Vague ramblings

Man in (on) the Moon?

Posted in Musing by Ian Cundell on 6 February, 2016

There are only 7 left now. There will come a time, in the not too distant future, when there will be nobody left living who has walked on The Moon.

That is absurd.

 

Uncovering the darkness, using its true name

Posted in Life, Reason by Ian Cundell on 27 January, 2016

Richard Dimbleby came under intense pressure from the higher-ups at the BBC to tone down his descriptions of Belsen. He stood firm, as history now records.

Today, of all days, everybody should listen to them.

Especially people stupid enough to refer to people fleeing war as ‘a bunch of migrants’.

Rebels, heroes and genies

Posted in Life, Music, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 11 January, 2016

When my radio alarm went off at the top of the hour, as it does, it jumped, as it does, straight into the news headlines. David Bowie has died. After maybe 20 seconds I rolled over and turned the radio off. It wasn’t – as it often is – irritation at the increasingly fatuous nature of modern journalism, but because my mind filled with this:

At that moment, I really didn’t want to think about that. But it is later in the day now.

Some time in the late 1990s – so when I was living in Docklands with my then-girlfriend – we were watching Top of The Pops 2, which sliced and diced TOTP appearances from across the entire run of the show. And this performance came on, in full Ziggy Stardust flow. Mick Ronson sharing the mic, TOTP deploying its amplifier-in-the-back-pocket, lip-syncing style.

And I realised that I remembered seeing it the first time round. Bowie and Ronson, arm-in-arm, sharing the mic. Then I worked out that, when I saw it for the first time, I hadn’t even started secondary school.

For the first time in my life, at the wrong end of my 30s, I felt something other than young. The impact was much too complex to summarise as either positive or negative, and it is not the only thing from my past that has popped up to stir my emotions. But it was sobering.

Artists can never know the full impact their work has. It can be at the individual level, like my unscheduled sobriety. But it can be much bigger, like the song that was – nominally – a poem to West Berlin youth’s penchant for making out at the Wall in full view of the East German watch towers, which became something much more potent. And you don’t have to take my word for that:

And, lest you think this a wistful whim of the German FO’s Twitter team, then Germany’s foreign minister put that to bed:

This dimension was exemplified by the years David Bowie spent in Berlin during the 1970s, when he recorded his song “Heroes” in the legendary Hansa Studios, a homage to Berlin at the height of the Cold War and a soundtrack of the divided city.

“Genie”, in its French form, génie, translates as “genius”. Pop stars, we were told in our rebellious youth, wouldn’t be remembered as the old singers were.

Ha!

I’d be willing to bet that Heroes will be played a lot in Berlin tonight.

 


List of the Lost

Posted in Life, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 31 December, 2015

One of the, I suspect inevitable, consequences of a house move that ended up being quite spectacularly drawn out, is that various bits and pieces went missing. For example, in my book and DVD collection these remain unaccounted for:

  • Day of the Triffids (all other Wyndham present and correct, all shelved together);
    Book 1 of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun series (2-4 all present and correct and never on the same self as the Wyndhams);
    Veronica Mars season 2 DVD (not shelved with books. I’m sure I saw it at some point);
    The Dambusters by Paul Brickhill (especially annoying since this was the first full length book I ever read);
    Terry Pratchett’s Jonny and the Dead/ Jonny and the Bomb and Only You Can Save Mankind;
    Christopher Priest’s A Dream of Wessex, (complete with curry scent from Morag’s blond moment);
    Christopher Priest’s The Separations (which was last seen by my bed, not shelved at all);
    Caberet DVD
    The Dish DVD

And also, my nice marble effect cheese board (yes, I realise that is neither book nor DVD, but still.)

Thought lost, but found having been spotted and rescued from the general miasma:

  • Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
    Ursula Le Guin’s Left hand of Darkness (one of the great works of SF)
    Terry Pratchett’s Only You Can Save Mankind

There is no rhyme or reason – they were not shelved in the same places, nor in the same boxes. It seems their wanderings are just a symptom of the way in which the universe likes to fuck with our heads.

Not that it matters. They are materials things that, for the most part, are easily replaced, except perhaps the Dambusters.

Shiela and Tracey and fagBut also lost was Blue, a black ball for fur with an absurdly flabby belly who, when I was in the pit of serious depression was a soft and gentle presence, jealous of anyone who might get my attention. The only comfort on that miserable day was that she had spent the last part of her life in the cat equivalent of a 5-star hotel, being looked after by people who really like cats.

And then there is Sheila, my cousin. Five foot bugger-all of hyper-sentimental Welsh woman who really did not deserve to be taken so young – and hopefully the last reason any of us need to visit Shrewsbury Crem for a very long time. That’s her, daughter in one hand, booze and a fag in the other and she would do the same again, I’m sure.

Years ago a friend drew a line on a piece of paper, put an infinity sign at either end and a tiny mark in the middle. That’s you, she said, pointing at the mark. How long will you be dead?

Given how easily and unaccountably things and people go astray, that seems a reasonable question. So as 2015 buggers off into the sunset, with my boot up its arse, it would be unworthy of the friends we have lost along the way, and to those we know who still have a very tough road ahead, not to wish for a better New Year for everybody. So Happy New Year to all.

Also, I still have two boomerangs.


No time to reflect right now…

Posted in Music, That which is cool by Ian Cundell on 21 December, 2015

Ordinarily I would post something pensive and reflective at this time of year. I might yet, but in the mean time:

WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU HAVEN’T BOUGHT LEWISHAM & GREENWICH NHS CHOIR’S ‘BRIDGE OVER YOU’?

Below is the official video, and these are the places you can buy it:

• iTunes – http://tinyurl.com/z4v98cj
• Amazon – http://tinyurl.com/jup2bb3
• Google Play – http://tinyurl.com/h2yu3xg
• 7 Digital – http://tinyurl.com/hg5swkf

The National Health Service at No 1 for Christmas. How bloody cool would that be?

Buy it, STREAM IT on Spotify (10 plays of at least 30 seconds = 1 purchase, and that is where Justin bloody B**ber is winning). And tell everybody you have ever met to do so too.

(Edit: to be fair to the Beibs, even he wants it at No 1. He is Canadian, so understands the value of universal health care)

Seriously. What are you waiting for?

Forgotten Man

Posted in Life by Ian Cundell on 8 November, 2015

Joan Blondell reminding us that caring for – or even about – veterans is not a new issue. Somewhat incongruously attached to the end of Gold Diggers of 1933, the story which was mainly about need for the female characters to find success (and husbands – this was the early 30s, after all), lest they face a future of “who knows what?” and, arguably, all the more potent for it.

Welcome to the Arc of Affluence

Posted in Urbanism by Ian Cundell on 1 April, 2015

Higher ProfessionalOver the past couple of years, for a variety of reasons and in a variety of contexts, I have been immersed in an inordinate amount of socio-economic data about London. Often it has been work-related but, once the specific job is done, invariably I have found myself prodding and poking the data .

Years ago, I introduced myself to my Masters course as a ‘geographer by education and inclination’. I know. Sad. But once a geographer, always a geographer.

So, there I was with a sea of data and wondering how to make sense of it.

Lower professional and managerialNeedless to say dear old Microsoft Excel let me do a lot of slicing and dicing (pivot tables are a joy), but the problem was that I ended up with an inordinate number of tables and, fun as it was making Data Julienne, once you get down below the largest units you start losing track. It is hard relating Super Output Area E Double-0-whatever to a place. To know the name of every ward in London you need a taxi driver’s Knowledge and, although I lived in various bits of London over 20 years or so, I can’t claim that.

I needed to visualise the information.

The Joy of TechsIntermediate

This is where QGIS, an open source mapping programme with just enough quirks and traps to keep you on your toes comes in. When I was an academic GIS systems were inordinately expensive and required a PhD in Applied Nerdery and the targeting system of an advanced fighter aircraft to keep track of the many things waiting to trip you up, to comprehend . QGIS is both a joy and entirely free. Amazing.

Whats your vector, Victor?

Small bizOnce I had acquainted myself with the joys of vectors, polygons, projections systems, and then rediscovered comma separated values I was good to go. If you are ever interested in what is where (which leads inevitably to why?) then grab and learn QGIS.

The first result of this discovery was the set of maps on the right (you can click on them to see them at a sensible size). I apologise for the surplus zeroes in the key – I hadn’t really got the hang of formatting.

Like I said: quirks.

Cluster stuff

lower supervisoryI want you to pay particular attention to the first map and, to a lesser extent, the second. They show where, for want of less loaded term, the wealthy live. Running roughly between the branches of the Northern Line, through the West End and then turning west and south west through Kensington and Chelsea and out through Battersea, Clapham and on to Richmond, this is the Arc of Affluence, an elongated cluster that houses a wide range of social groups, all the way from the wealthy to the mind-bogglingly wealthy.

semi-routineYou will see a lot of it.

Feel free to browse the other maps. You will find yourself exploring the way in which the socio-economic structure of London reflects directly in its geography, with a marked move to the suburbs for the middle classes – the squeezed out middle, so to speak, followed by the great scatter of those groups who do the grunt work, who may well spend some time in the Arc of Affluence, but only to ensure the residents’ houses are spick-and-span.

routine

Don’t let my snark lead you into think there is any particular value judgement in play here. There isn’t, but I’m keen not to come over as dull and worthy.

The thing is, I don’t think anyone has defined the Arc of Affluence before, and since I’ve been mentioning it to a few people I figured I’d better get it on record to baggsie it before anyone else does. Vain, moi?

Now have some fun poking around the rest of the maps to work out if you are living above or below your station.

As the oldest profession knows, everything has a price

house prices by postal sectorYou might reasonably suppose that this social geography would reflect itself in some obvious ways – house prices for instance. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s a map for that, moved to the left to denote that change of topic.

And there it is: the Arc of Affluence, forming its own little postcode lottery. But hang on a moment: there are petite pockets of prosperity elsewhere. What could they be? Let’s add something to the map.

What might provide a handy price boost?

Park life

house parks with parks

It’s not rocket science is it? Many a geographer will tell you that when they ask in a proper, systematic way what things people most value about their living environment access to green space is an ever-present. In the south Dulwich stands out, but even in the east Victoria Park’s north side evidently commands a premium and you can bet your boots that Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will be playing catch up. The hotspot down past Bromley is largely rural. And in the west, it is a reasonable bet that only the looming presence of Heathrow Airport stops Osterley Park and Fields from being surrounded by hot property, rather than just the downwind side.

But there we have Hampstead Heath, Regents and Hyde Parks, Battersea Park and Clapham Common and out to Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common. Values in the centre, around the Royal Parks are eye-watering. The highest average in the data set is £11.4m. Guess where.

Deeper and down

Homeworking with more contextAnd then there was the map I was shown – reproduced opposite – from a publication by GLA Intelligence’s Census Information Scheme on home working. I added the parks and the tube system for context and I should state that what follows is entirely my conclusion, not theirs.

Unless you have been off-planet for a while you can scarcely have missed how new kit like iPads and super-light notebooks are going to liberate us all from the tyranny of the office, shop and factory floor as we stay in our communities and work there.

But it is there, isn’t it? The highest concentrations of home workers are slap in the middle of the Arc of Affluence. It is tempting to draw the conclusion that home working is a rich person’s luxury, but the truth is almost certainly more complex and worthy of deeper investigation.

Danger, Will Robinson, danger!

By now you are probably hitting the problem that I hit – of getting bogged down in information. Even with me structuring a mini-thesis for you, it is easy to lose the overview.  So I decided I needed to generalise.

The good news is that I think I pulled it off. The not so good news is that I have the drawing skills of a 12-year-old and not even Pixelmator can fix that. But anyway, here it is. If you know any art students who fancy a project I would be happy for them to take a crack at it.

A Generalised Social Geography of 21st Century London

soc geog

Don’t look for hard edges – it is meant to be impressionistic, with transition areas all over the place and pockets of contrary use. Like I said, drawing skills of a 12-year-old and not a very talented one at that.

But I think it is a pretty robust model – I see these patterns, or something strikingly like them all the time in many data sets, and grasping how the combination of reinforcing and countervailing powers shape them is what geography is all about.

 

Notes on sources and copyright.

QGIS can be grabbed here; The base maps are Crown Copyright from the Ordnance Survey OpenData initiative. I made the park and tube maps using OpenStreetMap, (c)OpenStreetMap Contributors. If you want the shapefiles, I’m happy to share.

Socio-economic data is from the ONS Census 2011 while house price data comes from the Land Registry. All free.

The Greater London Authority has a truly phenomenal amount of information about life and living in London and if you are at all interested in London it should be your first port of call (full disclosure: I have contributed to some of the research base, though my work with Ramidus Consulting.  All views expressed here are entirely my own). 

The ‘A Generalised Social Geography of 21st Century London’ map is mine, but anyone who reckons they can turn it into something that looks like it was drawn by a grown-up should feel free to do so, in return for a) mentioning my name and b) sending me a postcard or something. Except I am currently between houses, so I can’t tell you where to send it. So do a random good deed for a stranger instead. And link back to here.

If you need maps drawn by a pro, then I highly recommend Jake Sales. Find him on LinkedIn

*Edit: tweak to make a joke 3% funnier, to fix a couple of typos and some clumsy sentences.


 

All my bags are packed…

Posted in Life, Personal, St Albans by Ian Cundell on 1 March, 2015

…and when I say ‘all’ I mean all, from my venerable Karrimor Jaguar rucksack to my dad’s suitcase from when he was a commercial driver and on to a tartan thing that really shouldn’t be seen in public and which, save for some unexpected extra stuff, would have been quietly shuffled off to a charity shop.

I have sold my house and, thanks to a vendor being a right dickhead at the worst possible time of year, am temporarily of no fixed abode while I wait for a house I want to become available. And that means that a person who prefers to travel light, can’t. But still, an important and overdue life change is at last under way, even if I still don’t know where it will end up.

Here is some stuff I’ve discovered:

*Having a good buyer is like gold dust. Craig didn’t dick around for one moment, although he was mightily dicked around himself and I’m fairly sure he has had to promise the soul of his first-born to Nationwide;

* The new recycling arrangements in St Albans are an abomination and whoever came up with them should be fired and never allowed to work in public service again. They are a positive inducement to fly-tip;

* That you have much, much more stuff than you think you do;

* That the thing – you know that thing – that might come in handy one day, won’t – so take it to the sodding dump or a charity shop;

* That putting your cats, who have hung out with you for more than a decade, into a cattery is really distressing, but that the people at Cayton’s get that;

* That family, friends and neighbours – Alan, Sian, Daz and Will, Miah and Silvia, Jes, really step up;

* That, when having a last look round before the house ceases to be legally mine and spotting an envelope, picking it up and realising it is the words I wrote for Dad’s funeral causes all the “I’m really not that sentimental about this” nonsense to unspool in an instant.

Just over 60 years ago, Doreen and Ken moved into a council house of the kind they don’t let working class people have any more. Two days ago, that era ended and Craig has big dreams to make a wonderful home for him and his partner. I am quite certain that Mum and Dad would have liked them.

Time to go.

The Lost Princess

Posted in Fiction, Musing, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 27 January, 2015

I wrote this a while back. I’m not quite sure why I feel it appropriate to post it today, save a line a few paragraphs in. But it feels right, so here it is.

 

The Lost Princess

by

Ian Cundell

She was burned into my mind when I was eleven years old.

Almost alone among the countless images that must have passed before me back then, hers would return often and unexpected in the following years. The waif-like girl standing outside a lighthouse, framed by a gloomy sky and infused with an overpowering sense of loss,

I could never quite grasp why this image kept flashing back to me, could see no pattern. It reached the stage where I doubted that it was real, assuming my memory was playing tricks. As I learned that not everybody will remember things in the same way as me, I began to think that the waif-like girl and the lighthouse may have been constructed out of bits of other memories.

Also, of course, other images before and since have stuck around: the opening credits of World At War still chill my blood. They can flash me back directly to a living room and Dad telling me and my brother to stop talking and hope that it never happens again as an episode starts titled, simply enough, ‘Genocide’.

In its own way, so way does the poppy-soaked final frame of Blackadder Goes Forth. Nigel Lawson had resigned, we realised the news would over-run, so left early from the pub because the video timer would be out. How will they get out of that? Come on how? How will they…

Oh.

There are moments that will always stop the heart when you see them again: During Band Aid the Cars song Drive is played over a montage of African poverty, bizarre and a little inappropriate until “who’s gonna plug their ears when you scream?”. The baby screams and the room full of garrulous students falls silent.

And drunken revellers, finally home and watching the late election results come in, marking the end of a generation and a look on Michael Portillo’s face that remains a study in the pain of defeat.

These are images that keep their power when you see them again.

But the waif-like girl by the lighthouse was never seen again. I didn’t know that. It never occurred to me that the flash of memory felt unreal because it was getting more distant and that this was because it had been locked away.

Then came the Internet Movie Database and a lazy, rainy afternoon poking around, following random links. A half a dozen or so posters asking about the waif-like girl, about the lighthouse, why she can’t be seen. But more. Where is the bearded hunchback, where are the soldiers, where is the story that left us dumbstruck and then haunted?

But it can’t be found: the author, it is said, will not permit its release or perhaps the rights holders and the broadcasters can’t or won’t sort out the details. Nobody is quite certain. If you make a special appointment at the British Film Institute they might let you watch it, but the lost gem will remain, essentially, lost. Concealed.

And then there is a link. A download, most definitely not official, passed around like a secret message. The quality is awful, a digital conversion of a conversion of another conversion from one tape to another. One scene is missing, probably cut by a foreign broadcaster.

But not that scene. Not the scene.

It was burned into my mind when I was eleven years old and had popped up unbidden many times since.

I know now that it stuck with me because it was the best piece of story-telling I had ever seen, that it had become, in its quiet persistence, the standard against which all other stories are measured. If it can’t stay with me for a lifetime, it is an also-ran.

When the shaky and washed-out video plays, it is like a restored Great Master; details lost to time are revealed. The waif-like girl walking from the lighthouse, tears flowing, clutching a portrait of herself, as The Snow Goose circles over head before flying away.

It carries with it the soul of the lost hero, the lost love, the lost artist.

 

(c) Ian Cundell, 2014. All rights reserved

The heat is on

Posted in Life, Reason, That which is cool by Ian Cundell on 18 January, 2015

Following on from the news that 2014 was the hottest year on record, and probably the hottest for a couple of thousand years, comes this utterly marvellous visualisation by Bloomberg (click the link and scroll down to start).

A simple idea, brilliantly executed.

Just in case you are one of those delusional fools who think global warming is a conspiracy by scientists: The brutal truth: 13 of the 14 hottest years on record were in the 21st Century. And it is our fault.

A much travelled phrase springs to mind:

We have not inherited the Earth from our parents, we have borrowed it from our children.

 

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