Thursday, January 30, 2003

The 7pm puzzle: What comes next? 55, 19, 38, 1, 1, 242, 38, 19, 55, 1, 55, 38, 242, 1, ...

Answer: I don't know. After standing around at a bus stop in New Oxford Street freezing to death for twenty minutes waiting for a 25, I couldn't be bothered to wait any longer... so I wandered off in the direction of the nearest eastbound tube station, which was a mile away due to the general travel chaos and the Central Line still being shut down, so I got even colder, so I guess what comes next is pneumonia.

 Wednesday, January 29, 2003

What happened next?

16/12/02 McBurgers: "Three weeks ago a drive-in McDonalds suddenly sprang up at the bottom of my road. Today they're serving burgers to the three customers who've noticed the restaurant has just opened."
I have the misfortune to live exactly one burger's distance away from our new McDonalds. The pavement outside my house is therefore now littered with Big Mac wrappers, squashed french fries and discarded brown paper bags. McDonalds have been community-minded and put litter bins right outside their restaurant, except that nobody walking home has finished their burger by that point in their journey. The council have woken up and installed another new litter bin further up the road, but that's permanently full and most people walking home don't get that far while they're still eating. So, please, could someone stick a litter bin somewhere inbetween, like outside my house, just so that I don't have to walk round a spreading pool of strawberry milk shake every morning?

10/01/03 Going Underground: "My local station was 100 years old last year, and is rather less glamorous. It would be good to think that one day the politicians will stop arguing about how the tube is funded and just get on with improving the whole system so it actually works."
They've finally decided to spend some money on improving conditions at my local station. They could have added another four seats on the platform, doubling the number available. They could have updated the 'next train' indicator so it tells us how many fictional minutes we have to wait for the next train. They could have staffed the ticket office so it's actually open occasionally. But no. Instead they've spent our money making room for 54 posters to be put up on the stairs, and they've filled every single one of these 54 spaces with the same advert advising us to stand on the right on escalators. Which would be great except that there are no escalators at my local station, nor are there any for at least two miles in either direction. In my humble opinion it would have been rather more useful to put up a poster saying 'If you can read this you're walking down the stairs too slowly - please get out of my way, I have a train to catch'.

 Sunday, January 26, 2003

East London postcodes

In each London postcode area the postal district nearest the centre of London is given the number 1.
The remaining districts are numbered in alphabetical order of the main delivery office in each district.

E1    Whitechapel, Stepney, 1.6km End
E2    Hoxton, Shoreditch, arty trendy stuff
E3    Bow, Bromley-by-Bow, home
E4    unsafe ecstacy dosage
E5    Hackney, Ghetto, Gunbattle
E6    Beckton, World’s End
E7    Upton Park, relegation
E8    A hearty breakfast
K9    Barking, Isle of Dogs
E10   Posh school just north of Windsor
E11   Lleytonhewitt
E12   To The Manor Park
E13   Plaistow, pronounced Plarstow
E14   Docklands (Poplar), Millwall (unPoplar)
E15   Stratford, West Ham, Olympic Village
E16   Victoria Docks (no Beckham jokes please)
E17   Stay Another Day
E20   Walford, Angiesden
E25   the new name for the EU from 2004
E101  Riboflavin
E102  the chemical in Sunny Delight that sends kids hyper

 Saturday, January 25, 2003

derail News flash: 32 people have been injured and hundreds more evacuated from Chancery Lane station after a train derailed and hit a platform. London Underground said the last three carriages of the train appeared to have left the track. Eye-witnesses said "Something snapped underneath when we were at Liverpool Street. When we got into Chancery Lane the doors just ripped off." "The windows caved in and the doors opened in the tunnel and we were just bouncing up and down." "There was smoke and everything and the driver came on and said everyone to get to the front of the train and started shouting 'mayday'."

The accident happened on the Central Line just before 2pm this afternoon. Fifteen minutes earlier I was coming back from the V&A on a train going through the same station... but in the opposite direction. Ulp. My thoughts are with the injured, and how glad I am not be amongst them.


Where better to head on a Saturday morning than South Kensington - home to most of London's top museums. It's great to have our national treasures on view for free again, and I don't make the effort to go and look at them as often as I should. I battled through crowds of middle class parents (it's surely no coincidence that the Piccadilly line goes direct from Islington to South Kensington) and their disinterested offspring, and headed to the delightfully child-free Victoria & Albert Museum.

I went to the V&A to see Rewind, an exhibition charting 40 years of developments in British design and advertising. Rewind covers a range of creative disciplines from graphic design to poster advertising, and from packaging to radio ads. On view, amongst other things, were posters for the film Trainspotting, the British Rail logo, old Radio Times covers, record sleeves from the Pet Shop Boys, Blur and Spritualized, tins of pears from Harrods, some Airfix-type football hooligans, a great online Compaq bird hunts worm game, Silk Cut posters and a suspiciously high number of Apple products. An unitentional additional exhibition was also on view - the fashions being worn by the creative types attending the show. So that'd be baggy shorts, NHS specs and facial hair trimmed into unfeasibly-stripped goatees.

My favourite exhibit was a showreel of the very best adverts and onscreen design of the last 40 years. I wouldn't normally sit in a gallery and watch a video presentation for 55 minutes, but this was creative nostalgia of the highest order and exceptionally watchable. What a joy to sit and wallow in the original 1960s Dr Who opening titles, the legendary frothy Cresta bear, classic ads for Heineken, Stella Artois and Holsten Pils, the 1982 Channel 4 and 1991 BBC2 channel logos, J R Hartley's Yellow Pages ad, the orange Tango man's facial slap, the Guardian 'point of view' ad with the skinhead (alas, not the Persil one), Parklife with Nike on Hackney Marshes, that Levis launderette ad, and the stunning Dunlop tyre ad with the Velvet Underground backing track. It's amazing how much creativity and effort is poured into products like cars, lager and jeans which without a brand profile would be virtually indistinguishable.

The exhibition's only on until next weekend. Should you want to visit there's a special late viewing next Friday, complete with pub quiz, debate and table football. It's a reminder that British creativity is amongst the very best in the world. And I love it.

 Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Pressing problems

Dear DG
I have been standing at this pelican crossing for ages but the traffic hasn't stopped yet. Should I press the button?

There's nothing more annoying than arriving at a pelican crossing where somebody else is already waiting, standing around for what seems like an age, and then suddenly realising that the idiot has been standing there for ten minutes without pressing the button. The traffic doesn't stop all by itself you know. As the first person to arrive, it was your responsibility to press the button, to save you from the red-faced embarrassment of me having to walk over and press it for you.

Dear DG
There are lots of people standing at this pelican crossing but the traffic hasn't stopped yet. Should I press the button again?

The button at a pelican crossing only needs to be pressed once. Perhaps you are that special kind of person who believes the more often you press the button, the quicker the traffic will stop. Not so. Pressing the button more frequently and with increasing frustration merely goes to show that you are a stressed and impatient individual and are highly likely to die of a heart attack before the age of 45. Personally I'd like to wire up all pelican crossing buttons to the mains so that anyone pressing the button more than five times in three seconds receives a fatal electric shock.

Dear DG
I'm waiting to get onto an underground train but the doors haven't opened yet. Should I press the button?

It's a complete mystery why anyone ever decided to put 'Open' buttons on the outside of tube train doors. These are never used, not even at far flung suburban overground stations where all the doors still open automatically to let the cold wind whip through the carriage despite the fact that nobody wants to get on or off. Only tourists ever press the 'Open' button. They then stand their scratching their head wondering why the button doesn't work and end up getting their fingers smashed in the doors when they close too quickly afterwards.

Dear DG
I'm waiting to get onto a Docklands Light Railway train but the doors haven't opened yet. Should I press the button?

The doors on a DLR train only open if you press the button. This can be very confusing for those tourists who've finally managed to work out that you never press the button on tube train doors. These people tend to stand there like lemons waiting for the doors to open automatically, only for the train to glide off suddenly towards Canary Wharf. It can also be very difficult to reach the button on a very crowded DLR train, particularly if you've lost some of your fingers in an earlier door-closing accident elsewhere.

Dear DG
My name is George W Bush and I have a friend called Tony. Should I press the button?

Enough said.

 Sunday, January 19, 2003

An open letter to the patrons of the Picturehouse Cinema, Stratford

Dear Audience

I have just spent three hours watching the The Two Towers in your company, and I feel I need to write to you to explain the manner in which cinema audiences are supposed to behave.

Attending the cinema is
not the same as watching a film on DVD on your own sofa. At home you can talk as much as you like, sneak out to the kitchen for more popcorn, even nuzzle the ear of the person sitting next to you if you so desire. In front of the big screen this behaviour is generally considered taboo.

When the film starts and the opening titles are rolling, you should not let rip with a noise like a giant raspberry. This is a childish reaction, demonstrating your uncomfortableness at experiencing a protracted silence in a public place, and especially unpleasant if there are children in the audience who may think this to be funny and laugh out loud.

You should ensure that your mobile phone is turned off so that it does not distract other punters during the performance. Admittedly the film
was called 'Lord of the Rings', but a Cheeky Girls ringtone was not what the producer of the film had in mind as backing music.

Three hours is a long time to sit still in a cinema. If an airline were to try to force you to sit in similarly confined conditions for such a length of time they would undoubtedly leave themselves open to legal action. However, please exert a little bladder control and try not to file out to the toilet at regular intervals during the screening, particularly not passing in front of me.

It is certainly unusual to see a walking talking tree at the cinema, particularly one with that young detective out of
Hetty Wainthropp Investigates sat precariously in one of the upper branches. However, the appearance of this tree should not have been the cue each time for some insane woman in Row K to shout something indecipherable at the screen. Please check that you are taking the correct medication before leaving home.

The Two Towers is
not a comedy. Admittedly Gimli the dwarf did seem to be present in the film merely to deliver a number of supposedly-comic lines that certainly never appeared in the original book, but that is no excuse for two of you braying out loud every time he opened his mouth. Had I desired to hear an audience laughing hysterically at inopportune moments, I would have watched the film in America instead.

It is true that Mr Tolkien wrote very few parts for women in his book, and therefore there is little for female cinemagoers to relate to. In fact some reckon the relationship between Frodo and Sam to be particularly questionable, perhaps to fill that very gap. However, when the film's producer
does spend three minutes on some romantic mushy angle of the story, this should not be the cue for yawning, snoring or standing up and stretching one's legs.

The cinema is
never a substitute for a good baby-sitter. If you are a fat mother whose three obnoxious teenage daughters have no interest in the film whatsoever then you should leave them at home, not plonk them down in the seat in front of me. Should the middle daughter insist on leaving the auditorium on three separate occasions to brush her hair, you should give her a good slap and tell her to shut the hell up, not that you might possibly tell her off a bit once back at home. But what a good idea to have prepared a large collection of bags of sweets to pass to your daughters at regular intervals throughout the film. This will have kept them busy while they were not otherwise occupied texting their friends, and with further force-feeding they could potentially end up as obese as you.

To conclude, I attended today's screening with the intention of watching the film, which was clearly excellent. However, I spent too much of my time watching you, the audience, and your alternative epic performance. Next time that any of you decide to attend the cinema I would be most grateful if you could go on a Wednesday evening instead, so that I can go in peace on a Sunday afternoon and have the whole auditorium to myself. Many thanks.

Yours sincerely

 Monday, January 13, 2003

It got a lot milder in London overnight, so all that freezing weather is at last behind us. However some people clearly never heard the weather forecast this morning and so dressed for work as if it was still Siberia out there... and this of course meant the tube was full of woolly hats. Black hats, pointy hats, hats with dangly flaps, pink hats, hats like gnomes, furry hats, balaclavas that only your eyes can peer out of, sad hats, hats clearly knitted by grandmothers using all the scraps left in the wool basket, and so on. These limp fashion disasters are surely worn by the same people who in six months time will be strutting down the beaches of Ibiza parading the latest designer gear. I can see only two advantages of wearing a woolly hat. Firstly it keeps your ears warm, and secondly you can't see how ridiculous you look wearing it.

 Friday, January 10, 2003

mind the gapGoing Underground

The first underground railway in the world started 140 years ago today with the opening of London's Metropolitan Railway between Paddington and Farringdon on 10th January 1863.

This was the first railway line anywhere in the world built in tunnels under urban streets. The new railway was only three and a half miles in length but it was operated by smoky steam trains so the conditions in the confined tunnels weren't at all pleasant. No change there. The opening day also saw London’s first rush hour. So many people wanted to ride on the new railway that it was impossible to get on a train after it had left the Paddington terminus at Bishop’s Road. So, no change there either.

The underground map used to be very simple 140 years ago - see here. The tube map then evolved - seriously anorakky link here - until Harry Beck turned the map into a design masterpiece in 1931 - see that here. Today the map looks like this, and it's completely transformed the way Londoners and visitors view their city.

Back in 1863 there were only 7 stations and it took 33 minutes to chug from one end of the line to the other. Now there are 275 stations, and the record for visiting all of them in one day is 19 hours, 18 minutes and 45 seconds. ITV are screening a documentary about a recent attempt on this record next week (7.30pm on Thursday January 16th), which you can read all about here. The skills needed for this particular record are a mixture of detailed planning, athletic ability and sheer luck, plus of course an anorak with a fur-lined hood.

That very first underground line is now part of the Metropolitan, Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines, and the station at Baker Street has been magnificently restored to its former Victorian splendour. My local station was 100 years old this year, and is rather less glamorous. It would be good to think that one day the politicians will stop arguing about how the tube is funded and just get on with improving the whole system so it actually works. Having said that, there's nothing quite like the London Underground anywhere else in the world and I've always had a sneaking fascination for it. In fact, if any of you are ever planning another assault on that tube record, can I come too?

 Wednesday, January 08, 2003

The Yes/Snow Interlude: Central London looks beautiful in the snow. Imagine Big Ben topped with icing, the Houses of Parliament with white thatching, Green Park renamed White Park, and Buckingham Palace enveloped by thick cotton wool. Well, today it actually happened, for the first time in 9 years. The snowflakes started falling in central London just after 8am, not many to start with but gradually more and more until the capital was carpeted in white. OK, so two inches is nothing compared to the blizzards faced regularly by Muscovites and New Yorkers, but there's a certain magic to snowfall over London. My office has a 7th floor view over all four of those landmarks listed earlier, which made for a morning of childlike excitement in the workplace, particularly for the Australian who'd never seen snow before. Alas, at this rate it may be 2012 before this winter spectacle returns - no doubt that'll bugger up our Olympic bid.

 Tuesday, January 07, 2003


Central London looks beautiful in the snow. Imagine Big Ben topped with icing, the Houses of Parliament with white thatching, Green Park renamed White Park, and Buckingham Palace enveloped by thick cotton wool. Unfortunately all you can do is imagine, because it never snows in central London. There may have been snow in the south-east last night, and children in the suburbs may have gone back to school to make snowmen in the playground and throw snowballs at their teachers, but central London remained virtually untouched. Big Ben was still brown, Green Park was still green, and Whitehall wasn't white. There may have been a very light sprinkling of flakes on the ground but that had long gone by sunrise. Pity.

As a huge urban area covering over 600 square miles, London generates a lot of heat. This is the heat island effect, and it keeps the temperature in central London a couple of degrees above that of the surrounding suburbs. In a heatwave London often has the country's highest daily temperature. London can escape a frost even when the suburbs are frozen. And clouds that drop snow around the capital may still just be warm enough over central London for the flakes to melt and fall as rain. Last night London was indeed the warmest place in the country, even though temperatures only scraped freezing. Blame the microclimate.

So, we missed out on snow in London again. According to scientists, global warming means that snow is less and less likely round here in the future, so that future generations of locals may never see another snowflake except on their Christmas cards. Instead they can look forward to suntans, palm trees, olive groves, melanoma and malaria. Which is a pity, because I imagine central London looks beautiful in the snow.


One further feature of global warming is the increased risk of flooding in the future. More unpredictable and extreme weather systems, more frequent and violent storms, all will doubtless lead to more widespread flooding and drought. (That's unless you're President Bush, of course, in which case global warming is merely a fiction invented by anti-capitalists and we should just all get out there and buy more petrol). There's been an awful lot of flooding recently, all over, and insurance premiums are rising almost as fast as the floodwaters. Major floods that have only happened before say, every 100 years on average, may now start to happen every 10 or 20 years. And this is not good news for London.

50 years ago a huge storm surge swept down the East Coast of England towards London. East Anglia was badly hit, and 1307 people lost their lives. Expect to hear a lot more about this appalling disaster in the media as the anniversary approaches at the end of this month. Look East will no doubt devote a week to special reports from Kings Lynn to Felixstowe. However, the floods subsided just in time to saver the city of London, where only Docklands was submerged, and being well before the arrival of corporate bankers and Pret A Manger this didn't actually kill anyone. The Thames flood barrier has since provided Londoners with some much-needed protection, but with global warming even this may not be enough in the future.

Yesterday I bought a new paperback telling the fictional story of a future flood surge on London. Flood by Richard Doyle (Arrow, £6.99, but currently £3.99 at W H Smiths) is a book outlining what could happen if the worst possible tide came upriver towards an unprepared capital. I can usually devour a good book in less than 24 hours, although work's got in the way of that particular target today. As a result I'm only halfway through, although it's great to read about places you know suffering doom, death and disaster. I can say this because I live right on the edge of the flood zone, although the McDonalds just down the road is doomed, which is good news. So far it's been a pleasure to read about the destruction of Suffolk and Canvey Island, and not a moment too soon I reckon. The Dome looks like it'll go under next, a fire is about to sweep upstream from a blazing chemical terminal, and something terrible but as yet unspecified looks imminent on the Jubilee Line.

The author's come up with an excellent website, both to plug the book and to fill in lots of detailed background information about the threat of flooding in London. I would have to be a cynic to think that the book has been launched to ride the tidal wave of publicity due to mark the anniversary of the 1953 floods (OK, OK, I'm a cynic) but it's a good read and disturbingly plausible. Now, where did I get up to? Ah yes, Bluewater, your turn to go under next...

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