Outdoor gladrags

Last Sunday was the hottest of a run of hot days in London. It was also the day the England football team lost to Germany in a 4-1 thriller in the second round of the World Cup, Kevin Pietersen’s 30th birthday, and the third and final day of Hard Rock Calling, the misleadingly-named music festival which this year featured, among other hard rockers, Stevie Wonder, James Morrison, Crowded House, Elvis Costello and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

But it was the promise of Paul McCartney which had me eagerly pressing the “refresh” button on my browser the morning tickets went on sale. I tried to get tickets to see him at the Dome back in December, but the good seats were insanely expensive and anyway, it sold out before I could buy any. Day tickets to Hard Rock Calling are £60 and you get to sit anywhere you like and see lots of other acts, so this was a much better choice.

Well, it was great and the photos are here, but in the long minutes between acts I found myself fascinated by what people choose to wear when it’s hot and they’re going to be outside all day, because if you live in or near London (or any British city), neither of those things is very often true. It’s hot today, but I am spending eight hours of it inside an air-conditioned office, so I am wearing a dress with sleeves. On Sunday, we were all exposed to bright sun and 30C temperatures for about the same amount of time. In those circumstances, deciding what to wear can be quite tricky. So I inspected the choices of some of my fellow revellers, and have come up with some guidelines, which I now present to you for free, with nothing in mind but your welfare and happiness:

1. As in so many areas of life, I agree with Baz Luhrmann. Rule number one is wear sunscreen.

2. With no shade and barely a cloud in the sky, hats are the order of the day:

people in hats
3. Be careful with straps. Straps are good, but ill-fitting or competing straps are bad. However, if you have no choice but to show off your bra straps, do it with chutzpah, so it looks like you meant it:

lady with straps

4. It’s better to wear too many clothes than too few. You recover faster from being hot than you do from being burnt (I have tried both, so I can say this with certainty). And if you wear light, loose clothes you probably won’t be much hotter than you would have been in a bikini. I liked this outfit very much:

5. Do not, under any circumstances, wear a bikini. Bikinis are strictly for the beach.

I should come clean at this point and tell you that I was wearing a jumpsuit.

In many ways they are ideal hot-weather outdoor wear: they are durable, you can sit cross-legged without risking your modesty, and they keep all the ungainly bits covered while allowing arms and legs unfettered access to the air. However, they can be tricky to go to the toilet in. I think the answer to this is to wear a baggy-ish one with no complicated fastenings, and to stay on the fuzzy side of sober. You’ll be pleased to know that I more or less managed both.

However, based on extensive research I have decided that the IDEAL festival-going hot-weather outfit is a strapless top, elasticated shorts, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and a wrap which you can sit on when your legs get tired and put around your shoulders after the sun goes down.

Shoes are more problematic: you need something sturdy and comfortable which you won’t get sweaty in. I wore Crocs, but I am the only person I know who looks good in Crocs, and the only reason I think I look good in them is that I never on any account look at them once they’re on. I just revel in the squish of the tread and the swish of the air as it cools my toes. The real answer is probably flip-flops on soft grass and light plimsolls on rough grass. But I will leave that to your discretion.

Sorry for only talking about girls’ clothes. I have no advice for boys, although the hat and sunscreen rules are unisex. If you are a boy, I suggest you dress like this:

dancing man in bandana

I have left the most important rule, not including the sunscreen one, until last. The most important rule, not including the sunscreen one, is:

6. Wear whatever you like. It’s a festival! Go wild.

Lost in translation

The beloved and I took a speedboat ride up the Thames yesterday evening. I would heartily recommend it – it’s very exciting – but it does do interesting things to your hair. There were only six of us on the boat, plus a captain and a guide, and once we got past Tower Bridge we went super-fast, accompanied by the theme tunes from Baywatch and then James Bond. It was brilliant, and I was only a tiny bit scared.

Then we ate at Caffe’ Vergnano on the South Bank. I really like it there, but it’s somewhere I have usually gone before a film or a show, so I tend to go early and it’s always fairly empty. Last night we were there later on, and it was very busy. Halfway through our meal they seated a couple so close to us that it was nearly impossible for me to leave my seat without crashing into their table. It added an element of challenge to the evening, but it also gave us the chance to listen in to their conversation. Actually we had no choice: she was more or less completely silent, but he had a great booming voice that drowned out the sound of the trains just feet above our heads. Sadly they were speaking a language I didn’t recognise – I don’t speak many languages, but I can recognise the sound of a lot of them, and this wasn’t one I knew. It might have been Portuguese, or one of the eastern European languages that has nothing to do with Russian.

Anyway, I don’t know how much I would have enjoyed listening to him had I known what he was saying, but listening with no idea what he was talking about was great fun. He had a peculiarly mirthless laugh with which he punctuated every sentence. Because I didn’t recognise the words he was using, I have attempted to reproduce them phonetically, to give you an idea:

Amazon turquoise Lithuanian bathtub. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Malevolent projector foolproof simian pilot. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Christmas fettucine bones, bananas and bra. Ha. Ha. Ha.

It was disconcerting, but also kind of fascinating, and loud enough that it was easier for us to listen to him than attempt a conversation of our own. She sat in silence opposite him, occasionally joining in with the solemn laughter. I tried to imagine what he might be saying. The tone implied that it was probably something like

We have trapped your father in a dungeon. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. If you do not tell us where the jewels are he will die. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. We will show him no mercy. Ha. Ha. Ha.

But I think that was just the way he spoke. He was probably saying

Look at these jokers next to us. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. They are listening to me instead of having a conversation of their own. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. And they both have hair that points vertically upwards. Ha. Ha. Ha.

The TfL graffiti challenge

TfL is running a poster campaign as part of its Art on the Underground initiative. It consists of a series of quotes which, according to the website, “provoke thought on life in the city”.

One of these is a quote from Gandhi, which I’ve seen proudly displayed at various points along my commute to work. It reads


As I spilled off my overcrowded Jubilee Line train after waiting an unfathomably long time at London Bridge, and squeezed my way on to the Central Line only to spend five minutes sitting in a tunnel, it occured to me that the expression of this particular sentiment is rather brazen on TfL’s part. I am very well-behaved and couldn’t possibly consider breaking the law myself, but I hereby offer £20 cash money to the first person to send me photographic evidence that they have found one of these posters and added the line



When I said

Paris does human-scale street life better than any city I can think of off the top of my head, with the possible exception of Beijing.

What I really meant was

Not including London, Paris does human-scale street life…etc etc.

London is bigger, so there are more places where it doesn’t happen, but when it does, it’s as good as anywhere else’s. I was reminded of this yesterday coming through Brixton Market, which is still the most interesting place I know in London.

Green power for Battersea

Look at this!

This is an artist’s impression of a plan to convert Battersea Power Station into a source of renewable energy – read the full story at inhabitat.com. It’s all very commendable, and the new structure itself is elegant and interesting, but the old power station’s dominance over the skyline of that corner of London, which is the best thing about it, will be markedly diminished if they do go ahead and build it. I’m not convinced.


Outside an Italian restaurant in Bloomsbury, a couple next to us; both indeterminately European. They are discussing his career prospects, and eventually he bursts out: “If I don’t get tenure next year, I’m just going to…blog about it.”


I spent this morning at TfL’s newest home, the Palestra building on Blackfriars Road.  When construction began several years ago I used to pass the site every day on my way to work and wonder whether it was ever going to be anything other than an enormous hole, until one day it seemed to emerge from the ground fully formed, dwarfing everything around it.

Some local residents opposed its construction, and it’s not hard to see why: there’s nothing context-friendly about the design, and apart from anything else it blocks the river views of the buildings immediately opposite.  But once you’re inside there’s a lot that’s good about it: it’s open-plan without being blandly corporate, the communal areas look like some actual thought went into how and when they would be used, and I only heard good things about the canteen.  Plus, they gave me free tea and cake.

More importantly, though, everything that can be done to reduce a building’s emissions is done here.  I’m told it’s 100% carbon neutral, although I can’t find any official confirmation of that.  But certainly a significant amount of the energy it uses comes from solar panels and wind turbines on the roof (you can see them from the nearby railway line, if you happen to be travelling into Waterloo East).  This is all good.

Even better is the view from the eleventh floor, but I’m afraid I didn’t have the guts to ask if anyone minded if I took a photo, so you’ll just have to trust me on that.

Poo update #2

Enlightenment! It’s the fault of foreigners, naturally.

Edited so I don’t have to link to the Daily Mail, since the BBC now has the story too:

A foul smell hanging over southern England is being blamed on easterly winds bringing either farming or industrial smells across the Channel.

Labelled “Euro-whiff” by the Met Office, the source of the smell – alternately described as sulphur and manure – is under investigation.

Take another look at that:

Labelled “Euro-whiff” by the Met Office

The Met Office is the UK’s national weather service, responsible for processing and interpreting reams of information gathered from satellites and weather stations in order to warn us when we’re about to be flooded, or burned, or blown away. They even issue the Shipping Forecast, for heaven’s sake – these are serious people, people! So I am underwhelmed that their initial response is to call it a “Euro-whiff”. It doesn’t seem an appropriately businesslike reaction.

Poo update

Well, Westminster and the surrounding district smells entirely innocuous, as far as I can tell. But in addition to a similar conversation happening on, of all places, Yahoo Answers Australia, I’ve just had a look at my stats and these are the search terms which have sent people here today:

london smells of poo

poo smell in all over london today

london smell of poo

scariest playgrounds (people find me using this search term every day; it’s the most-viewed post after “No congestion charge for NYC“)

bad smell all over london today

So it’s obviously real, but the only suggestion anyone seems to have made as to the cause is “is it aliens?”. More investigation is required, clearly.