Friday, February 28, 2003

Satellite image of the month: Ever wondered what London looks like from space? The international space station flew over earlier in the month and took this rather fantastic snap of the South East at night. It turns out that London looks like a huge glowing amoeba with tentacles. If you look at the image carefully you can see the cell nucleus that is central London, a surprisingly large ribosome at Hyde Park, plus the vacuole called Essex. And much respect to Steve who's taken the NASA photo and done something really Flash with it. Awesome.

 Sunday, February 23, 2003

that'll be a fiver pleaseLondon's Congestion Charge (one week in)
The official information here.
The biased Evening Standard anti-viewpoint here.
One of the best ways to ride into the charging zone here.
Total disregard for the charging zone here.
Or just stay at home and play this instead. (Thanks Jon)

 Monday, February 17, 2003

that'll be a fiver pleaseCongestion Charging

Blogging is a rapidly increasing global activity, but huge increases in online traffic are in danger of bringing the information superhighway to a halt. Every day large numbers of bored office workers attempt to log onto their favourite blog websites, creating lengthy queues and gridlock across the internet. Average download speeds on many websites are now under 10kb per second throughout the working day.

To tackle this problem, diamond geezer has decided to introduce congestion charging on this website. It is hoped that by discouraging people from entering Central Blogland, traffic will be increased on other periforal webpages, to the benefit of all. As of today, a £5 daily congestion charge will help to get diamond geezer moving. It will reduce traffic, making downloads more reliable, and save hundreds of wasted working hours each week.

The diamond geezer congestion charge applies from 10am to 12 midnight, Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays. The charge does not apply at weekends. Evidence from statistics suggests that these are the times during which page access overload is at its peak. By redistributing blog visits to quieter times such as 4am GMT, the congestion charge will ease traffic conditions for insomniacs and Americans, if for nobody else.

You can pay the congestion charge either in advance or on the day of your visit. The charge is £5 if you pay by midnight on the day of your visit. Payment of the congestion charge allows you to enter, click around, and leave the charging blog as many times as you wish that day. There are some exemptions and discounts, for which regular readers should apply by email.

If you are due to pay and don't, a Penalty Charge Notice will be issued. Tracking software will be used to read your IP address as you enter the congestion charging zone and check it against our database. Following a final check at midnight, the computer will track the IP addresses of readers that should have paid but have not done so. We will then issue a Penalty Charge Notice of £80 to the unregistered viewer. Failure to pay the penalty charge within 28 days will result in the penalty being increased to £120.

You should pay the diamond geezer congestion charge right here on this site.
Please enter your full bank account details below.
Congestion charging - you know it makes money chaos sense.

 Sunday, February 16, 2003

The Unknown East End

I spent this afternoon walking the streets of the East End. I wrapped up warm and joined the London Walks guided tour of the Unknown East End. Fascinating stuff. A rabble gathers outside Whitechapel tube station at 2pm every Sunday afternoon, waits for the guide to make him/herself known, pays a fiver, then sets off to hear about the real history of the area. It's one of many tours this company does and, after today, I'm tempted to go on a few more (but maybe only when it's a bit warmer).

Some things I learnt about the East End this afternoon:
Jack the Ripper's first victim, Polly Nicholls, was taken to a police mortuary that's now a McDonalds.
• Mile End is so called because London's Jews were once forbidden to live within one mile of the City of London.
• When Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell in the eye in the Blind Beggar pub, the record 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More' was stuck on the jukebox.
• John Merrick, the 'Elephant Man', was exhibited as a freak on the Whitechapel Road until he was rescued by a compassionate local surgeon.
• Winston Churchill attended the Siege of Sidney Street, a famous shootout ending in the jewellery robbers' hideout burning to the ground.
• Joseph Stalin lived for three months at the gothic Tower House in Fieldgate Street, now boarded up and ripe for redevelopment.
• William Booth founded the Salvation Army in Whitechapel to fight the social injustice of Victorian times.
• The Liberty Bell was cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, so I guess it's also their fault that it cracked.

 Saturday, February 15, 2003

The Stop The War demo - your handy cut-out-and-march guide to the route

March A starts on the Embankment, not that far from:
Bank station, where 117 civilians lost their lives in a direct hit from a German bomb in 1941.
Monument, built to remember the firestorm that destroyed the capital in 1666.
Cleopatra's Needle, a Middle-Eastern artefact deported miles from its cultural home.
The Crimea Memorial, cast from Russian cannons captured at the Battle of Sebastopol.

The march passes through Parliament Square and up Whitehall, past statues to:
Oliver Cromwell, instigator of a bloody civil war in Stuart times.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, the celebrated desert fighter of World War Two.
The Cenotaph, national memorial to the millions killed in World War One.

On through Trafalgar Square, home to:
Nelson's Column, erected in honour of the admiral killed in battle while defeating the Spanish.
Sir Henry Havelock, veteran of the first Indian mutiny and served in wars against Burma and Afghanistan.
Sir Charles Napier, leader of the conquest of the hill tribes of Sindh, now part of Pakistan.
Admiralty Arch, once home to the offices of the British Empire's all-conquering naval forces.

Meanwhile March B has passed by:
Tottenham Court Road station, where a huge underground shelter was built in 1942 to protect Londoners during air raids.
Eros, the famous statue of the Greek god of love, and therefore a bit out of place in this list.

The two marches join at Piccadilly Circus and proceed to Hyde Park, passing close to:
The Wellington Arch, built to celebrate the Duke's defeat of the French at the battle of Waterloo.
Marble Arch station, hit by a German bomb during the Blitz in 1940, killing 17 Londoners sheltering there.
Tyburn, site of public executions for petty criminals and dissenters for over 600 years.

 Friday, February 14, 2003

The Big Count: The 2001 Census figures are just out, and even the non-Jedi parts are strangely fascinating. Of the 376 boroughs in England and Wales, I've discovered I live in the most un-Christian of the lot, the third fastest growing, and the fifth most crowded. We're bottom of the home ownership league, third lowest for owning a car but definitely in the Top 10 for single people. Nice to know that, for round here, I'm almost average.

 Friday, February 07, 2003

The Streets - Brixton Academy

   you're listening to the streets
   you will bear witness to some amazing feats
   bravery in the face of defeat
   all line up and grab your seat

Geezers need excitement, so it was off down to Brixton to see The Streets as part of the NME Awards tour. "The who?" they asked at work when I told them where I was going. Never mind, you'll all hear about fresh-faced Mikey Skinner when he sweeps the Brit Awards in a fortnight's time.

The Brixton Academy filled up with lads in hoodies, dwarf girls fresh from Claire's Accessories, hip twenty-something music-lovers and gangs of weedheads from Billericay sixth form colleges. The ethnic mix inside the venue was exactly the opposite of that on the streets outside, more Beastie Boys than Grandmaster Flash. We had to stand through Killa Kela, the human beatbox (very very impressive, but just the once thanks) and the woefully miscast More Fire Crew. And finally, about 11, on came the original pirate material.

Mike Skinner's not a big bloke, but he had geezerly stage presence by the barrowboy-load. Cheeky and sharp, he smiled out from under his baseball cap, mesmerising the crowd into action. We were treated to 80 minutes of lager-fuelled suburban rapping, showcasing the whole of the last album. Turn The Page was a rabble-rousing crowd-pleasing opener, the sharp wit of Too Much Brandy hit the target audience square on, and the encore of Let's Push Things Forward merged perfectly with The Specials' Ghost Town, A video screen provided visual accompaniment - a moped ride across London, Hampstead Heath benchlife, spliffed-out sofa junkies, and a bloke dressed only in red y-fronts smashing up his car with an iron bar. Not every track worked live, and there were so many lyrics it was tough to chant along, but the gig was a triumph nonetheless. Genius.

   blinded with the lights
   blinded with the lights
   dizzy new heights

 Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Minute distances

In every other part of the country distances are measured in miles. In London, however, distances are measured in minutes.*
* Visitors to London should note that distances on the Underground are measured in Tube minutes. These are approximately 40% longer than normal minutes so that, for example, when the train indicator board suggests that the next train is due in 3 minutes, it will more probably turn up in 5.

Five miles along a motorway in the Midlands may take less than two minutes, but five miles across London can take a lifetime of traffic jams, one-way systems, waiting on platforms and changing trains. In London no form of transport, be it train, bus or car, is permitted to travel for more than two minutes without stopping at a station, in a tunnel, at a bus stop or at traffic lights.

I've just taken thirty minutes to travel less than two miles across East London. It would have been good to be able to travel in a straight line, only this is nigh impossible with a river, industrial estate, rugby ground and cemetery blocking the way. As a result I've actually travelled at least 50% further than necessary in order to get home. What's more, this time-wasting seemed perfectly normal for London and I thought nothing of it. When I was living in East Anglia I could have spent those same thirty minutes driving as many as thirty miles from Ipswich to Bury St Edmunds, rather than the miserly distance I've just travelled. The biggest difference between London and Suffolk, however, is that there never was any point in travelling to Bury St Edmunds, whereas two miles across London can be worth every minute.

 Monday, February 03, 2003

in the middle of our street....Our House (Cambridge Theatre)

I'll confess that I don't usually enjoy musicals. Usually the composer has merely written one great song surrounded by twelve duffers, the location is somewhere impossibly exotic like the South Pacific, New York, Chicago, Saigon or Paris, and all the characters have an annoying and unnatural tendency to burst into song at any tenuous opportunity.
"Hey Curly, see that surrey over there? What Laurey, the one with the fringe? Yup, the surrey with the fringe on top..." (enter dancing cowgirls, all of whom are mysteriously able to perform a synchronised dance routine whilst waving pitchforks).

I get especially concerned at the thought of any musical based on a top music artist's back catalogue. It's far too easy merely to scrape together the vaguest of plots in order to link together all the best songs, and yes Ben Elton, I am thinking of you.
"Say Agnetha, does your mother know there's a queen over there, dancing?" "What, the killer queen in that bicycle race? Mamma Mia, let her go!"

So, it was with some trepidation that I ventured to watch 'Our House', a musical set in London NW1 based around the greatest hits of 80s super group Madness. Would the theatre be a House of Fun, or instead would the show go One Step Beyond and be an Embarrassment? I needn't have worried - the show is very enjoyable. I was put in mind of an extremely good school play delivered fantastically well, and the young cast put everything into their performance.

The story follows our hero Joe Casey into two potential futures following a break-in on a local housing estate. Bad Joe runs off and ends up rich and successful (in a black tracksuit), while Honest Joe turns himself in and ends up in prison (in a white tracksuit). Star Trek scriptwriters please note, this is the way to handle a temporal distortion parallel timeline story.

It appears that Suggs and Co were deliberately writing songs with great descriptive lyrics 20 years ago with the sole intention of making a musical out of them, so seamlessly do they fit into the narrative. Baggy Trousers was always meant to be a classroom riot, My Girl remains perfectly descriptive of every teetering relationship, and Night Boat To Cairo just had to be part of a Las Vegas wedding ceremony (OK, maybe not the last one). Even though the entire audience knew that It Must Be Love had to be coming up at some crucial turning point in the second half, it was delivered with such originality that its impact was enormous. Driving In My Car was another particular favourite, with its humorous nods at Hollywood blockbusters, and the Mary-Poppins-esque dance routine to The Sun and The Rain down at Camden Lock market had the crowd in stitches.

Verdict: House of Fun

 Saturday, February 01, 2003

01/02/03 @4:05 (and 6 seconds): Having been in America on 2nd January, I've already seen one 01/02/03 this year. However, today is the real one/two/three so I've celebrated with a slap-up pie and mash lunch in Greenwich, the home of time. I was delighted to discover that entrance to the Royal Observatory is now free, so it was possible to stand up there on the meridian line with one foot in the Western hemisphere and one foot in the Eastern hemisphere, surrounded by smiling foreigners. President Bush should consider doing a photoshoot up there.

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