A Tale of Two Cities

This latest bit of hilliana, by Charles Dickens, was stumbled across in the Shrewsbury House Library, and since the copyright has expired it’s reproduced in part here. This scene takes takes places in 1775, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the serialisation of the story began in 1859, so it’s not necessarily a historically accurate account of the hill at that time, it is however Dickens at his (late era) best:

II. The Mail

It was the Dover road that lay, on a Friday night late in November, before the first of the persons with whom this history has business. The Dover road lay, as to him, beyond the Dover mail, as it lumbered up Shooter’s Hill. He walked up hill in the mire by the side of the mail, as the rest of the passengers did; not because they had the least relish for walking exercise, under the circumstances, but because the hill, and the harness, and the mud, and the mail, were all so heavy, that the horses had three times already come to a stop, besides once drawing the coach across the road, with the mutinous intent of taking it back to Blackheath. Reins and whip and coachman and guard, however, in combination, had read that article of war which forbade a purpose otherwise strongly in favour of the argument, that some brute animals are endued with Reason; and the team had capitulated and returned to their duty.

With drooping heads and tremulous tails, they mashed their way through the thick mud, floundering and stumbling between whiles, as if they were falling to pieces at the larger joints. As often as the driver rested them and brought them to a stand, with a wary “Wo-ho! so-ho-then!” the near leader violently shook his head and everything upon it—like an unusually emphatic horse, denying that the coach could be got up the hill. Whenever the leader made this rattle, the passenger started, as a nervous passenger might, and was disturbed in mind.

There was a steaming mist in all the hollows, and it had roamed in its forlornness up the hill, like an evil spirit, seeking rest and finding none. A clammy and intensely cold mist, it made its slow way through the air in ripples that visibly followed and overspread one another, as the waves of an unwholesome sea might do. It was dense enough to shut out everything from the light of the coach-lamps but these its own workings, and a few yards of road; and the reek of the labouring horses steamed into it, as if they had made it all.

Two other passengers, besides the one, were plodding up the hill by the side of the mail. All three were wrapped to the cheekbones and over the ears, and wore jack-boots. Not one of the three could have said, from anything he saw, what either of the other two was like; and each was hidden under almost as many wrappers from the eyes of the mind, as from the eyes of the body, of his two companions. In those days, travellers were very shy of being confidential on a short notice, for anybody on the road might be a robber or in league with robbers. As to the latter, when every posting-house and ale-house could produce somebody in “the Captain’s” pay, ranging from the landlord to the lowest stable non-descript, it was the likeliest thing upon the cards. So the guard of the Dover mail thought to himself, that Friday night in November, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, lumbering up Shooter’s Hill, as he stood on his own particular perch behind the mail, beating his feet, and keeping an eye and a hand on the arm-chest before him, where a loaded blunderbuss lay at the top of six or eight loaded horse-pistols, deposited on a substratum of cutlass.

The Dover mail was in its usual genial position that the guard suspected the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard, they all suspected everybody else, and the coachman was sure of nothing but the horses; as to which cattle he could with a clear conscience have taken his oath on the two Testaments that they were not fit for the journey.

The above is just a snippet of the chapter although subscribers will have got the thing in their email/syndicator, to read the whole book, click through to project gutenberg ebook #98.


Shooters Hill Against Masts
Shooters Hill Against Masts - click to zoom and read the planning application

Mobile masts are something of a blot on the landscape, but are they are blot on sleep and other biological processes too? In recent years mobile operators have been busy improving their coverage in this area, with a growing collection of hilltop antenna, comprised of mobile, shipping, and most controversially emergency services base stations.

A recent TETRA related planning consultation period that expired on February the 17th has perhaps rather late in the day caused something of a stir. The mast is on eaglesfield road near the fire station. The opposition to proposals for the upgrading of equipment owned by airwave solutions has led to mo burgess of the greenwich conservatives writing to residents to survey local feelings on this topic; she explains in her letter that she has received a number of complaints. More recently, a number of posters have gone up on lamp posts in the area, with a couple of contact phone numbers at the bottom, not having rung them myself I’m not sure if they are to do with mo burgess.

Base stations in general are unpopular, partly because some of the masts are so menacing to look at, but airwave equipment in particular is seen as somewhat controversial because of the comparatively higher health risks thought to be associated with the encrypted TETRA radio specification they use. Firstly there’s the slow cooking problem, which relates to both those near base stations and handset users (in this case ambulance workers, firefighters and the police). Additionally there are the so called non-thermal effects associated with TETRA. The story about base station risks is fairly complex (i.e. I couldn’t fully grasp the main literature review after one very boring sitting), but it does seem that the continual repetition of signal oscillations at around 17Hz might (to me) be the mechanism behind the sleep disturbances reported in some of the survey findings, although the so-called nocebo (negative) effect can’t necessarily be ruled out in that study due to the way it was set up. This all led me to speculate that since neural firing patterns oscillate around 11-39Hz during open eyed wakefulness and 2-7Hz during sleep, a constant stream of 17Hz signal frequencies pulsing through ones bedroom wall and head at night could potentially induce wakefulness?

The experiments on the topic is divided into two camps, and Epidemiologists haven’t really been able to investigate TETRA yet as they probably need more time (they are now going over >10 year data for GSM and even that has been divisive). The general scientific consensus seems to be that more long-term adverse health affects have not been ruled out for this technology, and with the previous concerns over some of the signal frequencies and microwave radiation used in TETRA, the response of some people is quite reasonably, “Why should we be the guinea pigs!”

Air Quality

Wind direction/speed by Falconwood Interchange
Wind direction/speed by Falconwood Interchange

I got my first air quality warning from airtext.info today, after three whole months of London air quality giving no cause for alarm!

The london air quality network, who recently released a popular updater for iphones have reported a couple of moderate particulate readings as a result of light southeasterly winds bringing particles over from Europe coupled with the build up of traffic emissions during a cold and foggy night over here. Their highest readings tend to coincide with guy fawkes night!

Anyway apart from thinking about how dirty London is, here’s a nice rose plot of the 2009 average wind direction (in degrees from north) and speed (in meters per second) of readings taken from the falconwood site. I had always thought that the prevailing wind came from mexico (roughly 210°-240°), and usually the kites in blackheath do catch that breeze… but judging by the data (which are apparently to interpreted with some caution due to obstructions) the easterly wind (90°) seems to be the strongest, presumably it whistles up the thames all the way from siberia, brrr!

Wind direction/speed over the last seven days

** Update ** for a bonus, which is mainly useful to those who are wondering where a case of what the daily mail infamously referred to as ‘le/der stink‘ might be coming from, here’s an updater that retrieves the wind data for the last seven days.