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


The London Review of Books personal ad of the month

Sunday 3 July 2005

is now over, thanks to last week’s Time Out magazine.

Stick a fork in ‘er, she’s done.

“I never made the first team, I just made the first team laugh”

Thursday 30 June 2005

I’ve been enjoying an extended bank holiday this week – one of the advantages of starting up your own bank – but I have to break my silence to cover two important events:
I’m getting enough (think “more than one”) comments to start losing track of which item they were posted in response to. So I now have a standing invitation to bite someone, but I can’t for the life of me remember why.
The Spin Starts Here is taken over by guest writers while the Queen of Everything Snarky drops a sprog. Delta Goodrem takes advantage of the disruption by blaming the poor ticket sales for her concert tour on her having had cancer:
“I haven’t got to connect with everyone because I was behind four walls in a hospital for a while,” Goodrem said of her successful treatment for lymphatic cancer…

… and expediently disregarding that her career was at its most successful precisely at the time she was undergoing treatment, while simultaneously appearing in every sad supermarket mag demanding that people “respect her privacy” during this difficult time blah blah blah. I don’t know why I’m going to the trouble of spelling it out for you; you’ve already connected the dots on this one. Expect me back in a few days with my holiday snaps, once I’ve figured out Flickr.
If you’re thinking of banking with me, I’m following the British method and will need all your other bank account details.
UPDATE: The Spin comes through!

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.

Pelion on Ossa

Monday 20 June 2005

Just so everyone’s clear where we stand on Nick Hornby. In case you were wondering.

Present, but Not Voting

Monday 20 June 2005

Jeremy Bentham may have intended his Auto-Icon to work as a sort of object for contemplation on weighty matters of life and death. If so, it’s sort of worked because I’ve been thinking about it some more, but the absurdity of the contraption is too distratcing to produce any thoughts deserving of treatment better than posting them on a blog:
  • He’s been dead for 150 years and looks better than Sylvester Stallone does now.
  • When I considered asking the guard about bulletproof glass I was looking at the casters and was wondering if he had wanted to be taken out for a stroll every now and then, and that the Auto-Icon was a 19th-century ancestor of the Popemobile.
  • A wax head does not mitigate against my favourable comparison of Bentham to Stallone.
  • Pranks played on his real, disembodied head are alleged to have included being used as a football in a game on the college green, and being sent as a parcel on a train to Aberdeen.*
  • Why he would need bulletproof glass for protection when taken for a constitutional remains lost on me, given that he’s already dead, but I guess the last pope established a precedent.**
  • There are certain types on campus who get way too wrapped up in college life and perpetuate rumors that the Auto-Icon is wheeled in to attend council meetings, and is granted a casting vote in favour.
  • It’s way too late to make jokes about the last pope, even though they’re still selling that old “I like the Pope the Pope smokes dope” t-shirt at street markets.
  • If someone had taken a pot-shot at him and later asked for forgiveness, unlike the Pope, Bentham would probably have told the gunman he was using the wrong type of gun and recommended a form of assassination that was much more efficient but logistically impractical.
  • The Auto-Icon probably would have done his reputation for posterity more harm than good, had it not been ruined anyway by that whole panopticon thing.***
  • You can mispronounce his name as “bent ham”.*
* Bentham, not Stallone.
** Bentham, not Benedict XVI. Nor Stallone.
*** Bentham, not Stallone. Unless you count Lock Up.

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!

Coming Soon to a Weekly Video Rental Shelf Near You

Sunday 12 June 2005

I knew I shouldn’t have mentioned The Specialist. It is a cursed abomination of a fillum, and just mentioning its name is enough to have appalling repercussions. I didn’t have a camera on me at the time, so you’ll have to take my word for it: a small convoy of film crew vans idling in Brewer Street, Soho. On the dashboard visible through the windscreen, along with the usual permits and empty Mars wrappers, was the large identifying sign “BASIC INSTINCT 2“.
And yes, Sharon Stone is in it; although she turned it down at first. However, as the production has stumbled on from one director to another, year after year, without anything getting done, she has had time to star in Catwoman, Beautiful Joe, Gloria, and The Muse, and subsequently reconsider her dwindling options.
No-one else from the original appears to be in the sequel, not even Jeanne Tripplehorn. It’s supposed to be set in London, in case you were wondering: everyone works cheaper here and they won’t have to spend money disguising the locations.