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View Article  Bring Back The Planetarium

I read today that Tussauds has been taken over by the people who own Legoland, Sea Life and the London Dungeon.

It seemed like a good opportunity to email them about a recent tragedy:


Congratulations on your purchase of Tussauds Group, and good luck with the enlarged business.

Can I make a suggestion about Madame Tussauds? Resurrect the Planetarium, or build a new one. It failed, I think, because Tussauds were running it badly.

I'm in my late 30s and, like half my generation I'm sure, have fond memories of coming to London to see the Planetarium. Now I live and work round the corner from it and when I heard it was closing, went to visit for old times' sake.

It turned out my old friend had died years before. For a start, you couldn't just go to the Planetarium: to get to it you had to pay the ridiculously inflated prices to see the waxworks, which surely appeal to quite a different market.

The Planetarium itself seemed to have shrunk, but that may be just because I've grown! Or it may be that they wanted space for another David Beckham. Either way, it certainly wasn't as grand, just very basic wipe-clean metal benches. And the wonderful Heath Robinson machine was gone, replaced by LCD projectors - well, that's progress I suppose. But worst of all, there wasn't even an attempt at stargazing. Instead of a presentation to fill you with awe at the scale of the universe (like watching the lunar eclipse last weekend), there was a moronic three-minute flyby of the solar system with Red Dwarf-level special effects.

It was a cheap and empty spectacle, instead of something to inspire a lifetime of interest in science and astronomy. It felt like an insult to the memory of an experience that was formerly on a par with the Science Museum or the Natural History Museum. I bet they haven't had a school trip to the Planetarium in a decade. A shame, because there IS demand, if only it were done properly.



View Article  Street Violence
Anyone who's been in London in the last couple of months will have seen them. Since the launch of thelondonpaper, and the relaunch of London Lite, you literally can't avoid them. It seems like every street corner in London is now occupied by aggressive street hawkers trying to give you free - but crap - newspapers. God knows where all these people have sprung from (is someone importing them?) but there are millions of them and they're very rude. These guys don't just stand there and offer you stuff - they see you coming and move to get in your way.

I've taken to not breaking step. If, one day, one of them fails to get out of my way, you may be reading about me in the (free,crap) newspapers. It could get ugly.

View Article  Taxing Times

A friend sent me this:

> I haven't actually filled this in, as I'm skeptical... but I thought I
> would forward it to you all so you could make up your own mind. It looks
> legitimate and came from a reliable person known to me. Has anyone
> heard of it before?

> Hope everyone is well.
> Thanks,
> D
> From: M
> Sent: 15 January 2007 10:03
> Subject: Car Tracking
> Hi all
> The government's proposal to introduce road pricing will
> mean you having to purchase a tracking device for your
> car and paying a monthly bill to use it. The tracking
> device will cost about £200 and in a recent study by the
> BBC, the lowest monthly bill was £28 for a rural florist
> and £194 for a delivery driver.
> A non working Mum who used the car to take the kids to
> school paid £86 in one month.
> On top of this massive increase in tax, you will be
> tracked.
> Somebody will know where you are at all times. They will
> also know how fast you have been going, so even if you
> accidentally creep over a speed limit you can expect a
> NIP with your monthly bill.
> If you care about the continual erosion of our freedoms
> and stopping the constant bashing of the car driver,
> please sign the petition on No 10's new website. Log on
> to the internet and sign the petition and pass it on. It
> only takes a minute.
> Please pass this on to anyone who owns a car/motorcycle.
> It affects them.
> Regards

I replied:

Hi D,

This is a genuine petition; I knew about it before, and I knew about the road pricing proposals. But let's not forget we're talking about a PROPOSAL rather than a POLICY: GPS road pricing is only an idea so far, being explored for feasibility. So it may be that the petition is a bit premature.

I personally think the scheme has some merit, anyway. It would presumably be offset against the current setup of fuel duties (taxing your mpg), the fixed road tax, and local parking charges in some areas. The scheme has got congestion charging built in, and could also address 'green' concerns by, for example, charging more per mile for more polluting vehicles.

What it does really underline is the concept of an 'incremental cost' - where each extra journey actually costs you, noticeably. At the moment a large chunk of the cost of running a car (especially if, like me, you do a fairly low mileage) is road tax, insurance, parking, servicing, and the money tied up in the value of the car itself. These are all pretty much fixed overheads; mine are about £100 a month. It doesn't really cost me much extra to, for example, go to Finsbury Park this evening. Just a quid's worth of petrol, so sod it, I will. It's convenient, and negligible cost. It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet: why not have an extra slice of pizza if it's free?

Now, if my fixed overheads were only £60 a month but tonight's jaunt was going to cost me £10 in road pricing - because I will be going through Kings Cross and Islington at rush hour - then I might reconsider. I could get the tube and walk a bit, and save a fiver. Or I could allow myself to use the car for things like that once a week, and no more.

So that all sounds reasonable so far, and the BBC survey sounds good too. Modest rural usage is cheap. A commercial driver paying something like £200 a month sounds okay (don't forget it's the company which pays this), and would presumably be even more if he was clogging up the roads in rush hour, and/or in central London. And discouraging the school run is also a good idea IMHO (no matter how emotive the language) - as long as there are enough school buses.

This is the crux of the matter, I think. With recent increases in rail fares, and the severe cuts in the number of buses over the last 20 years, the public transport alternative is more and more unrealistic - at least, outside the major urban centres. If you want to encourage people out of their cars, you have to give them a reasonable alternative FIRST. Conversely, if we are all (even Londoners) pretty much obliged to use cars sometimes, it's ridiculous to penalise them too much.

There are other concerns, too. There's the setup and running costs, which of course are also paid by you and me. It's a hugely complex system to implement, and given successive governments' track records in other large high-tech schemes, there are serious doubts about whether it could be done within a reasonable budget and timeframe. And finally there are the human rights issues involved when the government can track ones movements. Which do worry me.

So on the whole, I am keen on some of the basic principles, but deeply suspicious of the implementation. I want to see detailed proposals before I jump either way.

In the meantime, though, there's always THIS petition:



View Article  Just Civil
Although we're both staunch atheists - to the point where we consider the religious to actually be slightly unhinged - Moore and I have talked several times about the value of some of the traditions of the christian church in particular, or religions in general.

The first time we talked about it was after a christening. We've since been to a secular 'christening' and in fact Moore is a godless-mother to little Esme. In both cases, it made sense to us for the new birth to be celebrated, and for the child to be introduced to the people who are going to be part of it's life. Most religions contain something of the sort, and that's a good thing: it fulfils a basic human social role that is quite separate from its theoretical religious significance, which is apparently something about welcoming the child into the family of God... well, sod that, clearly.

There's one that Christians don't often do so much as some other religions: the coming of age. Although there is 'confirmation' in the C of E, it's fairly unusual these days. Many Jewish people still take their Bar Mitzvahs seriously, though, and I understand it's for girls too now. Islam has a parallel, and there's pagan precedents too, and no doubt others. It's a celebration of fertility, a celebration that you made it through childhood, and a symbolic transfer of adult responsibility. I think the modern British equivalent is taking them down the pub to get rat-arsed, and that seems absolutely fine and splendid to me too. Welcome to the real world, kid.

Similarly, Moore and I can both see the value of a funeral, remembrance service, or particularly the fabled (but probably non-existent) Irish-style wake. Remembering your dead friend, celebrating their memory with others who remember them, swapping stories and hopefully gaining some sort of closure. That's all good stuff. I've done something of the sort myself - thankfully only once or twice - and been grateful for it.

And there's one other formal celebration which almost all races, religions and creeds subscribe to. As old as the species, it declares that this person, this one here, is with me. We two publicly declare our love for each other, in front of our friends, family and peers, for all to see. We will live together, love each other, grow old together.

Reader, I married her.
View Article  Old Perv
The girl at the coffee shop has a tattoo on her shoulder: a rectangle containing the word NIN. The first couple of times I saw it, I idly wondered if it was a tribute to that well-known filth-mongerer, Anais Nin.

Then I noticed that the second 'N' was backwards, which triggered a vague memory of the word ABBA with the first B written backwards.

Yeah, I was disappointed too. It's a reference to the Nine Inch Nails, a rock band.

It seems I am just an old perv after all.

Good job I'm being taken off the market next week, then!
View Article  Sad news

Sophie Ellis Bextor has died in France. The pop singer was found lying on the carpet in a footballer's apartment.

Police suspect it's murder on Zidane's floor.
View Article  Topless
The country has been bathed in heat for a couple of weeks now, and in its wake comes a new risk to public health.

You see, like many men, in the last week or two I've taken to wearing shorts and sandals to work. It's just too hot otherwise. Now that in itself is fine, but take into account my habit of taking off my shirt or t-shirt while I'm in the loo (mainly because it's too bloody hot in there) and the combination is worrying.

You see, at home I quite often wander around in just the shorts, not bothering with a shirt. You know what's coming, don't you? It's only a matter of time before I absent-mindedly walk out of the loo and sit back down at my desk with no shirt on.

Wearing home clothes to work has hidden dangers. You have been warned.
View Article  Check Your Facts

That's all.

Oh. Except Google Spreadsheets and Writely are the future. More on that in a bit.
View Article  The World Cup - Bored Before It Starts
It might be churlish of me to want to deny people their simple pleasures, but frankly I'm already sick to death of red-and-white painted faces, cars with flags, and pubs full of the stink of spilled lager, low-level racism ('faaack the Krauts') and testosterone. I don't give a flying fuck about Wayne Rooney's sore toe, or know or care who this new wunderkind is that they've just found. All I know is, the media will be full of nothing else for the next two months, then it'll all end in tears as England crash out of the tournament and there's a small riot somewhere in Baden Baden, as our own home-grown thugs (to quote Billy Bragg) "piss in their fountains to express our national pride".

With any luck, the Germans will win. That will be nice for the home crowd (I was happy for the French when they won at home and had big happy parties on the Champs-Elysées), and might shut the English football maniacs up for a bit.

God forbid we should win, we'd never hear the end of it.

[Two things to add to this since I wrote it. A) How dare they take Top Gear off the screen for 6 weeks just to make space for men kicking a ball around? Tcch. But B) at least I get lots of free time that many other people will be losing - see here. AMM, 7th June 2006]
View Article  Complementary or complimentary?
Leading doctors today are calling for NHS funding to be withdrawn from unproven complementary medicine. This is the Guardian article about it, and here is how the snake-oil salesmen responded.

And from that description, you can guess where I stand on the matter: I'm right behind the doctors. Of course I don't believe everything that Big Pharma says, and nor do I think that all complementary medicine is fraudulent. But let's be rational, especially when spending public money. In the words of Professor Baum: "If the NHS is spending good money on placebos at the cost of not providing effective medicines, then it does matter."

Look at the comment from Dr Peter Fisher of the Royal Homeopathic Hospital: "The weight of the evidence does suggest that homeopathy is effective". Er, actually it doesn't. The weight of the evidence suggests it is no more or less effective than a placebo.

Look at his argument here. Dr Fisher argues that "There have been four studies completed which show homeopathy does work for hayfever, asthma and perennial rhinitis" and that "this study [one showing homeopathy to be ineffective against asthma] is contradictory". Which makes it sound like this clinical trial is outweighed by evidence from other similar trials. But read carefully what he has to say about one of the trials which supported homeopathy: "The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital recently carried out a survey of treatments on asthmatic patients. It followed up 24 adults and 25 children with asthma and found that 71% of the adults and 80% of the children experienced improvements in their symptoms following homeopathic treatment".

Sorry Dr Fisher but there is a world of difference between a controlled, double-blind clinical trial - where neither the patient nor the practitioner knows if the patient is receiving a placebo or the real treatment - and this sort of study. It's simply not useful. For example, the patients know they have been to the homeopathist and received some 'medicine'. So it's not even blind let alone double-blind. There's no control group of people who did not receive any treatment. And clearly - since an asthma attack is often brought on by stress - asthma is likely to be hugely susceptible to the placebo effect. If the patients are calmer, because they know they've had some 'medicine', then that fact alone would help with their asthma.

And I'll tell you something else. The mere fact that they went to the homeopathist for treatment suggests that they are gullible. Which could significantly increase the placebo effect, eh?
View Article  Government = Farce?
This is getting ridiculous now. One minute Charles Clarke is the great white hope, the next he's out of a job. Prescott being caught with his trousers down is strictly "a personal matter"; the next week he's been stripped of a large chunk of his responsibilities.

So: a difficult week, a knee-jerk reaction to scornful press coverage, or barely-contained bedlam - which is it, Tony?

Tony of course is a regular reader of this blog, so I'll let you know what he has to say for himself.

Let me take a minute to make a prediction. I think Tony's plan is to hold on until very close to the next election; this I think would benefit Labour because his successor - presumably Gordon Brown - wouldn't have had time to screw up yet. So, the thinking goes, the electorate would doubtless give Labour 'one last chance' of another term in office.

I used to, but I no longer think it's going to happen that way. There are too many things going on, too much brouhaha and sleaze(tm). Too much speculation about the handover of power. Tony's going to be pushed before he falls. And it's going to cost Labour dearly.
View Article  Canalways Cavalcade 2006: Oh Dear
Every year, on May Day Bank Holiday, we have the equivalent of a village fete in Little Venice. Boats come from far and wide and moor up in the pool, the large-ish triangle of water at the heart of Little Venice, where the Regents Canal and the Grand Union Canal meet. We have marquees and market stalls, a beer tent, a band, a boat-handling competition, an illuminated boat parade, and parties that go on till the wee hours.

Er. Well normally we do. To be fair, most of that was there, but a series of cock-ups meant there was no beer tent. And for some reason they let the Scientologists have a pitch! As they do on Tottenham Court Road, they were offering free "stress tests", and then trying to brainwash the simple and vulnerable to join their ridiculous cult. Every single boater I spoke to found this really offensive. Sure, we had the Christian Boaters Fellowship as usual, but they're not as culty and at least they're boaters!

But even more offensive?

No beer.


[Note: since I wrote this, I've heard that I was far from being the only person to formally complain about the Scientologists. Apparently, they won't be back. AMM, 24th May 2006]
View Article  Why I'm protective of my personal info
Moore finds it amusing - and occasionally embarrassing - that I am very punctilious about guarding my  personal information. I always read the privacy policy on a web site. I'm registered on both the Mailing and Telephone Preference Services. And  whenever I give my name and address or similar details, I always check that I've opted out of the mailing list. I get really stroppy with companies that break the rules.

This isn't just about junk mail though. There's always the Big Brother question. I don't want umpteen companies sharing what they know about me. And nor do I want the government knowing everything I do. Not that I'm a criminal or a terrorist - far too chicken - just that I'm not a consumer or a suspect or a statistic; I'm a private citizen.

Here's a cautionary tale:

Q. What could a boarding pass tell an identity fraudster about you? A. Way too much

Chilling. It doesn't take a creepy and all-powerful government to do this, just a bit of mild incompetence and someone who knows how to use the information available. So I'm keeping my details to myself, as much as possible.

My lovely readers are always welcome to email me at though - thank Invisible Superman for mail filters.

(Actually, I must find out who invented mail filters and thank them)


PS Oh and yes, I am against ID cards. I don't really mind having to prove who I am sometimes, using my passport or driving licence or something. Strictly in circumstances where it might matter, like when applying for a mortgage. But I don't see the need to spend several hundred pounds each (and rising) on a card that would be no defence against either 9/11 or 7/7-style attacks, and whose biometric technology is immature. Blunkett and Clarke can get stuffed.
View Article  Hello and welcome
Hi, I'm Poppa - aka Alan Moore. I'm 38 and I live in central London on a canal boat with my wonderful fiancée, Moore Flannery (yes, Moore Moore - we've heard it). I work for Telmar Communications near Baker Street, working on media research data and techniques, and providing technical assistance and advice to our broadcast clients. Moore is a civil servant at the Home Office.

We both love boating, red wine, smelly cheese, old-fashioned caffs and pubs, and good malt whisky. We've both lived in the Far East, and we're both struggling to give up smoking before the wedding. She likes David Bowie, I like chillout, and we both adore Hank Wangford and The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.