Sunday, July 27, 2003

Cruel Summer

I went along to a fete in a local park yesterday. It rained, which was a shame. In fact to say that it rained would be an understatement because the organisers had clearly deliberately scheduled their event for the wettest Saturday afternoon of the entire summer. It started raining quite early in the proceedings, continued to chuck it down at various intensities as the afternoon wore on, and ended up with the sort of downpour that Noah must have faced on ark-launching night. The assembled public made the best of a bad lot, struggling to enjoy the festivities as if it were one of those fantastically sunny weekends that we enjoyed earlier in the year, but somehow the event wasn't quite the same standing under a tree in a plastic raincoat.

The fete had started off promisingly. A large crowd turned out, despite worries that nobody would come this year after they made a real mess of organising last year's event. A lot of people had turned up in fancy dress and there was also the chance to bump into a number of people from the local community that you hadn't met for ages. The police seemed to be in attendance not so much for reasons of crowd control but to hand out balloons and to encourage people to sign up to join the force. There was beer, there was music and there was undercooked greasy food at extortionate prices. The queues to buy beer were almost as long as the queues to get rid of it again (you know what I mean). When not drinking, people seemed to be spending most of their time taking photos of each other. Mobile phone companies need not worry that their investment in 3G networks has been in vain - it appeared yesterday that the British public are preparing to embrace picture messaging with a vengeance.

and the heavens openedAnd then it rained. Just one droplet to start with, but the sky was leaden grey and there was much more fallout in store. At the first sight of rain out came the umbrellas that the more pessimistic amongst the crowd had brought with them. And, alas, up went those umbrellas amongst the crowd watching the musical entertainment, completely obliterating any view of the stage for those of us standing behind. The appearance of heavy drizzle also encouraged many in the park to sport that fashion disaster, the rain poncho. It may be lightweight and foldaway but covering yourself in a sheet of plastic is not the way to sartorial elegance, especially for those wearing fancy dress. A large proportion of the crowd took shelter in the few tents provided on site, which then became impossible to use for their intended purpose due to the huge numbers packed inside. The small stalls run by community organisations suddenly became unexpectedly popular, even if it was now all too clear which of them had forgotten to print their information boards using water-resistant ink. A number of people made a beeline for the shelter of one of the few trees on site, hoping that the rain would go away. It didn't, and as the leaves dripped it soon became just as wet under the trees as around them. And the rest of us, brolly-less, poncho-less, tent-less and tree-less, we just carried on wandering around the park in the rain, because it's only water isn't it?

And so the afternoon carried on into the evening, and so did the rain. It was wet, we were wet, but we remained of good cheer right up to the close of proceedings. A local dignitary ushered off the last musical act and wished us a safe journey home. Then, as we turned to make our way to the exits, the heavens suddenly opened. It was as if Niagara Falls had relocated immediately above us. There was no escape, no shelter, and we were all drowned within a minute. The nearest tube station now seemed a very long way away, and so it proved. There were streams of rainwater flowing out of the park gates by the time we got there, and it looked at one point as if my waterlogged mobile phone would never work again. I headed home sitting on the underground train like a drowned rat. The rain had cleared by the time I got there, of course, but any thoughts of heading on elsewhere to continue the night out had evaporated. Don't you just love the British summer?

 Saturday, July 19, 2003

Giraffes: Coming home from town late yesterday evening on the bus, I was more than surprised to see six giant illuminated red giraffes standing on a bridge over the Mile End Road. I perhaps shouldn't have been quite so amazed. This was after all the legendary Green Bridge that carries Mile End Park over the busy A11, complete with grass and trees. And we are currently in the middle of the Greenwich and Docklands Festival, an annual outdoor performance-arts-fest with an international flavour.

So I got off my bus and followed the giant giraffes on their night-time puppet procession through the park, complete with music, pyrotechnics and a supporting ensemble of French redcoats. Huge crowds of gobsmacked locals followed the performers as they processed to the dramatic finale at the top the park near the Palm Tree pub. The fishnetted heroine reached an operatic climax while a mad red-wigged ringmaster climbed a lamppost and the redcoats fed the grazing giraffes from bowls of dry ice. It was surreal - half-inspired and half-insane. They frittered away my council tax on this international arty nonsense, you realise? And I'm delighted that they did.

 Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Light at the end of the tunnel

At long last, after years of stalled planning below the streets of London, things are on the move Underground. Two long-long-awaited new projects have finally been given the go-ahead in the last week, after many years of nobody quite deciding to do anything about either of them. Both Crossrail and the East London Line extension should make a real difference to transport in the capital, eventually at least. And, as of midnight this morning, the tube network is now under the control of Ken Livingstone and his new management team. There'll be no visible changes overnight, but there's now the real promise of changes to come. Transport for London have just issued a new 27-page document outlining their plans for all 12 Underground lines, and dates for the upgrade of all 275 Underground stations. I'm delighted to see that my local station is due to be one of the first to be improved, but even that's two years off and might turn out to be nothing more than a new coat of paint. Fingers crossed.

Crossrail: There have been plans for a fast East-West rail link across London since 1989, but prohibitive tunnelling costs have always kept those plans on the drawing board, until yesterday. A fast-track service between Paddington and Liverpool Street is promised, extending outwards to link suburban routes to the west and east of the capital. Canary Wharf to Heathrow on one train is a definite winner, even if Romford to Richmond or Dartford to Aylesbury are rather more unlikely journeys. You can see the proposed routes here, here or maybe here. There's a much more detailed map of the central section here, which suggests that Crossrail will go nearly past my house just before it enters its new tunnel under London. But it's not all good news. The nearest station to me will be at least a mile away for a start, plus Crossrail may not even be finished by 2012 in time for a potential East London Olympics. And the rebuilding of Tottenham Court Road station will mean the closure of London's Astoria nightclub, home to... OK, so it's not all bad either then.

East London Line Extension: The East London Line is the runt of the Underground system, a mere 5 miles, 9 stations and 7½ minutes long. It links Shoreditch to Southwark through the historic Thames Tunnel, completed in 1843 and the first tunnel ever to be built under a navigable river. This engineering miracle marked the the beginning of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's construction career and is now to be the centrepiece of London's first 21st century tube line. To the south the line will continue to Clapham and Croydon, down into a swathe of London previously untouched by the Underground. To the north the line crosses old disused viaducts through Hackney to Highbury, bringing trains to trendy Hoxton for the first time since Broad Street station closed back in 1986. Extension plans here have been delayed because of objections to bulldozing the new line through the Bishopsgate Goodsyard, another example of early Victorian railway history, objections overturned only last week. The extended line may just be in operation by 200678, but the two stations at Wapping and Rotherhithe could then be forced to close because they'd cost too much to upgrade ready for the proposed increase in traffic. London's first semi-orbital tube line should finally become a reality by the end of the decade but, if you live beside the river, don't hold your breath.

 Saturday, July 12, 2003

Something for the weekend?

It's a fantastic sunny summer weekend here in London, the sort of weekend that come November it'll be all too easy to forget could ever have existed. And there are so many things to do in London this weekend, as ever...

Musical things: The Human League were playing in Hackney last night. Missed them. Shania Twain is performing in Hyde Park today. Definitely missing her. (If there were any justice in the world surely those two artists would be the other way round?). Goldfrapp are playing in the courtyard of Somerset House tomorrow which sounds rather more appropriate, but they're sold out. (Shania sold out years ago, of course).
Theatrical things: Tonight's the last chance to see the revival of Abigail's Party at the Whitehall Theatre. Damn, too late. I'm still determined to see Jerry Springer the Opera at the National Theatre before it transfers to the West End, but not without someone to go with.
Arty things: There's the impressive Art Deco exhibition at the V&A, except that it'll be packed on a Saturday and everyone else seems to have gone already. Then there's the Bridget Riley retrospective at the Tate Britain, except that I'm waiting until I can take my Dad to that.
Big screen things: London has more cinemas than anywhere else in the country, except that all the new films out this week are worse than awful, so having a large number of cinemas doesn't actually help.
Event things: Canary Wharf is hosting an international programme of outdoor dance this afternoon, but that may be just a bit too arty for my tastes, even the choreographed skateboarders. BW really rated the Hampton Court Flower Show, but I only have two geraniums in need of inspiration at the moment.
Outdoor things: London has more than its fair share of open spaces, all no doubt filled this weekend by lazing tanning bodies, which really isn't me. All the tables outside pubs will already have been hijacked by extended familes nibbling and picknicking, which is just unpleasant. The river looks always fantastic in this weather, even the really ugly bits, but I've walked most of that before. London's just dripping with fascinating places to walk, to visit and to be, but they're all dripping hot at the moment.

So, what have I actually planned to do this weekend? Well, none of the above, alas. And no alternatives yet either. Any other suggestions?

 Thursday, July 10, 2003

Tubeway Army (no 1 - May 1979)

Thanks for all your help with yesterday's challenge. I'm therefore pleased to present our list of the top ten UK hit single artists to contain the name of a London Underground station. Only one entry per station, and the highest-charting song gets the place (which may be why your suggestion isn't here, sorry).

1) John Leyton - Johnny Remember Me (no 1 - Aug 1961)
2) All Saints - Never Ever (no 1 - Nov 1997)
3) Detroit Spinners - Working My Way Back To You (no 1 - Apr 1980)
4) True Steppers & Dane Bowers featuring Victoria Beckham - Out Of Your Mind (no 2 - Aug 2000)
5) Grange Hill Cast - Just Say No (no 5 - Apr 1986)
6) Hi-Gate - Pitchin' (In Every Direction) (no 6 - Jan 2000)
7) Jon & Vangelis - I Hear You Now (no 8 - Jan 1980)
8) Arsenal FC - Hot Stuff (no 9 - May 1998)
9) Radha Krishna Temple - Hare Krishna Mantra (no 12 - Sep 1969)
10) West Ham United Cup Squad - I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles (no 31 - May 1975)

Honorary mentions:
Northern Line - Love On The Northern Line (no 15 - Mar 2000)
Central Line - Nature Boy (no 21 - Jan 1983)

Meanwhile, here's our updated version of the top ten tube single titles. Much happier with this:

1) There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart) - Eurythmics (no 1 - July 1985)
2) Waterloo - Abba (no 1 - April 1974)
3) Baker Street - Undercover (no 2 - August 1992)

4) Temple of Love - Sisters of Mercy (no 3 - May 1992)
5) The Only Living Boy In New Cross - Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine (no 7 - April 1992)
6) Finchley Central - New Vaudeville Band (no 11 - May 1967)

7) Bankrobber - The Clash (number 12 - August 1980)
8) Camden Town - Suggs (no 15 - October 1995)
9) Good Old Arsenal - Arsenal FC First Team Squad (no 16 - May 1971)
10) White Man (In Hammersmith Palais) - The Clash (no 32 - June 1978)

Unless of course you know better...

 Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Sound of the Underground (no 1 - December 2002)

London's Metro newspaper (if you don't live here, this tells you all you need to know) has published a list of the top ten UK hit singles to contain the name of a London Underground station. Only one entry per station, song titles only, and the highest-charting song gets the place. Here's their list.

1) Angel - Shaggy (no 1 - June 2001)
2) Waterloo - Abba (no 1 - April 1974)
3) Baker Street - Undercover (no 2 - August 1992)
4) The Only Living Boy In New Cross - Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine (no 7 - April 1992)
5) Finchley Central - New Vaudeville Band (no 11 - May 1967)
6) Camden Town - Suggs (no 15 - October 1995)
7) Good Old Arsenal - Arsenal FC First Team Squad (no 16 - May 1971)
8) Piccadilly Palare - Morrissey (no 18 - October 1990)
9) White Man (In Hammersmith Palais) - The Clash (no 32 - June 1978)
10) Victoria - The Kinks (no 33 - January 1970)

Now, I'm not 100% happy with this list. Not just because the number 1 is rubbish, but because I think the list is incorrect. Number 8 has got to go because the real station is called Piccadilly Circus, not just Piccadilly, and I'm sure they've missed a number of other stations out. With your help I'd like to try to update the list and publish a correct one. If you have any suggestions, please stick them in the comments box and I'll make the appropriate changes later. You might find this website invaluable.

Plus it would be good to try to compile another top 10 where the tube station is in the name of the artist, not the song. Any ideas? I'll kick that list off with Just Say No by the Grange Hill Cast (no 5 - April 1986). Over to you...

 Sunday, July 06, 2003

Know your neighbours

It's been two years since the last national census, but they've only just got round to releasing detailed statistics for all the electoral wards in England and Wales. It's fascinating to be able to compare the area where you live with the rest of your local authority and with the rest of the country. As a resident of a Suffolk village at the time the census was carried out, it's also illuminating to be able to compare rural life up there to my new urban life down here in Bow.

• Where I live now, the average flat costs just over £200,000. Where I used to live in Suffolk, the average flat costs just under £50,000. That explains where all my money's going then.
• In three months time I shall be older than the average age for people in England and Wales. Bugger. Here in Tower Hamlets I'm older than the average by 7 years already, but if I'd stayed where I was in Suffolk I'd still have 6 years to go.
• In the ward where I used to live, which covered 12 square miles, there were only 50 non-white people. Now, in an area of 1 square mile, there are fifty times as many.
• 58% of us Bow residents survive with no car, whereas nationally it's only 27%, and in the public transport black hole where I used to live it's only 11%.
• Nationally 72% of people identify themselves as Christian (it's less than 40% in Tower Hamlets), while 15% of the population of England and Wales have no religion, not even Jedi.
• The most atypical ward in England and Wales is Holywell in central Oxford, which has the lowest average age (23), the fewest under 5s (½%), the fewest retired people (½%), the fewest home owners (8%), the highest qualified residents (98½%) and, aha, the most economically inactive students (86%). Yup, I remember it being like that when I lived there.

Of course, you don't care about where I live, because you don't live here. You'll want to type in your own postcode instead. Go on then.

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