diamond geezer

 Wednesday, April 30, 2008

London Elects 010508London Mayoral Debate 2012

Paxman: Sooooooo, Boris, what have you got to say for yourself after four years as Mayor of London?
Boris: Well, golly, hasn't it been fun? I've had such a jolly time appearing on the telly and and meeting people and going to receptions. London really is a great city, and I've enjoyed every second of running it.
Paxman: Yeeeeees, well, you haven't really been running London at all, have you? You hired a bunch of special advisers to do that. Do you think they've been worth the money you've been paying them?
Boris: Oh absolutely yes, every last million. I'd never have had time to chair Have I Got News For You otherwise. And I must say I think Roman Abramovich has been great as Head of Affordable Housing, and Vinny Jones was an inspired choice as Chair of Culture, and Jeffrey Archer has been excellent as Director of Doing Things More Cheaply.
Paxman: What about crime. You made a big fuss about crime when you got elected in 2008, telling Londoners you'd bring the figures down. What went wrong?
Boris: Well, you know, a Mayor only has a certain degree of control over whether his citizens decide to stab one another or not. Free will and consumer choice and all that. And those online crime maps we brought in, how were we to know they'd depress house prices even further. Honest, I had lots of good ideas about cutting crime, but some thieving toerag stole my briefcase on the tube.
Paxman: Ahhhhh yes, transport. What are your priorities for the next four years?
Boris: Crossrail, yes, er, that's something I'd really like to get a chance to finish. I know I still haven't got the funding yet but, you know, the forms were jolly complicated and I didn't quite fill them in properly. In the meantime, my cut-price petrol loan scheme has proved terribly successful, helping ordinary Londoners to fill their Landrovers more cheaply. So, cripes, it's not all bad news.
Paxman: If you're elected again as Mayor, will you be attending the Olympic opening ceremony in the summer?
Boris: Yes, I will, of course! There's nothing I love more than a day trip to Paris. I think outsourcing the 2012 Games to France has been a financial triumph for Londoners, and shows my continuing commitment to value for money.
Paxman: And if you win tomorrow?
Boris: I've planned a big piss-up in a brewery, I think.

Paxman: Ken Livingstone, defeated ex-Mayor of London, aren't you getting a bit old for this sort of thing?
Ken: Sorry I'm late, but Boris won't let me use my Freedom Pass on the buses before 9am.
Paxman: Londoners have already rejected your snivelling weaselling once. What makes you think you deserve the reins of the capital again?
Ken: Boris has removed hundreds of my best friends from various jobs running London, people like Race Advisers and Equality Risk Managers and Community Stakeholder Executives, and they're missing out on a share of the capital's wealth. I can't slip these people money if I'm not in power.
Paxman: But you had eight years as Mayor last time. Surely if you couldn't get things done in eight years, then they weren't worth doing?
Ken: Well, obviously I'm disappointed I never eradicated all the pigeons from Trafalgar Square. I've got sackloads of poisoned birdseed and vicious killer falcons ready this time. And I also had big plans to demolish the whole of Southwark and replace everything with 50-storey skyscrapers, but sadly that never quite came to pass.
Paxman: Su-urely, as Boris has shown, it's better to spend less on politically correct fripperies and to cut everyone's council tax instead? Especially with interest rates now at 20%.
Ken: Oh I disagree. I really miss selecting a random ethnic group and then splashing out hard-earned taxes on a special day's celebrations in Trafalgar Square. If I'd been re-elected I had big plans for Polesday.
Paxman: Some people were extremely surprised in 2009 when you started writing a twice-weekly column for the Evening Standard. How do you live with your conscience?
Ken: Look Jeremy, it's very simple. When Andrew Gilligan left the paper to become the BBC's ethics correspondent, the Standard suddenly had a vacancy for someone to write vicious spiteful copy attacking the Mayor. I was only too glad to step in.
Paxman: One last question. Do you promise to give up your day job if you're re-elected Mayor tomorrow?
Ken: My current role as Vice President of Venezuela is merely ceremonial, and wouldn't get in the way of running London. It didn't last time, anyway.

Paxman: Are you still here?
Brian: Er, sorry.
Paxman: And close the door behind you.

 Tuesday, April 29, 2008

That much-loved English children's novel, The Wind In The Willows, was first published 100 years ago this year. Kenneth Grahame's classic tale from the riverbank was inspired by the wildlife of the Thames Valley, and made its unassuming author his fortune. A century on, visitors to Henley's River and Rowing Museum can walk through a delightful permanent exhibition retelling the story, complete with 3D models, creepy woodland and audio wands. I had the whole exhibit to myself, and thought it quite charming for children of all ages. In celebration of the centenary, I thought I'd treat you to this special out-of-copyright extract...

London Elects 010508THE POLL IN THE WILLOWS

Ratty had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little City Hall with a brush and a pail of whitewash. Change was moving in the air above, penetrating even his dark and lowly little hideaway with its spirit of divine discontent. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said 'Bother!' and 'O blow!' and also 'Hang spring elections!' and bolted out of the office without even waiting to put on his coat.

As he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed gravy train. The Rat was bewitched, and dreamily he fell to considering what a nice snug dwelling-place it would make. As he gazed, something orange seemed to twinkle down in the heart of it; a grave copper face, quite easily overlooked, with lumpen ears and silver silky hair. It was the Mole! The two animals stood and regarded each other cautiously.

'Would you like to come over to my side?' enquired the Rat presently. 'Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING--absolute nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in politics.'

'Look out, Rat!' cried the Mole suddenly, remembering his police training. Glancing back, they saw a small cloud of dust, with a dark centre of energy, advancing on them from the direction of Henley at incredible speed, while from out of the dust a faint 'Poop-poop!' wailed like an uneasy animal in pain. But it was too late. The pair were struck full tilt by the amphibious vehicle, and were cast aside into the ditch, their heels in the air.

Mr ToadThey returned to the carriage-drive of City Hall to find a shiny new Routemaster, of enormous expense, painted a bright red (Toad's favourite colour), standing in front of the entrance. As they neared the door it was flung open, and Mr. Toad, arrayed in goggles, cap, gaiters, and enormous overcoat, came swaggering down the ramp, drawing on his gauntleted gloves.

'Glorious, stirring sight!' murmured Toad. 'The poetry of motion! The REAL way to travel! The ONLY way to travel! O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O my!'

'What are we to do with him?' asked the Mole, undecidedly. 'Nothing at all,' replied the Rat firmly. 'He has got a new craze, and it always takes him that way, in its first stage. He'll bluster like that for days now, like a buffoon walking in a happy dream, quite useless for all practical purposes. Never mind him. Let's go and see what there is to be done about the bendy buses.'

They had not proceeded very far on their way, however, when there was a pattering of feet behind them, and Toad caught them up and thrust a paw inside the elbow of each of them; then nosed ahead to claim victory. Then he bowed, coughed twice, and, letting himself go, with uplifted voice he sang, to the enraptured audience that his imagination so clearly saw,
The four by fours are tooting and the bankers are saluting,
And the foxhunters they are shooting and the motor-cars are hooting,
For it's Toad's— great— day!
He sang this very loud, with great unction and expression; and when he had done, he sang it all over again.

 Monday, April 28, 2008

London Elects 010508Who says Boris isn't experienced?

When Boris Johnson isn't canvassing to become Mayor of London, he has a day job as Member of Parliament for Henley. But, I wondered, does being MP for Henley provide any relevant experience for taking the reins of the capital? Would throbbing multicultural London (population seven and a half million) be a better place if it were more like genteel riverside Henley-on-Thames (population ten thousand)? So I headed upriver to Henley at the weekend to find out. And what do you know, I think Boris has it sorted.

Henley-on-ThamesEnvironment: Henley is genuinely charming. A historic riverside town with half-timbered cottages, leafy water meadows and an uncloned high street. Rather like London would be if you wiped out everywhere that was a bit Hackney and replaced it with something rather more Richmond. I think Boris would approve.
Air quality: Well done Boris, there's very little air pollution in Henley. Every breath of Thames Valley air was fresh and invigorating. If only the grimy smog I normally get to breathe in London was so refreshing.
Economy: Is there any surer sign of a thriving economy than a queue of open topped sports cars with personalised numberplates waiting to enter a rowing club car park? Given that half the City's bankers appear to either live or play in Boris's constituency, I suspect he'd be ideally suited to running their place of work too.
Crime: At no point during my trip to Henley did I feel under any threat whatsoever from mindless violence. Admittedly I did see one mother wielding a sharp knife in front of a child during a picnic, and the price of an ice cream in Mill Meadows was highway robbery, but Boris clearly has crime under control.
Thames signageSport: There are no disaffected youth on the streets of Henley. That's because they're all on the river instead, sculling and stroking while some social worker with a bike stands on the towpath yelling instructions at them through a megaphone. Even the very littlest are busy dragon boating. Why can't London's youngsters do the same?
Housing: What London needs is more detached villas with big gardens sweeping down to the banks of the Thames, each with their own little boatshed, just like what Henley has. Affordable housing? Pah, that's only for the au pair.
Festivals: An annual regatta, with exclusive Stewards Enclosure and braying Pimms-sipping punters, would be a more than worthy replacement for Ken's regular series of ethnic celebrations in Trafalgar Square.
Dusty Springfield's graveCulture: Boris presides over such cultural highlights as Dusty Springfield's grave [photo], a museum of rowing boats and an annual arts festival featuring Lesley Garrett and the Gipsy Kings. Isn't entertainment of this calibre what every Londoner wants?
Olympics: The 1908 Olympics, which were partly held in Henley, cost a mere £20000 and made a small profit. Boris is undoubtedly capable of delivering a similarly amateur Games in 2012 whilst keeping strictly to budget.
Health: I don't know what they put in the water here (it's probably Perrier), but there are an awful lot of sprightly old people around town. Mostly in blouses or blazers.
Trains: No need for Oyster cards in Henley. There's just the one station, on a single-track branch line, with an hourly service, operated by two-carriage trains. And it all works perfectly smoothly. Surely the perfect model for Crossrail.
Congestion Charge: There's no Congestion Charge in Henley, and yet traffic still manages to flow freely around the one-way medieval ringroad in the centre of town. It's a right pain for pedestrians, who have to wait ages to cross the street because the lights are against them. But all priority to the motorist, eh?
Buses: During my five hour visit to Henley I saw only three buses. That's not many, you might think, compared to the thousands that ply the streets of the capital. But NOT ONE of the three was a bendy bus. London's transport policy is clearly safe in Boris's hands.
Ethnic diversity: From what I saw on Saturday whilst observing residents and tourists, there's only one non-white face in Henley. And she looked happy enough. Boris for London, QED.

 Sunday, April 27, 2008

The London Olympics: 1908

Exactly 100 years ago today, the fourth Olympics of the modern era kicked off in London. Yes, really, in April. But there was a reason for the early start. The Olympics wasn't a two week made-for-TV extravaganza in those days, but a lengthy international celebration of amateur sportsmanship. All a bit fledgling, and still a bit rough around the edges. London had been asked to take over the organisation of the 1908 Olympics at the last minute, after Vesuvius erupted in 1906 and the Italians wanted to divert their money to rebuilding Naples instead. Which meant that the 1908 Olympics were organised by British officialdom. And it's just possible that we used our home advantage to, erm, cheat.

medal table at the BBC Media Village (built on the site of the old White City Stadium)One glimpse at the final medal table, seen here on the walls of the BBC's Media Village in White City, shows the full extent of our "sporting excellence". We didn't just beat the rest of the world, we thrashed them. We won almost as many medals as the rest of the world put together (perhaps because, at that time, only 23 nice upstanding countries with decent chaps got invited). We won all the gold medals in the lawn tennis and the boxing and the yachting and the rowing. We won the football and the hockey and the polo and the tug-of-war. And we were the only country to enter the Racquets competition, so not surprisingly we won that too. Bit suspicious, innit?

The 1908 Olympics started on April 27th and ended as late as October 31st. That's a whole six months of intermittent sporting activities, from the opening Racquets event at the Queens Club to the closing banquet at the Holborn Restaurant. All of the athletics events were crammed into a few summer weeks at the new White City stadium, but the rest were spread out across the year in a not terribly coordinated way. No problem if you're the home country and live a few miles up the road, but rather more difficult for foreign teams in an era before international jet travel.
1908 Olympic events not held at White City
April: Rackets (Queen's Club)
May: Tennis (Queen's Club)
June: Polo (Hurlingham)
July: Lawn Tennis (Wimbledon), Shooting (Bisley & Uxendon), Rowing (Henley), Yachting (Ryde)
August: Yachting (Clyde), Motor boats (Southampton Water)
October: Boxing (Clerkenwell), Skating (Knightsbridge)
And another rather dodgy thing. All the organisers and officials at all of the 1908 events were British. No doubt we thought we were just being helpful, not requiring the rest of the world to muck in on home turf, but this decision did leave the competition open to a certain amount of bias. And nowhere was this more evident that in the rowing events at Henley. These were organised by the local boatclub - the oldest rowing club in the world, the Leander. Their stewards were concerned that anyone who'd practised on the course before the Games began might have an unfair advantage, so they banned all foreign teams from advance training on the Thames. They also observed that the Belgian eight had won races at the Henley Royal Regatta for the two previous years, so they banned the 'over-experienced' Belgians outright. And, unbelievably, the Belgians agreed. But the Leander team had no such qualms about their own experience. They entered the 1908 rowing competition on behalf of the UK and, having practised umpteen times on their local river, went on to win gold with considerable ease. So much for British sportsmanship.

1908 Olympic winning bladeYou can see one of these dubious gold medals on display in Henley's fascinating River and Rowing Museum. They've also got a blade from the same race, inscribed with the names of the eight victorious oarsmen, and a rather ornate commemorative programme. No mention of an apology from the Leander club, however.

The Olympic regatta returned to Henley in 1948, and once again Team GB was victorious (but this time deservedly so). The museum has the winning coxless pair's boat on display, as propelled to victory by Hugh Laurie's dad. And they're also lucky enough to have Redgrave and Pinsent's winning coxless four from the Sydney Games in 2000 [photo], complete with aerodynamic prow and stuck-down Adidas trainers. I wonder if we stand any chance of coming away with a similar haul of medals when the Olympic Regatta arrives downriver in Eton in 2012. Without deliberately biasing all the arrangements again, I suspect not.

Compare and contrast
London's first Olympics (BBC)
London's first Olympics (Daily Mail)
London's first Olympics (British History Online)

 Saturday, April 26, 2008

I'm getting slightly tired of chicken.

Ever since my doctor probed my cholesterol level and told me that I really ought to thin it down a bit, I've been eating a lot of chicken. It's one of the few permissible meatstuffs on my Flora-sponsored list of low fat foods, so I've been dining on it in abundance over the last six weeks. That and turkey. Oh look, yet another meal involving white meat. Perhaps a nice bit of breast shoved in the oven with a jacket potato, or maybe some diced chunks slopping around in a low fat soup. Again. I'm not allowed ready meal chicken in a stodgy creamy sauce, and I definitely can't do greasy fingerlicking KFC in a bucket, but bland chicken on a plate is always OK. Oh joy.

When chicken gets me down, I'm turning instead to oily fish. I'm eating a lot of salmon, for example. A heck of a lot of salmon. It has magic Omega 3 properties which suck the cholesterol out of my veins like a leech, so the more salmon I can gulp down the better. I'm getting to be quite a fan of prime salmon fillets, sizzling away and served up with new potatoes and a plateful of minted peas. For a quick snack, tinned salmon is also proving a favourite. Not a cheap favourite, because I can't cope with crunchy bony skin'n'all canfuls from the value end of the range. But hurrah for salmon, and tuna, and more salmon.

And I'm eating a lot of mushrooms. I'd not previously realised quite how easy they were to prepare and cook, just so long as I don't slosh them around in oil or cream or anything illegal. And plenty of apples and grapes, which I'm nibbling in preference to chocolate when I get the munchies. And lots of potatoes, so long as they've not been magicked into evil lardy chips. And slice after slice of butterless bread, and several tubs of low fat yoghurt, and of course bowls of steaming porridge. Lots of porridge, because you managed to persuade me it was worth persevering with a mouthful of gloop every morning, and I've concurred.

In short, I've been eating like an angel. I've had to turn down several meals out because there was nothing on the menu that satisfied my puritanical demands. I've ignored every single Krispy Kreme doughnut and flapjack minibite that well-meaning colleagues have brought into the office as shared workplace treats. I've blanked out the box of scrumptious Creme Eggs still sitting unopened on my kitchen worktop. And I've completely ignored the four multipacks of Worcester Sauce crisps stashed away inside my kitchen cupboard which are rapidly approaching their sell-by-date. My self-control has been unexpectedly flawless.

But I'm not sure I can live on this restricted intake forever. The thought of umpteen more chicked-based meals ad nauseam, or repeated platefuls of fishy goodness, isn't filling me with hope for the future. So I've booked a follow-up blood test for a fortnight's time, and then we'll see whether my doctor thinks all of this self-sacrifice has been worth the effort. Fingers crossed. And then I intend to go back to a not-quite perfect diet, with roast beef and roast potatoes and pies and chocolate and chips and cheese back on the menu again, but in moderation. I may also need to buy myself some new trousers, because my jeans have started attempting to fall down in public. I suspect that's a good thing. In the meantime, damn, I think it's chicken tonight.

Diet update: 6 weeks in
Chocolate: nil (no, really, absolutely nil)
Chips: just two small servings of low fat oven chips
Crisps: nil (not even a single fried potato slice)
Cheese: just 250g of tasteless low-fat plastic
Red meat: just one pack of extra lean beef mince
Weight lost: ten pounds (4½kg) (woo!)

 Friday, April 25, 2008

IKEA NeasdenWhy is the latest London Underground tubemap sponsored by IKEA? That's 1672 wall-mounted maps at stations, each with a huge IKEA advert slapped across the bottom. That's six million pocket maps, distributed between now and next March, their back covers emblazoned with a big Nordic slogan. And that's four million Oyster wallets, no longer sky-blue but Swedish yellow, being flashed across London's ticket gates for the foreseeable future. Oh very clever Herr IKEA, very clever indeed. But why? Why attempt to brand the tubemap, when your stores aren't exactly tubemap-station friendly?

I mean, for a start, why go to IKEA by train anyway? It's fine if you want a vase or a tea strainer or some votive candles, but buy anything bigger like a flatpack wardrobe or a sustainable bunkbed and you're not going to get very far by public transport. IKEA is a car-owner's furniture warehouse, located where road access is most convenient, and stuff anyone arriving without their own wheels. Anyone attempting to take the tube home with a shelving unit or sofabed is going to jam themselves between a pair of IKEA-sponsored ticket gates.

And here's why I'm really concerned about this branding takeover. The IKEA ad on the back of the tubemap lists all four of their London stores and also how to get there. And, well, the nearest tube stations aren't exactly close, are they?

» IKEA Croydon [IKEA Ampere Way tram stop]
Now that's clever. Apart from a certain oxygenated phone company (and, some would argue, Arsenal football club), IKEA are the only major company to wangle their brand into the name of a London station. In this case, however, it's only a tram stop, and Croydon's tram network doesn't yet appear on the tubemap. So it's not much use advertising there for spur-of-the-moment shoppers, is it?

» IKEA Edmonton [Tottenham Hale tube station. Free shuttle bus]
Aha, an IKEA at a tube station that's actually on the map. Except that this tube station is well over a mile from the store so you'll have to wait for the occasional free shuttle bus, or walk. There is a nearer National Rail station, Angel Road, but it's not on the tubemap, it's closed at weekends and it doesn't accept Oyster cards. Which is a bit rubbish really.

» IKEA Lakeside [Chafford Hundred rail station]
Cheat! This one's not even in London. It's two miles outside, and five miles from the nearest tube station (which is Upminster). Sure you can get here by c2c train, every half hour or so if you're lucky, but they don't take Oyster this far out either. It's M25 or bust, really.

» IKEA Wembley [Neasden tube station] [Free shuttle bus from Stonebridge Park tube station]
I love the way they call this IKEA Wembley, not IKEA Neasden. But then the store is a really grim walk from Neasden tube - long and tortuous involving dubious road crossings and a seriously mucky footbridge. Or take that lovely shuttle bus, approximately every half an hour, from the forgotten end of the Bakerloo line. It's not ideal.

Why is the latest London Underground tubemap sponsored by IKEA? Because they paid two million pounds for the privilege, that's why. And because even car drivers take the tube sometimes.

 Thursday, April 24, 2008

Today is Walk To Work Day. It's a campaigning day, organised by Living Streets, on which Londoners are invited to walk to work. It's not terribly practical if you don't have any work to go to. It's a bit pointless if you work from home. It's not really feasible if you live in Uxbridge and work in the City (or indeed live in Liverpool and work in Manchester). But hey, even a pledge "to walk for at least 30 minutes on your way in" is good enough for the organisers. So, here goes.

I live just over four miles away from my place of work. On a good day, zipping in on the tube, I can get from door to door in less than half an hour. Half of that time is spent on the train, mostly nose to armpit, and the remainder spent walking to and from stations. This morning I'm going to increase the walking percentage to 100% and do the entire journey from Bow to Holborn on foot. Look, I'm up and awake a whole hour earlier than usual. I must be mad.

There are two big problems ahead, the first of which is that I can't travel in a straight line. If I could walk along the mainline tracks into Liverpool Street that would be perfect, but there isn't a perfectly parallel road or footpath running alongside. London's twisted grid of historic streets and alleyways wasn't designed for straight line travel, and there are several built-up obstructions along the way which have no pedestrian access whatsoever.

So I've gone along to the excellent site at walkit.com to plan my optimum route. Enter postcodes, cue detailed routemap. They propose three miles down the Bow/Mile End/Whitechapel Roads to Aldgate, then a curved mile-long trek through the City and onward up High Holborn. Total distance, just under five miles. Identical to the number 25 bendy bus route, in fact, only rather slower. At a fast walking pace (that's 4mph) they reckon I can walk to work in an hour and a quarter. Or at a medium pace (3mph) just over an hour and a half. It'll be good exercise, honest.

And the second problem is road junctions. I can't simply walk for five miles, I have to keep stopping at traffic lights to allow cars and buses and bikes to whizz past. Valuable minutes will tick by as I attempt to cross Cambridge Heath Road, and Commercial Street, and the scary junction outside the Bank of England. That tortuous subway at the Aldgate gyratory is going to slow me down no end, and the roundabout at Holborn Circus wasn't really designed for pedestrians. So I have no hope whatsoever of maintaining walkit's over-optimistic 4mph pace, not without hopping onto a bus, and that's cheating.

I've also tried entering my details on TfL's Journey Planner, which is flexible enough to cope with 100%-walk solutions, and they've suggested exactly the same bendy route. But they reckon it'll take me a couple of minutes short of two hours, which may be a more realistic target. We shall see. But hey, like I care. My morning commute today will take me past St Paul's Cathedral rather than underneath it. I'll get to enjoy the hustle of Whitechapel and the curves of the Gherkin rather than getting extremely squashed on the Central line. I'll be experiencing London rather than hiding below it. My journey may not be direct, and it may not be fast, but it sounds perfect to me. Just this once, though.

Here are my Twitter updates from the journey:
» 06:36 Pedometer strapped on, walking shoes ready... it's time to walk 5 miles to work for Walk To Work Day. I must be mad.
» 06:50 It's a glorious morning, clear blue skies, sun behind me and the City illuminated ahead. Passing Mile End tube, my end still 4 miles away.
» 07:01 The A11 through Stepney may be quiet, but I'm being overtaken by cars, vans, bikes and bendy buses, plus a queue of Heathrow-bound planes.
» 07:14 Whitechapel Market not yet set up, a one-armed beggar outside the tube, and the sun glinting on a golden minaret. Easily averaging 4mph.
» 07:23 Into the Square Mile at Aldgate, surrounded by scuttling City suits, then on between Lloyd's and the Gherkin. Busier pavements now.
» 07:36 One hour precisely from Bow Church to Bow Bells. Breathing in fresh-mixed tar and exhaust fumes... and the magnificent dome of St Paul's.
» 07:50 Across Holborn Viaduct and into the final stretch, past my 8th tube station. Dodging commuters to maintain the pace. Sweating satisfactorily.
» 08:01 Arriving at work at the usual time, 8843 steps later, having walked from home in just under 90 minutes. That's 3.4mph. Feels good. Once.

 Wednesday, April 23, 2008

As dawn breaks over this blessed plot, the people of England are waking up to our very first St George's Day Bank Holiday. This officially recognised day of national rejoicing has long been awaited by the patriots of our blessed realm. And now their gallant and iron-willed campaigning has finally come to fruition. Throughout the country Little Englanders will be enjoying a rare day off work to celebrate their national identity with a pint, a picnic basket and (more than likely) an umbrella. Hey nonny no. Let's party!

dg's guide to the top ten St George's Day Bank Holiday special events
[three of them are even true...]

• Sponsored Jerusalem Marathon: The good ladies of Somerset's 58 Women's Institutes attempt to break the world record for shining forth upon clouded hills (coffee and biscuits will be served). [true/false]
• Looking For A New England: Merry minstrel Billy Bragg discusses his new book "The Progressive Patriot" on stage at the Barbican, then sings that song Kirsty MacColl made famous. [true/false]
• The Bakewell Pudding Race: Local children run three-legged around the town square whilst balancing a slice of this jam and almond treat on their heads. The winners get to scoff the lot, and the losers have to eat Jamie Oliver's healthy balanced school dinners for the rest of the month. [true/false]
• The Great English Asparagus Run: Celebrate St George's Day With Asparagus! After the playing of Elgar's Land of Hope and Glory, the Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire will be driven in a Morgan Motor Car from Evesham to London to present a porcelain platter of finest asparagus to a St George's Day Reception in the House of Commons. [true/false]
• The Wisbech Morris Dancing Festival: Because nothing says "English" quite so much as bashing a bloated drunkard over the head with a pig's bladder. [true/false]
• The ASBO Miracle Plays: Thetford's finest young talent invite you to step behind their bus shelter, sniff a bagful of glue and wake up minus a couple of teeth and all your jewellery. [true/false]
• Festival of English Food: Do your arteries need furring? Then come along to Trafalgar Square this afternoon, courtesy of the gang at Borough Market, to enjoy a greasy Cornish pasty or a mouthful of wild boar or a Ginger Pig sausage roll (or maybe just a complimentary heart bypass). [true/false]
• Burn-an-immigrant Bonfire: Three misguided Barking councillors invite you to revel in naked prejudice dressed up as a family day out. [true/false]
• State Opening of Parliament: It'll be an extra special day for democracy in Stratford-upon-Avon where the inaugural day of the English Parliament will be attended by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal. Laws expected to be passed by the end of the day include a 3pm "tea and scones" break for all English workers, compulsory fox-hunting in schools and the reintroduction of hanging. [true/false]
• St George's Discovery Tour: Let Michael Palin be your guide as he leads a coach tour into the forgotten hinterlands of Turkey, or through the wastelands of Palestine, or round some other Middle Eastern backwater where our elusive patron saint may or may not have lived and almost certainly never slaughtered any dragons whatsoever. But don't let that stop you getting very drunk tonight. [true/false]

 Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Now off with you, and I'll see you again in six months time."

So ended yesterday's appointment at the Royal London Hospital's Outpatients Department. It's an oppressive cavern of a building, so old that it could have had a starring role in Casualty 1907 (and, indeed, probably did). My consultant handed me a printed out sheet of A4 paper and directed me back to the reception desk outside. I walked briskly through the crowds in the waiting room - some in wheelchairs, some in the morbidly obese category, most from the local Bangladeshi community. I felt very much the odd one out, and wished that I hadn't come straight from work in a nice shirt with a broadsheet tucked under my arm. One lady was still complaining that she'd spent £50 to get here only to discover that her appointment had been cancelled (apparently the computer knew, but it doesn't let on to patients). I quickly escaped.

There was already a long queue at reception. The member of staff behind the desk was doing his best to enter everyone's details and usher them inside, or to direct them back the way they'd come for a blood test (there, that window back there, the one marked 'Blood Tests'). His desk was covered in piled-up folders and sheets of paper, and with a much more modern computer system than I remembered seeing on my previous visit. Last time it looked like the Royal London was still operating using 486s with a flashing DOS prompt. Now at last the technology looked sleeker, more colourful, and potentially more efficient. Or maybe not. The lady in front of me stood clutching a piece of yellow paper which stated "I NEED MY BLOOD TEST RESULTS", or some such linguisticaly undemanding phrase. But the attendant wasn't able to find her blood test results "because you haven't been entered on the system". So she shuffled off, and it was my turn.

I handed over my printed out sheet of paper. There was a sticker at the top with my name on, then underneath that a long list of possible consultation outcomes and tiny ticky boxes. Not one of them was ticked. I was one of the easy patients, no complications, just a next appointment to book. But nothing was easy with the new computer system. First of all I had to be checked out of my previous appointment so that the machine was ready for a new one. The clerk clicked on a series of buttons to bring up my details, then selected the appropriate menu item from an interminable list of drop-down lists. Every time I thought he'd finished I was wrong, there was still another click to be made, and another, and another.

And then to book me a follow-up appointment. Should have been simple. Same place, same consultant, same day of the week, six months time. The calendar on the wall made it pretty obvious that I'd be back on a Monday in mid-October. But not at all obvious to the 2-week-old computer system. "Doctor's not entered you on the system. It only works if the doctors enter you on the system. I mean, they've had the training, and we've told them it's essential, but they still don't do it. Hang on and I'll try and enter you myself." There followed a long struggle while the clerk searched the database for my consultant's name, and an even longer struggle to find the right title for my Monday clinic. Surely one of those hundreds of words beginning with C was the right one. Erm, maybe.

And finally to pick a date. The computer had already suggested a range from mid-October to mid-January but, on clicking, apparently there were no bookings available. Ridiculous, the whole of that period still ought to be mostly free. Try again. Computer says no. A passing nurse tried to assist by restricting the range to Mondays only, which I think was impossible, but still no luck. Ten attempts later, each click resulting in an identical pop-up error message, the booking clerk gave up. "Leave your card with me and we'll stick your appointment in the post." He cast my Outpatients record card into the seething maelstrom of paperwork on his desk, from which I fear it may never resurface, and moved on to service the waiting crowds behind me.

I shall be watching my postbox with anticipation, if more than a little pessimism, in case a follow-up appointment is ever forthcoming. I have my doubts. I have no faith whatsoever in this brand new automated system, complete with ridiculously over-complicated processes for checking in and out. It seems that administrators haven't been trained to use the computers properly and that doctors are busy treating patients rather than completing the "necessary procedures". The whole cretin-designed software infrastructure appears to be another colossal waste of NHS money. In fact a nursing sister with a diary and a pen, sat here in this very corridor 100 years ago, could have done a far more effective and efficient job. But that's progress for you. Let's hope I don't suffer a relapse before the computer finally invites me back.

 Monday, April 21, 2008

Sent to: The Coventry Transport Museum
Coventry belongs to the car. Not just because of the grim dual carriageway ring road bulldozed around the heart of the city in the 1960s, but more particularly because the British motor industry was born and thrived here. One of those we have to thank is James Starley, a Victorian sewing machine engineer from Coventry's Watchmaking Quarter whose mechanical genius diversified first into bicycle parts and then into bicycles themselves. His greatest invention was the penny-farthing, a big improvement on the gearless boneshakers of the day. A few tweaks later James's nephew John came up with the "safety bicycle", its chain drive and diamond frame still pretty much the basic design to this day. And the name of Starley's 1885 two-wheeler? The Rover Safety Bicycle. Success beckoned. In the early 1900s the Rover Cycle Company took its first tentative steps into automobile production, and the rest is history.

Coventry Transport MuseumThe tale of Coventry's motor manufacturing past is told in the brand new multi-million pound Transport Museum. It's part of a millennial makeoever of the northern city centre, complete with granite plaza, spiralling glass walkway and twin boomerang-shaped arches (in honour of Frank Whittle, father of the jet engine). A most impressive setting, even in the rain. And an unexpectedly impressive museum too, with free admission to boot. The opening gallery contains a collection of landmark bikes and veteran motor vehicles, most around a century old, and all designed and made in Coventry. Rover, Hillman, Daimler, Alvis, Singer and Triumph - all household names in their time, and all being fussed over by a variety of older visitors as I passed.

Next follow a series of galleries bringing Coventry's transport past to life, with authentic street odours and reconstructions of various workshops and assembly lines. There's a lengthy "Blitz Experience", of course, and thankfully the animated cartoon character designed to appeal to the under 10s never quite grates. And then the cars proper begin. A red Triumph sports car on a twirling podium, a compact 60s Mini (did you know they filmed The Italian Job in the Coventry sewers?), even an old electric milk float. I was particularly taken by a montage of old road safety adverts (ahh the Tufty Club, ahh Jimmy Savile clunking and clicking, ahh Darth Vader the Green Cross Man), although the crocodile of kids being led round the museum for a birthday treat didn't seem quite so interested.

Daimler 1897, and penny farthing 1880-ishAt the rear of the building, in a darkened room, is the Thrust 2 vehicle which broke the world land speed record in 1983. It's huge, more a wheeled rocket than a car, and is curiously dated by the sponsors' adverts plastered all over the side (Faberge "Turbo" fragrance for men, anyone?). In the next room is its successor ThrustSSC, plus an extremely popular walk-on speed simulator, but alas the attendant closed off the entrance just as I walked round the corner. A room full of model cars didn't quite suffice, even if I did enjoy picking out my favourite Matchbox Hot Wheels amongst the collection. Several full-sized modern cars follow, plus an extensive collection of locally-sourced motorbikes and scooters, and an exhibition explaining precisely how bicycles developed.

And finally a reminder that Coventry's motor manufacturing days are now pretty much over. Near the exit is one of the final Peugeot 206s to roll off the production line at Ryton, unwrapped and undriven, next to a classic example of the only car still to be manufactured in the town - the famous London taxi! Coventry's economic star may have risen and fallen over the last century, but this museum is a fascinating way to relive the glory years.

Sent to: Coventry Canal
Coventry owes much of its industrial prosperity to a few miles of canal linking the town centre to the rest of the Midlands via Hawkesbury Junction. All sorts of famous factories grew up along the banks, most long since vanished beneath a range of new housing developments. The city council have installed a series of now-graffitied artworks along the first 5½ miles of towpath, thereby creating "the longest waterside art gallery in Britian". But quite frankly I'd have gone along for the walk whatever.

» Coventry Canal Basin: The canal begins, or ends, at a Y-shaped basin just outside the ring road. It's been lovingly restored with heritage features, a statue of James Brindley and a few underfrequented shops. And, on Saturday lunchtime, just me and a couple of puffing narrowboats.
Coventry Canal Bridge 1» Bridge number 1: This little brick humpback is the smallest bridge on the canal system. It's deliberately narrow with no towpath for security reasons, allowing the canal's owners to lock up the basin overnight with a single wooden barrier.
» Daimler Power House: Only this one building remains from the Daimler car factory which, in 1897, produced the very first production cars in the UK. Proper history, this.
» Stag party on a boat: That party of drunken louts zigzagging down the canal while waving a pair of underpants on a pole, I do hope they're a regular part of the art trail.
» Courtauld's factory: Another knocked down bit of industrial heritage. In 1905 this plant was the very first in the world to produce man-made fibres - in this case viscose filament yarn. The now-demolished chimney, at 365ft tall, was once the tallest in Britain.
» Ordnance Works: During WW2 this was reputedly the largest workshop in Europe, packed with women making bombs. Is it any wonder the Luftwaffe came to bomb Coventry?
» The Rover Factory: I was hoping to see a little more than a chimney and some undergrowth. Alas, it's not just Coventry's canals that have faded away.
» Some ducks, a few swans, and a couple of boys in hoodies on bikes: I love canals, I really do.

 Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sent to: Coventry
Lady GodivaIt's one of the ten largest cities in England. It's centuries older than its upstart Brummie neighbour. It's famous for 2 Tone records, car manufacturing and naked ladies on horseback. It suffered terribly during World War Two, and some would argue equally terribly at the hands of the post-war planners. It's the UK city that's furthest from the sea. It's Coventry, and I went sightseeing there yesterday. No, really, there was just enough to fill a day out. Who'd have thought?
The Coventry Pages
Historic Coventry
Coventry Days Out
Visit Coventry

Sent to: Coventry Cathedral
Poor old Coventry hasn't been lucky with its cathedrals. Twice the good people of the town have erected a monumental masterpiece, and twice it's been destroyed by catastrophic circumstances beyond the city's control. Nowhere else in the UK has been singled out like this, not on either count, just Coventry. The first cathedral lasted nearly half a millennium, but was pulled down on the orders of King Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. You can still see a few scrappy foundations in a garden beyond the shopping precinct, and in the frankly underwhelming Visitor Centre beyond.old Coventry Cathedral The second cathedral survived until 14th November 1940, on which night Coventry received the full attention of the Luftwaffe and suffered extreme widespread bomb damage. Fires spread uncontrollably from the roof of the cathedral, and by morning only a rubble-filled charred shell remained.

Today the remains of that old cathedral still stand, nave open to the sky, as a memorial to the futility of war [photo]. The walls are mostly intact, with only the occasional fragment of stained glass in the empty windows. A side chapel here, the bottom few steps of a spiral staircase there - it's a sobering thought to stand in silence and reflect on what used to be. On the stone altar a wooden cross has been erected, labelled FATHER FORGIVE, and elsewhere a series of more modern sculptures maintain the theme of reconciliation. Meanwhile, towering over all this (if a steeple can tower) is the third largest cathedral spire in the country. It survived the flames, as did a couple of other nearby steeples, and now hosts a rather dingy Visitor Information centre in the base.

St Michael and the DevilAnd so to cathedral number three. The opportunity to design a very modern replacement was given to Basil Spence, and the Queen popped along to lay the foundation stone in 1956. It's certainly in striking contrast to the original, and highly unusual in that it faces north-south rather than east-west. Old and new cathedrals meet across an elevated porch above St Michael's Lane [photo], and a remarkable bronze statue of St Michael spearing a devil is affixed to the outside of the building [photo]. Do try to concentrate on the loveliness of the sandstone exterior, because the surrounding architecture is quite hideous. St Michael looks out over a particularly nasty gym and the main entrance to Coventry University, while adjacent to the Lady Chapel is the sort of pig-ugly concrete hotel which suggests that the death penalty might successfully be reintroduced for 70s architects.

new Coventry CathedralEntrance to the new cathedral is through a tiny sidedoor past the information desk (unless you're royalty, in which case presumably they let you in through the ceremonial doors in the multi-storey window etched with angels). And, wow. This is no characterless aircraft hangar, this is a vast spiritual space lit by streams of vibrant daylight. Closest to the south door is the curved Baptistry Window, an amazing wall of stained glass [photo] towering over the rocky font (hewn from a boulder lifted from a Bethlehem hillside). Further thin windows cast their angled light up the nave, towards the spiky-topped chancel and the imposing green tapestry of Christ hung above the Lady Chapel [photo]. Even the organ pipes rise up to the undulating diamond ceiling like a battery of heavenly artillery. Everything in here is about height not breadth, and the end result is a soaring verticality as imposing as any medieval cathedral - but with a modern twist.

For a more intimate experience head off into a cylindrical side chapel for some silent contemplation [photo], or pause awhile and reflect beneath one of the many symbolic crowns of thorns. I don't necessarily recommend popping down to the crypt for a very ordinary cup of tea, just stay upstairs and soak in the ethereal lightshow. Thank God the post-war planners got one bit of Coventry spot on perfect.

 Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Yowright?" asks the smiling newsagent as she packs up the papers for the evening. Five o'clock, the rain is tumbling from leaden skies and this city's shops are shutting down for the evening. Assorted groups of JJB-clad youths shuffle off home, or go and hang around in the dry beneath the concrete ring road. This city centre is encircled by tarmac, forced through medieval streets with no thought to the consequences. Here the car is king, and rightly so. The award-winning transport museum tells the local four-wheeled success story, now all but faded away. And tells it well. My mystery day trip over, I'm now heading home on a warm dry Pendolino. And where was I? Ha, it's been written at the very bottom of the page all along!

I have resisted climbing up the old cathedral tower, because I'm not convinced that the view will be worth the effort. And anyway, it's blustery enough down here, so I hate to think what conditions are like in midair beneath one of the tallest spires in the country. It's rather warmer inside the glassy replacement nextdoor, where the verger is filling six giant candles by the altar with what looks like white spirit. I am duly impressed. And now, as the old clock strikes half past, a wedding party enters the open nave for the taking of the official photographs. The shivering bridesmaids look like they wish their burgundy and cream dresses were a bit more weatherproof. Me, I'm warming to the place.

This is not a beautiful city. The sky may be dotted with steeples, but also with tower blocks and cranes. There may be pockets of medieval and Tudor gorgeousness, but much of the city centre is brutal concrete regeneration. It's not the locals' fault, but post-war planners did the place few architectural favours. Betjeman would not have been impressed. I have yet to venture into the city centre proper, but I have been to the house of a man who invented a much loved form of transport, and the church responsible for a well known phrase or saying. I'm also bloody cold. Now for a perhaps ill-advised walk alongside the choppy waters of the canal. Although the steamy smell from that narrowboat is divine, and just how record-breaking is that bridge? (Oh, and Pedantic of Purley, sorry, you're wrong...)

dg's Moblogged Mystery Tour: I'm sat on a train at a central London terminus, about to set off on a journey of discovery to an anonymous English city. It's further away than Margate, my last mystery destination, but I expect to get there rather quicker. I've not been to this historic city since 1982, and then only to hop straight onto a minibus outside the station to attend a university interview. It's not a terribly popular tourist destination, although perhaps it ought to be, so I'm going to find out if there's anything worth seeing. On a cold grey day in April. I must be mad. I'll report back from various locations along the way, via my mobile phone, to let you know how I'm getting on. But I'm not going to tell you where I am, because it wouldn't be a mystery tour otherwise. See if you can guess...

 Friday, April 18, 2008

When I lived in Suffolk, and owned a car, I used to think nothing of speeding around the county. I could do 30 miles up the A14 in half an hour, or 50 miles up the A12 in an hour, no problem. I drove my car at speeds close to those for which it was designed, and reached my destination with satisfying velocity. OK so my exhaust pipe was busy killing the planet, and all the time I was trying very hard not to think what would happen if I propelled myself into a hedge at great velocity, but I could never have held down a job without my own four wheels.

In London a car is rather less of a necessity. And, for those who still feel they need to own a vehicle, considerably slower. It's nigh impossible to drive at 30mph in London, let alone 30 miles in 30 minutes. Every time you stick your foot on the accelerator, there's either a traffic light or a traffic jam ahead. Every time you sense the pull of the open road, you're more likely to have to swerve to dodge a jaywalking pedestrian or negotiate a speed bump instead. Every time you think there's a direct route to somewhere straight ahead, there's probably a bus lane or a one-way system sending you minutes out of your way. And even on the rare occasions when you think you've found the perfect length of uncongested dual carriageway for a quick burn, there's almost certainly an evil yellow speed camera standing sentinel beside the road just itching to dispatch a huge fine to your doormat. London's no place for speed. How very tedious.

But that doesn't stop them, does it. Those determined petrolheads in their souped up motors, putting their foot down for a few brief seconds between road junctions just to show off. Light goes green, foot to the floor, roar of engine noise, screeching tyres, sudden halt at red signals. Bastards.

And I met them twice on the way home last night. There I was nonchalantly crossing Bow Road, oncoming traffic seemingly a safe distance away, when a white van came careering towards me like some kind of homing missile. I skipped rapidly to the central reservation, attempting to pretend that I wasn't in fear of my life, and the van zoomed past on its five second journey to the next traffic lights. I listened out, hoping to hear the reassuring crunch of bonnet on lamppost, but alas no such retribution was forthcoming. Shortly afterwards, attempting to cross a garage forecourt, I was nearly flattened a second time. A grey estate car rammed with teenage testosterone shot forward at great speed on the minimal journey from petrol pump to forecourt exit. Ten metres max, but the driver still managed to propel his vehicle at unfeasible speed past the free air and tyre pump before braking hard in front of me. His cargo of spiky-haired hormones seemed duly impressed. I noticed, as he pulled out into the traffic at half the speed of sound, that one entire side of the car was virtually concave as if it had been hit by a bollard several times. The other side can't have been far behind.

Certain killjoy Mayoral candidates have already expressed a desire to restrict London's speed limit even further. Red Ken wants the limit on residential roads to be cut to 20mph, while Green Sian wants every road reduced to 20mph unless local boroughs agree exceptions. I can't see either of those measures being entirely successful, not in a capital where average speeds are considerably lower than 20mph already. But I suspect the underlying aim of such a draconian limit is to make Londoners so incredibly bored with driving that they switch to greener transport. If it took two hours to pootle from one side of the capital to the other, even on an empty road, you might just switch and take the train instead. Unless you're a raging virile boy racer, that is, in which case no mere 20mph limit is going to stop you burning up the High Street in three seconds flat. Only a large brick wall will stop that. And hopefully soon.

 Thursday, April 17, 2008

London 2012Don't miss your opportunity
to see the latest designs for
the Olympic Stadium

The Olympic Torch may have bypassed Bow last week, but the Olympic Delivery Authority dropped in last night for a proper session with the local community. The ODA have nearly finished preparing detailed plans for the Olympic Stadium, and they wanted to see what we thought. So they turned up in a local school hall with the architect, set out a few chairs and waited to see who'd turn up. And a few of us did. Maybe if they'd mentioned there was free tea and biscuits, there'd have been more than 20.

The full consultation roadshow came to town. A posh white lectern labelled "engage", a big video screen, lots of microphones, and a headphoned bloke in charge of cables. All of the panellists wore their vivid 2012 logo lapel badges, and the first speaker's Powerpoint notes looked like they'd emptied the ODA's inkjet printer of every colour except black. The ethnic diversity of the E3 postcode was well represented across the ODA staff present, but alas not amongst the audience which was conspicuously white. There's a lot more reaching out to the local community still to be done.

hoardings in Barbers RoadWe were treated first to an update on the state of the Olympic Park. I was already well aware how far advanced the preparations were, having been up on the Greenway bridge taking my monthly photo less than two hours earlier. More than 75% of the entire park has already been demolished, and the stadium site itself now resembles a flattened earth bowl dotted with the occasional digger. We were told how thousands of native fish, insects and amphibians have already been "translocated", in readiness for their offspring to return to refreshed waterways once the legacy phase kicks in. And as for the 52 pylons currently scattered across the site, they'll be coming down later this year and all the cables threaded underground.

Deep breath. Time for the first Questions and Answers session. It was soon clear that the audience had all of the questions, and the panellists had few of the answers. Why is the Greenway still uncomfortably unsafe after dark, and did anyone try liaising with the Lea Rivers Trust before they folded, and will anyone force London Cement to stop belching dust when the Olympics comes? Dunno. In their defence, the ODA staff did politely offer to go away and find out everything they didn't know and forward the details, but this wasn't good enough for one member of the audience who promptly stormed out, noisily. As the evening continued it became apparent that our audience was sprinkled with local residents who might best be described as gauche argumentative nutters. But thankfully not too many of them.

And then the main event - a presentation from one of the architects who helped to design the new Olympic Stadium. We got to see all the promotional photos and videos that the London 2012 team released last November, but we were also treated to some rather finer detail about how the place will actually operate. The stadium looks suspiciously like a giant bowl of trifle, ladled full of custard churned round with hundreds and thousands. It's been cunningly designed so that the top tier can be removed after the Paralympics, reducing seating capacity from 80000 to a more sustainable 25000. Only after the Games will all the spectators be roofed in - during 2012 only two-thirds of the seats will have the luxury of a rain/sun shade. It's "best value", apparently, and it's all about "embracing the temporary". Even the toilets will be housed inside big metal containers which can be carted off and used elsewhere afterwards.

Olympic Stadium site - April 2008The stadium will take full advantage of the natural slope of the land by having two very distinct ground levels. All the service roads and the arena floor will be tucked away down at towpath level, approached from the south and west, while all the spectators will wander around 6m higher up at podium level, approached from the north and east. The architects have also taken full advantage of the stadium's "island" setting (two sides river, one side sewer). Once spectators have made it over the footbridges and onto the "podium island", they'll be free to wander in and out of the stadium or around the surrounding plazas where all the food and services will be based. Please, begged our audience, please make as much of the food as possible locally sourced and not that heart-stopping fat-dripping multinational burger crap. Only time will tell whether or not our voice is heard.

Many topics were raised during the final Q&A session, often of only tangential relevance to the stadium itself. The architect was unable to confirm security arrangements, although he did say that the entire stadium and surrounding island would be capable of being cleared in 8 minutes flat. He was also unable to confirm precisely how many bridges might be built connecting the Olympic Park to Bow. Residents remained keen for access to be as great as possible, not least because we'd rather like the 9000 workers on site over the next few years to come and spend money in our cafes and shops. The ODA spokeswoman assured us that there'll be another consultation later in the year to discuss proposals for the "public realm", including access points and legacy parkland, and I suspect many of us will be back for that.

Meanwhile, back on the Olympic Stadium site, the initial piling starts this week. Foundations and earthworks will be next, and by the time those are complete it's hoped that planning permission for the rest of the stadium will have been granted. All being well we'll have a big bowl of Olympic trifle on our doorstep as early as February 2011, completed ready for test events to take place a whole year before the Games begin. And don't worry, because we local residents hope to be popping back to be consulted at regular intervals between now and then, and we'll try to ensure that your money is being well spent. I have to say, it looks like it so far.

 Wednesday, April 16, 2008

As all internet users are aware, with opportunity comes responsibility. It is therefore essential for the wider online community to embrace the transformational potential of Lifelong Learning. Only by harnessing the strategic possibilities of collaborative digital study can we work together to realise the multi-disciplinary educational benefits of electronic partnership.

To facilitate improved blog commentary skills in wider cyberspace, and in line with this blog's ongoing Learning and Development policy, I am therefore delighted to announce the launch of diamond geezer's e-LEARNING PORTFOLIO for the coming year.

Your ongoing participation in this knowledge management network is required. Initial goals must be established, development plans agreed and resources targeted. Please identify advancement priorities from the flexible blended learning programme below, and ensure that you sign up to the appropriate digital accreditation package.

Workstrand: Blog User Comment Enhancement Portfolio
IDCourse TitleLearning Competencies


for Beginners
Module 1
• Breaking The First Time Shyness Barrier
• Picking The Perfect Moment To Interact
• But What If Everyone Laughs At Me?

Module 2
• Look What Popped Up! What Should I Do With It?
• Filling Virgin Space - Taking The Plunge
• Anonymous? True Identity? Or Hilarious Nickname?


Module 3
• How Not To State The Bleeding Obvious
• How Not To Drone On And On About Oneself
• How Not To Veer Wildly Off-Topic

Module 4
• Reading Previous Comments Before Blundering In
• Links In Comments - Explaining The Magic
• Keeping It Short And Snappy


Commenting To
The Next Level
Module 5
• Adding Value Through Relevant And Informative Discourse
• Opportunities For Shameless Promotion Of Your Own Blog
• The Art of Troll Non-Feeding

Module 6
• To Have Something To Say, Or Just To Say It?
• Why Let Knowing Nothing Stop You?
• Growing A Thick Skin


An Advanced
Module 7
• The Joy Of Picking Fault In Factual Inaccuracies
• Developing A Long-Term Ongoing Dialogue
• Jousting In Virtual Space

Module 8
• I Never Read The Comments, I'm An RSS
• Surely It's All Been Said Before
• Sorry, I'm Too Busy Writing A Book

Hurry now and register. You might learn something.

 Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Random borough (17): Redbridge (part 3)

Somewhere famous: Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill statue, Woodford GreenI really struggled to find somewhere famous in Redbridge. Somewhere celebrated, notable and world-renowned. Erm, no, I couldn't think of one either. So in the end I gave up on a location and settled on a person instead. And Britons don't come much more famous than Sir Winston Churchill. He never lived here, but he did represent the constituency of Woodford (and Wanstead) for nearly 35 years. It wasn't his first choice of constituency either. Winston started out in Oldham (elected 1900), then moved rapidly on to Manchester (elected 1906) and Dundee (elected 1908). In 1924, after three successive defeats elsewhere, he ended up as the "Independent Constitutionalist anti-Socialist" MP for Epping. And it was from this constituency base that he became Chancellor, and Prime Minister, and indeed Much Loved Saviour Of The Island Race. In the post-war election of 1945 the constituency was split in two, so Churchill plumped for Woodford and stayed on almost until his death. During this period the lucky Premier was bestowed with the Freedom of Wanstead and Woodford - a rare honour indeed - and often popped into the Eagle at Snaresbrook for a pint with the locals. Probably not as often as they'd have liked, though. In 1959 a grateful constituency paid £5000 to erect a larger than life bronze statue on Woodford Green. It was unveiled by Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery, and initially required a 24 hour police guard as a precaution against practical jokers. And Churchill's still there, up by the bus stop on the High Road, at the tip of the village green. A splendid avenue of mighty trees stretches up Salway Hill behind him as, with bronze hand resting on bronze coattails, he surveys the constituency that still reveres his name.
by tube: Woodford  by bus: 20, 179, 275, W13

Somewhere retail: Barkingside High Street
Barkingside High StreetOn the edge of London, with rolling Green Belt beyond, is a wonderfully ordinary British High Street. No Starbucks has yet infiltrated, and no out-of-town mall has sucked the independent retailers dry. It's Barkingside High Street - half a mile of proper shopping from Geezer's barbershop in the north down to Chequers Fruit and Veg in the south. And, perhaps of greatest interest, "many of the buildings along the high street are owned by entrepreneur Alan Sugar". So it says on Wikipedia anyway, although with a niggling "citation needed" added as a pedantic superscript, so it may not actually be true. I took a Saturday stroll amongst the Redbridge shoppers to see if I could determine which classy independent retail outlets might be Suralan's. Danny's Pie and Mash, surely, offering all day breakfasts and Great British Dinners at knockdown prices. Styles Ahead, obviously, a beauty parlour from which near-Essex ladies emerge shampooed, re-clawed and browned off. Rossi Bros ice cream parlour, possibly, its frozen produce utterly enticing for those not adhering to restrictive diets. The Mayfair stationers, perchance, given that most of Sir Alan's property portfolio lurks in W1, not IG6. Yosi's Gourmet Bagels, maybe, its chocolate coloured doors long since locked and shuttered down. Panache ladies outfitters, potentially, now under new management and selling blouses for a tenner or less. The Chubby Panda Chinese restaurant, perhaps, offering 10% discount on takeaways but now closed on Mondays. The Barnardo's charity shop, conceivably, because this charity's UK HQ is based in the heritage village at the bottom of the road. Or my very favourite, The Cheesecake Shop, from which guilty feeders emerged grinning onto the pavement stuffed with torte, gateau, mudcake, pavlova or meringue. This is how shopping ought to be. I await with anticipation the first episode of The Apprentice to be filmed here.
by tube: Barkingside  by bus: 150, 167, 169, 247, 275, 462

Somewhere sporty: Cricklefield Athletic Ground
Cricklefield StadiumNow you might think I'm scraping the barrel with a visit to the home ground of Ilford FC, currently scraping the bottom of Ryman League Division One. But ah no, I know a major sporting venue when I see one, and this athletics stadium east of Ilford is just that. It may look little more than a six-lane track behind the pay and display at Ilford Swimming Pool, with a couple of goalposts and an empty grandstand, hemmed in by houses and a cemetery. But ah no, this unassuming backwater is in fact an international Olympic arena. Or at least it was, briefly, at the last London Games in 1948. The England team played a couple of first round matches here in deepest Ilford, the first a glorious two-one victory over Luxembourg and the second a pitiful two-nil loss against France. Not a great year for English football medals, 1948. And best not to mention the only other international football match to take place here at Cricklefield - a friendly against West Germany in 1957 which we lost drei-zwei. Last Saturday's league fixture against Wingate & Finchley was a rather more mundane affair. I arrived in time for the early preparations, with the commemorative iron gates unlocked to admit the eager and the tracksuited. The team gathered slowly on the terraces, noisily warming up for the afternoon's travails. In the spartan clubhouse kitchen six packets of white baps were piled up on a plastic table, awaiting transformation into £3.20 egg and bacon burgers. And what do you know, the league's bottom club managed a home win that afternoon, easing themselves almost (but not quite) out of the relegation zone. Never let anyone tell you that Olympic sporting facilities won't be well used by the local community during the legacy phase.
by train: Seven Kings  by bus: 86

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