Thursday, March 18, 2010

Smile, you're on Google Street View

Last week’s ramblings about the imminent Digital Switchover brought a flutter of comments on www.thisisbath/, and some fascinating extra information –  including the fact that the Mendip Transmitter pumps out 500,000 watts of power while its poor Bathampton relation only manages 250 (little more than a couple of old-style lightbulbs).

Be that as it may,  Mr Jenkins has taken up the digital baton this week and we shall have to find other grist to our mill.

And it’s good news, folks: a silver lining without a cloud. Because, at long last, we can now look at Bath (and most of the UK for that matter) on Google Street View.

It was last April that the Google camera cars were first spotted in Bath, and only now can you go online and see a street-level panorama of the city.

It’s like reality, but through a 12-month timewarp. You check your house: yes, it’s there and the front door needs painting. Your car (number plate nicely blurred, thanks Google) looks a heck of a lot cleaner then than now. Who’s that in your front room? Phew, just the cat.

It’s when you start looking at the streets themselves that things get slightly weird.

Over that past couple of months we’ve got used to permanent salt coverage: a thin pinkish-grey coating sitting there until the rain comes along and fills up our gardens and watercourses with brine. But when Google was here, the streets looked – well, dark grey and normal.

Staying at street level, you can marvel at the lack of potholes. Check it out for yourself here at the junction of Weston Park and Weston Park East. Early last summer it was smooth as the proverbial. Today, it’s Bath’s  very own Grand Canyon, around which someone has  spray-painted a white rectangle. Which even this complete duffer at highway maintenance can tell you won’t stop it spreading.

Then there are the shops. In April 2009, SouthGate was a building site, the Busometer was shrouded in blue plastic, and there was still a Somerfield in Weston High Street.

Now if Google Street View was just that little bit better, we could point our interweb device in through Somerfield's front window (you can find it here) and settle once and for all the arguments about whether or not the new Tesco has fewer products but shorter queues. As things are, we’ll just have to rely on our memories.

But the best  - and weirdest - thing about Street View isn’t in Bath at all: it’s in an unassuming residential area in West Bromwich in the deepest Midlands.

It’s one of those things that’ll probably disappear fairly soon once the powers that be at Google find out about it, but while you have the chance, it's here, floating in the sky above the junction of Compton Road and Whitehall Road. A gigantic pair of wire cutters.

How did they get there? Perhaps it’s best not to know. Because for this, dear readers, was the phrase “you couldn’t make it up” made up.

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