The beautiful things about Jobs

This post has been brewing for a couple of weeks, in fact, I nearly wrote it last night. However, at just before 1am this morning, it suddenly became incredibly apt that I hadn’t written it yet. A post in praise of my brand new shiny toy with a piece of fruit on the front of it deserves publication on the day that Britain woke up to hear that Steve Jobs had died.

There’s no question that Jobs’ creations have changed computing, phones, film and music beyond recognition. (I think to say that he changed the world is possibly a bit of an exaggeration given how much of the world’s population need simpler things to enhance their lives – like food or healthcare.) Being something of a technophobe until recent years, Apple had very little impact upon my life until three and a half years ago. In fact, I went through a phase of deliberately avoiding owning an iPod because of its ubiquity – that ended when a gift enabled the purchase of a beautiful silver music playing device. That year, I needed a new laptop and I toyed with going to the Mac-side, but chickened out and played safe.

Buying an iPhone was always going to happen and sure enough, nearly a year ago (after at least three prophetic iPhone dreams) I succumbed. It may sound ridiculous, but that’s changed my life – I don’t get lost nearly as often as I used to; I can instantly prove myself right (or, occasionally, wrong); and, most importantly, it helps me fall asleep (programmes on iPlayer) or restores my sanity when I have insomnia. Ironically, it was in this last state that I heard the news about Apple’s co-founder – a quick look at Twitter on my iPhone in between attempts to sleep just before 1am showed a tweet from Gizmodo. Within seconds Twitter was ablaze with tributes – including one which noted:
“It’s crazy to think about how many people are sharing the news of Steve Jobs’ death using devices he invented.”

There will be countless tributes printed to Jobs’ undoubted genius, his passion for creating products that were intuitive and were what the public wanted – before they even knew they wanted them. My own personal tribute is the fact that I’m writing this post on a computer that’s the most expensive piece of technology I’ve ever bought, but that I chose to spend more on because I had confidence in it as a brand and a product. (Plus, obviously, I thought it would make me look cooler at college. I’m not sure yet if it does, it seems my typing skills are impressing more people…) 
A friend was visiting when the package arrived – I told her she’d be impressed with the packaging. 
She was.

What can I say? It’s shiny, it’s beautiful, it’s intuitive. By the time I next used a PC 10 days later my brain had switched to Mac-mode and I became frustrated at its inability to be smooth and efficient. (Not making that mistake again, darling Macbook now comes with me on office days.) I’m still getting the hang of it, but fortunately, I seem to be living with a Norwegian techy genius and have plenty of friends who have already crossed over to the ‘dark side’. (There was a Twitter debate last week as to whether it was dark or light, we concluded dark, I think…) I need to make a decision about Office for Mac versus iWork, but I’m currently undecided – Pages is beautiful and I love it, but I can’t help thinking that essays might be easier in Word (thoughts – anyone?). 
Steve Jobs, thank-you. We have much to be grateful to you for (not least the fact that with an iPhone, one need never be bored again) and it’s terribly sad to think of what might have been, had your life not been cut short. 

Friday Fun returns!

Morning! It’s been many, many weeks in absentium, but today Friday Fun returns. I’m already realising that a working life that does not involve being tethered to a desk 5 days out of 7 has a negative impact upon the amount of fun that one encounters online, but we’ll see how we progress…

Firstly, cunningly related to my new line of work, a video that’s been doing the Facebook rounds since its appearance at the end of last month. Entitled ‘Wrong Worship’, this is a truly excellent parody of how not to sing/write worship songs. The fact that even my High Church sister found it hilarious says a lot…

Of course, it really wouldn’t be Friday Fun without some brilliant TfL geekery. Firstly, some die-hard geekery: did you know that it’s possible to catch westbound Circle Line trains from the same platform as eastbound District Line trains at Tower Hill? [Well, you would if you followed me on Twitter last night…] Plus, as I was told in reply to aforementioned tweet, you can also get a northbound Victoria Line train from Euston to King’s Cross and a northbound Victoria Line train from King’s Cross to Euston. I’m convinced TfL’s sense of direction may be lacking…

But the true TfL geekery (for which I have the lovely Becki to thank) is a site which maps fictional tube stations. It’s basically geekery squared – it includes, for example Vauxhall Cross station from Die Another Day; Crouch End station from Shaun of the Dead [deleted scenes only!]; plus assorted old films, soap operas (Sun Hill and Walford East of course feature) – someone had a lot of time on their hands! But their effort is much appreciated and will be enjoyed by many a lover of TfL, spurious facts and useless trivia.

Oh, and in case you thought it couldn’t get much better, the same people have gathered together links to all the alternative tube maps they could lay their hands on – hours of geographical joy, right there! I particularly enjoyed their own ‘uncluttered’ version (below), one indicating how much of the network is underground (not much really) and the anagrammed version (which I may, or may not, have mentioned before). How very clever.

There, hopefully that’s enough fun to sate you for the weekend ahead. If not, I do apologise and will try harder next week – after all, none of this week’s content was derived from The Hairpin, which is quite an unusual occurrence.

How do you define ‘seriously’?

In amongst the birthday cards and gifts my sister brought with her to London on Saturday was non-birthday gift that I knew to expect – a hardback copy of The Chalet School Goes To It which my mother had purchased after a detailed phone call with me a few days earlier. First thing I did after extracting it from its paper bag? Opened it up at a random page and inhaled deeply – there is little better in this world than the smell of a 60 year old hardback school story…

At some point during our picnic I mentioned my latest acquisition and was asked if I had similar rules for Chalet School hardbacks as for paperbacks. (I have a variety of book collection rules but will never go into the tedium of my CS paperback collection here, suffice to say I now have a full set that I’m almost happy with.) I think my response was “Oh no! I don’t take collecting the hardbacks seriously!” – to which the (possibly sarcastic reply) was “So you’d take a book in any kind of condition, with the spine hanging off?”. When I said that I wouldn’t, my friends suggested that I was taking this more seriously than originally claimed – so let me explain:

Firstly, once I had my complete paperback set, my Chalet School collecting passion was fairly satisfied. I had all the stories as well as various other bits and pieces – pretty impressive considering there are 62 books in total. Secondly, the paperbacks were hard enough to come by – the hardbacks are even worse. I’ve acquired a few, some for free, but dedicating time and resources to finding all 58 hardbacks is not something I can justify.

This is the only complete hardback set I’ve seen in the flesh. 
It was the highlight of a New Years’ house party nearly three years ago (a friend was house-sitting). 
In fact, I recently discovered the owner may be a tutor of mine next year, which would be exceptionally exciting. 

But, when I joined Friends of the Chalet School (FOCS) [oh yes, for two years I was that much of a geek – though, to be fair, it was their book selling network that helped me complete my collection] I discovered a terrible thing. When Armada began publishing the paperbacks, they edited the original text. In some cases it was just minor – updating of language and removal of now offence terms – in other cases it saw the deletion of entire chapters, new titles or even two books instead of one. (If you’re a geek too, here’s a list of how the series fared.) Finding that my collection was missing bits of the plot incensed me, so in the back of my head, my priority for hardback purchases is those that suffered most at  the editors’ pens.

[Incidentally, a lot of classic children’s literature suffered from this and is only now being dealt with. Check the editions you grew up with and you may well discover a mention of ‘abridged’ if you look closely enough. And don’t get me started on Enid Blyton & the transformation of Aunt Fanny to Aunt Franny! They’d better not tamper with Arthur Ransome’s Titty…]

Fortunately, when I was a member of FOCS, I was able to read accounts of exactly how these editions differed and in some cases, read the missing chapters. For the first time I discovered that Princess Elisaveta reappeared at the school during WW2, and just how lucky I was to have read the unabridged Three Go To The Chalet School before acquiring the paperback version. (And yes, I’d have loved to write my own comparison, but the hardbacks I owned had already been done.)

So, jumping into bed with my newest hardback on Sunday night was an exciting prospect as I looked forward to new discoveries. I won’t bore you with the details, but the fact that Goes To It became The Chalet School At War in paperback gives an indication of the differences. I know, it’s sad, but it makes me happy…

Predictably, once I read one, I couldn’t stop. This is a particularly dangerous prospect given (a) the size of the series and (b) that I’d intended them to go into storage in 3 weeks time. Then I went online to see if I could find any of the old comparison articles. I couldn’t, but did find that new fill-in titles were available. I’m in two minds about these, on the one hand the ones I’ve read have been good and very true to EBD’s style. On the other hand, there are errors and these annoy me, plus, I’m not sure if it’s the right thing to do. But, if you’re a fan of the series, I do recommend those sold by the Girls Gone By Publishers (who now have the CS publishing rights). Then I found a real black hole – online fan fiction.

Fan fiction can be rather dodgy. I’ve heard about the mass of Potter related fanfic, much of which seems to veer on pornographic. Suffice to say that CS fans aren’t as lewd – though I did appreciate one story in which the predictable, somewhat formulaic structure of the series was fought against (and where Joey and Jack actually had sex – shock horror!) and there are a couple of predictable girls’ school insinuations. I also discovered a brilliant post end of series story about Len’s daughter which actually brought a tear to my eye, in much the way that occasionally EBD originals have.

Finally, if you are a fan and believe yourself to have fairly encyclopaedic knowledge, what’s better than a few quizzes? It’s possible I may have wasted around 30 minutes of my evening down that particular black hole!

Designer London

Keep your eyes and ears open around London and you discover beautiful, fascinating things. Like on Sunday night, while walking from the pub to the tube after the classic Sunday evening post-church socialising, when a friend pointed out something interesting on a lamppost.

Yes, on a lamppost. It seems that the person who lit the Marylebone area of Westminster wanted to make a tribute to a certain designer. Guess who:

Yup, Coco Chanel. Legend has it that the second Duke of Westminster, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, was so smitten by the designer when they met at a party in Monte Carlo in 1925, that he ordered all the lampposts in Westminster to be adorned with her initials. (The ‘W’ on the other side is part of his crest.) Apparently she turned down his marriage proposal with the words: “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster, there is only one Chanel” Youch.

It’s a great story and makes for interesting street architecture, so I will ignore a recent quote from Westminster Council that states: “Periodically, we get calls from the fashion press asking if the double C’s on our lampposts stand for Coco Chanel. It’s a nice idea, but no… The fancy W stands for Westminster and the two C’s stand for City Council. The lampposts didn’t actually get installed until the 1950s.”

I love London’s designer quirks and nowhere are they more evident than on London Transport, which gives me a nice lead in to a nerdy confession (yes, another one).

The week before last my sister spontaneously came to town and we rather predictably ended up at the London Transport Museum shop – a place which draws geeks like a moth to a flame. I initially got very excited at the prospect of owning genuine Line Status magnets – the signs that informed passengers of any part-suspensions, delays or closures. Until recently these were magnets on a board updated by staff, now they’re (sadly) electronic screens. But with these you could make your own version on the door of your fridge!

What they really need to do to make the nerds happy is also sell the boards that these were stuck to, but on a white fridge, with coloured marker pens, you could probably do a good job of creating your own. (I didn’t actually buy them, but if anyone wants to give me a gift…) 

You think that’s geeky? Just wait…

The book section is truly dangerous – after all, it’s where the nerdiest book in the world was purchased. I may now be developing a whole shelf of very nerdy books. Mim spotted a special offer that really couldn’t be resisted. If you bought The Story of London’s Underground (a gorgeous hardback full of tidbits of information and pictures) you got The Jubilee Line Extension free. It was £50-worth of geektastic reading for £25 – how could I resist?! The latter book is especially geeky, as it concentrates mostly on the architecture and engineering of the extension (I know two people at least who’ll be reading this and desperate to borrow it…) and is also about the bit of the tube I use the most.

To illustrate the point I was making yesterday about living ‘in the middle of nowhere’, here’s what it says about the new station built in Bermondsey: 
“Bermondsey Station is, in contrast [to Westminster & Canary Wharf], located in an unfashionable quarter of South London, far off the tourist trail.” 
“At street level, the station provides a welcoming refuge from heavy traffic – there is no attempt at a defensive look despite the harsh location.”

Point is though, that there is beauty even in the most unlikely of places – the middle of unfashionable Bermondsey and on a lamppost in literary Marylebone.

Further adventures of a TfL nerd

There are various quirks that emerge in my regular day-to-day London behaviour – I like to walk (stupidly long distances) to places for no good reason sometimes; when boarding the top deck of the bus I will always aim for the seat on the far-right of the front row; I get irrationally annoyed when people take up too much space on the pavement for me to over-take them; I like to be able to walk down escalators…I could go on.

Many would lay claim to some of the above quirks, but lately I’ve noticed a few, rather more nerdy ones appearing. Do many people deliberately manoeuvre themselves to the front of a DLR train so they can pretend to be driving it? [DLR trains are automatic.] Anyone else love the thrill of being able to see exactly where they’re going and feel every jolt and shudder? Has anybody else felt that they missed a trick in not including some rollercoaster-esque moments – like the steady ascent into Canary Wharf that ought to end in a dramatic drop?

Yesterday, I got absurdly excited at the prospect of using the Waterloo & City line, which I rarely travel on. It’s something of an oddity, what with only containing two stations, and simply exists to provide an under the river shuttle between Waterloo and the City. [Gosh, it was clearly a genius that came up with its name!] Plus, it’s the tube featured in Sliding Doors and I once got to observe new rolling stock being delivered to its tracks – a definite TfL nerd highlight.

You see, there’s no open air access to the line – unlike all other lines which connect emerge above ground somewhere or somehow – so moving the new trains in when the line and trains were refurbished four (ish) years ago was tricky. It just so happened that one Saturday morning on the way to my old, skanky gym in Waterloo, I spotted a train carriage in mid-air and paused to see what was going on. Turns out that the only way to get the trains down there was to cut a massive hole in Baylis/Waterloo Road (at the junction by the Old Vic) and use a crane to lower the carriages in, one by one. Fascinating. I wish I’d taken a photo, but luckily a quick Google has brought one to light:

Photo courtesy of the very useful SE1 website.


The other quirk is the continuing quest for disused stations. Ever since my nerd’s day out back in September, an increasingly grubby list of locations has sat in my jacket pocket. It’s not often that I’m the vicinity of a known station, but very occasionally I stumble upon them by chance – like last Sunday, while on a secret mission in Primrose Hill.

Emerging from Chalk Farm station and heading up towards the hill, I looked up a road to my left and spotted a bridge and a building that looked suspicious. Closer inspection revealed a set of buildings that had to be a former station, especially given their proximity to a railway bridge. I wasn’t entirely sure which station it was (it wasn’t on my list), so had to wait until  I got home to check out. [Those wondering at my sanity may be relieved to hear that it was well over 24 hours before I actually looked it up. I didn’t even use my iPhone there and then.]

The former Primrose Hill station buildings.

Turns out that the reason it wasn’t on my list is because it wasn’t a tube station, but a mainline one. Originally known as Hampstead Road, then Chalk Farm before becoming Primrose Hill in 1950, it closed in 1992 – a relatively recent abandonment. Disappointingly, perusal of this website revealed that the platform and its canopy was visible until just over two years ago. I’m glad – in an extremely nerdy way – that I thought to look up the road just at that moment.

Now that spring has sprung I’m feeling an urge to go on another purposeful disused station hunt, so those that wish to join me do get in touch and we can formulate some kind of plan, no doubt involving flasks of tea (or whisky – I’m not fussy), anoraks and possibly binoculars…


I’ve just caught up on a tweet my sister sent me yesterday sharing a couple of videos she described as ‘geektastic’ (couldn’t watch them at the time, as I was trekking round London looking for churches), but having now watched them, I can confirm that they are indeed geektastic and incredibly informative.

Ever wondered what the point was of Mill Hill East station on the Northern Line? The random branch line that seemingly goes nowhere. Turns out it was meant to go somewhere – Edgware in fact – which would have created an incredibly convenient Northern Line loop. This, and other fascinating factoids about North London’s public transport system, are included in this video:

Part two is a similarly intriguing film about the 1960’s Ringways project that would have seen London surrounded by motorways – kind of glad that one didn’t get off the ground.