diamond geezer

 Wednesday, May 31, 2006

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

adrianb.net, affable-lurking, Affili What II, All I Can Do Is Try, Alone in the Spotlight, An American In London, Americanuck, anglosaxy, Anji Patchwork, Anorak Saddo, Aprosexic, arcite's day, Arseblog, The Bardic Lamp, a beautiful revolution, Been There... Blogged That..., Bells and Whistles, beneath the calm, Big n juicy, bitful, Black and White photography, Black Dove, the blogging blog, Blue Witch, bog grogan, Brian Micklethwait, Casino Avenue, Chelley's Teapot, Confederacy Of A Dunce, contains mild peril, Cool Blue Shed, Cosmos, Counting Sheep, crinklybee, Cultural Snow, Dagbók Lilju, Depthmarker, The Devil's Tools, Disgruntled Commuter, Dogwood Tales, dsng.net, D4D, enduring ramblings, Europhobia, evilmoose, expecting to fly, Famous for 15 megapixels, A Fistful of Euros, the Fly, foolfillment, Free Thoughts of an Aging Man, FunJunkie!, gemmak's Blogs, Geofftech - iBlog, Getting On, Germany Doesn't Suck, girl with a one-track mind, The Girl with The Golden Mind, Gordon McLean, The Gospel According To Rhys, Greavsie, GrocerJack's World, Hackney Lookout, Hecho En Mexico, Henri's World, How To Disappear Completely, Illyrian Gazette, Infomaniac, In the Aquarium, Jakartass, JerryChicken, john davies, Justin Ruffles, Kalahari Lighthouse, KML's Monoblog, Knotted Paths, krn.me.uk, Lady Muck, Legal Alien, letting loose with the leptard, L'homme qui marche, LinkMachineGo, Living in Bury St Edmunds, London Calling, London Daily Photo, London Underground Life, LukePDQ, Mad Dogs and Englishmen ,mad musings of me, Mad Teacher, the maturest student in the world, the Meatareda, Mick Hartley, Middle of Nowhere, Momentary lapses of insanity, moosifer jones' grouch, The Musings of a Bear, My Boyfriend Is A Twat, My Thoughts Exactly, Never Mind The Bloggocks, Nexus, Nik Rawlinson, No, Luton Airport, Notes From A Strange Blue Ghost, Now What Happens?, Oh, Onan Online, onionbagblog, O, Poor Robinson Crusoe!, Order of the Bath, Patience.org, Pete Ashton, Pewari's Prattle, Pigeon blog, Planarchy, Plep, poons, Purple Pen, put 'em all on an island, Raised by Chaffinches, ramsey, Random Burblings, the Random Think, rashbre central, theRatandMouse, rebeccawright.com, Res Publica, Rest Area 300m, Ritual Landscape, rogue semiotics, Rosamundi's ramblings, Route 79, Safari Candle, Samizdata.net, Scaryduck, screaming yellow fizz bang, Secret Songs of Silence, sex in the smoke, Silent Words Speak Loudest, Slaminsky, Smacked Face, smeg's window, stressqueen, the String Bag, A Student's Life, Temperama, terreus, That's Pish, 1000 Shades of Grey, 'tis an odd blog b'God, Transfer, Travels around London, troubled diva, T3G:2, Twenty Major, the Ulterior, Under The Welkin, Very Very Bored, A View from Middle England, The Voice of Reason, Volume 22, What was the score?, Wheeliebinland, Who Knows Where Thoughts Come From?, Wide Screen Boy Story, The Willesden Herald, A Woman's Voice, World of Chig

Thanks, all of you. Go on, click on a few and have a read. Because some of these blogs are great. I know, I've had to read every single one of them over the last couple of days while putting this post together.

And aren't there a lot of different types of blogroll out there? There's the refined list of five sites or less - only the best will do. There's the out-of-date list that hasn't changed in years, despite the fact that several of the linked blogs no longer exist. There's the categorised list with all the links shuffled into different subgroups according to location, theme or political orientation. There's the "blogs I read" list which the owner clicks down each day to read updates to their favourite sites. There's the "I'm only linking to you if you link to me" list which smacks somewhat of self-promotion. There's the hidden blogroll which exists on its own separate page, or so far down the sidebar that the casual reader never spots it. And there's blogroll overload where the site owner links to every single blog they've ever read in an enormous long list which nobody else ever (ever) reads.

I've always tried to keep my blogroll manageable - 20 sites max - although I'm aware that this means I don't link to as many other blogs as I could/should. So today's post is by means of making up for that omission. I hope it's a fairly complete list, courtesy of Technorati and various other useful web services, but I bet it isn't. Let me know if I've missed you/anyone off the list.

 Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bank holiday blues

Not only are our bank holidays badly spaced, but the weather's always crap too. Well it is, isn't it? This last bank holiday weekend, for example, has been grey, wet and a bit rubbish. Low scudding clouds, sudden squally showers, deceptive sunny intervals and then a stonking great big thunderstorm to round the whole thing off. Because it always rains on bank holidays, doesn't it?

I thought I'd do some research to find out. I've looked back over the last fifteen bank holiday weekends (excluding Christmas and New Year) to find out whether it chucked it down or not. The precise data's surprisingly hard to find, but thankfully Britain contains several amateur meteorologists who dutifully record daily wind speed, sunshine, rainfall and lots of other readings on the internet. I've trawled through pages of precipitation data for Wokingham (thank you Bernard), and below are the results. The wet symbol means "more than ½mm of rain", whereas the sun symbol means "not wet", which isn't necessarily sunny. And if there's a border round the raincloud then it was particularly damp (more than 5mm of rain).

 Good FridayEaster Monday May   Day Late SpringLate Summer

So it's not been all bad. Easter Monday hasn't put a foot wrong recently, and 2003 and 2005 were pretty damned gorgeous. On the other hand 2004 and 2006 (so far) have been washouts, just like you might have expected. Altogether 7 out of the last 19 spring/summer bank holidays have been wet, which is only slightly worse than SE England's long-term average of about 30%. Maybe our bank holidays aren't jinxed after all.

But, come next Monday, no doubt the sun will start beating down and we'll all be sat in the office staring longingly out of the window thinking "damn, if only the bank holiday had been a week later". So I decided to test this too. What if all the spring/summer bank holidays for the last four years had been a week later. Would the weather have been all dry and lovely instead, or did we have a lucky escape? Here are the results:
If the five bank holidays had been one week later...
2003: GF much wetter; EM wetter; MD wetter; LSp equally dry; LSu equally dry
2004: GF drier; EM a bit wetter; MD a lot drier; LSp a lot drier; LSu drier
2005: GF equally dry; EM a bit wetter; MD a bit wetter; LSp equally dry; LSu equally dry
2006: GF drier; EM equally dry; MD a lot drier
All of which adds up to six bank holidays which would have been wetter a week later, and six which would have been drier. Swings and roundabouts. Overall it doesn't make a blind bit of difference. The weather doesn't know that HM Government has prescribed a national day off work when it decides to chuck it down, or not. Yesterday's thunderstorm was just a statistical freak, obviously. And if the sun comes out in a blazing heatwave next Monday, that'll just be bloody typical.

Fantastically in-depth data on Britain's bank holiday weather
Easter (really good: 1949, 1984) (really bad: 1964, 1994)
May Day (really good: 1999) (really bad: 1982, 1983)
Late Spring (really good: 1978, 1992) (really bad: 2000, 2006)
Late Summer (really good: 1955, 2001) (really bad: 1956, 1976, 1986)

 Monday, May 29, 2006

A Farewell

Something small but significant vanishes from the streets of London this week. The letter A. Or, to be more specific, letters at the end of bus numbers. There are tons of London bus services with a letter at the beginning (nightbuses for example, and most of the buses in Hillingdon and Walthamstow) but only one bus still has a letter at the end. There used to be scores of them. Not for much longer.

60 years ago there weren't just As after bus numbers, there were Bs and Cs too. Between Stratford and Forest Gate, for example, you could have ridden aboard the 25, 25A, 25B or 25C. But travel any further east and you had to know precisely which variant to catch (the 25 to Goodmayes, the 25A to Chigwell, the 25B to Becontree Heath or the 25C to the Woolwich Ferry). No wonder they've simplified things since. Thirty years ago there was only a single C remaining (the 77C, for what it's worth), while Bs faded away in 1994 with the disappearance of the 36B.

Which just leaves the 77A. The perfect, nay the only, bus to catch if you ever need to escape Wandsworth for the centre of town. Between Clapham and Vauxhall it shares the road with its twin the 77, then heads across the Thames past Tate Britain and the Houses of Parliament on its way to Aldwych. Just another ordinary bus, but with what is now an out-of-date route number. That A has to go.

Reshuffling bus numbers isn't easy. Almost all of the possible route designations from 1 to 300 are already taken, so planners have had to be cunning in swapping round some other routes to make space. In this case they've scrapped the old 87 (which has run for years between Barking and Romford) and simply extended the 5 to Romford to make up for the loss. A two-digit number ending in 7 is now conveniently vacant, and so from Saturday morning the 77A will be rebranded as the 87. No need to worry about which 77 goes where, because there's only going to be one of them. Much easier to remember, honest.

And letters aren't all that's disappearing. Lists of destinations on the front of buses are being cleaned up too. The future is big, bold and basic. The front of this number 13 bus is fairly typical of the new order. Gone is the list of intermediate destinations...
Finchley Road  Oxford Circus
  Piccadilly Circus  Strand
replaced by just the terminus and a giant number in a font size large enough for even the most myopic passenger. Apparently there's no point in listing key intermediate stops any more because (if you don't know London at all) there's no way of knowing whether or not the bus has already passed them. To work out where the bus will be stopping you'll need to check the timetable at the bus stop instead, assuming it's not been vandalised. It's getting more like taking the tube, really. The front of a Piccadilly line tube will only read Cockfosters, for example, and then you're supposed to work out from a map that the train's heading east and will be stopping at those nice museums, Harrods, Covent Garden and that big square with all the cinemas.

It seems that, in accommodating the Disability Discrimination Act, less is more. Accessibility is about so much more than just step-free access, it's also about having a dead simple system of route numbers and destinations. We must now remove information from the front of buses in case it baffles people. We need to write everything in really big letters so that the short-sighted aren't disadvantaged. And we can't have complicated bus numbers any more, because they confuse tourists and those with an IQ below 70. No matter that generations of Londoners have coped with such complexities before. Come Friday evening, letter-suffix extinction beckons. I wonder what they'll kill off next?

 Sunday, May 28, 2006

  the definitive DG guide to London's sights-worth-seeing
  Part 9: Victoria & Albert Museum

Location: Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL [map]
Open: 10am - 5:45pm (late opening Wednesdays)
Admission: free
5-word summary: a temple to grand designs
Website: www.vam.ac.uk
Time to set aside: at least a day

Vast & Arty
Next time you're in South Kensington, if you're tired of natural history and sick of science, try art and design instead. The Victoria & Albert Museum is Britain's national repository of the decorative arts, a bit like a giant historical bazaar but without the price labels. The building dates back to 1852, built just after the Great Exhibition, and boasts an extensive network of interconnecting galleries on several levels (i.e. it's very easy to get lost). On the ground floor, for example, you can wander at length amongst artefacts from South and East Asia, or pause to ponder Renaissance religious relics, or study statues close up in the refitted long gallery. And that's just for starters.

Varied & Amazing
I was unprepared for the vast scale of the Cast Courts. Given that most of the world's great sculptural masterpieces aren't located in London, the Victorians created life-sized plaster casts of some of the best and dumped them all in two great halls so that Londoners could view them anyway. A fake Michaelangelo's David stands proud in one corner, with a keen crowd of amateur artists sat sketching on stools before him. Elsewhere are Italian monuments, a German cloister, Gaelic stone crosses and medieval tomb effigies. But most dramatic of all is the towering plaster cast of Trajan's Column, copied from the 30m-high Roman original. They've had to chop it in two so that each half fits beneath the skylights, but it's hard not to be impressed by the detailed tableaux carved in a spiral around the circumference.

Visionary & Atmospheric
One large corner of the museum is home to the British Galleries - a history of British interior design and craftsmanship from Tudor times to the end of the 19th century. The displays showcase the development of our nation's aesthetic aspiration, and it's easy to to imagine modern designers coming along for inspiration. Exhibits include original William Morris block-printed wallpaper, the notorious Great Bed of Ware (a Herts hostelry's oversize overnight accommodation) and some splendid Georgian Chippendales. I was particularly taken by the Bromley-by-Bow Room, a complete 1606 wood-panelled interior rescued from the Jacobean mansion which once stood just over the road from my house.

Valuable & Attractive
Elsewhere in the museum the emphasis shifts more towards materials and techniques. Upstairs are two long galleries devoted to silver (think 'Sothebys') and to ironwork (think 'garden centre'). There are semi-deserted rear chambers given over to tapestries (think 'Bayeux-ish') and to textiles (think 'Whitechapel market'). There are shelves packed with glassware (think 'John Lewis') and rooms full of 20th century design classics (think 'car boot sale'). There's even a room full of shiny, gaudy, over-priced, over-styled trinkets and accoutrements (think 'museum shop'), but there's so much else to see you probably won't have time to explore it.

Visit & Admire
by tube: South Kensington  by bus: 14, 74, 414, C1

 Saturday, May 27, 2006

What was on TV ten years ago this weekend?

Sat 25 May 1996

5.25pm Dad's Army (repeat)
5.55pm Full Swing (new golf-based game show with Jimmy Tarbuck)
6.25pm The New Adventures of Superman ("I now pronounce you..." - Lois and Clark prepare to get married)
7.10pm Confessions (with Simon Mayo)
7.50pm The National Lottery Live (hosted by Bob Monkhouse)
8.05pm Bugs (glossy hi-tech Docklands crime drama)
Sat 25 May 1996

5.00pm Golf from Wentworth (with Steve Rider)
5.55pm The Car's The Star (with Quentin Wilson)
6.15pm Chelsea Flower Show (with Alan Titchmarsh)
7.05pm News and Sport (with Moira Stuart)
7.20pm Correspondent (reporting from Cambodia)
8.05pm Cricket (England v India with Richie Benaud)
9.15pm Have I Got News For You (with Angus Deayton)
Sat 25 May 1996

5.10pm International Gladiators (presented by Ulrika Jonsson)
6.10pm The Kids From Alright On The Night (repeat)
6.25pm Man O Man (ten blokes are humiliated by Chris Tarrant and an audience of screaming women)
8.00pm News (with Carol Barnes)
8.15pm Stars In Their Eyes Live Final (hosted by Matthew Kelly - you might want to put your money on Marti Pellow)
Channel 4
Sat 25 May 1996

5.05pm Brookside omnibus (Max pulls a fast one on Susannah, Ron files to Bangkok)
6.30pm Right To Reply (presented by Roger Bolton)
7.00pm A Week In Politics (presented by Vincent Hanna and Andrew Rawnsley)
8.00pm Cutting Edge (documentary - Navy Blues)
9.00pm The Gaby Roslin Show
10.00pm Drop The Dead Donkey (repeat of 1st series)
Mon 27 May 1996

4.30pm Disneytime (with Michaela Strachan)
5.15pm News and Weather
5.35pm Neighbours (Annalise's tutoring days are over)
6.00pm Red Nose Awards (hosted by Andi Peters)
7.00pm That's Showbusiness! (quiz show hosted by Mike Smith)
7.30pm Watchdog Healthcheck (presented by Judith Hann and Alice Beer)
8.00pm EastEnders (Bianca cuts a new deal)
8.05pm Doctor Who (After an absence of seven years the Doctor returns in a feature length adventure starring Paul McGann. On New Year's Eve 1999 a British police box materialises in San Francisco's China Town)
Channel 4
Mon 27 May 1996

7.00am The Big Breakfast (presented by Zoe Ball and Keith Chegwin, with Vanessa Feltz, Zig and Zag, and Richard Orford Down Your Doorstep)
9.00am Saved By The Bell: the College Years
9.25am The Pink Panther Show
9:50am California Dreams
10.20am Gamesmaster (with Dominik Diamond and Patrick Moore)
10.45am Mork and Mindy
11.15am Dog City
11.35am Wildside
12.00 Right To Reply (repeat)
12.30pm Sesame Street (brought to you by the letters F and P and the number 19)
It all seems so very very long ago...

 Friday, May 26, 2006

10 things to do in London over the Bank Holiday weekend
(two of which I've made up, sorry. I'm sure you can spot which)

1) Nettle Day at the Natural History Museum: "Celebrate the common nettle, as part of the national Be Nice to Nettles Week. Join us to unearth the nettle's many uses throughout the ages, both in Britain and in other parts of the world, with talks, demonstrations and displays throughout the Museum - you can even try some nettle-based refreshments for yourself."
2) Chelsea Flower Show: At the Royal Hospital, not the football ground, a lot of horticultural gurus plug their own TV series by constructing row upon row of ostentatious gimmick-filled gardens. But the flowers are pretty.
3) International Low Tide Day: Happens every year on the Saturday in May with the lowest tide. A family event searching for minibeasts and undegraded litter on the Thames foreshore by Hammersmith Bridge (wear old clothes and wellies).
4) Metronet Mystery Tour: Come ride the rail replacement bus from Moor Park to Watford, to celebrate incompetent infraco Metronet forgetting to pre-stress the tracks before the hot weather started. Might be fun hurling rotten tomatoes at the contractors.
5) London MCM Expo: Imagine a giant exhibition hall full of collectible comics, a Robot Zone, 'top class' manga, costumed sci-fi geeks, an Anime Village, a Games Arena and celebrity appearances from the cast of '24' and 'Battlestar Galactica'. Sounds like absolute hell, doesn't it?
6) Purves & Purves: Massive relocation sale at my favourite Tottenham Court Road interior design shop (must end Monday). Did I mention I once saw Dermot O'Leary there doing his Christmas shopping?
7) The Long Weekend: Celebrate the Tate Modern's rehang with four themed days of arty events. Starts on Futurist Friday, continues with Surrealist Saturday, slips up alliteratively with Abstract Sunday, but finishes off appositely with Minimalist Monday.
8) Brentford Waterside Festival: Mmm, street entertainers, face-painting and balloon modellers down by the Grand Union Canal, plus (hold your breath) an "interpretative display of the history of Brentford". The Farmer's Market might just redeem it...
9) The Queen Mother Collection: Not many people know that Her Deceased Royal Highness used to be an accomplished artist. Buckingham Palace hosts her private collection of racey corgi portraits, saucy seaside postcards and bawdy Edwardian sketches.
10) Paradise Gardens: Recreating a Victorian Pleasure Garden in Victoria Park, E3. Carter's Steam Fair are coming, and the thumping Bassline Circus, and the intriguing Black Maze (crawl alone around the back of a truck in the dark), and more. We know how to have fun in Tower Hamlets, we do.

Women always get evicted first: BB1 Sada; BB2 Penny; BB3 Lynne; BB4 Anouska; BB5 Vanessa; BB6 Mary; BB7 Bonn-eh
Some housemates don't leave by the front door: BB1 Nick; BB2 -; BB3 Sunita, Sandy; BB4 -; BB5 Kitten, Emma; BB6 Orlaith; BB7 Shahbaz, Dawn
Some old housemates still have their own websites: BB1 Nick; BB2 Brian, Stuart, Josh, Elizabeth; BB3 Kate, Alex, Jade; BB4 Jon; BB5 Jason; BB6 Eugene; BB7 Lea, Sezer

 Thursday, May 25, 2006

a simple list of all the BBC's Listen Again radio streams (from 1xtra to Radio Cymru)
use Seatguru to find the best seats on any plane before booking your flight
spot the showers (and downpours) on the Met Office's UK rainfall radar
the Uncle books (which I devoured as a child and you probably didn't)
what's the latest Big Brother betting and gossip?

five famous bloggers
the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
bewigged American billionnaire entrepreneur
no-longer-bewigged short chirpy magician
6Music DJ and general music knowall
touring 80s electro keyboard whizz

five travelling bloggersdriving buses in Torquay
driving a taxi round Cumbria
cycling from China to Somerset
chugging canals on a narrowboat
flapping and flying over London

 Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Silver discs (May 1981)
A monthly look back at the top singles of 25 years ago

The three best records from the Top 10 (19th May 1981)
Adam And The Ants - Stand And Deliver: There was once a time when the first radio play of a brand new single was an event. There was no accidental leakage on the internet in the 80s, nor heavy rotation play for weeks in advance of the release date. We had to rush home from school to hear Peter Powell debut the new Adam and the Ants single on his drivetime show, just to find out what crazed glamour the band planned to serve up next. With a whinney and the wail of a hunting horn, we discovered the enchanting answer. And then, extremely new for 1981, there was the first play of the video to look forward to. Oh my god, he really is dressed up as a dandy highwayman complete with dress coat and tricorn hat, and bloody wow he's jumping out of trees and crashing through castle windows. No surprise, then, that the single went straight in at number 1 (a rare feat back then) and stayed there for five weeks. For a brief spell Adam could do no wrong. Da diddly quoi quoi, anyone?
"I'm the dandy highwayman who you're too scared to mention. I spend my cash on looking flash and grabbing your attention"
Ten Pole Tudor - Swords Of A Thousand Men: Blimey, another top ten classic with a historic bent. More a battlefield chant than a sweet Elizabethan ballad, this was an endearingly quirky punk guitar stomper. Lead singer Edward Tudor Pole may have been RADA-trained, but I never forgave him for attempting to take over from Richard O'Brian in the Crystal Maze several years later, and failing. Ed still performs (don't they all, these 80s troupers), and earlier this month he was strutting his stuff at the legendary Ace Café on London's North Circular. Hoorah, Hoorah, Hoorah, Yea!
"We had to meet the enemy a mile away, thunder in the air and the sky turned grey. Assembling the knights and their swords were sharp, there was not a hope in your English hearts"
Kim Carnes - Bette Davis Eyes: Raspy as they come, Kim conquered the airwaves like a slinky lioness gargling gravel (did I really write that? sorry). The song was a old one, first recorded by its co-composer Jackie DeShannon in 1974, but it was this ear-stopping cover that won the tune its Grammy. Spent nine weeks on top of the Billboard charts, but only scraped the top ten over here. If only she'd recorded it as Glenda Jackson's Eyes instead, maybe we'd have loved it more.
"She's precocious, and she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush. She's got Greta Garbo's standoff sighs, she's got Bette Davis eyes"

My favourite three records from May 1981 (at the time)
Kim Wilde - Chequered Love: Ah, thank goodness for that - Kids In America wasn't a one-off. Not the most inspired one-finger keyboard backing perhaps, but a long-term career was suddenly assured.
"Well I know your love is rough, and the road you take is tough, but I just can't get enough chequered love"
Human League - The Sound of the Crowd: "Hmm," I wondered, "who are this lot then? Lead singer looks a bit weird with his half-dangly hair. Song's great though. They could be really big one day..."
"Shades from a pencil peer (pass around), a fold in an eyelid brushed with fear, the lines on a compact guide, a hat with alignment worn inside"
Kraftwerk - Pocket Calculator: It's not dated well, has it? Or maybe the backing bleeps were just rather too prescient of today's grating ringtones. Always ahead of their time, this bunch.
"I'm the operator of my pocket calculator. By pressing down a special key, plays a little melody"

20 other hits from 25 years ago: Stars on 45 (Starsound), You Drive Me Crazy (Shakin Stevens), Chi Mai (Ennio Morricone), I Want To Be Free (Toyah), Keep On Loving You (REO Speedwagon), Ossie's Dream (Tottenham Hotspur with Chas & Dave), Grey Day (Madness), Treason (Teardrop Explodes), It's Going To Happen (Undertones), Careless Memories (Duran Duran), Ain't No Stopping (Enigma), Don't Slow Down / Don't Let It Pass You By (UB40), Hi-De-Hi (Paul Shane & the Yellowcoats), Is That Love (Squeeze), Chariots of Fire (Vangelis), When He Shines (Sheena Easton), Just The Two Of Us (Grover Washington Jr), Let's Jump The Broomstick (Coast To Coast), Rockabilly Guy (Polecats) ...which hit's your favourite? ...which one would you pick?

 Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Why do you go to the gym?

1) Because it makes you feel better about yourself
But are you sure? I went to the gym once, under protest, and it didn't make me feel better at all. Standing in the changing room I felt seriously under-endowed, and that was just in the visible zone above the waist. What hope did I ever have of looking like these sneering, chiselled, toned hunks? Where their pectorals bloomed, mine drooped. Where their biceps bulged, mine barely existed. Where their necks swelled like tree trunks, my neck was just, well, normal. And that's fine. Because I don't care that my body isn't perfect, or indeed anywhere approaching what others see as perfect. I still don't see the point in getting depressed about my six-pack-lessness. I'm no Charles Atlas, but then I have no desire to be. Do you lot really have so little self confidence that you need to go to the gym in order to feel 'normal'?

2) Because it keeps you fit
But are you sure? I went to the gym once, under protest, and after a few minutes pedalling on the exercise bike I was knackered. It didn't make me feel fit at all. I know you're supposed to go more than once, but quite frankly the thought of some evil personal trainer urging me to push myself through the pain barrier on a regular basis really didn't appeal. And still doesn't. Feeling bloody awful just to become slightly more capable at lifting heavy weights doesn't sound like a very reasonable swap to me. I get a perfectly decent workout walking up the escalator at Holborn tube station every morning, thank you very much. Going to the gym isn't the only way to keep fit, you know.

3) Because it keeps you healthy
But are you sure? I went to the gym once, under protest, and it didn't make me feel healthy at all. Quite the opposite. Those droplets on the face of my fellow athletes looked suspiciously like sweat, not perspiration. The water in the swimming pool seemed to have more than just chlorine floating in it. Those towels were rank, and anybody could have slipped on the soap in the shower. The risk of serious injury or incapacity was ever present when using the exercise equipment, far more so than if I'd been sitting safely at home on my sofa. Gyms lull you into a false sense of security, whilst actually increasing the chance of you limping home with a torn ligament, or worse. It all seems a very poor use of several hours a week to me, particularly when you could be enjoying yourself somewhere else instead.

4) Because it helps you lose pounds
Yes you're right there. I went to the gym once, under protest, and all I lost was my entrance money. It may take months for the weight to drop off, but your bank balance takes a hit immediately. That enticing welcome deal may sound like a bargain, but the staff really have their eye on your direct debit, not your waistline. Gyms make their money out of well-meaning but weak-willed individuals who sign up for a long term fix but can't be arsed to turn up when their motivation wilts. Which would be most of you. Why don't you save money and keep fit elsewhere? Press-ups work just as well at home. Your local swimming pool probably has much cheaper admission, and considerably longer lengths. And going out jogging in your local streets is far more worthwhile than running nowhere on a smelly conveyor belt. But hey, what do I know, I only went once. Why the hell do the rest of you bother?

 Monday, May 22, 2006

London's Premiership teams: Arsenal, Charlton, Chelsea, Fulham, Tottenham, West Ham, Watford

Watford FCOK, so the final team in the above list is a bit of a cheat because Vicarage Road lies a couple of miles outside the Greater London boundary. But blimey, don't Watford look the odd one out there. One small tinpot Championship side comprising several insignificant non-international minnows, up alongside the League champions, the FA Cup runners-up and some Champions League finalists. It's just that yesterday's playoff victory (nay, thrashing) against Leeds entitles this minor Home Counties side to step up to the big time, at least for one season. Isn't football great?

Vicarage RoadI have to express an interest. I was born less than half a mile from Watford's Vicarage Road ground, so by rights I should be a huge Hornets fan. I should have spent yesterday afternoon bedecked in tasteful(?) yellow, black and red, whilst boozing myself into celebratory oblivion. Things didn't quite work out that way. At the age of six I was seduced instead by one of the big name clubs, inspired by their winning of the League Championship and the FA Cup in the same week. It's easily done, especially when your local side is languishing insignificantly in the lower divisions.

But half of my family did become avid fans of Watford FC. My dad and brother would walk down to Vicarage Road come rain or shine to experience the agonies and ecstasy of League football (and, if we're honest, it was mostly agony). There was a freak week back in 1982 when Watford were the top league team in the country, and they even managed to come second overall that season, but on the whole being a Watford supporter meant decades spent watching grim nil-nil draws against Port Vale in the pouring rain.

Premiership survival next season won't be easy for a club more used to lower-division mid-table obscurity. Watford have been here before, back in 1999 when they last succeeded in the playoffs. They won some early Premiership matches against Liverpool and Chelsea, then collapsed and ended up with an embarrassingly low points total. Only Sunderland have ever failed more convincingly. I'm fully expecting Watford's 2006-7 season to be equally disappointing. But hey, you never know, they might just do OK this time, particularly with the £40m windfall that promotion to the top flight brings. And I might even deign to support my old home team, just perhaps, if they start winning repeatedly in the league or manage a stunning cup run. I guess I've always been a glory hunter.

 Sunday, May 21, 2006

Big Brother 7

the housemates

your comments welcome
aka: Bonnie Holt
19 from Loughborough
care worker
teenage estate trash
glum pouting vacuum
odds: 25/1  
aka: Dawn Blake
38 from Birmingham
exercise scientist
teetotal vegetarian
capable but humourless
odds: 16/1  
aka: George Askew
19 from London
blue-blooded student
related to royalty
mixing with the plebs
odds: 9/1  
aka: Glyn Wise
18 from Blaenau Ffestiniog
naturist lifeguard
scrawny muscleboy
out of his depth?
odds: 16/1  
aka: Grace Short
20 from London
dance teacher
posh Sloane party girl
confident and unruffled
odds: 14/1  
aka: Imogen Thomas
23 from Wales
bar hostess
former beauty queen
potentially normal
odds: 8/1  
aka: Lea Walker
36 from Nottingham
single mum & model
wildly enhanced cleavage
cow dressed as mutton
odds: 33/1  
aka: Lisa Huo
27 from Manchester
Chinese Jimmy Krankie
coarse but chirpy
odds: 10/1  
aka: Mikey Dalton
22 from Liverpool
software developer
Vernon Kaye Jr
featureless chauvinist
odds: 10/1  
aka Nikki Graham
24 from Middlesex
model & dancer
fragile emotional wreck
desperately needy
odds: 20/1  
aka: Pete Bennett
24 from Brighton
singer with Tourette's
Stop The Pigeon's Klunk
endearingly animated
odds: 3/1 (fav)  
aka: Richard Newman
33 from London
gay stetsoned waiter
shaven meathead hunk
calm voice of reason
odds: 7/1  
aka: Sezer Yurtseven
26 from London
stockbroker entrepreneur
strutting peacock
confident smiler
odds: 9/1  
aka: Shahbaz Chaudhry
37 from Glasgow
unemployable flirt
camp tactile nightmare
hysterical egomaniac
odds: 16/1  

 Saturday, May 20, 2006

Days Out - West Wycombe

Where: 40 miles west-northwest-ish from central London [map] [map] [map]
How to get there by road: along the A40, or via junction 4 on the M40
How to get there by rail: Chiltern Railways to High Wycombe (and then a long walk)

What to see (1): West Wycombe Church & Mausoleum
Dashwood Mausoleum & St Lawrence ChurchThe first building you see as you approach West Wycombe is the 18th century church, high atop a chalky hill immediately above the village. It's a stupid semi-accessible location for a church, but local landowner Sir Francis Dashwood had it built more for the view than for any religious reason. At the top of the tower is a big golden ball which, if you're lucky and get the weather right, glints for miles across the valley. The ball is hollow, with sufficient space inside to hold up to six people, although it closed to visitors a few years ago because of vandalism. But turn up on a Sunday afternoon and you can still climb the tower to enjoy the view (is that Windsor Castle over there?) and to admire the church's unexpectedly startling Georgian interior. At the foot of the graveyard is the hexagonal Dashwood Mausoleum, another building which dominates the local skyline. Its flint-covered walls stand open to the sky, supported by twelve Tuscan columns, while inside can be seen statues, urns and a classical mini-temple. It's a shame that the public are locked out these days, but you can quite understand why Sir Francis wanted to be buried up here on this Chiltern ridge looking out over his estate.

What to see (2): Hellfire Caves
entrance to the Hellfire CavesAh, now this is what West Wycombe is most famous for, a quarter-mile-long cave with a devilish reputation. Sir Francis had this system of passages and chambers dug into the chalk hillside beneath the church so that he and his upper crust mates had somewhere private in which to misbehave. Dashwood's Hellfire Club met here to indulge in "sex, drink, food, dressing up, politics, blasphemy and the occult". There's no evidence that any actual Satanic worship took place, although it's a fair guess that several buxom maidens were invited down here during some of the more drunken celebrations. Today the caves are open to the public, which explains the non-period umbrellas lined up inelegantly in the café area outside the church-like entrance. Four quid gets you inside into the caves proper, a strange subterranean tourist attraction whose 1970s rebirth is still painfully evident. alcove in Banqueting HallA few not-quite convincing waxworks are scattered throughout the caves (that's Benjamin Franklin, isn't it, and that's, erm, some old greasy lord-type bloke). Dated loudspeakers pump music and stilted commentary into the caves. Detailed information boards seem to repeat the same few stories, facts and anecdotes throughout the caverns whilst never quite admitting that anything wicked ever happened. But, if you can ignore the rampaging children wielding cheap green glowsticks, the weird artificial passages are well worth a visit [see photos]. The Banqueting Hall must have been a mighty impressive spot for a meal, and probably the odd orgy too. And once you finally cross the gloomy 'River Styx' to reach the Inner Temple at the very foot of the tunnels, you can easily imagine just how much fun a bunch of drunken old toffs and their mistresses could have had down here in the dark.

What to see (3): West Wycombe Park
The Dashwoods still live in the village, in the large yellow-painted stately home on the opposite side of the valley. The National Trust own this Palladian property and much of the surrounding land, and the gardens (and sometimes even the house) are open to the public during the summer. The main gate is guarded by a gaggle of earnest Trust matrons, but a few pounds or a quick flash of the membership card should see them off. The well-tended grounds are littered with fake classical follies, stone bridges and a polo pitch. There's also a central landscaped lake - or at least there should be except that it's almost completely dried up at the moment with a few bemused swans swimming in ever decreasing circles in the remaining puddle.

What to see (4): West Wycombe village
And then there's the village to enjoy. It must be special because the National Trust owns most of it. There are characterful cottages and crooked pubs (of the real ale persuasion). There are more shops than a settlement of 2000 people probably deserves, although cane furniture, handmade greetings cards and jars of ye olde sweets aren't your usual village staples. And there's only one main street, which ought to be utterly charming except that it's the main A40 and so there's usually a queue of traffic crawling through here most days. Never mind, you can always go hide up at the top of the hill again or, even better, underneath it.

 Friday, May 19, 2006

Which freakshow did you watch last night?

Oh my god did you see the launch of Big Brother 7 last night? Where did they find those housemates, they're insane? I mean, they get more extreme every year. It's not about character any more, it's about excess. You can't just be normal these days, you have to be offensive, self-obsessed and hugely flawed, or preferably all three. You've got to make your brief spell in the media spotlight count. If you've been physically enhanced, stick it out. If not, just dress to impress, leer at everyone in sight and pray you get noticed. Did you see the council estate trash? They're probably rutting already. Did you see the stilted posh totty, complete with over-chipped shoulders? Their parents are probably disinheriting them as we speak. Did you see the Chinese Jimmy Krankie, the Welsh nudist lifeguard and the hysterical gay Pakistani? It's Little Britain brought to life, that's what it is. And did you see the Pete Docherty <w*nker> lookalike with Tourette's? You couldn't make it up. Roll on the next three months.Oh my god did you see the Eurovision semi final last night? Where did they find those performers, they're insane? I mean, they get more extreme every year. It's not about music any more, it's about spectacle. You can't just turn up and sing these days, you have to wave flags, backflip and breathe fire, preferably simultaneously. You have to make your three minutes count. If you're cute, grin. If not, just stick on a wig and a silver jumpsuit, get yourself some meaty backing dancers and pray you get noticed. Did you see the Icelandic über-Björk? Shame she didn't make it to the final. Did you see the Finnish death metal band, complete with pterodactyl wings? They were taking the piss, weren't they? Did you see all the Balkan states practising voting for one another? It's geographically incestuous. And did you see the Russian ballerina emerging from the grand piano? You couldn't make it up. Roll on Saturday.
more from Chig in Athens
more from mike in Athens
For goodness sake, pull yourself together and get a life. When's the football on again?

 Thursday, May 18, 2006

Big Brother 7: In The House

According to unconfirmed hearsay, the 14 housemates entering Britain's most famous House tonight will be as follows:

Tony: Has survived being up for eviction in the last three consecutive public votes, but now much more unpopular after failing to inspire confidence during recent War task.
Gordo: In charge of totting up the weekly shopping list. Friends with Tony in public, but in private has been caught encouraging the other housemates to nominate "the useless slimy bastard".
Prezza: The biggest Brother of all, now to be found lounging around with nothing to do in the expensive luxury annexe.
Clarke: In an interesting and highly entertaining twist, has already been evicted before the series begins.
Cameron: Worthy young toff from the shires, on a secret mission to occupy the jacuzzi for the rest of the series.
Howard: Runner-up from the previous series, still to be found sleeping in his coffin in the bedroom after lights out.
Ming: Father of the House. Often attempts to chip in to general gossip but has yet to make much of an impression.
Reid: Often to be found in the diary room urging programme bosses to install even more CCTV cameras to keep an eye on the assembled population.
Black Rod: Token multiracial character.
Chief Whip: Token transexual Red Indian stripper.
Tessa: Responsible for recent success in winning the Big Brother Olympic task, but often in tears because other housemates doubt she can deliver.
Beckett: The tabloids have not been kind. Has been whisked off to Big Brother USA to move in with Bushy, Clint and Condo.
Jade: She may be thicker than three short planks, but I bet you'd trust her to run the country far more than all of the above put together.
Galloway: Nah, come on, what's the likelihood of a politician appearing on a blatantly self-publicising show like this?

 Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Arsenal Hurrah!!
 We're the second best football team in the whole of Europe!!
 Ah, I forgot, that's a crushing dismal failure isn't it?
 Damn, sorry.

Snap happy

It used to be possible to visit a minor tourist attraction or attend a public event without spotting a single camera. People attended purely for the experience, to say they'd been, no visual proof required. It's not like that any more. Everybody's a photographer these days, pointing their lens at anything that moves (and plenty of things that don't). Stand in a crowd and you'll probably have your view blocked by a flailing arm waving a camera. Try to take your own photograph of somewhere historic and you'll probably have to wait for several other amateur snappers to move out of shot first. Look it's a swan [snap] look it's a brick wall [snap] look it's a cloud [snap] look it's a Banksy! [snap snap snap].

We're taking more photographs than ever before because it's easy. And too convenient. And nigh instant. And free. And because we think other people want to see the photos we've taken. Which, unbelievably, it seems they do. Where our photos might previously have languished in a musty album, seen only by ourselves, family and friends, now we can share our latest snaps with everyone via the internet. Sites like the newly-revamped flickr have thrived because we've suddenly discovered that we like having our photos scrutinised, rated and reviewed. If we upload an arty shot of a Parliament Square at night, how many views will it get? Will anyone decide that this streetscape photo is a favourite? How about this reflection in a puddle, will it attract any comments? All of a sudden there's a tangible reason for taking photographs just for the sake of it, so more people do.

Comedian Dave Gorman is a case in point. He's discovered a whole new audience by posting regular photographs to his flickr account, many of these taken in and around east London. Dave's been building up a mighty impressive collection of diverse images, and has generated acres of reverential feedback in the process. But I do wonder whether this might merely be a way of generating material for his new book or stage show, because some of the comments he's getting exceed mere admiration and tip over into semi-religious fervour...
Lovely colours - really ZING.
Oh - NIce man, great perspective. I love that station.
Fantastic colours. Fantastic motion... This gets a *wow* from me.
Wonderful photograph, superb colours and fantastic detail ;-) well done.
Wow. that sky is just crazy. Brilliant angle & lighting - a superb night shot.
I suspect that this effusive outpouring is because people feel able to review photographs in a very different way to other forms of creative material. When we view good photographs we're usually able to express precisely what it is that we appreciate about them, often using quite technical or emotional language. It's not the same with paintings. Only proper art critics can describe a gallery of painted canvases with any genuine conviction. And it's not the case with writing either. Nobody ever pops up in my comments box and says "Oh my god WOW, fantastic paragraph structure!" or "I love your verb usage, so strong and so very reflective". No, the true power of the photographic art form is that, at some level or other, we all feel capable of commenting on the images that others capture. We know what we like and what we don't, and we know why. And often we think "I could have taken that", and next time we're out we try to attempt something equally impressive ourselves. But please, if you see me out and about with my camera, do keep out of my way - I don't want you messing up that perfect shot.

 Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Life through a lens

Thirty years ago I took a cheap black plastic camera on a week's holiday to one of the Channel Islands. The camera was point and click, no batteries or focus required, with a twisty button for winding the film on to the next shot. There was a round socket on top where I could have inserted a disposable flashcube, except I didn't have one so I had to take all my photographs outdoors. I'd taken a few shots back at home before the holiday began so the 12 exposure film was already nearly half finished. The camera sat at the bottom of my Dad's rucksack as we wandered round the island, and once or twice I remembered I had it and stopped to take some photographs. Nothing special, nothing arty, just a few sights that caught my ten-year-old eye. And once we returned to the mainland my Mum took the film in to our local chemist and, eventually, the negatives came back as curvy-cornered prints.

Blurred gorse bush, May 1975The results were pretty disappointing by modern standards, although at the time I was rather pleased with my efforts. A blurry close-up of a gorse bush and some daisies [reproduced here in all its dismal glory]. A distant lighthouse in a photo which was 85% grey sky. An impressive rock formation snapped from too far away to make any impact. A low dry stone wall across a featureless grass field. A semi-decent shot of a sandy bay with the rooftop of our guest house disappearing out of the bottom of the frame. And my Mum in a bright red coat kneeling to pick a flower, looking down just enough to keep the whole of her face out of shot. My entire photographic memories of that holiday consist of a handful of poorly taken snaps which only hint at the week we spent away. For some reason one particular clifftop featured in the majority of the photos, while most of the places we visited I never captured. It's almost as if the majority of that holiday never happened.

But thankfully my Dad had his own camera with him, a proper and more robust model, and he snapped away throughout the holiday. Sometimes he managed to take a candid picture of us interacting naturally with the environment. Other times we noticed him lurking with shutter poised and tried hard to keep out of shot. We knew he only had a certain number of shots and couldn't afford to waste too many of them. And then there were the more formal posed pictures of the assembled family grinning in front of some scenic backdrop - teeth bared, no escape. And when we got home - and the nice people at Kodak had worked their magic on the negatives - it was time for the post-holiday slide show. Curtains drawn, projector loaded, and the satisfying click as the next photograph slid in position. And there we all were large as life on the wall of the living room, a window into the past, just like magic. But each slide show was usually a one-off. It took so long to set up the equipment and to load all the slides correctly into the projector that each set of photographs probably got viewed just the once, and then it was back into the box with them all.

Photography has moved on almost unimaginably fast since then [as you can see from my latest snapshot]. Camera quality is hugely improved, permitting sharp photos even at the cheap end of the market. Auto focus and instant zoom allow us to concentrate on precisely what we want to capture. Digital cameras mean that we can take as many photographs as we like and discard the 99% of less-than-perfect shots. We can crop images to remove distractions, rotate the pixels to get our horizons horizontal and manipulate the colours to create the shot we'd like to have taken but didn't. And there's no more waiting around for days or even weeks for our prints to be processed. Even Boots the chemist's 1-hour premium service is seriously old-hat these days. Now we can upload and publish our photographs in seconds, and share those special family shots with relatives on the other side of the world without having to pay extra for a double set of prints. And there's no need for a wallpaper-backed slide show either, not when we can premiere seven hours of camcorder footage on our hi-res plasma screen instead. See, it's not all good news.

I took several hundred photographs on my last holiday. Even when I deleted the blurs, the bodges and the duplicates there were still tons of megapixels remaining. My latest holiday portfolio is of much better quality than the miserable set of eight I took on that far distant childhood holiday, and a far better memory jogger too. I can retrace every sight, event and sunlit panorama of my recent trip to San Francisco, which is sadly not the case for my family's Channel Island jaunt. But what really impresses me is that those eight 1970s photographs still exist. They may be stacked up in a box in the spare room, but they've survived three decades and will probably survive three more. And that's more than can be said for my more recent digital photographs. Electronic files may be versatile but they're also far far more fragile than paper rectangles, long term. That indistinct gorse bush won't disappear forever the next time my computer hard drive fails. That distant lighthouse won't be lost when I accidentally delete my backup folders. And that photograph of my kneeling mother will still be visible even after jpg files become obsolete. At least I can guarantee I'll have some photographic memories left when I'm 70, even if they are pre-digital, few in number and a bit blurred.

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