Weeknotes 2023.1: Everything is Broken
This week I saw my first blossom of the year. It is January. This should not be happening, and yet it’s warm enough to nip out in shirtsleeves. One of the daffodils on the balcony is blooming at the same time as the snowdrops. An ominous portent for the year? Who knows any more? We shall see. Anyway, this is the first weeknote of my second year of doing them. Read on for a new feature I'm trying to bring back from the heady days of the 2000s Blogosphere...
The climate is not the only thing that seems like it’s broken. Mainline trains have been basically unusable this week due to strikes (which are entirely the fault of the government and profiteering private operators, by the way) and the industry has displayed its characteristically slapdash approach to customer information with “announcement/sign makes it better.” Take this gem from Stratford International—replacing information about departures (which, with a limited timetable, is… important) with the same information about strikes, sloppily phrased, for almost half of the time. Does no-one actually test that these screens display something sensible?
I’d heard rumours about the platform screen doors on the new Elizabeth line being prone to failure (and heard announcements exhorting people not to lean on them) but I saw it for the first time this week. It took something like 10 minutes for the staff to realise they couldn’t fix the door themselves, bring out the barriers, and block off the open doorway. The agent stood by the barrier told me that it was surprisingly windy (one assumes due to the piston effect.) I got on a train just a fitter came to examine the door—his eyes widened and he said “whoa,” which didn’t bode well. I hope they fixed it.
I went for a run yesterday (Saturday) and as I was walking home I got positively drenched—one of the worst rainstorms I’ve ever been in. I dived into a pub when the lightning started, and sat under a heat lamp until it had died down enough for me to walk home. It’s rare for rainfall—even if only for a few seconds—to be indistinguishable from surface run-off from a roof.
Things I found interesting this week
Remember blogrolls on old-timey blogs, or the bookmark feeds you used to get on Digg (before it went down the pan)? I’ve been thinking that we should get back into that habit. For this year, whenever I post a weeknote, I’ll also try to share at least one thing I’ve read this week that I found interesting—even if I don’t necessarily agree with it.
- DAZED: The 15-minute city: dystopian conspiracy, or climate-friendly paradise? As someone with personal skin in this game with my cycling campaign hat on, I found this an interesting and balanced article, detailing of how a game of telephone and wilfully bad faith interpretation leads to conspiracy theories—particularly amongst those already largely excluded from society and vulnerable to radicalisation. Pullquote: “far-right commentator Katie Hopkins – before hearing about 15-minute cities, she hadn’t met a strictly-enforced border she didn’t like”
- DIAMOND GEEZER: Placemaking bolx. An enjoyable evisceration of the meaningless guff peddled by property developers on hoardings, something that’s been getting my goat since I saw some developments on Stratford High Street claiming to be “7 minutes from King’s Cross” (not unless you have a way to teleport to International.) Pullquote: “everywhere is surrounded by nature if you count worms and pigeons”
- CHRIS JAMES (YouTube): Space Cadets - The Most Expensive Hoax In Television History. I enjoyed this as an exhaustive summary of a bizarre product of 2005-era Channel 4 that I’d consigned to the recesses of my memory, but I came to a different conclusion to the video creator. At the time (I was 13) I remember being quite put off by the concept of the show, and it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Space Cadets was ambitious, but I’ve also never really liked pranks, and the show falls into the same category as much other cultural output in the mid-2000s (particularly reality TV) of sneering at peasants, particularly ones deemed to be uneducated, and often under the pretence of being a social experiment. A huge amount of effort, and £5 million, went into an elaborate deception, to encourage the nation to laugh at these people. “Look at them,” we were encouraged to think. “Look how gullible they are. Not like us. Morons.” (This came out at about the same time as the movie Idiocracy, which is... similarly sneery, and similarly Not Good.)
True, the contestants got cash prizes and a trip to Star City (including a ride on the Vomit Comet) out of it, but I feel like Space Cadets was a particularly cruel pinnacle of a decade of cruel TV: Anne Robinson taunting Weakest Link contestants with classist, sexist, and homophobic humour; Big Brother and X Factor contestants being monstered in the press; Bad Lads’ Army, where ex-convicts were made to play soldier, beasted, and strip-searched for the public’s entertainment; That’ll Teach ’Em, where teenagers were bullied by grown adults for the public’s entertainment; and, of course, the remaining dregs, such as the UK Apprentice, a show that uses cartoon-level musical subterfuge to make you hate and sneer at complete strangers.