Strange Times IV: Nothing Changes


And finally…

Skin colour matters. It transpired that Tanzanian albinos were living in fear of their lives because people were seeking their body parts for witchcraft. There are over 200,000 albinos in the country, and with over 30 murders in 10 months, many were frightened they would be skinned alive and partially dismembered. Meanwhile, Southern Australia held a ‘Sorry Ranga’ day to celebrate its ginger-haired population, Ranga being short for Orangatangs.

Channel 4 aired a ‘child reality show’ in which 20 primary school children were left without adult supervision for a fortnight. Unsurprisingly, this led to cries of abuse and an outcry from psychologists, as the parents used their own children as leverage for fame. The show flopped. The producers are still out there somewhere.

As economists announced the financial end of the world and climatologists paced up their doomsday scenarios, the world’s insect population started to decline massively and Australia’s seagulls headed for extinction, whereas the formerly endangered kiwi is thriving thanks to conservation funding. This is a familiar tactic, say conservationists – survival of the cutest.

The Jade Goody (1981-2009) Official Tribute Issue of OK! Magazine appeared, featuring her final words and bearing the banner ‘In Loving Memory’. There was only one problem; Ms Goody was still technically alive at the time. Magazine lead-times were apparently to blame.

Google street-mapping arrived in the UK. Across the country, a million cries went up: ‘Why did they have to film our street while the scaffolding was up at number 57?’

A German couple abandoned their three children in an Italian pizzeria because they had run out of money on holiday. They thought the authorities would probably figure out where they lived and send them home. Luckily, money is just something poor people have to worry about. On the same day, a Thai jewellery designer displayed a $4.2 million dog tiara at a canine fashion show.

The massive expenses scandal engulfed MPs from both sides of Parliament, as Tory MP Douglas Hogg revealed he spent £2,000 of taxpayers’ money getting his moat cleaned (see above). Another was caught having a duck-house built from public cash, and complained that the ducks had never really enjoyed using it anyway. Best of all was Tory MP Anthony Steen, who shoved the inspection of five hundred trees on expenses and had this to say about being caught out; “I think I have behaved impeccably. You know what it’s about? Jealousy. I have got a very, very large house. Some people say it looks like Balmoral, but it’s a merchant’s house from the 19th century. It was this government that introduced the Freedom of Information Act and it is this government that insisted on the things which caught me on the wrong foot.”

As decades of financial abuse come to an end, some MPs were defended in the national press by kowtowing members of the public who clearly relished the prospect of returning to a feudal system. The exposure of MPs’ expenses threw up some wonderfully odd claims; Conservative leader David Cameron claimed almost seven hundred pounds on ‘burning oil’ (presumably for his Aga cooker). Others claimed for biscuits, jellied eels, a wig, orchids and a hedge trimmer for a helipad.

Susan Boyle, a middle-aged woman with a pleasant singing voice and a face that could send a dog under a table, became one of the most-viewed internet sensations of all time, but failed to win a television talent contest. Her overnight ‘career’, from rise to fall, ended with a breakdown and her admittance to The Priory clinic – a microlife that eclipsed even Jade Goody’s.

Amidst global financial hardship, Turkey’s £1 billion Mardan Palace opened its doors with the biggest Beluga and Bollinger party in history. Sharon Stone, attending with other fading stars like Richard Gere, Mariah Carey and, with grim inevitability, Paris Hilton, said it was a ‘moment of potential profundity. We have come together to make the world a better place.’ That’s the beauty of celebrities; they’ll say or do absolutely anything.

The line between PR and reality vanished with a staged tiff between Sacha Baron-Cohen and Eminem at the MTV Awards (Cohen was dropped into Eminem’s face dressed as a half-nude gay angel and the rapper called him a faggot before storming out) Both were selling new products, and later confirmed the ‘accident’ as a publicity stunt. ‘This is very exciting television,’ said the show’s presenter.

AEG, the promoters of the O2 concerts which were to feature Michael Jackson’s record-breaking forty-plus appearances, came up with a great way to save on refunds. Punters were offered replacement memorial souvenir tickets somehow ‘inspired and designed’ by the dead singer. Meanwhile, Jackson’s death sparked a massive internet campaign of hoax celebrity death reports that included Jeff Goldblum falling off a cliff and George Clooney crashing a plane.

Oh, and Prince Charles gave the planet just 96 months left to survive. Phew, thank heavens that deadline passed.

But if the world ends, that’s okay too, because it turns out there’s an afterlife! The August 3rdissue of The Sun ran a front page headline announcing that Jade Goody, once so used to speaking through the medium of television, was now speaking through a television medium – from beyond the grave.

So there you go. Plus ça bleeding change. The privileged are outraged when their sense of entitlement is threatened, the jackals move in on the wounded zebras and those who fly too high to the sun get their wings clipped by the press. No real surprises after all.


26 comments on “Strange Times IV: Nothing Changes”

  1. Jo W says:

    “We’re doomed,doomed I say! Did ye hear what I said Captain Mainwaring? “

  2. Peter Tromans says:

    A 72-year old, clinically obese man with high cholesterol, who sleeps only a few hours per night, is in excellent health, says medic.

  3. admin says:

    Looking at Trump’s medical report I’m surprised. I’m 6′ 1″ and weight 82kg and I’m only just inside my BMI, so God knows how his doctor thinks the POTUs is OK!

  4. Ken Mann says:

    I actually found the expenses scandal reassuring. Almost a third of our MPs were honest. Isn’t that quite a good result by international standards?

  5. John Griffin says:

    Even better, the one who had the lowest expenses was subsequently vilified as ‘inadequate, a joke, too old etc’. One of the biggest shysters is still in with a shot at party leader or even PM.

  6. Colin says:

    I think the worst claim was Frank Cook, the Labour mp. He claimed £5 back for a donation to a Battle of Britain collection at a church

  7. SimonB says:

    Out of all of these you have shared over the last four days it is the arrival of Google Street View that has had the most impact on my daily life. Being able to “visit” places before or instead of physically going there has saved me thousands of miles of driving for work, stopped me getting lost in unfamiliar places and inspired numerous days out. Even though some of the images from Suffolk are up to 10 years old now, things don’t change that much as a rule and being able to look at a site for a new bus stop/shelter without leaving my desk is just so helpful.

    Passengers can be assured that I do make proper assessments of the good sites, but not having to troll around the obvious rejects helps immensely.

  8. admin says:

    Do you ever go for a Streetview ‘walk’? I do – it’s a great way of losing a few hours!

  9. Ian Luck says:

    The Google Earth street view is a great way to visit places where you’re not supposed to go, like parts of Corsham, in Wiltshire, where there are a huge number of underground workings, some of which, are still ‘hush hush’; comedian Mark Thomas went there, and was told, with a straight face by a military police officer that the tunnels were a myth, despite being next to one of the cargo lift entrances to the tunnels. If you’re wondering, they’re not a myth – there are miles of them. Knowing what these places are, I label them, on the surface. One place that doesn’t like being labelled, though, is G.C.H.Q. near Cheltenham (it’s the place that looks like a big, white doughnut, if you’re interested); a humourous label stating simply: ‘Nosy bastards’, placed on the concrete torus, disappeared within 20 minutes. Now how on earth could that have happened? It’s almost as if they knew what you were doing – I don’t know, watching you? Surely not.

  10. Wayne Mook says:

    Last time I looked at where I live on Google street view we were still decorating, I know I’m slow but… actually it needs re-doing, the picture is that out of date.


  11. Jan says:

    Ian Corsham initially was a straightforward quarry wasn’t it? I can’t remember what is was exactly what they were quarrying or but it was a commercial venture.

    After WW2 when it became obvious that the peculiar cluster of government boltholes to the NW of the capital were of little use in the nuclear era work on Corsham took on a new level of urgency. This part of the country – always a favoured retirement area – became extremely popular with a certain level of government retirees.

    Was there not quite a serious fire there which curtailed activities? Or refocused government on the Salisbury plain area? Or have I just fallen for misinformation?
    The UK government was at one point the largest purchaser of redundant tube trains. Seriously and I don’t think all the said trains ended up chugging round the Isle of Wight!.

  12. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – Underlying the area of Corsham are many quarries; Tunnel, Sands, Monk’s Park, Ridge, Monkton Farleigh, to name a few, and most were used as munitions stores in either or both world wars. Different branches of the services used them, for example, the Royal Navy had a huge depot in the disused quarry galleries at Copenacre, just north of Corsham. The biggest storage areas were in Tunnel quarry, adjacent to Brunel’s Box Tunnel, and the entry portal to this can still be thrillingly seen at the eastern portal of the tunnel. It is in here, also, that the doomsday citadel, ‘Burlington’, or ‘Turnstile’ is located, as is part of the former R.A.F. Rudloe Manor early warning control. The next largest is Monkton Farleigh, which is so vast, it’s virtually an underground town. Munitions were loaded here from the railway, about a mile to the north, by an overground cableway, but later, a tunnel was dug fron the railway siding to the quarry, with munitions being moved along incredibly long conveyor belts to the ‘districts’ (I said it was big) where they were to be stored. Some tunnels today are used by a secure archive company. Spring Quarry, next to Tunnel quarry, was a huge underground factory, where Bristol aircraft engines were built – it has large canteen areas for the staff, painted with incredible murals. From the surface, nothing is apparent, until you start to notice ventilator towers in the fields. Closer inspection reveals (frustratingly sealed) staircases descending into the earth, and huge, reinforced lift entances on the surface. There is even an escalator, on a ‘long borrow’, which was meant to have been installed in Holborn Underground station – I believe that there was a gap where it should have been at the station. The other main storage area at Corsham C.A.D. (Central Ammunition Depot) was at the smaller Ridge Quarry, near the village of Gastard. In addition to the quarries, several rail depots were built nearby. If this interests you, then might I suggest that you seek out the books written about the site – The world wars, and the cold war, by NJ McCamley, who used to run a museum inside the galleries at the then abandoned Monkton Farleigh mine. Amusingly, there are still people who, if you ask, will tell you that there are no tunnels under Corsham, and never have been – despite several large parts being listed ancient monuments. These are probably the same people who maintain that the earth is flat. It obviously isn’t, because if it were, cats would have pushed everything off it by now.

  13. Ian Luck says:

    Oh, and what were they quarrying? Bath stone, of course, that beautifully warm honey- coloured building stone, that takes decorative cutting and chiselling so very well. The city of Bath, or Aquae Sulis, if you are Roman, is only a few miles south west of the Corsham area.

  14. Jan says:

    Well Ian I never knew most of that. I have visited relevant areas of Corsham and Warminster and noted that cameras monitoring nearby car parks do move round far more often than you would expect and are probably linked into ANPR readers. But that’s a lot of new stuff you have told me.

    There’s a lot of rumour and speculation about the Box Tunnel. Isn’t the Brunel railway tunnel supposed to capture the sun rising on the solstice or some such thing? Wasn’t the British version of project blue book based at the RAF base you mentioned which is nearby? All these crazy mad facts sit next to the bare truth that this was a place built to try and counter the Doomsday scenario and sort of softens them and lessens the harsh facts. They add a sort of lessening value – I’ve probably put that very badly – but all the crazy outlandishness serves to make the horror more palatable. Adds a black comedy value to the set up!

    There’s a very good book called “Crowstone” written about the Bath Quarries dating from Roman times. Can’t remember the name of the author. A female writer and she also wrote a book about Avebury. Well worth reading. Funnily enough I listened to both of them on cds and tapes from the library cos I haven’t got the audio thing on this tablet sorted.

  15. Jan says:

    I used to go through Holborn Tube station for work most days I can’t remember anything very obvious on the gap front but will look again next time I am up in town.

    Ian if you have access to u tube which again I never get on myself cos I can’t get it sorted out see if they have anything about the lift at GREENFORD Central line tube+ Overground station.I have never seen a lift move like it in all my life it’s like something off of Dr. Who.

    Well it looks like the Tardis moving through space really. It moves diagonally honestly diagonally ferrying passengers through the space time continuum up to the first floor where both the Overground and underground train tracks are elevated. Strangest thing I have seen in the tube system.

  16. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – I’ll have to look out for that lift at Greenford – it actually sounds more like a ‘Turbolift’ from Star Trek’s USS Enterprise (other Starfleet vessels are available), than anything else; they supposedly move vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. I do believe that R.A.F. Rudloe Manor was tasked with investigating the 1960’s and 1970’s sightings of UFO’s (and remember, all ‘flying saucers’ are UFO’s, but not all UFO’s are ‘flying saucers’), especially the notorious ‘Warminster Thing’. The Box Tunnel theory states that it was cut to be aligned with sunrise on IKB’s birthday on (goes away to find relevant book) April 9th, which it has done – but not every year, possibly due to the phenomenon known as ‘precession’ where the earth wobbles a bit on it’s axis every year. This wobble is measurable, and going back thousands of years, it was found that our ‘Pole Star’ was not always Polaris, but was the star Thuban in the constellation of Draco, the Dragon. Sorry, seem to have wandered a bit there. But the sunrise is within a few days of April 9th, and as Brunel is a great hero of mine, I’m going to let him have his birthday sunrise. There were so many munitions stored at C.A.D. Corsham, that when the war ended, and the sites were commanded to be retired, it took until the mid 1960’s to completely empty them. A fascinating book that covers the period of the Cold War, is ‘The Secret State’, by Peter Hennesey – in it, he actually visits ‘Burlington/Turnstile’. ‘Underground England’, by Stephen Smith, is the follow up to his superb ‘Underground London’, and in this, he visits, with an experienced urbexer, several sites in the Corsham area: Ridge quarry, and Monkton Farleigh tunnel, neither of which are, in the strictest sense, ‘open’. The absolute best book on the Corsham sites is ‘Secret Underground Cities’ by NJ McCamley. It is utterly fascinating, and full of incredible pictures. Well worth seeking out, in my opinion. The strangest thing though, is that the site ‘Subterranea Britannica’ (just do a search for ‘sub brit’) just gives Corsham a passing nod, despite being THE foremost underground history site, possibly in the world – they have got permission to dig up, cut into, explore, document, re-seal, re-bury, many long sealed bunkers, etc. Looking at their site and going through the location list is a good way of finding out about time dilation. You will look at a few sites for a couple of minutes, and suddenly feel parched. You get up to make a cup of tea, and, looking at the clock, will be shocked to find six hours have passed. Happens to me all the time. ; )

  17. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – if you are interested in lifts, then there’s a site for that – do a search for ‘Morthren’. I used his site because I like disused and odd railway infrastructure, but he seems to know a lot about lifts, too. I find all his films interesting, to be honest. His ‘low bridge’ ones are oddly fascinating.

  18. snowy says:

    It’s a Stannah stairlift in posh boots, I did a tiny little bit of research which revealed they ripped out an old escalator and stuck it in to give step-free access, [which is rather a good thing].

    Apparently it calls itself a ‘Inclinator’ when it’s at home! [Its mother must be so proud!]

  19. Jan says:

    Ian yes I’ve done tours with Sub Brit. Went round Paddock in NW London with them.Very interesting – it’s close to the old post office research centre which was a sort of annex to Bletchley Park in the war. Mr Flowers who did important work in creating the earliest computers but who has received far less acclaim.than Alan Turing (cos of Turings terrible end I suppose)was based there. I read once that about as much important work went on there as it did @ Bletchley They simply chose not to acknowledge it. Couldn’t lie straight in bed our great leaders. Not acknowledging Paddocks existence see? The research centre is now Housing Association flats and some very interesting photos are displayed ‘re the building of this place in the entrance hall. Lots of the earth from mining out Paddock was deposited in the municipal park opposite. I used to work and walk around there in the 1970s and believe it or not the great mounds of earth were still there! Grassed over but still obvious once you twigged what you were looking at.

    I have read Underground London + really enjoyed it. It’s funny places you hear about and get interested in crop up time and time again. Like the One tree hills that align across London. The one in NW London near Ealing Road Alperton I used to cycle over to and from work a very long time ago. Didn’t realise Steven Smith had gone on to do an England book. He knew his stuff that bloke. Think there’s a Victorian underground reservoir beneath Honor Oak in SE London he writes about at the end of his London book.

    Oddly enough I do know a bit about precession and don’t I don’t think it can be precession that’s caused the sun to stop celebrating Brunels birthday Ian. Precession happens ever so slowly. Maybe Brunel had a rare off day or lost his slide rule.Interesting thing about precession being they can”back calculate” it and it’s been proved that small chinks – spaces – in the great Pyramid at Giza pointed directly up toward specific important stars when the pyramids were created. Sirius being one of these stars. No the North star has varied which seems mad but in itself is part of precession and it will change again. But we will have all moved on elsewhere by then.

    Precession means that at one time the Milky way instead of being above us in the river of stars that’s runs across the heavens would at one point have run-wait for it this is a good one- around the horizon. Imagine that . Some archaeologists(pretty barmy ones mind) theorise that the ancient hillforts dotted around UK, Europe and beyond may have been created to make best use of this light and the banks which surround these “forts” which are no such thing really would have been filled with water further reflecting the light and making the space within them which housed animal pens and were in a sense proto towns safe light spaces for their inhabitants.
    That’s interesting thought.

    Snowy that lift might just be souped up Stannah on acid but looks so good. I stood transfixed at the bottom of an also quite a weird travelator/ escalator thing at Greenford tube (which is all in all a quite exceptional venue) watching this apparition travel about. I’ll put me hands up to pressing a few buttons to watch it travel about on a few extra journeys but it was quite remarkable. Wonderful even. When you think on it there can’t be many tube stations where you enter the station and travel up instead of down. Funnily enough Perivale tube station very close by also on the Central line you go Up upon entering. Remember the other end of the Central line that weird loop in the Roding Valley is where the underground Plessey aircraft factory was based on the war. Created inside the mining works for the Central line.

    I could go on to add that there are still more government departments than you would expect that are based roughly along the looped route of that Tube line and in order to comply with any sort of fire regs Plesseys would have had to have numerous fire exits into protected secure accomodation. These accommodations will still exist (or did a decade ago)even though the factory itself has dissapeared. I better move along or people will be thinking that the three of us are the really weird loops on the tube line.

    This has got all the makings of a repeat of the memorable Gerry Anderson conversation.

  20. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – there are still ventilator and escape shafts from the Plessey works along Central Way/Avenue, just sitting between the houses. ‘Paddock’ was visited once, and once only by Churchill, who detested it, deeming it too far from the centre of London. Also, the entire site has no toilets. Big oversight there.

  21. snowy says:

    Sorry Jan, I was talking about the very splendid lift you saw at Greenford, [I seem to be having a week where anything I type makes even less sense than usual!]

  22. Jan says:

    Ian You are right about it he WC situation(geddit?) What was interesting until the 1990s when some seem to have been sold off there were lots of government employees teachers, prison officers accomodations in the mansion flats surrounding “Paddock”. I imagine this accommodation would have been a hangover from WW2.Caretakers properties housing trusted people to open up the bunker in time of need. Prior to the nuclear age it would have been perfectlly possible to nip upstairs to use the facilities or even for a bath! Better than using the buckets supplied! If you ever get the chance have a look at Paddock. Which is now neatly tucked beneath a small nondescript modern building. In the 1970s the people’s republic of Brent named a row of council houses just by the bunker “Paddock Road” probably just to annoy the M.O.D! Really interesting place.

    Very interesting also that in order to conceal the locations of both Paddock and the bunker beneath what used to be DHSS offices in Cricklewood Broadway – recently a Turkish rug and carpet Emporium – originally the Naval control bunker the wartime government disguised the size of the railway sidings up towards the Edgware road NCR junctions now near the Staples Corner flyover (Where an IRA bomb was detonated many years back) and was quite prepared to drain the Welsh Harp. Despatch riders used to take GPO Mail back into London to post near Whitehall from the Naval establishment.

    There’s also up on the East side Of the Edgware (the old Roman )Road up towards Barnet in Barnet borough a secondary but unused entry slip into the M1 built at the same time as the motorway to be used in times of civil emergency whether that meant WW3 or bigger terrorist bombs in the Staples Corner area. Fascinating topic really. Builders have made unsuccessful grabs at this location time and time again.

  23. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – two of my last four older relatives live in Barnet, not far from Cockfosters LU station (end of the Piccadilly line), and I’ll ask my uncle about the sliproad. I believe that there is also one on the M4, which ends at an M.O.D. site, too. Roads like that are always fascinating – a bit like the sinister new roads that lead nowhere in the movie ‘Quatermass II’. I live near the East coast, and thought that I knew pretty much everything about what lay under my feet – and then I saw a series of videos by some urbexers from Kent, called ‘I.K.S. Exploration’. Their videos are always interesting, and they’re always respectful of sites – if it’s sealed, then that’s it, they never break in. Anyhow, they put a video up of an explore of a cold war ROTOR (it’s a codename, and doesn’t mean anything) Radar bunker. One I know well. One that for many years, has been ‘secured and sealed’, at the former R.A.F. Bawdsey site. And they got in, and it was vast, eerie, and superb.. They never tell where sites are, to stop vandals finding them, but I know Bawdsey very well, and had no idea all of it was still down there, biding it’s time. I.K.S. Exploration videos are well worth watching – some of them are bloody terrifying, like the drainage tunnel under the fortifications on Dover’s Western Heights, or the Royal Marines base where most of the stairs on a deep shaft have gone. The scariest though, is a deep shelter that can only be accessed from a Dover cliff face, and which is subject to roof falls, and in which is a void, with the roof being held up by a single block of chalk. The lads from I.K.S. went there with a mate of theirs who was with The Gurkhas. When he saw the void and boulder, he said several things that had to be bleeped out. When you can find something that will freak out a Gurkha, you know that the ‘Job’s a bad ‘un’.

  24. Ian Luck says:

    The BBC had an engineering training facility at Wood Norton, in Worcestershire. The first Doctor Who story to feature Tom Baker’s fourth Incarnation of The Doctor was filmed there, because the story, ‘Robot’ (1974) featured an underground bunker, and such a structure existed at Wood Norton, and it was intended to film the entrance. However, they were forbidden to do so, being basically told that it didn’t exist, so they had to create their own entrance on a different part of the site. The bunker is still there, in an area with the oddly sinister acronym ‘PAWN’ (Protected Area Wood Norton).

  25. snowy says:

    * Heaves crowbar *

    This popped up on the radio, still available as a stream.

    Tuesday 27th Feb.

    On the Map
    Episode 7 of 10

    Self-confessed map addict Mike Parker explores modern cartography.

    Off the Map. The first step to success in any military campaign is a good map. During the Second World War, intelligence officers prepared meticulously detailed maps for the D-Day landings using a combination of aerial photography, old tourist guides and holiday snaps. Mike Parker discovers how Germany, and later the Soviet Union, compiled maps of Britain often more detailed than our own. And he visits a Cold War nuclear bunker, one of the many sites that until recently were simply blank spaces on Ordnance Survey maps.

    * Wipes dust on trousers *

  26. Ian Luck says:

    Snowy – that reminded me of my all-time favourite bit of D-Day preparation. It wasn’t known in 1944 what the composition of the landing sites, beaches was, and if they could support heavy machinery crossing them, and so, in the early part of 1944, geologists were put ashore from submarines to get samples from the beaches, in some cases, right underneath manned fortifications. I have a mental image of these boffins pottering about on the beach, in the dark, shovelling sand into bags, and taking core samples as if they were collecting seashells on holiday, yards from 88mm guns, 20mm cannon, and MG-34 Machine guns. It’s a lovely picture.

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