No Alibi

This morning: to the office of the Ugly models agency in Edgware Road, to see if they think I’m right for their books. Ugly specialises in providing people with ‘strong looks’ for TV, film and advertising, and over the years various friends have suggested I at least attempt to register with them.

They’re seeing dozens of people, so many that I have to queue in the corridor outside. Their registration form asks if the client would object to being in adverts for alcohol, cigarettes or furs. I didn’t think ads for cigarettes and new fur coats were even allowed these days, and wonder where they still go on.

When it’s my turn I have my photo taken and am briefly interviewed on video. Then I’m told in classic fashion not to call them, they’ll call me, once they decide. And they only call if they decide it’s a yes.

They also give me a copy of their latest directory. It’s fascinating: a swatch book of human set dressing. Need a 50-something white guy to convincingly run a newspaper kiosk? There’s one pictured doing just that. Need a barrel-chested Asian man who has his own police uniform? Take your pick.

There’s the expected models that Ugly is associated with: people with faces riddled with piercings and tattoos, toothless old men who can ‘gurn’ their face into a fleshy funnel. What surprises me is that they also represent more conventional-looking models. Many of them are downright ordinary. Just deliberately ordinary, I suppose. Ordinary and proud.  Ordinary for hire.

Afternoon: to the planetarium at Greenwich Observatory. I’d been thinking about the old 1950s one in Baker Street, now defunct, and wanted to see this successor. It’s now the city’s only public planetarium, and is brand new – built in 2007.

The Observatory is in today’s news, too. It’s about to start charging an entry fee, in order to cope with overcrowding. Today there’s the usual gaggle of foreign schoolchildren outside, posing for photos as they straddle the Meridian line. But inside the planetarium there are barely ten visitors. Maybe because it’s tucked around the corner of the Observatory itself, I don’t know. Whatever the reason, it’s a shame.

The show I catch, ‘We Are Astronomers’, is a dazzling and uplifting celebration of the subject, from Galileo to Hubble, to the Large Hadron Collider and the yet-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope, all with cutting edge animation and a narration from David Tennant. There’s even a real live astronomer introducing the show and taking questions afterwards. More people should know about it.

I take the Thames Clipper back into town: any excuse to enjoy the only part of London’s public transport network where you can legitimately order a gin and tonic.

There’s now a new sight from the river since I last took the boat – The Shard skyscraper, at London Bridge. Finally, a 21st century building that’s not obsessed with glass and transparent walls. Blocky yet arty, The Shard has a touch of Jacob Epstein about it, or something out of Metropolis.


In the Royal Observatory gift shop, you can buy Meridian ponchos.

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