Showing posts from 2011

The weather inside the British Library

It was filthy and miserable outside. But in the locker room at the British Library yesterday it was as if there were multicoloured mushrooms growing on top of the cabinets.

The climate inside the library is one in which people believe the other users will not steal their pretty umbrellas even once they've dried out. This pleases me.

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Is Secret Cinema the most entertained you can be?

As a student I spent half a year abroad in Washington DC, studying politics and working for a politician (Senator Carl Levin from Michigan, since you ask. A great man). This was in the days before Monica Lewinsky gave interning a bad name, which gives you some idea of quite how long ago it was.

I learnt lots of things, including that, although it's very important that you try, sometimes it's impossible to get along with room-mates, especially if you didn't choose them yourself; that - relatedly - exercise can be a great panacea; and also that America is full of excellent opportunities to be passively entertained. I learnt some stuff about politics too but that's a different story.

My favourite haunt, and one that left a big impression on me was called the cinema and drafthouse in Arlington and I'm delighted to see that it's still open.

There it is *smiles at the memory* In particular I liked it because it was a new concept to me. You could go along and watch a …

My set-top box is oppressed by Hells Angels

I don't know whether this is normal, as I don't have much to compare it with really: I've lived in the same place since set-top boxes were invented. But my set-top box comes over all temperamental every time a motorbike buzzes past. There's something about the frequency of their engine vibrations that makes the screen wiggle and the sound disappear.

This probably wouldn't be a problem for most people with my model of set-top box. Unfortunately, I live right next to some traffic lights and the TV is in the front room, meaning that on occasion motorbikes are sat there for several minutes at a time, buzzing away and waiting for the lights to change.

And even then that wouldn't necessarily be a problem... But on the other side of the traffic lights is the Hackney Road, where the club house of the Hell's Angels of Great Britain is located. Well, it's on Dawson Street, which is a side road. But you know what I mean.

Yes, I know. Ha ha.

Now don't get me wr…

Wonderful Wilton's

Wilton's Music Hall is just off Cable Street, near Aldgate, and has the distinction of being the oldest surviving music hall building in the world. It is also rather unusual in that it appears to have the ability to make everyone who goes there cooler and better looking merely by association (which could be useful if you're looking for somewhere to go on a date).

I realised this when I visited last Friday, to see a band called The Destroyers, which I wrote about in my other - music - blog.

With its stripped down walls, delicately moulded plasterwork and niagra of fairy lights, it has a glamour that creeps up on you. The place is magical, dramatic, apparently awash with the dreams of its many thousands of performers and audiences. It also seems to be in a bit of a state of disrepair.

I've been hearing for years about attempts to find funding for refurbishment, reading about it in newspapers, hearing about it on the local TV news. I even heard about it in person once, when I…

George Orwell, The Moon Under Water and the absence of liver sausage

George Orwell - an Old Etonian who was reduced to destitution by theft then cannily turned it to his advantage by writing Down and out in Paris and London - produced an essay for the Evening Standard in 1946 about the perfect pub. In his mind's eye it was called The Moon Under Water and there were ten things that he said it would have to possess.

* The architecture and fittings should be Victorian
* Games, including darts, are played only in the public part of the bar
* There's no radio or piano, so it's quiet enough to talk
* The motherly barmaids know the customers by name and are chatty
* It sells tobacco and cigarettes, aspirin and stamps and lets you use the phone
* There's a snack counter that sells liver sausage sandwiches, cheese and pickles, mussels and caraway seed biscuits
* Upstairs, six days a week, you can get a good lunch - for example, a cut off a joint, two veg and a jam roly-poly - for three shillings
* It should sell a creamy sort of draught stout, w…

Welcome to The Nightjar... or not

Last Wednesday I headed to The Nightjar, which is on City Road just off the Old Street roundabout and had recently been called one of the top ten bars in the world.

It's supposed to be hard to find.

Just a doorway between two cafes. You've got to watch out for the sign.

But I'd found it! That was a good start. So I headed down the stairs into the "speakeasy" - and it looked OK. A bit less spacious than I was expecting from the photos on the website but I had a chance to look around, take in the surroundings and find a table: there were two spare and a seat by the bar.

I sat down to wait for my friend, who was coming straight from work, and opened the drinks menu....

At which point a waitress came over and told me that they were fully booked and there was no point staying any longer. There were no "reservation" signs out and she wasn't especially apologetic or polite.

It advises on the website "Thurs-Sat reservations highly recommended". As…

Canary Wharf on why it doesn't want sex clubs

An announcement is expected soon from Tower Hamlets about its proposal to ban the borough's eleven strip, pole-dancing and lap-dancing clubs. As I wrote earlier, I took part in the consultation procedure because I live in the borough and am on a neighbourhood committee and it was pretty evident that the decision had already been taken, with council officials asserting repeatedly that the draft policy was "nil tolerance" for sex clubs.

The ostensible grounds for this were that no one who lives in the borough wants them there, though I'd assumed that was what they were supposed to be discovering from the the focus group? As it was, the five Muslim men on the panel were straightforwardly against the clubs and the three lily-livered non-Muslims took a more liberal line that could be broadly defined as nimbyism. We weren't keen on having them near us but wouldn't like to ban them.

As I wrote the other day, Rania Khan, who is the public face of this campaign, has ti…

The Star of Bethnal Green: support your local riot-damaged pub

Monday August 8 was riot day in Bethnal Green. It was the school holidays and it was hot. Mario Denotti, 35, is the general manager of The Star of Bethnal Green, which was right at the epicentre of the trouble, and came to east London from Sardinia.

"We didn't board the place up because we didn't know anything was likely to happen - the police didn't say anything," he explained, standing beside the bar in his well-proportioned pub on Bethnal Green Road, which is still marred by two enormous broken windows. "The first thing we heard was when our IT guy came downstairs and said there was a rumour on Twitter that some people would be coming down here that evening." You can follow the pub on @StarBethGreen.

"It all happened between 6pm and 9pm. There was a massive crowd of kids around outside and then all our customers ran away. We started to see a really tense situation and then decided to close the doors. There were hundreds of kids but the first thi…

Olympic torch thingy under construction

This is the current state of play with the Olympic torch/flame holder tower, as seen from a train leaving London at Stratford (so apologies for the quality of the photo).

For some reason it reminds me of the creature in Alien: the first film, when it's mainly tail and comes zipping out of John Hurt.

And my cousin Helen says that there's something of the "red weed" episode in Wars of the Worlds about it...

So definitely a sci-fi vibe... I only live up the road from the Olympic Park and was quite gobsmacked by the price of the tickets. Let's hope that the event itself next year turns out to be more ET than Predator.

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When I grow up I'd like to be a teenage cartoon character...

Spotted this on High Street Kensington, just around the corner from the beautiful art deco Associated Newspapers building.

And it reminded me that I know at least two men who say that they decided to go into journalism because of Tin Tin.

You know who you are.

That is all.

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I was harassed outside sex club, says councillor

Rania Khan, 29, (below) is Tower Hamlets' councillor for Bromley-by Bow and has appeared a couple of times on the local London BBC this week, as the face of Tower Hamlets' proposed ban on lap-dancing and strip clubs.

Khan told me that her leading role in the campaign against the borough's sex clubs was in part the result of having been attacked outside the Nag's Head strip club on Whitechapel by a group of five men.

"I was walking past and five men in suits came and crowded round me. One said 'pull up your top, love' and in that moment I felt everything I believed in had been belittled. I felt really like a small little object. Had it not been on a high street..." She trailed away, suggestively. "They had formed a ring around me." She escaped physically unscathed.

It happened six years ago, she claims, the year that she stood to be an elected representative for the first time, at the age of 23. But she didn't report the incident to the p…

No sex clubs please, we're Tower Hamlets

It's the end of a sexual era.

After a change in the law that gives local government more power, Tower Hamlets has a draft policy of zero tolerance for its 11 legal "sex establishments", otherwise known as strip clubs, lap-dancing and pole-dancing clubs. It has the power to shut them and looks likely to do so.

A consultation exercise finished last week, and I took part in it because I live very close to one of the clubs and am on a neighbourhood panel.

It was clear from the way that the issue was dealt with that the official position is that "no one in Tower Hamlets wants these clubs near them".

Personally I don't have an ideological problem with the places. While thinking that it must be humiliating for an averagely sensitive man to be treated like a co** with a wallet, I guess the humiliation's part of the draw: that and the guilty puzzle of trying to figure out who's exploiting whom exactly. I think there's probably some truth in the suggestio…

Islington's anti-capitalist chattering classes?

I saw this the other day, on Raleigh Street in Islington, near one of those new city academies.

Here's Wikipedia's entry on fractional reserve banking. Apparently the anti-capitalist protesters at St Paul's cathedral are holding discussion groups and classes about what the roots of our financial difficulties are, whilst stoutly holding out against the reactionary forces of the right-wing press (try banging "St Paul's protest" into Google today).

I ran this pic past Robert Peston, the BBC's business editor, since he recently appeared in my other blog and is the person I know most likely to say something sensible on this subject. His response was: "Fractional reserve banking is our system. The issue isn't really theft but its stability."


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Will Bunga Bunga restaurant survive Berlusconi's demise?

Bunga Bunga in Battersea is extraordinary.

I went a few weeks ago, with a friend who was intent on reviewing it for a newspaper. Sadly because his keenness to see the place outstripped our ability to plan the evening, we hadn't booked. So we had to make do with a seat at the bar, from where there was a good view of the place and its goings-on, and my lugubrious, Italy-loving friend went back another eveningto try the food.

Bunga Bunga is owned by two friends of Kate Middleton (Duncan Stirling and Charlie Gilkes, below). But it's noteworthy for other reasons too.

It's a bar and restaurant themed around the Carry-On exploits of Silvio Berlusconi, where you can drink a cocktail from a vessel modelled on the Italian prime minister's fake-tanned head, or the Colosseum, or the leaning tower of Pisa. Yum. Oh, and "Bunga Bunga", in case you need reminding, is a reference to Berlusconi's sex parties, populated by women young enough to be his grand-daughter.


Ken Livingstone on why the Tubes don't run all night

"Well," said Ken Livingstone, in that world-weary nasal whine you either love or hate. "In the rest of the world they have two sets of tracks, so you can use one and fix the other. But it didn't occur to the Victorians, so we're screwed."

I was asking about Boris Johnson's pledge to get the Tube running for an hour longer on Friday and Saturday nights and why, in his opinion, it hasn't been possible to do it?

"It's not unique, is it? Almost everything Boris promised hasn't happened. He went into that election not expecting to win and having no knowledge of local government. It was only after the event that he realised things were a lot more difficult than he thought. It'll be Brian Paddick this time around, saying 'We'll keep theTubes open later'," he said, referring to the forthcoming London mayoral election campaign.

Last week I spoke to the mayor, Boris Johnson's office about his election promise and heard fro…

Monkey magic

So police in Ohio have called off the big game hunt for any remaining zoology on the lam after being released from the private Muskingum County game reserve.

Terry Thompson, who ran the place, let his collection - which included eighteen Bengal tigers, six black bears and three grizzlies - out of their cages before shooting himself dead for reasons best known to himself.

But I think it would be safe to say that he probably wasn't a man who set great store by neighbourliness.

His act of kindness towards his menagerie led to each and everyone of those unfortunate creatures being itself shot dead by an overwhelmed local police force.

Except one.

Word has it that there is a snow monkey unaccounted for, although the police are putting it about that the creature was "probably eaten by one of the big cats".

And I say why not leave it at that?

At least until next spring...

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Why 24hourlondon is now a free app

Running an app when you don't have a marketing budget is hard. It's why I started this blog: it's something I can do without spending too much. Plus I've worked as a writer and I've got to play to my strengths, right?

But I do need the app to make some money one day.

When it first went on the market, last June, I priced it at £2.39 reasoning that this was less than the cost of a pint and that this mattered because users would probably already be out and about when they decided to download it. (Apple has a series of price points for its apps - 59p, £1.49, £2.39 - and you have to pick one.)

However, I've realised that this is the wrong way of looking at it because (1) people tend to download cool sounding apps as soon as they hear about them - that's part of the fun (2) they compare the price of apps mainly with the price of other apps, not with the value of the information contained within them. This is annoying but there's not much I can do about it. An…

Why the new citizenship test is like a maths exam designed to exclude Jews

I took the government's new citizenship test and I got 57 per cent. I'm not proud. The pass mark was 75 per cent.

I felt should have been good at it. I've got a 2:1 in politics from a reputable university, I've spent my working life at newspapers dealing with statistics and I've got nothing against the kind of history that involves learning dates. I just, ahem, didn't know many of the answers.

Obviously this made the the girly swot in me feel a bit of a failure, though I can at least take some comfort that I'm not on my own. It appears to be the kind of test for which your teacher has to tell you the exact answers beforehand because the syllabus is very narrow. GCSE anyone? I mean, if I ever knew which year women received the right to divorce their husbands, why would my adult brain retain that information?

Moreover I'd maintain that the final question - what is the difference between the average hourly pay rate for men and women? - is not only vague (a…

Why don't the Tubes run all night?

When Boris Johnson stood to be mayor of London in 2008 his transport manifesto, called Getting Londoners Moving, included this on page five.

"I want the Tube to open for one hour later on Friday and Saturday nights, so Londoners can get home safely."

A modest proposal, you would have thought. Especially since this is precisely what happens in Paris, where the Metro usually shuts at 1.15am but stays open until 2.15am on Fridays and Saturdays. If a country notorious for the strength of its unions can negotiate such an arrangement in its capital, you would have thought that our Can Do mayor would have no trouble - especially since his election victory rested largely upon the votes of outer London, which has the most to gain by longer Tube hours.

And yet - judging by the fact that it hasn't happened - he has had trouble.

By way of limbering up on the subject, I contacted Transport for London to ask them in general terms about the justification for shutting the Tube. After al…

Smithfield is 24hourlondon in a nutshell

While the rest of the country sleeps, Smithfield's meat market buzzes and slams. Right through the night during the week, the ownership of huge slabs of meat is transferred and refrigerated lorries come and go.

Time was that cattle would be driven there on foot from all over the country for the same purpose: the records at the London Metropolitan Archive are full of the trouble that ensued. Locals getting trampled by herds that stampeded their way along Cowcross through to their steaming, teeming destination; the complaints of customers who'd been short-changed; and the traders done out of a livelihood by market administrators trying to clamp down on this kind of behaviour. These are the Rigs of the Times...

Originally called "Smoothfield" because it was once a flat, grassy area, over the centuries it's been a place of execution, the site of the oldest hospital in the country (Barts is still there), a fairground and a market. It's also home to one of the olde…

24hourlondon is go, go, go

Before 24hourlondon was an iPhone app, it was a twinkle in Horatio's eye.

It was born when I was working as a sub-editor at The Daily Telegraph and the office had moved from Canary Wharf to Victoria. Sub-editing news meant late finishes - usually around 10pm - and there's nothing like the catharsis of a deadline to make you want to have a drink and talk about whatever it is you've just delivered to the next day's breakfast tables.

We'd get to the pub at around 10.15pm only to discover that closing time was looming and have time for one or two drinks at breakneck speed before being thrown out by someone burly, tired and unfriendly looking. Couldn't blame them: they had a job to do. But the whole experience was less than relaxing which was, after all, supposed to be the point.

And yet we were in central London. The Tubes kept going for an hour and a half longer and wouldn't it be great, we moaned (because sub-editors can do that to international competition s…