How Bad is British Coffee?

Thursday 4 August 2005

Going Through the Motions: London Bombing Update

Saturday 30 July 2005

Everyone is getting fed up. Yesterday we had to stay in the building because someone left a bag lying around the railway station. The day before we were evacuated from the building because someone left a bag lying around the railway station. A friend of mine asked a policeman what everyone was doing standing around outside and he all but yelled at her, “Because someone left a bloody bag lying around the railway station!”
The police are getting really good at getting lots of people in and out of buildings. The bomb squad’s methods are state-of-the-art too: they told me yesterday they suspected the discarded bag was a bomb because “it felt heavy when we picked it up.”
So they’ve taken away what few bins they’d put back (for “bins”, read “transparent plastic bags”) in around the station a few years ago, “for security reasons.” I thought we were dealing with suicide bombers so I’m guessing MI5 has information that Al’Qaida Al-Qaeda the terrorists have recruited Oscar the Grouch, or else that this move is for show.
Despite all this, everyone’s still happy to leave black bin liners full of crap lying around on the pavements for days on end.
Around Euston I spotted another gaggle of police armed with clipboards accosting pedestrians. My heart sank as I assumed things had gotten so desperate that the Metropolitan Police had resorted to the tactics of the Socialist Alliance and were asking concerned citizens to Stop The Bombs – Sign The Petition, but it turned out they were asking if we had been out on the street “about this time last week.” I hadn’t, but luckily I didn’t panic and sprint into a Tube station like some people are prone to do.
Spare a thought for the bombings’ silent victims: the terrorists’ landlords. How do you let the houses whose previous tenants blew themselves up on public transport? Once the police have finished with them, that is.

“For an organisations [sic] that struggles to get any local press coverage, we have suddenly been approached by just about every national newspaper,” he added.

One positive side effect: if it weren’t for the bombs I would never have known that the Australian prime minister was in town, dominating the world stage in his usual inimtable manner.
1413: Prime Minister Tony Blair postpones a vist to a school in east London and a photo call with visiting Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, a spokesman says.

Can anyone tell me if he pretended to have a real reason to be here this time around, other than watch cricket?

Finally, I was going to make fun of the failed bomber who was photographed making his getaway waiting for a train at a Tube station, a few minutes after he’s brought the entire transport system to a standstill. But then they arrested him in Rome, when his mates didn’t make it further than Notting Hill, so I guess some suicide bombers put more thought into their escape plans than I’d credited.

The Henry Moore/Jeffrey Smart Container

Wednesday 27 July 2005

The cool kids have been doing it, but since Laura’s found some real work to get on with I am stepping forward to partly fill the gap.
Sadly, I don’t have time to write it up just now, so in the meantime enjoy a few choice photos of Henry Moore’s bronze Locking Piece (1968), on Millbank, just outside what is now Tate Britain. Remember, this is the site where Jeremy Bentham’s Millbank Prison once stood. Somewhere behind that wall is where prisoners boarded ships for transportation to Australia.
Across the river is Vauxhall, with the MI6 Building and St George’s Wharf on the riverfront.
Thanks to Marwood Shipping Container Hire, the scene resembled a Jeffrey Smart painting.

Twenty Views of the Gherkin

Sunday 24 July 2005

At last, I’ve got the Flickr account happening. It’s a small start, but for your enjoyment here are twenty views of London’s Swiss Re Tower.

Never watched the show, but still…

Saturday 23 July 2005

I thought they just made this place up. Well, thought up an original name, anyway. Next thing someone’ll tell me St Trinian’s is real, too.
Great, now I’ve got that stupid bloody theme tune going through my head. The things I put myself through for this site.
UPDATE: The stupid bloody theme tune is actually titled “Chicken Man.” Which would explain why I always knew it as the “Birdwood Mill TV ad” music.

What’s with all this “we” stuff? (A poor excuse for a thinkpiece, but mercifully shorter.)

Thursday 21 July 2005

Two weeks ago we were getting bombed in London. One week ago we were asked for two minutes’ silence to remember, in case momentous events from the previous week had slipped our minds. Today someone did the reminding for us. I don’t know if we were lucky to have avoided death and destruction today, or unlucky to have copped it on the 7th.
I’ve been asked if the possibility of attacks like this happening had crossed my mind when I decided to move to London. In fact, I had considered the risk of coming to grief on London public transport, but my fears were based on self-inflicted mayhem rather than terrorists.
People keep talking about the meticulous planning that went into the bomb attacks earlier this month, but I’ve only heard one pundit on the radio so far asking what I’ve been wondering: just how organised do you have to be to turn up at a railway station with three of your mates at the same time? All travelling down together from Leeds in the same car doesn’t exactly sound like a logistical nightmare.
In other words, contrary to what we may sometimes think, these are not criminal masterminds directed by a nehru-jacketed evil genius listening to classical music in his well-appointed underground lair.
Apparently, American hacks with deadlines have been banging on about the “preternatural calm and a long-considered certainty” evinced by Londoners, in contrast to New Yorkers in the World Trade Centre attacks; although I don’t remember seeing any Manhattanites on TV running around in circles waving their hands in the air. On the other hand, no-one has seemed to notice that, unlike the Americans, British TV did not respond to tragedy by showing lots of waving flags and playing patriotic music.
There has also been a notable absence of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings accompanying TV news montages, which is refreshing.

Pausing for reflection… zzzz…

Friday 15 July 2005

Living conditions in the bunker have been spartan, but are slowly improving. I am not sure this is entirely a good thing. The monastic lifestyle has allowed me to focus my life on more spiritual matters, but moreover it helps to deter kibitzing houseguests. The instant you get digs in London, every unexpatriated Australian – and even some particularly shameless New Zealanders – will suddenly claim an eternal bond of Mateship. Before you know it, your peaceful sanctuary starts to resemble throwing out time at the Walkabout Pub.
The last visitors to the bunker were a couple of girls from Guernsey. I had entertained notions of showing them around the Tate Modern or the stuffed corpse of Jeremy Bentham, but it turned out that their idea of a hot time in London was going to Pizza Hut and then riding the escalators at the tube station – all the big city things they can’t get at home. Worse still, they’d look to me to bail them out when shopkeepers refused to accept their dinky little local £1 notes with cows and pictures of Bergerac on them.
On the up side, I have been able to take advantage of other people’s hospitality on weekend trips out of London. I’ve been meaning to share with you all some of the highlights, but my internet service has been spotty lately and won’t be sorted out until sometime next week. So you’ll have to wait until then, when I’m back from my jaunt to Bristol and I get my interminable series of holiday snaps uploaded onto Flickr.
This seems a good time to mention that this blog is one year old. Sure, the first post is dated sometime in August, but I actually set it up in July last year and then couldn’t be arsed posting anything to it for a few weeks; and so the tone was set for the twelve months’ since of haltingly updated posts about mundane trivialities.
Coming soon: I’ll finally get around to catching up on that played-out music meme. Maybe I’ll also update the links section so you’ll have something good to read.

Groundless Speculation

Monday 11 July 2005

Spotted this poster on the tube on Saturday but couldn’t photograph it: I thought “Damn, it’ll be taken down for certain by the time I have my camera with me. Sunday it was still up in a few stations, including a very prominent spot in the very busy Waterloo station. This image is lifted from the Going Underground blog, because it’s not as blurry as the photos I took.
The image on the newspaper, if you’re having trouble making it out, is of London getting blown up real good (that’s the London Eye on the left). By unfortunate coincidence, the novel came out last Thursday, and the whole advertising campaign got pulled at the last minute, but some posters made it onto the Tube.
I walked into work today. Not all the way, just some of it, thanks to some idiot leaving their bag on the platform. There’s a lot of this going on now. Ever since I got here there have been constant reminders to passengers telling them to report unattended luggage for just this reason, but now everyone feels obliged to take this seriously, and so there are a lot more delays than usual.*
So this morning on the Tube everything was back to normal. Several lines are still closed or partly closed down but given that, as someone on the web calculated a few weeks ago, the London Underground is only fully functional 22% of the time, this counts as normal. One thing the terrorists seem to have overlooked is that Londoners have made it a point of pride over the centuries that their city is so ramshackle and inefficiently run that by all rights it shouldn’t function at all.
The train was full, but the commuters were mostly silent and warily avoiding eye contact with each other. In other words, back to their old, carefree selves like nothing had happened.
A friend working for a railway company at Euston station has wondered if the terrorists got it wrong: three trains and one bus, all not quite at the busiest stations in the north of London (Kings Cross-St Pancras, Liverpool Street, Paddington, and Euston).
*Sweet sanity! A station supervisor kicks out a passenger who repeatedly wanders away from his luggage – even better, it’s an American tourist.

If only I’d packed my fridge magnet

Thursday 7 July 2005

It may surprise many readers to learn that I have a job. It certainly surprised my dad when he rang me today. He was worried that I had gotten myself blown up on the Underground this morning. I went a long way toward convincing him that I had not, although it wasn’t for lack of trying.
I struggled out of the bunker a little later than usual this morning and took a later tube into the city. At about ten to nine the train ground to a stop just outside Edgware Road station and we all sat motionless in the tunnel for a while. This is not an unusual phenomenon.
When we finally crawled into the station everyone had to get off the train because a “power surge” further down the line had disabled all the trains. Again, nothing unusual there. Nor was it entirely unexpected when the station staff started changing all the signs on the platforms showing that the entire system was crashing down.
No-one realised that bombs had gone off at Liverpool Street and Kings Cross at about this time. Anyone who suspected the disruption wasn’t because of a power surge didn’t suspect terrorism, but a train crash or a PUT (person under train). I was thinking only that I should be at work by now and would have to squeeze onto a bus.
By the time I finally arrived at work, up near Kings Cross, it was about quarter past nine. There was no easily visible sign of catastrophe up at the station. However, everyone at work was very suprised to see me there, because I’d forgotten I was supposed to be at a training session that day – back at Edgware Road, where unbeknownst to us another bomb had just blasted through a station.
At work I was told there had been “a bang” at Liverpool Street which had shut down all the Tube lines and may have hurt or killed a few people. Once again, most Londoners still didn’t think it was a terrorist attack, as London Transport has achieved this tragic situation without external assistance on previous occasions. I left work and grabbed another bus back towards Edgware Road. By this time all the Underground stations had been evacuated and were locked up, which I assumed was simply because no trains were running.
At quarter to ten I got off the bus back near Edgware Road and arrived very late for the training session, unaware that for the last hour or so I had been faffing back and forth between several bomb blasts. Around this time the bus bomb went off, but I was now indoors learning that the training session had been cancelled because the training staff were stranded at Euston. Also, I was not allowed to leave the building. In any case, even if I could leave there was no transport on the streets, and what’s more it had started to rain.
As the only person in the building who didn’t work there, I was stranded in the canteen for several hours, making full use of the lunch voucher I had been given and watching the TV in the corner to find out what was really happening. Except for at the explosion sites themselves, no-one knew what was really going on until everything had been shut down and everyone evacuated: up until then everyone was assuming a massive breakdown of the public transport system. We stood around watching the news until it was reduced to spouting random nonsense like “Buckingham Palace Sealed Off”. (Damn, and I’d been planning to wander through the joint this weekend.)
Finally, the sun came out and security gave me permission to walk out into the street. Lots of police blocking off Edgware Road. The streets were quiet, with stranded travellers dragging their luggage along the pavements and Londoners starting long walks home. It took me over two hours to walk the 8km back to the bunker. No buses, no taxis, very little traffic except for the occasional unmarked police car speeding past with lights and sirens – very disturbing, given this was hours after and miles away from the explosions.
By the end of my walk buses had reappeared on the streets. Buses, most trains and some Tube lines are supposed to be running tomorrow. I, however, have totally capitulated to the terrorists and will be staying home tomorrow. Presumably because my workplace is so close to Kings Cross they figure no-one will be able to get into the offices.
Others are made of sterner stuff, determined to soldier on as normal; like the woman who phoned up this evening asking if I was interested in having my kitchen refitted. I’m now off to bed, because my dodgy TV keeps phasing between BBC News 24 and Big Brother Up Late, and I’m starting to wonder if anyone’s told the hamsters what’s been going on today, as if I care what their reaction would be – dull surprise, maybe?

There goes the neighbourhood

Wednesday 6 July 2005

This is a distressing day. My newly-adopted home has unexpectedly become the centre of an impending orgy of ruinously expensive onanism, designed explicitly to price me out of my bunker.
All the usual cargo-cult arsegargling about urban renewal is being bandied about. They’re promising it’ll be like Barcelona, only with the lame walking and the blind playing I Spy, and without that greasy foreign food. It could happen, but experience has shown you can’t trust large-scale events and development to a nation of grocers.
Still, at least the deprived local kids will have that velodrome to enjoy for years to come.

Because sometimes a sheet of A4 and some Blu-tack just won’t do

Wednesday 22 June 2005

Meard Street, Soho. The blue plaque reflected in the transom window is for the watercolourist Thomas Hearne.

Exile in Neasden

Tuesday 21 June 2005

One thing I’m not enjoying in London is the indignity of suffering through two summers in one year. Even English summer is too much for a wimp like me to handle. You can’t dress up in your best suits so you end up looking like every other daggy bogan. Sex becomes ten times as hot, sticky and exhausting, but only one-tenth as much fun; and to add insult to injury has a greater chance of being conducted in harsh, unflattering lighting.
And you can’t enjoy eating – let alone cooking – rich, heavy, meat-based dishes that every sensible person of taste and culture devours on a daily basis. Some of you may ask, but what about the great outdoor backyard barbecue? And I’ll tell you.
Last Saturday night I was contentedly curled up in my bunker in the peaceful suburb of Robson Green, reacquainting myself with the literary oeuvre of George Moore, when the telephone rang and I was foolishly lured away to a nearby house shared by about a dozen Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans, where a barbecue was purportedly taking place on their spacious back lawn.
As soon as I arrived I could tell something was very wrong when it turned out that the only English native in the house was in charge of the barbie. He was from some remote place Up North, where people speak in short, guttural grunts, and fire has not yet been discovered. His exertions for the night amounted to endlessly futzing with the same piece of dry, raw meat over an inert pile of briquettes giving off about as much heat as Jeremy Bentham’s corpse. Offers to assist were met with a beady-eyed, gently swaying glare and a gesticulated threat to put out an eye with the serrated end of the tongs.
To pass the time the Kiwis amused hungry onlookers by saying “Pimm’s” a lot. Someone’s mum visiting from Raupo intervened and helpfully suggested microwaving the snags before giving them a bit of finishing off on the barbie. The World’s Greatest Chef managed to light his cigarette off a briquette, or perhaps vice versa. The hours flew by as I was privileged to eavesdrop on a Kiwi and a Queenslander matching wits:
“The days are long here, eh bro?”
“Yairs. They never get this long in the southern hemisphere, but.”
“That’d be because of the equanox.”
Thanks to heroic efforts of organisation, no-one was sent away complaining that there wasn’t enough salad or cutlery.

Who are the People in Your Neighbourhood?

Sunday 19 June 2005

I took a wrong turn trying to find a shortcut across the University College campus and bumped into this bloke:
As any teenager can tell you, it’s Jeremy Bentham, famed early 19th century utilitarian thinker and inventor of the panopticon – every cultural theorist’s favourite gratuitously overused buzzword (although this has recently been deposed by ‘subaltern’).
For reasons best know to himself, Bentham thought it would be practical, or instructive, or something, to have himself embalmed after his death and kept on display at the College. Perhaps he foresaw the need for cheap TV filler programs, which is where I first learned about his ‘Auto-Icon’ many years ago, but had no idea where he was kept until I (literally) stumbled across it at the dead end of a corridor with a security guard parked behind a desk nearby.
The ‘Auto-Icon’ consists of your preserved philosopher in his own nicely-polished wooden cabinet, doors left open for display, but protected by a pane of glass – either to keep the pong in or the students out. I was going to ask the guard if the glass was bulletproof but something about him suggested he’d had enough dumb questions about keeping watch over the dead guy all day. The whole thing is mounted on little brass casters so he can be easily wheeled around campus in his own personal rosewood privy.
To tell the truth, there’s not much corpse left to look at. That’s not his head but a wax replica: something went wrong with the embalming process that left his noggin looking like an orange you find at the bottom of your garden sometime in late autumn. The head was left on a plate on the floor of the cabinet for many years before finally being removed, not so much because it was gross as because it was a favourite target for student pranks during Rag Week. His skeleton is somewhere underneath those clothes, but I gather that’s about it for mortal remains.
The original panopticon was Millbank Penitentiary, which was torn down a little over a century ago and the Tate Gallery built in its place. So now you know.

Boss to Customers: You Stink

Tuesday 14 June 2005

If you think the British are a bunch of sissies for passing out from the purported heat of an English summer, you’re overlooking one deadly factor: the Tube. The Underground can easily be mistaken for hell, given that it’s (duh) underground, packed with lost and tormented souls, at many times offers no chance of escape, and in summer is as hot as (duh) hell.
However, the authorities who run the Underground are developing some innovative schemes to alleviate commuter stress:

London’s Tube boss today urged passengers to “take a shower” to help fellow passengers cope in sweltering carriages.

Well, that’s this year’s productivity bonus in the bag!
When it was suggested that perhaps the Underground could contribute something as well – such as not letting the trains break down all the time, or even installing some type of cooling system – the beautifully named Tim O’Toole took the it’s-not-a-bug-it’s-a-feature approach and replied:

I think it would be fair to say those who are given the greatest challenge by the asset failures pose the greatest challenge to considerate behaviour.

It’s not a poorly-maintained and inefficient service, it’s a personal challenge to better hygiene!

Librarian Logic*

Monday 6 June 2005

Why are there always these bags of rubbish lying around London?
Because we got rid of all of the rubbish bins.
Why did you get rid of all the rubbish bins?
Because the IRA used to hide bombs in them.
Why don’t they put the bins back now the IRA have stopped bombing things?
Because now the Arabs fundamentalist Islamic terrorists might hide bombs in the bins.
Why won’t the terrorists just hide bombs in the thousands of bags of rubbish lying around on the streets?
Thanks to Mademoiselle Fifi for this observation.
* cf. Law of the Playground