diamond geezer

 Sunday, December 31, 2006

Diamond Geezer - the 2006 index

A age-ism, appraisal, archives, automated announcements
B bank holidays, bank holiday weather, Becks, BBC1 idents, BB7, Big Green Stick, Bloggies, blogging from bed, Bloglines, blogroll, Blue Peter badges, blue screen of death, Bonfire Night, Brit Awards, British Day, broadband, brown, business email
Bow: Bow Creek, Bow Road, Bow Road station, Celebrity Gallowatch, Crossrail
C carbon audit, cars, car sharing, chip and PIN, cold, comments, conception, the Count, Creative Lounge, credit cards
D Daily Express, day 15000, Deal or No Deal, detox, Doctor Who, dogs, Dover, downsize, Dragon's Den
E earthquake 1906, earthquake centennial, Easter, email, end of term, endowments, environmental crimes, Evening Standard headlines
F FA Cup Final, fewer, fizzy drinks, Flash, flyers, fog, the Fog, 4th birthday, Friday 13th, Friends Reunited
G Golf Sale, Great British Design Quest, gym-going
H History Boys, hot
I ID cards, inconvenience, Independence Day
I-Spy London: Museum of London, Museum of Docklands, Geffrye Museum, British Museum, London Wetland Centre, Benjamin Franklin House, Imperial War Museum, Thames Barrier, V&A, Theatre Museum, Museum of Brands, New London Architecture, Chislehurst Caves, Down House
J January, July
K kittens, kittens galore
L local newspapers, Lost, Luskentyre
London: Battersea Power Station, beaches, Blind Beggar, Bloomsbury, books, bookshops, Bromley, Bushy Park, City, football, free papers, Goddards, Gherkin, Hackney, Heathrow, Highbury, Hillingdon, history, 100 things, Londoners of note, maps, May Fair, Merton Abbey Mills, North London line, Open House, Oyster, RM1, 77A, Spitalfields, Sultan's Elephant, Victoria Quay, Wembley, whale, what's on?, Woolwich Foot Tunnel
M magazines, manbags, May, Me Me meme, moaning
N National Security, new age, New Year
O obesity, office email, office nibbles, Open University, Outer Hebrides
Olympics: bandwagon, clock, cost, one year on, Open House, regeneration, revised plans, Winter Olympics
P Patientline, payphones, photography, pledges, post, Post Offices, pub music
Q Queen Quality and the Demon of Risk, Queen's birthday
Quizzes: airports, anniversaries, colours, dates, elements, fruit, upside down, Winter Olympics, World Cup
R readership survey, reflections, restart
S San Francisco, sapphire anniversary, security, 7/7, signatures, single life, silver wedding, smell, spam, spectacles, Spice Girls, Spring, suntan
Silver discs [1981]: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December
Streets of London: Ralph McTell, Baker Street, Electric Avenue, M25, Rossmore Road, Wardour Street, Waterloo Sunset
T Thanksgiving, Time Out, Top of the Pops, Top telly, total eclipse, town v country, traffic lights, TV listings, twilight, Twitter, two minute silence
tube: always touch in, anagram map, bad manners, Bakerloo centenary, chocolate machines, East London Line, engineering work, escalators, Gillespie Road, Metroland, Overground, Piccadilly centenary, Shoreditch, sponsored station names, ticket office hours, tube week, Waterloo & City
U university
V Valentines, video podcast, visitors
W West Wycombe, widescreen, Wii, Windows, World Cup

Some Christmases are longer than others

This Christmas has been going on a bit, hasn't it? The long quiet spell between breaking up from work and New Year, it seems to go on for ever. We're on day 9 now. I'm assuming here that you've not been working over Christmas, but instead broke up on the last working day before the 25th and are going back on the first working day after the 1st. This year that's a glorious 10-day festive hiatus. Perfect for being with family, doing the sales, recharging your batteries, or whatever. But we don't always get 10 days off. Some years we only get 8. It all comes down to which day of the week Christmas falls, and whether the end-of-year break contains one weekend or two. This year December 25th was on a Monday so we had a weekend immediately before Christmas Day, and now we have another weekend immediately before New Year's Day. But next year's break includes only one weekend. Next year we only get 8 days off. So make the most of the next couple of days - they're a proper festive bonus.

Here's a guide to how long the Christmas break is in different years. Christmas Day (green) and New Year's Day (blue) are always on the same day of the week as each other. Bank holidays (orange) fall on the 25th, 26th and 1st (or on the next working day if any of these are at the weekend). I've shown the full length of each year's Christmas break using a coloured strip (yellow, with orange bank holidays). See, some last 10 days, and some only 8.

2000/01   2006/7   Christmas Day on Monday
Here's this year's 10-day festive break. It's a good one. The last working day before Christmas was the 22nd (the earliest possible), followed by a full weekend to get ready for the big day. Then two successive Bank Holiday Mondays, with a decent gap inbetween, and back to work on Tuesday. Ten days altogether.

2001/2   2007/8   Christmas Day on Tuesday
Next year's not quite so good. Christmas Eve falls on a Monday, which slices off that first weekend. The break continues across one remaining weekend until the following Tuesday, but that's only 8 days altogether. Not great.

2002/3   2013/4   Christmas Day on Wednesday
Another 8-day-er, and possibly the worst Christmas break of all. There's a piddly but unavoidable two-day working week immediately before Christmas, and another piddly but unavoidable two-day working week after New Year. Still, at least we haven't got to suffer this particular break again until 2013, which is years away.

2003/4   2008/9   Christmas Day on Thursday
This isn't very good either. Another 8-day option, this time with Friday 2nd January getting in the way between the New Year holiday and another weekend. So 2008 is going to be just as brief as 2007, sorry.

1998/9   2009/10   Christmas Day on Friday
Hurrah, back to 10 days again. When New Year's Day reaches Friday, it links to a second weekend which prolongs the holiday. And this is also the only arrangement where all three Christmas bank holidays are spread out, with 'Boxing Day' celebrated two days late. Roll on 2009!

2004/5   2010/11   Christmas Day on Saturday
A full 10 day break from Saturday to Monday, just like this year. None of the bank holidays fall on the correct day, but we don't mind that. And, just like the previous year, a full three days to sleep off the New Year hangover. Nigh perfect.

2005/6   2011/12   Christmas Day on Sunday
And finally, last year's arrangement. 10 days altogether (which happens 4 years out of 7), from Saturday to Monday (which happens 3 years out of 7). Last year's Christmas was good and long. In fact, the last three Christmases have been good and long. Let's hope that next year's short Christmas doesn't come as too much of a shock.

 Saturday, December 30, 2006

2006 was the year I stayed in.

Not completely in, obviously. I went to work, as usual (I've not yet graduated to the dubious comforts of "working from home"). I went to the supermarket, as usual (I prefer to pick my own apples rather than allow some spotty home delivery oik to pick them for me). I went out and about and explored lots of different bits of London, as usual (because this would be a mighty tedious blog if I didn't). I even went on holiday, twice, which is absolutely unheard of. But, on the whole, especially of an evening, I stayed in.

Being the sort of person who counts things, I can tell you precisely how much of a stay-at-home I've become. Let's consider 'evenings out', in company. You know the sort of thing. Trips to the pub, visits to the cinema, a nice meal, a party perhaps, or just popping round to a friend's house for a cup of tea and a DVD. Overall, during the bits of 2006 when I wasn't on holiday or visiting my family, I've had precisely seven evenings out. Out of a possible three hundred and something. And, out of a possible 45 Saturday nights out, I've been out just the once. I really didn't think the total was quite that low until I counted. Grim, isn't it?

It wasn't always so. Four years ago my life was a social whirl. I was out almost every other night, here, there, everywhere, keeping busy, doing stuff. A pub here, a cinema there, a meal to follow, another pub later on, and maybe a club, oh hell why not? I wouldn't call 2002 typical (it was my first full year living in London) but it proved that I'm no anti-social stay-at-home when I choose to be. In 2002 I managed a magnificent total of 150 nights out. And this year it's been seven. Spot the difference.

The problem, if indeed it is a problem, is that I genuinely don't mind staying in of an evening. It's warmer, cheaper, less smoky and (perhaps most importantly) nearer. I don't miss going out, so I've stopped bothering. Sorry, but that's how it is. And a very special sorry to some of my regular blog readers who've suggested meeting up at some point in 2006 and I've said "er, no thanks". By my calculations I've turned down going out with at least 20 of you over the course of the last year. A drink in a pub, a blogmeet, a coffee, a social networking event, a barbecue, a dodgy club south of the river - I just wasn't feeling up to going out, sorry.

It may be another Saturday night tonight, but I'm staying in again. I've picked up a nasty cold over Christmas, a right sniffly one, and I'd hate to inflict it on anyone else. Honest. And then there's New Year's Eve tomorrow, the most over-excessive ultra-important social night of the year. You'll no doubt be spending the evening with other people, doing stuff, because it's expected. Whereas I might go out somewhere, but probably not to any event where people actually talk to one another. Or I might stay in. Again.

But don't worry, because I don't mind being an after-dark hermit, really I don't. When I feel like going out I go out, and the rest of the time staying in is quite good enough. Please don't invite me out merely out of pity. Please don't message me with words of comfort and advice, because I really don't need them. And please don't be surprised if you suggest meeting up in the future and I turn you down. It's nothing personal, honest. And you never know, I might just be up for it one day. In fact, I've got two drunken nights out (with three of my blogroll) planned just next week. 2007, hopefully, is not going to be the year I stay in. We'll see.

 Friday, December 29, 2006

The ten links you clicked on the most during 2006
The very wonderful Anagram Tube Map ("Content removed at the request of Healeys Solicitors acting on behalf of Transport for London and Transport Trading Ltd") (Sorry) <cough>
2) The very wonderful Upside Down South London Tube Map
3) The very wonderful London Motorway Map (in the style of a London tube map)
4) Twitter (which I've given up on because my life isn't sufficiently interesting, but I'm still enjoying snooping on others)
5) The personal website of Big Brother contestant Lea Walker (which still says "In the months to come, I will be expanding my website with my story and pic's - please be patient, it will be worth it!", so don't bother looking)
6) What the tube map will look like in 2010 (are you spotting a "tube map" trend here?)
7) New Popular Edition Maps (scrollable 1940s Ordnance Survey maps, and your Christmas favourite)
8) Goddard's (the now closed-down Greenwich pieshop, sob)
9) How long can you keep the red square away from the blue rectangles? (one of those simple but addictive online games)
10) MSN's rather peculiar List of Top 30 UK blogs (which listed this blog as "Oceans of opinion on current affairs", the poor deluded souls)

  the definitive DG guide to London sights-worth-seeing
  2006 summary

1) The Museum of London: admission free, closed 1 January [website] [map]
2) The Museum of Docklands: admission free 27-31 December (usually £5), closed 1 January [website] [map]
3) Geffrye Museum: admission free, closed Mondays [website] [map]
4) British Museum: admission free, closed 1 January [website] [map]
5) London Wetland Centre: admission free [website] [map]
6) Benjamin Franklin House: admission £7.25, closed Mondays and Tuesdays [website] [map]
7) Imperial War Museum: admission free [website] [map]
8) Thames Barrier Visitor Centre: admission £2, closed 1 January [website] [map]
9) Victoria and Albert Museum: admission free [website] [map]
10) Theatre Museum: admission free, closed Mondays [website] [map] (closed permanently 7 Jan 2007)
11) The Museum of Brands, Packaging & Advertising: admission £5.80, closed Mondays [website] [map]
12) New London Architecture: admission free, closed Sundays [website] [map]
13) Chislehurst Caves: admission £5, closed 25-29 December, closed Monday & Tuesdays [website] [map]
14) Down House: admission £6.90, closed until February [website] [map]

Perhaps you'll be inspired to take a day out in London over the New Year period (assuming you're not spending all your time at the sales, or drunk, or both)

 Thursday, December 28, 2006

Wii wish you a merry Christmas

When I was a child (and quite an old child at that), video games had big chunky graphics and could only be controlled by a big twisty knob which moved your rectangular on-screen bat either left or right. How excited we were by those realistic 'football' and 'tennis' games where a tiny square 'ball' bounced at 45 degrees around a monochrome screen. By the time I was a teenager video games had progressed into two dimensions, and involved pressing keys on a computer keyboard or wielding a distinctly dodgy-looking joystick. How realistic we thought these games were, as we steered our boxy spaceships through pixellated asteroid fields or careered our Formula 1 cars round barely-distinguishable Grand Prix circuits.

And then games consoles got even more realistic, requiring the use of several buttons of different shapes and sizes to allow us to mimic an even wider variety of physical actions. "To backflip and kick your opponent in the chest, press button B for half a second then simultaneously press the square and circle buttons using the thumbs on opposite hands". Learning to play a new game became like learning to play the piano, only more complicated. If you couldn't master the correct synchronised combinations of split-second knuckle reflexes for the new game you'd just bought, your on-screen character was doomed. It's no wonder that, whilst some people now adore video games, many others are completely put off by their sheer logic-defying intricacy.

This Christmas my nephews were lucky enough to get their hands on the very latest games console, the ridiculously-named Nintendo Wii. While the rest of the UK was watching the Vicar of Dibley on Christmas Day, our family's TV was devoted instead to the playing of ten-pin bowling, golf and tennis. There we all stood in front of the screen, the complete age range from 7 to 70, waving our wireless Wii remotes in the air and having a whale of a time. It wasn't the games themselves that engrossed us (all very basic, with not a ninja warrior in sight) but the unexpected simplicity of the gameplay. To hit a golf ball, swing your arm like you're hitting a golf ball. To return a tennis serve, swing your arm like you're returning a tennis serve. To bowl a bowling ball, swing your arm like you're bowling a bowling ball. No longer do you have to translate your actions into a series of key presses or joystick swivels. In one unexpected and innovative leap, the Wii has made video games far more realistic.

I suspect that Nintendo have a highly profitable winning product on their hands. Hardcore gamers probably won't be converted, but consumers in the wider marketplace now have a simple and inclusive alternative to button pushing complexity. Everyone can join in. Take the family ten-pin bowling without having to fork out £5 each for the privilege or changing into embarrassing plimsolls. Get home from the pub on a Friday night and challenge your drunken mates to a game or three of proper tennis. Encourage your slightly chubby teenager to lose weight by pretending to beat the crap out of a cartoon opponent in a boxing match. At long last, video games can be sociable, instinctive and physical.

Of course, Wii games still aren't properly realistic. I can't score 173 in a real game of ten-pin bowling (I usually end up with about 100 less, and rather more shots tumbling embarrassingly down the gutter). I can't hit a real golf ball 200 yards down the fairway (I'd almost certainly end up thwacking it 100 yards short, or chipping it sideways into the rough). The sheer embarrassment of true realism is, thankfully, still a long way off. Until then, I shall continue to try to impress my nephews with my uncanny ball skills and astonishing sporting dexterity. Wii are amused.

A much better in-depth review of the complete Wii package (from the Outer Hebrides)
Go retro and play Pacman, Pong, Frogger, Donkey Kong and Asteroids instead

 Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The life expectancy of a Christmas present

0 seconds: "It's perfect, but you bought me exactly the same thing last year"
1 second: "Oh. Where's my next present?"
5 seconds: "Thank you Auntie Joan, I shall play with it later."
7 seconds: "It's a novelty golfball holder. In the shape of a fish. I suppose that's mildly amusing."
10 seconds: "Why didn't you just give me money instead?"
15 seconds: "Hey everyone, look what's fallen out of this cracker! It's a plastic moustache. Haha, don't I look funny wearing it? Who got the red roll-up fortune-telling fish?"
25 seconds: "This aftershave smells like rotting fish on a compost heap. Surely nobody expects me to wear this cheap rubbish?"
46 seconds: "Oh wow oh wow oh wow, you bought me a parachute jump! I can't believe it! How bloody exciting is that?"
2 minutes: "This book looks like it might be quite interesting. Let me just flick through the pages briefly. Yeah, sort of interesting, ish. I'll read it properly some other time."
5 minutes: "Fantastic! I've got an iPod! Oh damn, it appears to have broken."
1 hour: "Look, it's the Noel Edmonds Deal or no Deal interactive DVD game. Shall we all play it this afternoon? We needn't play it again if you don't enjoy it."
73 minutes: "I really wanted this CD, thanks! But, having listened to it, the album's nowhere near as good as the single is it?"
1½ hours: "Chocolate body paint? Are you trying to tell me something?"
3 hours: "I'm just going to go and read this book in the conservatory while the rest of you play Monopoly again."
7 hours: "Does anybody want to help me assemble this Lego space station?"
17 hours: "Ooh, it's the complete Desperate Housewives series 2 DVD box set. That'll keep me busy."
24 hours: "Novelty Christmas socks? Why thanks. I shall wear them throughout the rest of Christmas."
3 days: "Unwanted gift. This eBay auction ends in 2 days 23 hours 55 minutes"
2 months: "Mmm, a giant bar of chocolate. I'm sure it won't take long to exercise away all these extra calories in the New Year."
3 months: "Brown scarves are so fashionable, thanks."
365 days: "Aww, the Cliff Richard 2007 calendar. He still looks so young, doesn't he?"
7 years: "I knew some eco-fanatic would buy me an Oxfam goat for Christmas. What the hell do I want with a goat?"
15 years: "A bottle opener? Why on earth did you buy me a bottle opener? Still, I guess it might be useful."
50 years: "It's perfect. It's just so absolutely what I wanted."
1000 years: "Have you seen this useless plastic gift that Uncle Nigel bought me? Why would anyone want that? Throw it out in the rubbish and let the dustman take it to landfill."
10000 years: "Excellent, yet another electronic gizmo to plug into the overflowing extension lead. Global warming be damned."

 Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas in Trafalgar Square

 Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas at St Paul's Cathedral

 Sunday, December 24, 2006

The 12 London addresses of Christmas
1 Partridge Way, Wood Green
2 Doves Close, Bromley
3 French Place, Shoreditch
4 Callingham Close, Limehouse
5 Goldrings Road, Oxshott
6 Gooseacre Lane, Kenton
7 Swan Street, Isleworth
8 Milkwood Road, Herne Hill
9 Pipers Green, Kingsbury
10 Drummond Road, Bermondsey
11 Ladysmith Road, Edmonton
12 Lordship Lane, Dulwich

five gold links (in case you find yourself bored over Christmas)
I bet you'd be interested to see what your local neighbourhood looked like in the 1940s. New Popular Edition Maps allows you to zoom in and scroll around on some vintage postwar Ordnance Survey maps. Maybe your house or town were just fields back then. Why not take a look? And while you're at it, type in your postcode too (to help the site owners to build up a copyright-free national database of location data).
You've played Where's Wally. But now it's Christmas. So play Where is Jesus? instead. [via linkbunnies]
Was your name ever in the Top 100 most popular boys and girls names in the UK? How about the names of the rest of your family? Track the changing fashions in forenames from 1904 to the present day (graphically) using the Namebrain. Quite fascinating.
Got a new music player for Christmas? You could always fill some of your vacant memory by downloading some classic TV theme tunes (if only this weren't despicably illegal, of course).
Fancy watching hundreds of UK TV adverts from the late 80s and early 90s? Of course you do. Paul has uploaded 55 adbreak medleys to YouTube, almost all of which contain a scary hairstyle and a forgotten catchphrase. Taste the rainbow of fruit flavours!

 Saturday, December 23, 2006


At home, with all the family descending (so much to do, so much to buy!)
At someone else's home, as part of the descending family (so little to do, so far to travel!)
On the beach, somewhere in the tropics (so far away from it all, so stuff Christmas!)
Travel woe
Stuck on the M1 (unable to see out of the back window through a pile of wrapped gifts)
Stuck on the West Coast mainline (stood for 8 hours outside a malfunctioning toilet cubicle)
Stuck at Heathrow (with your entire Christmas packed in a checked-in wheelie suitcase)
Christmas morning
Woken at 5am by excited squeals ("You'll never guess who's been!! And he ate the mince pie!")
Woken at 6am to put the turkey in the oven ("Bugger, it's too big, it won't fit! Maybe if I peel the bacon off...")
Woken at 11am with a pounding hangover ("And about time too! Come on, there are sprouts to peel!")
Christmas lunch
Full roast turkey dinner, with all the trimmings (it'll take a whole week of January to exercise away all those carbs)
Full vegetarian equivalent, with organic trimmings (expect elevated methane emissions later in the day)
Whatever's in the fridge, because all the shops are shut (damn, Pot Noodle it is then)
Christmas afternoon
Watching the Queen's speech over a large brandy (you'll be asleep as soon as she mentions "My Commonwealth")
Playing with everybody else's presents (because they're much better than the rubbish you got)
Listening to the new Westlife CD for the 4th time (which fool bought that for Auntie Joan?)
Christmas evening
Watching the Vicar of Dibley whilst devouring a box of Meltis Berry Fruits (sheer festive perfection)
Playing Monopoly with the TV off ("Does nobody want to watch Doctor Who? No? Damn. That'll be £16 rent please")
Hiding away in the conservatory checking your emails (thank heavens for the neighbours' leaky wifi)

 Friday, December 22, 2006

<rips envelope>
<opens Christmas card>
<letter falls out>

What a year it's been!

2006 got off to a bad start when Auntie Joan was taken ill. If only she'd finished off the leftover turkey a bit earlier, she'd never have made that risotto and ended up in A&E over New Year. Baby Jayden's christening was lovely, despite his piercing screams of terror when the vicar dropped him in the font. We enjoyed the chance to meet the whole family, including the six new step-cousins and Uncle Ken's Thai bride. Pat and I had a lovely weekend in the Peaks in Kath and Brian's holiday cottage. Unfortunately I had terrible trouble with the central heating and ended up flooding the village street, so we had to leave early.

We spent Easter on the slopes of Zermatt. Unfortunately my skis spent Easter in the hold of a Jumbo at Larnaca, so I was on the schnapps rather more than the piste. Cassandra enjoyed being the bridesmaid at Carl and Alex's wedding, despite the hailstorm. She looked really lovely in her peach and lilac chiffon dress, at least until the photographer whisked her off for an extra session overnight. The garden took up a lot more of our time throughout the summer, especially the creation of our unique sloping croquet lawn. Sadly we had to take Biggles to the vet to be put down after he unwisely picked a fight with the Flymo.

We were forced to move house in September after the News of the World accidentally printed our address amongst a list of known sex offenders. Thankfully we managed to rescue most of our belongings from the bonfire, but the Axminster was ruined beyond repair. Auntie Joan surprised us all by giving birth to triplets at Bev and Jim's anniversary do. The ambulance people cleared the buffet to make space for her contractions, but several trays of vol-au-vents had to be thrown away afterwards.

It's been a really successful year for the kids. Kyle passed his Grade 7 flute with distinction and also broke the infant school sports day record for the shot put. Alicia is now fluent in Japanese, Latin and Serbo Croat, and we were all delighted when her bottletop collage was accepted by the Royal Academy. Meanwhile Pat and I have continued our weekend voluntary work at the Latvian orphanage, and our divorce papers are due to be served in the New Year.

Well, I must sign off now.
Looking forward to hearing your news.

Yours etc

 Thursday, December 21, 2006

We wish you a foggy Christmas

O little town of London Heathrow
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and endless fog
No silent planes go by
Yet in thy terminals endureth
An everlasting plight
The suitcased hordes from flights abroad
Are grounded in thee to-night

     I didn't see three ships come sailing in
     On Christmas day, on Christmas day
     But I heard their bloody foghorn din
     On Christmas day in the morning

Away in an airport, no sign of a bed
The folk in the departure lounge laid down their sweet head
The planes 'neath the white sky all trapped where they lay
The whole fleet of Jumbos, a-queued on the runway

     We three kings of Overcast are
     Bearing torches we traverse afar
     Lost and fumbling, hopelessly stumbling
     Unable to follow yonder star

Good King Wenceslas passed out, on the feast of Stephen
When the fog lay round about, deep and crisp and freezin'
Dimly shone the gasfire that night, and the frost was cruel
When the poor man lost his fight, running out of fuel

     While shepherds watched their flocks by night
     All seated on the ground
     The thick fog of the Lord came down
     And all the sheep disappeared

Silent night, peasouper night
See black ice, slam brakes tight
Round yon hairpin bend too fast and wild
Through the windscreen mother and child
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

 Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Important Christmas travel information* (just in)
The East London line is to be completely closed from 23 December. And it's not just shutting down for Christmas, it's closing down for several years. This is so that substantial building works can take place, extending the line both north to Dalston Junction and south to West Croydon. Buses will replace trains throughout the closure. And the revamped line won't be reopening until June 2010 at the very earliest, as part of the new overground East London Railway. A big poster at my local tube station announced this news today, and warned customers planning to buy an annual season ticket that they might want to think again.
Liverpool Street mainline station will also be completely closed from 23 December to 1 January inclusive. The 10-day closure is also related to East London line re-engineering, which requires major construction work across the approach to the station. Alternative arrangements will be put in place to replace trains that normally serve Liverpool Street, but expect extended journey times right through the Christmas and New Year period. It says so in the latest one railway timetables. You have been warned.
* (Oh, but this is Christmas 2007, not Christmas 2006. Isn't it great how much advance warning they give these days?)

 The umop apisdn quiz

Get yourself a calculator.
Type in one of the sums below.
Turn your calculator umop apisdn.
Look! It spells a word!
How retro is that?

Now stick your word in the comments box.
(and watch out for the rude ones)

A) 6 × 751
B) 14 × 577
C) 8 × 4001
D) 61 × 580
E) 114 × 317
F) 191 × 198
G) 493 × 755
H) 616 × 863
I) 15 × 30223
J) 34 × 11059
K) 466 × 7793
L) 424 × 11959
M) 1051 × 5059

N) 1421 × 3897
O) 1726 × 4481
P) 1987 × 2707
Q) 3867 ÷ 5000
R) 5582 × 6637
S) 8361 × 6938
T) 9576 × 5783
U) 2939 × 26317
V) 27 × 1400599
W) 875 × 65986813
X) 14215469 ÷ 20000
Y) 15711 × 24070 + 1
Z) 6594 × 2293 × 3517

[all now guessed, thanks]

 Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Happy 400th birthday America

Virginia Quay, and DomeYou thought the Pilgrim Fathers founded America? You thought wrong. The first British settlers arrived in the New World in 1607, some 14 years earlier. These pioneers landed in modern day Virginia, at a place they named Jamestown in honour of the reigning monarch. And they had to sail from somewhere, and that somewhere was the Isle of Dogs. Blackwall, to be precise, close to the mouth of the River Lea, immediately opposite (yes, where else) the Millennium Dome. [map]

Exactly 400 years today, on 19th December 1606, three ships slipped anchor into the Thames and sailed off to found a nation. Aboard the Susan Constant, the Discovery and the Godspeed were more than 100 brave souls, charged with establishing a new colony in Virgin territory. Their journey was an eventful one. The wintry Atlantic storms took their toll during the crossing, after the flotilla had spent several weeks becalmed off the coast of Ireland. One of the ships' captains, a certain John Smith, spent several weeks locked in the hold on trumped up charges, but was thankfully released on arrival at Chesapeake Bay. Here he helped lead the new colonists through their first tough years on alien soil, and maintained an uneasy local peace by trading with the native Indians.

One of those Indians was 11-year-old Pocahontas, princess of the Powhatan. You know her story, you've seen the cartoon (you may even have bought the Happy Meal). When she was (a bit) older she married one of the widowed settlers, and took on the somewhat unlikely name of Lady Rebecca. In 1616 her husband sailed with her to London, ostensibly to wow the local venture capitalists into throwing more money at the new colony. The royal couple spent several months living in Brentford (on the site of the present Royal Mail Delivery Office) and were guests of honour at a number of important social gatherings. The following year they made plans to return to Virginia, but sailed no further down the Thames than Gravesend before Pocahontas was taken ill and died. She was only 22, but her mixed-race marriage had helped a new nation take root.

Virginia Quay, BlackwallThe departure point of that initial 1606 voyage is marked today by a monument beside the Thames. The best way to find it is to take the DLR to East India, then head down towards the river past the brand new Budgens. This used to be dockland, but a vast Barratt's housing estate now covers the site. Walk along the Greenwich meridian and turn left at the water's edge, and there facing the Dome is the First Settlers Monument [photo]. The memorial was once topped off by a stone mermaid, but she got stolen overnight once and has since been replaced by a metal astrolabe [photo]. In fact the whole monument was given a much-needed restoration by Barratt's when they moved on site (I know, who'd have thought) and now stands proud and double-flagged beside the river. [map]

Not that anyone ever comes to visit, as far as I can tell. Mews residents in Jamestown Way may step out of their front doors and stare past the monument towards the Dome, and the odd waterside jogger may occasionally puff by, but this most historic site remains well off the usual American tourist trail. Although today, I think, will be an exception. There are a scattering of quatercentenary events planned, both at here at Blackwall and at the Museum in Docklands, to help commemorate the place where the American dream began.
From near this spot 19 December 1606 sailed with 105 adventurers the 'Susan Constant', Capt Christopher Newport in supreme command. Landed at Cape Henry, Virginia, April 26 1607. Arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, May 13 1607 where the adventurers founded the first permanent English colony in America under the leadership of the intrepid Capt John Smith. (Erected by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities)
The 'First Settlers' Monument at Blackwall
Model showing the Virginia Quay estate and site of the memorial
Museum in Docklands exhibition & full-size replica of the Discovery
Jamestown 1607 & Captain John Smith
The real Pocahontas
Official site for the Jamestown 2007 anniversary celebrations
Website to encourage Americans to visit historic England in 2007

 Monday, December 18, 2006

Let's all giggle at the Dome The O2 website
Before I go any further, I should make the following clear:
• I have a very big soft spot for the Millennium Dome
• It'll be great to have it open and accessible again, even as a massive bland "entertainment hub"
• I still think that The O2 is a bloody stupid name for a building
OK, now let's all giggle at the The O2 website.
[Or The O2 as they call it, because the site can't cope with subscripts]
Don't giggle at the virtual tour, because that's rather good.
Ignore all the stuff about booking tickets too.
Let's concentrate instead on the text on the information pages.
The following are genuine quotes. Honest. Straight up.

"The O2 will be Europe’s leading entertainment destination – a new city-within-a-city for Londoners and the world to explore and enjoy."
It's a big tent on a reclaimed gasworks, for heaven's sake. Let's not overdo the hyperbole.

"The O2 will be a leisure and hospitality experience of a kind never before known in the UK."
The Dome was a leisure and hospitality experience of a kind never before known in the UK. This is not necessarily a good thing.

"When the world’s best performers do London, they have to Do The O2 Arena."
Er, no they don't. They might do Wembley, or do Earl's Court, or do the back room of a pub in Camden. They don't have to do you.

"The Entertainment District will surround The O2 Arena, in a street as long and as wide as Bond Street. Occupying 60% of The O2’s floor space, The Entertainment District will host numerous restaurants, bars, leisure attractions and retail outlets. It will be open day and night and will soon become one of London’s favourite entertainment destinations in it’s own right."
So, most of the new O2 will be the usual collection of chain-brand high street clones? Tapas, vodka, cappucinos and handbags. That does indeed sound world-beating. And do let's please try to ignore the rogue apostrophe, OK?

"With such a mix of performers, a world-class music venue, numerous restaurants, bars and shops, a cinema and exhibitions we asked ourselves what more could you add to such an incredible cocktail of entertainment? Lots of ice. So when you Do The O2, Do The Ice Rink"
So, The O2 is aimed at visitors who still think ice rinks are cutting edge. Is this really the peak entertainment experience that the 21st century can bring? I think not.

"The O2 Trivia: The O2 equals ten St Paul’s Cathedrals"
Presumably that's in volume, not in status. I think you'll find in reality that one St Paul's Cathedral outranks ten O2s. At least.

"There really could be no more perfect place to site a major entertainment destination than on the banks of the River Thames at Greenwich."
You know, I think there could. Piccadilly Circus, for example. Or even Birmingham.

"Getting there: The O2 is an interesting walk from historic Greenwich, while various cycle routes lead up the peninsular to The O2 where there are cycle racks available"
Erm, 'interesting' is an understatement. Have you ever tried walking or cycling up the Thames Path from Greenwich to the Dome? The route passes along a series of alleyways and deserted riverside quays, round the back of large industrial units and past some distinctly smelly belching chimneys. It's wonderfully atmospheric, but I wouldn't recommend it a) alone, b) after dark, c) to the O2's target audience.

In fact, can I just criticise this map for a minute? How utterly useless and misleading is this map? The main road shown (the A13) doesn't appear to link to North Greenwich because someone has forgotten to draw in the Blackwall Tunnel. The same symbol is used for 'Bus', 'River' and 'TFL' (whatever a 'TFL' is - I think they mean 'tube station'). Some of the DLR is shown, but not all. "East India Docks" (sic) may be the closest DLR station to the Dome, but you'd have to swim across the Thames to reach it. London City Airport has been unceremoniously dumped on top of Bow Creek, with just a small arrow hinting that it's really rather further away. And where do the buses actually stop? There's no clue either on the map or underneath in the text. This is a nigh perfect example of how not to draw a useful map. </rant>

"When you come to The O2, you’ve got to Do Peninsula Square - as soon as you arrive, you’ll be amazed by the vibrancy of the outside space and surrounding area at The O2. It covers an area the size of Leicester Square and will be just as exciting."
Just as exciting as Leicester Square, eh? I don't think we're going to be "amazed by the vibrancy" of a tramp-infested litter-strewn scrappy patch of grass swarming with tourists eating over-priced ice cream and rubbery pizza.

"To maintain a safe and comfortable environment The O2 will not permit any action that may be perceived as intimidating – these include Gathering in large groups"
Surely the whole point of the O2 is that people gather in large groups. Are security guards seriously going to shut down the cinema after five people have entered? This looks to me like a poorly-worded catch-all rule to bar undesirables at the whim of management.

"The removal of clothing inside The O2 is forbidden so shirts and shoes should be worn at all times"
Justin Timberlake's opening concert on July 4th is going to be a bit dull then, isn't it? No wardrobe malfunctions allowed. And some of us don't wear shirts all the time, you know (like most of the female population, for example).

"For legal reasons alcohol may only be consumed within premises that hold a relevant license, customers must stay within the demise of the premises where they bought the drink."
Demise of the premises? You've made that up, haven't you. It may be an amusing error, but it's wholly inappropriate on the website of such an important redevelopment project. This entire online presence appears to have been cobbled together by PR apprentices who should have known better, and whose proof-reading skills and quality procedures are at best questionable.

"The venue is set for a July 2007 opening"
I do hope that the venue is better than its website. No really, I do. But we'll see, won't we?

 Sunday, December 17, 2006

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

The three best records from the Top 10 (15th December 1981)
Human League - Don't You Want Me: Let's define the 1980s in one song. Here it is. Even America succumbed. You nearly didn't hear it, because Phil Oakey wasn't keen. Don't You Want Me was only slipped in as a filler at the end of the League's recently released album Dare, from which three other singles had already been taken. The band only agreed to release it as a single so long as purchasing fans were rewarded with a free poster. As things turned out, the song sold itself. The pounding synth melody. Him singing down to her and her singing back up to him. A tale of Svengali-like fame and ambition. And the catchiest chorus you ever did hear (wooooooah-oh-oh-oh). This song broke all the rules for a Christmas number 1. It hit the top of the charts well before Christmas, it lodged there for a full five weeks, and it kept 'proper' sentimental mush by Cliff Richard off the festive summit. Plus, let's be honest, you love it. That much is true. [video] [TotP]
"You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when I met you. I picked you out, I shook you up and turned you around, turned you into someone new."
Soft Cell - Bedsitter: Following up their storming cover of Tainted Love, now a sudden retreat into the seedy world of backstreet anonymity. The song sounded upbeat enough, but the lyrics and video told a very different story. A lonely life lived out in one room, going through the motions, bereft of hope. No internet in those days, nothing to do, just tuck yourself beneath a grubby eiderdown and wait for Friday. The pointlessness of living for the weekend, earning just enough to blow in one hedonistic 48 hour splurge. The words meant little to me at the time, safely tucked up in my teenage suburban bedroom, but how they would resonate later. A song to cherish and adore, especially for all those of us who've since left that world behind. [video] [TotP]
"Clothes and records on the floor, the memories of the night before out in club land having fun. And now I'm hiding from the sun, waiting for a visitor though no-one knows I'm here for sure"
Abba - One of Us: For six years the Swedish foursome had dominated the charts. Every song a monster hook and every release a monster hit. This inoffensive ballad to love lost was no exception. But it was to be the very last of their blockbuster smashes. After 18 consecutive top ten hits, the next dribble of new Abba singles would struggle even to reach the top 30. Not that we realised at the time. It was Christmas, and Abba were up there where they belonged. It was the end of an era. [video]
"One of us is lonely, one of us is only waiting for a call. Sorry for herself, feeling stupid feeling small, wishing she had never left at all"

The best Christmas record in the world ever
Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping: In 1981 the Ze record label in New York put together a Christmas compilation album featuring one track from each of their artists. Cristina contributed, as did Was (Not Was), but it was the shining musical bauble by the Waitresses which really glittered. "Last year, ski shop encounter, most interesting. Had his number but never the time. Most of '81 passed along those lines." Ohio-born singer Patty Donohue half-chanted half-spoke the lyrics - the fairytale story of a single woman on Christmas Eve reflecting on missed opportunities. (W)rap music was still in its infancy, so the band got away with the punny title. "Flashback to springtime, saw him again, would've been good to go for lunch. Couldn't agree when we were both free, we tried, we said we'd keep in touch." In the wrong hands this cheesy backstory would be mushy mawkishness, but instead the tune chugs along with infectious optimism and cheery indifference. Indeed every time I hear this song I never fail to join in, jigging along in time to the sleighbells and reflecting on the joys of year-long singledom. "Last fall I had a night to myself, same guy called, Hallowe'en party. Waited all night for him to show, this time his car wouldn't go." But a happy ending is in store. The all-night grocery store, no less, to which both parties trudge through the snow to buy coincidental cranberries. You never can predict where the bloke of your dreams will appear. "So on with the boots, back out in the snow to the only all-night grocery. When what to my wondering eyes should appear, in the line is that guy I've been chasing all year!" Christmas Wrapping wasn't released as a single until the following year, and sadly never quite crept inside the Top 40 even then. At least the Spice Girls managed to take the song to number 1, as an Anglicised cover version B-side to their last Xmas chart-topper Goodbye. "Then suddenly we laughed and laughed, caught on to what was happening. That Christmas magic's brought this tale to a very happy ending!" But the 'proper' Waitresses version is the festive non-hit single that's refused to die, and is still rightly featured every year on Xmas compilations and radio playlists. May it be part of your Christmas, and mine, forever.
"Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Couldn't miss this one this year!"
those upbeat lyrics (on Chris the composer's blog)
listen on YouTube (but don't watch the 'video')
full Waitresses band info

20 other Christmas hits from 25 years ago: Begin The Beguine (Julio Iglesias), Daddy's Home (Cliff Richard), It Must Be Love (Madness), Why Do Fools Fall In Love (Diana Ross), I Go To Sleep (Pretenders), Ay Ay Ay Ay Moosey (Modern Romance), Good Morning Universe (Toyah), Cambodia (Kim Wilde), Flashback (Imagination), Rock'n'Roll (Status Quo), Wedding Bells (Godley and Creme), Turn Your Love Around (George Benson), Ant Rap (Adam and the Ants), Spirits In The Material World (Police), Young Turks (Rod Stewart), Stars Over 45 (Chas and Dave), Hokey Cokey (The Snowmen), Footsteps (Showaddywaddy), Yes Tonight Josephine (Jets), Wild Is The Wind (David Bowie) ...which hit's your favourite? ...which one would you pick?

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