diamond geezer

 Thursday, May 31, 2007

100 years of increasingly anti-social music

The piano
Perfect for playing... jolly songs to fill the dark days before the invention of recorded music
Loudspeakers? No, but Mama couldn't half belt out a good folk song round the parlour fireplace
Did kids play them on buses? No, they'd never have been able to lug one aboard a horse-drawn omnibus

The phonograph/gramophone/record player
Perfect for playing... your favourite 3 minute vinyl disc over and over and over again
Loudspeakers? Oh yes - a great big horn for the repeated blaring of that aforementioned tune
Did kids play them on buses? No chance - the needle would jump

The wireless/radio
Perfect for playing... somebody else's choice of good music
Loudspeakers? Integral to the design
Did kids play them on buses? No, even a transistor radio was too far big to fit in a pocket

The hi-fi
Perfect for playing... that stack of vinyl and CDs clogging up six shelves in your living room
Loudspeakers? Wooh, yeah, I can turn Pink Floyd right up to 10 and make the neighbours vibrate
Did kids play them on buses? No, never - there are no power points on buses

The ghetto blaster
Perfect for... hiphop C90 mixtapes you spent ages compiling in your bedroom
Loudspeakers? Oh yes, it's a mighty pounding beatbox!
Did kids play them on buses? No, far too cumbersome (better suited to blaring in the park)

The Walkman
Perfect for playing... that Dire Straits album you bought on cassette from Our Price
Loudspeakers? No, just a couple of tinny headphones
Did kids play them on buses? If they did, we never heard them (that's the joy of a "personal stereo")

The iPod
Perfect for playing... some low quality mp3 file you downloaded for 79p
Loudspeakers? No, just some very obvious, very nickable, slightly nerdy white headphones
Did kids play them on buses? No, much too expensive for your average spotty teenager

The mobile phone
Perfect for playing... some mindless rap gibberish or a bloody annoying R&B ringtone
Loudspeakers? Yes - alas this is the default option (no headphones here)
Do kids play them out loud on buses? Yes, because, for the first time, they can. Damn.

 Wednesday, May 30, 2007

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

Absolutely Miles Away, Andy Ramblings, affable-lurking, An American In London, An Angel's Life, anglosaxy, Aprosexic, Arseblog, Avenues and Alleyways, Baroque in Hackney, Ben Bowen's blog, Betty's Blog, Big n juicy, bitful, blahblog, Blog KX, Blue Witch, bob's yer uncle, breakfast at britannia, Brian Micklethwait, catsize, Chelley's Teapot, City Slicker, Clandestine Critic, Clapham Omnibus, Confederacy Of A Dunce, Cool And Rock, Cool Blue Shed, Cosmos, Counting Sheep, crinklybee, DaisyLand, Dan Wilson, DaveMoran.co.uk, Definitely, Maybe, Biscuit Anybody?, The Deptford Dame, Depthmarker, Developing News, Disgruntled Commuter, Dogbait's Babble, Dogwood Tales, Down on the Allotment, The Drugs Don't Work, dsng.net, D4D, Each Game As It Comes, Empreintes, the emotional blackmailers handbook, enduring ramblings, Environment of Mind, evilmoose, expecting to fly, Fallen Angel, Famous for 15 megapixels, The Fang, Firmly Wedged, A Fistful of Euros, the Fly, FunJunkie!, ganching, Gareth Wyn, Geofftech - iBlog, Getting On, Germany Doesn't Suck, girl with a one-track mind, The Girl with The Golden Mind, The Good Things In Life, informationally overloaded, The Gospel According To Rhys, Greavsie, The Greenwich Gazette, Groc's various musings, Gucci Girl, HammerTime, Hecho En Mexico, Henri's World, Hoover Factory, How To Disappear Completely, I am Livid, I like, Illyrian Gazette, I'm A Seoul Man, Infomaniac, Instant Dreams, In the Aquarium, It's a Dog's Life, Jakartass, john davies, John Nez Illustration, KML's Monoblog, The Knit-Nurse Chronicles, Knotted Paths, krn.me.uk, the last bus home, the last spot, Legal Alien, Life On A Roll Of Film, LinkMachineGo, Living in Bury St Edmunds, London Daily Nature Photo, London Daily Photo, Londonist, London Underground Life, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, mad musings of me, Mad Teacher, The Man from Catford, the maturest student in the world, McFilter, Mick Hartley, Middle of Nowhere, Miss Hacksaw, Momentary lapses of insanity, moosifer jones' grouch, Mother of the Bride, murphyzVille, My Blog Has A British Accent, My Boyfriend Is A Twat, My Thoughts Exactly, Name That Tube, Nik Rawlinson, Now What Happens?, Oh, Oh Gosh!, onionbagblog, On Second Thought, O, Poor Robinson Crusoe!, Order of the Bath, Our Little Corner of Paradise, Patience.org, Paul Newman's Eyes, Pauly's 'Stoney Soapbox, Philobiblon, Pigeon blog, Planarchy, Plep, poons, Purely for Self-Amusement Purposes, Put 'em all on an island, qwghlm.co.uk, Rachel from North London, ramsey, Random Acts of Reality, Random Burblings, the Random Think, rARsh!, rashbre central, theRatandMouse, rebeccawright.com, Res Publica, Rest Area 300m, Ritual Landscape, Rosamundi's ramblings, Route 79, St Crispin's Day, St Margaret's at Cliffe Photo Diary, Saltwater, Samizdata.net, Scaryduck, Scorn and Noise, screaming yellow fizz bang, Secret Songs of Silence, Shameless Hussy, Shorty PJs, Silent Words Speak Loudest, The Simple American, Sim's Blog, slang and the pigeons, Slow Learner, Smaller Than Life, smeg's window, Sputnik Sweetheart, stressqueen, the String Bag, A Student's Life, Successful Sites, Tales of a Gamma Male, Tangled Creations, Temperama, This is Stoke Newington, 1000 Shades of Grey, The 3Rs - Reading, Ranting & Recipes, Tickets, Money, Passport?, timboblog, 'tis an odd blog b'God, To be a Pilgrim, Tom Steel, Travels around London, troubled diva, T3G:2, Twenty Major, the Ulterior, Unnatural Vision, Very Very Bored, View From an Iberian Valley, A View from England, The Voice of Reason, Volume 22, What was the score?, Wheeliebinland, Who Knows Where Thoughts Come From?, The Willesden Herald, World of Chig, The World of Yaxlich, write a little every day, You Can Call Me Betty

Blimey, what a lot! I'm duly honoured by every single one of these blogroll links, so many thanks to everybody. The rest of you, you might enjoy clicking on some of these 207 links to see what you're missing. Not all of them (unless you're especially bored) but maybe 10 or so. Pick them at random, or pick the ten with the most interesting names, or start at the end and work your way backwards. I can't guarantee that every single one is a literary masterpiece, but a lot of them are. I know - I've had to read them all over the last couple of days, just to check that they're still being updated.

Of the 168 linkers on last year's list, a whopping 56 have fallen by the wayside and don't appear this year. A quarter of those have just vanished - disappeared, deleted - which is a pity. About 40% are now on hiatus - either deliberately or out of neglect - which is a shame. And the other third are still going strong but have removed me from their blogroll - zapped, extinguished - which is the way it goes I guess. Still, at least 95 new blogs have come along and added me instead, so the overall trend remains upwards. Which is nice.

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

 Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Red man walking

I think both red and green simultaneously is impossibleIf you drive a car or ride a bike, you'll be aware that us pedestrians are less well behaved than we used to be. Especially at pelican crossings. We used to be much better at doing as we were told. When the green man was lit, we crossed. When the green man starting flashing, we hurried up. And when the red man appeared we waited, patiently, for all the traffic to go by. Not any more.

Pedestrians are now far worse at observing red lights than certain cyclists. Is the red man showing? Never mind, just dash across the road anyway. Is there a bit of a gap in the approaching traffic? Plenty of time to run headlong in front of a speeding car before it arrives. Or are the passing vehicles driving very slowly down the street instead? Even better for weaving through the jam in a madcap attempt to reach the pavement opposite. Oh no, we pedestrians don't like to wait at pelican crossings any more, we don't like waiting at all.

pelican crossing, Oxford CircusBut some of the blame for this increasingly reckless behaviour must rest with the bureaucrats who appear to be reprogramming our pedestrian crossings. First they stopped our green men flashing. You had noticed that green men never flash any more, hadn't you? The flash was being misunderstood to mean "it's perfectly safe to start crossing", which was obviously extremely risky and had to be stopped. So now there's just a long blank pause between green and red, in the hope that if pedestrians don't see green they'll stay on the pavement. Fat chance.

And now, at least in certain spots in central London, the amount of "green man" time has been cut to a ridiculous minimum. If there's any risk that a hobbling grandmother might not quite get across the road before the traffic restarts, then the green light must be turned off. Law-abiding able-bodied pedestrians are expected to stand and wait, and wait, and wait, when they could easily have crossed the road in the time available before the red man lit up.

Here's how it works at the pedestrian crossing on Regent Street to the north of Oxford Circus...

redred10 secErm, the traffic stopped ten seconds ago. Why aren't we allowed to start crossing yet? We can all see that it's perfectly safe to cross already, but for some reason you won't let us yet. Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait?
redgreen10 secHurrah! Chaaa-arge! Let's all swarm across the road towards H&M...
redblank8 secBloody hell, was that it? It takes a good 15 seconds to walk across this road, but they've switched off the green man after just ten. It's inhuman. Surely it's a mistake. Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait?
redred45 secErm, why is the red man showing already? The traffic on this side of the street isn't moving yet. There'd be no danger whatsoever in crossing to the central island. Why are we being treated like idiots? Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait?
red and amberred2 secOops, the traffic's finally starting up again. If we don't hurry we're going to get stuck on the wrong side of the road for ages. Well, 30 seconds anyway. Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait?
greenred23 secDamn, the traffic's flowing past again. But we could definitely sneak between that lorry and that bus, couldn't we? Or nip between that motorbike and that taxi? If we run very fast. Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait?
amberred2 secOoh good, the traffic's stopping. In a few seconds time the green man will light up. A few seconds early won't hurt, will it? Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait?
redred10 secAnd repeat...

So, that's the green man lit for a measly 10% of the time, even though pedestrians think it's perfectly safe to cross for nearly three quarters of the time. It's no wonder that pedestrians learn to ignore pelican crossings, because they're set to be so risk-averse that we might as well cross anyway. So we do. Sorry. Can't wait any more. Just can't wait.

 Monday, May 28, 2007

No, the weather over the Spring bank holiday weekend isn't usually this cold and wet.
And here's a site which can prove it, with historical data in enormous detail...

Maximum UK temperature on Spring bank holiday Monday
 *14.7°C in Northern Ireland, but only 8°C in London.

The best Spring bank holiday weekends of the last 25 years: 1982, 1990, 1992
The worst Spring bank holiday weekends of the last 25 years: 1984, 1993, 2000, 2007

Smoke #10The latest edition of Smoke magazine is now available for purchase. Hurrah! This irregular London fanzine has now reached issue number 10, and offers the usual mix of "words and images inspired by the city".

Most of the articles have a definite literary bent, more descriptive than factual, and there's usually an arty angle to the images and illustrations. This time round you can read about the pregnant state of East Dulwich, see more of London's campest statues, reflect on the fading status of Chapel Market and enjoy various photographs of pigeons in puddles. Maybe take a walk along the Thames, or stride up to Ally Pally, or even hike halfway to Romford - Smoke has a reassuringly out-of-Zone-1 focus. Perhaps these snippets here will give you a better idea.

I've already paid my £2.50 (stockists here, mail order here), and I'm pleased to say that the end product is just as well-produced and collectable as ever. I wonder if they'll be giving away a free ring binder with issue 11?

7 things I didn't know 7 days ago
1) Your life might change in 60 seconds flat, with one 999 phone call.
2) Never assume you know where you're going to be sleeping tonight.
3) Skin can hide beneath it a multitude of irregularities.
4) I may not be as healthy as I thought I was, but I'm still perfectly healthy.
5) The easiest way to swallow a tablet is not to think about swallowing it.
6) You lot are much more interested in my health than what I did at the weekend.
7) Other people worry about me far more than I do. I suspect I'm not normal.

 Sunday, May 27, 2007

Stuff to do (even when it's raining): The Long Weekend
SYS*011. Mie>AbE/SoS\ SYS*010They're having a four day bank holiday knees-up at the Tate Modern, full of arty performance events. There's a mixture of free stuff and expensive stuff, of highbrow stuff and kids stuff, and of visual stuff and musical stuff. You've already missed half of it, but you can catch up today with a rare showing of Andy Warhol's extremely tedious 5½ hour film Sleep, and a spectacular (so it says here) Brazilian carousel cobbled together from found objects. Meanwhile middle class families will love The Great Turbine Challenge - an outsized boardgame played with giant dice and negotiated whilst wearing artistic headgear. Yesterday morning I stumbled upon a rather special audio event in the Turbine Hall where a French DJ was mixing futuristic electronic beats at a volume your parents wouldn't appreciate. I joined a growing crowd seated round a black curly spiral, and absorbed the incoming pulses with a broad grin. If only all dance music was like this, I'd go clubbing more often. And if only all "art" was like this, I'd go to galleries every weekend. Beats a room full of Rembrandts any day.

Stuff to do (but maybe not when it's raining): Paradise Gardens
Carter's Steam FairVictoria Park, E3, has always been a pleasure gardens of sorts. But this weekend, along one wide strip down the centre, there's a proper 21st century mishmash of a funfair. At one end is Carter's Steam Fair - a traditional travelling amusement park with merry-go-round, coconut shy and big twirly overhead rocketships. Hand over a quid and you might win some cheap market knock-off, or a bagful of candyfloss, or just end up being horribly sick after a spin on the waltzer. Is there a better way to pass a bank holiday weekend? (Erm, maybe so.) Move on up the park, past the BBC Asian Network stripy dance tent and a big music stage where The Beat (yes, The Beat) got rained on last night. Perhaps stop off to buy a burger, or some noodles, or a burger, or banana smoothies, or maybe even a burger. And at the north end of the showground you'll eventually find some rather more arty exhibits. Drop in on headscarved housewives at the East London Design Show, or watch a bit of tented burlesque, or shell out on some designer ethnic trinkets. You can even stand out in the drizzle and rediscover the joys of swingball (honestly, you'd think children had never seen it before). Look around and you'll see that the more bohemian South Hackney residents have gravitated towards this end of the park, where the culture is, while the funfair'n'beer end is more the preserve of yer actual Tower Hamlets estatefolk. Typical of the posh half is a mechanical menagerie called Musee du Cirque des Insectes [photo], while the common half relies on the rather more physical Joby Carter's Super Mighty Striker [photo]. One end may be heaven and the other hell (you choose), but that's paradise for you.

 Saturday, May 26, 2007

The *new* Greenwich Planetarium

It was a grim day for astronomy in the capital when Madame Tussauds revamped the London Planetarium as a Stardome, shifting their spotlight to the banal cult of celebrity. But now, at last, there's a proper interstellar alternative. The Royal Greenwich Observatory has just opened a brand new £15 million extension, the centrepiece of which is an architecturally striking planetarium. Which opened yesterday. And what do you know, it's damned excellent.

The Peter Harrison PlanetariumThe new planetarium has been built beneath a granite courtyard, so that only its "dome" is visible from above [photo]. It's not actually dome-shaped at all, but a slanted truncated cone whose shape has been mathematically designed to uniquely match its location [photo]. The northern edge slants upwards at 51½° (the precise latitude of Greenwich), the southern edge points towards the zenith [photo], and the top has been sliced off parallel to the equator. This elliptical face is mirrored to reflect clouds scudding across the sky [photo], while the remainder of the cone's surface has been welded together out of 250 individual pieces of bronze (which get hot to the touch on sunny summer days). It is quite frankly, gorgeous, even if very few tourists yesterday afternoon were stopping to give it a second look.

Access to the planetarium is across the courtyard, through the ornate Victorian South Building. This splendid four-winged building has been given a new lease of life by the restoration project, and now houses the Observatory's astronomical galleries. The exhibits within are cutting-edge museum fare, designed to appeal to children with even the shortest attention span, but still with enough factual meat to satisfy the more scientific mind. You can get your hands on a 4½ million year old meteorite, or roll dice to decide the fate of star formation, or guide an electronic telescope across the heavens, or just marvel at the mysteries of the universe. All of the visual presentations (and there are several) include sign language interpretation - this is an impressively inclusive experience. Meanwhile the top floor of the building has been given over to school parties, while downstairs there's a cafe and a shop (because there's always a cafe and a shop).

Entrance to the Peter Harrison Planetarium is on the lower level, and a ticket will set you back £6. You might expect Mr Harrison to be a famous astronomer but no, he's just the kindly philanthropist who donated £3 million to the project (and conveniently gets his name splashed across the building in perpetuity). You can read a bit about his selfless life while you're waiting to go in, should you be interested. The Queen, meanwhile, merely merits a small plaque saying that she popped along on Tuesday to officially open everything.

The planetarium seats 120 people in comfy recliners, but aim for the rear rows for the best upward view. If you ever visited the London Planetarium in Baker Street you'll know what to expect - a curved overhead screen upon which the mysteries of the night sky are projected. What you won't be used to are stunning 21st century visual effects, as the 20 minute show transports you around the universe from the Sun's core to swirling black holes. The projected light show tells the story of the stars, from their birth within clusters of cloudy nebulae to their eventual implosion and death. I was very pleased by the wholly scientific presentation - there's no dumbing down here - and images are lifted from real observation data wherever possible. There's a fair amount of constellation spotting too, because that's what planetariums are for, although sadly there was no planet-hopping in this first set of performances. Maybe later.

As the night sky slowly brightened and the lights came back on, there was a ripple of spontaneous applause from an appreciative audience. Perhaps this was just a first-day reaction, but I like to think you'll be just as impressed when you visit. Do come (maybe once half term's over and the place calms down a little). A world-famous world-class attraction just got even better.
Planetarium admission details (performances hourly)
Weller Astronomy Galleries (admission free)

Unusual place for a picnic...
Nelson's Common
Village Green in Trafalgar Square (alas, rolled up last night)

 Friday, May 25, 2007

On tablets

Cradle to GraveOne of my favourite works of art in London can be found on the ground floor of the British Museum, just underneath the mummies. Cradle to Grave is a long display case filled with all the prescribed drugs a typical man and woman might take during a lifetime, all carefully sewn into a 13 metre-long strip of fabric. The tablets tell two parallel life stories - in her case featuring contraceptives and HRT, and in his case asthma, hayfever and (eventually) high blood pressure. Along each side of the artwork are a series of photographs depicting scenes from family life, and a few relevant artefacts such as a stubbed-out ashtray, a glass of red wine and a set of false teeth. But it's the multi-coloured tapestry of tablets that really draws the attention, creating a striking centrepiece to the museum's Living and Dying gallery.

Clipboard-clutching parties of schoolkids were skipping past the display case this morning, on their way to see the dead Egyptians upstairs. But older visitors were much more likely to stop, and to point, and to reflect. An elderly lady in a wheelchair sat smiling as she spotted some pills her husband used to take, while several tourists were clearly taken aback by the sheer volume of tablets laid out before them. That's 14000 tablets each - the average number of pharmaceuticals swallowed by a 'normal' Briton between birth and death. Tellingly, in the case of the average male patient depicted here, half of these pills are taken in the last ten years of his life - between the ages of 66 and 76. I've got a long way to go yet.

Cradle to GraveUntil yesterday morning, I'd never swallowed a tablet in my life (and yes, you can read whatever subtext you like into that). I've been extremely fortunate thus far to have avoided serious illness, or any long-term medical condition, so my total number of prescribed orally-ingested pharmaceuticals has been zero. Lucky me. There was one occasion, thirty years ago on a school coach trip home from Germany, when I was ordered to swallow a shiny plastic capsule full of antibiotics, but I failed utterly, merely splattering those sitting nearby with a gullet-full of fizzy cola instead. Soluble aspirin I have no problem with, but me and tablets, we've never got on.

So yesterday, I fear, marks a minor turning point in my life. I'm only on one tiny little white tablet a day, for some initially unspecified period. My new prescription's not keeping me alive or anything serious, but it is all a little unexpected. I know that many of you will be wondering what all the fuss is about, having been used to swallowing tablets for health or pleasure for decades. But I've just stepped across a line I was hoping not to have to cross, at least for several more years. I've now got to remember to gulp and swallow every morning, whereas before I could just brush and go. My own personal Cradle to Grave artwork starts here, this very week. Two tablets down, and hopefully slightly fewer than 13998 to go...

Aren't NHS nurses wonderful? I mean, you'd expect them to be, but it's only when you're on the receiving end of their care that you truly notice. You notice that doctors only give you their time in carefully controlled three-minute bursts, whereas nurses are there for you all the time. They work stupidly long shifts (hang on, she only went home 11 hours ago, and here she is back again fresh as a daisy). They smile, even when they're knackered and the patient they're treating is being a bastard. They'll function even under inhumane conditions (like for example when the ward's air conditioning is permanently broken and every day is like working in a sweaty sauna). They're willing to turn their hand to anything, from holding onto the catheter while a one-legged man hops onto a commode, to sticking tablets up a constipated backside. They can cajole a critically ill patient slowly back into consciousness, whilst reassuring visiting relatives that somehow things aren't quite as ghastly as they appear. They'll whip a curtain around you to protect your dignity when you need to go to the toilet, and take away the incriminating evidence afterwards without ever making a fuss. They can slip a drip into your elbow joint while you're not looking, and take it out later without peeling all the hair off your arm. And, most importantly, they can make you feel like a human being in a place where it would be all too easy to feel like a miserable lump of malfunctioning flesh. Whatever they're being paid, it isn't enough.

 Thursday, May 24, 2007

In case of emergency

The first few minutes after you dial 999 are the most criticial. Not just for the ambulance crew dashing through the streets, but for your own wellbeing over the next few hours and days. What should you be doing while you wait for emergency help to arrive? What's essential to have to hand, and what can you safely leave alone? The following suggestions are based on my first-hand experiences, beginning just before 6am yesterday morning.

OK, so you've dialled 999. Well done. Don't panic. Now put the phone down somewhere obvious, just in case you need to ring again, and plan ahead carefully. For starters, stop and think about the symptoms you're currently experiencing. Everybody you meet for the next few hours is going to ask you exactly the same "How did you feel?" question, so it helps to have a good description already prepared. Something useful like "I was sweating and it felt all tingly down my right-hand side". Something evocative like "it felt like an army of devils were dragging their fiery pitchforks across my chest". Or something direct and to the point like "it bloody hurt". This'll all be useful information later.

Don't waste your time tidying the flat before the 999 crew arrive. You might think the place looks a tip, but they've seen far worse. Don't waste your time Googling your symptoms to see what strange condition you might have. Somebody else will tell you properly later, and they know what they're talking about. And it's probably not a good idea to waste valuable seconds publishing a blogpost about 1978 ice lolly prices. Your readers will never realise they've missed it, and there's far more important stuff to be done.

What are you wearing? You might end up in these clothes for rather longer than you expected, so change into something practical, comfortable and at least semi-fashionable. Nobody else where you're going will care what you look like, but you'll feel a lot more dignified if you're wearing jeans rather than elasticated slacks. Spare clean underwear is always useful (and certainly better than wearing no underwear at all - oops!). Select appropriate footwear with care (something slip-on that isn't sandals would be perfect), and place them on your feet before the ambulance crew arrive so that they don't have to waste two valuable minutes while you get yourself ready. Remember too that you'll be coming home in these clothes, so avoid fluffy Mickey Mouse slippers at all costs.

Now fill your pockets. Two absolute essentials are a wallet and your front door keys. There's nothing worse than waking up in hospital and realising that you have no means of ever getting home. Ladies will probably find this preparation much easier than gentlemen because they already keep all their essentials in a single handbag. Blokes beware! And grab your mobile phone too. You might end up in a semi-lenient ward where mobile use is tolerated, and this'll makes communication with friends and family so much easier. You might want to stick your phone on charge for a few more precious minutes while you still can, because if the battery runs out when you're in hospital, you'll be irrevocably incommunicado.

Life on a hospital ward can be unutterably dull, especially if you end up in an A&E-related ward with no TV, no radio and no exploitative Patientline services. A couple of hours of watching sick people being wheeled past on trolleys is probably all that you'll be able to withstand. Be sure to take some distractions with you. That book you've been meaning to read for ages, or a magazine, or even better ten magazines. Anything to keep your mind occupied and not just mulling over your own predicament. But probably not a laptop, Gameboy or PSP or similar - they already have plenty of flashy electrical devices in hospitals and frown on you bringing more.

Don't forget your toothbrush. It's all too easy to forget it in the madcap rush to exit your house. And a pair of glasses, if you normally wear them. You don't want to end up in a strange blurry myopic world, unable to see quite what's going on. And a razor. That's unless you want to grow three days of unkempt manly stubble, because it might just impress some of the nurses, you never know.

If you have a sense of humour, take it with you. There may be some pretty unpleasant sights and undignified sounds where you're going. Drained faces, persistent sobbing, agonised screams and a lot of pissing into cardboard urine bottles - all things you're not used to experiencing in your everyday life. And it won't be like on the TV where everybody makes a splendid recovery just before the closing credits. Not everyone you see will be going home. A smile may just help you to get through the humbling experience that lies ahead of you.

Now, where's that ambulance got to? Ah, there it is. I wonder if Tom's come to see me? Deep breath. It's all for the best, you know. Open the door, and let's get going...

 Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Thursday 2pm update: I was planning to post this at 7am yesterday, except at that time I was lying on a trolley in my local A&E Resus Room instead. Still, mustn't grumble...

Ten Fab facts
This month sees the 40th anniversary of the Lyons Maid Fab ice lolly.
The Fab lolly was launched in May 1967 with an advertising campaign fronted by Thunderbirds' Lady Penelope (she appeared in the first TV ad riding in the back of her pink Rolls Royce - FAB 1).
Fab's initial target audience were the 3 million girls in Britain aged 5-15. Why did nobody tell me this at the time?
When they were launched, Fab lollies cost sixpence (2½p). Hampton Court now charge 60 times more.
Fab lolly wrappers used to read "Strawberry & Vanilla Flavours Ice Lolly with Chocolate Coating and Sugar Strands". And today, in rather smaller letters, they read "Real Strawberry and Vanilla Flavoured Ice Lolly with Chocolate Flavour Coating (5%) and Sugar Strands (5%)". You win some, you lose some.
A Fab lolly contains 79 calories and is (apparently) suitable for vegetarians.
Do you lick all the hundreds and thousands off first, or do you leave them until last?
You can get all nostalgic about old Lyons Maid ice lollies here (please try not to crash the website)
There's even a Myspace site devoted to the Fab lolly (including an embedded ice cream chime)
I love a good Fab! I've got 16 in my freezer (they're almost at 1978 prices in my local supermarket at the moment). Perfect for a mid-May heatwave. Mmm, fab!

1978 ice lolly & ice cream price list

Lyons Maid  Walls
Mr Men6p  Mini Milk7p
Zoom9p  Lemonade Fizz9p
Haunted House10p  Cider Barrel9p
Fab10p  King Kong10p
Lolly Gobble Choc Bomb11p  Feast15p
Orange Maid13p  Heart16p
Dark Satin Choc Ice13p  Midnight Mint Choc Ice16p
Strawberry Mivvi15p  Jamaica Choc Ice18p
King Cone25p  Cornetto30p
Raspberry Ripple Family Brick  37p  Golden Vanilla Sliceable Litre  59p

Some real old favourites there!
Source: this dull old report [large pdf]

London in pictuers (3)
Fruit pastels, anyone?
Ice cream kiosk near the Tiltyard Cafe, Hampton Court Palace, KT8

 Tuesday, May 22, 2007

One of the greatest fears for any blogger must be logging into your computer one morning only to discover that your entire blog has been deleted. Every last photograph, every last link and every last word, suddenly wholly and irrevocably lost. It's an unlikely occurrence, that's for sure, but who's to say that your hosting company won't throw a hissy fit one day, or some crucial hard drive corrupt beyond the point of retrieval. That's why I make a copy of my front page once a week, as a precautionary measure, and why I've got a five year archive burnt onto CD somewhere, just in case. I take risk assessment more seriously now.

But what of my online legacy, should I drop dead one day without warning. Blogger might well carry on hosting my site for a few more years, but my Flickr subscription is finite, and any images hosted on my own personal domain will surely vanish shortly after my executors cancel all my standing orders. Cheering stuff, I know. But how much of my blog can I expect to remain visible after 20, 50 or even 100 years? HTML and the internet will no doubt go the way of cassette tapes, floppy discs and videotape, becoming increasingly obsolete as the century passes. These words I'm writing are of only fleeting importance, accessible for a brief period and then snuffed out as technology moves on. I don't know why any of us bother, really.

So I was more than a little excited, and indeed humbled, to receive an emailed invite from the British Library asking if I'd agree to have my website preserved in a new national "collection of blogs". Blimey. They'd like diamond geezer to be added to a publicly accessible website archive - part of the UK Web Archiving Consortium (UKWAC) initiative - and stashed away for the benefit of future internet research. Cor. Their plan is for 150 blogs of all shapes and sizes to be archived during the summer, and then again at regular intervals into the future. I'll be in prestigious online company, by the looks of the existing archive, filed away amongst such eclectic websites as Classic Cafes, Cheltenham Ladies College and the Campaign for Real Ale. Cor blimey.

But there's a catch. This being an official British Library collection, it's essential that I first sign a copyright licence - specifically for third party content. There's no problem with my own writing, which comprises 99% of the blog. But every now and again I, in common with millions of other bloggers, like to quote a bit of somebody else's work. A cut-and-pasted blogpost snippet, for example, or a chunk of a press release, or a couple of lines from a poem, that sort of thing. I don't ask these people, I just copy a little bit of what they've written, in the same way that you probably do. But the UKAWC can't officially archive anything without obtaining the author's permission first. Damn. So, er, here goes with an attempted get-out clause...
"I intend having this website archived after the beginning of June in a UK blog collection by the British Library. In the unlikely case that anyone who has been quoted in my blog does not want the quotation there, they should let me know by email immediately."
I'm not expecting a rush. I'd expect most people I've quoted would be as pleased as I am to be part of a web preservation programme. But I shall watch my email with interest, just in case Freddie Mercury, Metronet or William Shakespeare get in touch. And then I can sign up to the official archive programme with a clear conscience, safe in the knowledge that my words are being officially preserved for future generations. Even after I'm dead and gone and the internet is long obsolete, so webarchive.org.uk should evolve to match the digital format of the age. And one distant day, as the entire human race prepares to evacuate our doomed planet in a fleet of well-stocked interstellar spacecraft, maybe this paragraph will go with them. I'd like to hope so.

 Monday, May 21, 2007

As the Cutty Sark burns, we ask:
That was a bit careless, wasn't it?
• Is this the least successful restoration project ever?
• Can you ever protect town centre heritage attractions from arson?
• So much for risk assessment, eh?
• What are the chances they try to build a fibreglass replacement?
• What are tourists in "Maritime Greenwich" going to take photographs of now?
• Is it time to bring back Gipsy Moth IV?
• Actually, did anybody ever bother paying good money to go aboard for a look around?
• Are they going to have to rename the local DLR station?
• Will the London Marathon ever bother to run round the 'Cutty Sark loop' again?
• It's a damned shame, isn't it?
• Anyone fancy a cup of tea?

London in pictuers (2)
well, what else would you call yourself?
Northwold Road, Stoke Newington, N16

 Sunday, May 20, 2007

A London Crossword
Just one clue each, please

4) Terminal destination (8,7)
8) SE suburb found in open geography (5)
9) Lost Lambeth river (5)
11) Links Luton to the Thames (3)
12) It's 2000 years old, near enough (6)
14) 2 down and 12 across, for example (7)
17) Nash thoroughfare carved out in 1825 (6)
19) Gateway to the South (6)
20) Converted to oxygen (4)
21) New lad could be current (6)
22) SW suburb - revolutionary in the morning (5)
1) A long wait to enter the gardens? (3)
2) Keep white (5)
3) Creates Thames art (9)
5) NW suburb - then don't take part (6)
6) Florid novel (6)
7) Surrey pitched up here (4)
8) Metroland skewer (6)
10) Fast ships, long buried (5)
13) Rebuilt their town by the Thames (5)
15) Was their comedy genial? (6)
16) Hampstead's PM (5)
18) Looks round on the South Bank (3)
19) East End weapon (3)
6:15pm update: You've completed the crossword. View the solution here.

 Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Cup Final returns to Wembley

08:30 Wake up in hotel room in Cardiff. Damn, should've been a little more optimistic when booking pre-final accommodation this year.
11:39 Arrive at Paddington. Wave scarf aloft and chant like a monkey.
11:48 Pay £4 to sing drunken songs in squashed carriages on the way to the new Wembley Park tube station.
Heavenly Hotdogs, Wembley Way12:31 Join massive crowds pouring (very slowly) down Wembley Way towards the new stadium. Resist buying a Heavenly Hotdog.
12:46 Finally enter the hallowed portals of the vastly-expensive over-budget ridiculously-late New Wembley Stadium. Try to ignore these facts and look to the future.
13:16 A trained snifferdog pokes around inside your rucksack and confiscates your illegal packed lunch.
13:19 Someone semi-official rips the stub off your £95 ticket and points the way through three concrete tunnels towards seat QQ43A-21b.
13:30 Ooh, just in time, the entertainment's starting. Some old men walk across the pitch and wave.
13:50 Some more old men walk across the pitch and blow trumpets. Maybe this would be a good time to go and buy a souvenir programme and a burger.
13:58 Ah, maybe now wouldn't be a good time to go and buy a souvenir programme and a burger, not without taking out a mortgage first.
14:05 Prince William walks across the pitch and waves. He introduces a "lost child" public information film on the big plasma screen, and then ties a yellow ribbon to the FA Cup so that the News of the World can take photos.
14:15 Next on the big plasma screen are edited highlights of this season's FA Cup qualifiers. It's just like watching Match of the Day at home, only further away and considerably more expensive.
14:45 The Red Arrows fly over the stadium, drowning out Abide With Me. One of the planes flies underneath the arch, just for a laugh.
Wembley Stadium15:00 The football match begins. Two dull over-rated teams are playing, so we'll not go into detail here.
15:49 It's half time. Quick, make your way to one of the extensive banks of urinals before the queue builds up. The queue for the single hand-dryer, that is.
15:58 Microwaved pie and a plastic cup full of frothy pumped lager? For £8.50? Er, no thanks, I think not.
16:05 Second half. There's a red goal and a blue goal, but maybe not in that order. Grown men yell and scream. Jose and Sir Alex glare at one another.
16:56 Extra time. Well, at least that's 33% better value for money.
17:33 Penalties! Somebody in the royal box turns to the person next to them and asks what the rules of this bit are.
17:47 We have a winner! Grown men cry. Doctor Who is going to be half an hour later than scheduled now, you bastards.
17:53 The winning team are still climbing the steps to the royal box to collect the cup. Come on, hurry up! Jose and Sir Alex are throwing clods of pristine turf at one another.
17:58 The winning captain runs up to the nearest block of spectators, puts the cup on his head and grins. Like nobody's ever done that before.
18:37 Still trying to get out of the stadium, through hordes of drunken cheering beer monsters. Which is a right miserable thing to have to do when your team just lost.
22:00 The Chairman of the FA smiles, locks the takings in the safe and drives home. At last, the new Wembley Stadium is truly open for business.

 Friday, May 18, 2007

Sorry, this ticket office is closed

You didn't want to buy a ticket from the ticket office, did you? Sorry, but by the end of the year that won't be possible at one-sixth of the stations on the London Underground network. TfL is bringing down the shutters, permanently, at another 40 lesser-used tube stations, to match the five ticket offices they shut down last year. You can blame Oyster cards for these latest closures. Now that most of us swipe and swish our way around the tube, there's no longer any need for people to sit behind glass screens waiting for us to ignore them.

There'll still be TfL staff at these 45 stations, of course, but they won't be able to sell you a ticket. They can direct you towards a ticket machine, or point the way to a newsagents down the road where they have an Oyster card reader, but they can't physically give you a piece of cardboard in exchange for money. These displaced staff will probably end up guiding mums with pushchairs through the sidegate instead. Or sitting in a back room watching 75 CCTV cameras. Or getting sacked. Such is the price of automated advancement.

Ticket offices to close by the end of 2007 (or already closed)
Bakerloo: Regent's Park
Central: West Ruislip, Ruislip Gardens, South Ruislip, Perivale, West Acton; Barkingside, Fairlop, (Grange Hill), (Chigwell), (Roding Valley), Buckhurst Hill, Debden, (Theydon Bois)
Circle: Temple, Mansion House, Cannon Street
District: Chiswick Park, Ravenscourt Park, Wimbledon Park, East Putney; Upney, Becontree, Hornchurch, (Upminster Bridge)
Hammersmith & City: Goldhawk Road, Latimer Road, Royal Oak
Jubilee: Canons Park
Metropolitan: Chesham, Chorleywood, Croxley, Moor Park, Northwood Hills, North Harrow, West Harrow, Ruislip, Ickenham
Northern: Totteridge & Whetstone, West Finchley, Mill Hill East
Piccadilly: Sudbury Hill, Park Royal, North Ealing, Boston Manor

Look at some of those stations whose ticket offices are permanently closing. The list includes 10% of the Circle line (including a central London rail terminus), two-thirds of Ruislip and most of the eastern end of the Central line. Then there's Regent's Park, currently closed for redevelopment, but which will be reopening in the summer with its ticket office designed out of existence. I'm particularly sorry to see Croxley station go, because I bought scores of tickets there as a child. And that's not the end of the closure list. Some stations with more than one ticket office, such as Seven Sisters and Oxford Circus, will be losing one of them. They're even closing the eastern ticket office at Canary Wharf - the gleaming new ticket office beneath the Canada Square entrance, opened a mere three years ago - which now seems like a ghastly waste of money. And then there's weekends...

Ticket offices to close at weekends (or on Sundays)
Central: Sudbury Town; Wanstead, Hainault
Circle: (Baker Street), (Great Portland Street), (Euston Square), (Barbican)
District: Bow Road, Bromley By Bow, (Dagenham Heathway), Dagenham East, Elm Park
Hammersmith & City: (Shepherds Bush), Westbourne Park
Metropolitan: Chalfont & Latimer, (Rickmansworth), (Watford), (Northwood), (Pinner), (Northwick Park), (Eastcote), (Ruislip Manor), (Hillingdon)
Northern: Mornington Crescent, Goodge Street
Piccadilly: South Harrow, (Alperton)

More than a quarter of London's tube stations will be ticket-office-free on Sundays by the end of the year. There won't be a single ticket window open between Harrow on the Hill and Amersham on the Metropolitan line, or between Barking and Upminster on the District. These are all ticket offices which no tourist would dream of using, of course, frequented by limited numbers of everyday Londoners with online-purchased Oysters. Should anyone else hope to visit, I just hope that a local newsagent is open instead.

And there's more. A further list of stations will also see their ticket offices closed on weekday afternoons when demand is lighter. Take my local tube station, for example, which serves more than 3½ million passengers a year. The ticket office at Bow Road will soon be closing between 10am and 4pm, in addition to early mornings, and evenings, and all of Saturday, and all of Sunday. Spot the difference...

Mon - Friall day0600-19300600-1000
Saturdayall day0700-2030closed
Sundayall day0930-1930closed

» Full closure information at tubeworker's blog
» Check current opening hours at your local station on TfL's interactive map
» Petition against London Underground ticket office closures

 Thursday, May 17, 2007

London in pictuers
Hand Car Wash Entrenc
Arnold Road, off Bow Road, E3.

It's now 4 weeks since Blogger slapped an ugly

across the top of my blog.

As a long term paid-up member of old Blogger, I'd previously been entitled not to have a great big navbar on my site. So I was a bit cross, and I emailed Blogger telling them so. They sent back a patronising "Are you sure you're really having a problem, why not try reading our FAQ instead" email. I replied to that, as requested, and they duly ignored me for three weeks. Then I emailed them for a third time, and now finally I've received a proper reply:
Hi there,

Thanks for writing in. We apologize for the delayed response.
Unfortunately, there is no way to remove the navbar at this time; however, if the Navbar is covering up the top of your blog, you can add a bit of CSS code to your template to shift your content down slightly. Just add the following code to the top element in your design:


Or use another method of your choice to move your content down by 40 pixels. Alternatively, you can use one of our default templates, all of which work well with the Navbar.

The Blogger Team
Or, in other words, bad luck you're stuck with it. Damn.

I'm not going to take their advice and 'upgrade' to a generic new Blogger template, because I prefer this generic old Blogger template. And I'm not going to take their advice and shift my top margin 40 pixels down. But I am going to take their advice and add a bit of CSS code to my template. It may not be quite the code that Blogger had in mind, but I'm pleased to say that it's had the desired effect.

Ah, that feels better already.

 Wednesday, May 16, 2007

 Monday, May 16, 2011

Dear Citizen,

Your monthly carbon tax is now due. Please pay your bill online at www.greentax.gov.uk, or swipe your Oyster card at any participating library, supermarket or recycling facility. Please try not to drive to your swipe point as you will be charged extra. Late payment may result in the capping of your June carbon ration. If you have any queries about this bill, please ring our Calcutta call centre on 91-33-2282-2334.

Standing Charges

Breathing   30 days of CO2 @ 0.02p per breath = £86.40
No of children in household (under 18)   2 offspring @ £275 flat rate = £550

Variable metered costs - household

Heating   9 radiators @ 5 hours per day = £31.50
» » » Fixed penalty for turning thermostat above 18°C   £40
» » » Fixed penalty for using patio heater   6 hours @ 17p per minute = £61.20
» » » Fixed penalty for leaving curtains open at night = £2
~ Tax credit for wearing extra clothing   2 woolly jumpers and a balaclava = 79p

Lighting   13 kWh illumination = £12.65
» » » Fixed penalty for using filament bulbs   3 bulbs @ £8 = £24
» » » Fixed penalty for leaving light switched on in bathroom while unoccupied = £3.75
» » » Fixed penalty for using candles   12 tealights @ 0.004 kg CO2 = 48p

Electricity   457 kWh of evil carbon belching = £186.05
» » » Fixed penalty for leaving phone charger switched on   18 hours @ 25p/hr = £4.50
» » » Fixed penalty for leaving plasma TV on standby   13 overnights @ £1.50 = £19.50
» » » Fixed penalty for owning huge digital home cinema system = £45
» » » Fixed penalty for over-filling kettle   3786ml @ 81p per litre = £3.07
» » » Fixed penalty for reheating ready meal   2 biryanis @ 20p each = 40p

Variable metered costs - travel

Car travel (1st car)   247.3 miles @ 29p per mile = £71.72
Car travel (2nd car)   106.9 miles @ 99p per mile = £105.83
» » » Fixed penalty for journeys less than 1 mile   7 short journeys @ £5 = £35
» » » Fixed penalty for journeys with fewer than 2 passengers   17 offences @ £5 = £85
» » » Fixed penalty for driving on Car-free Wednesdays = £60

Air travel   1 short haul weekend @ 517 miles = £155.10
» » » Fixed penalty for booking holiday abroad = £100
» » » Fixed penalty for looking briefly at Easyjet website = £6
» » » Fixed penalty for buying out of season cucumber flown in from South Africa = £2.99

~ Cycle tax credit   29 miles @ 15p per mile = £4.35
~ Bus tax credit   6 miles @ 7p per mile = 42p
~ Walking tax credit   11.3 miles @ 10p per mile = £1.13


Please pay promptly.
You have not been sent a paper copy of this bill.

 Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Can you Digg It?

A disturbing trend is creeping, slowly, across the blogosphere. It's not everywhere yet - indeed, you may well be immune - but more and more bloggers are doing it. Adding an extra line at the bottom of every blogpost. A line that says "Digg This", either in words or in symbols, at the bottom of every single bloody blogpost. I mean, get a grip.

Digg is a website which thrives on user-generated content. Digg's disciples spot stuff they like on the web and, if submitted by enough people, this stuff makes it to Digg's front page and a potential audience of millions. Sounds like a perfect way to get noticed, doesn't it? Write something great and it might just be validated in front of an appreciative global jury. The Digg effect is legendary, and extreme, and all powerful.

  Digg this!

But what on earth makes bloggers think that the couple of paragraphs they've just posted to their blog are worthy of Digg's front page? Have you seen what Digg's front page usually contains? Some nerdy sci-fi stuff. A hilarious photograph of a dog in a wig. Some incisive American political commentary. A celebrity interview lifted from the NBC website. News of a really exciting shiny new gadget. A YouTube video of a toddler waving a lightsabre. You know, lowest common denominator geek stuff. Your miserable post about what you did at the weekend has no chance.

But never mind, people still insist on sticking these little icons at the bottom of every post they write. There's no thought as to whether each post is actually Digg-worthy or not, the icons just appear as part of the template. That means 99 wasted appearances for every one post that might just possibly be worth sharing worldwide. And what are the chances of that one brilliant post actually being Dugg? Who actually clicks on these buttons, eh?

  Email this

I can just about see the point of del.icio.us as an accumulated repository of interesting links. But does anyone really bookmark favourite blogposts to re-read six months later? Does anybody really appreciate a post so much that they recommend it to all of these social bookmarking sites? Are there really people who Digg everything they read, just so long as it makes them LOL or w00t? And does anyone ever choose to send favourite posts to their friends by email? I think not.

  Email this

I got Dugg the other week, thanks to an ironic sentence in my "flag of irony" post. A few misguided kindly souls gave this post the thumbs up and it managed to accumulate a grand total of 6 Diggs. And the net result? 3 extra incoming visitors. Pah! I'm sorry but, except in exceptional cases, sticking Digg buttons on blogs is a total and utter waste of time. If you really think you've got something worth flaunting to the rest of the world, by all means stick a big "Digg This" box at the bottom of your post. But the rest of the time, please get a sense of proportion and stop clogging up our screens with unnecessary boastful clutter.

  Email this   Digg this!

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