Blog : Posts from February 2008 : Page 1

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Earthquake (a fuller account)

In which FP records what an earthquake feels like


This gets written down today, and not left any longer, so I don’t forget it.

I was jolted out of a dream about school. Why are so many dreams about school? I was jolted out, and it felt like a sharp jolt, into a shaking bed.

It was all over very quickly. Reading this post will take you much longer than the time it took in reality, so try to imagine this compressed tightly. I had time to think: something big is crashing, a truck, a plane. The room was shaking, and the shaking was building up, and a very deep and loud rumbling sound was getting stronger too. Something in the plumbing went splang! I was picturing a burning something outside, still, but the shaking faded away, gently and slowly. Still waking up, I realised everything was still, and the thought popped into my head: we’ve just had an earthquake. A strong earthquake. It didn’t occur to me just how unusual that was, until the next morning.*

By the time the shaking stopped, it was about 6 or 7 seconds since I’d woken up. Groggily, I stumbled downstairs. Everything was intact, and nothing had fallen over; but the cat was racing about like a mad thing. So I did what anyone would have done: logged on to the computer and wrote a blog post about it.

* A thousand years ago it might not have been that unusual, interestingly enough. There’s a small chance that bigger earthquakes are going to be much more common from now on.

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Earthquake

In which something surprising happens


This might seem like a strange thing to say at 1am, but: I’ve just been woken up by an earthquake. That was odd.

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Personal affairs

In which FP finds an interesting blog to read


This is not a sex blog. This is, in fact, almost the opposite of a sex blog. Sex is hardly ever mentioned, partly because, for one thing, most of the people who read this are (as far as I know) people who know me, and who would recoil in terror, looks of disgust on their faces, if they ever had to think about me having sex.

There are hundreds of thousands of sex blogs out there, though. I don’t read them very often, though; because generally they’re not that interesting. Reading other people’s fantasies, after all, generally isn’t. I find it more enjoyable to write my own sex stories. You’ll never find them here, and they’re not even my fantasies, but they’re fun to write.

Yesterday, though, idly browsing the web, I discovered a sex blog which is well-written, original, thoughtful, and witty. It’s called Bitchy Jones’s Diary, it’s passionate and dirty, in a sense political, and it’s a very good read.* It’s not about the flavour of sex I’m most interested in myself; but that doesn’t stop it being very enjoyable to read. Moreover, of all the sex blogs I’ve come across,** it’s the one most clearly written by someone who does what she wants because that’s her sexuality, and not because it’s someone else’s fantasy.

In other news: back in 2006 when the Ipswich prostitute murders were ongoing, people were very quick to circulate dead prostitute jokes that (presumably) they’d been keeping on ice since Peter Sutcliffe‘s heyday. What surprises me, though: now there’s been a conviction, I haven’t seen any “dead prostitute meets unfunny daytime DJ” jokes. Where are they all?

* It’s also not really SFW, if you were tempted to click the link; but you probably guessed that.

** Pun definitely not intended, I assure you.

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0800

In which FP ponders the benefits of paying for other people’s bargains


Driving to the office today, I was stuck behind a van which, like small tradesmen everywhere, proudly advertised a free 0800 phone number on the back. And – with little more to occupy my mind – I started wondering: is there any point, any more, in buying yourself a free phone number?

Who pays much for phone calls nowadays? Landline calls cost pence. Does anyone think: “Hmmm. Plumber A and Plumber B are both nearby – but it won’t cost me anything to call Plumber B! Hurrah!” Secondly, and even more important: most people use mobiles, now. Most people, calling from a mobile, have to pay more to call a “free” 0800 number than a normal geographical number.

The only people who are going to care about calling you for free are the people who are going to carefully weigh up the benefits of every single penny they spend. The very people, in other words, who are least likely to bring in money once they’ve phoned you. The very people who are going to query every single item on the bill. So who still buys an 0800 number?

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Notes on Riga (part 2)

In which we’re warm on holiday


“Ooh, how are you going to cope with the weather,” everyone said, when I told them I was going to Riga. “You’d better get some warm clothes.”

So I went out, shopping. I bought an all-enveloping thick wooly jumper (in the sale, Burtons in Middlesbrough) and a rather nice brown wool coat (in the sale, Debenhams at the Metro Centre), and, well, that was it. “That’s no good,” said The Mother. “You should have been going to sports shops. You should have got some skiing clothes, lots of layers, something waterproof, make sure you’re properly insulated.”

“Have you packed any sunglasses?” said Dad. “You’ll need sunglasses if you’re going somewhere like that in winter, otherwise you’ll get snow-blindness.”

“That’s a nice coat,” said someone at work. And then she laughed. “You’re going to freeze if you’re wearing that to Riga.”

Take a moment to spot the common theme here. Lots and lots of advice, on what to wear, from people who have never ever been east of Margate.* We do have a Resident Pole in the office, though, who has travelled up that way, and she thought I’d be fine. “I always think it feels colder here,” she said, “than on the Baltic. It’s something about the dampness here.”

And, it turns out, she was almost right. It was certainly damp and grey in Riga, with overcast skies most days, and sometimes a fine misty rain; but it didn’t feel any colder than Britain in winter. No frost, no snow. Chunks of ice floating on the river and the City Canal, but otherwise just like home. If I’d taken skiing clothes, I’d have melted.** As for needing sunglasses – the thought still makes K giggle.

* Well, The Mother went to the Dalmatian coast in 1972, but that doesn’t exactly count.

** One thing we found: every building in Riga, every shop, museum and restaurant, keeps the heating turned up on full blast. On the other hand, when you come inside wrapped up for winter, you’re expected to take your clothes off. All the museums we visited had free cloakrooms at the door, and restaurants and cafes all have communal coat-racks that everyone happily uses.

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Notes from Riga

In which we enjoy ourselves on the Baltic


Don’t drink the water.

I only poured one glass of water from the tap in the hotel. It was a murky shade of brown. After I let it run for a while. One of the notes in the hotel room said, I think, “don’t drink the water,” in Latvian. I’m not entirely sure, but the bathroom and the water were definitely mentioned. As a bottle of water cost about 30p from a shop,* we weren’t overly bothered.

The hotel, though, was sumptuous. A big room, an enormous bed, and lots of dark wood, carved with lions and cherubs. The combination reminded me of Western European Iron Age art; some Iron Age cults apparently worshipped fierce tigers and severed heads, as far as we can tell. Every morning we woke up to lions baring their teeth at us from the wardrobe.

* or over £1 from the hotel minibar

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Linkage

In which FP has been busy writing elsewhere


Another quick note, now I’m back from Riga.* Whilst I was away, one of my favourite websites – Nothing To See Here – posted an article by, er, me! It’s about Trinity Square Car Park in Gateshead, the car park which was made famous by the film Get Carter,** and is about to be knocked down to be replaced by another Tesco (even though Tesco already have a store that’s, literally, on the other side of the street). If you might be interested, go read the article. If you might want to see the car park, then run, don’t walk, to Gateshead.

* or Rīga, rather.

** The original, not the remake; although Stallone, who starred in the remake, has been campaigning for the building to be saved.

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Water in pictures

In which we stand by the riverside


“Water” was the title of a photography series I did back at school, back when I was 17 and in the darkroom, wearing torn, fixer-stained jeans,* and getting my Art GCSE. I spent the February bank holiday travelling round the Pennines with the parents, taking photos of waterfalls; then augmented it with studio shots of dripping water against a dark background.

So, the other weekend, when the rain had been heavy and the rivers were expected to flood, I went into town with my camera to see just how high it was, and how it poured over the falls below the castle. I was slightly disappointed, in that there was no flooding at all; but we stood by the river as young boys threw stones and things in the water and watched the floating things race down over the falls.

Winter sunlight River Swale Waterfall Boys throwing stones

* and with bleached-white patches from A-level chemistry spills, too. The Art GCSE was a sideline whilst doing my A-levels.

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Cutthroat

In which we go all grand guignol


Before going off on holiday, we popped down to York to see Sweeney Todd, the new Tim Burton version of the Sondheim musical. It contains, as you might expect from a Tim Burton film, a lovely, dark, damp and grimy version of 19th-century London, albeit one with a rather anachronistic Tower Bridge opening near the start.*

I’m not normally a fan of musicals, but I rather liked this one, despite feeling slightly ill by the end at the amount of blood spurting around in best grand guignol style.** I loved Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance as a barber-showman with prominant genitalia, and I even guessed the ending twist (although not the direction it would be coming from). He’s a very good mechanic, too, Sweeney Todd, knocking up a mechanical barber’s chair overnight; I never did work out where he got all his pinions from. And as Mrs Lovett explained how all the blood and waste was poured down into the sewer, it occurred to me that back then nobody would have noticed anyway. Back then the sewer was the River Fleet, which daily ran red with blood and offal from Smithfield Market upstream..

Above all, though, the film reminded me of one of my favourite books, Alasdair Gray’s Lanark. On a superficial level: the almost constantly dark and smoky London of the film reminded me of Lanark‘s fictional and Hadean city of Unthank, with its constantly dark skies. Moreover, though, it was the film’s sense of alienation, between rich and poor, between ruler and oppressed, which made me think of the book.*** Todd’s alienation and disconnection from the London population, caused by his unjust transportation to Australia, lead directly to his sociopathy and psychopathy. It echoes the defining line that isn’t actually in Lanark**** but which sums up much the themes of that novel: “Man is the pie that bakes and eats itself, and the recipe is separation.”

* it wasn’t built until about 90 years after Todd was supposedly around, in most of the versions of the story which give him a date.

** “It looked more like paint,” said Mystery Filmgoer afterwards, laughing. “It was too brightly coloured, more like the blood you get from superficial cuts – arterial blood is darker.”

*** Some of the lyrics also echo George Orwell’s famous quote about “a boot stamping on a human face forever”.

**** The line never appears whole and complete as I’ve quoted it here, but fragments of it are repeated many times through the book.

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Cartography

In which we wish for better maps


Maps are wonderful, lovely artefacts. I love to spread one out and read it like a book, analysing every square. Nowadays, though, I only do it for pleasure. Because, for practical reasons, if I want to plan a route or look somewhere up, it’s usually much much easier to go online for it.

There are downsides to this. Google Maps are nowhere near as good as a paper map. Their cartography just isn’t up to the same standard. They include roads, railways, rivers, and that’s about all. No buildings, no landmarks, no landscape. In Britain, Google Maps have the slightly odd habit of only including railway lines with passenger services,* and there seems to be no contours and few footpaths.

Google, though, are nowhere near as low-quality as Yahoo Maps. Since I bought a full Flickr account, I’ve used Yahoo Maps a lot, to record where I take my photos; and there are just so many places where Yahoo’s map doesn’t match reality. Take, for example, somewhere I visited recently with my camera: Battersby, on the edge of the North York Moors national park. This is Google:

Battersby, from Google Maps

For comparison, this is the Yahoo version at the same scale:

Battersby, from Yahoo Maps

Never mind the lack of street names, and the general lack of contrast which makes it difficult to see where the roads run, especially within the National Park. Where exactly does that railway run? Where is the park boundary? The park boundary does indeed follow the line of the railway; but what shape is it? There’s a big difference there, just because Yahoo’s maps don’t include enough detail, apart from for roads, to be at all accurate when zoomed in. Rivers are just as bad, and apparently have zero width too.

If you really wanted to know the answer to the park boundary question, incidentally: it’s Google that’s right, as you can see by looking at Streetmap, who license the Ordnance Survey’s maps. Now that’s what a map is supposed to look like.

* It probably derives from the Ordnance Survey’s long-standing division between “railways” and “freight lines, sidings or tramways”, which dates right back to the start of the One-Inch series. It was bad enough when Landrangers, at I think the Second Edition, dropped the distinction between single-track and multiple-track railways. I have some First and Second Edition Landrangers somewhere, so I’ll have to check when the single-track railway symbol disappeared. First Edition were the last One-Inch maps photographically enlarged, which leads to some odd discrepancies on them;** the Second Edition were redrawn.

** for example, on the First Edition Sheffield and Huddersfield Landranger map (sheet 110), a chunk towards the south of the map is lettered in a different, older, font, which suggests that part of the map was derived from a rather earlier original than the rest of the series. I’ll scan a section some time to show you.

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