First up the big news: for the first time in EIGHT YEARS I have a paid job though not alas enough to get me off benefits. I have completed two days as a Data Input Clerk at James & Sons Auctioneers of Fakenham, and have made an excellent start to the work.
Following on from that intro, I thought I would detail Monday to Friday in the life of a real benefits claimant (as opposed to the figments of the warped imagiinations of Daily Mail journalists):
Monday: 9AM – 1PM volunteering at Learning Works to gain current experience
Wednesday: 10:30AM – 1:30PM volunteering as an IT and Universal Jobmatch Mentor at Seetec, again for experience.
Thursday: 10AM – 4PM working as a Data Input Clerk at James & Sons
Friday: Same as Thursday.
In addition to all these things I am also required to apply for 10 jobs per week and email the evidence of having done so to my caseworker.
Changing subjects dramatically, this year is the 150th anniversary of the opening of the world’s first underground railway: The Metropolitan Railway started service on January 10, 1863. In commemoration of this Penguin have published a series of small books, one for each line on the sprawling oak tree of a network that grew from that 1863 acorn of a line. I was able to get all of these books out of Norwich library on Thursday evening, and have finished them all. To describe them as of variable quality would be a droll understatement. What follows are my opinions on each of them in approximately ascending order (note to Philippe Parreno – if you are reading this I suggest you skip a paragraph)
Drift by Philippe Parreno (Hammersmith and City Line): I would take a lot of persuading of the worth of a book that contains no words in this context. Add to this initial negative the fact that this ‘book’ is supposed to commemorate the line that includes the original stretch of track that opened back in 1863 (note that neither the Met nor the Circle cover this stretch in its entirety) and I arrive at only one possible conclusion: 0/10 (and that only because I have decided not to award negative marks).
Waterloo – Ctity, City – Waterloo by Leanne Shapton: A clever concept to split the book into two requring the reader to reverse it half way through, but I did not greatly enjoy this: 5/10.
Buttoned Up by Gert Jonkers and Jop van Bennekom (East London Line): According to the authors the style of wearing a shirt that the title refers to comes from the East End, but this seems a pathetically slender peg on which to hang a book which is supposed to commemorate 150 years of London Underground. I found the book very boring and dislike the fact that the authors got away with paying what is barely even lip service to what they were supposed to be celebrating: 3/10.
Earthbound by Paul Morley (Bakerloo Line): Although firmly anchored to the line it celebrates this book is almost entirely dominated by pop music and extended discussion of the Sony Walkman: 4/10
Heads and Straights by Lucy Wadham (Circle Line): Undeniably an excellent book although as with some of the others it does not relate that closely to the line with which it allegedly connects. To borrow a line from the TV programme Great British Menu, this was good but missed the brief (had I read such a book in a different context I would undoubtedly have appreciated it far more): 6/10.
A History of Capitalism According to the Jubilee Line by John O’Farrell: I had saved this one to the end on account of the author whose Completely Impartial History of Britain and sequel A Completely Exasperated History of Modern Britain are very funny books which had me anticipating his effort with some eagerness. What a disappointment this hoarded treat was, attempting to be funny about a disaster scenario and failing abysmally. The ficitonal journey that the book is woven around is at least all on the Jubilee Line, so he had nailed the brief: 6/10 (5 for hitting the brief, 1 for quality).
Apart from the first which because of its construction cannot be read these six books are firmly in the category marked: Do not read again (or if you have not read them do not bother). That first book so annoyed me that I reckon that the complete set of these books minus that one should be worth more than a complete set period (an application of the concept of negative value!)
Mind the Child by Camila Batmanghelidjh and Kids Company (Victoria Line): An important book, and one that nails the brief. In amongst much that shocks and depresses there are also some very encouraging stories in this book: 7/10
A Northern Line Minute by William Leith: An exploration of the authors fears and anxieties while travelling on the underground. The journey takes place on this line, and as someone whose local undeground station for 20 years was Tooting Bec I can absolutely see the connection between anxitey/stress and the Northern Line! Nevertheless, a little overdone, and not a book I would read a second time: 7/10
These two books are at an intermediate level on the scale of these reviews, both hitting the brief but neither sufficiently commanding of my attention that I would read them again. The remaining books are another step up from these.
What We Talk About When We Talk About The Tube by John Lanchester (District Line): I was little concerned when i saw this title on a book connected to the District Line because the District is technically not a tube line (it, like the Metropolitan and the derivatves of these two lines, was constructed by the older ‘cut-and-cover’ method). I need not have worried however – the author did know what he was about, and acknowledged the point I have just made at the start of his book. This book is also the first place where I have seen the discontinuities in the London Underground scene on Skyfall that I noticed committed to print. This, like the three books that follow it is much more what I would expect a book in these series to be like: 8.5/10
The Blue Riband by Peter York (Piccadilly Line): I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which talks about all the areas served by the Piccadilly as well as detailing the author’s changing loyalties from car to tube. Given the places it serves, and the architectural features it possesses (14 of the 24 Charles Holden designed stations along its length are listed buildings) it ought to be easy to write a good book connecting to the Piccadilly (but albeit for different reasons I would have said the same about the Bakerloo and the Hammersmith & City lines before seeing the “efforts” of messrs Parreno and Morley) and Mr York comfortably achieved this: 8.5/10
A Good Parcel of English Soil by Richard Mabey (Metropolitan Line): Richard Mabey is an excellent writer, and the Metropolitan (which has the name but not all the track of the great original) ought to be a good line for a naturalist to write about. If York showed that a book with a high geekiness quotient can still be a fine read then Mabey demonstrated with this book that the brief can still be nailed without being remotely geeky: 9/10
The 32 Stops by Danny Dorling (Central Line): This, without the smallest shadow of a doubt is THE book of the series. This book provides a lively and well written account of the demographic changes that one encounters travelling the Central Line from West to East. The eastern end of the journey through this book is at Woodford as that marks the boundary of Greater London and for reasons of his own the author decided to not to extend his research to the countryside. My only regret about this book was that it ended too soon – something that good should last for much longer. As with the first book in this series, though for far different reasons, there is only one possible conclusion: 10/10
To end on another major change, the photo to accompany this blog is of my parents new Aga with mosaic surround: