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.