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.

“Dylan & Sleater Kinney & the Beach Boys & Jimmy Cliff & Sam Cooke & Bobby Bland & Joe Strummer; pretty much the whole history of recorded music.”

Sunday 24 July 2005

Are you ready to have your world turned upside-down? Nick Hornby likes Bruce Springsteen. So does Tony Blair. In fact, so do a whole bunch of middle-aged white guys. Don’t say you never learn anything from this blog.

If this exposé isn’t mind-boggling enough, Springsteen has discovered Britpop, so in a few months don’t be surprised if your dad is suddenly only ten years behind the times. Thus spoiling your enjoyment of your favourite bands.

Also of note, Hornby’s taken to citing his own woozy opinions as an authoritative source in footnotes to back up his arguments, such as they are.

>I can’t wait until David Bowie releases another album so Hornby can write a column trying to convince himself it doesn’t suck. Then start arguing over it with his reflection in a bathroom mirror.

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.

Russell Crowe, please get your band back together

Friday 22 July 2005

The Apocalypse approaches. Steven Seagal, renaissance man, has released his first CD, titled (I am not making this up) “Songs From The Crystal Cave”.
The set, which features guest appearances by Stevie Wonder, Lt. Stitchie*, and Lady Saw*, is already available in France and will be sold in Asia come September. The martial-arts master culls from a wide swath of musical influences on “Cave,” including blues, rock, pop, Jamaican dancehall and traditional Indian music.

All you music-lovers out there can curb your cravings until your very expensive imported disc arrives in the post by downloading MP3s from his website. You can also enjoy more photos of him playing a guitar than you can shake your dharma beads at.

You can buy the CD online though his website, along with his “Essential oils and his very own Energy Bar !” What, no pudding?

If you want an unbiased analysis of the Stevemeister’s warblings, head on over to his unofficial fansite, where you can also enjoy debates on “What Do You Think Is Seagal’s Best Direct-to-Video So Far?” and “YOUR selection for Steven Seagal’s best acting performance ( not fighting!)” with nominations such as this:

Seagal displayed pretty decent acting talents, particularly in the scene where he smashed things up in the science lab.

According to the Billboard article, a propos of apparently nothing:
Seagal has pledged $100,000 in order to diffuse a “high risk” Russian nuclear weapon.
I think he means ‘defuse’. Presumably by high risk it means that he has to cut the red wire with a pen knife seconds before it goes off, but not before having to punch out Morris Chestnut.
* No, me neither.

Yes, my parents are very disappointed in me. Thanks for asking.

Thursday 21 July 2005

This is what happens when you’re stuck on a tube train with a discarded copy of the freebie morning newspaper. You end up reading articles like “No one has emptied our bins for 15 years”, with quotes such as:
A couple have created a towering heap of 15 years’ rubbish next to their picturesque cottage – because the dustman will not come to collect it.
Council bosses refused to send lorries up the rough track to the Cale’s [sic] moorland home in the Yorkshire dales.
Mrs Cale, 65, who lives with her husband John [said]… “I am entitled to a back door service.”
“I’ve been complaining to the council that I haven’t had a man up my back passage for years. They keep telling me it’s a tight squeeze down there but with a bit of care and patience they’d be amazed what will fit in. When I was younger it was very different – I’d just stick out my can when the night man came around and he’d give it a proper seeing to. I would be a happy woman if I were getting it once a week, or even once a fortnight. But after 15 years without any action from the council I’m worried that if they do find someone who can get it up, he’ll be turned off by the smell.”

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.

Filler by Proxy XXI: Utilitarians in the News

Tuesday 19 July 2005

A legitimate news source speculates on the burgeoning corrections industry, takes time out to bait Jeremy Bentham.

“Death we expect, but all we get is life.”

Monday 18 July 2005

Perhaps finally, after 15 years of bitter argument, Pixies fans around the world can unite in agreement about which album they hate the most.

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.

Meanwhile, back in the Ukraine

Wednesday 13 July 2005

Some associates of mine recently returned from a business trip to Moscow and brought back a box of what were allegedly, and thankfully turned out to be, chocolates. OK, so it’s not actually from the Ukraine; but it’s Russian, so it’s close – unless it was made in Vladivostok or one of the other ten time zones not next door to the Ukraine.
On the other hand, the writing on the wrapper may in fact say “Made in the Ukraine”. Attempting foods with labels and ingredients written in a foreign language is bad enough, but when you can’t even recognise the alphabet it gets particularly dodgy: there are no potential warning signs to deduce (TESTICALES CON LARDO!) and you start to worry that it comes from a culture sufficiently different from your own to consider tamarind pits coated in Vegemite a delicious treat.
Nor did the picture on the wrappers inspire confidence. Here is a typical picture of a child on a sweet wrapper from the rest of the world:

Note the smiles and general impression that the contents are good to eat. Now here is the picture of the child on the Russian Mystery Chocolate wrapper:

Three thoughts spring to mind:
1. The poor kid just ate one of the chocolates.
2. This is as happy as a Russian child can get.
3. ALLERGY ALERT: This product contains Slavic orphan parts.
In fact, the chocolates were rather nice, so if you can read Cyrillic, please don’t tell me what was in them.

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?

Filler by Proxy XX: я не знаю как баша сомрютер роботает

Wednesday 6 July 2005

I don’t know what that means, but I’m easily pleased and didn’t know I could type in Cyrillic. Maybe all you can see in the title is ccccccccccccccccc. Things could be worse than the bunker: I could live in the Ukraine. Worse still, I could not live in the Ukraine yet want to move there. First, there is the Ukrainian Embassy to deal with:

there was about twenty uki’s hugging the damn gates… so i asked someone what was happening. “nothing,” she said, “this is the embassy, nothing happens here.”

Luckily, crying works on Ukrainian customs officials. In a mere eight hours, you can scam a visa into… well, somewhere.

the train to nikolayevka is a twelve hour trip and costs 37 hryvna, roughly equivalent to 10 australian dollars or 6.20 euro. BUT a ticket to budapest, which takes twice as long, costs 550 hryvna, or 147 aussie dollars slash 91 euros…fark!

My knowledge of Eastern Europe is a bit sketchy, but perhaps Budapest is a slightly more desirable destination than somewhere in Belarus.

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.

Lying on the floor taking photos of the ceiling, with the flash on and off

Monday 4 July 2005