Saturday, August 28, 2004

TiL Carnival Special: Politics and the Carnival

[Part of a series of posts marking the 40th anniversary of the Notting Hill Carnival.]

William Hague, leader of the Conservative party for some laughably short period of time in the late 1990s, was roundly mocked for being a repulsive oik throughout his unfortunate period in the public eye, but never more so than after his ridiculous attempt to boost his standing by appearing at the carnival wearing a baseball cap [picture].

Absurd though this strategy was, he was not the first or last opposition leader to attend the carnival. The first was Margaret Thatcher, who visited in 1977. Her visit was unremarkable beyond the fact that she overdid the Red Stripe and was found face down in the gutter on Westbourne Grove.

Michael Foot eschewed the carnival after his bid to relocate it to County Durham failed. But his successor as leader of the Labour opposition, Neil Kinnock, went to the carnival in 1986 in an effort to rebrand it as "Labour's carnival". This Effort failed miserably, partly because many of the popular music stages were replaced with debates on issues such as nuclear disarmanent, proportional representation and Welsh devolution, but also because the Red Stripe was replaced with Northern bitter. However, on seeing the exuberant floral displays on many of the floats, the young Peter Mandelson allegedly found his inspiration to rebrand the Labour party with a red rose here.

Tony Blair never visited the carnival while leader of the opposition after his unfortunate LSD bad trip at Glastonbury in 1995, where he believed that God had spoken to him and told him to fight a crusade in a Middle Eastern country, an experience that never quite left him.

After that came William Hague's regrettable episode. We are left with the conclusion that the most successful visit to the carnival by an opposition leader was conducted by Ian Duncan Smith in 2002. Riding the lead float in the procession, IDS wowed the crowd with his reggae solo, his rapping of the Tory position on the European single currency, and a spirited session on the steel drums. The visit was almost entirely unreported in the UK press because of IDS's almost total irrelevance. However, it has led him to a successful life after leading parliament, touring as he does with Ja Rule.

TiL Carnival Special: Law And Order

[Part of a series of posts marking the 40th anniversary of the Notting Hill Carnival]

In the 1990s, the carnival was notorious for being the scene of stabbings. However, in recent years community leaders have fought back against this sad statistic by issuing known gang members and parts of the criminal element with guns. The number of stabbings promptly fell to zero.

TiL Carnival Special: Dealing With Wankers.

[Part of a series of posts marking the 40th anniversary of the Notting Hill Carnival.]

"Yah, I've been going carnival since 1982, and it was much better back then, more genuine, more real, not this corporate bollocks." It goes without saying that those found uttering these words are wankers - the vile expression "going carnival" gives that much away - but are they telling the truth?

Since last year's carnival, when TiL's creator was interrupted in his studies of how samba dancing resembled Iceni war-swaying by a web designer from Hoxton uttering something very similar, a vast study has been undertaken with the aid of local residents, carnival organisers, police and community leaders. 11,000 people were interviewed and more than 8000 separate statements were taken, and more than 2500 contemporary documents were studied. the following facts were ascertained:

1. These people are all lying. The only upper-middle class white young creative professional who went to the carnival in the early 1980s was Toby Randle, at the time a graphic designer for an advertising company in Chelsea. He had one and a half cans of Red Stripe, pretended to like Reggae, and then went home after feeling a bit uneasy.

2. The idea that the carnival is now more "corporate" than it used to be ignores the fact that from 1981 until 1986 it was owned and operated by the US telecoms corporation AT&T. It was principally used for the presentation of the annual report, teambuilding and staff training purposes.

3. A spot check on the family records of those making this claim fame that the vast majority of them were seven at the time, and spending their summer with their families in Buckinghamshire. Two of them were on holiday in Cornwall building sandcastles and throwing tantrums over candyfloss like the spoiled, selfish, deluded children they remain.

So that's that little trouble sorted out.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Henge Stones, It's The Henge Stones

With the Bank Holiday Weekend approaching, it's feared that there may be more clashes between Police and Druids at Penge Henge. Many people regard the stones of Penge Henge to possess supernatural or pagan powers at certain critical points in the calendar, although other claim that they simply gather there to get drunk. The Police have trusted in the mystical properties of the Henge in Penge, south London, since their foundation, and traditionally gather there on the last Sunday of August to meditate, consider the natural beauty of Penge, and try on each other's helmets.

However, in recent years the suburb has been colonised by middle-class Druids who claim the gathering is noisy and frightens the children. Violence has erupted in the past as Druids have sealed off the Henge or attempted to break up gatherings of coppers.

"It's outrageous," says Merewic Thornshadow, a Druid of the fifth order. "We pay the rates and earn an honest living. I don't see why our right to enjoy the holiday in peace should be threatened by a bunch of layabout filth. They bring all sorts of animals with them, you know, sniffer dogs and horses and that. And why would they need sniffer dogs? Looking for drugs, that's why. I'm shocked, and so is my wife."

Meanwhile, the police claim provocation by the Druids. "We don't need no heavy Druids laying this fascist crap on us, man," says 42-year-old WPC Mabel Cooper of Richmond. "They go to far. We're just peacefully going about our business, and we get charged by these huge crowds of Druids. You should see the number that just come after a few constables."

Scooter Lanes Controversy Hits Camden

"Kolley Kibber" writes:

Planning permission has been given to a motorised scooter lane on Fortess Road. After months of campaigning Betty Tingwell, a local senior citizen, and Sheila Bow, whose five-year-old son was knocked down by a scooter in January, have persuaded Camden Council to build a pathway specifically designed for motorised scoters. The path will run from Ashton Court Retirement Home, Ascham Street to Hampstead Heath bowling green taking in parts of Fortess Road and Highgate Road.

The Council finally yielded after five hundred people signed a partition in support of the project. Betty Tingwell was delighted with the result and spoke out for retirement communities everywhere. "I am so tired of having to weave in and out, people walk incredibly slowly. I urge other scooter users in London and anywhere else for that matter to push for the cause, you can change things for the better" Mrs Bow was just relieved to be able to walk with her son in safety. "Ashton Court is a particularly expensive home. All the residents have money to spend and it seems many of them choose to spend it on these blasted scooters. The streets round are packed with scooterists many of which drive dangerously fast and a lot of the drivers can't see very well."

Plans for a lane outside Waitrose are already being considered.

Monday, August 23, 2004

The Beginning of The Line

At last, the secrecy that has kept me from posting can be lifted. London is getting a new newspaper, featuring the tawdry musings of yours truly, and the first column has now appeared in the pilot edition. Go read. It's about how the Circle Line demonstrates London is the Lost City of Atlantis.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

When Battersea Was At Wembley

Battersea power station was not orginally designed as a power station. It was, in fact, built as the world's biggest pipe organ, built for impressing visitors to the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924. Its four mighty pipes where capable of blowing notes of 11,000 decibels, and had to be operated by a team of 300 stevedores labouring unceaselessly in the heat and clamour of the keyboard room (in this picture, two operators take a break before a particularly difficult change in octave). Operating in full flight, the Empire Wembley Organ could smash windows as far away as Swiss Cottage and is know to have driven three people insane.

The military spotted its potential immediately, and diverting funds away from the nascent tank-build programme to develop mighty portable War Organs to deafen and terrify enemy armies. Lord Kitchener foresaw ringing britain with a chain of mighty organs to destroy approaching fleets, but sadly the onset of the Great Depression meant this was never to be. However, the military continued to work on the psychological might and power of the organ and enhance the technology, which is why every British squaddie now carries a Kazoo at all times.

After the fair, though, the Empire Wembley Organ fell out of use, and the land it occupied was needed for other purposes. A debate, echoing the one today, raged over how it should be dealt with. The last straw came in 1934, when a boiler explosion during a performance of the Flight of the Bumble Bee killed seven workers and unnerved five others. The organ was schedule for demolition; it was only when its potential for generating electricity was pointed out that it was instead moved to its current location and wired to the grid.

Friday, August 20, 2004


A brief note of apology for the paucity of posts presently - TiL is being developed as a project in several directions at the moment, with some exciting announcements soon (if you're easily excitable). A new entry will appear this evening and again tomorrow or sunday, so watch this space. Meanwhile, here's The Tube Map In German.

Monday, August 16, 2004

175 Years of the Metropolitan Police

The debate over policing and law & order provides a flimsy pretext valuable opportunity to have a quick look at the history of the Metropolitan Police.

As every schoolboy knows, the Met was founded in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel. How much power the new "police constables" (or "Berties") should have was a hot topic at the time. To begin with, they were authorised to issue stern rebukes for most crimes, generally speaking declaiming the miscreant for not being a good egg. For more serious offences, a strongly-worded letter might be written.

The deterrent effects of this approach were limited, and the early force had little impact on crime. A review in 1834 beefed up the police's powers to include occasional cuss words in serious situations. But still, some felt the force was a bit of a joke.

Incensed by the criticism, Peel replaced his new force with a 20,000-strong army of ninjas. Fast, silent and extremely deadly, these heavily armed assassins were a strong deterrent to wrongdoing. Crime fell heavily across the city, as did the population of certain boroughs.

The Metropolitan Ninja Army (or the "Ninj", as it became known) was, however, extremely unpopular and began to reflect badly on the government of the time. The mounting cost of Throwing Stars was also a problem. By 1839, the Berties were reintroduced after the city promised to be on its best behaviour.

Interestingly, though, no-one was brave enough to tell the ninjas that their services were no longer required, and their reign of terror in the East End continued until 1848, when they got a better pay offer from the city of Chicago.

This fascinating episode is the origin of the Met's motto "Cave Ninjarum" (Look out! Ninjas!).

Cop That, Fritz

Fizzwhizz writes:

Film and architecture fans will doubtless have spotted that central London's Shell Centre has a starring role in Fritz Lang's seminal film Metropolis.

But you may be surprised to know that the film wasn't fictional: it was actually a documentary exposing the mistreatment of workers in the factory underneath the Shell Centre itself. The factory was closed in 1928 after the film provoked a public outcry in support of the thousands of identical men forced to toil there, day after day, in futile attempts to control giant, three-handed clock faces. The catacombs were converted into the Northern Line a year later, and eagled-eyed commuters will notice the remains of the crosses that surrounded Maria's altar as they pass through Embankment.

The pleasure garden populated by rosebud-lipped dancing girls on the top floor of the building remains, however; only the company's top executives are given access and the staircase leading to the workers'creche has been permanently sealed, thus avoiding any repeat of the nasty incidents seen in the film.

There have been no evil androids created in the Shell Centre since 1945, although rumours to the contrary resurfaced persistently during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Change Here For Monuments

Central London is packed with famous statues and monuments - Eros, Nelson up his column, the Cenotaph, the Monument - but there's a lot more to be discovered than just the postcard-fodder. Here are some of the lesser-known brass and marble gifts from our forebears.

The Tomb of the Unknown Itch (Birdcage Walk): A touching monument to the British lice who gave their lives during the first and second World Wars. Don't stand too close.

King Vlacendeka of Bieyenku (Holland Park Avenue): 11th-century Slavic king known as Hammer of the Prices. Presented by the British Council to the newly-independent Danezkivakian people in 1991 to go outside their embassy; Danezkivakian people later discovered to be a prank by medical students.

Morph Triumphant (St George's Circus): The world's only plasticine statue.

Prince Fenwick, Duke of Teesside, eighth in line for the throne in 1789 (Duncannon Street): Not strictly speaking a statue, as this is actually the remains of Prince Fenwick, deposited where they fell after an ugly disagreement over an unpaid insurance premium.

The Harold Frankner Memorial (Mount Pleasant): A tribute to the brilliant mathematician, economic theorist and social philosopher who was the first and so far only Briton to figure out exactly which combination of electricity, gas and phone suppliers and packages would offer him the best value for money. He died, exhausted, two months after this crowning achievement in 2002.

See How You Like It (Green Park): One for fans of modern art, this is a concrete cast of Rachel Whiteread's innards.

Fanfare for the Fallen (Euston Square): Premature in concept and over-ambitious in design, this still-incomplete megalith comemorates the dead of five World Wars.

Styrene Boxes, Circling in Wind (McDonalds and Burger King branches across the city): Free-floating conceptual installations sited outside the capital's burger joints. A moving commentary on transcience and loss, or something.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

In Sickness And ...

London has been the venue for many pioneering public health schemes over the years, ranging from John Snow's work to identify the causes of Cholera to Bazalgette's construction of the sewer system. But for every breakthrough in public health, there have been numerous horrible failures. Here we list the top 10.

10. Typhoid: Nature's Beautician for Healthy Skin. Pamphlet, 1871.

9. Dr Feniloe's Radium and Lead Cutlery. Withdrawn 1894.

8. Barking Spa. Renamed "Northern Outfall Sewage Works", 1904.

7. The Killer In Your Home: Why Privies Belong At The Bottom Of The Garden. Book, first and only edition dated 1922.

6. Lawnmower Repairs For The Under-Fives. Book, pulped 1971.

5. Botulicks. Popular frozen-milk snack until 1959.

4. Our Friend Anthrax. Government film produced 1952, shown twice.

3 AIDS: It'll Probably Go Away By Itself. Pamphlet, withdrawn 1982.

2. The Daily Mail. Various stories including "New Asylum Seeker Breast Cancer Threat to House Prices", "Flirting: The Cancer Connection" and "Did Nostradamus Predict BSE Using The Bible Code?", 1971-2004 and on.

1. The Rat Diet. Controversial nutrition advice until 1348.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

The Magic Lantern Punch and Judy Clockwork Orange Horrorshow

The current controversy over whether murders have been inspired by violent films or computer games is nothing new. In fact, similar debates have been raging in London for almost 2000 years.

In Roman London, this controversy first reared its head after the unveiling of a new mosaic of the fall of Carthage at the forum. Its depiction of the violence inflicted on the stricken city was said to be graphic, and within a week a man was found two street away cut into half-inch squares. The mosaic was swiftly covered up.

Another notable instance was the infamous furore that surrounded the growing popularity of magic lantern picture shows in the 1830s. At one particular establishment - Messrs Lagrange And Their Coloured Light Amazeum - a show entitled "Mrs X Walks Her Dogs" is believed to have sparked a craze for dog ownership - a harmless enough pursuit, you might think, until you consider that the show ran as an unending loop and thus led to several cases of exhaustion and The Vapours.

Indeed the Lagranges' establishment seems to have courted controversy. A showing entitled "The Wronged Customer Wreaks His Bloody Revenge" was accused of directly leading to the Umbrella Salesmen Massacre of 1839. The Lagranges hotly contested this claim, but undermined their case by following The Wronged Customer with an attraction called "The Satisfied Customer Gives The Lagrange Brothers All Their Money".

We shall not linger long on the Punch & Judy killings of the 1890s but to say that the culprit was almost certainly a man in a crocodile suit rather than an actual crocodile, all shows at the time carried clear warnings that that was not the way to do it, and that the murderer's modus operandi led directly to important safety laws that finally banned the inclusion of six-inch nails and lead shot in sausages.

On a related note, the world’s first clockwork orange was shown at the Great Exhibition in 1851. The spring-driven geared citrus could be an orange at three different speeds, easily adjustable by switch, and only needed winding every four hours. It was a popular success, easily outselling Stevenson’s Patent Steam-Piston Pear, which had a tendency to overheat.

Monday, August 02, 2004

The Vertical Lidos

From 1880 on, open-air vertical lidos were very popular in London. Requiring little more than some water, a tiled surface and a large diving platform to erect, they sprang up across the city and attracted great crowds.

The largest and most lavish was in St John's Wood. The Wellington Road Vertical Swimming Ponds and Spa was centred around a 45 feet-high cube of freestanding water that visitors could dive into from the tallest diving platform in the world or walk into at ground level. But you had to be careful once inside, because a nasty fall could result if you fell out of the side.

It was, of course, most popular in summer, when people could pay their penny and just stroll in for a refreshing dip, but it froze into a solid block of ice in winter. Nevertheless, it could still be seen surrounded by small children, either because their tongues were stuck to it or, in the bitter winter of 1948, because they were admiring the lithe body of Walter Samuels, who loved the lido so much that he refused to come out and had to wait until the spring thaw of 1949.

Unfortunately, the growing popularity of "baths" or "pools" eroded the visitor-base of the vertical lidos and one by one they closed. The Wellington Road was the last, and only closed in 1957 after it was found to breach section 1.1a of the new planning act, "Gravity: Compliance with". But even today you can meet people who'll tell up they regularly "swam up the Wellington".