Monday, December 16, 2002

McUpdate: A month ago there was a plot of wasteground at the bottom of my road beside the Bow Flyover. Three weeks ago a drive-in McDonalds suddenly sprang up on the site. Today they're serving burgers to the three customers who've noticed the restaurant has just opened. Oh, and potato wedges are back - in which case they may have a fourth customer very soon.

 Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Night Boat To Woolwich

I can't believe it's taken this long, but tonight I attended my first ever office Christmas party. Just to be a bit different we hired a big boat from Westminster Pier, and 100 of us headed off down the Thames at dusk downriver past Greenwich. We were all trapped on board for a full four hours so that nobody could even consider sneaking off home early, and the view of London would have been absolutely spectacular had the windows not steamed up the minute we all got on board.

All the traditional features of the office Christmas party were present, except for the photocopier and the stationery cupboard. Copious drinks were ordered from the bar, everyone attempted to sing along to Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody, and someone grabbed the ship's mop and pretended to use it as a guitar. There was something especially surreal about sailing round the Thames Flood Barrier with the Ketchup Song blaring out. However, it was on the dance floor that work colleagues suddenly started to demonstrate uncharacteristic characteristics. Supposedly straight-laced revellers suddenly proved they had rhythm, one quiet bloke was transformed by a couple of bottles of Smirnoff Ice into a jiving disco queen, and there were just a few physical hints that certain people might just fancy you rather more than you could ever fancy them. I'm sure there's also an unwritten rule that says that bosses can't dance. Instead they move around between the various groups on the dance floor, sway vaguely from side to side, and smile broadly with a look that attempts to say 'See, I'm really just like you" but fails utterly.

It was a memorable first office Christmas party, and suprisingly enjoyable. But there were clearly some people who'd done Christmas parties before, because they took a camera with them. Sigh. I guess we should all await the blackmail photos in the office email system tomorrow...

 Thursday, December 05, 2002

Weather forecast

Killer smog, continuing over London for the next 4 days.

50 years ago today, London was beset by its worst ever atmospheric pollution. An anticyclone settled over London, the wind dropped, the air grew damp and a thick fog began to form. In many parts of the capital it became impossible for pedestrians to find their way at night, and in the Isle of Dogs the visibility was at times nil. High concentrations of smoke and sulphur dioxide in the air caused many Londoners to suffer respiratory or cardiac problems, and perhaps as many as 12000 deaths eventually followed. It was reported that a number of cattle at Smithfield Market died of asphyxiation, and a performance at the Sadler's Wells Theatre had to be suspended when fog in the auditorium made conditions intolerable. In response to the Great London Smog, the Government passed its first Clean Air Act in 1956 which regulated what could be burned in houses and created smoke-free zones.

50 years later, in spite of an unjustified international reputation, London is now only rarely beset by fog. There may still be pollution in the air, but it's of a very different kind. Modern pollutants from vehicle exhausts include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, benzines and aldehydes. They are less visible than the pollutants of yesteryear but are equally toxic, causing eye irritation, asthma and bronchial complaints. Perhaps we'd all do better to campaign against existing air pollution rather than worry about the vague threat of a terrorist gas attack on the tube.

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