I have of late found myself fairly often in and around London's Soho, popularly considered to be a regular den of both regular and irregular iniquity and independent television production companies, though as any fule (and Mr Sherlock Holmes) kno the countryside beats the town for iniquity every time.
To be honest, I think Covent Garden is actually seedier than Soho. There's a street there in which I recently saw not only a quite sizable whirl of what looked very much like fresh human excrement perched on a convenient knee-high pipe jutting from a wall but a whole shop devoted to nothing but Tintin (I think it's called Bloom Street, they've probably got rid of the pooh by now, but I bet the shop's still there), however, I digress.
When I'm around Soho I often shop on that nearby street of dreams, Tottenham Court Road. At one end you can fetishise books, at the other, electronics goods. In the middle you can feel good about yourself by not going to Burger King or We Will Rock You and wonder where exactly you're supposed to admire the monumental bulk of Centre Point from, exactly.
Yesterday, I was down the electronics end, just beyond the bit where you might turn left to discover the British Film Institute or a gaggle of middle-aged Doctor Who fans loitering around (and on occasion both).
I was in Maplin's attempting to buy a replacement aerial for my wind up digital radio, the old one had broken in a freak "me lifting it up by the aerial" accident (would it hurt to have a carry handle on a wind up radio? It'd make the winding easier if you could easily hold the thing in your other hand while powering it up).
I think Maplin's HQ is in Barnsley actually, which realistically should be easier for me to get to, but, unrealistically, isn't.
In an ideal world, I'd have bought my new aerial from Barnsley via the Maplin's website (though in a really ideal world there'd have be a handle on the radio that meant it hadn't lost its aerial and giraffes would talk but let's not get greedy) but the website uses so much arcane specification talk to describe its aerials that it fills a potential purchaser like me with technofear and convinces him any purchase he makes will be a foolish mistake.
So, it was I was in London's glittering arse-end instead, buying an aerial the old fashioned way with actual money and a visual aid- my broken aerial to Cinderella-slipper up against all the shop's many ugly sister antennae. I got one I thought would do in the end, but not before witnessing something I found a little odd- a young man on roller blades asking the assistant if they sold Geiger counters, he was a bit unkempt verging on crusty, and, though it shames me to admit it, immediately set off my highly specialised "Oh my God, he's planning to construct a dirty bomb" alarms.
The Maplin's man said they didn't have any in store but they might have some on their website. He went to a terminal to search, and I went to pay. As I did, I heard the customer admitting he was unsure whether you spelled Geiger "ei" or "ie". I so nearly got involved, but decided not to.
Admitting to knowing something about radiation measurement in central London whilst wearing a rucksack with wires coming out of it (if only for m'iRiver) struck me as unwise, and besides I had to go and ask telly people stupid questions.
How naive I was, in the city you can wear roller blades in a shop and try to buy a Geiger counter in the high street without seeming even slightly suspiciously odd. You can even go to see We Will Rock You without being put on a list.
In the country, where the real iniquity lies, indoor roller blades alone could get you in trouble, but at least the streets are Tintin free.
I hope the Geiger counter section of the Maplin's website, if there is one, is more user-friendly than the aerials one. I'm not convinced roller boy had done a lot of research, which reassures me that if he is planning to produce a dirty bomb, he'll get caught googling it first.
By the way, if you've come here by googling "dirty bomb" in the hope of finding out how to make one, can I suggest politely that I'd rather you didn't? A discreet bowel movement in a busy London shopping street will probably get your disgruntlement over just as well. Thanks.
PS Obviously, despite being accompanied by my old un, I still bought the wrong aerial.