Saturday, November 01, 2003


I have a report on the Australian cricket team's one day victory over India, and also a cricket news roundup over at ubersportingpundit.
Only 44% ?

This site is certified 44% EVIL by the Gematriculator

(Via Stephen Karlson).

As I may have mentioned, I recently concluded that I really needed a memory card for my digital camera, as the internal 16Mb memory is pifflingly inadequate in any situation when I want to go away from my computer for more than a day or so. However, upon getting frustrated by the absurd prices charged by British high street, I ordered a card and a card reader from an internet retailer in Jersey, which quoted me an excellent price. However, there turned out to be a catch. Which was that I was leaving for Australia. And oddly, I wanted to have the memory card to take with me to Australia.

I ordered the memory card on a Friday, and I was leaving on a Wednesday. That should have been plenty of time. I was heartened to receive an e-mail the next day (Saturday) telling me that my order had been dispached, and I therefore eagerly looked forward to being able to store 64 four megapixel pictures in the camera instead of merely 8. The e-mail also contained a brief statement that the order might be sent in more than one package due to the way their warehouse system worked. This is normal. A lot of internet retailers say that, and it was nothing to worry about.

Thus, when a package fell through the mail slot on my door on Tuesday morning. I was happy. Yay. Memory card. But of course, when I opened it up, I found it only contained the card reader. (Well, that and a complimentary pen with the URL of the retailer written on the side). Damn. They had dispached two packages. (They didn't tell me this by e-mail. Amazon for instance always do. That is one point for Amazon). And I was going to Australia the next day. Still, there was some hope. And perhaps I would get another free pen in the second package.

And hey, I had the card reader. I was able to plug it into my USB hub, and install the driver software. When I did this, a little green LED came on on the card reader. (Of course, a blue LED would have been much cooler but it would also have cost a few pence more for the manufacturer). I turned it on and off a few times. The card reader looked so cute, just sitting there beside the laptop.

But of course, there are certain problems with having a card reader and no actual cards to read. Of course, the memory card didn't come the next day either, and I departed for Australia without it. I have brought my laptop with me to Australia, so I should be able to simply download my pictures to my hard disk whenever the camera gets full. But still, it's frustrating. And of course, the memory card is probably now sitting beneath the mail slot at home in London.

Or maybe not. For all this probably actually isn't the fault of the internet retailer. Part of it may be that mail takes a day or so longer to come from Jersey than from the British mainland. Most of it, however, is that Britain is having a postal strike. (John Major wanted to privatise the Royal Mail a decade or so ago. It's a shame he didn't succeed. At that point the Royal Mail was still quite a good organisation, but it has gone badly downhill since then, due partly to the government demanding excessive dividends in the good times and due to a lack of investment). In some ways, Britain is a frustrating country.

Friday, October 31, 2003


There is a certain type of really dumb movie this is if anything somehow improved by being watched on an aeroplane dubbed into Japanese.

One of the other films on the plane was Terminator 3, which was subtitled rather than dubbed. Presumably certain qualities of Governor Schwarzenegger's stilted English with an Austrian accent dialogue are not really translateable.

Annoyingly, I can only ftp to the webspace given to me by my English ISP if I am actually connected via that ISP, which means I cannot upload pictures right now. I shall very soon get some alternative webspace sorted out, hopefully.

Thursday, October 30, 2003


I have a piece on the security procedures required to use the internet cafe at Tokyo Narita airport over at White Rose.
I am now in Australia

My laptop is not in a very good way. For the first year or so of its existence, I lugged it around with me all over the place, and it got a little bit of wear and tear as a consequence of this. In fact, it eventually received a lot of wear and tear, so for the last nine months or so I have been using it simply as a desktop PC. It is now too fragile for carrying around. However, on this trip to Australia I really needed to bring it with me. Therefore I packed it very carefully amongst some of my soft clothes. I also packed a toolkit and a soldering iron just in case there was trouble. I then came to the conclusion that the fact that I am unwilling to travel with my laptop unless I have a soldering iron with me is really an indication that I need a new laptop.

The laptop is working okay, however. It didn't suffer any damage when in transit.
Being in the right place at the right time

As it happened, I was flying in a northern great circle over northern Siberia from London to Tokyo yesterday evening. This is an interesting place to be if the earth is about to be hit by the third greatest solar storm on record, because that means aurora. As it happened, most of the passengers were asleep, but I was playing an electronic game on the video screen in front of me. A stewardess came up to me, pointed out the window, and said something completely incomprehensible. I looked at her in a puzzled fashion and then she went away for a moment (presumably to ask someone else how to pronounce the word) and came back again. She then pronounced it again, and I still couldn't quite get it (Are you asking me to look at the Aral Sea? At night?). Then of course I was smart enough to actually look out the window. Oh, aurora. (The word is not an easy one to pronounce if you are Japanese, I suspect, given all the r sounds in it). I thanked her profusely, and then watched it for a while. Okay, I have never seen a major aurora before, so I have nothing to really compare it with. I doubt it was an extremely spectacular aurora as these things go, and I wouldn't describe it as quite the most spectacular thing I have ever seen, but it was certainly quite interesting. There were sort of vertical yellowy streaks covering much of the sky to the north, and there was a sort of misty yellowy reddish structure closer to the horizon. These were not espeically bright colours, but the whole thing was quite striking. It was visible in a substantial portion of the sky.
Mission not accomplished

Sadly, I was not able to find the toy in question in any of the stores I looked in. (Two of these were chain stores that were claimed to stock it, too). The British high street is a fine, fine, thing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I'm on a mission

The five year old son of a friend of mine wants a Thunderbird 1 Electronic Playset for his birthday. These are all sold out in Australia. I received a plaintive e-mail from his father this morning, asking would I please try to buy one in England and bring it to Australia with me. My flight leaves Heathrow at 6.45pm, and I still have a little packing to do. Will I achieve this task and make a spoiled five year old happy? Tune in later to find out.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Meanwhile, back in Australia

Sasha Castel is being attacked by birds. And just think, I am going there tomorrow. (At least, I am leaving here tomorrow. I am not arriving until Friday).

On the other hand, wait until Sasha meets a plover.

I have a piece at ubersportingpundit entitled "More thoughts on the rugby World Cup format, and will the Japanese ever play cricket?"

Update: I also have a more normal cricket update, mainly on the ultimately drawn match between Pakistan and South Africa.

Monday, October 27, 2003

An interesting afternoon

Yesterday afternoon I went on a tour of St Pancras Chambers, formerly the Grand Midland Hotel, which is essentially part of the structure of St Pancras Station, and one of the great Victorian buildings of London. I have written about St Pancras Station before, but it is an extraordinarily grand station, and the hotel was an extraordinarily grand hotel. It has been closed as a hotel since before the second World War, and for any regular use at all for 25 years or so, but you see the remnants or grandeur.

Walking through that section of London, you see this great Victorian structure, and you wonder at its magnificence, and about how rundown it is and why it is so rundown. You walk into St Pancras Station itself, and you wonder something similar. The single arch of the trainshed is the most magnificent in London (on indeed just about anywhere) but there are only a small number of platforms being used, the station looks like it could use a coat of paint, and there are a small number of trains coming and going. It is not like King's Cross station next door, which is architecturally less distinguished but absolutely bustling with people coming and going at all times. (Kings Cross has a second, even less architecturally distinguished trainshed that was built in 1875 and is usually used for suburban and short distance services to Cambridge or similar). The question "Why is this?" is one that I had asked many times, and that was one reason I went on the tour yesterday. (Talking to some of the other people on the tour this was a not uncommon reaction. Quite a few of the people on the tour were people who had walked down Euston Road and just wondered).

The magnificence of St Pancras compared to King's Cross was something that was noticed by the producers of the Harry Potter films. The mythical Hogwarts Express departs from platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross, which is supposedly located between platforms 9 and 10. Sadly, platforms 9 and 10 are in the unimpressive looking suburban section of the station. However, the second Harry Potter film uses St Pancras both for internal and External shots, presumably because a location scout went to Kings Cross, wandered around, and obseved that St Pancras was much more impressive to look at. (It seems that J.K Rowling herself did not to a location scouting exercise before writing the book. A friend once told me that she heard that Rowling was actually thinking of Euston when she wrote the book, but I haven't verified this).

And, yesterday I was able to find out. The Midland Railway had was a major operation in the Midlands, but it came to London rather late, opening its main line in 1868. By that time the Great Northern had served King's Cross since 1851 and the London & Birmingham (later absorbed into the London & Northwestern) had served Euston since 1838. Apparently the Midland wanted to really make a splash when they entered London, and one way they did this was by building a hugely impressive station and a hugely impressive building. But although St Pancras station was very grand, it was never as important or as busy as the Great Northern or the London & Northwestern. (Still, it was more busy than it is today until services from Bedford that had previously terminated at St Pancras were diverted underground to south London on the "Thameslink" line in 1988). And the hotel was a stunning building, but even when it opened it was in some ways not very modern, having no central heating (coal fires being preferred) and the rooms not having their own toilet facilities (chamberpots being used instead). If the building had been built ten years later, both of these features would have been different, and the hotel may have survived a lot longer, but as it happened it closed as a hotel in 1935. It had various other uses subsequently but it was closed to all full time use for safety reasons around 25 years ago. In some ways these "other uses" did not have the greated effects on the building, as (for instance) some of the beautiful stencil work on the ceilings and walls were covered with standard issue BR paint. Worse, it seems that there may be some quite beautiful artwork under some of the paint as well, but nobody is really sure. And why would you cover a marble column with white paint?

Oddly, enough, however, when you go inside the building, sections of it are quite familiar, as it has been used as a setting for many film, television, and fashion shoots over the years. Most notably it was used as the setting for the Spice Girls' music video for "Wannabe", in which the hotel is doubling for, well, a grand hotel. I haven't seen that video for a few years. After yesterday, I want to look at it again, now that I have seen the location firsthand. This is at least partly because that video was done entirely as a single shot, and given the physical layout of the hotel I think that may have been awkward.

In any event, the building is quite run down but interesting. The grand staircase is indeed grand, the arches of the windows and the art on the ceiling is almost religious in quality (Sir George Gilbert Scott, the architect who designed the building, was also a church architect, and you can tell).

Unfortunately, about 25 years ago, British Rail auctioned off all the furniture, despite the building's heritage listing also covering the furniture. They just did this. Therefore, the main dining room (and the coffee lounge downstairs) of the hotel are now just bare rooms.

Apparently, Oscar Wilde was once eating dinner in this room, when word arrived that the Marquess of Queensbury's men were downstairs, and were threatening to come in and trash the place if Wilde didn't leave. According to the guide, Wilde was a gentleman so he left and the place wasn't trashed.

Also, the Australian and India cricket teams stayed in the hotel in 1930. Apparently the Indian team caused all sorts of problems for the staff by practising in the corridors. I do not know if the Australian team also practised in the corridors, but somehow I hope so. Walking along the corridors, there is something appealing about the idea that Sir Donald Bradman himself may have once waved a bat just there.

The Grand Midland Hotel was one of the first buildings in London with elevators. Of course, being posh and British they weren't prepared to actually call them elevators. Some other name had to be invented.

So what now? What is happening to this grand old building?

The second stage of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link into London is presently being built through a tunnel into central London. Services are going to terminate at St Pancras, and the station (and the area around it) is being massively redeveloped. When it is all complete, there will be 13 platforms at St Pancras, and it will be receiving the trains from the Midlands it receives now, trains from Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and no doubt elsewhere in continental Europe, plus fast domestic services from various places in Kent. St Pancras will be perhaps the most important railway station in London, for the first time in its history. Apparently the roof of the train shed is going to be painted the same dark blue it was in 1868, and it is going to be even more busy than Kings Cross next door.

This has led to an opportunity to restore the old Grand Midland Hotel to something of its former glory as well. The Mariott hotel group won the contract to take it over. A modern medium budget hotel is to be built on a brownfield site behind the British library and next to St Pancras chambers, and this is to be connected to the foyer of the old building. This is presumably the major money making part of the venture. The old building itself is to be restored into a mixture of apartments and a luxury hotel. At least, that is the story. Looking at the old building, such a restoration is likely to be very expensive and time consuming. There are apparently extensive discussions going on between English Heritage and the hotel groups as to just what they will be allowed to do. (For instance, if it is to be converted back into a hotel it is going to need modern plumbing). It remains slightly up in the air as to what is going to happen.

However, inevitably, something will happen. A depressed and rather nasty area of London is going to turn into a modern, developed, and not run down at all part of the city, through this and other developments nearby. Already there is a lot of construction going on - both of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, an upgrade of the Kings Cross underground station, and other work. The British Library (foreground below) is one nice public building in the area already.

There are various other planned transport upgrades that go through the Kings Cross area. The Thameslink 2000 upgrade has an important hub just under St Pancras. The Chelsea/Hackney railway (also known as Crossrail line 2) also is planned to go through Kings Cross. If all this happens, Kings Cross becomes the most important transport hub in London. And it may take a couple of decades, but inevitably it will eventually all happen. At which point St Pancras station and St Pancras Chambers will become an interesting Victorian gothic structure in the middle of what will be one of London's key centres of modernism. Which should be as a minimum quite interesting.

I have a piece on Britain's woefully uncompetitive high street over at Samizdata.

Sunday, October 26, 2003


Cricket update (mainly on Australia's one day loss to India) over at ubersportingpundit.

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