah but the Battle of Trafalgar isn't really that important, is it? We whopped the French but, like, so what?
8th May (1945): VE day, anyone? Er, no, for much the same reasons that Remembrance Sunday is no good either.
3) An important saint's day (like 1st March in Wales and 30th November in Scotland)
Except that, unlike its four constituent nations, Britain doesn't have its own saint. Maybe it should.
23rd April: No no no. St George is the patron saint of England, not of Britain. This national patriotism stuff is so tricky to get right, isn't it?
13th October (1925): Some people might argue that Margaret Thatcher is a saint and that we should remember her birthday. But they'd be barking.
5th October (1951): Or how about St Geldof's Day? Except he's not British.
20th February (1951): Maybe we should beatify our noble Chancellor, St Gordon Brown, in honour of him giving us a new bank holiday. But who wants a day off in February?
4) A royal birthday (like 30th April in the Netherlands and 5th December in Thailand)
Our Queen even has two birthdays, just to give us a choice.
21st April (1926): But HM's birthday isn't much to celebrate if you're a republican, is it? And it's far too close to Easter, St George's Day and May Day.
The second Saturday in June: The Queen's official birthday is still far too close to various May holidays, and it's at the weekend too. So no.
14th November (1948): When Lizzie snuffs it we'd be lumbered with her son's miserable autumn birthday instead, which is another good reason to say no.
5) A made-up excuse for a day off
2nd January: How about 'Duvet Day'? The first day back at work in January is always really grim, so let's postpone it.
23rd April (1564): That's 'Shakespeare's Birthday', honest, and let's hope the Scots, Irish and Welsh don't realise why we English really want the day off.
22nd June (1948): I suspect 'Empire Windrush Day' would be too politically correct for the tabloids to stomach. And rightly so.
The third Tuesday in July: For something more suited to tabloid tastes, how about 'National Paedophile Day' where suspected child abusers are burnt at the stake by baying mobs of ignorant bigots?
The fourth Friday in October: 'Last Gasp Friday' would allow us an outdoor break just before the clocks go back, plus it would bisect that annoying four month gap between bank holidays we currently get in the autumn.
The first Tuesday in December: 'Chancellor's Day' - a special day to go Christmas shopping and boost the economy.
So, sorry Gordon, but it looks like there's no perfect date to celebrate 'British Day'. Any date you pick is going to upset someone - maybe a religious group, maybe a political party, maybe a whole country. Britishness as a metaphor for tolerance and inclusion just doesn't have enough of a back history, yet. But if I had to pick a date I'd go back to 1st May 1707 - the date when England, Wales and Scotland officially united to first create this nation we call Britain. 'British Day' on May Day would do nicely, thank you, even if it's not an extra day off. And, by combining May Day's existing themes of morris dancing, worker solidarity and trips to B&Q, we even get a ready-made definition of Britishness into the bargain. Plus it would be perfect to launch this new bank holiday next year - the tricentenary of the Act of Union. Go on Gordon, how about it?
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, January 15, 2006I SPY LONDON
the definitive DG guide to London's sights-worth-seeing
Part 4: The British Museum
Location: Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG [map]
Open: 10am - 5:30pm (late opening Thur & Fri)
5-word summary: ancient booty plundered from abroad
Time to set aside: a couple of days
If ever a museum had an inappropriate name, this is it. You might expect this vast Bloomsbury treasure house to be given over to celebrating Britain's historic achievements, but no. Only one corner of the first floor presents a potted history of our nation from prehistoric times to the present day. Instead the great majority of the museum's gallery space is given over to artefacts from proper ancient civilisations, fashioned in the days when we Britons were still slapping woad on our faces and chasing wild boar round uncultivated forests. The only British thing about these exhibits is that they were shamelessly stolen, several generations later, by our bravest and most daring so-called explorers.
Take the Parthenon Marbles, for example. Lord Elgin did, back in 1802, and we've not thought fit to return them ever since. Instead the British Museum boasts a long gallery devoted solely to these classical Greek sculptures, their faces defaced, rescued from a crumbling frieze carved into the roof of one of the greatest temples in Athens. Then there's the Rosetta Stone, the chipped rock that unlocked hieroglyphics, which isn't really ours either. It was originally discovered in Egypt by the French in 1799, but was surrendered to the British shortly afterwards as part of some dodgy Napoleonic peace treaty, and we've still got it. Throw in several Sumerian murals, an Easter Island statue, an awful lot of Egyptian mummies and countless other priceless foreign artefacts, and what the British Museum contains is a unique selection of global goodies which really shouldn't be here. It's a bloody marvellous collection, of course, but I still feel a collective national guilt every time I walk round.
But there is one part of the museum that truly exhibits Britishness, and that's the Great Court. In the centre is the high circular Reading Room with its musty librarians and spiralling bookcases set beneath an striking azure dome, looking every inch the Harry Potter film set. At the rear is the Museum shop, peddling lavish exhibition catalogues, replica chess sets, hieroglyphic headscarves and Roman-style jade pendants. High above the courtyard is Norman Foster's stunning geometric glass roof, completed in 2000, whose thousands of tessellating triangles are all slightly different to one another. A door leads through to the Enlightenment gallery, where classical vases and cherubs are laid out like tacky concrete statuary in an Essex garden centre. And in the northern corners are two tasteful cafes dispensing hot drinks, posh sarnies and over-priced slices of cake to weary visitors. Harry Potter, shopping, headscarves, great architecture, gardening and tea - what greater celebration of British life could you wish to experience?
by tube: Holborn by bus: 7
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