I was having a laugh at the Underground etiquette, which dissects the London commuter’s experience with forensic precision, when I remembered some unfunished business.
Some time ago, I posted enthusiastic notice of the London Underground blog. Unfortunately, I mixed in an observation about blogging, saying:
“Sometimes you see, with perfect clarity, what blogs are for. Shame it’s so banal.”
Now, that made perfect sense to me, even if it was compressed. I meant that blogs are perfect for recording the minutiae of everyday experience, even if everyday experience is essentially banal.
In the back of my mind was a semiotic position about the accretion of trivial detail building up to form a hi-fidelity recording of human experience. At this point I was probably thinking of Georges Perec’s famous (unfinished) project of sitting in a Parisian cafe for five days and writing down everything that happened.
Of course, it looked as though I was saying the blog itself was ‘banal’, which I only realised when the blog’s author predictably understood it that way. I don’t think that my explanatory email helped much, either, because it made it look as though I was upset at the misunderstanding. And there I was worrying that I’d needlessly insulted this blameless woman.
At this point I decided to leave things be for fear of putting foot in mouth yet again, but I did make a mental note to publish the story at some future date as a cautionary fable, if only to myself.
The moral I leave you to draw for yourselves, both because I don’t have the time and because if I knew what the moral was, I don’t think I’d have made the mistake in the first place.
And they all lived confusedly ever after, which is, let’s face it, a fairly typical state of affairs.
Andy’s flying return to Blighty over the weekend is still awaiting write-up. He’s probably still flying/ sleeping/ writing/ drunk in a gutter*. Give the man a chance, eh? In the meantime I have delicious chorizo straight from some Spanish charcuteria. Mm. Halfway through it already.
You could always keep a weather eye on geoblog to see when something turns up from northern Spain (via A Blog’s Life).
* delete as appropriate
Paul sends me this story about a process to convert any waste matter into oil, gas and water. If it works commercially, oil production could become liberated from fossil fuel reserves once and for all.
It would also irrevocably change the political situation of the Middle East.
Paul says it reminds him of the Nazi experiments in recycling everything, including people. It’s not helped by the fact that the story begins by specifying how much oil would be produced if a person fell into the machine.
That’ll get the investors rushing in, for sure.
I was born and brought up in Essex, which always gives people the wrong idea. My Essex is coastal, a mixture of marshland and arable on the gentlest of river valleys. The river itself is wide, muddy and powerfully tidal. On its far side, in the deep channel, timber ships come and go just as they did when I was a child. Over the rest of its breadth, up to seven rows of yachts are moored downriver for as far as the eye can see, swinging round with each change in the tide.
Childhood walks would invariably end up along the sea wall, with fields on one side and on the other the river. If the tide was low, great cracked slabs of seaweed-covered mud flat would be exposed. If the tide was up, the limpid water would wash up against the sea defences, and the smaller sailing boats that infest the river would tack right up to the sea wall.
The curses of a helmsmen berating the crew would sometimes erupt just below you as you walked the sea wall path, the boat having arrived through the slow swell almost without a whisper. Then the whipsnap and crash of the boat going about, the straining and singing of the ropes as the wind filled the sail again, and sometimes, with the wind up, the low hum of a fast dinghy just beginning to plane on a good reach.
There aren’t many loud sounds on the river. There is the occasional klaxon wail creeping up and down the river valley. It sounds like an air-raid siren but in fact it calls the timbermen back off shore leave. The only other noises are the explosions that periodically boom across the water.
On summer weekends or Wednesday nights it’s almost certainly the cannons that are used by the yacht clubs to mark the start and finish of races. When out on the water, race starts largely consist of timing the cannon perfectly. The helm waits for the five minute gun with forefinger over stopwatch, but it’s the crew’s job to keep an eye on the top of the clubhouse for the tell-tale puff of smoke. It’s more accurate to call the gun from the smoke than wait for the sound to roll across the water to the far bank.
But there are still other occasions when larger, deeper booms echo across from the other side of the river. That, as all locals know, is where the Ministry of Defence still test explosives on one of the isolated river islands. I’ve never been on this island, but, as my Dad reminisced over a beer at the weekend, he has.
In the mid-sixties, he was racing Dragons; long, elegant wooden yachts with just a hint of the Viking about them. They managed to run this beautiful creature aground trying, as river racers always do, to steal extra yards in the slack water near the bank. Someone must have consulted the tide tables, because they quickly calculated that it would be eleven at night before the tide to rise enough to float them off the mud. There was nothing for it but to wait. They were, they realised, on the island owned and maintained by the MoD.
The group of them went ashore and, surprised not to be challenged, they made their way inland to the single, small village. There, on the green outside the solitary pub, the village was playing cricket. They filed past, meriting hardly a sidelong glance from the fielders. Inside the pub, fortified with the necessary pint, they enquired after food to keep them going through the evening.
The pub didn’t serve food, but the old boy nursing his half in the corner did, nipping home and returning with a loaf turned into corned beef sandwiches for them. I didnít need to confirm that he was paid in beer not cash.
I think the cricket match must have ended, because the next detail is that someone turned up in the pub with an accordian and started playing. The way my Dad described it, it must have been some kind of reel. The old boy got up and started dancing. He was, my Dad noted, wearing clogs.
Later, they got some of his story. He was eighty years old, give or take, and had lived on the island for the last sixty-six of those. At age fourteen, he and his brother had been orphaned, and he had been sent here to be looked after. His brother had been sent to a different family on the mainland.
What had happened to the brother? Oh, the old boy was told he lived there Ė indicating, back across the water, my home town. Going by name and age, my Dad realised the brother was the retired head of one of the town boatyards, one of the town names. The two brothers hadn’t met since being orphaned, sixty-six years ago.
Sixty-six years and the width of the river.
My Dad glossed over the details of the night sail back with the words ‘pretty exciting’. Racing yachts are not made to be sailed at night, but the journey was short, not much more than a couple of miles. The water always seems flatter, faster, more malicious at night. But they were all good sailors, and none got hurt.
The town lights would have looked sensational, a shimmering mirage, when approached in dark silence. At night, down on the water, they seem just beyond grasp, unreachably distant, like the past itself.
I don’t usually think of my home town in this way, because, usually, this isn’t how it feels to me. I can recognise it here, but it feels alien, somewhere I know implicitly, but have never visited.
The Scottish Diamond Geezer has been located, and he’s living in Bristol. Vitamin Q contains, mainly, lists of all sorts (including, well, Allsorts).
I like the list of children’s games but even better is the list of punning hairdressers in Bristol. The hair salon pun is a great British institution, and it’s good to see the likes of ‘Permutation’ and ‘Beyond the Fringe’ get their moment of fame.
That’s about long enough. Move along now.
Best piece of spam email I’ve received in a long time:
WE SELL UREA.THE MINIMUM QUANTITY IS 12,500MT.
IF YOU WANT TO BUY UREA,
PLEASE INFORM US THE QUNTITY AND THE DISCHARGE PORT,
AND SEND US LOI AND BCL TO PROCEED.
THANKS AND REGARDS.
I haven’t checked my urea supplies lately, but all the same I think I’ll wait for a better price. I’m slightly put off by the thought of a urea discharge port, but I suspect this is my non-business oriented mind playing tricks with me.
I do like, though, the found poetry of the payment options:
“The payment for the contracted quantity will be:
Fully Funded, Irrevocable, Divisible, Unencumbered”
I hate skirting boards. At least, my right shoulder does, with a throbbing, clicking, crunching passion entirely born of me lying on my side all day dragging a paintbrush sideways through narrow under-shelf spaces. The shoulder had me up all night (and I do mean all night) moaning about it. The consequence is that now I too hate skirting boards, even ones that sat there at half five this morning gleaming with a sort of buzzing early morning brilliance while my head buzzed with lack of sleep. I should hate my shoulder, but I’m not mentally co-ordinated enough for that right now.
It looks as though the solution will be, and I present this with the utmost care, a massage. In Soho. Recommended by my partner, may I point out. I’m told it’s very reputable and entirely above board. It sells flowers and herbal remedies. It is certainly not advertised by a single hand-lettered card on a staircase open to the street. Then again, it is deep in the heart of Britain’s film & TV land, so who am I kidding?
While I recover, avail yourselves of the excellence of the below.
“His wife is Meryl Streep and his daughter both Demi Moore and Melanie Griffith - not a combination you’d want to meet on a dark night.” -
Andy on the Spanish stars of dubbing
“Although the production was the most exciting thing to have hit
Peterhead since a severed head was unearthed in somebody’s back garden last year, the translation was a real turkey.” - Peter on Eugene Onegin two hours North of Aberdeen
Andrew is a man of his word, you see.
Following up on all this topological sub-urban cartography, here is his article on Harry Beck and the origins of the tube map. It was for Tube Magazine, so it’s also blessed with the original sketch.
I’m just polishing off Heaven’s Command, Jan Morris’ rather ripe account of the formation of the British Empire. The chapter on the obliteration of the native Tasmanians is particularly chastening, tragic as well considering that the early British settlers had only amiable relations with them.
By the 1830s, years of harrassment and killing for sport of the Tasmanians had reduced their number to around 200. These were rounded up and shipped to the smaller island of Wybalenna to be civilised and improved by missionaries, freeing up Tasmania for full exploitation.
They were improved out of this world. In 1876 the very last Tasmanian, the famous Truganini, died in squalor.
It’s difficult to take in that this was the loss of an entire, distinct people. I can’t do better than offer up two pieces that Morris quotes in the chapter. The first is a Tasmanian dancing song transcribed into English by a Victorian missionary:
It’s wattle blossom time,
It’s spring time.
The birds are whistling.
Spring has come.
The clouds are all sunny.
The birds are whistling.
Everything is dancing.
Because it’s spring-time.
Everything is dancing.
Luggarato, Luggarato, Luggarato
- Spring, Spring, Spring.
Because it’s spring-time
The second is part of the catechism used on Wybalenna to help the Tasmanians find salvation:
Q What will God do to this world by and by?
A Burn it.
Q Who are in heaven?
A God, angels, good men and Jesus Christ.
Q What sort of country is heaven?
A A fine place.
Q What sort of place is hell?
A A place of torment.
Q What do you mean by a place of torment?
A Burning for ever and ever.
It’s nice to know we had the destination of their immortal souls on our conscience. In fact, I think we still do.
Is the city of today what you imagined it would be? I note with disappointment that today’s houses don’t feature underground swimming pools, escalators and zoos, as I so confidently predicted in my quasi-Futurist period (age 8, Mrs Winter’s class).
City of Tomorrow tells me I’m not the only one. Many links to many pictures.
(via Boing Boing Blog)
Also through Boing Boing, the article by George Bush Sr and Brent Scowcroft on ‘Why We Didn’t Remove Saddam’ published in Time magazine in 1998, but mysteriously unavailable in magazine’s archive at present.
It’s looking very much as though I’m going to have to add a category just for the London Underground map. After this animation yesterday, here’s some serious tube map action, mostly via Interconnected. Don’t eat it all at once.
First, here’s the non-topographical tube map.
Edward Tufte on the tube map.
Finally, for the real cartophile, or novelist requiring London source material, images of tube maps going back to 1908.
What a good day for links. And, I swear, I’m not even trying.
Via A Blog’s Life, here is a sweet animation that moves between the original Harry Beck topographical tube map, the map today and the ‘real’ shape of the London Underground.
One day somebody will write something explaining why so many bloggers have a thing for cartography. Until then, just watch those lines swim across the screen and try not to think of the old LWT station ident.
Oh my. If you have a spare half-hour and a burning need to know just what the Internet is good for, you must visit Zippo Tricks.
It does just what it says on the URL. Tricks with Zippo lighters. Over 500 of the spinning, sparking, finger-burning beasts. With a particular emphasis, it seems, on the burning of fingers.
This blog reached what I consider to be a high point of wilful obscurity in January when I subjected you poor readers to an entire week of enthusiasm about the sinister oddness that is Tuvan throat-singing.
Imagine my state of bouncing-off-seat glee today, then, as I learn that the mighty Yat-kha, the Tuvan Pogues*, are playing two dates in London this summer.
Shall I go and see them at the Spitz in June? Or shall I go to the Barbican for their improvised soundtrack to the infamous 1928 Soviet film, ‘Storm over Asia‘? (That’s a very funky Barbican site for the X-Bloc festival, by the way. Give it a look.)
Do you know something? I might just do both.
* That’s a very approximate comparison, you understand
To the visitor who got here looking for “Saddam is a Freemason”; yeah, that’s right, that’s what’s really going on. And don’t forget he’s got scorpions of a cow-size too. Oh yes.
For the rest of us, now that Jessica has been saved and little Ali will be flown to London for medical care, everything’s all better now.
Mark Pilgrim points to Dorothea Salo’s Movable Type templates tutorial. High time I sorted mine out, so I’ll be reading this.
Elsewhere, scientists at the University of Nottingham’s School of Physics and Astronomy used cold oxygen to levitate gold coins, pieces of crystal and lead. Marvellous, isn’t it? You can rename Natural Philosophy and stop looking for the Philosopher’s Stone, but 400 years down the line scientists are still mucking around with lead and gold coins.
If the open war in Iraq draws to a close as rapidly as seems to be the case at the moment, we’re going to see an awful lot of stories like this one in the future. Papers abhor a vacuum (even the Times of India), and dubious speculation reported at one remove quickly becomes a sort of truth. In this case, the claim is that the Russians lifted Saddam’s secret archives from under the noses of the advancing US troops, ‘a “Predator” drone […] hovering over it all along the way from the embassy in Baghdad transmitting live video pictures’.
It seems that the newspapers have a little yearning for the glory days of the Cold War, when you could rely on a superpower to be behind everything (via William Gibson).
Oh, and apparently President Jean-Bertrand Aristede of Haiti has officially recognised voodoo as a religion.
Alan Moore, let it be said immediately, is not as mad as a fox, neither is he a fire-jumping skyclad New Ager. He has a remarkably open-minded and healthy outlook on the fact that his writing output has skyrocketed since he adopted the simple expedient of dedicating his time to worshipping a snake-god.
Now read the latest interview (via Andrew, whose blogging output has also suspiciously accelerated of late. Just what are you praying to, Andrew? The chorizo-god?)
“Given twenty years and a nice evening it should all look splendid.”
And splendid news that The Deep North is up and running. Peter, the Scottish professor in question, steered me through my doctoral thesis with patience, elegence and unfailing restraint.1 Not once did he give me the physical slap round the back of my lazy head I so clearly deserved, constraining himself to the delivery of the slyly loaded question, raised eyebrow and offer of long thoughtful walks.
Setting up and housing the excellent fellow’s blog is the smallest of favours in return. In my mind it just about covers one portion of one walk about halfway through my thesis, in which I was asked what, exactly, I intended to do about The Island of the Day Before (one of the three novels I was covering). My cunningly evasive reply of “I’ll think about it” was not, in retrospect, quite so cunning.2
Those of you who have had the pleasure of postcards from the professor will know very well what to expect. The rest have a treat in store.3
1 This may be considered an extension of the Acknowledgements page.
2 Or, indeed, evasive.
3 Lovely footnotes. Always my favourite bit of academic writing.
When am I going to get a button on Mozilla that allows me to click, comment and post a bookmarklet onto my blog without leaving the page I’m viewing? This is what 10 minutes of lunchtime browsing brought me. It takes about the same amount of time to post the links.
Hm. My magic button should also have an automated ‘Via…’ acknowledgement feature. As it stands, I’ve forgotten how I came across just about all of these ones. Apologies.
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