Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Diary of a North London Lad"

I don't really remember how did I stumble upon this book, probably when searching for "North London" randomly. Apparently a self-published one, it is memoires of an "ordinary person", i.e. neither a professional writer nor a celebrity.

I read it really quickly (which, I ought to note, is no longer typical for me as the Internet has shrunk my attention span drastically) mostly because of the coincidental setting as the author grew up not far away from where we now live and used to work not far away as well from where I do. Thanks to that, it helped me to put some things into perspective and also allowed to have a glimpse into the 60s and 70s when, as far as I can see, Britain and London particularly were very different from what they're now with some changed for good and some for the contrary.

With the story being primarily focused on women, cars and theatre, still some small historical details about the British society slip out which are difficult for a foreigner to acquire otherwise. It's not exactly about the book, but again I can't help noticing how has the world has changed in the last, say, 50 or 60 years, it's hard to overestimate. We Russians often regard Western society as something that has been developing continuously but at a steady pace while us were hold in place for so long and then unleashed. In reality, it looks to me that older people in the UK recognise almost as much change in the present society when compared to the times of their youth.

Don't know if that'd be as exciting for someone who doesn't know North London, but despite its indisputably average literary quality, "Diary of a North London Lad" by Tony Shelton was arguably the best book I read this year.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A closet hay

If you happen to be in the UCL's main Wilkins building, pay attention to an old wooden closet in its southern wing:

Jeremy Bentham is in the closet

It was closed when I saw it but the name engraved on top made me think that wasn't just a decorated room entrance or something like that. Indeed, there was an explanation on the wall around the corner. Inside, there is a hay-stuffed figure of Jeremy Bentham himself with his real skeleton serving as a frame. Jurist and philosopher, Bentham had very progressive views, especially for his times, so he didn't believe in life after death and stated in his will that his body should be used for the scientific and educational purposes.

The remains aren't locked all the time and sometimes Mr Bentham even leaves his shelter either to attend the University Council meeting ("listed as "present but not voting") or to become a subject of student pranks:

However, it proved an irresistible target for students, especially from King's College London, who stole the head in 1975 and demanded a ransome of £100 to be paid to the charity Shelter. UCL finally agreed to pay a ransome of £10 and the head was returned. On another occasion, according to legend, the head, again stolen by students, was eventually found in a luggage locker at a Scottish Station (possibly Aberdeen). The last straw (so runs yet another story) came when it was discovered in the front quadrangle being used for football practice, and the head was henceforth placed in secure storage.

I should say that I now have a strong respect for that man!

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Mandela Way tank

A Soviet T-34-85 tank in Southwark is rather famous and has even got its own Wikipedia entry. Originally brought to the UK from Czechoslovakia to be filmed in Richard III set in alternative 1930s Britain (hence tanks and airplanes were required), it went then to a scrap metal dealer and finally to its current owner Russell Gray, a South London developer.

The Mandela Way tank

The story of its settlement on the street corner is sometimes regarded as an urban myth as it's too good to be true:

It sits on a rough piece of land belonging to Russell Gray who wanted to build flats here. His planning permission was turned down and so he asked instead to build a tank. Assuming he meant septic tank, permission was granted and Mr. Gray placed a Soviet era T-34 on the land with the gun turret pointing towards the council offices.

The Mandela Way tank

There is no direct access to the tank as it is fenced in a kind of a community garden which doesn't look taken care of very well. Still it keeps getting a paint job from time to time and it also features some odd objects inside the fence, e.g. an old telly on the right track.

The Mandela Way tank

You might get an impression that it's decaying slowly (as I did myself), but then obviously a tank is a thing which is a bit hard to destroy. Take care in the new year, you steel comrade.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas starts with posters

There are a lot of arguments about this year's Christmas advertising campaign by the Church of England:

Church of England Christmas campaign

I used to think the controversial posters were only introduced this December and so that's why they're widely discussed. But later when searching for more information I found that the similar campaigns have been launched by the Church every Christmas for several years already.

You can see posters from the previous years by following this link (click the pics to zoom in).

I am personally an atheist but I can appreciate this liberal attitude, especially as that seems to be not a random probe but rather a shaped strategy. So many other religious institutions should take a note.

P.S. Noticed there are our reflections at the photo above. In case you're wondering, they're not a part of the composition!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Misty bus window

Rain in North London Rain in North London Rain in North London

One of the very few things to love about the drizzle outside.

Monday, December 12, 2011

London maps and open data

Some unusual maps of London I came across lately, in one list:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Protests and Santas

We've been to two Russian elections fraud protests, a picket near the embassy yesterday and today's rally near the Westminster Abbey. The second one was, by the way, organised much better with more people attended it despite (or thanks to) the lack of scandalous Russian oligarchs who came to the embassy. Here are some pics from both events.

On our way back we bumped into the crowd of people dressed like Father Christmas, cheering and drinking. We actually met them in previous two years as well in December, but this time I found a link of what's that all about, and managed to take better pictures.

"Hi, I am Justin" Santas kissing Santas near the Nelson's lion Santas at Trafalgar square

Brace yourselves - Christmas is coming!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Russian winter - come to the embassy

Fellow Russians living in London, I really urge you to read this post:

We tend to be a bit snobbish towards our kind and distance ourselves from the country we came from. Well, before the recent elections there were bloody good reasons for that. But what if it's no longer the case - wouldn't that be just great?

My phone number is 07951574886. See you there.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Toy parliament, real people

I was very surprised and also impressed to find a terrific number of Russians queueing around the embassy to vote. It took us no less than two hours to get inside.

Something is surely changing. Don't know if that's for good - our nation has been tolerating the crooks currently in charge for too long, and now, I am afraid, the situation simply can't be resolved without lots of innocent people suffering regardless of the outcome (I might be too picky but I don't really like the opposition either). We're probably beyond the point where peaceful measures could have helped - e.g. there are no doubts these elections results are already being faked by this moment. It doesn't mean though that it's better to keep things as they are - obviously, that'll only make the future decisions more tough.

And frankly I'm glad that by being here I don't have to make those decisions. Yet.

Me holding my ballot

There are more photos on Flickr if you're interested.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Today is the last day of Movember, and so it's time for us fellow moustache brothers to share results. Truth to be told, in my case that wasn't precisely a "no shave" month - rather a "no trim" one - but anyway, here are the fruits of my labour:

#movember results #movember results

As you probably know, besides just being funny, this competition is supposed to raise awareness of prostate cancer. Certainly just growing your facial hair has nothing to do with fighting cancer, and I wasn't raising the money specifically because of being not sure I'll make it to the end of November at all (last two weeks were terrible as every meal I ate was seasoned with moustache).

Still if you decide to donate to a cancer related charity, I'd be very glad and also thankful.

Below are some charities you might consider:

  • General donation to Movember - convenient as you can enter your own amount to donate (and that's our dedicated Movember resource, chaps!)
  • The Prostate Cancer UK charity - £10, £20 or £50, or your own amount accepted - and that'd probably be a more direct way for your money to reach the destination
  • Cancer Research UK - monthly, quarterly or yearly donations accepted if you aren't comfortable with an idea of helping to fight only one type of cancer

These are of course the most obvious and general choices so if you know any more targeted organisation that could be a better option.

To my Russian readers: I failed to find reputable Russian charities taking donations online (bank transfers are more common), but if you know one, consider that please.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sketching at the British Museum

Greek statue Greek helmet Egyptian head

That's not my mistake, the Egyptian statue above has only one ear indeed. Do you know why? I failed to google the answer quickly.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Tour du Danger"

For a city as big as London it is hard to stay slow, relaxed and bike-friendly. Activists praise very well organised facilities of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, but it's usually omitted that the population of those two cities combined makes only 15% of the number of Londoners. So yes, maybe you couldn't expect that much in the given circumstances. Those who think otherwise still were witnessing that it was getting a bit better every single year. The death toll for cyclists has been continually decreasing: 21 lethal accidents in 2005, 19 in 2006, 15 in 2007 and 2008, then 13 in 2009, then only 10 in 2010. One too many, but the tendency was optimistic, especially considering that every year more and more people were getting involved as cycling gained its former popularity back.

As a mayor of London, Boris Johnson started with very inspiring pledges. Commuting by bike himself, he established the bike hire scheme (hence the unofficial but widely used name, BorisBikes), backed campaigns encouraging people to get on two wheels and introduced dedicated bike lanes, so called "cycle superhighways". Maybe it wasn't that bad after all.

So it went like that. Until 2011:

"Boris pedals lies"

It's only November now, it's not snowing or even raining much, and yet there are already 15 cyclists killed on the streets by motorised vehicles - a regrettable record! Tensions were also risen by the contradictory TfL decisions over the redesign of several key junctions and "road bottlenecks", Blackfriars bridge to name. More of that, the city authorities (and "the cycling enthusiast" mayor himself) kept saying "No" to any suggestions, simply declining the existence of the problem.

"Keep your wits about you"

In last three weeks, two people got killed on the same junction, and even more, on the very much celebrated "cycle superhighway", which suddenly turned out to be nothing more than a stripe of blue paint offering false feeling of protection.

In brief, that's how a humble flashride planned by two bloggers became an enormous "Tour du Danger". Today hundreds of cyclists rode through 10 of the most dangerous junctions in Central London and around in attempt to raise attention.

If you managed to forget about the reasons of the event, it was pleasant and smooth. It was different from the SkyRide experience as this time I was the one being marshalled having enough time to ring the bell and raise hand to greet cheering bystanders. Many thanks to today's marshals blocking the roads for us and enduring the yelling motorists' aggression (poor lads, today they reached their undoubtedly urgent Saturday destinations 5 or even 10 minutes later).

I only have videos of minutes before start and finish, and they don't provide the full idea of the event scale. More informative videos are easy to find though (search for #tourdudanger hashtags):

Some pictures (peek into the full Flickr set if interested):

Half way stop at Hyde park

Half way stop at Hyde park

Music box

Now a few tips to stay safe. They're trivial and most likely you already know them, but I'm still typing as it should also help me remember these points better myself:

  • Be careful on left turns - it's surprising but most accidents happen on left turns rather than on more complex right ones requiring your to negotiate through lanes. If you're turning together with a large vehicle as a bus or a lorry, it can get too close to pavement with its long body, hitting you eventually. And if you're not taking a turn moving forward through a junction, it's even more dangerous as you need to make absolutely sure nobody is going to take that turn from the lane right to you. Hence always try to stay behind (not even in front of, when possible, for it wasn't enough for some victims) the larger vehicles when passing junctions.
  • Ladies, take extra care - most of the victims are females, e.g. 10 out of 13 in 2009. I don't know why, but it is a very disturbing fact considering that there are not so many women cycling at all. So if you're a woman, please think what in your road behaviour could you improve. If you're male, however, it's worth thinking as well.
  • Consider wearing a helmet - I can understand "Dutch-style" activists who are against wearing lycra and helmets as it turns casual cycling into something you need to be prepared for with a special set of clothes, shoes and stuff, making actually taking a bus a lesser hassle. As to me, lycra is too much indeed, and certainly helmet won't help you if you get run over. Still, if you're just knocked off your bike, it might help you get away with that. Incidents like that also happen. And fasten your chinstrap - many people have them dangling way below their chins rendering their helmets almost useless.

Another thing to remember is that we're having troubles also because of more people cycling, more than ever in last years. I can see that even with my short experience of living in London, there are more and more people on the roads. So don't be afraid and join us. It's fun.

P.S. I was recording the route, see it here. It's not very accurate near the Hyde park - my phone lost the signal there for some reason, so it just shows a straight way through Green park - but apart from that it's fine.

Update: You can see me twice (blue helmet, black beard) in BBC report starting from 31s and 59s.

Update: More decent and numerous photos from another participant (found myself there as well).

Update: Report from one of organisers with more links to media coverage.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Treason & plot

Yesterday I grabbed several cycling guides from the TfL information stand at one of the Tube stations:

TfL cycling guides

Somewhat to my surprise, the "mayor's introduction" on the other side of the map featured Ken Livingston's photo and signature:

Ken Livingston as mayor on TfL cycling guides

Too late... or too soon?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sharing is caring

If you were subscribed to my Google Reader shared items by any chance then you probably know that the social functionality has been recently removed from that service and the feed can be no longer updated. While still moaning about the lost paradise on every other platform within my reach, I have moved to Google Plus as it turned out I'm addicted too much to sharing documents, articles and cat pictures.

There are already some handy solutions for those who didn't surrender to Google brute force, i.e. Ridllr or upcoming HiveMined project, but I personally deserted.

Native Google Plus links are human unreadable (the least of its flaws but let's don't get started on that), so there is a nicer URL to remember: Keep in touch.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A plaque on the bridge

Walking down the river Lea today we have discovered a blue plaque at the least expected place, on a railway bridge across the marshes:

A.V. Roe blue plaque

We've been there before and wouldn't have noticed it this time again if not given a clue from a bypassing friendly old-timer. That bridge and the marshes are the very place from where the first all British airplane first took off for its 30 metres flight in 1909. The only difference is that it used to be in Essex before London spread outwards:

First British airplane took off from here

The plane, one example of which is now exhibited at the Science museum in London, was built by an English pilot A.V. Roe. Once a supporter of the British fascist movement, he then had his two sons killed whilst serving with the RAF during WW2, and the company he founded contributed enormously to Allied victory.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Folkestone and Rye

Folkestone is where we saw the English Channel for the first time (air trips not included):

While the universally recognised home of the famous white cliffs is Dover, they are also towering over the Folkestone shores:

White tower and white rocks

The Eurotunnel is robbing the Folkestone port of the last bits of its former glory but still the town boasts its heritage and anchors can be seen everywhere, including real ones used as monuments. There is even a large hotel which shape resembles a cruise ship:

Folkestone port hotel

Speaking of hotels, there are enough of them for you to forget about the semi-abandoned port hub. The seaside beyond the harbour is a long line of hotel buildings, many of them very neatly looking and offering splendid views on the sea.

A building in Folkestone

Local seafood is also available - some shops and stalls proudly advertise that they own a fisher boat. The main offers though are sea snails, crabs and crayfish with larger species tend to be brought from elsewhere.

Local seafood

A typical English seaside:

Palm trees on the beach

It is necessary to mention the welcoming personnel of the National Coastwatch post - we were spotted while wandering on the top of the hill and invited to take a look inside. This post is basically a sea traffic controlling point maintaining the order and observing the vessels passing the Channel - the sea traffic there is right-hand by the way - which is one of the busiest areas in the world (you need to type "Folkestone" in the "Go to area" field here to see).

National Coastwatch post Inside the National Coastwatch post

This is the post's third building - the previous two of them have slid slowly off the cliff.


Rye is a small town in the East Sussex with quite a few well-preserved historical buildings and even more tourists taking pictures of them. Surprisingly shiny (yet still small and cosy) shops that could be found on its narrow streets are obviously too numerous to serve just locals. Everything there is crying for being photographed, and still there are no curtains on ground floors of residential houses, as if the interiors are also parts of the attraction.

A street in Rye

Two inns are competing for their right to be called the oldest one in Rye. While The Mermaid Inn still retains its 12th century cellar, the "modern" building had been re-built in just 1420. The Olde Bell, on the other hand, was built in the more recent 14th century, but survived without a facelift:

The Mermaid Inn, "re-built in 1420" "The oldest pub in Rye"

One interesting detail which makes both establishments something more than two nicely looking gingerbread houses and puts things into the historical perspective for real is the secret passage connecting them and used by a notorious gang Rye once used to be famous for. I learnt about the tunnel only later at home but luckily found both buildings in the phone memory. This currently smoothed-out town knew very different days.

There are more bad mobile photos in a dedicated set on Flickr.

Friday, October 21, 2011

#OccupyLSX - a week later

Protesters are still camping near the St. Paul's. The Canon welcomed the tent site five days ago but today the statement was issued asking people to leave peacefully. It was printed and distributed at the camp, and occupiers were gathering in circles to read it aloud. Then a general meeting was called, and now "consensus seems to be to stay".

Occupiers discuss the statement from the Dean

The cathedral remains closed but to be honest the protesters aren't creating much mess. Everything is very well organised - there are, for example, separate rubbish bins, volunteering janitors and toilet schedules:

Separate rubbish bins Volunteering janitor Toilets

The main stairs and side entrances are also kept clear most of the time:

Empty stairs, doors accessible Way to the side door kept clear

Solar panels and people offering free refreshments in convenient packages:

Solar panels Free juice

I might be wrong, but I'd say tourists create more problems generally for anybody wants to access the building. However, with the cathedral being shut, there were very few people just visiting, so two crowds together might be indeed creating an effective blockage.

There were some amusing Easter eggs among the endless slogans, posters, signs and stickers:

An Easter egg from the capitalists An Easter egg from the capitalists

Or, for example, a leaflet which suits the Tea Party more than the OWS movement:


But these were of course exceptions. The main message remains clear:

"Capitalism means war" "Capitalism is crisis"

I talked to some of the occupiers and found out that not only Londoners or even Britons were participating in the protest. People came from all over the word, so I myself eased somehow as it always feels a bit weird being a foreigner when internal affairs are being discussed. This guy was very nice to talk to, and also his outfit was fabulous:

I did some sketches of the site. There were at least four more people drawing around - thing is contagious!

OccupyLSX tents OccupyLSX Occupiers and bypassers

I have also updated the Flickr set I linked to before.