Saturday, October 25, 2003

Throwing shapes on Big Ben

by Suw on October 25, 2003

Thursday afternoon I went up to London for a drink with some of the guys from Met up with Craig at 1 Parliament Street, where he works. Had to hang around there a little while as he was in the midst of doing battle with his computer, but whilst I was waiting I heard the Division Bell, which goes off every time the MPs have to go and vote on something. Apparently there are Division Bells all around the Westminster, in bars and restaurants, so that MPs don’t miss out on that essential vote whilst having a quick pint. Weird sounding bell though – sort of strangled yet tinny.

Met up then with Renate in the Opera Room of the Chandos off Trafalgar Square. Always a nice pub to meet in because they have nice comfy leather sofas, although getting to sit in one of said sofas does require getting there earlier than we did. Annie, who was over from New York, turned up fairly shortly afterwards, then Caz.

After a good chin wag in the Chandos, we headed off back to 1 Parliament Street, from where we could go through Portcullis House to the Palace of Westminster.

Portcullis House is the new building that hit the headlines for gross overspend and general over-luxuriousness. But it is lovely from what we saw of it – there’s a rather nice atrium with trees and a sort of Eden Project-esque roof. Very posh.

Then it’s down under the road through an old Victorian tunnel which connects Portcullis House with the Palace of Westminster (i.e. the Houses of Parliament). You can immediately tell when you walk into the Palace of Westminster because suddenly you have the beautiful stonework, with a curled dragon on the wall, looking all fearsome.

We went along the walkway at the front of the Palace, which is all beautiful stone vaulting and columns. It's most strange to be on the other side of the fences! Thence it was on through the bowels of the building, including a corridor painted the most vile shade of green I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness, and into The Lords Bar. The very cheap Lords Bar. Which was surprisingly empty of Lords and full of young twenty-somethings. The whole place had a rather collegiate feel to it, I must admit.

Lords merchandise. Who’da thunk it?

As we were arriving at the Palace, Gerry arrived too – his plane down from Glasgow has been delayed by an hour and a half, which was a bit of a bummer. Craig settled everyone else in the bar and took me through another set of winding back staircases and passageways, (including another bar which has all the style, sophistication and atmosphere of the Queen Vic), to meet Gerry. It's a bit of a shame that I didn’t get much time to gawp at the St Stephen’s Porch, with it’s amazing statuary, astounding ceiling and, let’s not forget, policeman with loaded gun.

Once back at The Lords Bar, it was time for a damn good natter about writing, scripts and Zoetrope. It was lovely to be able to talk about such things without people looking at me as if I’ve suddenly grown antlers, which is the reaction I usually get.

I never used to understand why people would join writing groups, having always been a very solitary writer, but now I think I do. There was a great atmosphere of understanding and support, just as there is in Gerry’s office on Zoetrope. For once, when I mentioned my dislike of writers who can’t be bothered to learn the basics of grammar and spelling – or at least, how to use a spellchecker – no one looked at me as if I’d just fallen out of my tree, (not even Craig’s lovely flatmate, Tasha, who’s not a writer at all).

One’s not supposed to take pics in The Lords Bar – I guess the Lords want somewhere to get sloshed and not have to worry about it. So we went out on to the terrace instead for our snaps. That was an astounding moment, to be looking at the Palace on side, the Thames on the other, and to suddenly realise where one is.

Craig, Caz and Renate in The Lords Bar

Me, Craig, Gerry, Renate and Caz

Renate, me, Gerry and Craig

The Palace of Westminster. Cool, huh?

After last orders, Craig took us up on to the roof of the Palace. It’s a little strange to think that just anyone can get up on to the roof of the building, although I suppose that once you’ve got through security and past the policeman with the loaded gun, going onto the roof terrace is frankly no big deal.

A Palace gargoyle

The amazing thing is that you’re so close to Big Ben (although yes, I know that Big Ben is the bell, not the Clock Tower). We were able to stand in front of the floodlights and cast shadows. I would have done bunny ears, but frankly the floods were too powerful and the shadows too ill-defined for artistry as delicate as bunny ears.

Big Ben

And yes, those shadows at the base of the tower, that’s us making those shadows. We did take some pics of us in front of the tower, but unfortunately my camera couldn’t deal with the contrast and they’re too blurred to be useable. However, there is one pic of me with the clock in the background, just to prove that I really was there.

Me, in front of Big Ben

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by Suw on October 25, 2003

What did I read before I read blogs?

I've just opened up Syndirella, as I usually do despite the fact that it's buggy as hell and usually crashes either just itself or my entire computer before it's managed to actually aggregate anything.

I've read all the blogs on my list that have updated since earlier this afternoon. Via my browser I've been to all the blogs I read that don't have RSS feeds just in case they'd updated, and checked some of those that do have RSS feeds that Syndirella had said hadn't updated, just in case Syndirella was lying.

Now I've exhausted my list of regular blog reads, and I'm left wondering what on earth used to steal my online time before I discovered the Joy of Blogging. Before the blog, before Sweet Addy, before the Guardian… I know I used to spend a lot of time online, but I can't for the life of me remember why.

Right back in the very beginning, I used to spend an inordinate amount of time in the Yahoo Books & Lit chat room. That was long before the teenagers had discovered the internet, of course, and most of the conversation there actually was roughtly about books and literature. Or at least used words. Once the ASLers turned up, we all buggered off to E-Groups, which then got eaten by Yahoo so we ended up back where we started.

I still have my very first avatar – it's still valid and I still use it on a regular basis.

I remember really clearly the day I was introduced to Yahoo chat. I was temping for a company called DE Shaw in the City in between Christmas and New Year 1997. I was working on reception but as most people had the time off, there was bugger all to do. The office manager came over to me and asked me if I'd brought a book to read. I'd admitted that, in fact, I'd been expecting to have been expected to actually work, so no, I hadn't. So she showed me Yahoo Chat and told me to log in and chill out.

I still use my Yahoo identity all the time now, despite the fact that Yahoo have gone from the cheeky underdog to corporate whores over the last six years. (Pretty much the same line that Google appear to be taking, if you ask me.)

A Books & Lit splinter group formed called Gorpies which was quite a large part of my life for quite a long time. Eventually, though, it became time to move on (amazing how it only takes one irritating old cow to ruin a whole email group), and I stopped chatting in Gorpies altogether. I'm still in touch with a few people from back then, actually, although I don't think I'd go into a public chat room now if you paid me.

Funny, though, how six years on the internet seems like such an age. My life has changed tremendously, the internet has changed tremendously, but the one thing that's stayed the same is that I have met and continue to meet some really cool and interesting people here in this virtual universe and thence later in person. Not sure how many, but it's a lot.

And so far, only one nutter out of the whole bunch.

Of course, I'm quite expecting that to change in November…

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