It’s been several years now since the 020 code was introduced in London, and yet I still see people putting the code 0207 (or 0208) in their phone numbers, on signs, business cards, web pages, email sigs, and so on. So here, again, is the quick primer to the way that London’s phone numbers have evolved, and how they should be written. Let’s imagine someone back in the 1980s living in central London, with the following phone number:
01 123 1234
There are three elements to this code, reading from right to left: the number, the area code and a regional code. If you were dialling that number from anywhere inside of London you would dial:
If you were dialling from outside of London you would dial:
01 123 1234
However, by the late 1980s, after the Big-Bang fuelled explosion of activity in the City, London was running out of numbers. So it was split into two areas, one for inner London (071) and one for outer London (081). So now, if you were phoning from inner London, our number would still be:
But if you were dialling from either outer London, or from outside of London, you would dial:
071 123 1234
This new solution lasted a few years, but by the late 90s the entire country was running out of numbers. In addition, there was a desire to rationalise things such as premium rate numbers and mobile numbers. So as an initial, interim measure, all land-lines had a one added at the start of there regional code, after the zero. This meant that our number now became:
0171 123 1234
But of course, as always, if you were phoning from the house next door you would only have to dial:
That was only ever an interim solution, and of course, the intention was to use the extra numbers thus released. London needed still more numbers, so an ambitious plan was arrived at. All the London area codes would be expanded from three digits to four, but at the same time the two London regions, inner and outer, would be consolidated back into one big region, just as it had been fifteen or so years before. The effect of these two changes was to increase the numbers available by a factor of five (adding an extra digit to the area codes increased the numbers by a factor of ten, but combining two areas back into one then halved it).
The new, all London code, was 020, which meant that our number would be:
020 x123 1234
The question was: what would x be, the number that would be added to our area code? Well given that previously, both the inner London (0171) and the outer London (0181) regions would have had an 123 area code, they clearly needed to have different values of “x” to avoid them clashing. The nice, easy solution picked was to give x a value of 7 in the old inner London area, and 8 in the old outer London area. Obviously, this only applied to the old codes, with a whole load of new codes now available with initial digits of 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9. So our number would now be:
020 7123 1234
But if you were calling from anywhere inside London (inner or outer) you could just call:
But what your number would never, ever, ever be, is:
0207 123 1234
That’s just wrong, and if you don’t believe me try dialling 123 1234 from inside London and listen to the automated error that you’ll get back. It’s not 0207 (or 0208), there’s no such thing as 0207, and there never was.
There’s been quite a bit of controversy about Transport for London’s New Bus For London (or as the press and public have inevitably christened it, the “BorisBus”). People say that it’s an expensive vanity project for Boris Johnson that puts nostalgia above practicality and which wastes money that could better be spent on existing off-the-shelf buses.
My own party, the Greens, have been particularly critical of it. But personally, and practicality be damned, I like the idea of designing a bus for London, and I’ve long liked the sound of this bus. And then, a little while ago in London, I finally got to see one in the wild.
It came round the corner and headed away from me. I’d just finished taking pictures when two blokes ran past me, sprinting for it. The first jumped on but then, as the second bloke neared, the bus started to pick up speed. I didn’t think he was going to make it, but he really dug in, pushed hard and then – just as it was about to really pull away from him – put in a final burst of speed and with a big leap made it on board.
It might be 2013, but there’s still something right about an open-platform bus in London.
It’s been a little while since Stone Skin Press kickstarted the New Hero, their short story anthology featuring my Pete Stone story, a fair while since the cover was revealed, and an even longer time since I revealed my part in it. Now, finally, the Kickstarter edition is out, and I’m very, very chuffed. My Kickstarter package came today (from Leisure Games) and it also included a bonus sampler of four stories plus an Aesop print.
It’s very cool to think that in a space of a few days, a couple of hundred people are going to be getting a book with my story in it. And according to its Amazon page, as from 11th April, the book will be available on general release.
It features stories by Ed Greenwood, Adam Marek, Richard Dansky, Monte Cook, Julia Bond Ellingboe, Kyla Ward, Jeff Tidball, Maurice Broaddus, Graeme Davis, Monica Valentinelli, Kenneth Hite, Chuck Wendig and Alexandra & Peter Freeman.
I can’t wait to hear what people think of the book, and my story in particular. Assuming they like it, of course!
Ocean’s Eleven directed by David Lynch. Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas by way of Dante’s Inferno. The Hangover meets The Prisoner. A new style of RPG by James Wallis, named by Robin D. Laws as ‘the godfather of indie-game design’, with art from this year’s winner of the World Fantasy Award, John Coulthart.
Long time followers of mine will know that one of my big heroes, both personally and in the fields of writing and gaming, is James Wallis. James is charming, witty and charismatic and very much the geek I metaphorically wanted to be when I grew up (metaphorically, because I was already grown up when I first met him, he’s only a few years older than me, and frankly it would have been a bit freaky for me to turn myself into some kind of stalker clone). A few years back I even (jokingly! honest!) created a fake Internet religion around him, “The First Church of James Wallis, Sanctified”.
Back in the day, James produced (writing one, publishing the others) a series of revolutionary RPGs. Between them, The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Münchhausen, Pantheon, Puppetland/Powerkill, Violence and De Profundis extended the possibilities of what it meant to be a roleplaying game, and arguably led to the development of indie, story-telling games. Now James is back (in the tabletop RPG field, in the geographical sense he’s been living in Clapham all along) with a new RPG which promises to be just as revolutionary, but more importantly, just as much fun. Perhaps it’s best if I just let him explain what it is:
James is publishing via Kickstarter, which for those who haven’t yet come across it is a crowd-funding site that allows members of the public (you, me, that bloke on our morning train we’ve spent the last five years avoiding making eye-contact with) to become patrons who fund creative works or new technological advances. This is your chance to both help Alas Vegas get out of the door as well as being among the first to get hold of it. James has already got past his initial £3000 target, which for you means two things: a) the game is going to get published; b) lots of extra goodies are being unlocked via stretch goals.
To find out more visit the Alas Vegas Kickstarter page. You can also find out more by reading the interviews James has done with OgreCave, Starburst Magazine, RPGnet and Farsight Blogger.
To the editors, journalists, proprietors and readers of the Sun and the Daily Star. She was not “The Blade Runner’s Lover”. Her name was Reeva Steenkamp. She was a law school graduate, an activist for women’s rights, a model, and an aspiring TV presenter.
Her tragic death deserved to be marked with dignity, not treated as an excuse to turn the front-page of your newspaper into little more than a wank mag for sick and perverted men.
Decent newspapers bothered to talk about her, and her life. Would it be too much to ask that you do the same?
I was just about to write that yesterday evening, I found myself at the Waterstones in Brighton to witness the launch event of Beach Hut Writers, a new Brighton based authors’ group. But I won’t, because to do so would be to use the lazy, throw-away language that – among other things – the authors giving the talk were trying to educate the audience out of.
I didn’t “find” myself there; I’d booked a ticket some weeks beforehand having found out about it via Facebook from my friend Mark Barrowcliffe (a.k.a. M.D. Lachlan, a.k.a. Mark Alder), who is one of the members, and was one of yesterday’s speakers.
So instead, I’m going to try again, with a first line that incorporates two (count them!) of the pieces of advice given out yesterday. Here goes!
* * * * *
The mood in the Waterstone’s third-floor Costa outlet was dark and ugly, and the dead Slovak lying on the floor with a wine stain on one side of his chest and a bullet hole in the other wasn’t much helping.
It is possible that I might have misunderstood what they were saying.
Hm. Let’s try again.
* * * * *
The title of the event was “The writer’s journey to publication: an evening with Brighton’s bestselling authors”. It had drawn a crowd that was both impressive and depressing: impressive in its size, given that this was a new group in a provincial town; and depressing given that it once again demonstrates just how many people are attempting to break into writing.
(As always, I’m reminded of the fact that while there are no magazines in WH Smiths covering roleplaying, there are two – Writing Magazine and Writers’ Monthly – covering the craft of writing, meaning that as hobbies go, “Wanting to be an Author” is a far more popular and mass-market pastime than “Playing Dungeons & Dragons”).
I’ve been to quite a few of these sorts of things, enough to know that in the end it mainly boils down to: “The odds on getting a book published are very, very small, so you’ll need to work very, very hard to make your book the best it can possibly be; but if you’re prepared and able to do that, you’ll find that your odds of getting published are now actually quite good.”
So there wasn’t much new in what was said for me. But what I can say is that it was probably the best such talk I’ve been to, as it managed to pack pretty much everything I’ve got from five years of such talks into one evening, starting with the classic lesson of “Show, Don’t Tell”, and going right through to handling bad reviews after you get published.
As a totally irrelevant, and frankly self-indulgent aside, when “Show, Don’t Tell” was being explained a line appeared in my brain that is either a pithy way of explaining it, or sick. I’m not sure which. It is:
Don’t tell your readers that a character is a violent misogynist; instead show them, by having him punch his wife in the face.
Probably sick. Oh well. It’s a good job I don’t do one of those blogs where aspiring, and as yet unpublished, authors try to pretend they already are authors by dispensing lots of writing advice. (That wasn’t a joke, by the way – I’m genuinely trying to not do anything like that).
Although the group boasts more than forty members, there were seven of them lined up on the table in front of us, in the manner (as they pointed out), of a police press conference about a missing child. If I was any sort of journalist I’d have thought to have taken a picture of them. But I’m not, and I didn’t. (On the plus side, I think I am a pretty good computer programmer – yeh me!)
According to the blurb I’ve just googled, the seven authors were:
Sarah Rayner, Simon Toyne, M.D. Lachlan, Julia Crouch, Kate Harrison and Emlyn Rees
The three of you who are still reading might at this point have noticed that there are only six names on this list. Well there’s not a lot I can do about it now, because I didn’t take any notes, and I can’t remember the names. Again, I really am quite a good computer programmer.
One of the four women, whose name I’m sorry to say now escapes me, chaired, and the other six panelists then gave a series of talks, each one covering one aspect of the process:
- Writing the manuscript.
- Finding an agent (Simon).
- Getting a publisher to take on the manuscript (Emlyn).
- Dealing with criticism (Mark).
It’s at this juncture that I realise with horror that I can remember which bloke did what subject, but have no idea with the women. I’d like to say that it’s because there were four women and only three men, and one of those three men was a mate of mine, but I fear the answer is more rooted in the latent, but still extreme, sexism in which we are raised and its resulting effects on our thoughts and memories. Personally, I blame society. And the fact that I didn’t take notes1.
But all the six talks were genuinely good: all informative, all entertaining. It was especially heartening to hear several of the participants describe just how much rewriting they’d to do of their novels before they were published. A hybrid composite of what several of them said might be: “I worked on it again and again until it was perfect. Then I managed to get an agent and he/she told me everything that was wrong with it. We broke it down and put it back together again and it was brilliant, much better. Then we got a publisher, and they told us everything that was still wrong with it. So we broke it down again and put it back together. And now it’s so, so much better than it was, and I’m so relieved I didn’t lose faith back then and self-publish what I now realise was a far inferior work.”
But having said that it was largely confirming advice I’ve heard at previous such events, there was one “new” thing which made me pause, think, and ultimately convince me to change tack in one critical area. Several of the participants made mention of “100,000 words”. Now they weren’t stating that as a minimum length of a novel. Instead, they were using it more as a shorthand, as in, “Okay so you’ve bashed out 100,000 words and you think that’s your novel finished, but in fact, you’ve only just started.”
But it got me thinking, because I’m just coming to the end of a reasonably stiff pruning draft of my current work in progress (5th draft, for anyone who’s counting), at the end of which it will have shrunk to around 80,000 words. I collared Mark at the end, and asked him what he thought the minimum length of a piece of general fiction was. His answer was, “80,000 words, but if you’ve got 90, that’s a novel”.
Thing is, when I start submitting again to agents, I want my novel to be the best I can make it. (Although I say that knowing that they’ll help me take it apart and make it even better). I don’t want to go in with a nagging feeling at the back of my mind that it’s a bit lacking in length. I certainly don’t want to put a figure of 80,000 words on my covering letter if that’s a figure that might give them negative thoughts before they’ve even read my first line.
Luckily, I think there’s a natural point in my plot – where obscure Clue A leads them to Man B – where I can seamlessly insert more storyline in. So like the makers of the R101, I’m going to cut it in half and stuff an extra gasbag in.
Here’s hoping that’s not an omen.
1I know that 15 minutes on Google would probably enable me to track everyone down and probably work out who did which bit, but I: a) wrote this on train coming in to work; and am b) posting it in something of a hurry during my lunch break. And I figure it’s probably funnier and more honest to leave it as I wrote it. But I would like to stress that absolutely no offense is intended, and I’m sincerely hoping that none will be caused.
Yesterday evening our Virgin Media cable TV stopped working, displaying a, “Sorry, this channel isn’t available right now. If it keeps happening call us on 150 from your Virgin Media home phone or 0845 454 1111.” error message for every single channel.
I didn’t bother calling them, partly because these problems often clear themselves up by the next morning (we had a similar outage on the evening of 18th August, which also affected some friends of ours), and partly because I find calling Virgin’s call centre a depressing and difficult experience. (I have history with Virgin, as I previously described).
So we gave up and watched a DVD. (Quadrophenia, in case anyone’s interested). By this evening, it was working again… until about half an hour ago, when the picture first started breaking up badly and then – after we attempted to reboot the box – was replaced by the now familiar error message described above.
This time I did try calling the call centre, and the resulting conversation contained a good selection of the things I hate about Virgin’s “customer service”.
I called 150 from my Virgin phone, hit “2″ to report a fault, and then got an automated voice asking me if the phone I was calling from was from the system that I wanted to report a fault with. I hit “1″ to confirm that it was.
So their system now knew which account the fault was for.
Nonetheless, the automated voice then asked me to start keying in letters from my password. Given that I was doing this one-handed while holding a baby, on a keypad for the home phone that I very rarely use and which has the letters printed in incredibly tiny letters, and for a password that I wasn’t even sure was the right one, this took me about three attempts.
But I got in, and their system now really, really knew which account they were dealing with, and knew that they were talking to the account’s account holder.
So why, in the name of all things sodding holy, did the human being I then ended up talking to immediately ask me for my home phone number? And yes, I guess it is my fault that in the era of mobiles, I can’t actually remember my own home phone number, and had to look it up on my mobile, but my tolerance for looking something up that they already know is rather limited.
But I gave it, and we then got onto reporting the fault. I described what had happened, and the error message I was seeing.
The woman on the other end then asked me to press the AV button on my remote control. Now I confess that I do often find the Indian accents of the call centre workers rather difficult to understand (I feel embarrassed to admit this, because I worry that it makes me look like a racist, but I honestly, honestly do), but I was eventually able to work out what she was saying when we switched to saying “Alpha Victor”.
Except that when I hunted around there was no AV button on their remote control. I explained this, and twenty or so seconds of confusion later it was established that she wanted me to look at my TV remote control. I had a look at that, all the while explaining that I couldn’t see what my TV remote control had to do with it, but there was no AV button.
She then asked me to look for a “Source” button and I realised what she was doing, which was working her way through a standard checklist that first wanted to check that I hadn’t switched my TV off the cable box (which is on HDMI1) and onto something else. Which would have been a fine suggestion had I not previously described the Virgin error message that my TV was displaying, including reading out the reference number.
I explained again that my TV was connected to the cable box because it was displaying an error message coming from the cable box. (I then read the error message out again).
At this point she immediately said that they would have to send an engineer out. There was no suggestion of apology here, nor was there any suggestion that she was able to see if there was a fault at any point. We’re not free tomorrow, so the engineer is coming on Thursday.
She then explained that if it turns out that this is a network fault, and they fix it, they will cancel the engineer and leave an AVR message for me telling me this. Except of course that I couldn’t make out what she was saying. I said something like:
“Sorry, what type of message?”
She then repeated the whole spiel to me, except that I still couldn’t hear what type of message it was. So I said:
“Yeah, I get you’re going to send me a message, but I don’t understand what type of message it will be?”
Her response was something like:
“AVR message. Automated Voicemail Response.”
Well pardon me for not having heard of that particular TLA.
So the situation is this:
Our TV service is down. They can’t tell us why. It might be a network fault, which might be fixed relatively quickly. Or we might have no TV service until Thursday, and perhaps more if it’s something that can’t be fixed. We’ll just have to wait. There’s no suggestion that we’ll get any kind of apology for this, nor any kind of refund.
I should stress that this is not about this particular woman I was speaking to. She’s actually better than many there I’ve dealt with. The problem is with the outsourcing of support and the robotic script they have to follow – not the individuals. Now some might say that offering to send an engineer the next day is quite good, except that this misses an important point. If we were using Freeview via an aerial, or Sky via a Satellite dish, it likely wouldn’t have broken in the first place. People who have Sky or Freeview appear to be able to go several years with never an outage of more than a few minutes (due to problems with masts or at the broadcaster).
Personally, this is my take on it, based on experience and guesses:
The majority of the cable infrastructure was built in one burst in the early nineties. It’s now twenty years old, knackered, and falling apart. If you go with cable, you should expect to have one or two neighbourhood-wide network outages of several hours each per year. You should also expect to have one major days long outage perhaps every other year. You will not get a refund for this, nor anything like an apology. In addition, your cable Internet service will be poor and subject to sometimes severe congestion.
If you’re happy with this, then go with “Superfast Richard Branson”.
If not, go with Sky or Freeview.
It’s often said of the Paralympic Games that it exists to challenge and change attitudes to disabilities. We need to stop assuming that disabled people can’t do things and start assuming that they can. Disabled people don’t need to be patronised, applauded like children merely for existing.
And I think the Paralympics does trigger exactly this change.
Certainly, when watching the wheelchair basketball match last night between GB and Germany, I found it took me only minutes to go from being impressed simply that a man in a wheelchair could throw a basketball into a basket to shouting “you twat” at that same man when he missed a shot at 70-70 with about two seconds left to play.
That’s progress, right?
There’s a strong streak in the British psyche that believes we’re shit and enjoys it that way. Many people predicted disaster for the Olympics, talking of unfinished arenas, an embarrassing opening ceremony. and transport meltdowns. Well the arenas were finished, the opening ceremony was awesome, and I can report that for us, at least, today, the transport worked fine. The trains were busy, but not much more so than usual, and while there were some queues, there was nothing that took more than a few minutes.
People also talked of overbearing security. Well there was airport style security surrounding the North Greenwich Arena (a.k.a. the O2, a.k.a. the Millennium Dome), but it’s perhaps the friendliest and least intrusive security I’ve been though. And the soldiers manning the scanners (from the Rifles), were great. Brilliant. I cannot say how highly I was impressed by them. And you know what, I think they made me feel a lot safer than the G4S guys would have been (had they turned up).
This was my first time inside the O2, and I have to say it’s quite an impressive place. Before the start, they did a rather cool gymnastic display with light show.
Then it was onto the gymnastics proper. We were watching the first of three sessions of the mens’ qualifications, and we lucked out in the teams we were getting to watch. If asked, I’d have said that I wanted to see the home team and the best. We got exactly that: Great Britain, China (last time’s gold medalists), France and South Korea. We had some French guys sitting right behind us, and they really did get into it. (They really do actually shout “Allez!”)
I can’t claim to be a fan of gymnastics, and although I’ve watched it on the tv quite a lot, this was my first time I’ve seen it live. I did have a few observations.
1) Gymnasts are brave. I don’t know if anyone’s ever actually died doing gymnastics, but if not, it’s not for want of trying.
2) Gymnasts are tough. Footballers will fall over screaming if something brushes their hair. We saw one Korean guy so screw up his tumble that he landed on his head from about ten feet, but he still bounced straight up to his feet to take his bow.
3) Gymnasts have to be able to focus. This isn’t like tennis, or snooker, where everyone’s expected to stay quiet. For a start, there are six pieces of apparatus (four for the women) going simultaneously. So you might be midway through a really complicated horizontal bar routine when suddenly there a massive outburst of cheering and applause because some other guy’s just landed a tough vault. On top of that, there are beeps to let the floor guys know that they’re running out of time, music playing in the background, and just a general background hubbub of cheers and shouts.
It was really cool. And the arena looked great. This is what it looked like when things got going (this was taken during one of the warm ups).
Click on pictures to enlarge.
Seven years ago, when Jacques Rogge announced in Singapore that London had been chosen to host the 2012 Olympic Games, I wrote an entry in my LiveJournal:
It seems a long time ago. Things were very different then – we were all on LiveJournal rather than Facebook, for a start. I was also just thirty-nine days away from meeting the girl who is now my wife, and who within the next few weeks will become the mother of my daughter.
I couldn’t have dreamed then of the life I have now. And I can’t wait to sit down with my wife this evening and watch the opening ceremony of an Olympic Games in my home city.
It’s been a good seven years.