Thursday, March 27, 2003

Extra dry

It's been three weeks since it last rained in London. It might, just possibly, rain here on Saturday, but otherwise the drought is set to continue into next week as well. This is bad news to some but, given that I don't have a garden outside busily dying on me, I'm perfectly happy with the current lack of rainfall. No doubt we can all expect a hosepipe ban by the middle of next week, standpipes in the street by the middle of next month, water rationing by the middle of next year and the Sahara Desert encroaching across what used to be the English Channel by the middle of next century.

Britain's longest ever drought was recorded right here in London E3, exactly 110 years ago. 1893 brought an exceptional spring of heat, sunshine and lack of rain, with dry weather settling in during the first few days of March and lasting until early July. Mile End in the east end of London saw no measurable rainfall for more than two months, from 4th March to 15th May 1893. Those 73 consecutive dry days have never been equalled at any other time in any other place across the UK since weather records began. Meanwhile the ten driest towns in the country are also all to be found in south-east England (Thurrock, Sheerness and Felixstowe are the top three, followed by Dagenham, Tilbury, Southend, Colchester, Ipswich, Cambridge and Ely). This is because, as any geography student knows, by the time big grey rainclouds have blown eastwards all the way across the country from the Atlantic, they've normally dumped most of their load on south Wales instead. Perfect.

 Friday, March 21, 2003

Spring Equinox (00:59 GMT)

One complete wall of my office is covered by a breathtaking work of art. I can stare at this masterpiece for hours, seeing something new and awe-inspiring in the picture every day. It's a classic composition, built up with depth in layers over many years. Colours blend subtly as the eye wanders across the panorama, juxtaposing natural beauty with artificial sculpture. The artist has combined classical formations, gothic structures and contemporary influences in a fantastically complex gallery of contrasting styles. My daily work of art is a glass-framed landscape entitled "View over London from the 7th floor".

I never fail to be impressed by the view from my office window. In my last job I had the less-than-stunning view of the side of a Courts furniture warehouse. Today I can see Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Battersea Power Station, the London Eye (full on, so it looks like a perfect circle) and the brick minaret of Westminster Cathedral. Rather more impressive, I think you'll agree. Swivel a little further round and there's St Paul's, and the new Gherkin, with Canary Wharf beyond. In the far distance I can see the Crystal Palace TV mast and the rolling suburban foothills of south-east London. Aeroplanes fly over this patchwork of history, on some days huge jets lumbering into Heathrow, on other days tiny planes twisting towards City Airport. Tourists would pay a fortune for a room with this view, and I have the privilege of staring at it every day.

My desk is positioned just above treetop level, overlooking Green Park. In a few weeks time I shall be looking out over an ocean of green, with the flagpole of Buckingham Palace sticking up like a tiny periscope trying to peer above the new-born leaves. Until then, bare branches with budding blossoms allow me to see through right down to the Royal park below. Beds of bobbing yellow daffodils bring colour to the landscape, and smiles to the faces of passers-by. Office workers and tourists can now be seen across the park enjoying some long-forgotten sunshine and almost-warmth. Ball games, deckchairs and blokes-in-shorts are starting to make a reticent comeback. Spring is finally here, and the best six months of the year have finally begun.

When the next spring equinox comes round I expect I'll have been moved to a different office, on a different floor, with a different view of London, probably of a brick wall or a basement knowing my luck. Some might call it modern art, but I'll be pining for my classic landscape. In the meantime I'll continue to watch the seasons spread across the canvas of the capital with awe and wonder. And I promise to get some work done inbetween, honest.

 Friday, March 14, 2003

The 7am link (Friday): If you're not staying in to watch Comic Relief tonight, there's a fantastic-sounding party tonight here. Your party venue is round the circumference here or, if you prefer that map more geographically accurate, not-so-round here.

 Thursday, March 13, 2003

trigger = 150The Press

There are 68 seats in every District Line train carriage. When there are more than 68 people in the carriage, you have to stand, or maybe lean. There are 16 glass bits you can lean against next to the main doors and there are 2 more doors to lean against at the end of each carriage. When there are more than 86 people in the carriage, you have to stand and hang on. There are 16 metal poles to hang onto in every carriage, two for each door. When there are more than 102 people in the carriage, you have to grab one of the dangly strap things. There are 48 dangly straps in every carriage. When there are more than 150 people in the carriage, there's nothing left to hang onto. When there's nothing left to hang onto, I can't read my newspaper.

When I can't read my newspaper, I have to resort to 'not-looking' at people. This a special skill only found on public transport and in doctors' waiting rooms, involving staring at anything, everything, even the stain on the window, just to avoid looking directly at someone else. This isn't normally a problem, because all the other people are busy 'not-looking' too, or else they're amongst the 150 who don't need to 'not-look' because they can read their books and newspapers in relative comfort.

This morning, for the second day in a row, I bought my daily newspaper, boarded my District Line train and entered a jam-packed carriage containing more than 150 people. For the second day in a row I ended up travelling to work carrying a newspaper I couldn't possibly read. Yesterday I had to resort to spending the entire journey 'not-looking'. Today, however, I'd brought with me that special mini-booklet of 21st century classics off the front of my Word magazine. It was thankfully still possible to read a mini-booklet measuring 12½cm by 9½ cm in a tube carriage containing more than 150 people. This improved my journey no end. I spent my journey agreeing with their choices for the best recent film and trivia book, and now I'm going to hunt down their suggestion for the best theory book. I might even try reading that book on my way into work on Monday, just so long as 150 other people don't have the same idea.

 Friday, March 07, 2003

Isn't that? It is, isn't it?

According to the latest census there are 58,789,194 people in the UK. It never fails to amaze me when, out of the blue, I recognise one of them. The human brain has an uncanny ability to distinguish facial features and put a name to them, even when it's someone you've not seen for years or never seen in the flesh before.

I was getting off the tube the other evening when voices in my subconscious brain latched onto one of the men on the platform, waiting to board the carriage.
"Isn't that, you know, him, thingy, whatshisname?"
"Erm, he has a sort-of familiar look about him. I must try to put a name to the face."
"Could it be, hang on while I dredge his name out of my the dark recesses of my visual memory,
"No, it can't be, he looks too old, and he looked taller than that on the telly, and I'm sure he never used to be that full-faced."
is him though isn't it? Cos last time I remember seeing him in the news he was about five or ten years younger, and he does look exactly how he ought to look today doesn't he?"
"Hmmm, I guess what I'm seeing now is how he'd really look without the help of on-screen make-up, and with what's left of his hair uncombed and flapping lankly."
"He certainly looks like a man who's taken full advantage of all the high life, good-living and junket-attending you get when you're one of the UK's top European Commissioners."
"Well maybe he only
looks like a top politician. Maybe it isn't him at all, but merely a lookalike? Try to come up with some convincing evidence."
"The train's just pulling into
Westminster tube station."
"OK, so I
am convinced, it is him. Blimey, it's the Neil Kinnock."
All that happened inside my head in less than two seconds, synaptic recognition just in time for me to walk straight past the bloke as he boarded the train. Not the most exciting celebrity to spot, admittedly, but there's still a certain frisson in identifying a well-known face wandering through my everyday world.

I've spied quite a high number of famous people randomly walking the streets of London (rather more than Suffolk, obviously). Every time I notice a famous face in an everyday situation there's a sudden spark of inner recognition as I struggle to place them before they've passed me by, and I usually manage. I saw the legendary Una Stubbs crossing Piccadilly outside Fortnum and Mason once, smiling her way through life. I saw Peter Stringfellow striding round Covent Garden with an entourage, and he's even more orange in real life than I was expecting. I spotted Jeremy Bowen off Breakfast News walking past my restaurant once, though that was only mildly thrilling. I saw Philip Franks (Countdown favourite, and Catherine Zeta's Darling Buds of May love interest) sitting in a window of Starbucks in Oxford Street slurping latte. I saw film star Rupert Everett in LA3 last year looking very tall, very bored, very haggard and very alone (which cheered me up no end). Most excitingly, I spotted the goddess Judi Dench standing in the queue behind me buying Christmas cards last year, and somehow resisted the urge her to ask her to autograph all sixty cards I was buying at the time.

The distant recesses of my brain have also helped me to spot a few of my old school friends wandering around London, despite the fact they must be a good twenty years older than when I last remember sitting next to them in double geography. I seem to bump into my best mate from secondary school in the most unexpected places about once every seven years, recover from the shock of him being *there* and then say hello. He never recognises me though, which I take to be a good thing. Oddly, none of the celebrities I meet recognise me either. Maybe one day...

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