Monday, November 25, 2013


"Seminar" is one of those words. At university it frequently means 8 hung-over people mumbling through Anglo-Saxon translations. But, in the wider world it really seems to mean "Faux Intellectual way of describing a Scam."

We've a "Pop-Up Shop" in our street. It sells nasty perfume and miracle weightloss liquid. Innocuously silly. Until it put up signs saying "FREE SEMINAR: Earn more cash for xmas!". You just know what this means - some poor sods are going to be going door-to-door, plaguing their friends with nasty perfume and diet water.

A few years ago I was looking to buy a flat in Cardiff. One seemed incredibly cheap and I emailed to ask for more details. The next thing my phone rang: "We would like to invite you to a seminar about..." I hung up.

You just know what it is. A small group of earnest people, some taking dutiful notes. A snake oil salesman.

Our local snake oil salesman is at least wearing his nasty perfume. The problem is, it's clearly intended for ladies, so he smells like an aunt's toilet.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

My Fear of Cycling

It's been a bad week to be a cyclist in London. The daily deaths are not just upsetting - they're selfishly frightening. I'm now worried every time I get on a bike. This is not a good thing.

There are two Really Bad kinds of cyclist. There are the 12 rare lycra dicks who sail through red traffic lights, scattering pedestrians while roaring slogans from Gladiator.

And then there are the Timid Cyclists. I'm now one of them. We hesitate at junctions. We hold up traffic with our uncertainty. We dart from lane-to-lane like disillusioned voters. Occasionally (if you're me) we keep up a constant chant of "ohgodohgodohgodohgod.". We're not reassuring to share a road with.

I'm not just spooked by statistics (although the internet tells me this is a thing). I find cycling in London really scary. I've been doing it in London since last century and, despite it getting more popular, it's not getting any nicer.

A lot of it is to do with Junctions. They're terrifying. Here's Bow Roundabout:

Let's have an aerial view of Old Street Roundabout:

It is every bit as terrifying to cycle around as it looks. Bafflingly, a lot of road redevelopment seems to be encouraging turning every junction a bit Hunger Gamesy.

You may well not know what "Euston Circus" is. I always used to call it "the slightly grim bit at the top of Tottenham Court Road". Until they started digging it up to build this:

Ignore the architect's trees. They've taken away most of the lane markings. The bicycle crossing. And replaced them with a free-for-all. Over the last 18 frightening months, I'd assumed this was work-in-progress. Nope, that's it. According to TFL this makes "the area greener, safer and more user-friendly... and improves facilities for cyclists."

Try cycling through Euston Circus. Maybe it'll get easier as traffic gets more used to it. But currently it's four lanes of confused and jostling traffic trying to work out which way is Camden. And somewhere in amongst it are cyclists, desperately hoping they've got the right lane and aren't about to be undertaken by that bus. Oh, no, we are. And now I'm in the middle of the Euston Road in the wrong lane and hello lorries.

I used to laugh when I saw Japanese tourists pedalling Boris Bikes on the pavements of Oxford Street. Now I'm tempted to join them.