diamond geezer

 Saturday, March 31, 2007

City dragonThe City of London boasts 107 Livery Companies. These are trade associations established to further the interests of particular mercantile professions, and many have existed since medieval times. Here's an alphabetical list (and here's a list ranked in order of ceremonial importance). The Livery Companies represent all the ancient trades you might expect - including Grocers, Fishmongers and Ironmongers - as well as some seriously outdated professions whose services are no longer required. Nowadays these ancient guilds are mostly ceremonial, concentrating on charitable work instead of business regulation. But since the 1960s there's been a trend to establish guilds relating to more modern professions, presumably so that high-flying City businessmen don't feel like they're missing out on dressing up in funny robes and throwing slap-up banquets. Any excuse, eh?

Fifteen ridiculously out-of-date City Livery Companies
6) The Worshipful Company of Skinners (fur traders)
20) The Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers (candlemakers)
21) The Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers (smelly candlemakers)
22) The Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers (armour makers and brass workers)
23) The Worshipful Company of Girdlers (girdle and belt makers)
27) The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers (fine leather workers)
29) The Worshipful Company of Curriers (tanned leather dressers)
38) The Worshipful Company of Bowyers (longbow makers)
39) The Worshipful Company of Fletchers (arrow makers)
54) The Worshipful Company of Horners (leather bottle makers)
57) The Worshipful Company of Loriners (stirrup and harness makers)
64) The Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters (fur traders)
70) The Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers (wooden clog cobblers)
72) The Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers
75) The Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards (a pack of jokers)

Ten ridiculously modern City Livery Companies
The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists84) The Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers
86) The Worshipful Company of Chartered Accountants
88) The Worshipful Company of Builders Merchants
90) The Worshipful Company of Marketors
96) The Worshipful Company of Lightmongers (electric light sellers)
97) The Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners
100) The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists
102) The Worshipful Company of Water Conservators
105) The Worshipful Company of Management Consultants
107) The Worshipful Company of Tax Advisers

 Friday, March 30, 2007

Have you ever had a really good job?
One which you believe 'makes a difference'?
One where you don't mind getting up in the mornings, even on a Monday?
One where you work alongside committed, professional colleagues with a shared sense of humour?
One where teamwork is the norm and everyone pulls together?
One where your boss is on your side and always fights your corner?
One where your impact on the wider community is seen as more important than shareholder dividends?
One with reasonable pay and a decent work-life balance?
One which you've become highly experienced in and are bloody good at?
One which has survived years of corporate restructuring relatively unscathed?
One which you've been doing for so long that you take it completely for granted?

Have you ever had the sudden dawning realisation that things are about to change?
That the status quo is about to come to an end?
That plans are afoot, somewhere in the higher echelons?
That existing structures are going to be irrevocably changed?
That roles and responsibilities are going to be reallocated and realigned?
That the highly effective team in which you've worked for years is to be split up?
That every proposed 'efficiency' is likely to make your own day-to-day work far less efficient?
That the more people tell you this change is for the better, the less you believe them?
That this restructuring may take several months, but it's all downhill from here?
That things will probably never be quite this good again?
That you don't know what you've got til it's gone?

Have you ever?

 Thursday, March 29, 2007

Silver discs (March 1982)
A monthly look back at the top singles of 25 years ago

My five favourite records from March 1982 (at the time)
Toni Basil - Mickey: Ah, the sheer exuberance of grinning cheerleader chic - you can no doubt picture the pom-pom-packed video even before you click on the YouTube link. But this was nothing fresh. Toni's recording was actually three years old, and a cover version (originally called "Kitty" and recorded by UK band Racey). Rah rah! [video] [lyrics]
"Oh Mickey, what a pity you don't understand, you take me by the heart when you take me by the hand"

Associates - Party Fears Two: How. Good. Was. This? Billy Mackenzie's hysterical warbly vocals were simply gorgeous, and Alan Rankine's keyboard riff found near-immortality on Radio 4's Week Ending. Alas Alan didn't stick around with the band for long (and is now a lecturer at Glasgow's Stow College) while Billy (poor Billy) took another way out ten years ago and is sadly no longer with us. [ToTP]
"Please don't start saying that, or I'll start believing you"

Imagination - Just An Illusion: There was a lot of grim pseudo-soul around in 1982, but this was a sensual body-grinding beauty. Over-vowelled lead singer Leee John seemed to take the whole thing far too seriously (especially in the video, wafting his way round a 'spooky' stately home) but one suspects his pouting tongue was firmly in his cheek. [video]
"Touching many hearts along the way, hoping that I'll never have to say it's just an illusion"

Monsoon - Ever So Lonely: Four facts about Monsoon's pioneering lead singer Sheila Chandra: 1) She appeared in Grange Hill as Sudhamani Patel. 2) She was (so she says) the first Asian singer to appear on Top Of The Pops. 3) She's released ten solo albums since the band split. 4) She's five days younger than me. [ToTP]
"Ever so lo-lo-lo-nely without you... be my friend tonight "

ABC - Poison Arrow: From the nigh perfect album The Lexicon of Love emerged this bittersweet sparkling classic. Martin Fry's ABC had suddenly evolved into gorgeous gold-suited music masters - both poppy and popular (a bit like the Scissor Sisters today). The video's not dated well, however, especially the crowd of ageing disco dancers, and a miniature Martin cowering beneath a threatening wine glass. [video] [lyrics]
"If I were to say to you 'Can you keep a secret?' would you know just what to do or where to keep it?"

...and three real stinkers
Goombay Dance Band - Seven Tears: We had it easy, you know. The Germans suffered this lot atop their charts for nine full weeks with a Caribbean ditty called Sun of Jamaica, so a mere three weeks of Seven Tears was no rum deal. Lead singer Oliver Bendt is still calypso-ing, but now beneath an unflattering baseball cap and surrounded by two slightly younger backing singers called Anna and Mary. [video] [lyrics]
"Seven tears have flown into the river, seven tears are running to the sea"

Tight Fit - The Lion Sleeps Tonight: What did lead singer Steve Grant think he looked like? Prancing around in a fake leopardskin while warbling in an unfeasibly high voice, grinning at comedy cannibals and wrestling a pantomime lion. This was the umpteenth cover version of a song first heard in 1930s Johannesburg, but by now the chant of 'Mbube' had evolved into the more familiar 'Wimoweh'. Disney later snaffled the tune as part of Lion King, which finally inspired the township family of the original composer to claim a long-deserved royalty payment. [video]
"In the jungle, the quiet jungle, the lion sleeps tonight, a-wimoweh, a-wimoweh"

Adrian Gurvitz - Classic: A bloke with a shaggy perm singing a mournful dirge with rhyming couplets that would disgrace an infant school poetry class. No, it hasn't got any better with age. [ToTP] [lyrics]
"Got to write a classic, got to write it in an attic. Babe, I'm an addict now, an addict for your love"

15 other hits from 25 years ago: See You (Depeche Mode), Run To The Hills (Iron Maiden), Stars on Stevie (Starsound), Some Guys Have All The Luck (Robert Palmer), Never Give Up (George Benson), Head Over Heels (Abba), Baal's Hymn (David Bowie), The Damned Don't Cry (Visage), Your Honour (Pluto), Is It A Dream? (Classix Nouveaux), Ghosts (Japan), A New Fashion (Bill Wyman), Nightbirds (Shakatak), Deutscher Girls (Adam and the Ants), Music For Chameleons (Gary Numan) ...which hit's your favourite? ...which one would you pick?

 Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The diamond geezer Treasure Hunt

A small dg-related treasure1 has been hidden2 somewhere3 in London4.
Can you crack the clue5, deduce the location6 and find the treasure7?
Across the Green
Above the Eleven
Alongside the Angels
Beneath the Four
Happy hunting!8

8pm update: Ollie has found the treasure! Look, here it is! Well done! Even better, he's put the treasure back where he found it, so it's still there for everyone else to find.

Small print

1 Of course, when I say "treasure" what I really mean is "a small printed cardboard rectangle of virtually no value whatsoever." Let me explain. I recently decided to treat myself to 100 Moo cards. These are tiny business-card-type things, with a Flickr photo printed on one side and some personalised text on the other. Mine say diamond geezer on the back and are very pretty. I thought that my cards might be useful to give away to people, but no - I still had all 100 left a month after they arrived. So I thought I'd give one card away. I wrapped it in see-through plastic and hid it somewhere in London, so now I only have 99 cards left. But it's a feeble treasure, it really is. Sorry.

2 Of course, when I say "hidden" what I really mean is "at least partially visible to the naked eye without moving, lifting, digging or shifting anything." Many a treasure hunt has been wrecked by inappropriate moving, lifting, digging or shifting. It's all terribly bad publicity, and in this case terribly unnecessary.

3 Of course, when I say "somewhere" what I really mean is "on public land fully accessible 24 hours a day and most definitely not anywhere religious like a churchyard or something." I didn't want any of you hunting around private locations like buildings or graveyards or gardens by mistake. Because that's not where the treasure is.

4 Of course, when I say "London" what I really mean is "East London, specifically the London borough of Tower Hamlets." I was actually planning to hide three different treasure cards, just to keep you all busy, but hiding them proved to be a lot harder then I expected. I wanted to hide one somewhere in the City of London, but the City turned out to be almost 100% "buildings" and "churchyards". I wanted to hide one somewhere on Hampstead Heath, but the Heath was scarily vast and full of hiding places that you'd never ever find. So I only managed to hide one in Tower Hamlets. Sorry, because that's a bit of a rubbish location for any of you who don't live out this way.

5 Of course, when I say "can you crack the clue" what I really mean is "can you crack the clue but not go writing huge great hints in the comments box please." It would be all too easy to leap in and give the game away completely, especially if you're miles away from East London this morning sat at your desk with a burning desire to show off. Please, let's leave this one to be solved "in the field". Feel free to email me if you think you have any ideas or solutions, but don't go waving them around in public. Thanks.

6 Of course, when I say "deduce the location" what I really mean is "work out sort of where it is, and then go there, and narrow things down while you're on location". There's at least one line in the clue which will make absolutely no sense whatsoever until you're standing within a few metres of the correct spot. In case that helps.

7 Of course, when I say "find the treasure", what I really mean is "keep your fingers crossed that it's still there, and hasn't been stolen by an inquisitive child or eaten by a pigeon or tidied away by a council operative". It was definitely there at the weekend, and it should still be there now, but there are no guarantees in these things. I'd hate for someone to book a flight to London and make their way specially to the East End to hunt for a small piece of cardboard which turned out no longer to be there. No personal liability should be assumed.

8 Of course, when I say "happy hunting", what I really mean is "only take part if you happen to have a free Wednesday with sod all else to do". I'm deliberately not posting this at a weekend, because the last thing I want is several people wasting their time by turning up at the correct location in the afternoon after someone else has already found the treasure in the morning. Really, honestly, this is nothing more than a pointless pathetic competition with a wholly unworthy prize. But still, I thought it might be fun, maybe just this once.

 Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ten 20-word reviews

Album: Sound of Silver (LCD Soundsystem)
Funky non-standard American dance music, with insistent guitars and pulsating synths, layered and chugging, both tuneful and tongue-in-cheek - highly recommended.

Book: Great British Bus Journeys: Travels Through Unfamous Places (David McKie)
Author rides 25 obscure buses, nationwide, then writes about semi-obscure local history (at the expense of the journeys) - almost recommended.

TV programme: Castaway (BBC1)
Revamped non-Hebridean Fogle-free series concentrates on personalities at the expense of survival, causing nation to lose interest - no longer recommended.

Album: Pocket Symphony (Air)
Soft and smooth audio symphonies, undetectably Gallic, nothing too challenging, a bit of a grower (but no Moon Safari) - recommended.

Gas boiler: TurboMax V242E (Vaillant)
Flaky stuttering heater with malfunctioning distributer valve, causing five-day loss of hot water in E3 area (yet again) - highly unrecommended.

Book: The "Guardian" Book of April Fool's Day (Martin Wainwright)
A collection of endearing media spoofs, from spaghetti to San Seriffe. Fantastic idea, but not worth thirteen quid - reluctantly unrecommendable.

Optician: Eyelink (Ludgate Broadway)
Patronising and dismissive service, seemingly disinterested in my contact lens custom, made me feel incompetent (so I left) - not recommended.

Tearoom: The Brew House (Kenwood House)
Unashamedly genteel, fine home-made fare, rather pricey, a delightful spot for lunch in yesterday's spring sunshine - recommended (out of season).

TV programme: Doctor Who (BBC1)
Series three's very good isn't it? Although she's no Rose is she? - recommended from next Saturday (via a time warp).

Virus: Common cold (invading my sinuses since Sunday)
Tube-filling dribbler, a bit of a grower, creating mildly uncomfortable snuffliness, ridiculously late in the season - not (cough) recommended (splutter).

 Monday, March 26, 2007

Has beans

Starbucks WhitechapelAfter Stratford, the invasion continues. Another Starbucks has appeared, in another previously macchiato-free East End location, this time on the Whitechapel Road between Altab Ali Park and the East London Mosque. This is no throbbing metropolitan hotspot, this is an unimportant site beside a fume-choked bus stop on the run-down side of town. There may be a single McDonalds half a mile up the road close to Whitechapel station, but otherwise this thoroughfare has somehow managed to remain refreshingly clear of bland multinational chain stores. It's a street people visit to buy a sari or some fried chicken or a packet of cigarettes or even a foundry-struck bell, all served up by friendly independent retailers. And it's also no stranger to coffee. There were already plenty of cafes in the surrounding area where passers-by could stop off for a nice mug of caffeine, a slice of cake and a sit down. But now there's another, one that doesn't quite fit, intent on bringing caramel frappuccinos to the E1 masses.

The locals are aggrieved. So on Saturday afternoon a bunch of urban bandits called the Space Hijackers held an alternative tea party on the pavement outside the encroaching Starbucks. They brought fair trade tea and home made biscuits and handed them out to passers-by, for free. By all accounts the weather was freezing and the pavement bleak and windswept, but people stopped, and listened, and enjoyed some very nice carrot cake. There are pictures of the protest here, along with further details of the rationale behind the demonstration. Plus, more importantly, the organisers have provided a map of the West Whitechapel area showing the location of all the existing local cafes whose businesses may be threatened by this corporate invader. I doubt that enough people will see it to make a difference, but let's hope it lessens the risk that workers in several perfectly decent local establishments lose their jobs while unseen shareholders get rich.

Of course, the East End is no stranger to change. Over the centuries each successive migrant population has erased what was here before and replaced it with something more relevant to their culture. Until fairly recently, for example, the spot on which this Starbucks stands was known as Black Lion Yard - an area packed with 18 Jewish-owned jewellery shops, known as the "Hatton Garden of the East End". This was then wiped away to make way for a drab boxy office block, all 80s glass and shiny brown surfaces, with only its new name as a nod to the site's glittering past. Now 'Black Lion House' is used as a tax office and for business training purposes, that sort of thing, with a row of freshly refurbished retail outlets underneath. The owners clearly didn't have any qualms in allowing Starbucks to move in, and a sign at the opposite end of the building reveals that Tesco will be next. A Tesco Express is due to open here in three weeks time, bringing even greater multinational homogeneity to a spot where previously there was none. Unlike every previous commercial invasion of the East End, this one's being co-ordinated from the outside.

Personally speaking, I've never quite understood the need so many people seem to have for a regular intake of corporate coffee. I see them heading for their office desks at 9am, steaming cup in hand, and wonder why they can't wake up unaided. I see them sat in coffee shops, staring out of the window, and wonder if they're just brain-dead addicts. I see them wasting their Saturday mornings, sipping slowly and nibbling on muffins, and wonder how on earth this can be a good use of one's life. What's wrong with a mug of instant? What's wrong with making your own filter brew at home? What's wrong with a teabag dunked in boiling water instead? Honestly, if the rest of you were like me, Starbucks would be dead in the water already. Do please try harder to resist.

 Sunday, March 25, 2007

It's a weekend of anniversaries. Let's reflect.

An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade
"Be it therefore enacted by the King's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the Authority of the same, That from and after the First Day of May One thousand eight hundred and seven, the African Slave Trade, and all and all manner of dealing and trading in the Purchase, Sale, Barter, or Transfer of Slaves, or of Persons intended to be sold, transferred, used, or dealt with as Slaves, practiced or carried on, in, at, to or from any Part of the Coast or Countries of Africa, shall be, and the same is hereby utterly abolished, prohibited, and declared to be unlawful;" 47° Georgii III, Session 1, cap. XXXVI [25th March 1807]
Today is not the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. Today is just 200 years since British MPs eventually got round to attempting to outlaw the transatlantic slave trade on ships belonging to the British Empire. They were a bit late. We'd already sent 3 million Africans to the Caribbean by then, and slavery continued in our colonies there until 1834. Even after that date human traffic continued between other countries, and still continues in far too many places around the world to this day. But the 1807 Act was a step in the right direction, and today's anniversary is as good a time as any to pause, and to reflect, and to look to a better future.

Here are nine London institutions commemorating 1807 in 2007:
Uncomfortable Truths - an exhibition of specially commissioned artwork at the Victoria and Albert Museum [20 February - 17 June]
Portraits, People and Abolition - a series of events and online galleries at the National Portrait Gallery [19 March - 23 May]
Resistance and Remembrance - a varied afternoon of culture at the British Museum, featuring the Brodsky Quartet, Simon Schama and Romuald Hazoumé [this afternoon, 2pm - 6:30]
Bicentenary weekend - a programme of film, poetry, music and discussion at the National Maritime Museum [24 - 25 March]
1807 and Tate - The Tate Gallery faces up to the fact that its founder's fortune was based on the wealth of the Caribbean sugar industry [various]
Bicentenary events - music and art at the Horniman Museum [April-May]
The British Slave Trade: Abolition, Parliament and People - a free exhibition in Westminster Hall (which is well worth a visit in itself) [23 May - 23 September]
London, Sugar and Slavery - a new half million pound gallery opening later in the year at the Museum in Docklands, showing how slavery shaped the capital [27 October onwards]
Greenwich Slavery Trail - a printable walk exploring the darker history of the capital's trading links [pdf]

International Slavery Museum - opens later this year in Liverpool's Albert Dock [23 August onwards]

 Saturday, March 24, 2007

It's a weekend of anniversaries. Let's rock.

Goodbye Pinner Hill Road
Elton John's old house, Pinner
Piano maestro Reg Dwight, better known as Elton John, was born 60 years ago on Tuesday 25th March 1947. Here's his childhood home at 55 Pinner Hill Road, deep in the cosy suburbs of northwest London. It's still a very ordinary Metroland semi, resplendent with privet hedge, uPVC windows and a concreted-over front garden. See how the current owners hide their car beneath an all-enveloping tarpaulin, in much the same way that middle-aged Elton used to cover himself with a series of unconvincing wigs. The local council, in their infinite wisdom, appear to have marked this most auspicious musical heritage site not with a blue plaque but with a bright green litter bin. And there's also a bus stop immediately outside the front door, should Sir Elton ever fancy using his new Freedom Pass to take a trip to Ruislip Lido aboard an H13. But somehow I suspect that pensioner Reg has better things to do this weekend. Happy 60th, Captain Fantastic.

It's a weekend of anniversaries. Let's celebrate.

 European Union quiz: The European Economic Community was founded 50 years ago, on March 25th 1957, when six countries joined together to sign the Treaty of Rome. The European Union has since enlarged to contain 27 member countries, all of whom will of course be holding national celebrations and wild street parties this weekend to commemorate tomorrow's very special Golden Jubilee. Here are anagram clues to the names of the EU's 27 capital cities. For each, can you name the capital and the country?
    A) argi
    B) more
    C) pairs
    D) I sofa
    E) hasten   
    F) in vane
    G) gear up      
    H) bun lid
    I) BR line
J) non-old
K) slob-in
L) till nan
M) add rim
N) was raw
O) I casino
P) late VAT
Q) I SUV nil   
R) like shin
S) rubs less
T) jab null ja
U) a butchers
V) lock moths
W) bad upset
X) larva baits
Y) made smart
Z) open change
ZZ) buxom gruel
(Answers in the comments box)

 Friday, March 23, 2007

geezer goes out... to experience day 1 of a retail phenomenon
Abercrombie and Fitch - flagship European store now open in Mayfair

Up until yesterday if you'd seen somebody in London wearing Abercrombie and Fitch clothing, you'd have known it had been purchased across the Atlantic. A&F do love to scrawl their brand name across their apparel, so you'd probably have noticed. Maybe some scrappy cloth letters across the front of a sweatshirt, maybe a patch down one leg of some swim shorts, or possibly a slogan sewn above the peak of a baseball cap. It's effortlessly trendy stuff is Abercrombie and Fitch, and has been endowed with a certain smug exclusivity when worn on the streets of the capital. But not any more. Now any Tom, Dick or Harriet can clothe themselves in A&F from head to toe, thanks to the grand opening yesterday of the company's very first UK store just off Savile Row. And what a store.

It's not at all obvious from the outside that this is a shop of any kind. Stand in Burlington Gardens, round the back of the Royal Academy, and the building looks like an extremely wealthy gentleman's well-preserved Mayfair villa. The store boasts a broad white Georgian facade with prim rectangular windows, as befits a Grade II listed townhouse dating back nearly three centuries. There's not even an obvious Abercrombie & Fitch sign above the door. But that's no problem, because the steady stream of shoppers attempting to pass through the elegant entrance suggests that this store will feed off word of mouth alone.

I suspect that the two live specimens of topless chiselled beefcake positioned just inside the front door yesterday were special features exclusive to Day 1. A&F do like to associate themselves with barely-attainable muscle, and there are plenty of pert pectorals depicted in paintings and murals high up on the interior walls. The overarching artistic theme is a sort of classical/public school hybrid - very Mayfair and appropriately un-American - right down to the semi-clad statue stood at the bottom of the staircase. And the staircase still looks like a proper 18th century wood-panelled staircase, even with ultra-keen 21st century shoppers swarming all over it. The parlours, side-rooms and bedchambers leading off from the hallway and landing have been sympathetically transformed into womenswear mini-departments. Meanwhile the central part of the building, with its interlinked high-ceilinged chambers, is where the men hang out.

The shelves are stacked so tall that the upper levels can only be for show. Here are tidy piles of colourful sweatshirts and subdued crewnecks, above tables strewn with neatly-folded shirts and hoodies. In the central hallway there's more of a jeans focus, dispensed from behind a glass-fronted counter reminiscent of a post-war department store (apart from the moose's head on the wall, obviously). Yesterday a throng of curious customers filled the aisles, shuffling round to peer and gawp at every product in every nook. Some schoolgirls looked like they'd bunked off lessons early just to be here, while many 20- and 30-something blokes were staring in reverence as if they'd just had their wardrobe prayers answered. The queue for the gents changing rooms stretched back rather longer than that for the cash desk, although none of the grinning shop assistants seemed to mind.

There is, of course, a catch - these clothes aren't cheap. A triangle of skimpy swimwear will set you back £35, a polo shirt £50 and a tasteful stripy shirt all of £70. You have to mentally translate each price into dollars ($70, $100 and $140) to see that Abercrombie and Fitch are having a highly profitable laugh at the expense of the UK consumer. However cool the brand, this is just high street fashion at wallet-emptying prices. But still very desirable, very aspirational, very must-have. If Day 1 is anything to go by, this brand new store can expect a better-than-rosy future. It's well worth coming and taking a look around, I reckon, just to absorb the full UK A&F experience. But if you want to spend a small fortune on giving your image a trendy transatlantic overhaul then you might be better off waiting until a wet Wednesday morning several weeks hence, when the initial interest has finally died down.

If you think the weather's unseasonably cold at the moment, just keep your fingers crossed it's not like this next year. Because next year today will be Easter Sunday. Which is about as early as Easter ever gets. It may not be mild and springlike this year, but at least the Creme Egg season is a fortnight longer.

 Thursday, March 22, 2007

Welcome to National Utility Limited.

Please note that your call may be recorded and used later as evidence when we attempt to sack our call centre personnel for not flogging the company's services blatantly enough.

Please select from the following list of irrelevant options.

Please select from another submenu of irrelevant options.

Please enter your 20 digit customer account number.
No mistakes please, or we'll ask you to enter it again.

Thank you. We will now connect you to one of our customer account executives on another continent. Keep your fingers crossed that we've taught them to speak English convincingly.

<jangly Spanish guitar music>

Thank you for holding. Your patience is appreciated, especially at 15p a minute.

<soothing classical strings>

All of our customer service representatives are busy at the moment, because we've failed to invest sufficiently in providing enough staff to meet customer demand.

<bland 80s lift muzak>

Are you sure you want to talk to one of us? We have a website, you know, where you can carry out many of our more popular functions without bothering us. Why not piss off and spend ten minutes online doing all our work for us?

<tinkly Coldplay piano melody>

We're sorry for keeping you waiting. One of our call centre gnomes will be with you shortly, just as soon as they're back off their fag break.

<one of Vivaldi's out-of-copyright four seasons>

Thank you for holding. Your patience is appreci...Hello, my name is Maureen.
(I don't really sound much like a Maureen, do I?)

First could you just give me your full name?
And the first line of your address?
And the rest of your address?
And your postcode?
And the 20 digit number you typed in earlier?
And the password you chose five years ago and have since forgotten?

How may I help you? I'm not really interested you know, but my supervisor might be listening so I'm trying to sound polite.

Oh I'm sorry, but you've been put through to the wrong department. I've only been trained to understand three common service problems, and your query isn't on my list. Hang on and I'll try to put you through to someone with the authorisation to respond to your enquiry.

<jangly Spanish guitar music>

Thank you for holding. Your patience is appreciated.

 Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The last first day of Spring     (vernal equinox 00:07 GMT, 21/03/07)

Whatever our topsy-turvy weather might suggest, Spring really is getting earlier. And this isn't the result of global warming, frost-free winters or extended growing seasons - this is astronomical.

The spring equinox occurs today, at seven minutes past midnight, making today the official first day of Spring. You might think that March 21st is always the first day of Spring but, astronomically speaking, this isn't the case. In fact, contrary to what you might expect, today is the very last day in your lifetime that the first day of Spring will fall on March 21st. Make the most of it.

The science: The spring equinox occurs when the shadow of the Sun crosses the equator, from the southern to the northern hemisphere, and its precise time varies from year to year. It takes the Earth approximately 365 days, 5 hours and 49 minutes to orbit the Sun, so every year the spring equinox shifts almost 6 hours later than the year before. That's approximately 24 hours later every 4 years, which is then cancelled out by the presence of a February 29th a few weeks before the next spring equinox occurs. But this still leaves the calendar 11 minutes short of reality every year, and this tiny difference shifts the spring equinox approximately three-quarters of an hour earlier every 4 years.

You can see from the table below how both the time and the date of the spring equinox change over a 28-year period. Look across the rows to see how the times jump approximately six hours later each year. Look at the final column in each row to see that the latest equinoxes always occur in years immediately before a leap year. And look down the columns to see how the times nudge about 45 minutes earlier every 4 years. That's how 2007 gets to be the very last occasion this century that the spring equinox will occur on March 21st. Next year, and for the foreseeable future, Spring will commence on March 20th instead. It won't be until 2102 before the equinox finally returns again to March 21st, and you'll almost certainly not be alive to see it.

Time of Spring Equinox (GMT)
March 20th (blue)   March 21st (green)

In the year 2044 the times in the first column of this table will retreat past midnight, and this will push the spring equinox back one further day onto 19th March (initially for leap years only). From 2008 to 2043, however, the spring equinox will only ever be on 20th March. That's the unique date for the first day of Spring for the next four decades - so you'd better get used to it. From next year Spring really is starting earlier - it's official.

More science: If a year divides by 100 but not by 400, then it's not a leap year. So 2000 was a leap year, but 1800 and 1900 weren't, and 2100 won't be. This centennial jolt is designed to keep the seasons in track. It stops the spring equinox from creeping earlier and earlier across the millennia, and sets up a pattern that repeats (near enough) every 400 years. It also keeps the first day of Spring tethered within the period from 19th to 21st March, come what may. [N.B. this is only true for the UK and other countries in the GMT timezone. In Australia and New Zealand this equinox occasionally sneaks onto 22nd March, and in America onto 18th March]

Possible dates of the spring equinox (GMT)
20th March or 21st March
1876-1899: 20th March only
1900-1911: 21st March only
1912-2007: 20th March or 21st March
2008-2043: 20th March only
2044-2099: 19th March or 20th March
2100-2135: 20th March or 21st March
2136-2175: 20th March only
2176-2199: 19th March or 20th March
[cycle repeats every 400 years, approximately]

• Spring equinox: what it is and why it moves
• Spring equinox: all the times and dates over 4 centuries
• Spring equinox: nice graphs to show how the date and time change

 Tuesday, March 20, 2007

One of the delights of blogging is that certain people out there occasionally send me emails offering me stuff. One of the annoying things about blogging is that most of these people are only offering me stuff in the thinly disguised hope that I might promote it on their behalf. Afraid not, chancers. There's a thin line between altruistic generosity and brazen product-whoring, and I'm not playing along with your games. OK, so maybe I'm missing out on receiving free stuff, but I don't care. I'm not susceptible to your shameless self-promotion, and I spit in the face of your carefully targetted marketing spam. So if you're an opportunistic PR-fiend who thinks my blog might be a useful platform for your product, let me save you the effort of asking. The answer is 'No'.

Here are a few of the things that other people have urged me to promote recently. Just to annoy these people, I'm not going to mention the precise thing I was invited to mention, nor link to the webpage they hoped I'd link to. So there.

• Angela wondered whether she could send me a free luxury chocolate Easter egg so that I could "review it". As a valued web partner I could also host a special Treasure Hunt competition for you, my readers, giving you the opportunity to win an exclusive chocolate egg hamper. Like a fool I turned her down. Don't shoot me.

• Jason thought that I would be interested in contributing to his wholly artificial debating website, full of "really insightful passages of prose" and sponsored by a not-quite-well-enough-known laptop brand. Jason was very wrong.

• Tom sent me a limited edition invite to attend a West End preview of an upcoming Hollywood blockbuster, "solely for influential bloggers such as yourself". There was a chance to chat to the film's director afterwards and, as the real clincher, "drinks and nibbles" to follow. But Tom only gave me 8 hours to reply, which hinted that perhaps I wasn't one of his first choice targets, so I refused to bite. After the screening Tom showed his true colours by emailing me links to "QT, WMP, and Real zip files" of the event I'd missed, as well as a special embedded media player I might want to use. "The footage looks great and I really hope you're able to place it on your blog", he chirped. The sheer cheek of it! But all credit to Tom's opportunistic methods, because I've since seen this particular film promoted on blogs far more than any other in the history of the online world.

• Lauren hoped I'd want to mention the magazine she works for, based in a metropolis across the Atlantic, which has just published a special edition comparing their city to London. Perhaps she thought I'd be antagonised into writing something really outspoken in response to an article entitled "Has the Food Over There Really Become Edible?". Or that I'd rise to the provocative bait of a comment like "But let's get serious: Would you really want to live there?". Oddly enough, Lauren, yes. Now stop being so smug and take your inaccurate one-sided editorial elsewhere.

• Mel noted that I had, at some point in the past, linked to the website of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. And so, for some inexplicable reason, he offered to send me me a free pair of jeans "to review and/or to use as a giveaway". I can only guess that he overlooked the postage required for transatlantic shipping, and failed to notice that my readers in the UK can't actually buy his special brand of jeans over here.

• Guy offered me the opportunity to go for a free ride on a major London atrraction. This was part of an exclusive preview of a milestone-related photographic competition, to be launched at a champagne reception, which I might then hopefully plug shamelessly on my website in return. Like that would ever happen.

Ah, but hang on, I actually said 'Yes' to that last request, didn't I? Maybe this "freebies for bloggers" thing isn't as cut and dried as it first looks. But trust me, oh ye pushers of online advertising, that I forward 99% of your promotional emails instantly into my deleted items folder. Please don't waste your time sending them to me - target a few keen cut-and-paste bloggers to do your dirty work instead.

 Monday, March 19, 2007

Stratford froths up

Stratford town centre isn't the loveliest place in East London, as anyone who's ever visited knows. The central shopping area lies trapped on a concrete island encircled by a four lane ring road. Pound shops, fast food joints and bookmakers jostle for passing trade in the characterless mall. Here market traders flog cheap veg and value binliners to tracksuited mums and basket-pushing pensioners. There's a Wilkinsons but not a Waitrose, and a JD Sports but not a Marks and Spencer. This is no chain store clone town, this is something considerably less affluent. If you had the choice, you'd almost certainly go shopping somewhere else.

Starbucks StratfordBut something astonishing has happened in Stratford, which may be the first genuine sign that the long-promised gentrification of the area is starting to have an effect. A branch of Starbucks has opened! In East London! In Stratford! I must say I was gobsmacked when I first stumbled across it. Right in the heart of the town centre, beside the southern entrance to the shopping mall, was the telltale green logo of Seattle's most famous caffeine peddler. More strikingly the front door was open, and local residents were actually stopping to go inside.

But closer scrutiny through the gleaming glass windows revealed that most of those sitting at the yet-to-be-graffitied tables weren't your typical Starbucks punters. E15's fresh coffeeteria boasted a runty kid sat slurping beside his shaven-headed dad, a socket-eyed pensioner staring at the racing pages of a tabloid and an anoraked middle aged couple cradling something warm and steaming. This new Starbucks wasn't yet attracting an upmarket clientele, it was just another café where local shoppers could go for an overpriced coffee and a mid-morning muffin. Stratford's residents haven't yet evolved into mass market consumers with a taste for gratuitous indulgence.

Starbucks StratfordThere are far greater changes to come as the 2012 Olympics draw closer. Look around the skyline and you'll see new apartment blocks springing up all over - swish modern blocks with curvy profiles and primary-coloured balconies. Slowly the moneyed classes are moving in - residents who prefer wine bars and boutiques to off licences and betting shops. One Starbucks is not going to be enough.

That's OK, because an enormous new retail playground is under construction to the north of the station. At the moment Stratford City is just a huge expanse of flattened railway sidings, but within the next few years it'll become a whole new urban district of homes, offices and of course shops. We're promised at least 100 new shops, of precisely the kind that don't exist in Stratford at the moment. There'll even be three major department stores - including a John Lewis! Given the poor retail environment that E15 offers today, this is little short of transformational.

But I fear that we may be seeing the development of two parallel Stratford shopping centres. One south of the railway for all the existing residents, and the other north of the railway for all the affluent incomers. One for everyday necessities, and the other for aspirational luxuries. One where local people shop, and the other where they mop the floors. At least 2007's new Starbucks has appeared in the right place to make a difference. It's a cappucino catalyst, and it might just start attracting more of the smarter shops that people on the opposite side of London take for granted. You'll not be seeing me inside Stratford's new Starbucks because I prefer a nice mug of industrial strength tea and a currant bun elsewhere. But rest assured that your Olympic taxes are already beginning to pay dividends. The bucks start here.

 Sunday, March 18, 2007

  Metro-land revisited
  BBC4 Tube Night

BBC4 are holding another of their special themed evenings of programmes tonight, this time all about the London Underground. Tube Night features an old black and white British Transport Films documentary, an episode of kids' cartoon Underground Ernie, a Dr Who Episode (the one with the Yeti down the tube - again), a brand new Arena documentary, the story of Harry Beck's tube map and a 1989 documentary about life underground at Angel (back when the station had a scary central platform). And, I'm delighted to say, at 10:25pm there's another chance to watch John Betjeman's seminal Metro-Land - which I revisited in some depth on this blog last August. It'll be the perfect accompaniment to your mug of Sunday night cocoa.

geezer goes out... and about, doing stuff
Normality is restored - (temporarily)

Four years ago, way back in March 2003, my BestMate emigrated to the US. Like you do. He moved from being 1½ miles away (and always up for going out somewhere and doing something) to being 5300 miles away (and my host for the occasional long haul holiday). My social life never quite recovered from the transition, which was rather careless of me. I ended up going out a lot less, and spending rather more of my spare time writing this blog. My loss, your gain.

Just over twelve hours ago BestMate flew back into the country for an extended period. My time since that landing has featured the consumption of alcohol, the munching of late-night beigels, a lot of waiting for nightbuses and considerable catching up discussing people, stuff and things. The next four weeks are likely to contain a lot of the same. So this post is just to warn you that I may be blogging a little less than usual, and a little less regularly, until Easter's rolled by. Maybe. Your loss, my gain.

 Saturday, March 17, 2007

Moans and grumbles

1) Bloody Yahoo! They bought Flickr. Everyone moaned. They told all the users they'd have to sign up using a Yahoo! ID. Everyone moaned louder. And now the deadline for signing up is nigh. It's next Tuesday. So I bit the bullet and switched over. And then they sent me this email.
Hi diamond geezer!
This is just a little note to remind you that your diamond geezer Flickr account has been merged in to your Yahoo! account.
You will need to sign in to Flickr via Yahoo! with your Yahoo! ID from now on.
Thanks, and we hope you enjoy the sign-on-to-everything-in-one-place goodness!
The Flickreenies
How bloody patronising is that? I've had to log in twice during the last 12 hours, whereas I only had to log in once during the previous 2 years. I feel unclean and exploited. My contempt for the Yahoo! brand has significantly increased. Bloody Yahoo!!

2) Bloody Ken Livingstone. This year St Patrick's Day actually falls on a Saturday - the perfect party day. So, when does Ken schedule London's St Patrick's Day celebrations? Tomorrow, on a Sunday. Brilliant. Bloody Ken Livingstone!

3) Bloody Thames Water. I have a water meter which they claim to know nothing about, so they need to send somebody round to check that it exists. I told them this 4 weeks ago. They sent a meter reader round earlier this week, while I was at work, without telling me. The meter reader poked a brief handwritten note through my letterbox asking me to ring up to make an appointment. I rang Thames Water to make an appointment, but they told me they couldn't do that. They could only pass on my telephone number to their metering department. And nobody from their metering department has yet rung me to arrange an appointment. My water bill is therefore four times greater than it needs to be. Bloody Thames Water!

4) Bloody Tesco. I went shopping at my local supermarket yesterday and walked out carrying four of their new biodegradable carrier bags. On the way home one of the bags' handles suddenly stretched and broke, spilling my shopping all across the floor. I had to struggle home using one bag fewer, and then discovered that my four pint carton of milk had sprung a leak leaving white puddles on my kitchen floor. Bloody saving the planet. Bloody Tesco!

5) Bloody Google. They're suddenly sending loads of visitors my way looking for pictures that aren't here. It's because I sometimes link to pictures on my blog. I don't hotlink the jpgs so that they steal bandwidth, I just link to them. But Google's incompetent search engine mistakenly believes that these images appear on my blog, and tags them completely wrong, and then redirects people here to view "the image in its original context". These people don't find what they're looking for, but Google insists on sending them to my page anyway. I don't want this endless stream of misdirected visitors, and they don't want to be here either. Surely it's not rocket science to write an Image Search algorithm that actually works. Bloody Google!

6) Bloody moaning bloggers. Bloody cynical pessimistic grumblers, always seeing the negative in everything. Why can't they just cheer up and write about the good things in life? Sigh.

 Friday, March 16, 2007

The government announced yesterday that the cost of hosting the 2012 Olympics has soared to £9.3bn. Or rather it turns out that the initial estimate of £2.4bn was very wrong, and this new estimate is much more realistic. But if you look at how this £9.3bn is broken down, you'll see that the cost of actually putting on the Olympics (£3.1bn) hasn't gone up much. It's all the associated expenditure which is having a financial impact.
£3.1bn Site construction (all the various stadia and stuff) [47%]
£1.7bn Regeneration and infrastructure (Stratford's a contaminated dump) [26%]
£0.8bn Olympic Delivery Authority tax bill (Gordon has to take his cut) [13%]
£0.6bn Extra security (because it only takes one nutter...) [9%]
£0.4bn Non-ODA provision (whatever that is) [6%]
Expected Total = £6.6bn

+£2.7bn Programme contingency (because things always cost more) [+40% of the above]
Potential Total = £9.3bn
Yes, £9.3bn is a lot of money. It's £155 for every man, woman and child in the country. It's £1.25 each every week until the Opening Ceremony. But it's still a lot cheaper than buying a daily paper, or watching Sky TV, or going to the pub once a month, or feeding a dog, so it's not that terrible. Because, whatever people might hope, investment in the future doesn't come for free. And, believe me, those of us who live around the spot where London's three most deprived boroughs meet, we'll be eternally grateful.

[... and Evan Davies agrees]

You know how wonderful it is that mobile phones don't work on the Underground? The fact that you can hide away on a train where the office can't ring you? The fact that you don't have to listen to everyone else in your carriage droning on and on to their mates while you're fifty feet under? Well, that peace and quiet is about to end. TfL have just announced a six month trial of "mobile phone technology services" on the Waterloo & City line, starting in April next year. Passengers will be able to use their phones on the platforms at Bank and Waterloo, and also on trains in the tunnel between the two stations. The W&C isn't London's most popular tube line, so the majority of commuters will be able to avoid this temporary electromagnetic intrusion. But if the trial is successful the technology could be introduced across the entire underground network by mid 2009. And then there'll be no escape. Make the most of being incommunicado while the silence lasts.

red nose daySince 1985 Comic Relief has raised more than £425 million in its mission to help end global poverty and social injustice, and today is the eleventh Red Nose Day. I'm proud to say that I own the complete set of eleven smelly / colour-changing / squeaky / hairy / etc red noses, which means I've forked out a total of £11 on nasal dressing since all this began. But for less than £11 I could have waited until today and bought myself a copy of Shaggy Blog Stories instead. This collected volume of 100 "amusing tales from the UK blogosphere" has been compiled in one week flat by mike over at troubled diva, and is now available for online purchase. It may not look as good on your nose as a blob of red foam, but it's guaranteed to be a lot more entertaining.

 Thursday, March 15, 2007

25,000,000: If you own a camera and have ever been to London, you've probably taken a photograph of the London Eye. In fact, you've probably taken several. Some from a distance, some from underneath, and some from the pod at the very top looking down on all the grinning people in the capsule just beneath you. The London Eye is a magnet for megapixels. It's almost impossible to walk past without whipping out your camera and snapping a shot or three. Indeed a significant proportion of your hard drive or mobile phone memory may be taken up with digitised images of this revolutionary London icon. Today there's an opportunity to unload some of your favourite London Eye photographs onto the attraction's website, and it's all thanks to an imminent visitor milestone.

Very soon, probably at some point during the next seven days, the London Eye will welcome its twenty-five millionth passenger. That's an impressive total, approximately equal to one thousand visitors for every hour that this giant observational wheel has been open to the public. 25 million is of course a very important milestone, and therefore well worth celebrating with a PR-inspired competition. So yesterday the Eye's owners invited a handful of media types and bloggers along for a free ride on the Eye and a glass of bubbly, just in case any of us should choose to publicise the contest on their behalf. What are the chances, eh?

It was interesting to watch what happens when a dozen or so 'photographers' are locked inside a pod on the London Eye for half an hour. Unlike normal tourists, who spend all their time taking photographs of one another with Big Ben in the background, we spent most of our time attempting to take arty shots instead. Three things made this easier than normal. Firstly our flight was timed perfectly for sunset, so bright skies dimmed imperceptibly to pinky-blue darkness as the 30 minute revolution passed. Secondly the Eye is currently bathed in soft red illumination in honour of Comic Relief on Friday, so the spoked metalwork glowed in perfect contrast to the twilight sky. And thirdly there were no tourists or small children getting in the way of all the best shots, so everyone moved around the capsule with appropriate care and deference for one another's line of sight. It was almost too simple.

After our flight we were whisked off into a sideroom at County Hall to meet with some of the Eye's staff and upload a few of the photos that we'd taken. This was, no doubt, a cunning ploy to make sure that the competition gallery has a variety of images already loaded when it launches officially this afternoon. Sorry, but if it's still Thursday morning you won't yet be able to access the competition website, nor view the 4 slightly random photos I uploaded. Once the official site is up and running you'll be allowed to enter up to ten photographs altogether, each of which must be in some way Eye-related. There's a registration form to fill in first, and some terms and conditions about copyright which one of the more professional photographers present last night didn't seem too happy about. I've stuck my ten chosen photos onto flickr while I wait for the Eye's site to emerge. [5pm update: it's emerged!]

www.flickr.com: London Eye gallery
10 photos of (and from) the largest observational wheel in the world

The 25 million competition is open for the next month, after which the best picture will win some photography equipment and a year long ticket to various Tussauds attractions (that's Alton Towers as well as the waxworks, before you sound too disappointed). You almost certainly won't win, but it's a good way to bring your photographic skills to a wider audience. And one of the best things about the competition is that you don't need to fork out £14.50 for a flight on the Eye in order to enter. You can take perfectly good photographs of the Eye for free from a distance or from underneath, without needing to take any from the pod at the very top. In fact, if you have a hunt around on your hard drive you'll probably find that you've already got at least ten photos of the Eye which you could enter immediately. Very few world-class attractions can boast such universal popularity.

 Wednesday, March 14, 2007

How to generate a bit of PR out of nothing...
• First, check your visitor statistics and watch for an approaching milestone.
• Pretend that this milestone is somehow important.
• Assemble an inexpensive collection of related digital data.
• Launch this collection with a splash when the milestone is reached.
• Network with key stakeholders in the hope that their feedback may generate more interest.
• As well as the larger players, include smaller sites in an attempt to increase your outreach.
• Sit back and watch visitor numbers increase.
• Wait patiently for visitor numbers to approach next milestone.
• Repeat.

Works for me, anyway.

2/3: Today, probably sometime around lunchtime, diamond geezer will receive its two-thirds-of-a-millionth visitor. Actually that's not quite true, because it's impossible to make two thirds of a visit to a website, but the fractional milestone will be reached somewhere between the 666,666th and 666,667th arrivals. Maybe it'll be you, or maybe it'll be yet another passing Googler searching for a photograph that isn't here. Believe me when I say it's almost too exciting for words.

All of which can only mean that it's time once again for an update of my regular 'league table' of top linking blogs, ordered by volume of visitors clicking here from there. I've also provided added value by including the 'highest climbers' since my last update back in August. Remember, this is important stuff, and not just a meaningless rank ordering devised for self-publicity purposes.
  1) girl with a one track mind
  2) arseblog
  3) casino avenue
  4) scaryduck
  5) random acts of reality (↑1)  
  6) blue witch
  7) linkmachinego (↑1)
  8) my boyfriend is a twat
  9) london underground
10) funjunkie
11) route 79
12) onionbagblog
13) planarchy (↑1)
14) london calling
15) big n juicy
16) d4d (↑1)
17) troubled diva
18) geofftech (↑10)
19) londonist (↑11)
20) bitful
The next 20: 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40

Thank you all for linking, because every click-through is appreciated. Go on, go check out a few of the above blogs and return the favour. And, fingers crossed, I'll see you all back here for the three-quarter million.

 Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Welcome to THIRD LIFE, part of the new diamond geezer internet experience. Third Life is a 3D Online Digital World imagined, created and owned by its residents. Membership is free.

Third Life residents create avatars to represent the physical manifestation of their online personality. These avatars wander the virtual world and chat via text-based communication in localised public conversations. You can sample this innovative dialogue interface for free in the GeezerVille microworld below.

Third Life offers a whole digital continent to explore, teeming with characters to meet, locations to investigate and opportunities to experience. Third Life is not (repeat not) a sad virtual reality simulation populated by geeks, introverts and social outcasts, nor a cynical marketing exercise designed to encourage users to part with their money in exchange for shiny non-existent trinkets.

Third Life is your world. Use your imagination and open your mind to opportunity. We look forward to interacting with you.

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chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards