diamond geezer

 Friday, December 31, 2010

Three places I visited in 2010, but never wrote about (until today)

January 2nd: Leith

There is, I reckon, just enough time before breakfast to walk down to the Forth. The temperature's well below freezing but I'm wrapped up warm, and it's only a mile down Leith Walk. And then the snow starts. It's only light, but it comes with a biting wind that grows stronger as I stride on. Past the sandstone tenements, and the betting shops, and the old church, to the Foot of The Walk. The road's in a mess, barriered off to one side, while the incompetent company building the tramway attempts to build the tramway. Local residents aren't won over by the chaos they're causing. I cross the Water of Leith over an unexpectedly broad bridge, upstream from the scenic quayside where they dine outside in summer. Not today, not even this month, not until the city thaws out. I'm hoping to reach the Forth but the docks get in the way, and they don't welcome pedestrians. One of the more accessible wharves has been replaced by a giant shopping mall, the monolithic Ocean Terminal. It's not a lovely building, more like someone took a cinema multiplex and stretched it lengthways. I'm told the interior's nicer, but only the early shift of workers are inside at the moment, setting up. Somewhere on the other side is the Royal Yacht Britannia, which is the main reason I walked all this way, but which I can't see because the building's perfectly proportioned to hide it. There's absolutely no view without walking past some shops, because this is a commercially-sensitive attraction, nor any access on board for an hour and a half. Frozen out, I abandon my journey and decide to bus it back into Edinburgh. Next tram's not for four years, apparently.

April 2nd: Hughenden Manor
At times of political upheaval, seek lessons from the past. From Benjamin Disraeli in this case - longer-lasting than Gordon, more experienced than David, and much beloved by dearest Queen Victoria. He was one of Britain's more unusual PMs (born Jewish, famous author, bit of a ladies man) who nevertheless rose to the highest office twice. As a consummate social climber he needed a pile in the country, and so settled in a redbrick manor house at Hughenden near High Wycombe. The National Trust own it these days, and it's accessible either by car or by walking across some very muddy fields. Wander through the great man's rooms, hear his story in an introductory video, and admire his wife's taste in home furnishings. Her Majesty came for a royal visit in 1877 and Ben had the legs on one of the dining room chairs cut short so her legs didn't dangle, that's the sort of man he was. The guides will point it out to you, don't worry. Once you're done upstairs try the cellar. Here there's a separate exhibition explaining how the house was used by the Air Ministry during WW2 for creating aerial maps for bombing missions. The garden's lovely too, so long as you go at the right time of year (which Good Friday isn't). I wasn't used to having an entire National Trust garden to myself on a bank holiday, but then it was drizzling, and the tearooms were warm and the house was dry. Benjamin's buried in the churchyard halfway down the hill, near the car park, where Victoria also left her own memorial to her favourite Parliamentarian. Reopens February 19th, if you're interested, sorry.

December 30th: Dartford
It's surprisingly difficult to buy a broadsheet newspaper in Dartford after 4pm. I only wanted one to make the train journey home more bearable, but there's no sign. WHSmith has sold out - there's just a stack of empty white racks where every newspaper with an IQ over 90 used to be. Further down the High Street there's News Box, but at this stage in the afternoon they're more Chocolate and Fags Box. Londis will have one surely, just across from the museum. I hold open the door to allow a middle-aged man on crutches to enter ahead of me. But even before he's shuffled through I've spotted that the shop only has a selection of thin-looking local papers, which will never do, so I close the door without ever passing inside. The skies are darkening fast, and the pavements are full of Kentish locals struggling home with bags of sale goodies. At the top of Lowfield Street a lone spectacled youth stands poised to hand out leaflets urging better welfare for turkeys at Christmas. But nobody approaches him, and he approaches nobody, and he's a week late anyway. Round the corner I stumble upon Kent News, which sounds promising, but the recession means all that's for sale here is the newsagents itself. It seems I'm too late for my broadsheet, no matter where I try, because Dartford's that sort of town. Beaten, I cross the ring road and head for the station empty-handed. And then, in the kiosk by the ticket office, I spot huge stacks of non-tabloid newspapers as not purchased by non-passengers earlier in the day. Dartford's commuters have stayed off work to go shopping, or whatever people do in that zombie week before New Year... and I get to read the latest world news and the letters page on the journey home.

 Thursday, December 30, 2010

dg 2010 index

Ten memorable London jaunts in 2010
1) The Lost Rivers of London: You have to be slightly mad to go exploring all of London's buried waterways, one per month, over the course of a year, and then blog about them. So I did. Because Londoners love hearing about lost rivers, in depth, so it seems. Here's the full set: Westbourne, Falcon Brook, Counters Creek, Neckinger, Hackney Brook, Effra, Walbrook, Pudding Mill, Stamford Brook, Earl's Sluice, Peck, Tyburn, Fleet (and here are 300 photos)
2) Open House: The usual fascinating collection of not-usually open buildings, including London Underground HQ at 55 Broadway [photos]
3) Thames Tunnel: A walk through the oldest underwater tunnel in the world, a few weeks before they started rerunning trains through it? Magic.
4) Lord Mayor's Show: It's not the most exciting annual spectacle, to be honest, but I enjoyed viewing the entire parade from the gallery round the dome of St Paul's Cathedral [photos]
5) Ring of Steel: A guided walk round the City of London's camera defences opened my eyes to terrorist paranoia in the Square Mile [photo]
6) Major Roy's cannons: The Ordnance Survey began by surveying a line across Hounslow Heath, the endpoints of which are still marked by cannons at Heathrow Airport and Hampton Hill. Who knew?
7) Music for Seven Ice Cream Vans: A bonkers arts project, to bring melodious chimes to Canning Town. Most of the locals failed to notice, but I lapped it up [video]
8) Dagenham Dock: Possibly London's most pointless bus station, now accessible via East London Transit [photos]
9) East London Line: An Overground ride down the reopened line from Dalston to New Cross (and beyond) [photos]
10) North Greenwich riverside: I used to love a good stroll along the industrial Thames between Greenwich and the Dome. Now they're turning it into homes and building sites and flats, it'll never be the same again. [photos]
Runners up: Four London windmills, Two Albert Squares, Crossrail E15, Jewish Museum, bus route 45, Leighton House Museum, Elephant Parade, Cup Final, Osterley Park, Epping Forest Centenary Walk, Caledonian Road & Barnsbury, Cycle Superhighway 3, Green Line Coaches, Walk The Line, new Metropolitan line trains, Hackney Wicked, Stratford platform 3a, London Loop 4, Coombe Conduit, Green Chain 11, bus route 10, Sunflower Seeds, Wandsworth Museum, One New Change, Tube Week, Chesham shuttle, Woolwich to Erith, libraries, Eel Pie Island, route 66, Bow snow, Olympic Stadium floodlights.
Random boroughs: Richmond, Kingston, Westminster, Newham.

Ten favourite Out-of-London destinations
Portland Harbour1) Not-London 2012: Not content with living on the doorstep of the Olympic Stadium, I made a special visit to four Games venues outside the capital (Eton, Broxbourne, Hadleigh and Portland) plus two cradles of the Olympic Movement (Much Wenlock and Stoke Mandeville). I particularly enjoyed my day out in Weymouth and the Isle of Portland (which doubled as a summer holiday this year) [photos]
2) Edinburgh: Och, is there anywhere better to celebrate Hogmanay? And as 2010 began, brr, was there anywhere colder? [photos]
3) Tenterden: For 10/10/10 I trekked to this similarly-named Kentish town and then took the steam train to Bodiam Castle. Top day out [photos]
4) Berney Arms: A rare trip to England's remotest railway station (in the Norfolk Broads) followed by a riverside walk to the next station - Great Yarmouth [photos]
5) Canterbury: Now there are High Speed trains from London, this cathedral city's not so far away. From the Romans to Bagpuss, blimey the place is fascinating [photos]
6) Chichester: Another cathedral city, this time in West Sussex, plus more fine Roman remains up the road in Fishbourne [photos]
7) Rochester Sweeps Festival: May Day on the Medway meant more morris dancing than I'd ever seen before [photos]
8) Bletchley Park: Britain's wartime codebreaking HQ, also home to the National Museum of Computing.
9) Aldeburgh: I lived in Suffolk for years and I never went. Put that right this year [photos]
10) Harlow: An Essex new town shouldn't be fascinating, but Harlow's sculptures raise the place out of the ordinary.
Runners up: Shoeburyness, Camber Sands, Chequers, Crab & Winkle Way, Royal Ascot, Poppyland, Folkestone to Dover, Battle of Britain Memorial, Bray, Wrexham & Shropshire, Ironbridge, Polesden Lacey, Kelvedon Hatch.

Ten other favourite posts from 2010:
2020 vision, London Fashion Week, Magnificent Maps, Minister in Charge of Scissors, Camden Green Fair, iGeez, snickers, First they came for the quangos, onesquare.com, the London night sky in November.

Half of my ten favourite photos of the year:
(or all ten here)

 Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It is with regret that I must announce the discontinuation of diamond geezer in hard copy format. Paper-based distribution has become increasingly unprofitable, and printing costs now far exceed the financial outlay expended. In future, therefore, this blog will be accessible in electronic format only. Sorry.

I know how many of you appreciate this blog's paper version. It's so convenient, isn't it? A handy sheet, printed on characteristic light grey paper, for handheld perusal at your leisure. You could read it on the bus, even in squashed travelling conditions. You could read it on the train, well out of range of any internet signal. You could read it over a cup of coffee without the tedious need to boot up a laptop. For many of you, the printed blog was the only way to go. No longer. My apologies.

It's been a difficult decision to make. Many of you will be greatly inconvenienced by this change. No longer will you be able to pick up a copy of dg from your local newsagent, nor will subscribers' letterboxes rattle to the sound of incoming blog at 7am. But there comes a time when technology outpaces tradition, and when former systems are rendered obsolete. It's time to move on. As of January 1st, this blog will be on-screen only.

I'd like to reassure subscribers that all existing commitments will be met up until the end of the year. Your hard copy of diamond geezer will be delivered as normal tomorrow, and on Friday morning (Royal Mail permitting). However, these will be the final postal deliveries before current contracts are terminated. Those whose subscriptions expire in 2011 should send a stamped-addressed envelope to the usual address for a pro-rata refund.

To access diamond geezer from Saturday onwards, some kind of display-based electronic device will be required. A Kindle or iPad would be ideal, although any old smartphone, laptop or desktop PC will do. Enter the key phrase diamondgeezer.blogspot.com into the address bar in your browser, ensuring that all words are spelt correctly and that punctuation is precise. After a few seconds the day's post will appear in pixellated form, and you will then be able to access the text by reading it, as before.

Please be warned that the electronic version of diamond geezer differs from the paper-based version in several critical ways. You may need to scroll down to read the entire post, rather than simply looking further down the piece of paper. Folding the electronic version in half and stuffing it in your pocket will be impossible. Do not try writing on the blog in red ink as this may damage your screen. Also, you will no longer be able to obtain a refund if the day's post offends or bores you.

Rest assured that over 95% of readers have already moved over to electronic distribution without ill effect. New Year 2011 is the time for the rest of you to cast aside physicality and to embrace change. See you all on the other side.

 Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The news from Norfolk

• The snow's pretty much melted. It was frozen across lawns and fields over Christmas, but the thaw's set in since. Now it's only north-facing rooftops, hedge-sheltered grass and shadowy lanes still speckled with white. But watch out, early-morning drivers. Further snow showers are promised during the early morning rush hour (if only it wasn't a bank holiday and there actually was a rush hour) (if only this wasn't Norfolk and there actually was a rush hour).

• Only one copy of Poultry World remains in the village shop, but there are still two copies of Horse and Hound.

• The Queen went to church at Sandringham on Christmas morning, yes, the Queen. She was wearing a beige coat with a matching fur hat, and she looked like something out of a Bond film, yes, only older. Some poor reporter from the local paper got sent to cover the event and had to make do with interviewing an eight year-old cub scout called Freedom because the Queen doesn't do interviews, no.

• Yesterday's scheduled Ryman League Premier Division match between Lowestoft Town and hosts Bury Town was postponed along with the whole of the Ridgeons League programme and King's Lynn's UCL trip to Holbeach.

• We had a lovely Christmas, thankyou. The turkey was huge, as you might expect in Norfolk, although Bernard Matthews never had a hand in ours. Somebody made the cardinal error of buying Guitar Hero for the youngest nephew, which led to hours of tuneless singing and mindless strumming to a variety of US-based thrash metal ditties. Competing for on-screen time was the very latest Xbox Kinect, which meant forcibly rearranging the furniture so that nobody accidentally reversed into the sofa whilst pretending to throw a javelin. In a complete reversal of accepted sporting prowess, I achieved a record-breaking score on the ten-pin bowling, rather than swerving all my balls into the gutter like I tend to in real life. Eldest nephew spent much of the holiday period attempting to persuade the rest of us to play Monopoly - the generic cardboard-based version - then thrashed us firmly and comprehensively when we finally succumbed. My cracker had a pastel green hat, thanks for asking, and there was a pair of tweezers inside (alas, nobody got one of those red curly fortune-telling fish). If I ever hear that bloody Mariah Carey song again I may scream. And yes, we had a lovely Christmas, thankyou.

• There were no trains in Norfolk on Boxing Day, not because there was a strike, but because this is Norfolk. Everybody coped.

• Nick Cotton's in panto in King's Lynn this year, he's the villain in Jack and the Beanstalk until Sunday. The panto at the Norwich Theatre Royal is also Jack and the Beanstalk, which sounds like bad planning, and the main star is someone from Hollyoaks who I've never heard of, which sounds like bad casting. My niece will not be appearing, having turned down a part due to prior commitments.

• The monthly village newsletter is now available from the pub on the green, the other pub on the green and from that pile at the back of the church.

The news from Norfolk is available on a regular basis, not just at Christmas.

 Monday, December 27, 2010

I've been blogging for eight years and four months.
That's 96 months, plus 4 months.
That's 100 months.

Which means, should you ever check out my sidebar, there are now 100 archive pages to choose from.

                                                Sep02 Oct02 Nov02 Dec02
Jan03 Feb03 Mar03 Apr03 May03 Jun03 Jul03 Aug03 Sep03 Oct03 Nov03 Dec03
Jan04 Feb04 Mar04 Apr04 May04 Jun04 Jul04 Aug04 Sep04 Oct04 Nov04 Dec04
Jan05 Feb05 Mar05 Apr05 May05 Jun05 Jul05 Aug05 Sep05 Oct05 Nov05 Dec05
Jan06 Feb06 Mar06 Apr06 May06 Jun06 Jul06 Aug06 Sep06 Oct06 Nov06 Dec06
Jan07 Feb07 Mar07 Apr07 May07 Jun07 Jul07 Aug07 Sep07 Oct07 Nov07 Dec07
Jan08 Feb08 Mar08 Apr08 May08 Jun08 Jul08 Aug08 Sep08 Oct08 Nov08 Dec08
Jan09 Feb09 Mar09 Apr09 May09 Jun09 Jul09 Aug09 Sep09 Oct09 Nov09 Dec09
Jan10 Feb10 Mar10 Apr10 May10 Jun10 Jul10 Aug10 Sep10 Oct10 Nov10 Dec10

Which is, to be honest, a heck of a lot of content in a heck of a lot of archive pages.

There's the archive page with the post about wheelie suitcases. There's the archive page with all the posts about the Oranges and Lemons nursery rhyme. There's the archive page with posts about daylight saving, private hospitals, Rainham Marshes and out-of-date Underground signs. And there's 97 other pages, all full of stuff which I wrote mostly ages ago.

Most of you don't read the archives. I know this because I can see which pages of my blog you read, and the monthly archives aren't especially popular. There's all this good stuff packed in there, but most regular readers are only interested in what I wrote in the last two or three days. The old stuff hangs around in a rarely-visited netherworld, available but overlooked, much as archives are meant to be.

And they're not even proper archives any more. They used to be complete pages with all monthly posts included, from the last day of the month right back to the first. And then, earlier this year, Blogger decided to speed up loading times by chopping all the bottoms off. Now my monthly archives only go back about a fortnight, with the majority of stuff hidden away on page 2s or even page 3s. These virtual subpages don't technically exist, not unless you click on the "older posts" arrow at the bottom of the page. And very few people ever do, so thousands of posts go almost completely ignored.

So look, there are now 100 months of archive stashed away on this blog. You've read them before, I know, back when each post was fresh. But some days these archives are far more interesting than the dull stuff I've just posted. Like today, for example. There are 100 months of archive to revisit, and you're still reading this. I guess that's how blogging works. But really, what a waste.

 Sunday, December 26, 2010

Olympic Christmas (at the View Tube)

 Saturday, December 25, 2010

Trafalgar Square on ice

 Friday, December 24, 2010

The first Green Christmas

1 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto Nazareth to have a chat to a virgin, and the virgin's name was Mary.
2 And the angel came unto her and said, "Fear not, for thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name JESUS."
3 Then said Mary unto the angel, "Oh, for heavens sake. I'm a responsible eco-protester and I've made a conscious decision not to bring a child into the world. An extra mouth will burn up valuable resources that the Earth can ill afford. Think of all the carbon dioxide He'll breathe out, and all the fossil fuels He'll burn, and all the nappies He'll soil, and all the mobile phone chargers He'll leave on stand-by. Not to mention all the offspring He'll probably beget. I'm being impregnated against my will, and it's our planet that will suffer. Tell God I'd rather not, there's a good angel."
4 And the angel answered and said unto her, "Tough."

5 And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree that all local hospitals should be shut down. And the accountants saw that it was good.
6 "Bugger," said Joseph. "My espoused wife is great with child, but the nearest birthing facility is 70 miles away. And public transport is so very unreliable these days, and all the cheap fares were snapped up month ago. Verily my eco-conscience doesn't permit me to take the car. Where's that ass?"
7 So they went up from Galilee on the back of a donkey - which is not ideal for a girl in Mary's condition - unto the City of David which is called Bethlehem.

8 And so it was that while they were there, the days were accomplished that Mary should be delivered. But it turned out that the hospital was full, having exceeded its annual budgetary target, so she might as well have stayed at home and given birth in the garage.
9 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in ethnic import swaddling clothes from the Oxfam shop, and laid Him in a manger.
10 And Mary said "Here I am surrounded by animals and straw, and not an epidural in sight. This must be as environmentally-friendly a birth as anyone could ever have, not that the wider world has noticed. It's a damned shame that the media aren't here to promote this ultra-green lifestyle to other pregnant women. But I guess my story will just have to remain untold."

11 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And they were doing a bit of knitting, like shepherds do, yea even their teatowel headgear was sustainably generated.
12 And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.
13 "We are sore afraid," they said. "Have you any idea how much energy you're wasting with all this ostentatious glory-shining? You could at least tone it down a bit using a low-energy halo."
14 And the angel said unto them, "Fear not, for behold this halo is a low output, flicker free, non-stroboscopic Compact Fluorescent Integrated Glow-Ring. For God phased out all the filament haloes in the heavenly firmament long ago."
15 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and LED-based illumination toward men!"
16 “For unto you is born this day a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the Babe round the back of a pub wearing His Mum's cast-offs. Take Him some cute knitted bootees as a gift, won't you?"
17 And it came to pass, when the angels were gone away, the shepherds said one to another, "Bunch of megalomaniac weirdoes. We’re going nowhere."

18 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there came three air passengers from the East to Jerusalem saying, "Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have flown Star Alliance (first class) and have come to worship Him. Sorry we're a bit late, there was this ash cloud."
19 When Herod the king had heard these things he was troubled. "If our little town gets too popular with tourists we may need to build a third runway, possibly in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, and imagine all the noise and air pollution that would cause."
20 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the young child, and when ye have found Him, bring me word again, that I may come and murder Him, oops, I wasn't supposed to say that bit out loud."
21 When they had heard the king, they departed via a connecting flight; and lo, a vapour trail went behind them until it spread over where the young Child lay.
22 And when they had exited the terminal, they got a taxi to see the young Child with Mary His mother. And she was appalled at the unnecessary length of their travels, and demanded that they offset their carbon forthwith.
23 So they presented duty free treasures of sustainable gold and locally-sourced frankincense and 100% organic myrrh, which pleased Mary no end.
24 And then they departed into their own country, by public transport, naturally.

 Thursday, December 23, 2010

I hate Christmas shopping. I don't have the genes for it.

Every year I spend the days before Christmas traipsing round the shops attempting to buy stuff that people might actually like. I tour the capital, from the South Bank to Oxford Street and from museum shop to department store, in search of something, anything, which might possibly be appreciated. I ought to know the people I'm buying for well enough, but I still find myself standing in front of displays of potential purchases in paralysed uncertainty. Will my choice light up their eyes with joy and gratitude when they unwrap it? Will they smile politely and say thankyou, then nip it down to the charity shop in the New Year? Or is there a crucial reason why they don't already own one of these, which is that it's crap?

I know my problem. I'm hopeless at converting money into value. A twenty pound note I understand, but swap that for material goods and I'm lost. I can't tell whether the intended recipient will think they've received something priceless, or something worthless. Have I passed the gift-buying empathy test, or would I have been better off wrapping an empty box? I never know whether I'm onto a winner or not, but I always suspect I'm not.

In effect, I've lost faith in my ability to second guess what others want. And this, I believe, reflects my reaction when I'm on the receiving end. When other people attempt to second guess what I want they invariably get it wrong. No, I didn't want one of those, not at all. No, that can live in its box until I get round to throwing it away. No, I'll flick through that briefly while you're watching but then it's going in the dead pile in the corner of the spare room. I know I'm meant to be grateful for the thought, and I am, but every unwanted gift seems such a complete waste of money.

I usually hate December 23rd, because it's the last opportunity to buy presents before I disappear up to Norfolk with my collected haul. I wander round London in increasing desperation, attempting to tick off all the required purchasees on my shortlist, and worrying. Will that be appreciated? Hell, will that do? Sometimes I think I'd have been better off buying the first thing I saw several days ago, rather than prolonging the agony without improving the payoff. Far from inducing festive bonhomie, my pre-Christmas shopping quest merely makes me unhappy.

I got especially frustrated on December 23rd last year, whilst touring such diverse retail locations as Stratford, Selfridges and Sainsburys. Really quite unnervingly annoyed. I even managed to drop my youngest nephew's present in a slushy puddle, before eventually returning home to spend the evening covering my disappointment with wrapping paper. In particular I'd bought my Mum some Christmas sweets, in the absence of any better inspiration, plus the CD she'd said she wanted (by a group that only Mums could like). I wrapped her stash during the course of the evening, cursing that I'd bought a turkish delight box with quite so many impossible corners, and hoping it'd pass muster on Christmas morning. And then, just before midnight, I received the unexpected phone call telling me she'd never open any of it. That bought perspective to my day, I can tell you.

So this year I'm doing things differently. I've still been round the shops for three days, but this time without hope of success. I've looked at endless gift choices all over town, and decided no, they'd not be appreciated. So I've bought nothing, absolutely nothing at all, not one single Christmas present. Which means I'll be travelling light up to Norfolk this morning, unencumbered by gift-wrapped carbootsalefodder, and never mind what reaction I get. People can jolly well have money this year and decide what to get for themselves, because that'll surely be far better appreciated that any rubbish I'd have bought for them. I'd never have dared try the 'no presents' approach last year, you understand, but this Christmas what the hell. It's the thought that counts. And life's too short.

 Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Past (at the Geffrye Museum)
For a slightly different twist on the festive season, the Geffrye Museum always comes up trumps. Every Christmas they deck out their museum with appropriate seasonal decorations, and every year I go back to enjoy the presentation. The Geffrye, if you're not familiar, is a museum of historic middle-class interiors. That means eleven living rooms, decked out as they might have appeared in particular years from the 17th century to the end of the 20th. Each is lovingly decked out with period furniture and fittings, with an increasing amount of clutter evident as we move from Jacobean simplicity into the industrial and consumer eras. One rather lovely feature is that the museum is laid out inside a row of 18th century almshouses, with each successive room like stepping forward in time as you walk from one end to the other. The one downside is that the main passageway is very narrow and so it only takes a few lingering visitors to clog the place up. There are plenty of visitors at the moment, as middle-class NE London pops in for a pre-Christmas gander. Watch out for children underfoot, not all of whom have been swallowed up by the organised activities in the foyer by the cafe.

The earlier historical decorations are understated evergreens - a wreath of holly here, a garland there. Only in Victorian times does the first tree appear, coupled with more commercial accessories (and some appropriate sheet music on the piano). By the 20th century we finally see paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, presents scattered across the rug and dining tables laid with crackers - just how you or your grandparents might have celebrated. The Geffrye adds longevity to its displays by spreading its historical tableaux across the period from Christmas Eve to Twelfth Night. A table laid with New Year treats, a post-Christmas musical evening, an iced Twelfth Night cake - all these are remembered and their traditions duly remembered. No problem, then, if you can't get in for a visit this week. The festive theme continues until January 6th, when there'll be a ceremonial burning of the holly and the ivy in the garden, and some carol singing and a glass of mulled wine. Worth a visit any time of the year, but especially over the next two weeks.
Kingsland Road, E2 8EA - closed Dec 24, 25, 26, Jan 1

Sir John Soane's Museum
There's no other museum like it. The townhouse of one of Georgian London's most important architects - Sir John Soane - the man behind the Bank of England and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. As Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy in 1806 he set about transforming his town house into an inspirational museum for his students, and an Act of Parliament has preserved it in much the same state ever since his death. The library and drawing room look relatively normal, for 200 years ago, with bookshelves and wood panelling ornamental clocks. It's only when you step beyond into the rear of the house that the sheer oddness of the building confronts you. Every space in this warren of rooms is filled with some artistic object, probably classical, be that a bust, column, boss or statue. Most are plaster casts of the real thing, ideal for inspiring students in the ways of the ancient world without actually having to travel there. The largest object is a genuine Egyptian sarcophagus, hewn from a single block of limestone, which needed a hole to be knocked in the wall before Soane could get it inside. Soane's collection is spread across two levels, with lightwells that successfully illuminate the basement even on the shortest day of the year. I'd love to show you some pictures so you can gauge quite how peculiar the place is, but photography's banned so I'm afraid none exist.

Art was another of Sir John's great loves, and some famous paintings hang from his walls. A few Canalettos for a start, but more importantly some original Hogarths. All eight canvases of A Rake's Progress are here, filling most of one wall, allowing visitors to peruse the poor man's journey from playboy to the madhouse. Another 18th century comic strip is The Election, William's take on parliamentary corruption in a rural Oxfordshire constituency, which bears close scrutiny to pick out all the satirical details. Elsewhere, upstairs, the room sometimes used to host exhibitions is to be closed off at the end of this month to enable the transformation of the building. £6m is to be spent creating a brand new visitor experience, essentially by extending into the Soane-built house nextdoor, enabling more of number 13 to be returned to its original use and splendour. That'll take until mid-2012 to complete, but there'll still be tons to see here before then. Be warned though, the curator only allows a certain number of visitors inside the house at any one time, so you may have to queue out on the pavement before being admitted to see the delights inside.
13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, WC2A 3BP - closed Dec 24-28, Jan 1-3

 Tuesday, December 21, 2010

London 2012  Olympic update
  Switching on the lights

They love their significant dates in the 2012 planning office. London's Olympic mascots were launched last May, exactly 800 days before the Games. Tickets will finally go on sale on 15th March next year, when the countdown reaches 500. And the floodlights at the stadium were switched on yesterday, the 20th December... or 20/12 as it's otherwise known. No chronological quirk is left unchecked in the quest for publicity.

Pudding Mill station, early Monday evening. Scores of passengers descend the stairs from the DLR and emerge into the cold. "Are you here for the event, sir?" asks a security guard in a hi-vis jacket. He's not talking to me, he's talking to the man on my right. I think I recognise the man on my right from somewhere, either because he's a government minister or some big cheese in the 2012 hierarchy. He's also wearing the sort of long winter coat that only very important gentlemen wear, which must be how the guard singled him out. "This way please..." and the VIP is duly guided towards event registration and a seat on the bus to the stadium.

Things are rather quieter up on the Greenway. A handful of 2012 workers wander by, plus a few Fish Island residents taking a shortcut home. The View Tube's open late because of the 'special event', serving up hot drinks to nobody much. Two Metropolitan Police officers survey the scene, because you can never be too careful when the Prime Minister's quarter of a mile away. In the distance, a flurry of activity on the concrete podium surrounding the edge of the stadium suggests that the event will be taking place soon enough.

It's most definitely dark out here, but there are plenty of points of light all around. Spotlights on poles act as temporary streetlamps for passing construction traffic. Fourteen red lights, at the highest points on the stadium's crown, warn off low-flying aeroplanes. A ring of lampposts (they're new, aren't they?) encircles the base of the stadium. The collective glare of Hackney, Bow and Stratford raises a dull orange glow across the sky. And a steady succession of white buses roll by, ostensibly for transporting workers around the site, but whose illuminated interiors reveal almost all to be empty. Whoever's got the contract for running buses around the Olympic site is undoubtedly being paid too much to run far too many services much too often.

Just before quarter past six the lights inside the stadium dim. All eyes are on the fourteen spiky towers arranged like hen's teeth around the upper rim of the stadium. After the requisite pause for internal ceremonial, the floodlights are turned on. Only the lamps in the bottom two rows of each triangle are illuminated to begin with, about a quarter of the total, which looks partly-impressive but not quite. Inside the stadium, the crowd of specially-invited children fail to whoop with delight, as cringeworthy video footage later confirms. The staggered switch-on has left Boris and the PM floundering, and they're sounding increasingly desperate to fill time as the long wait for 100% illumination continues.

At last, after about five minutes, all 532 floodlights are lit. It's an impressive sight, even for those of us far outside the stadium who aren't in direct line of fire. Gone is the sodium glow of a typical East End night, and in its place a bright white orb gleaming upward into the sky. Bright enough to support high definition TV, so we're assured, should any 2012 athletics final run beyond summer twilight. A large group of police officers have now joined me on the Greenway, and I wonder whether they'll tell me off for attempting to take a photograph of the spectacle. I shouldn't have worried - some of them have their mobiles out and are busy taking several photos themselves.

Returning to Pudding Mill DLR, far ahead of the official guests, I see the stadium blazing like it's never done before. Trains from Liverpool Street are slow tonight, allowing commuters to stare out of the window at the unexpected light show on the horizon. But the real surprise for me comes back in Bow Road, where a ghostly white aura is illuminating the northeastern sky. I may be standing nearly a mile from the stadium but the light pollution is astonishing, like some sort of atmospheric bleach. It's a relief later in the evening, after all the great and good have gone home, when the floodlights are finally extinguished and the photon overload dies down. But it'll look great on the telly once the Olympics finally begin, and Londoners won't be able to miss the place after dark.

 Monday, December 20, 2010

BBC1 Friday 25th December 1970

9.00am Christmas Carols (with the Wandsworth School choir)
9.30 Basil's Christmas Morning (with Derek Fowlds)
10.00 Christmas Crackers (a cartoon parade with Michael Aspel)
10.30 A Family Service (from Netherlee Parish Church, Glasgow)
11.45 Rolf Harris: Meet the Kids (in hospital this Christmas)
12.35pm The Story of the Silver Skates (film starring Eleanor Parker)
2.15 Top of the Pops 70
3.00 The Queen
3.25 Billy Smart's Circus Spectacular
4.30 Disney Time (with Harry Worth)
5.10 Robinson Crusoe (starring Ken Dodd, with Peter Glaze, Arthur Mullard)
6.40 The Main News
6.45 Christmas Night with the Stars (introduced by Cilla Black, featuring Bob Hope, Mary Hopkin, Graham Kerr, Nana Mouskouri, Clodagh Rodgers, Frank Sinatra and Jack Warner)
8.15 The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show
9.15 Charade (1963 film starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn)
11.00 The Good Old Days (with Danny La Rue)
11.50 But Seriously...on the Nativity (with Joyce Grenfell, Cyril Fletcher, Ernie Wise)
 BBC1 Thursday 25th December 1980

8.55am Watch - The Nativity (first shown on Schools)
9.25 Mr Benn
9.40 The Pink Panther Show (A Pink Christmas)
10.00 Morning Worship (from Clifton Cathedral)
11.00 Weather (with Jim Bacon)
11.05 The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (film from 1962)
1.10pm Carols from Warwick Castle (introduced by Douglas Fairbanks Jr)
2.00 Top of the Pops 80 (with Peter Powell and Jimmy Savile OBE)
3.00 The Queen
3.10 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (film starring Kirk Douglas)
5.15 The Paul Daniels Magic Christmas Show
6.05 Evening News (with Angela Rippon)
6.10 Larry Grayson's Generation Game (with Isla St Clair)
7.15 Dallas (Trouble at Ewing 23)
8.05 The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show (with special guest Englebert Humperdinck)
8.45 Airport 1975 (film starring Charlton Heston)
10.30 Main News (with Angela Rippon)
10.40 Parkinson at Christmas (with Penelope Keith and James Galway)
11.40 Christmas Comedy Classic: Fawlty Towers (Gourmet Night)

BBC1 Tuesday 25th December 1990

7.00am Children's BBC (Simon Parkin, Andi Peters and Philippa Forrester join Santa and his best friend Edd the Duck)
9.30 Shout for Joy! (from St Francis Church, Birmingham)
10.30 Noel's Christmas Presents (with special guests Frank Bruno and David Essex)
11.30 Christmas Comedy Cracker ('Allo 'Allo!/The Two Ronnies/Dad's Army)
1.30pm Top of the Pops Christmas Special (with Mark Goodier and Anthea Turner)
2.30 EastEnders (a special Christmas delivery holds a surprise for Diane)
3.00 The Queen
3.05 ET - The Extra Terrestrial (film première)
5.00 News (with Jill Dando) Weather (Suzanne Charlton)
5.10 Only Fools and Horses (Rodney Come Home)
6.25 Bruce Forsyth's Christmas Generation Game (with Rosemarie Ford)
7.30 Bread
8.20 Birds of a Feather (Falling in Love Again)
9.35 News (with Jill Dando) Weather (Suzanne Charlton)
9:45 Baby Boom (film première starring Diane Keaton)
11:30 Yes Minister (Party Games) (repeat)
12:30am Christmas Presence
12:35 The Quiller Memorandum (film starring George Segal)
 BBC1 Monday 25th December 2000

5.30am Children's BBC in Lapland
10.00 Christmas in Wonderland - a Service for Christmas Day (from Cheshire)
11.00 The Santa Clause (film from 1994)
12.40 Hooves of Fire (comedy animation narrated by Robbie Williams)
1.10 Top of the Pops (with Jamie Theakston, Sara Cox and Richie Blackwood)
2.10 Homeward Bound for Christmas (live from HMS Invincible, with Jim Davidson)
3.00 The Queen
3.10 The Borrowers (film première)
4.35 Walking with Dinosaurs Special (the Ballad of Big Al)
5.05 BBC News and Weather (with George Alagiah)
5.15 EastEnders (Mel makes a decision that will change her life)
5.45 Titanic (film première)
8.50 EastEnders (an uninvited guest causes mayhem at the Fowlers')
9.20 Victoria Wood with All the Trimmings
10.10 The Royle Family at Christmas
10.40 BBC News and Weather (with George Alagiah)
10.50 Before They Were Famous (introduced by Angus Deayton)
11.30 French & Saunders Present the Making of the Making of Titanic
11.50 Naked Gun 2½ : the Smell of Fear (film with Leslie Nielsen)
1.15am Carry on Camping (film from 1969)

 Sunday, December 19, 2010

New Year fireworks at the EyeLondon's New Year fireworks are world famous. The London Eye explodes in a riot of sound and colour. A quarter of a million spectators, two-thirds of whom live outside London, turn up along the Embankment to enjoy the spectacle. Everything's broadcast live on BBC1, complete with a fawning inane commentary. And images from the event are flashed to broadcasters worldwide, which does the capital's media profile no harm at all.

So you'd think that the Greater London Authority would be promoting their New Year fireworks with everything they've got. You'd think wrong.

New Year's Eve in London is so important, it has its own website. That's http://www.london.gov.uk/newyearseve, where every year the Mayor tells the world what to expect at midnight on December 31st. How to plan your night, where to view the fireworks, and a whole bunch of frequently asked questions answered. This is important stuff, especially if you're thinking of trekking into London from elsewhere in the UK, or even flying in from abroad. But not this year, not yet. With less than two weeks to go until the New Year turns, Boris's NYE webpage is still information-less.
"Preparations are underway for London's New Year's Eve celebrations and a formal announcement will be made by the Mayor in the coming weeks. Details will be available in due course on this website and in the media. Detailed information and tips for visitors in respect of viewing the fireworks and travel information post event will be available on this site from early December."
I think we can agree that "early December" has passed, and yet still no detailed information is forthcoming. What's proving so difficult? It's not as if this website's tough to create, because all of 2009's detailed information is still lurking out of sight behind the scenes. But nobody at Team Boris, or whichever agency he's hired to put this stuff together, has quite got round to updating or revealing anything.

Boris did put out a press release last month, announcing that British-made fireworks will be used for the first time and that the display will be accompanied by music mixed by a Radio 1 DJ. He also blustered something about how firework displays are "exhilarating and primal", but nothing of any practical use for spectators. Meanwhile detailed travel plans for NYE services are already available in a thick TfL leaflet, but these haven't made it as far as the official NYE website. Nothing has, not yet.
If you are a visitor to London and wish to plan your trip and pre-book accommodation, visitor information is available at www.visitlondon.com.
And this lack of publicity matters, because these fireworks cost. Boris is spending £1.8m on the event this year (10% more than in 2009) - a budgetary spend which only makes sense if tourist numbers can be maximised. As things stand, potential national and international visitors lured in by Visit London's New Year's Eve webpage are duly directed to Boris's dead end, which so far tells them nothing. Surely something will materialise in the next 12 days, but that'll be far too late to entice any long distance travellers.

I went to Edinburgh for Hogmanay last year, and one of the crucial factors in persuading me to go was the council's very detailed event website. I knew in advance how much there was to see, so I knew it was worth spending cash to get there. Alas London's New Year celebrations present no such coordinated face to the world, and that's a lot of money up in smoke.

Update: NYE website finally launched on the afternoon of 22nd December.

 Saturday, December 18, 2010

www.flickr.com: my Olympic & Bow snow gallery
I was up at the Olympic Stadium at the height of today's blizzard.
Here are 10 photos and a video.
[this one seems to be your favourite]

The curtain closes and my uncle disappears.

The priest continues to speak his well-chosen words of comfort. His voice has that special vicar-y tone which reassures at times of greatest need, and which conveniently masks what might be going on behind the drapes. He tells us all what a spiritual person my uncle was, which is news to me. Every now and then he slips in a few sentences which sound suspiciously like an advert for his religion, before returning to praising my uncle's personal qualities. Not wrong there.

We've already sung the hymn. It's amazing how little noise a crowd of 100 can make, which must be why the crematorium has invested in a series of pre-recorded hymns complete with professional choir. So much less embarrassing than the usual tone-deaf hiatus.

The final piece of music is a 1970s ballad, one you'll know well, one my uncle evidently held dear. I've never thought about about this particular song in a funereal context before, but now I may never be able to clear it from my head. One verse in, the undertaker wafts up to the front of the chapel and invites us to leave. Everybody stands and exits through the side door, every body that is except one.

It's biting cold on the terrace outside. The congregation moves round the corner to view the floral tributes laid out on the paving. It's easy to spot our party's wreaths in amongst the day's collection, because they're the only ones not covered by half an inch of snow. All around are half-frosted lilies, flake-sprinkled posies and the frosted names of loved ones past. We stand beside this tableau of blanked-out colour and chat.

There are twins due in January. So-and-so couldn't be here because they've got flu. Hasn't Dan grown - the last time we saw him he was, what, that high? Somebody's left their coat in the chapel. They'll have to wait another twenty minutes, there's already another committal underway inside. Lovely to see you again, even if these aren't the best of circumstances.

The snow lays heavy across the fields, illuminated by the winter-bright rays of the descending sun. It's a beautiful afternoon, or at least it is out there. As we walk back down the hill towards the car park, we pass the next batch of black-clad figures arriving for their moment of remembrance. The grieving cycle continues, and cherished memories depart.

 Friday, December 17, 2010

Anorak Corner (the annual update)

London's ten busiest tube stations (2009)
1) ↑1 Victoria (77.4m)  2) ↓1 Waterloo (76.0m) 3) Oxford Circus (74.0m) 4) King's Cross St Pancras (66.2m) 5) ↑1 London Bridge (61.5m) 6) ↓1 Liverpool Street (60.9m) 7) ↑2 Paddington (42.0m) 8) Bank/Monument (40.7m) 9) ↓2 Canary Wharf (39.6m) 10) Piccadilly Circus (38.6m)

London's ten busiest tube stations that aren't also National Rail stations (2009)
1) Oxford Circus (74.0m) 2) ↑1 Bank/Monument (40.7m) 3) ↓1 Canary Wharf (39.6m) 4) Piccadilly Circus (38.6m) 5) ↑1 Bond Street (36.9m) 6) ↑1 Leicester Square (35.6m) 7) ↓2 Tottenham Court Road (34.9m) 8) Holborn (30.1m) 9) Green Park (28.3m) 10) Hammersmith (District & Piccadilly) (27.4m)

London's ten busiest tube stations outside Zone 1 (2009)
1) Canary Wharf (39.6m) 2) Hammersmith (District & Piccadilly) (27.4m) 3) Stratford (27.0m) 4) Finsbury Park (23.2m) 5) Brixton (20.9m) 6) ↑1 Camden Town (19.7m) 7) ↓1 Shepherd's Bush (19.0m) 8) ↑1 North Greenwich (18.1m) 9) ↓1 Ealing Broadway (16.6m) 10) ↑* Bethnal Green (15.1m)

Roding ValleyLondon's ten least busy tube stations (2009)
1) Roding Valley (209000) 2) Chigwell (397000) 3) Chesham (427000) 4) Grange Hill (441000) 5) Theydon Bois (674000) 6) ↑1 Moor Park (771000) 7) ↓1 Croxley (778000) 8) Fairlop (827000) 9) South Kenton (853000) 10) Chorleywood (859000)

London's ten busiest National Rail stations (2008/9)
1) Waterloo (88m) 2) Victoria (70m) 3) Liverpool Street (55m) 4) London Bridge (50m) 5) Charing Cross (37m) 6) ↑1 Paddington (29m) 7) ↓1 Euston (27m) 8) King's Cross (25m) 9) ↑1 Cannon Street (22m) 10) ↓1 East Croydon (21m)

London's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't central London termini (2008/9)
1) East Croydon (20.6m) 2) Clapham Junction (17.4m) 3) Wimbledon (15.2m) 4) Vauxhall (14.6m) 5) ↑1 Stratford (12.3m) 6) ↓1 Putney (8.8m) 7) Surbiton (8.4m) 8) ↑1 Romford (7.3m) 9) ↑1 Richmond (6.7m) 10) ↓2 Lewisham (6.3m)

London's ten least busy National Rail stations (2008/9)
1) ↑3 Sudbury & Harrow Road (10900) 2) ↓1 South Greenford (14500) 3) ↓1 Angel Road (32400) 4) ↑* Sudbury Hill Harrow (35300) 5) ↓2 Birkbeck (38300) 6) ↑* South Kenton (44900) 7) ↓1 Emerson Park (58600) 8) Drayton Green (66900) 9) ↑* Walthamstow Queens Road (69400) 10) ↑* Blackhorse Road (69900)

The UK's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't in London (2008/9)
1) Glasgow Central (27.6m) 2) ↑2 Birmingham New Street (25.2m) 3) Leeds (22.4m) 4) ↓2 Manchester Piccadilly (20.1m) 5) ↑* Liverpool Central (19.6m) 6) Glasgow Queen Street (18.7m) 7) ↓2 Edinburgh Waverley (17.6m) 8) ↓1 Reading (14.4m) 9) ↓1 Brighton (13.8m) 10) ↓1 Gatwick Airport (11.7m)

» Tube passenger data here (total annual entry and exit frequencies)
» Rail passenger data here (total annual entry and exit frequencies)

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