Category Archives: Meta

Easy Steam

I don’t think I mentioned this before, but I’ve started a new blog in response to the level of interest shown in my entries on the subject of steampunk. Here it is.

http://realsteampunk.wordpress.com/

It’s called Real Steampunk and, as the name sort-of implies, it’s dedicated to real life examples of strange machines worthy of steampunk. I’m hoping to update on a weekly basis, although entries will be much shorter than you may be used to here on London Particulars. There’s only so much you can say about machinery before people’s eyes start glazing over, in my experience.

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Filed under Meta, Only loosely about London

Whatever, blog boy.

I feel I need to apologise for how lame I’ve been with this blog lately. I have a schedule, and until recently I’ve prided myself on sticking to it. But frankly that’s been a bit difficult over the past few weeks. No! Wait! Don’t go! I can explain everything! It’s not you, it’s me! Darling, that little tart meant nothing to me, I – Wait, sorry, flashback. What was I talking about?

Yes. I seem recently to have become One of Those Bloggers. You know, the ones who post a lot at first, then gradually allow the schedule to slip, and then slip again, then they change the schedule, then that slips, and eventually the blog goes into stasis. I am determined not to let that happen here, but, well. Allow me to explain fully.

First of all, there was the show that I talked about three or four entries ago. Then there was a trip up to the scenic Lowlands of Scotland, to a town called Whithorn. One of the place’s claims to fame is that it was a location used in The Wicker Man. For all the place’s many attractions, it lacked many of the amenities one associates with civilisation – most notably a decent pub, but also Internet caffs and any other means by which I could contact people. However, Wigtown was great if you like second-hand books (I do) and the Bladnoch distillery was both charming and full of Scotch. Then there was the start of the Christmas period, which has seen me out for many of the standard get-togethers. And in the meantime, I’ve been suffering with an intermittent broadband connection at my flat. This is why so many of the entries lately have been short on pictures and links – frankly I’m happy if I can even get the bloody entry online.

So yes, this is me apologising for being a completely lame writer. Sorry about that. I can change.

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If I were a rich man…

I hate money. Whoever said that money can’t buy you happiness was either a liar or very literally-minded.

You see, without going into too much boring detail, the nature of my employment is such that there is, occasionally, the possibility of my being without work. Now, to understand the significance of this, I’d like to take you on a journey across time and space, to a period long ago, back when it was… er, five years ago.

At that time, I also found myself unemployed, and went – for a very brief period – on the dole. Frankly, for the amount I got, it hardly seemed worth the effort. Anyway, a few months after I’d come off, I got a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions. It was a sinister thing in which they told me, quite sternly, that I was under suspicion of having committed fraud.

Well, this was a serious allegation, but I was quite sure there had been some misunderstanding. I went along to a little interview at which a middle-aged and slightly nervous-looking woman tried to act like a badass interrogator. She presented me with a letter in a manner that was possibly intended to be confrontational, but came off as if she thought it was about to explode. In this letter, National Savings and Investments confirmed that I had an account with them and, without getting too specific, there was quite a bit of money in it. This is a thing the DWP tend to frown upon when you’re applying for the dole.

Frankly, the whole thing took me by surprise. I’d never heard of this account, I’d never had any correspondence regarding it, even my parents weren’t familiar with it. I was asked why I hadn’t declared it, and I explained that I honestly didn’t know it was there. I also pointed out that there had been no activity on the account since 1994, and that it was unlikely, having been both unemployed and a student, that I would have gone without dipping into it. Unless I’d been planning to defraud the DWP since primary school, which is unlikely but possible.

Eventually I was free to go, it being determined that I had not been a child mastermind. My first move, as you might imagine, was to find out all I could about the account. Its origins were determined – it had been set up shortly after my birth and forgotten about. Next step was to get at that money.

Now, let me make this clear – National Savings and Investments hate you. I rang them up and explained the situation. They told me that I needed “a book” to get the money out. I asked how I could get this… “book.” They replied that I just had to tell them the last two transactions. I patiently reminded them that I hadn’t even known this account existed, and the chap happily explained that he could do nothing for me. So I tried writing, and received no reply. Eventually I gave up on the whole thing.

A few months ago – roughly five, in fact – it occurred to me that it might be sensible to try to get that money again. I was reminded of this by a call from my bank, reminding me of the existence of my credit card and overdraft, pointing out that these were costing me money every month and offering me a loan (which presumably would also cost me money every month). This NS&I account could take care of both of those, and isn’t that what those financial-advisor-type people are always telling us we should do with pecuniary windfalls?

So I went on the NS&I website to find out how I could get a new book. This had no information whatsoever. So I went to the Post Office (who run NS&I) and asked. I was told I had to write to the main office. Actually write. Compose a letter and send it. Now, I know the Post Office aren’t fans of the Internet, but for Christ’s sake.

So I did that. I included all the information I had. I didn’t know if it would be enough, because I had no idea what they required. The Post Office bods I spoke to seemed a little uncertain. I waited, and waited, and waited. After about three months, I was ready to write an angry letter, but then – at long last – I got a response.

It was a form. A form saying, “Yeah, you know that account, the one you sent us details about? Are these the details of that account?” Yes, I said, and posted it back. Then I got another form basically saying, “Are you sure these are the details of that account?”

This form also demanded a witness signature. No proof of identity, date of birth or address, they didn’t even specify who the witness should be. In other words, if an unscrupulous individual (other than me) got hold of the letter, they could just change the address details, fake a witness signature and get my book.

Eventually, a week and a half ago, the book finally arrived. I let out a whoop, as I was at that time living on beans on toast and the surprisingly nutritious gunk I’d scraped from under the fridge. I held off on buying a solid gold top hat, and went down to the Post Office. The photo of Postman Pat giving the finger should have clued me in that it wouldn’t be as simple as I thought, and so it was not. The woman at the counter explained that I would have to fill out a form, post it off and I would get the money in roughly two weeks. And I did ask – there is again no online facility for doing this, nor could I just give the form to them. Interesting fact – trying to get through a pane of reinforced glass really hurts.

After I’d recovered, I filled out the form. It asked for account details but again, no actual proof of ID beyond the book (which I’d have to physically send). Last week I got… a form identical to the second one, i.e. asking for my address, date of birth and an easily-faked witness signature. So I sent it off. Who knows what the next step will be? I tried reading some Kafka, but it offered little by way of practical tips. I’m starting to think maybe the Great Train Robbers weren’t bad men, just regular people trying to get hold of their savings who got pushed too far.

So here I am. I’ve been unemployed for four weeks, but I’m back in work on Monday. Going on the dole wasn’t an option, because of this account. But this account was of no physical use, because I couldn’t get to it. Meanwhile, I’ve been leading an existence of student-level poverty, with enough money to solve all my problems seemingly just out of reach. I don’t quite understand how my life turned into a 1980s sitcom, but there you go.

Anyway, to return to my starting point – money can’t buy you happiness, but I’d feel a lot happier knowing I can pay the rent next week.

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Filed under Current events, Meta, Only loosely about London

Welcome to Tooting

I’ve been off work this past weekandahalf, and I’ll be honest, it’s getting a little dull being stuck at home all the time. I never thought I’d miss being in an office.

On the other hand, it’s given me an opportunity to experience my local area during the day. To see the neighbourhood in a new light. It’s like one of those movies where everyone learns a very important lesson and in the space of a week becomes a whole new person. Except this time it’s set in Tooting.

Not much gets set in Tooting. The only thing that springs immediately to mind is Citizen Smith. Don’t get me wrong, in many ways it’s a pretty cool place, particularly once you get up towards Tooting Bec, but in many ways it’s also… not. At least, not on a weekday.

For instance, one thing you notice is a certain type of triumvirate. Two members of the triumvirate will be male humans, very fat, clipper haircuts all over, swigging from cans of lager even though it’s ten in the goddamn morning, and the third will be a ratty dog. So common is this combination that I’m starting to think maybe we should think of all three as part of a single colonial organism, like the Portuguese Man O’ War. Seriously, you see them everywhere. I’ve even had one or two of them attempt to half-arsedly start a fight with me, even though the merest attempt at physical exertion by any of them would result in a massive heart attack. You know that feeling you get when every snobbish thought you’ve ever had suddenly feels justified? Yeah.

I’ve also been trying to get in shape a bit. There’s been a lot of beer recently, and I was starting to feel guilty. Fortunately, on the intriguingly-named Figges Marsh, they’ve installed one of those new outdoor gyms. This is great if you’re me – I can’t be arsed with joining a gym. The concept apparently originates in China, and it’s one of those things the government likes because it helps to Improve the Health of the Nation. God knows it’s not just me who needs that. I mean, can you imagine? 2012 comes along and we’re all, “Oh hey man, I know I live just around the corner, but I’m going to take the bus.” What will the other countries think of us then?

Where was I? Yes, outdoor gyms. The one on Figges Marsh seems to be pretty popular. Every time I’ve been there, there have always been plenty of other users. I also found it pretty easy to use. It turns out my upper body strength lags significantly behind my lower body strength, which is lame. Must be all that running from the police.

It also turns out that the bank gets very busy, but that’s not interesting. Although seriously, what was with the guy behind me who felt the need to sigh and tut every thirty seconds? I know bank queues are boring. This is not a new thing.

As for tomorrow? Well, who knows, my friends. Who knows.

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Filed under Current events, Meta, Parks and gardens, Sports and Recreation, Suburbia

I know, sorry.

Apologies. I know that, like, four weeks ago I said I wouldn’t be updating much for the next two weeks. I’m afraid that my return from Edinburgh coincided with the Internet going down at our flat. My flatmate, who has asked to be referred to by the pseudonym of “With-a-C,” jury-rigged me a working connection today. No longer will I stumble eyeless through the Info-sphere.

There is much to talk about, chums. The riots, for instance, and my role in their downfall. And the Notting Hill Carnival. And of course, the show itself and the trip to Edinburgh. And what could possibly be the explanation for these eye-damaging morally-outrageous photos?

Find out in the next exciting instalment of LONDON PARTICULARS!

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Mine eyes dazzle

Now, I’m afraid I’m going to be a bit rubbish over the next two weeks, chums. The reason for this is that, as I have previously said, I’m going to be in Youth Action Theatre’s production of The Duchess of Malfi, this week in London and next week at the Edinburgh Fringe. This will, I fear, make updates on this blog sporadic at best.

Of course, if you’d like to see this play yourself, you’d be most welcome to come along. This week – from Tuesday 9th to Thursday 11th August – we will be performing at the Hampton Hill Playhouse as part of a double-bill with a rather exciting devised piece called Lost and Found. It’s a world premiere sort of thing, so I must confess to not knowing a huge amount about it – however, I can vouch for the talent of the author, cast and director. It’s made extra-exciting by the fact that Yr. Humble Chronicler is supplying some of the props.

The Duchess of Malfi follows, and in accordance with the limitations of the Edinburgh Fringe, is pared down to an hour long. What this means is that you can tell everyone you’ve seen Webster’s masterpiece, but you haven’t had to sit through the full-length version which is like six weeks long or something.

If this all sounds like your kind of thing, and frankly why wouldn’t it, more info can be found here. Or if I’ve excited you sufficiently with this blog entry alone, you can book tickets here.

Of course, it might be that you’re in Edinburgh the following week, in which case why not come to see us up there? We’ll be at The Space (venue 36) from August 15th-20th, and you can book tickets here or here.

So there we are. I hope you’re as excited as I am, and I hope to see you there. Until next time, chums.

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Filed under Arts, Current events, Literature, London, Meta, Suburbia, Theatre

And now the story…

Check this out, my droogs. Very little to do with London, but it was a funny thing that happened involving me and the author, Shoinan. That is all. Anyway, I’m off to write today’s real entry.

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Filed under Film and TV, London, Meta, West End