Big, mad, hectic city.
Jul 22, 2008 38
As I’ve posited in these pages before, the main reason for having a blog and keeping it going for nearly nine years (!) is to be able to track the annual cavalcade of winged whimsy which is Flying Ant Day.
As in previous years, the date seems to be geographically clustered (which makes sense, I guess) and after an early misfire on Wood Lane a couple of weeks back, I can now confirm that it does, indeed, appear to be Flying Ant Day in London.
|Year||FAD London SW14||FAD elsewhere|
|2004||22 July||6 July (West London)
17 July (West London, Hackney, Manor Park, Roy Bridge)
27 July (Didcot)
|2005||29 July||12 July (West London)
2 August (Mill Hill)
|2006||12 July||12 July (Enfield)
17 July (West Sussex, West London)
26 July ILondon SE14)
|2007||19 July||8 July Nottingham
13 July (West Sussex)
14 July (East Sussex)
15 July (Portsmouth, Harrow, East London, West London, West Berkshire, Oxford, Verwood, Dorset, Kent, Crawley, Reading)
16 July (Romford, Dublin)
17 July (Heysham, Lancashire)
19 July (Derby, Derby, Walsall, Bermondsey, Marlborough)
|2008||22 July||22 July (EC1 – my workplace), Kent – via Hg, Wood Lane W12 – via Cliff & lmg, E11 – via tomskerous, NW5 – via Girlwithaonetrackmind, W14 Barons Court – via ChrisL|
So we can see that the slight anomolies of early sightings we experienced in the last few years have now been corrected, and we’re back in the range of 2004.
This year has been notable not for the number of reports, but for the fact that so many people IMed/twittered/emailed me directly to let me know when they saw the little flying feckers, because (in the words of one) they now associate FAD with me. Bless.
But on a relevant note, Twitter has made it easier to track sightings.
For example, we can see that there have been 26 mentions of “flying ant” and 39 of “flying ants” (many mentioning London) in public twitter streams since lunchtime today. Before that, the previous mention was a week ago, then nothing much until three weeks back. So not only can we tell it’s FAD in London, but we can be reasonably sure that it started at lunchtime. How cool is that?
I’ve also noticed that I get a sense of flying ant season from looking at my site analytics. Over the past month there have been nearly a thousand searches resulting in a visit to my site from people looking for information about flying ants, and there are definite peaks in there (peak ant?): June 22, July 2, July 7, July 14. And today.
Jul 9, 2008 4
Previously in these pages, we’ve discussed the ways people hold bouquets of flowers in public when they’re trying to pretend they’re not holding a bunch of flowers in public.
Today, during a pitifully brief pause in the monsoon that has become this Great British Summertm, I spotted another interesting classification system in need of recording – namely, the ways people carry their furled and redundant umbrellas when the clouds have stopped pissing all over the city for a moment or two.
Well, I say “spotted”, when what I mean was “nearly had an eye taken out by some moron carrying his brolly in a careless manner”. Naturally, it should go without saying that the person in question was wearing a pinstriped suit, and that the brolly was a golf umbrella, and thus doubly protruding and jabby.
Here’s what I’ve spotted so far (in order to register here, there need to have been two unrelated sightings of each):
Jun 16, 2008 5
From the top of the bus this morning, I saw
- A couple wearing suits, canoodling hungrily within the dark cave of a speeding cab on Waterloo Bridge. He holds her face tenderly as he laps at her upturned mouth; her fingers splay on his pinstriped knee; a phone sits on the seat behind the distracted flap of her sensible skirt.
- A german tourist bus rounding the corner near the Strand and, from the shiny windows which bank the sides, twenty round lenses peering up at Somerset House roof while a bored guide in lemon transfers the mic to her other hand so she can point, and gives her commentary in the background.
- A family with parents in jumpers and children in neon-bright shalwaar kameez holding hands and elbows and clutches of documents as they skitter together across the road at Aldwych.
- Three men in pink striped/checked/plain shirts and spiky overgelled hair hovering near a turnstile lobby entrance on Kingsway, each propped against a wall or pillar, independently comtemplating their morning smoke, overlooked by a bank of CCTV cameras, impatiently blinking.
- A bald man in a striped t-shirt with his belly poking out, a ten-o’clock shadow and a half-burnt cigarette smouldering tight between his fingers stopping mid-pavement at Red Lion Square to devote his full attention to the front cover of the tabloid he’s reading. Behind and before him, a current of crotchety commuters tuts and splits around him, rejoining the flow on the other side, but he is oblivious, transfixed.
- A girl in soft shoes, exercise tights and jersey top, smoking on a step near the ballet school off Grays Inn Road. As she talks, she picks distractedly at the nape of her neck, releasing painful strands of mousy hair from a tightly scraped-back, regimentedly high bun, and flexes her toes in the sunshine
May 13, 2008 3
I wasn’t going to comment on the election of that “tallest-dwarf” smug-faced buffoon into public office while I was in the US, except that now the deed is done, I am roundly looking forward to him being exposed for the zero-content publicity-seeking toffo timewaster that he probably is, and all his bold initiatives being exposed as the rather underthought and populist reactionary twaddle that they no doubt will reveal themselves to be in due course.
No-one comes here to read my whinging about politics, and the internet doesn’t need another blog pretending that London is Where It’s At, so I expect that most of the above can go unsaid.
However, I just spotted this on the BBC website:
I love the idea of news trees – juicy ripe news ready for plucking from the bough, or tumbling onto the heads of unsuspecting picnickers/budding physicists in Hyde Park. A bountiful harvest of golden news ready for pressing into RSS cider. Small birds making nests among headline twigs.
It’s like something that The Day Today (“slamming the wasps from the pure apple of truth”) would have come up with, and thus utterly at home in Boris’s manifesto.
Alas, the story itself reveals this fancy to be merely a typo, which is a shame because with all the stabbings and shootings in the city and the time we’re going to spend waiting for a Routemaster 2.0 bus that will never show up, it might be nice to have nugget of fresh news to nibble on (remember, editors recommend you have five a day!), harvested from a nearby tree, once in a while.
Apr 23, 2008 2
Excellent news for photography lovers with access to central London: there’s an exhibition of photographs by Don McPhee on at the Guardian Newsroom in London (60 Farringdon Road, opposite The Guardian offices), running from last Friday, April 18th through to the end of June.
In case you don’t know who he was, Don McPhee was one of the photographers who really helped to define the visual style of Guardian news photography over three decades of working with the paper before his death early last year. If you’ve been reading the paper for a while, you will have seen his images, and I’m sure there are many you’ll recognise in the retrospective.
Most of his work was black and white, and he had an amazing eye for composition and delicate humour in his work. He was especially known for his portrayal of life in the North – something which was especially evident in his coverage of the miners’ strike in the early eighties, during which he produced iconic images, many of which can be seen in the exhibition.
I’m not writing this and recommending this exhibition because I’m a corporate
schill shill (sorry for typo) and I work for The Guardian these days: I’m telling you about it because ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been inspired and moved and amazed by Don McPhee’s work, and the fact that I now work for the same organisation which used to commission and publish him is the icing on the cake.
This image of my teenage bedroom, taken when I was, I think, 14 or 15, reveals that (as well as being a bit serious and gothy and having a cold), I used to spend a lot of time going through the paper every day, cutting out the most striking pictures – many of which were McPhee’s work – and building an enormous collage, which eventually expanded to entirely cover my bedroom walls.
I was curious about how they were composed, intrigued as to how they told or related to a specific story or revealed a particular aspect of an individual or situation. It was probably my love for this body of photographic work and the particular visual vocabulary of styles it uses – documentary, juxtaposition, social observation, everyday, candid, striking – which has embedded in me a lifelong love of photography and taking photos myself.
If I can achieve a minute percentage of the creative results that Don McPhee managed, then I’ll be incredibly happy. I’ve got no pretension that I am a photographer, though: I just take photographs. But I’ll admit to being heavily, indelibly influenced by his work (along with others, like Martin Parr), and proudly so.
In any case, if you are in or around London in the next couple of months, do check out the exhibition if you get a chance. It’s free, a real treat, and well worth a visit (the attached cafe does a nice blueberry yoghurt muffin, too).
There’s an excellent gallery of the sort of thing you can expect within the exhibition, here.
More Don McPhee loveliness online:
- Working with Don: Whilst covering the 1988 US presidential elections for The Independent Brian Harris found his visual style changed after teaming up with rival press photographer Don McPhee of The Guardian.
- The Online Photographer obit
- Gallery of shots from his Manchester exhibition
- Maxïmo Park explain why they wrote a song about Don McPhee
Jan 25, 2008 3
One of the things about taking a train into central London rather than bus/tube, is that I’ve noticed certain cultural incidents which pass poor tube-travellers by. Namely: there appears to be some sort of pissing contest going on (not literally) (though it’s possible, of course) between rival estate agents in South West London.
How do we know this? Well, on the SWTrains route into Waterloo, there’s a succession of stations sponsored by estate agents all adopting slogans bragging about how innovative they are, each trying to out-do the last.
Leaving aside for the moment the issue of whether “innovation” in the context of estate agents is another term for “underhandness” “deviousness” or jus plain “lying”, I wonder what petty feud might have erupted to cause this outbreak of marketing.
The series reads thus:
Home of ____: London’s most innovative estate agents
Home of ____ estate agents: more innovative than the rest!
Home of ____: Call that innovation? You oughta be ashamed
Home of ____ estate agents: We SHIT innovation
Home of ____: Innovating all over YO MOMMA
On reflection, it’s a jolly good thing that Waterloo is the end of the line, otherwise I fear things might have erupted into violence (or the dead-eyed, nylon-suited, hairgelled equivalent).
Jan 22, 2008 4
The bus I take home from the tube is on diversion at the moment because of some roadworks in the neighbourhood, and as a result, in order to avoid a tedious two mile detour in heavy traffic, it makes sense to get off the bus much earlier and walk home.
It’s not far – about fifteen minutes or so – but in the rain of last week it got fairly old pretty quickly.
And then, just when we thought that was bad enough, the other night, congestion was so bad in Hammersmith – gridlock, in fact – that no buses, or any other vehicles come to that, were moving at all, so I wound up walking all the way home (about 3 miles) in the chilly (and thankfully, non-rainy) air.
The good: great podcast listening session and a feeling of virtue. The bad: definitely the wrong shoes.
I want to live near a tube station again.
Dec 2, 2007 2
It’s late and dark and chilly, and I’m waiting on the street for a vacant cab to come along.
The pub doors open and a small, jovial huddle pours out onto the street, and assumes a position on the kerb, half a block downstream of me. They similarly scour the oncoming traffic for an orange light.
After a minute or so of unsuccessfully flagging occupied cabs and seeing nothing of use, one of the group spots me, whispers to the others and then, en masse, the shuffle past me, nonchalantly, to casually take a kerbside position a respectable distance – a dozen yards, perhaps – on the other side of me.
Upstream of me.
Now, unless I enact a similar leapfrogging procedure, I’m suddenly at a disadvantage, cab-wise. They haven’t stolen my cab: they’ve stolen my potential cab, which is way more irritating, if you ask me.
I’m just saying, there ought to be a law.
And in the absence of a law, I hope that they do indeed get the first cab which comes along and that the driver is a one-eyed bigoted, outspoken, sociopath with few driving skills and a particularly niffy flatulence problem, who just had a kebab-shop load of stagnighters in the back, one of whom might have had a little accident in the darkest corner of the seat, which may not come to light until a work colleague walks past a jacket belonging to one of the cab predators, gags, boggles and demands to know who’s been practising unholy acts with decaying vermin. Furthermore, I hope that the cab driver has no GPS and a stubborn belief that he and The Knowledge are a lot better acquainted than they actually are, and he doesn’t believe in reading maps or taking directions from people in he back seat either, in much the same way as some people don’t believe in common courtesy, so they end up doing endless circuits of the Kingston one-way system. Oh, and he’s run out of change, too.
Karma’s a bitch.
Oct 22, 2007 5
She’s got new shoes. At the end of long, bare and goose-pimpled legs, they are conspicuously shiny and uncomfortable, and she does not know what to do with them.
They are tucked together primly, her knees higher than she is used to.
They are stretched out in front, swaying on the points of the heels.
They are pigeon-positioned, with her tote bag between ankles.
Her toes wiggle in their unfamiliar confines, and she finds herself sneaking glances at these new additions, admiringly, just as other commuters do the same to her.
Trotters stuffed in phat-laced white adidas, with jeans suitably distressed and earnest meeja glasses. He’s reading a limited-print-run magazine – the kind with incredibly stylised fashion photography and wrapped in an achingly ironic cover – a gorgeous woman in a pig mask – with a single-syllable name.
Munt. Vibe. Tramp. Shunt. Meh.
He is flipping through the pages, impatiently, and his lips move as his piggy eyes flick across the pages.
She can’t stop fidgeting. First she’s opening a bank statement, then rearranging the contents of her handbag, then rummaging in her coat pocket to change the track on her music player, then faffing with tucking her hair behind her ears.
With every twitch, her downy jacket, which adds an inch to her personal space, or takes one off, intrudes upon the suited man beside her. With every brush of her puffa, he huffs a little louder, and rearranges himself to withdraw from her contact.
His annoyance increases at precisely the same rate as her awareness doesn’t.
Oct 17, 2007 12
- Clipping your nails (biting is just about bearable, but any activity which results in bits which were previously attached to your body suddenly arcing through the air towards me is a no-no)
- Picking your nose (especially if you subsequently eat/flick/wipe your boogers – see (1), above)
- Scratching your noggin (most especially when it causes a scurfy blizzard to erupt, which then settles in drifts on my clothing and alights on my nose and eyelashes)
- Picking your feet (including and especially if they’re on the seat next to you and/or you’re wearing flip-flops. There is never a right time to debride yourself in public.)
- Scratching your bollocks (sorry, “jiggling your keys.” Yeah, right. I’m not fooled)
- Chewing gum.
In fact, stop: Hammertime.
Let’s examine that one in more detail: since we must endure you chewing like a cow on the cud, it seems reasonable that I should be crystal-clear about what exactly I neither need or want to experience:
I don’t want to see your slack-jawed, open mouthed chewing, as the gum washing-machines around your mouth. If I wanted to see the inside of people’s mouths, I’d have become a dentist.
I don’t want to hear the sound of your eternal, infernal (etfernal?) mastication – the rhythmic, smacking chlump, chlump, chlump of pre-swallowed wetness. Like apples, but neverending.
I don’t want to see you sneakily trying to secrete your spent and shapeless grey lump of taste-empty chud somewhere around you when
you’re done you’ve finished your odious chomping. Don’t stick it under a seat, on a wall or between the seat cushions. Hiding something is not the same as throwing it away – and here’s another newsflash: throwing it away from you is not the same as throwing it away. It’s rubbish. It goes in a bin.
If you must chew, wrap it in something when removed from your gob and throw it the fuck away when you find a fucking bin, you asshat.
And most of all, I don’t want to suddenly find my sole tackily dragging something from its footfall, or my bum strangely adhered to the bus seat, like I did earlier on my way home. If you chew gum and then leave it where other people can sit in it, you’re an inconsiderate, hurf-swizzling minch-smuggler and I will hunt you down and hurt you.
And then make you pay for a new pair of jeans.