Posts from August 2004
In August 2004 Blog Seven was a weblog about London.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t give a crap about the Kobe Bryant rape trial, but check out this article :
It looks to be a well-researched overview of the key physical evidence in the case (incl. DNA evidence). The article is rife with scientific discussion and bereft of celebrity sensationalism (in other words, it’s a welcome change from the usual tabloid junk).
Next up, the Earth twins — if the results hold, looks like we’ve now found evidence of Neptune-sized planets around other stars, and predictions are more are on the way. No visual sightings of these small ones for a long time, if ever, from our solar system, but the more of these suckers turn up, the more interesting our already very interesting universe gets. I admit it would be nice to make some sort of interstellar contact in my lifetime, but I’ll stand for knowing that the more time goes on the more it becomes clearer that the Earth isn’t as unique as all that.
Leaving London — whenever I do leave London it’s always the end of whatever trip I’ve been on to Europe, wherever else I’ve been in the country or continent. It was the case the last three times, it will be again next year when my July vacation rolls around. And so everything which had been familiar suddenly takes on an air of finality, for the time being.
Last time going down to a tube station, last time getting a pass if I need to get one, last time settling into the seats and watching the buildings pass by, then into the tunnels and seeing the station stops shoot past. What were interchanges are now places to cross once more and then not again for some time yet. I don’t know if I ever consciously drink in all the sounds and conversations and whatever swirling around me at those points, I think usually I’m either too focused on getting to Heathrow on time or else just too tired if I had to get up really early. And sometimes I just throw on the iPod and zone, letting the beats take me away, somehow.
It becomes a smear of people and locations and sights as that trip goes along, making my way back to the airport the same way I came in. And sure, it’s always a little depressing — almost always it’s right back to work the day after I get back, jet lag or no jet lag, so there’s nothing to look forward to on the one hand (on the other, there’s getting to crash in my own bed, always a fine feeling).
And then I’m at Heathrow and hauling my bags any which way and then it becomes AirportWorld rather than London pretty quickly. Nothing left but the touristy posters I pass by on the way to my gate. Well, and my memories too.
Vanishing London: The Harvill Press London Writing Series
I read Harvill books. I don’t read any old Harvill book, obviously, because some of them look very long and very boring but there’s an amazing strike-rate of quality in the numbered series which started, I suppose, in the early-mid 1980s and dribbles on (past 300 now) even today, after Harvill’s purchase by Random House.
I am reminded by an article by pop doyen John Carney that I meant to write about Harvill’s short-lived London Writing Series. This series could have been made-to-measure for me: books about London with that trustable wee leopard prancing on the spine. Lovely bright primary-coloured covers. Interesting introductions, too (well yes OK also one by Moorcock who is a nasty stain on any list, I agree, but we can forgive them one small indiscretion).
They seemed to be choosing un-obvious books (I hadn’t heard of any of the authors of the first four before) and they seemed to be doing it with a sense of attention to detail: the base of each spine had a little black line, notched like a tube station. And the quality! “Capital” by Maureen Duffy (Victoria Line blue), “Fowlers End” by Gerald Kersh (Central red) “The Lowlife” by Alexander Baron (Piccadilly blue), “Caught” by Henry Green (Circle yellow). Each at least good, I think, and only the Duffy falling short of great.
The series stopped then. I don’t know why (it had stopped before the rumours of the Random House purchase of Harvill had surfaced), and in truth I don’t know whether it was intended simply as a set of four London books. It’s hard to believe they ran out of appropriate material. Maybe they sold a grievously small number of copies, maybe no-one liked the books. I did. I was delighted with them and I wish they’d carried on to give my fanboy collector fetishism something to work on. The series wasn’t really around long enough for me to say I miss it, but I do think it’s a shame it’s gone, at least before we had a book per tube line.
Super-villain Names News: uncharted territory entered (via ILC)
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists
I’m not going to review this book. On Amazon, dan2004 says “you certainly get a lot of laughs per pound” and “A reader” says “I kept putting itdown and down and down again. I put it down so many times I started tothink it was a coaster.” But as “A reader”‘s review refers to the non-existent paperback review you can discard that. I agree with dan2004 – a lot of laffs and I wasn’t disappointed I’d paid a hardback price.
I could out-PoMo the universe by just reviewing the footnotes. The footnotes are nearly all scientific facts or at least real information, from the boiling points and melting points of a couple of elements, to the recipe for a Mai Tai cocktail and the advantages of wearing black. They stand in deliberate contrast to the main story which is told in wide-eyed childish language in the broadest-strokes possible – the characters are called “The Pirate Captain” “The Pirate in red” “The Pirate with an accordion” and so on. I particularly liked the bit when they first meet Darwin and he explains his theory.
I have a feeling this book won’t be hard for you to find – it’ll be there in the counterpacks between Schite’s Miscellany and The Little Book of Sp@m so pick it up and leaf through. If the style doesn’t have you smiling or larfing out loud within one short page then leave it alone. Otherwise it’s quite pricey and you can get it at Amazon at a discount.
Unfortunate this book will be compared to Pratchett, which will attract the Pratchett fans, but it will put off many others who would get a kick out of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author came out with a sequel soon. And then another, and then… well when exactly did Pratchett become annoying again? (NB rhetorical! i.e. Don’t fill the comments up with answers to this)
full moon over scratchwood
So I’m just back from
a. real proper actual holiday abroad for the first time in more than 20 years (ie not a work-related trip and more than three days) (more on this when blog7 switches theme), and
b. depping while the professional carers take *their* summer break holiday, which last week meant
i. commuting every day to visit my mum in hospital as she recovers from a successful emergency operation, while
ii. cooking three meals a day for my dad (who has a giant huge healthy appetite, but as an advanced Parkinsonian occasionally [eg one day in ten?] needs extensive fork-to-mouth help with it)
Which has what to do with London? This: the experience of the return to it from Shropshire. A journey I’ve made more than 100 times over the last 20 years (maybe a lot more). A journey I am this time making bone-tired, despite urgent billboard entreaty: a journey coinciding with busy though not nightmarish end-of-bank-holiday traffic; a journey I keep myself focused on by (as always) counting down the junctions and service stations, A5 -> M54 -> M6 -> M1: Corley, Watford Gap, Newport Pagnell, Toddington, London Gateway (the Rest-Stop Formerly Known as Scratchwood…)
So I left Shrewsbury 6-ish, with the late august sun beginning to set – it had been gorgeous all day, and now the sky was all fab colours behind me and the shadows lengthening away in front of me into twilight, then evening, then – by abt 8.30 – night. When I reached I shd think Luton, I suddenly realised I wz driving straight towards a vast autumn moon, warm and full (I think: only a fingernail off it if not) (Favourite word alert: sadly i therefore don’t get to say GIBBOUS!!) (GIBBOUS GIBBOUS GIBBOUS!!)
Anyway I don’t recall this ever happening before: it illuminates something it’s easy to miss motorway-driving, which is exactly how a road curls and bends and straightens as it vectors you into a great city centre. The M1 hits London out between Bushey and Borehamwood, and I get off at Junction 2, for Finchley, Highgate, Archway, the Caledonian Road, then Balls Pond Road, then Dalston, then Hackney. I kind of love how London always feels like it got on w/o even missing you (my sudden utter anonymity = respite from urgent calls on my time and care = i can relax and get on with ME again), but what was fantastically lovely this time was that the moon was right ahead of me – actually hanging over the road – for almost all the last reach of the journey, suburbs and city streets, the only one of London’s countless bright busy lights and lived-in faces to be watching and welcoming me home.
Just in case anyone’s interested in keeping up with the not-exactly-shock-a-minute final 24 hours of the transfer window, the Guardian has a rolling update going. It doesn’t look like anything much is happening, though.
Talking of windows, there was much absurd disgruntlement about Exeter’s team bus for yesterday’s game at Farnborough. It had large Plymouth Argyle insignia, and “Ginsters – Pride of Cornwall” logos all over it. And one of the windows had been put through! I was just saying how breaking the window of your own team’s bus seems a touch counter-productive when I was informed that the window had been smashed by an irate local who objects to buses lingering in the broad vicinity of his home. I’m not sure that’s true, but The Football League is beginning to seem like a distant haven of sanity.
My walk to work every morning takes me along the back side of Buckingham Palace. The other side of the road – Grosvenor Place – is all blocky Regency pomp and big pillared porticos, interrupted by the occasional corporate HQ. The biggest building on the road is 4orty, which was built five years ago to be the European headquarters of Enron. Soon after they finished it I wandered in and had a look round the colossal lobby, a great chilly space dominated by a massive bank of plasma screens showing advertorial company videos. A guard came up and asked me what I was doing. I said I was looking around. He told me to leave.
The Buck House side is even bleaker. There’s nothing to see but a big brown wall, topped by spikes and wire, and beyond it a thickness of trees. People tend not to walk on that side of the road; there are few places to cross and the traffic at Hyde Park Corner is fast. The deserted pavement and the wall’s long shadow give the palace a dour, sinister air. The gardens of Buckingham Palace I’m sure are well tended, but on several mornings I’ve found myself wandering if between the trees and the wall is a strip that no light reaches, and what curiosities grow and rot in that royal loam.