Arrg kxrrt!

Blog : Posts from October 2007 : Page 1

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Whitby

In which we go goth-spotting


We walked up and down and around the town, admiring the scenery, admiring all the people and their outfits. I hadn’t dressed up myself. I don’t do dressing up. At the top of the steps to the abbey, we paused in the graveyard and watched people posing for photos, before turning and looking out over the sea, at the town disappearing into the mist. The weather was strange: dark, windy, but misty too. The town disappearing into winter.

Posing for photos Whitby Pier Whitby Abbey Gravestone

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Romantic

In which FP wonders where the romance of IT has gone


A quick news story from last week: A chap called Dr Brendan Kelly has analysed 20 random medical romance novels and spotted that they are all written to a very similar template. If you’re a romance novelist and want to bash out another, all you apparently have to do is change your characters’ names, and you’re set.

Dr Kelly noted that the heroes of these novels are generally handsome, arrogant surgeons with a traumatic past; you don’t tend to get handsome, arrogant psychiatrists popping up, for some reason. Never mind about psychiatrists, though. Where are the handsome, arrogant IT technicians? Never mind saving the lives of patients with mysterious illnesses just when you thought all was lost – where are the romance novels about data rescue and mysterious ARP caching? The world needs, clearly, an IT romance novel. I’ll let you know when I manage to get a couple of scenes down on paper.

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I do not understand economics

In which we work out the surcharge for custom service


Browsing through the rope-and-chains aisle in B&Q* yesterday, fiddling about with the reels, I found some reasonable-feeling polyester rope. 5mm, cost 90p per metre. Affordable. I know B&Q is usually a horrible rip-off, but I wasn’t feeling active enough to find a better supplier.

Before bothering an assistant to get some cut for me, I looked at the lengths of precut rope they had nearby. The same stuff, the same colour, on a plastic reel. I checked the price: 50 feet 15 metres, for about £9.50. Or, in other words, about two-thirds the price of the same rope cut to whatever length you like.**

I’m sure the only thing this shows is that B&Q’s legendary exorbitant markup really is as bad as I’ve always thought: where they think they can get away with it, where you won’t bother to do the sum yourself, they’ll take you for as much cash as they can. And I suppose their main market isn’t people who want to buy the stuff in bulk, it’s people who pop in for a couple of metres at a time. Next time I need some rope, though, I’m going to do the legwork, maybe call the manufacturers, and find somewhere that’s slightly less of a rip-off.

* You can tell someone in their management must have picked up early on how important domain names were going to be.

** I would demonstrate this by giving links to their website; but their website is horrible, horrible, horrible to navigate.

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Renovation

In which we’re not looking forward to a new kitchen


Next week is going to be hell. I’m dreading it. Our kitchen – which passed its 25th birthday last winter – is being ripped out, torn up, and being replaced by something nice, new and shiny. The only problem: it’s going to take all week. The house is already in uproar, and I have no idea how we’re going to eat. Lots of dinners out next week, I think.

It’s a bit of a milestone, doing all this. I can only very faintly remember the kitchen we had before, at the old house. It had a sliding door from the dining area. Erm, that’s it. I’ve lived with the current brown cupboards, brown tiles, freezing cold green tiled floor for so long, it’s going to feel very strange living in something different. This morning, I took photos from the kitchen doorway. I’ve never taken many photos of the inside of the house, itself,* so when things do change I rarely have a proper record of them. If you want to see what our house looked like over the years, you have to look in the backgrounds and the corners. So, I took photos from the kitchen doorway, and I’m going to keep taking them next week as the old kitchen is pulled apart and the new one is built.

The mother didn’t get the point. “I don’t want you taking pictures of it and showing everybody when it’s a mess,” she said. “Wait until the new one is finished, then you can take pictures of it.” I will do. But I want pictures of it how it is now, too, because I don’t want to remember something that’s new and novel. I want to remember something that’s old, faded, and comfortable.

* except for, once, the big green Victorian mirrored ball, round, not tiled, that hangs in a corner of the dining room.

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Books I definitely can’t afford to read

In which FP sees a book he’d like, though


Never mind about all the books I’ve written about here, in the past, that I’ve never managed to finish reading. Now I want books I can’t even afford to read: the facsimile edition of the Knights Templar trial documents.

Going by what facsimile editions are normally like, at any rate, I’d also need new bookshelves to support the thing. As I don’t have £4000 to spare, though, it’s not a problem.* It’s slightly disappointing, too, that this would never have been headline news without Dan bloody Brown. Oh, well, maybe one day newsreaders will be interested in medieval history for its own sake. Stranger things have happened.

* although I do need new bookshelves, because I have nowhere near enough space for the books I have.

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Ovines

In which we become scared of fields


“That’s two hours of my life that I’ll never get back,” said one of the women in front of us, as we left the cinema.* I thought she was being slightly unfair. The film had only been 87 minutes long, after all.

Besides, I’d rather liked it. We’d been to see Black Sheep; it was, like me, rather silly; but played very straight all the way through, which is always the best sort of silliness. The implausible B-movie science was glossed over, and the actors put on their Most Serious Faces as they fought to defend themselves against mutant killer zombie sheep.** Some of the characters were caricatures, and some of the foreshadowing was very obvious indeed, but sometimes, in this film, that’s the sort of thing you want to happen.***

One thing did puzzle me: why, when all the sheep in all the fields started to become blood-crazed man-eating carnivores, did noone really seem very surprised? Now, for the hero, it’s explained: he suffers from a fear that one day sheep will do exactly that. But all the other characters also behave as if it’s a normal, everyday crisis, something they’ve been expecting all along. Maybe everyone in New Zealand is like that. Maybe everywhere though the islands, at the back of people’s minds, is the thought: one day, the sheep will start fighting back.

* “We” being, of course, me and Mystery Filmgoer as usual.

** These were Modern Biological Zombies – not dead, just rather ill; which does make them rather easier to despatch, with none of this “you must remove the head or destroy the brain” trickiness.

*** When you see a big, round, deep hole, with a sign next to it that says: “Warning: Offal Pit”, you know what’s going to happen later on.

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Readers’ letters

In which the readers speak up and demand photos


Here at Symbolic Towers, we pay attention to our readers. If they send in tips, we pass them on. Mr E Shrdlu of Clacton writes…

The Plain People of the Internet: You say what? You had a letter? From a reader? Whose name is E Shrdlu? Honestly?

Me: Shush there. Be quiet and listen.

The Plain People of the Internet: If you say so. But don’t expect us to believe it.

… E Shrdlu of Clacton, who writes:

People who liked Friday’s post may be interested in…

The Plain People of the Internet: You mean, people who like long posts about the history of the London Underground? When posts like yesterday’s get a much better reader reaction? What are you thinking about?

Me: Come on there, stop interrupting. And since when have I been bothered about reader reaction, in any case?

The Plain People of the Internet: We’re only saying. Offering a tidbit ourselves, you could say.

… may be interested in the book London’s Secret Tubes by Emmerson and Beard, which goes into all that stuff. At book length.

The Plain People of the Internet: Now, we wouldn’t mind seeing photos of that beautiful Yorkshire scenery you were wittering on about. That “unutterable beauty” stuff.

Me: It was “unassuming beauty”. And I don’t have any – the car would have rolled down the hill. Carnage.

The Plain People of the Internet: My god, that’s terrible. The joke, we mean.

Me: If you’re so plural, shouldn’t that be “our god?”. The best I can do is photos of trains down in the mist-filled dale. And why shouldn’t there be real people called E Shrdlu, from Clacton?

The Plain People of the Internet: Flann O’Brien would sue, were he still alive.

Grosmont station Grosmont loco yard Inside Deviation shed, Grosmont Train passing Grosmont yard

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On beauty

In which FP muses a little


That long post, it must have drained me out. I have lots of long posts to write: Indie Comic Book Of The Month, for example, or Films I’ve Seen Recently. I’ve run out of words to write them with, though.

So here’s an ink polaroid. Yesterday: the view from Egton, in Yorkshire, down into Eskdale. The road drops beneath us, out of sight, past a “25%” gradient sign;* beyond is a mist-filled valley, green, pale green, rising back up to the moors again on the far side. Beyond the horizon smoke rises from heather-burning, blending into the mist. Deep in the valley, a moving line of puffing cloud marks out a train heading south. Apart from the train, nothing is moving, nothing in sight, but nevertheless it feels like a quietly active day. I’m feeling slightly nervous, partly because I’ve never put quite so much trust in my brakes before. I’m surrounded by unassuming beauty.

* That’s 1-in-4 in old money

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Express

In which we look at some underground history


Talking of search hits: recently, quite a few people have been searching for “secret tunnels under london” and finding this place. I’m not completely sure why, to be honest. I don’t know of any truly secret tunnels under London. I do know of a few lesser-known ones, though – the Tower Subway, for example, near City Hall; or the nearby remains of King William Street station.

It got me thinking, though, about Crossrail. It was in the news a lot a few weeks back, because the government finally decided to commit to building it; after fifteen years or so of back-and-forth dithering,* differing plans, and a very small part of it already built.** Just don’t mention the Chelsea-Hackney tube line, which has been on the planning books for even longer.

Crossrail is, essentially, to be an east-west express metro for London. It’s not the first express metro plan London’s had, though, and it’s not even the closest to completion. For that, you have to look at some more of the lesser-known tunnels under the city.

Back in the 1930s, the newly-created London Underground was in an expansionist mood, helped by government job-generation grants. It unified two separate routes to create the Northern Line; extended the Central Line westwards with help from the Great Western Railway; got the LMS Railway to give the District Line’s Southend trains separate tracks as far as Upminster; and planned to take over the LNER’s lines from Finsbury Park to High Barnet, Alexandra Palace and Edgware, and from Leytonstone to Hainault and Ongar, and extend the Central line eastwards from Liverpool Street to connect up with the latter. Those plans were well under construction in 1939, when, of course, building stopped.

Before the war started, it was well known that “air war” would be a major tactic. People had seen the effects of the Gernika raid*** a couple of years before, and there were widespread worries that the country was unprepared for air attack.**** So, in 1940, the government started to build mass air-raid shelters underneath existing Underground stations, with the plan being that they would be dual-use: after the war ended, they would become part of a new Express Northern Line beneath the existing one.

Several of the shelters were never used for their original purpose at all; those that did open, were not used until the V-weapon attacks towards the end of the war. Others were used to billet British troops, and for British government and American army offices. As for the express line that London Underground had been promised, it never did appear, and there was never even any serious attempt to build it. It seems more to have been a sweetener for London Underground, who at the start of the war were very reluctant to allow people to shelter in their stations rather than in the official ARP public shelters. Some of their worries were justified – in 1943, 104 adults and 69 children died in a crush accident at Bethnal Green; it remains the worst accident in London Underground’s history.***** It’s interesting to wonder what might have happened, though, if it had been built. London’s own RER, in the 1950s.

The tunnels are all still there, of course, underneath the active stations. The most visible is Stockwell – the brightly-painted structure north of the station, on the other side of the road, was the deep shelter’s entrance. Most are more anonymous, but all are still there, lying quiet underneath you. Secretly.

More on these shelters can be found at Subterranea Brittannica

* over several different governments, of course.

** a ventilation shaft to nowhere, near Moorgate.

*** Spelling pedants: that’s its official modern spelling.

**** See: Nevil Shute’s 1938 novel What Happened To The Corbetts. Shute was still a professional aircraft designer at the time, and his company had been asked to supply aircraft to the Abyssinians following the Italian invasion, so he was probably more aware than most of the threat that aerial bombing presented.

***** It’s a slight irony that the worst accident on London Underground was at an unopened station, on a line under construction – Bethnal Green is on the Central Line extension mentioned above.

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Recent search hits

In which we wonder what people are looking for


where do military musicians train? – at military band camp, I assume
what is healthy porn? – porn in which all the actors use plenty of fresh vegetables?
devon sandstone looks like this
meaning of “to throw a sheep at” – personally, I thought it sounded rather straightforward
memories of 1930s Herne Bay – don’t ask me, I’m too young. And I’ve never even been to Herne Bay.
victorian gothic desktop themes – I’m sure I could knock up a St Pancras Station background wallpaper or two
registry office bow road – I was at a wedding civil partnership ceremony there a while back, and it’s a very nice building. The Suffragettes used it as a meeting hall, you know
suzie dent is she married? – I don’t know, but I wouldn’t save yourself for her if that’s what you’re thinking
scary wooing noise – I personally find that wooing can make very scary noises. Although you could try:
bdsm gag – right, that’s enough of that for today.

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