First myth about Elephant and Castle: it gets its name from the local mispronunciation of ‘Infanta de Castille’. The story goes that a Spanish princess (the infanta in question) stayed briefly in this part of Southwark. Some versions have it that she was on her way to marry Charles I in 1623.
It is more probable that this important crossroads in London was named after a local pub (not the current Elephant and Castle pub), which in turn would have taken its name from the device of an elephant and a castle (or a howdah). This could have been from a guild association. Two suggestions for the guild are the cutlers (who would use ivory for handles) and locksmiths (for whom both elephants and castles would symbolise security).
Second myth: the strange, illuminated aluminium box building in the centre of one of Elephant and Castle’s two roundabouts is owned by Richard D. James, AKA the Aphex Twin. Given James’ reputation as the most reclusive and eccentric of electronic musicians, it doesn’t feel improbable. The truth seems to be that he lives in a converted bank nearby.
Myth two and a half: cats can perch like howdah-riders on your shoulders while you type. It’s half a myth because they can, but you can’t, as I’m now discovering.
The detective yarn is one of the most formally defined modes of storytelling. There is a victim, or victims. There is a crime, or crimes. There is a criminal, or criminals. There are clues, which on first blush do not correspond in a meaningful way with the apparent series of events. In fact, the apparent series of events probably doesn’t hold together very well, giving the motivation for a deeper investigation by the detective.
Ah, the detective.
You see, for each story you have to change the criminal*, the victim, the clues and the details of the crime. In fact, the only thing you are really allowed to keep is the detective. So the detective becomes the hook, and authorial investment in this character becomes paramount.
At the same time, there isn’t really room in the average detective fable for detailed characterisation of the sort you would find in a serious novel. There is no opportunity for the fine brushwork found in Dostoevsky or George Eliot. Detectives have to be drawn boldly, more Rolf Harris with a roller than Rembrandt with a brush.
That, in brief, is why fictional detectives can mostly be described on the inside of a book of matches:
Sherlock Holmes - tall, aquiline, drug-addicted violinist
Father Brown - tubby Catholic cleric from Essex
Miss Marple - interfering rural granny
Hercule Poirot - snobbish moustachioed Belgian
Lord Peter Wimsey - A lord
Albert Campion - wrong side of the blanket, keeps dodgy company
Columbo - scruffy raincoat, not as scatty as he looks
Inspector Morse - Gruffly drinks beer and does crosswords in Oxford
Brother Cadfael - Medieval monk
Falco** - Roman
Inspector Rebus - Gruffly drinks beer and does crosswords in Edinburgh
It’s easy to add your own.
After a while, it becomes increasingly difficult to come up with original matchbook descriptions. Brother Cadfael starts to seem a little too similar to Brother William of Baskerville, Hetty Wainthrop to Miss Marple. So the pursuit is always on for distinctive detectives. The trouble being the fact that most of the good ones are taken.
So, lying on my sickbed, I’ve been idly working out the next great quirky detective.
It can’t be a spaceman (Outland and the short-lived Star Cops), or a politician (come on, detective stories are about uncovering the truth). We’ve had everything from gardeners to country singers to radio DJs. Borges and Bioy Casares (writing as Hilario Bustos Domeq) even wrote a collection of stories in which the detective was in prison. There are authors and ghosts, obsessive compulsives and shedloads of kids.
Look, when there’s even a chimp detective you know you’ve got to try harder.
My sheet of paper is full of crossings out. Only one idea hasn’t been struck through, so this is my offering to the world of the roman policier: the detective should be an Elvis impersonator. Call it ‘Suspicious Minds’, send me 10% of the royalties and we’ll all be happy.
* You think not? The most famous fictional criminal, Professor Moriarty, is first mentioned in ‘The Final Problem’, the story in which he is also killed off. He does appear repeatedly in the very influential Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce wartime films featuring Sherlock Holmes (where he stands as an analogue of the Nazi enemy), but these are more in the manner of thrillers and so play by different rules.
** No, not the late Austrian popster, this fellow
Yes, I do, to some extent because of the Today programme, Newsnight, Have I Got News For You?, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, the incredible depth of web presence, and the odd decent documentary. More than that, I believe in the Beeb because it is still, at some level, an organisation relaxed enough to allow creative people to be creative, rather than allow creative people to serve advertisers.
Also because, if it comes to a choice between Alistair Campbell and the Beeb, there really isn’t a choice. (Nota bene Alistair, BBC coverage of the war in Iraq was indeed biased - towards the government.)
Mostly, however, I believe in the Beeb because it’s a good sort of a thing to have. In truth, I don’t just believe in the BBC. I believe in the idea of the BBC, which is both better (because it’s an ideal) and worse (because it’s just an ideal).
That’s why I’ll be having my say in the BBC charter review consultation. I suggest that you have your say as well. Send your comments by March 31st.
I may have mentioned that on most Sundays I play football on Peckham Rye Common.
The joys of this cannot easily be enumerated, but would certainly include, two Sundays ago, a certain rogue semiotician hammering, yes, hammering an equaliser late in a game that had until then seemed lost.
There is, however, one thing that, since it belatedly occurred to me the other week, will give me a tickling manner of glee regardless of who scores or wins.
There is on the common a venerable oak tree. There are a few dotted around, in fact, but I choose this one.
You will know the story of William Blake. How, well before he saw such things as the ghost of a flea, he was marked as a visionary sort of a chap by virtue of, as a child, seeing angels playing in the branches of a tree. An oak tree. On Peckham Rye Common.
Now, as I say, there are several candidate trees on the common, and it may even be that Blake’s oak is no longer standing, but I choose that it is. I choose that it is this one because it stands alone and central, because it feels right, because it is exactly the sort of oak under which an imaginative child might stand, gazing up, and translate the frankly huge flappy rooks into something altogether more angelic, and because, after all, it is the tree under which I play football on a Sunday.
One thing of which I’m sure. When young Wm Blake saw his angels playing, he certainly was not seeing some future echo of our Sunday afternoon kickarounds. Angelic would be entirely the wrong sort of a description, and I carry the bruises to prove it.
I noticed this morning that London Bridge station, after years of muddling through without a logo, has gained one:
My pleasure at the meaninglessness of this was tempered when I realised that all the major stations now have a logo. Hurrah for the branders!
Glasgow Central’s is subtly Mackintoshy, Liverpool Street’s is impenetrable, Cannon Street’s is simply a cannon.
If you’re travelling underground, yet another tube map may be of use: the real-time tube map shows where delays are occurring.
London Ancestor is a genealogy site that contains some wonderful source material, including Boyle’s View of London of 1799, listing amongst other things societies, quays and querey docks, prisons and principal coffee houses.
Oh yes, and the Congestion Charge is a year old, and working remarkably smoothly. Then again, as DG notes:
The Congestion Charge isn’t what puts people off driving into Central London. Central London is what puts people off driving into Central London.
(All of DG’s London material is now collected in one place and is highly recommended)
Sometimes a voice emerges from the gloom of government to ring with the sharp clarity of a bell across the land. Sometimes a poetical voice calls ministers to account, the powerful to heel, the thoughtless to hang their heads in shame.
Paul Marsden MP, representing Shrewsbury & Acton, does not possess that voice.
Here is Mr Marsden’s cri de coeur on the Kelly affair, entitled “An English Inquisition“:
Gentle scientist inventing silent killers,
Through years of laboratory tinkering.
Protected source on wicked bugs,
Happy hours tending pink rose petals.
Buffoon holds aloft this little mole,
Blinking in the row of bright lights.
He barely sees the quarrelling brutes,
Nervously wiping his white whiskers.
Forced to walk the plank in parliament,
Distraught at demands for answers.
Political drama to cheap, sweaty hacks,
Torrent of black invective in the high court.
Tortured game ends when the despair overwhelms,
An English gentleman bowing to torrid spectacle.
Family lose him to sound bite and paranoid PM,
As he takes a walk in the park by a river of red.
Chills the soul, doesn’t it?
Disturbingly, there’s more. Best stick to the political stuff, like this paean to William Ewart Gladstone, which starts off attempting a full rhyme of “Scouser” to “Lancaster” and never really recovers. Or Marsden’s rebel yell against the party line, which seeks to keep the whips at bay with a rearguard action of confused imagery:
Crossing the party line to protect the frontier
Land of hope painted in front of the home of the brave
Just, for God’s sake, stay away from the steamy stuff.
I’ve just been through one of those random processions of discovery and loose understanding.
I was looking at the various meanings of orthogonal, which I increasingly see in the context of discussion of good design. I’d grasped that its meaning in design is an extension of its mathematical meaning of (loosely) perpendicular.
Then, on the evergrowing Wikipedia, I read this:
Orthogonality is a system design property which enables the making of complex designs feasible and compact. The aim of an orthogonal design is to achieve that operations within one of its components do not create nor propagate side-effects to other components. For example a car has orthogonal components and controls, e.g. accelerating the vehicle does not influence anything else but the components involved in the acceleration. It would be a non-orthogonal design were for example the acceleration to influence the radio tuning, or the display of time.
At which point I’d had enough of good design, and became entranced by the idea of a car where pressing the accelerator winds down the windows, pumps up the radio and tilts the seats back. Even better, it makes the clock go faster.
Then, more sensibly, why not use radio tuning as a speed control? Stray over the speed limit and you detune your radio. That’ll keep people at non-lethal speeds.
You could, I think, extend the principle to mark out certain radio stations for certain speeds. So, nudge up over 50mph, and your radio tunes from Radio 3 to Radio 4. 60-70mph, and you get Radio 1. Over 70, and it goes to Classic FM.
Edward de Bono would be proud.
A girl in Russia claims to be able to see inside people’s bodies.
The Ananova news service reports it like this, complete with a headline that suggests that she not only can see inside bodies, but that scientists are “baffled” by this talent. This, even after they have conducted “extensive tests”.
If you were not paying attention, this would start to seem as though something genuinely spooky is going on.
The story goes on:
“But so far they have been unable to come up with a logical explanation for the vivid and detailed accounts she gives of what she sees when she looks inside the human body.”
Quite. There is no logical explanation for such a phenomenon, and the scientists are, I hope, not interested in illogical ones, such as the girl having “x-ray vision”.
Then we learn:
“The teenager, from Saransk in Mordovia, said she had been upset that the doctors had not believed her but was pleased they had not claimed she was lying.”
Mm. Although they didn’t accuse her of lying, they also didn’t believe she was telling the truth. In other words, they are probably suggesting that the girl does have enough knowledge of human biology to describe someone’s innards, but is not necessarily aware that she is relying on this when she excitedly thinks she’s seeing inside them.
And thus, the politeness of a bunch of Russian scientists permits a supposedly reliable news agency to fabulise yet another piece of pseudoscientific flannery.
Add it to the pile and move on.
I wouldn’t mind those vast electro-magnetic metal-detecting tollgates in every shop if they were used for anything other than wasting my time.
I must, somehow, set one off at least every month. Every time I do (as tonight), I stop, turn around, and cast about for a security type person. Failing to find one who is as interested in the alarm as I am, I then have to bother some already harassed shop worker who, frankly, deserves a little better.
Now I’ve made them anxious. It’s their responsibility to verify that I’m not a shoplifter, and am free to go about the rest of my life without a stain on my character.
They really, really don’t want to go through several bags of shopping to locate the one magnetic strip (probably hidden on a small pack of AA batteries) not thoroughly enough zapped by a bored cashier. They tell me not to worry about it.
Off I go, leaving a trail of minor inconvenience, and setting off the alarm again.
I used to think that it was the act of stopping and offering my shopping for inspection that guaranteed, like a badge of compliance, I would not need to be searched. It’s this frustrating logic that causes me to stop in the first place: a real thief would not stop, therefore I must stop to prove I’m not a thief.
Now I think this is wrong. I am reluctantly coming round to the idea that I simply don’t look like a freelance stock-taker. When the alarm goes off, staff glance up and make a snap decision as to whether I’m worth the bother. I never am.
I should therefore not even bother to stop.
And that, m’lud, is my defence for the alleged shoplifting incident occurring in March of 2004.
Right now the only programme I’m following on the TV is Shameless, the foul-mouthed saga of a family of unemployed Mancunians called Gallagher (insert your own Oasis joke here).
I was looking forward to the return of Six Feet Under (peculiar saga of a pretty normal Californian family running a mortuary), but it turned me straight off with its indulgent new alternate-worlds gimmick.
So, raise up thanks to S. David of Madrid for the return tonight of the best worst programme in the country, Footballers Wives. It’s back without Evil Jason, the only footballer more barrel-chested than Razor Ruddock, and still without an apology (or indeed an apostrophe) in any way, means, shape or designer colour.
And that’s why I will be watching it. Most of the TV I make time to watch is programming that, in the argot, reckons itself. It’s TV that tries to be very good. Unfortunately, that means that if it’s merely OK (which being TV, is almost axiomatic), it’s going to be a disappointment. Footballers Wives* is never a disappointment. It never misses, because its target is inches from its own nose. It is pure primetime TV, and to be admired as such.
Further, unlike most of the bread and dripping that fills the schedules, this isn’t Reality TV (a diabolical oxymoron), Lifestyle TV (the whole superstore of cookery, travel and property programming that does nothing other than encourage feelings of inadequacy that can only be assuaged by spending money), or Tabloid TV (unspeakably offensive journalism). Footballers Wives is fiction, so it’s actually supposed to be all made up. Huzzah!
It is what it is what it is, and that is trash. The fact that Mark Lawson thinks it’s being clever is just further evidence that it’s gloriously dumb trash.
The only thing that could possibly make it better would be if it actually had some football in it.
* That apostrophe. Look. If you’re going to leave it out, at least make something of it? What about Footballers, Wives? Or even Footballers! Wives!?
I’m as guilty as the next man of taking a pop at the London Underground. It struck me this evening, however, as I waited two minutes for the next train to arrive, that it’s the victim of its own success.
Two minutes is a trivial amount of time to wait for a train. It’s difficult to see how tube trains could arrive more frequently than this on a planned basis. Increasing the length of the trains, or making them double deckers, is hardly a viable option.
Travelling by tube is, for most journeys, measurably faster than any other means of transport. Granted, in central London, you do have to trudge underground to get on the tube, but that rather comes with the territory, I think.
Of course there are delays. The only rail systems I have encountered without delays are continental systems which either have simple toytown layouts (like the Swiss) or very, very slow trains (like the Italians).
I like to think that there is a time penalty attached to any type of journey. For Italian trains, for instance, you tend to pay the time penalty in advance of each journey, when you try to buy a ticket. In this misshapen country, where we don’t like to plan in advance, you pay the time penalty for several journeys all at once, at a randomly chosen point in a randomly chosen journey.
No, the tube’s not that bad. Could you do better?
Leaving the station today, the homeless bloke had a copy of a book called ‘Leeds United’ beside him. A cruel gift, a message of sympathy, or a badge of the fallen? (sorry Andy)
With Johnny Rotten now revealed as light entertainment joker (and an obvious candidate to host a relaunched Saturday Night at the London Palladium), there are precious few of the old shockers still able to pack a punch.
So three cheers for J.G. Ballard, whose new one, Millennium People, I’m currently reading. I find that I keep mentioning Ballard. It’s not that he’s a favourite author; it’s that he seems to demand comment.
Ballard isn’t necessarily a great author. He’s too relentless. He sees madness around him too clearly to engage in the soft-hearted banter of characterisation. But he’s undoubtedly an author of great power, and capable of greatness within his writing.
Millennium People carries through a typical Ballardian conceit: London suffers a middle-class revolution, a revolution born of boredom and city-sickness. Ballard’s joke, thumped up endlessly through the novel, is that the revolution is about middle-class concerns; vague, incoherent feelings of dissatisfaction and wrongedness. And at heart, of course, self-loathing.
All the same, he can take your breath away with a pungent phrase out of the blue. A middle-class neighbourhood is described as housing a “convicted antiques dealer”.
I find that it’s Ballard’s titles that deliver the most punch. This novel contains some gems, including “The Upholstered Apocalypse” and “The Bonfire of the Volvos”.
I wonder if old J.G. was influenced by that Ikea “Chuck Out Your Chintz” advertisement where blameless suburban women piled their soft furnishings into skips. It’s a small step to imagine them torching it all and dancing around the bonfire in an orgiastic frenzy, a postmodern potlatch.
Or, to take the thought the other way, perhaps Ballard should have been an adman, a copywriter for the heat-death of civilisation.
Just when you think you’ve seen every possible variation on the London tube map, along comes another.
This one, developed by Paul Mijksenaar at Delft University in 1983, was not adopted by London Underground. It’s a shame in a way, as its differential approaches to inner and outer London reflect the very different ways in which people use the two areas. For one thing, Inner London remains essentially walkable.
I’ve been toying with putting books I’ve read, am reading or am about to read somewhere on the page. Partly because there’s so much good stuff to talk about (such as Barcabook, the new J.G. Ballard novel and Jane Stevenson’s recent, brilliant trilogy).
I’m reminded of this just now because I wanted to cite Ian Duncan-Smith lookalike, Francis Wheen, who has a new book out on mumbo-jumbo. A favourite journalist on a favourite subject. I am blissfully happy.
Wheen is, as ever, as sharp as Occam’s razor. Here he is in digested form on ‘the Diana moment’:
The psychotherapist Susie Orbach interpreted the ‘floral revolution’ outside Kensington Palace after Princess Diana’s death as proof that we were “growing up as a nation”. Will Hutton, radical social democrat and republican, said that the collective genuflection before a dead aristocrat showed that the British were “freeing ourselves from the reins of the past”. The assumption is that emotional populism represents a new kind of collective politics. In fact, it is nothing more than narcissism in disguise.
I would have found that striking even if I had not recently completed The Empress of the Last Days, a stiletto into the overinflated stomach of the modern monarchy.
Crikey, have I been busy. So busy that I had to reread the last month or so of Rogue Semiotics just to recall what I had been thinking about.
One upshot of this is that I realised that I had entirely missed one of my most important pre-Christmas activities (aside from leaving Christmas cards too late, which I managed very well this year); showing you the first evidence of a genuine advance in publishing.
Barcabook is the first book I’ve seen that is self-published on demand. That is, Andy (for it is he) has been able to translate his rather lovely electronic reports from Barcelona into book form without having to cough up a couple of grand to some dodgy firm in Brighton.
We should all be thankful for this, first because it means I have been able, for the first time, to read Andy’s always entertaining prose in the bath. Second, it puts the means of production and distribution firmly in the hands of the working writer.
Third, I can unreservedly recommend you to buy the book (here).
When you do, you will be able to note, before you settle down to enjoy, that it is published in the exact format used by Faber to publish its screenplays given away with Sight and Sound.
I think Peter’s guess is good enough to provoke the answer.
Julius Caesar first took the Oval at Kennington in 1849 when he made his first appearance for Surrey. Pseudonymous cricketers were not unknown (a famous gentleman cricketer of the previous generation went by the name of ‘Felix’), but Julius Caesar was not an assumed name. His father, Benjamin Caesar, was also a cricketer, as was a brother.
Julius’ career started well. He was a stalwart of Godalming cricket club, gained county honours aged 19, and went on to play in the first overseas cricket tour — of North America in 1859. He also opened for the touring side against Australia in 1863/4 (not very well, it seems).
Over-arm bowling was still not the thing in those days, but J. Caesar was a fast round-arm bowler (the arm coming round the side, but below the shoulder). He got a creditable five-for in this glorious match — Eleven Gentlemen of Godalming v. Twelve Caesars.
Capsule biographies of Caesar’s life all mention his tragic later years, but I’m going to have to buy Geoff Amey’s biography of Caesar, The Ill-Fated Cricketer to find out more.
Nice to see that Tony Blair and George Bush are united, as they were in invading Iraq, in ‘wanting to know the facts’ about WMD. Both are pretty regular kinda guys, and both are clearly upset that the intelligence services seem to have misled them so badly.
So it now looks as though we’re going to have a round of inquiries that will make the British and US intelligence services almost as loose with the truth as the BBC. As the Prime Minister’s spokesman put it this morning:
“What’s different between last week and this is that the Hutton report, like the Commons foreign affairs committee report and like the intelligence and security committee report, has cleared the government of allegations of having politically interfered with, falsified or hyped the intelligence on WMD.”
Admit it; you missed the bit where Hutton proved that Number 10 hadn’t hyped the threat of WMD before the war, didn’t you? Not to mention all of those confident statements that we would find WMD made after May 2003, when the Americans had already concluded that there weren’t any WMD after all.
When did Julius Caesar take the Kennington Oval?