Blog : Posts from September 2007 : Page 1

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Popularity

In which we wonder how useful social networking is


Chatting to Vee last night, she said: maybe she should cut down on social websites. She showed me the list of sites she’s got profiles on. Seventeen. Maybe she’s overdoing it a little. I have at least five at the last count, at least one of which lies derelict and abandoned.

Gordon, too, recently wrote about this. There are so many social websites out there that, if you’re not careful, they become nothing more than a time-sink. Or, the other extreme; you leave abandoned profiles scattered across the internet like so much silent litter.

Now, social interaction has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks, ever since my friend Maz called me an ignorant and antisocial git. This was largely because I hadn’t popped round to put up some shelves for her like I’d promised; but she’s not the only person to have complained that I don’t keep in touch with my friends as much as I should do. The solution to that, though, isn’t networking websites with long lists of “friends”. What’s missing is deep interaction. Going on Facebook to throw a sheep at someone is meaningless; writing them a letter or two is what counts.

Sites like Facebook are kind of pointless, except as an address book and a distraction. At least, they’re pointless as far as building up real, meaningful relationships are concerned. The social sites that are useful, though, are the ones which have some genuine purpose other than being a list of friends. Last.FM,* for example, or Flickr. I’ve always been too lazy to upload photos to Flickr, although I keep meaning to. I have a backlog of photos going back about a year, that are unsorted and mostly unseen; occasionally I dribble a few onto this site. So, I’m going to use Flickr more.** I’m going to spend more effort on the friends and acquaintances I already have, rather than collect more I don’t really know. I’m going to stick with the social networks I have, but only because, hopefully, I might become less of an ignorant git in the future. The only way to do that is with real interaction, not a quick Facebook poke.

* Well, it’s useful if you’re a music geek

** Partly because I’ve started playing with the maps. I love it. Photos and maps in one place – what more could a geek ask for?

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Previously unseen

In which we look at Devon and Cornwall


Some photos pulled out of the files. Devon and Cornwall, last May.

Devon seaside Devon seaside
Cornwall seaside Cornwall seaside

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Sucked in

In which we succumb to peer pressure


I’m always too late with the next internet craze. After three people bugging me about it within a week, I’ve bowed to the peer pressure and joined Facebook.

On the other hand: I let it churn through my address-book and add the minimal number of friends it found – and I discovered that two of them are using pictures I’ve taken as their Facebook profile shots. Which can’t be bad.

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Equinoctial

In which winter is on the way


This week, it’s started to turn to autumn. I’ve closed my bedroom window, the mornings are getting cold, and the morning air is damp and ashy-smelling.

Today, summer ends and autumn begins; but the weather was already turning. Now we’re moving towards Yuletide, the skies darkening day by day. In a few weeks, the clocks will change, and I’ll hardly see the sun.

Tonight I drove past the steelworks, and they were doing a burn. Great gouts of flame poured out of their chimneys, high into the night sky, lighting up the town and countryside. Our own little industrial bonfire night. We light fires, and we know the sun will come back again.

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You wouldn’t steal a policeman’s helmet.

In which we talk like a pirate


It is, once again, International Copy DVDs Like A Pirate Talk Like A Pirate Day. As I haven’t seen any pirates for a year, though, you’ll have to make do with the same photo as last year. Or, alternatively, remind yourself why piracy is wrong. Don’t do it, kids. Arrrr!

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The labyrinthine depths

In which we think about secret tunnels and the literature surrounding them


There are plenty of stories in literature about the nameless horrors that lurk deep within the bowels of the London Underground. It’s popped up in TV, too – on both Quatermass and Doctor Who in the 1960s – and in film. In books, the first example that comes to the top of my head is a short story by Jeremy Dyson, but there are certainly many more. There are stories of secret tunnels and secret trains, lines disappearing into disused stations and abandoned passages.

Indeed, there are plenty of abandoned stations underneath London. There’s Down Street, for example, which was used as a set in Neverwhere.* There’s an entire disused railway, the Post Office Railway, running from Paddington to Whitechapel.** Not much is visible, though. The Post Office Railway was never open to the public, and disused parts of the Underground are generally very hard to see from passing trains. The occasional void, or brick wall, but that’s all.***

Paris, though. Paris is different. The Paris metro is full of secret passages. Every few hundred metres, there will be a mysterious junction. Lines will branch off into side tunnels, or delve between the other tracks, or disappear behind mysterious roller shutters in the tunnel walls. There are walkways and passageways, tracks that your train will never use, sidings deep under the city centre. In London the only place you’ll see trains parked underground is Triangle Sidings, between Earls Court and Gloucester Road; and that started out as an above-ground depot which disappeared under buildings in the 1960s. In Paris, there are trains parked all over the network, in single sidings, between stations. There’s so much to see if you look out of the window.

But does the Paris Metro have similar literature to the London Underground? Are there stories of monsters hiding in the Metro’s depths, or ghost trains rattling off down secret tracks, or secret government laboratories behind the roller-shuttered sidings? London has the literature, but Paris has the labyrinth visible from the train window.

* The “Down Street” in Neverwhere isn’t the real Down Street – but the real Down Street was also used for filming. If you’ve seen it: the dinner with Serpentine was shot on the remains of its station platforms, during normal service, with trains passing in the background.

** Which was also used as a filming location for Neverwhere, and also crops up in the dire Bruce Willis comedy Hudson Hawk.

*** During the war most of the disused stations were converted into government offices – including the platforms, several of which had the platforms removed and brick walls built to partition the usable space off from the running lines. So if you’re deep under London and suddenly see a brick wall by your carriage window for a few seconds, it’s probably a disused station.

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Flashback: Paris

In which we relax in a park


Photos from the Jardin du Luxembourg on a Sunday morning. Old men playing chess under a canopy. Hidden away in the groves of trees, a man practises moving a sword around. People sit on benches in the shade, enjoying the last weekend of the August holiday.

Chess players Jardin du Luxembourg Swordsman

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Useful Information

In which we discuss what to do with a dead bat


Given that lots of random people come across this site, usually looking for the wrong thing entirely, I thought it might be an idea to post more Useful Information on here occasionally. So: here you are. Today’s Useful Information post is:

What do you do if you find a dead bat?

If, for example, you should get up one morning and find a dull brown blob on the doorstep. Looking closer: definitely a bat. I could see its arms. Now, I can’t imagine the cat managing to catch a bat. He’s heavier than he used to be, and I don’t see him being able to jump up high enough. I’ve seen him watch them flying round the garden, but catch one? No way.

So, it must have been a dead bat, dragged home. Which isn’t really good, considering bats can carry nasty diseases. So I looked into what we should do. And, if you’re in Britain, this is what you do:

1. Phone up the Bat Conservation Trust, who will send you an envelope in the post.

2. Post the envelope off – ignoring the “where are you going with my bat?” looks the cat will give you – and your dead bat will be tested for rabies. I’m not sure, at the moment though, if you ever hear back to find out if your dead bat was indeed suffering from rabies, or if it was just a bit peaky and didn’t fancy a drink. We’re keeping an eye on the cat, just in case. The Bat Conservation people advised: don’t let the cat out during dawn or dusk, but I don’t see that happening without serious upset and possible life-threatening clawings. And there you have it: this site has useful information on it for once. Hurrah!

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Hospital

In which we encounter cleanliness


They’re very careful now about MRSA and similar bugs. Each sink has a poster showing the correct, and complex, way to wash one’s hands. Each wall has a poster about the importance of cleanliness procedures. Each bin has a sign on top: use the foot pedal, not your hands. Cleaners stalked the corridor constantly, with gloved hands. The signs, though, don’t do anything about the doctor, who whipped the bin lid open with her hands just as if the sign wasn’t there. And neither the signs or the cleaners did anything about the fresh spots of blood on the floor, under the trolley and around the bin. Signs are very nice, but they don’t do the work for you.

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Heroics. And cheese.

In which we witness a crime


I am not a hero. I had always suspected as much, but now I know it’s true.

I popped round to the corner shop,* just to pick up a few things, and noticed some dodgy-looking men hanging around outside. Nothing surprising there, really. I tried not to pay them any attention. You don’t, do you.

As I was pottering around at the back of the shop one of them comes in. Late 20s but looks older, scraggly beard, dirty jacket. Looks like he should be dragging a dog on a string behind him. Purposefully, he strides to the back of the shop, and starts grabbing packets of cheese off the shelf. Two at a time, stuffing them into a Lidl carrier he’d brought with him. One of his friends followed, jacket over his arm; he plucked something off a shelf and slipped it under his jacket.

Should I do something? Should I say anything? The cheese man eyed me up, as I put a yoghurt in my basket. As he looked sideways, he didn’t stop grabbing cheese and dropping it into his bag.

I did nothing. Nothing at all. “He might have had a knife,” I rationalised to myself. “He might have punched me.” Or he might just have ran. As it was, they walked out of the shop, as quickly as they’d came, with about £20 of cheese in the carrier bag. Is there a market now for black-market dairy produce? Has someone worked out how to get a legal high from mild cheddar? My logical mind says: it was the far corner of the shop, furthest from the tills, furthest from any of the staff and in a straight line to the door. The rest of me says: maybe he just liked a lot of cheese?

* a formerly-Jacksons now-Sainsbury’s, if you’re interested.

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