Must be fun living in the bit of Holland that’s within the bit of Belgium that’s within Holland, especially if you were in a police car chase. Despite that, here’s another Wikipedia discovery that’s not going to make it onto my holiday list…

Baarle-Hertog is a municipality belonging to the Belgian province of Antwerp, but consists mainly of exclaves located in the Dutch province of North Brabant. On January 1, 2006 Baarle-Hertog had a population of 2,306. The total area of the municipality is 7.48 square kilometres (2.89 square miles).


Baarle-Hertog is noted for its complicated borders with Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands. In total it consists of 24 separate parcels of land. Apart from the main division of Zondereigen, located north of the Belgian town of Merksplas, there are twenty Belgian exclaves in the Netherlands and three other sections on the Dutch-Belgian border. There are also seven Dutch exclaves within the Belgian exclaves. Six of them are located in the largest one and a seventh in the second-largest one. An eighth Dutch exclave lies nearby Ginhoven.

The border is so complicated that there are some houses that are divided between the two countries. There was a time when according to Dutch laws restaurants had to close earlier. For some restaurants on the border it meant that the clients simply had to change their tables to the Belgian side. The border’s complexity results from a number of equally complex medieval treaties, agreements, land-swaps and sales between the Lords of Breda and the Dukes of Brabant. Generally speaking, predominantly agricultural or built environments became constituents of Brabant and other parts devolved to Breda. These distributions were ratified and clarified as a part of the borderline settlements arrived at during the Treaty of Maastricht in 1843.


map of the area, showing borders within borders

Many fireworks shops are found in Baarle-Hertog, owing to the fact that Belgian laws controlling the sale of fireworks are not as strict as those in the Netherlands. Close to the end of the year many Dutch tourists come to Baarle-Hertog to buy fireworks to celebrate the new year.

The BBC reported from Baarle as part of their coverage of the 2009 European elections. Using rudimentary camera trickery, the reporter was filmed as if he was with his twin in a café, each on the one side of the border. The “twin” on a chair on the Belgian side explained what he was entitled to in Belgium. He mentioned compulsory voting, but also maintained that he was allowed to build a house 300 metres (328 yards) away from a pig farm, which is illegal in the Netherlands.


Reality Checkpoint


Are there any Dabblers who have personal acquaintance with the reality checkpoint unearthed in today’s unusual wikipedia article?

Reality Checkpoint is the name given to a large lamp-post in the middle of Parker’s Piece, Cambridge, England, located at the intersection of the park’s diagonal paths. The name comes from an unofficial inscription which has been painted on the lamp-post since the early 1970s. The lamp-post is also believed to be the oldest electrical lamp-post in Cambridge.

There are numerous theories as to the meaning of the name. A few include:

1) For students at Cambridge, who walk out to Mill Road across Parker’s piece for an evening in the ‘real world’, usually including a visit to one of Mill Road’s selection of pubs, the lamp-post marks the end of the ‘reality holiday’ as they walk back to central Cambridge – back into ‘the bubble’.

2) The name arose because the lamp-post forms a useful landmark for people crossing the park at night—perhaps inebriated or in the fog—since it is the only light for hundreds of yards.

3) When drunk, students and the general public are reminded to check they are able to walk like a sober person before passing the police station just a few hundred metres away.

4) The post being situated in the middle of two walking paths that intersect, anyone walking whilst not tuned in to “reality” will likely collide with the lamp-post, hence “reality checkpoint”.


The age of the original lamp-post is uncertain. However the post above the dolphins was torn down by American GI’s celebrating VJ Day, the end of the war with Japan.

One report claims that the name was first painted on the lamp-post by students from the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology (now Anglia Ruskin University) under the guidance of one of their teachers.

It has been repeatedly repainted since then in response to removal by Cambridge City Council or obliteration by graffiti.


Secret London: The Underground Streets of London

Time for the second installment on the curiosities of our capital city from Peter Watts – journalist,self-confessed London geek, and author of Know London. Streets beneath streets, layer upon layer, we descend into history…

Paul, the librarian at Time Out, first told me about the street beneath Charing Cross Road in around 2005. He promised to show it to me, but never did.

Then, last month, I saw it. I was mooching around Cambridge Circus, noting the loss of London’s best-named book shop, Lovejoys, a landmark from the time I used to be a dedicated fanzine-browser across the road at Sportpages, also since departed. I had always assumed Lovejoys was a wittily named Soho porn shop, but it actually stocked cheap classics and DVDs. The shop taking over the site will be a sex shop it seems, albeit of the modern, seedless, air-brushed, air-conditioned variety rather than Soho’s traditional damp basement. With the erasure of any trace of character at the arse-end of Berwick Street, the old Soho sex shop is nearly gone. Indeed, much of this post is about things that have removed, including Paul the librarian, who left Time Out shortly before I did.

As I crossed Charing Cross Road from Soho and stood on an island in the middle of the road waiting for a No 24 bus to pass, I happened to look into the grille beneath my feet. I have instinctive curiosity when it comes to London holes but this is the first time I’ve really seen anything of interest, as, to my surprise, I could make out what appeared to be a subterranean street sign set into the wall a few feet below the ground.


I leaned in closer and there they were – not one, but two street signs for Little Compton Street, one blue enamel and the other painted on to brick. Here was London’s buried street.


Although Little Compton Street has its own Wikipedia page, it is not entirely clear how the signs got here. The street itself was obliterated by the construction of Charing Cross Road – here you can see Little Compton Street on an old map of 1868, intersecting with Crown Street (which is marked by green as Soho’s border, though surely red would be more appropriate) just before Cambridge Circus. Little Compton Street ceased to exist in around 1896 and is now part of the Cambridge Circus utility tunnels, which some urban explorers write about here. (Apparently, Rimbaud and Verlaine used to drink in a pub on Little Compton Street during their dramatic London stay.)


Were the underground signs accidentally left behind when Charing Cross Road was run roughshod over the top of Crown Street or was it a careful act of preservation by an unnaturally thoughtful council? Or were they removed from a wall by unknown hand and deliberately placed down here, where Little Compton Street has existed ever since, entombed beneath London feet and offering a tantalising glimpse of those fantasy Londons from countless dreams and dramas. There’s an echo of China Mieville, Neil Gaiman and the Borribles, but also of Malcolm McLaren’s mysterious and misremembered subterranean Victorian road (neatly discussed here) that is said to exist intact beneath Selfridges on Oxford Street.

One wonders whether the brutal Crossrail redevelopment of this bedraggled part of the West End will allow any such traces to remain. I hope so. And I hope they also have this last-gasp, accidental feel, of something that London can’t quite let go, like dying fingernails clawing a wall, leaving behind a ghost, a whisper, of one of London’s many pasts.

For more of Peter’s terrific writing, head over to his blog, The Great Wen

Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport


I very much like the fact that the alien airport featured in today’s unusual wikipedia article was named by the local council.

Opened in 1963, Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport is located about four nautical miles (7.4 km) south of the central business district of Green River, Wyoming on a mountain known locally as South Hill. Covering an area of 400 acres (160 ha) at an elevation of 7,182 feet (2,189 m) above mean sea level, it has one runway designated 04/22 with a dirt/gravel surface measuring 5,800 by 130 feet (1,768 x 40 m) with deep ruts due to vehicular traffic. The runway is unattended, with no buildings or facilities, except a windsock. The runway does not have a clear line of sight from the runway ends. Communications are through CTAF and most of the services are from nearby Rock Springs – Sweetwater County Airport.

On July 5, 1994, Resolution R94-23 of the Green River city council designated this landing field as the “Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport”, for inhabitants of Jupiter who might wish to take sanctuary in Green River in the event their planet is threatened by collisions from comets or meteors. Thus far, no spacecraft of any kind have actually used the spaceport, and actual use has been limited to terrestrial aircraft.


Britain’s Shanty Towns

Worm guides us through the jerry-built plotlands of Great Britain…

Plotlands began in the 1870’s as a way for speculators to offload marginal farmland as Britain’s agrarian populace uprooted en masse to the big cities. Whether barren or dangerously flood prone, worthless land was portioned up and sold off square by square; mostly to the naive and newly mobile working classes of London. Originally the idea was that the crudely constructed sheds that soon appeared on the plots would be occasional weekend retreats, but many Londoners quickly came to appreciate the cleaner air and community that the plotlands offered, and as is the Englishman’s wont, they began to extend and improve their dwellings. The popularity of these districts increased after demobilisation in 1918 and with the advent of the motor car, continued to burgeon all the way up to 1939 and the start of the Second World War.

There was another massive surge in plotland expansion by bombed-out city dwellers directly after the war, mainly taking place on decomissioned military camps. But the remnants of the quasi martial law of the Home Front and the massive new powers given to planning authorities by the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act soon put an end to this kind of wild west homesteading. The new town of Basildon was hastily designated in 1949, in order to pave over the anarchic spread of Pitsea and Laindon, where by the end of the war there was a settled population of about 25,000, with no sewerage system, no proper water supply and very little in the way of control. The government and richer neighbours have always worked hard to have these strange British shanty towns removed. The urban poor are viewed with distrust and accused of the crime of bad taste when they try to stake their own claims to a little slice of the good life.

Whilst the majority of these towns were dismantled as hastily as they were thrown up, some have clung to the margins for decades. Plotland areas I know of are Canvey Island, Basildon, Herne Bay, Shepperton, Dungeness and Jaywick, next to genteel Frinton-on-Sea in Essex. Only Jaywick and Dungeness have any numbers of remaining original houses. Dungeness has a somewhat elevated artsy reputation since starring as the post-apocalyptic backdrop to Derek Jarman’s films, whilst Jaywick has to make do with the annual honour of being named the most deprived place in England.

Plotlands are a rare manifestation of unfettered working class creative expression. Outsider architecture, their random chaos is the very anthesis of the controlled and manicured English landscape. Starting with basic materials and plenty of ingenuity, a plotland house can grow into an amalgam of just about any architectural style imaginable. Pebbledash meets pirate ship, via gnomes, palm trees and corinthian columns. The remaining plotlands are insular places that many people don’t visit or even know about. Whilst there is an intense community spirit, there are often problems with crime, poverty and delapidation. But people on the plotlands hold on, adding quirky personal touches to their shacks, handing them down to their children and grandchildren, who now have to contend with living in hastily thrown together buildings that were never meant to last more than a few years, let alone 80.

The Cabazon Dinosaurs

Time was when my idea of a decent American film seemed to involve someone like Nicholas Cage (back when he was human) gunning a beat-up Dodge Charger into the Californian desert before having a strange dreamy pre-dawn sequence involving some hollow concrete dinosaurs in a parking lot. Sadly we don’t seem to see these kitsch sauropods in films so much anymore. But what are they and who put them there? I hit Wikipedia to find out…

The Cabazon Dinosaurs, also referred to as Claude Bell’s Dinosaurs, are enormous, sculptured roadside attractions located in Cabazon, California, and visible to the immediate north of Interstate 10. The site features Dinny the Dinosaur (pronounced “Dine-ee”), a 150-ton building shaped like a larger-than-life-sized Apatosaurus, and Mr. Rex, a 100-ton Tyrannosaurus rex structure.

The creation of the Cabazon dinosaurs began in the 1960s, by sculptor and portrait artist Claude K. Bell to attract customers to his Wheel Inn Cafe, which opened in 1958. Dinny, the first of the Cabazon dinosaurs, was started in 1964 and created over a span of eleven years. Bell created Dinny out of spare material salvaged from the construction of nearby Interstate 10 at a cost of $300,000. The biomorphic building that was to become Dinny was first erected as steel framework over which an expanded metal grid was formed in the shape of a dinosaur. All of it was then covered with coats of spray concrete. Bell was quoted in 1970 as saying the 45-foot (14 m) high, 150-foot (46 m) long Dinny was “the first dinosaur in history, so far as I know, to be used as a building.” His original vision for Dinny was for the dinosaur’s eyes to glow and mouth to spit fire at night, predicting, “It’ll scare the dickens out of a lot of people driving up over the pass.” These two features, however, were not added. With the help of ironworker Gerald Hufstetler, Bell worked on the project independently; no construction companies or contractors were involved in the fabrication. The task of painting Dinny was completed by a friend of Bell’s in exchange for one dollar and a case of Dr Pepper.

A second dinosaur, Mr. Rex, was constructed near Dinny in 1981. Originally, a giant slide was installed in Rex’s tail; it was later filled in with concrete making the slide unusable. A third woolly mammoth sculpture and a prehistoric garden were drafted, but never completed due to Bell’s death in 1988.

Following the sale of the property by Bell’s surviving family in the mid-1990s, The new owners obtained approval for a major expansion of the Cabazon dinosaur site in 1996 with the land-use approvals including restaurants, a museum, and gift shop, and a 60-room motel at the Main Street exit in Cabazon. Currently located inside Dinny is a gift store and museum promoting (somewhat bizarrely) creationism with some of the toy dinosaurs in the shop sold under the label “Don’t swallow it! The fossil record does not support evolution.” The current ownership has expressed a Young Earth creationist belief that most dinosaurs were created on Earth about 6,000 years ago – the same day as Adam and Eve. In stark contrast to that belief are Bell’s painted frescoes and sculptures inside Dinny, depicting a naturalist and evolutionary viewpoint. Bell’s paintings include representations of Cro-Magnon man (labeled “Cro-Magnon Man 30,000 [years ago]“) and Java Man (labeled “Java Man 400,000″). Bell’s historic displays now exist alongside information detailing the creationist viewpoint of the earth and man’s origins.

Pastor Robert Chiles, assisting in turning the exhibit into a non-denominational church, has been quoted as to his belief of why children are drawn to the dinosaur attraction, “There’s something in their DNA that knows man walked with these creatures on Earth.” Chiles and Kanter plan to promote their views of creationism at the attraction based on their interpretation of the Book of Genesis.


Appearances in popular culture:

The dinosaurs are seen in the background of a scene in the 1984 film Paris, Texas.

The popular 1985 comedy film Pee Wee’s Big Adventure filmed several scenes around the dinosaurs. According to director Tim Burton in the film’s DVD commentary, many people thought the dinosaurs were built for the movie and did not realize they were part of a real roadside attraction.

The dinosaurs and the Wheel Inn diner made a brief appearance in the 1985 music video for the Tears For Fears song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

The Old Ways- Winners!

The lucky winners of the latest Dabbler Book Club selection…

Free books. What’s not to like? Especially when the book in question is Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways, a book that has deservedly been sitting in the bestseller lists for weeks now. Told in Macfarlane’s distinctive and celebrated voice, the book uses walks along ancient pathways to fold together natural history, cartography, geology, archaeology and literature. His tracks take him from the chalk downs of England to the bird-islands of the Scottish northwest, and from the disputed territories of Palestine to the sacred landscapes of Spain and the Himalayas.

We had a dozen hardback copies of Robert Macfalane’s The Old Ways to give away to Dabbler Book Club members who signed up (find out more about the book club here).

the lucky winners this time are…

Jane Wharam

Ben Atherton

Claire Walmsley

Bob Simmonds

David Davies

Stephen Harrison

Jim Stamp

Jill Bending

Rowena Bruce

John Brown

We always reserve a couple of copies for members of the saintly League of Dabblers, who really do have a very ridiculously decent chance of bagging a book (join here!). These Dabblers are:

Hey Skipper


Our Dabbler Book Club review will appear shortly. If you have a view on the book, don’t keep it to yourself – email us at with a short review or simply leave a comment.

Thanks to our friends at Penguin for providing the lovely free books.

Book Review: City by P.D. Smith

For the first time in history, more than half the population – 3.3 billion people – is now living in cities. Elberry reviews ‘the ultimate guidebook to our urban centres’…

From the sky, England still looks green. On the ground, it’s another story, all cancerous conurbations and serial ghettos. Most people live in a totally urban environment, where parks are an arena for jogging, rape, gang warfare, and drug use. Even small villages are really just the furthest ejaculate of the city, and bear the same spores – hooded youths swarming about the Tesco Express, chugging Mad Dog 20-20 and generally acting gangsta.

One could be forgiven for wishing extermination upon the brutes. And yet, not all cities are so; get out of England and one can find, for example, Munich – a large, prosperous, almost crime-free city. Smith’s book doesn’t look closely at why cities fail but is nonetheless interesting, as a wide-ranging survey of urban populations.

City is a mix of statistics, anecdotes, and occasional declarations. It opens:

Cities are our greatest creation. They embody our ability to imagine how the world might be and to realise those dreams in brick, steel, concrete and glass. Today, for the first time in the history of the planet, more than half the population – 3.3 billion people – are city dwellers. Two hundred years ago only 3 per cent of the world’s population lived in cities, a figure that has remained fairly stable (give or take the occasional epidemic) for the last thousand years. By 2050, 75 per cent will be urbanites.

Birmingham and Sunderland are cities: are they then among our greatest creations? – greater than Mozart’s Don Giovanni? And is it legitimate to say cities “embody our ability to imagine how the world might be”, given that so many just unpredictably and chaotically sprawl? If anything, the desire to “imagine how the world might be and to realise those dreams in brick, steel, concrete and glass” is nothing to cherish. As Smith notes of Continue reading

Mr Slang’s Diary

In which Mr Slang takes stroll through Great Wen, calls for Armageddon…

Some Lord’s day. I know not which and care less for I have no time for man-made jacks-in-boxes and believe but in a single rule: that after A comes B and thence to C and thus is the tale until the great culminator Z brings an end to all.

To the London Library there to borrow again the works of the excellent Robert Surtees, biographer sans pareil of Jorrocks, Soapey Sponge and Mr Facey Romford. I would gladly enrich Mr Surtees’ coffers were his works to be found in such poor bookshops left to the Town, but they are not, having ceded place, yet not pride thereof, to works in which dull trollops fornicate when they are not grasping at worldly goods, and cease from such indulgence only when they have snared a rich fool who will be good, while he lasts, for both. He will fail, so must all men, and can and surely will – the nuptial bands in place or not – be fast replaced with better and thus provide a sequel.

The Library and Mr Surtees both attained I turn for home. First, since kindly Boreas has momentarily restrained the rain, I walk, thinking in time to take an omnibus. Nary a word of English in the streets. Or if there is then it is that variety named American, and often that of children who think themselves, I find, to be Scots, shouting as they continually do the name ‘Macdonald’. Or the clodhopper, up goggle-eyed from some mud-clagged rurality, and  bringing in his wake his own barbarities, ’scaped but still unwanted from Mr Wright’s Dictionary of the English Dialects. Through Piccadilly, where clots of foreigneering coves cluster like great syphilitic buboes bulging poisonous beneath a prurulent armpit. No hand-wrought piccadills are cried there now, and forging my way through crowds, each one crazed for Continue reading

Location, location

Kensington Gore: Luke Honey takes us on a trip around some London landmarks captured on film and uncovers some strange and groovy goings on down the King’s Road…

I first noticed him one Saturday morning; about a week or so after moving into my new house in Battersea: a man with an instamatic camera, lurking near the bay tree outside my shiny, bijou front door. A middle-aged man with a beard, wearing an anorak. One twitch of the curtains, and he was gone.

Knowing that something was up, I turned to that “simple sword of truth”, Google, and discovered that I had the great fortune to be living in the Tardis: my house had been used as a location for the 1981 Doctor Who series, Logopolis. The Doctor Who Locations Guide website gave precise directions on how to get to my street, several helpful “then and now” photographs (how grim it looked back then!) and further directions to another Doctor Who location at a lay-by on the A413 near Watford.

The camera is kind to London, and it looks, perhaps, better on celluloid than it does in truth. Are not the pavements and parks haunted by the ghosts of films past? Who can forget dear old Genevieve and the tramlines of Westminster Bridge; the true star of Blow-Up, Maryon Park near Greenwich- its grass painted lime green by Michelangelo Antonioni; the dancing chimney sweeps of Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins, the mean suburban avenues of Continue reading