Databases, cricket, cabbages & kings

The great Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos once defined a mathematician as: “someone who turns coffee into theorems.” I am inclined to think something similar could apply to data input operators. However, my new work at James & Sons continues to go extremely well – the client database I am establishing now contains 270 records, from which I have already generated large numbers of queries and reports which will provide useful information.

In the last round of county championship matches Joe Root served notice of intent with an innings of 182 that enabled Yorkshire to make light of a fourth innings target of 335.

Continuing my London Underground 150th anniversary theme, I will acknowledge Leanne Shapton’s effort on the Waterloo and City line by saying that her treatment was inventive and although I did not greatly enjoy the book, it would be quite difficult to come up a better way of handling this line.

Lucy Wadham’s book connectting with the Circle Line did not seem to me to fit very well with the brief. Some of the things that I might have covered relating to the Circle Line are: South Kensington and the museums, Temple and the London Underground scenes in Skyfall, Monument, the great fire of London and the escalator connection to Bank, Tower Hill (with various connections spanning nigh on a millennium of history), and a few others.

If you recall the first post in which I mentioned these books, you will know that i was particularly disappointed by John O’Farrell’s Jubilee Line effort owing to having had very high expectations of it. My own treatment of this line would have begun with the history of the Stanmore to Baker Street section, before moving on to the plans for an extension to serve the areas of Southeast London and West Kent which were and remain under served by public transport and how these were deformed by the Thatcher regime into an extension that served the new Canary Wharf development. The natural progression from this would have been on to a mention of North Greenwich and the dome. A dramatic change of tack would then have seen me focus on Wembley Park, and in my particular case a mention of the visit by John Paul II and the service he held there which I attended, which in turn would have led on to some thoughts about religion (from my present, atheist, perspective). After Wembley Park would come St John’s Wood and Lord’s cricket ground.

We are now progressing towards books which I am not necessarily critical of, but for the sake of completeness (and because I have found the exercise enjoyable) I will float my alternative ideas in any case. I would open my account with Walthamstow and a tale of a famous victory for the forces of good agains the Eejits, Dipsticks and Losers (EDL for short), before skipping all the way south to Warren Street to talk about the Marxism festival and my involvement with it. Recognising that I am hardly the person to talk about the Tate gallery my next port of call would be Vauxhall, to talk about the pleasure gardens that were once there, maybe mention the rail connections and of course MI5, and a mention of the Oval cricket ground, overlooked at one end by this station (The Northern line can spare this). Finally we come to Brixton, which would feature accounts of the latter stages of election night 1997 (at a lock-in in this part of the world), working for Lambeth council and choosing to walk the four miles to and from my home in Streatham, which would segue naturally into ideas about extensions of the line.

For the first time in this blog a photograph will feature that is not mine, though it will be balanced by one of mine….


Pot Pourri

The cricket season (the centrepiece of which will be England retaining the Ashes) is in full swing – the current commentary match on Sports Extra is Durham v Yorkshire and Durham are enjoying a late revival after a day that had largely gone against them.

Today’s look at the London Underground 150th Anniversary books focusses on the East London Line. While conceding that Gert Jonkers and Jop van Bennekom had the toughest job in that the East London Line offers the least scope for finding things to write about I still consider their effort (Buttoned-Up) to be quite abysmal. Two obvious topics that could have been used are the tunnel between Rotherhithe and Wapping which started life as Brunel’s Thames Tunnel, which could then lead on to more about the Brunels and the University which now bears their name, and the changing nature of the East London Line from a run-down and largely neglected line serving a similar area to it’s current state.

Also,  Wapping being on this line opens up the possibility of something about the print unions and the Murdoch press.

Fortunately, I received the letter featured in the photograph below after I had been at Seetec and told my caseworker not to worry about it, so I was able to give it the response it deserved: laughter. If it began: “Dear Grandmother, here is an egg….” it could be no more ridiculous than it actually is:


Bakerloo and the return of VFR

My last post made so bold as to claim that spring had sprung. This prediction fortunately seems to be well founded – to the extent that I am creating this post at my outside table.

Tomorrow work will start on my outside space since in its other function as a roof it is leaking and therefore needs replacing.

Continuing the theme I opened up two blogs ago of the 150th anniversary of London Underground and the series of books published to honour this event, although the book connected to the Bakerloo line was actually a proper book unlike Parreno’s travesty, it was a very disappointing one, being devoted almost exclusively to the Sony Walkman. Although not so rich in options as the Hammersmtih & City line, the Bakerloo is by no means starved of interesting possibilites any or all of which would have resulted in a much better book than Morley’s contribution. In order from South to North some of the possibilites are:

Elephant of Castle and the urban legend concerning the origins of that name.

Waterloo: The South Bank Centre, the National Theatre, the National Film Theatre, The Museum of the Moving Image, the Neon Sculpture, the walk along the Thames (concentrate on the local stretch as far as Blackfriars), the London Eye, the Millennium footbridge, London’s biggest railway station (and Britain’s first international rail terminus) and much more.

Charing Cross: Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, ‘The Knowledge’ and London Black Taxis etc.

Piccadilly Circus  – many possibilities

Oxford Circus – London’s best known shopping street etc.

Baker Street – In addition to yesterday’s post this is the point at which the Jubilee line took over what used to be the Stanmore branch of the Bakerloo.

This little lot, by no means a complete listing, provides plenty of possibilities for a book that is a) genuinely connected the line it commemorates and b) would be the proverbial country mile better than the actual one.

the VFR part of the title is an abbreviation for View from the Rooftop, which was a regular feature of this blog until I discontinued it a while back. It returns because this morning I noticed a view I had not previosuly captured on camera:




Spring has sprung (and not before time)

This is really a pretext for a continuation of the theme of yesterday’s post, but it does appear that the cold weather we have endured for six months is finally releasing its grip – I sat outside for almost the whole of yesterday afternoon and have been making use of my recently repositioned outside washing line. I respositioned it because in its old alignment adjoining an outside space rather larger than mine that belongs to Arterton’s because of the hazards on clothing blowing off the line (even when anchored with extra pegs to guard against this) and down into the unused space belonging to Arterton’s when the wind gets up (in King’s Lynn whenever there’s a y in the day. The process of retrieval is complicated by the fact that the only access to and from Arterton’s space is via a fire escape ladder, and climbing down that with retrieved clothing under one arm is not nice.

Returning to the theme I opened up yesterday (the 150th anniversary of London Underground series of books) I have decided to post some ideas that I jotted down yesterday evening about things relating to each line that could have been used in books. I will be starting unsurprisingly with the Hammersmith and City line (victim as you will recall of M. Philippe Parreno’s travesty).

Before moving on to my suggestions I quote his explanatory paragraph from the back cover, the only words he saw fit to produce (if indeed they are his): “An attempt to produce a psycho-geographical map of a subway line. It’s a mental construction. An abstraction. The title of the book is from the French word “Derive”. Derive means “drift”. A derive is a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences in a city described as such by Guy Debord as a “situationist” practice.” In otherwords it is supposed to be ‘art’, to which I say: “Art, Schmart”. Maybe a book of this type, consisting entirely of pictures and functioning as Parreno describes has a place but ti certainly does not belong in this series.

My ideas for what might have been used in a book to commemorate this line were jotted down in a few minutes while sitting outside listening to Laura Robson win a Fed Cup match in emphatic style – in otherwords these ideas come from the same amount fo research as Parreno performed – none.

Firstly the original section of line opened in 1863: Paddington to Farringdon, with the platforms at Paddington structurally part of the mainline station (a unique feature on the whole system).

Various stations along the route either have special features on serve places of particular interest. Moving from west to east some of these are:

Hammersmith: St Paul’s Girl’s school where for many years Gustav Holst was director of music – could use this is a jumping off point for writing about classical music more generally if one wished.

Ladbroke Grove: The name commemorates the fact that there was to be a race course here (it was never completed as the developers want bankrupt but the street pattern betrays the history).

Baker Street: Home to the world’s most famous fictional detective (and unlike the other lines that serve this station, these platforms would have been in service the whole time that Holmes lived there) – obvious potentialities there. Also home to Madame Tussaud’s and the Planetarium, both wonderful places to visit. Finally for those interested in trivia this stations has the most platforms of any underground station with 10.

King’s Cross: Six underground lines serve this station. Home to platform 9 3/4 from where the Hogwarts express sets off.

Farringdon: The original eastern terminus of the 1863 route. Also for Dickens fans there is a tavern just down the road called the Betsey Trotwood.

Barbican: The Barbican Centre and the Museum of London (although St Pauls on the central line is a fraction closer to this latter).

Mile End: Only cross-platform underground interchange between subsurface and tube (central) lines.

There is much of a geeky nature that I could have added to this list but did not. Any or all of the things detailed above could have been used as the basis for an excellent book.

Today’s photo features the newly positioned washing line, with Clifton House Tower in the background.Image

A bit of everything

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
Tuesday: Ditto
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: