Monday, November 29, 2004
The London Marathon always takes place on a spring morning in full daylight, usually in pleasant mild conditions. Not so RunLondon, which the marketing people at Nike this year scheduled for a late autumn evening in complete darkness. They branded the race Go Nocturnal, they dressed all 30000 athletes in fluorescent yellow jerseys and they set them running 10km around the streets of Southwark in temperatures notionally above freezing. Running's good for you, apparently, but last night I was glad I was only watching.
Swarms of dayglo competitors emerged from Canada Water tube station throughout the early evening, all heading for the mass start by Surrey Quays Shopping Centre. There were no pantomime cow outfits or people with purple hair dressed as fairies because this was a serious fun run. Five 'waves' of runners departed at half hour intervals, with Paula Radcliffe and friends in the first wave and the slower runners in the fifth. The start of each wave was preceded by a 10 minute mass warm-up, with some demented fitness trainer yelling "Are you ready?" from a big yellow stage to the flock of eager disciples spread out before him. The crowd raised their hands, flexed their calf muscles and then shuffled slowly down to the start where it took a good seven minutes to get everybody through.
This wasn't the most glamorous of routes. The streets of Rotherhithe are not renowned for their beauty, neither is Jamaica Road through Bermondsey a hotbed of attractive architecture. Thankfully the darkness covered up these visual weaknesses perfectly. The view improved somewhat around the halfway mark with a jog along the riverbank past City Hall, although I'm told the narrow streets through Shad Thames weren't exactly perfect for a mass running event. The most impressive section was undoubtedly over Tower Bridge, with streams of yellow athletes crossing to the north side before doubling back to return to Bermondsey for the muscle-sapping final leg. A sneaky footbridge placed a few hundred yards before the finish in Southwark Park convinced many that the end of the race was nigh. They used up their last reserves of strength in sprinting to the bridge, only to discover that the finishing line remained tantalisingly out of reach.
Southwark Park then took on the look of a surreal alien landscape as thousands of runners emerged from the finish funnel wrapped in silver foil. They glinted en masse in the darkness, panting but happy, and stumbled through the poorly-lit mud to try to find their friends in the mêlée. There were times to compare, medals to clutch and warm clothes to put on, and then a journey home to be made before leg muscles started to seize up. I got home at the same time as my yellow-jerseyed next-door neighbour, which was a good excuse to talk to her for the very first time. Well done to her, and to everyone else who ran London. Daylight would be preferable next time though, please.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
The finest comedy series on television came to the end of its second series yesterday. "Yeah but no but yeah" It was only on BBC3 so you may not have seen it yet, but fear not because Little Britain is coming to BBC1 on Friday next week. "I am a lady" It's quite an honour for such a new (and outrageous) comedy to land in mainstream primetime, but someone in scheduling clearly has taste. "Computer says no" As a special treat BBC3 is showing the entire second series back to back next Sunday evening, so set your video recorder and that'll save you forking out £17 on the DVD next Christmas. "I want that one" They filmed a lot of the Andy and Lou stuff in Bow, you know. "Yeah, I kno-ow"
What you may not know, unless you were reading Jag's page a few months ago, is that Little Britain actually exists. It's a quarter-mile long street in the City of London, just to the north of St Paul's Cathedral, named after the Dukes of Brittany who once used to own the land round here. The street's unusual because it's split into in three very distinct sections, two very quiet either side of one rather busy. And here's how it looks:
Little Britain begins as a cycle path outside Smithfield Market, the site of carnivorous trading for more than 800 years. The vaulted market hall is 150 years old and, if you can manage to drag yourself there at 5am, it's well worth a butchers. Hidden behind a Tudor gateway lies the church of St Bartholemew The Great with its fine 15th century tower, and round here was also the site of London's annual Bartholemew Fair, a late-August medieval three-day knees-up. One further Bartholemew is St Barts Hospital (London's oldest hospital, founded 1123) which dominates the western third of Little Britain. It's all very functional and austere, especially Gloucester House which looks like the very worst 1950s social housing, but this is still very much a thriving hospital. "Please do not leave blood samples here. This is not Blood Transfusion. They moved last September."
Little Britain then bends south, for a few metres only, to become a busy main road. Head north on the one-way system from St Paul's Cathedral (for example on the number 56 bus) and you'll pass through here on your way to the Barbican. This is a brief modern intrusion on an ancient street, edged by Barts Anaesthetics Department on one side of the road and LA Fitness on the other.
But turn left and the street ends as a quiet narrow backwater flanked by a motley terrace of tall townhouse offices. This used to be the centre of London's publishing industry. London's first daily newspaper, The Daily Courant, was printed in Little Britain in 1702, as was the very first issue of The Spectator. A young Benjamin Franklin once lodged here (for three shillings and sixpence a week) while trying to make his living as a printer, Samuel Johnson stayed here as a sick three year old child, and Brothers Charles and John Wesley converted to Methodism in one of the houses here in May 1738. It's quite a street. I found Little Britain to be an unexpected mix of old and new, and just as charming as the TV series.
more photos on my photoblog
more photos from Jag
At the eastern end of the little street of Little Britain lies one of London's secret spaces. This is the churchyard of St Botolph's, Aldersgate - an irregular patch of grass, trees and flowerbeds hemmed in tightly by the church and other surrounding buildings. Here you'll find a fountain in a tiny pond, some benches and a litter bin, as well as the occasional headstone propped up against one of the walls on the southern side. It's the traditional British park in microcosm, only without the football pitch. Scores of office workers fill this narrow space during weekday lunchtimes, although when I visited at the weekend it was quite deserted. There used to be a big General Post Office round the corner, and its sandwich-nibbling sorters earnt this place the unlikely nickname "Postman's Park".
The park is also home to one of the capital's most unexpected and unlikely monuments. Well, I wasn't expecting to find it here anyway. Along one wall of Postman's Park stands a 50ft-long roofed gallery, conceived and funded by Victorian philanthropist George Watts. He wanted to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee with a memorial to the unsung heroes of London, and so he commissioned Royal Doulton to manufacture several glazed plaques in their honour. Each plaque tells the story of a life lost to selfless civilian valour, be it by drowning, through fire or as a result of some obscure industrial accident. I stopped and read the lot, and found the whole assemblage really quite heart-tugging. Here's a selection...
<adopts Tom Baker voiceover voice> "These truly are the people of Britain, the extraordinary men and women who made Little Britain Great."
William Drake lost his life in averting a serious accident to a lady in Hyde Park (April 2 1869) whose horses were unmanageable through the breaking of the carriage pole. Frederick Alfred Croft [Inspector aged 31] saved a lunatic woman from suicide at Woolwich Arsenal station but was himself run over by the train (Jan 11 1878) John Cranmer [Cambridge, aged 23] a clerk in the London County Council who was drowned near Ostend whilst saving the life of a stranger and foreigner (August 8 1901) Henry James Bristow [aged 8, at Walthamstow] on December 30 1890 saved his little sister's life by tearing off her flaming clothes but caught fire himself and died of burns and shock. Alice Ayres [daughter of a bricklayer's labourer] who by intrepid conduct saved 3 children from a burning house in Union Street Borough at the cost of her young life (April 24 1885) Robert Wright [Police Constable of Croydon] entered a burning house to save a woman knowing that there was petroleum stored in the cellar - an explosion took place and he was killed (April 30 1893) Elizabeth Boxall [aged 17 of Bethnal Green] who died of injuries received in trying to save a child from a runaway horse (June 20 1888) James Bannister [of Bow, aged 30] rushed over when an opposite shop caught fire and was suffocated in the attempt to save life (Oct 14 1901) Elizabeth Coghlam [aged 26 of Church Path Stoke Newington] died saving her family and house by carrying blazing paraffin to the yard (Jan 1 1902) George Frederick Simonds [of Islington] rushed into a burning house to save an aged widow and died of his injuries (Dec 1 1886) Mary Rogers [Stewardess of the Stella] (Mar 30 1899) self sacrificed by giving up her life belt and voluntarily going down with the sinking ship. David Selves [aged 12 off Woolwich] supported his drowning playfellow and sank with him clasped in his arms (September 12 1886) Arthur Strange [Carman of London] and Mark Tomlinson on a desperate venture to save two girls from a quicksand in Lincolnshire were themselves engulfed (Aug 25 1902) PC Percy Edwin Cook [Metropolitan Police] voluntarily descended into a high tension chamber at Kensington to rescue two workmen overcome by poisonous gas (7 Oct 1927) Soloman Galaman [aged 11] died of injuries (Sept 6 1901) after saving his little brother from being run over in Commercial Street. "Mother, I saved him but I could not save myself"
more photos on my photoblog
history of the park and 360° panorama
more photos of the plaques
more photos from Gert
Saturday, November 20, 2004
10 reasons why I love London's 2012 Olympic bid
a) For a fortnight in 2012, the eyes of the world will be on my backyard.
b) I live less than five minutes walk from the Olympic zone, so I can walk to the opening ceremony (Friday 27th July, 19:30-22:30).
c) The proposed route for the marathon goes right past my front door...
d) ...which probably means Paula Radcliffe will stop and sit on my doorstep for a good cry before dashing off to run the last mile in record time and win gold.
e) When the Games fail to sell out, they'll probably give free tickets for the synchronised diving to us local residents.
f) The rest of the country's taxes are going to pay for the redevelopment of my local community (selfish I know, but thanks).
g) They're planning to clean and widen all the local waterways, plus restore three acres of wetland habitat for wildlife, which has to be better than the silted-up industrial wasteland I currently live in.
h) By the time the Games are finished, my local transport links will be world class.
i) Property prices round here can only go up (drat, I wish I'd bought this place rather than renting).
j) When Paris wins instead, my London 2012 promotional biro will probably be worth at least £2 on eBay.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
The "Oxford Street Lighting Spectacular"
I was strangely drawn to Oxford Street last night to experience the switching on of the annual Christmas lights. It was clear that these were going to be unusual lights when I saw a series of black painted gantries stretched across the street at roughly 400 yard intervals. No obvious fairy lights like South Molton Street, no giant cartoon characters like Regent Street, no recycled compact discs like Carnaby Street, just featureless boxy arches with no Christmas theme whatsoever.
By 6pm last night the road outside Selfridges had been barriered off, and then barriered off again. I stood inside the enclosure at the back of the crowd, well above the average height of those around me, and waited for the first celebrities to appear on the platform. Unfortunately we got Jono and Harriet from the Heart FM Breakfast Show instead. They plugged their radio station at regular intervals whilst hyping up the crowd into a state of mild indifference, before Ken Livingstone eventually emerged to orate about the day's Olympic bid. Rather more welcome was young Emma Watson, that nice Hermione girl from the Harry Potter franchise. She was here to boost the number of children in the audience, and because this event was "in partnership" with the new Prisoner of Azkaban DVD (released Friday, as we were constantly reminded). Finally on the celebrity conveyor belt came Sir Steve Redgrave and the 4x100m men's Olympic relay squad. Steve inspired the crowd to shout for the 2012 Games in the same way that Ken hadn't, and then all five sportsmen waved their gold medals about. Tickertape began to fall. 5-4-3-2-1...
On came the lights. Four giant white spotlights were illuminated from the top of each gantry, pointing upwards towards the sky. And then they waved about a bit, and then they pointed along the street, and then they turned four different colours. The crowd failed to gasp in amazement. Four powerful floodlights may look quite pretty dancing in the distance 200 yards away but alas they're virtually invisible directly above your head. These illuminations don't illuminate, they just glow a bit. As you can see from my photograph, the most impressive illuminations in Oxford Street this winter appear to be the traffic lights.
It's not all bad. The four different colours used are the Olympic colours, which is quite clever, although presumably they've had to use London's sodium-orange sky to represent black. And if you stand away from Oxford Street the lights look quite impressive, scanning the sky like wartime searchlights hunting out the Luftwaffe. From Wardour Street, for example, the towering beams perform a blazing ballet behind the rooftops, while from Waterloo Bridge it looks as though a major light sabre battle is being fought in the West End. It's only in Oxford Street itself that the whole performance is a little underwhelming.
As if to prove the point, the last act to appear on stage were 'opera sensations' Il Divo. They crooned, they melted menopausal hearts and they massacred Unbreak My Heart (in Italian). It was all far too middle-of-the-road, so I stepped swiftly back onto the pavement and headed off into the darkness.
Monday, November 15, 2004
Dear International Olympic Committee,
Please find enclosed London's bid for the 2012 Olympics. It's dead good and has not been cobbled together in a rush. We all really really want the Olympics to come here in eight years time, even the people who say they don't, mainly because we hate the idea of the French winning the Games instead. Please ignore all the less than good bits in our bid and let us win so that we can overspend our taxes in the name of International Sporting Endeavour.
London loves the Olympics. You can tell this because we've painted some buses blue and because the whole city is draped in curtains featuring the Olympic logo. Our 'Back The Bid' campaign has whipped the population into a frenzy of optimism, so much so that they all plan to leave the capital in 2012 to leave more room on public transport for visiting Olympic officials.
London loves sport. Well, London loves football, which is not quite the same thing. Nobody in London gives a toss about Olympic football because we don't take part but, believe us, we'll pretend to have a passion for beach volleyball, taekwondo and badminton if it helps. We are particularly talented at shooting, however, although not necessarily of the Olympic type.
London loves the world. We're a multicultural global city, where people from all nations gather together to take on underpaid overnight cleaning jobs in high rise offices. You can travel here by air, by boat, by rail, or in a secret compartment in the back of a container lorry. And we're knee-high in tourists already so a few more foreign athletes should fit in perfectly.
Most importantly, London would love to be a better place. It's amazing how hosting a few running races can suddenly inspire governments and businesses to pour money into rundown communities that have been forgotten for decades. There are whole swathes of East London that will be reborn if the Olympics come to town, leaving a legacy of hope (and a nice swimming pool) for future generations.
See you all for the inspection visit in February. We'll show you round the grim industrial wasteland in Hackney where we want to build the field of dreams. And don't worry, we'll show all your wives round Harrods instead.
Seb (and every person in London, honest)
Saturday, November 13, 2004
Produced by Trevor Horn
A Prince's Trust concert
Last time I went to Wembley Arena it was back in the early 1970s for some 'Holiday on Ice' spectacular. Videos hadn't even been invented, let alone killed the radio star. On Thursday I went back to remember a man who's been a seminal figure in British pop music for the last 25 years - Trevor Horn. A cavalcade of top artistes had been conscripted in his honour, and for three hours they (and we) were transported back to an age when Pop Idols actually had talent. It was a fascinating and eclectic mix of performers, some still at the peak of their profession, others just happy to be given another five minutes in the spotlight. At times it was like being back at an 80s school disco organised by your balding teachers. At other times it was arm-wavingly air-thumpingly brilliant.
The audience was noticeably older than the Arena's usual crowd of screaming girls waving their knickers at the lead singer of Busted. There were a lot of grown-up introspective 80s teenagers, mostly male, plus a fair few middle-aged couples present only because this was a big charity night deserving of their support. And there, up on the comfy seats stage right, sat a particularly well known middle-aged couple who'd been let in for free. Prince Charles smiled professionally and watched the concert with some bemusement. Camilla Parker-Bowles sat three seats away, her blond hair under the dimmed stadium lighting somewhat reminiscent of Krystle Carrington. A memorable night was in prospect.
Buggles: First up was the band that started it all. Trevor Horn took centre stage for Video Killed The Radio Star (no 1, Sept 1979), staring out into the crowd through his trademark spectacles like a startled rabbit in oncoming headlights. He followed up with Plastic Age (no 16, Jan 1980) (ahh, I still have this on luminous pink cassette), again a slightly creaky performance but apparently this was the first time the group had ever played live so it wasn't half bad. I loved every second, although I suspect I was very much in the minority.
Dollar: Gasps of amazement (and secret pleasure) from the audience greeted the entrance of David and Therese. They'd lost none of their professional edge over the years, although David seemed to have put on as much weight as Therese had lost. They played Mirror Mirror (no 4, Nov 1981) and Give Me Back My Heart (no 4, Mar 1982), the latter with a well-polished grin. An end-of-the pier cabaret career beckons.
Grace Jones: Wow, heeeeeere's Grace. She strode on stage wearing a striking black spiky headpiece, and held the audience in the palm of her hand throughout, what else, Slave To The Rhythm (no 12, Oct 1985). She was magnificent, recreating studio perfection with aplomb. She kissed Trevor on the cheek on the way out (I feared she might spear him in several places) and bade the audience farewell with a string of obscenities. A real highlight.
Belle & Sebastian: The endearing Scottish shamblers were hamstrung by having to perform their Horn-produced work, and so mystified the audience with their more recent material - I'm A Cuckoo (no 14, Feb 2004) and Step Into My Office Baby (no 32, Nov 2003). Competent and charming, but alas completely out of place on a line-up such as this.
ABC: On ran Martin Fry, still the perfect showman after more than 20 years. We revelled in three tracks from the classic album Lexicon of Love, kicking off with the excellent Poison Arrow (no 6, Feb 1982). This woke up the audience who made their first attempt at a singalong. The orchestral break at the end of All Of My Heart (no 5, Sep 1982) was extended, allowing some freak guitarist in a black leather kilt to overact while Martin popped off for a costume change. And yes, here he was back for The Look Of Love (no 4, May 1982) in his trademark gold lamé suit, just a couple of waist sizes larger than I remembered. Fab.
Art of Noise: Who'd have thought that one of the 80s ultimate synth records, Close (To The Edit) (no 8, Nov 1984), could ever be recreated live on stage. But it was, and unexpectedly brilliantly. Full marks to keyboard mistress Anne Dudley (although there was no sign of co-conspirator Paul Morley).
Propaganda: Another shining jewel from the ZTT stable, and a personal favourite. The band had reformed for the evening, with Claudia Brücken (or was it Paula Radcliffe?) taking centre stage in a sensible black trouser suit. We were only permitted the full-on onslaught of Dr Mabuse (no 27, Mar 1984), which was a shame because Duel would have worked much better under the circumstances.
Yes: Trevor Horn came late to this legendary 70s band, which at least meant he was significantly younger than the ageing rock dinosaurs who shuffled onto the stage just before the interval. Guitarist Chris Squire reminded me of Dr Emmett Brown from Back To The Future (although this was more Back to The Extinct), while fellow strummer Steve Howe was straight out of Phoenix Nights. They belted out some deafening prog rock overture before ending the first half with the classic Owner Of A Lonely Heart (no 28, Nov 1983). Oh yes.
Did I mention I had the best seat in the house? Not over on the royal ledge but right up at the front (well, just 9 rows back) and right in the middle. Close enough to be able to see every overacted gesture, every ill-fitting costume and every self-satisfied smirk without needing to gawp up at the huge video screen behind. And close enough to be able to check out precisely who'd aged well and who hadn't. Let's start the second half with one of each.
Pet Shop Boys: Neil has always looked 40, and still does. Chris on the other hand has always looked 20, and so it was extremely unnerving to see his gaunt face hidden beneath cap and glasses looking at least 60. Musically both were as ageless as ever. Left To My Own Devices (no 4, Nov 1988) remains one of their finest works, almost classical in nature, and especially so with a full orchestra belting out behind. The boys were joined on stage by the opera singer who'd performed on the original recording, who it turned out they'd never previously met, and she beamed for a full five minutes while she waited to sing her one four-note phrase (twice). She was then permitted just one whooping arpeggio on It's Alright (no 5, Jul 1989), but the perfect nostalgic re-creation was complete.
Lisa Stansfield: Look, it's the Lisa Stansfield. Yes, you know, her who had all those big hits in the early 90s. I wonder which great old hit she's going to perform for us? Ah, none of them, it's Say It To Me Now, some 2004 Trevor-produced album ballad instead. Never heard it before. There again, isn't her voice still absolutely fabulous? When Shirley Bassey finally retires, Lisa has the voice to replace her.
t.a.T.u: And then there were the two supposedly lesbian supposedly Russian supposedly schoolgirls. They appeared on stage in extremely short denim mini skirts and knee-high leather boots, then proceeded to touch each other occasionally, presumably to wake up all the dozing bank managers in the front row. It was more like a pop video than a performance, but All The Things She Said (no 1, May 2003) remains an unexpected slab of perfect pop.
Seal: Few artists are as loved by mainstream Britain as Seal (you've got one of his albums tucked away somewhere, haven't you?). This was evident when the entire audience (royalty excepted) rose to its feet during the opening notes of Killer (no 1, Apr 1990), then proceeded to stand and sway during Kiss From A Rose (no 20, July 1994) and Crazy (no 2, Dec 1990). He gave an outstanding vocal performance and the crowd were 100% hooked. Seal thanked Trevor for working on all of his albums, and no doubt the audience will thank Seal by rushing out and buying his new Greatest Hits album for Christmas.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood: You probably remember FGTH as Holly Johnson plus four scallies. We only got the four scallies, plus a replacement singer who did a darned fine job but wasn't quite Holly. The audience were already on their feet so they stayed there, despite Welcome To The Pleasuredome (no 2, Mar 1985) not being a natural crowd-pleaser. Paul Rutherford was having the time of his life hamming it up on stage, and continued to bounce around to Two Tribes (no 1, Jun 1984) (a song still surprisingly relevant 20 years on). And then, how else to close a Horn-y show but with Relax (no 1, Jan 1984)? It's a fantastic song and by the first chorus even Camilla was joining in, tapping her right hand up and down on her thigh in time to the music. By the second chorus she was being a slapper on both thighs, and even Prince Charles (happy 56th birthday Your Royal Highness) had one hand on the go. Bit of a triumph to get the future king of England beating along to a song about sex and orgasms, I reckoned. Relax was a fitting climax to the show, leaving the audience on a euphoric high. Trevor apologised that there was no time for an encore, thanked the world for coming (not literally, after that last song, you'll be glad to know) and sent us away smiling. His is a rare and humble talent, and I doubt Simon Cowell will be packing out stadia in 25 years time. But if Trevor ever plans a 50th anniversary concert, I'll be there.
some blurry photos
further reviews by those present
Friday, November 12, 2004
And so ends london geezer's second annual tube week. I don't normally get more than 200 comments in five days, so I'll take that as a success. What is it about the London Underground that so fascinates even people who live nowhere near it? Be warned that I've still got enough ideas up my sleeve for yet another tube week next year. It looks like this annual season is just the ticket.
Tube geek (10) Quick change
A small black circle on the tube map indicates an interchange between lines. Some of these interchanges involve easy cross-platform walks, while others involve at five minute hike through a labyrinth of tunnels. I've tried to come up with a list of the ten most useful and ten lengthiest line interchanges on the Underground. (n.b. only interchanges marked by a circle on the tube map are included)
1011 best tube interchanges
Mile End: cross-platform saunter between District and Central lines.
Finchley Road and Wembley Park: doddle of a platform-hop between Metropolitan and Jubilee lines.
Baker Street: mini-tunnel between Bakerloo and Jubilee lines.
Finsbury Park: tiny walk between Piccadilly and Victoria lines.
Stockwell: short crossing between Victoria and Northern lines.
Ealing Common, Acton Town, Hammersmith and Baron's Court: same-level interchange between Piccadilly and District lines.
Oxford Circus: brief tunnel dash between Bakerloo and Victoria lines.
10 worst tube interchanges
Bank/Monument: They used to show this on the tube map as a wiggly line marked 'escalator link', which was at least honest. Now they've shifted the circles closer together, disguising the lengthy assault course facing passengers who choose to change here. Never try to swap between the Central and Circle lines here unless you have a strong heart and ten minutes to spare. (Dave recommends going via the Northern line instead)
Green Park: Possibly the longest foot tunnel in the world is hidden between the Piccadilly and Victoria/Jubilee platforms. It's probably quicker to ascend to the ticket hall and come back down via the main escalator instead.
Waterloo: When they added the Jubilee line station here they forgot to position it anywhere near the Northern line platforms. It's so far from one to the other that they've installed a travelator, like what you always find at airports.
Paddington: There used to be two different Paddington tube stations, one (Bishop's Road) on what is now the Hammersmith & City line and the other (Praed Street) on the Circle, District and Bakerloo. The two stations were given the same name in 1947, just to trick people into believing they weren't miles apart.
Hammersmith: On the tube map it looks as if you can change easily here between the District and Hammersmith & City lines. Not so. What the map doesn't show is that the two stations are on opposite sides of Hammersmith Broadway and you have to walk through a shopping mall and across two pedestrian crossings to get from one to the other.
Charing Cross: The Bakerloo and Northern line stations here used to be completely separate until 1979 when the Jubilee line arrived slap bang inbetween. In 1999 they closed down the Jubilee line station again, but they kept open the scarily long passageway between the remaining two lines.
Canary Wharf: The nearest DLR station to Canary Wharf Jubilee line station isn't Canary Wharf but Heron Quays. One's a five minute walk from the Jubilee platform and the other's four, which is pretty poor for such an important transport hub. At least the view's nice on the trek inbetween.
Camden Town: No problem going north on the Northern line, because there's a High Barnet platform and an Edgware platform. Try going south, however, and your train could depart from either of the two platforms so you end up hovering at the foot of the two escalators watching the platform indicators, waiting to dash one way or the other as appropriate.
Euston: Euston is a breeze between the Victoria and the Bank branch of the Northern (so long as you want north to north or south to south), but a pain between either of those and the C+ branch. (Thanks Chz)
Kings Cross St Pancras (while rebuilding work continues): If you want to change from the Northern/Piccadilly/Victoria lines to the Circle/Hammersmith & City/Metropolitan lines at certain times of the day they block off the short cut that would lead you directly to the top of the stairs down into the C/H/M lines area and make you walk the long way round. (Thanks pixeldiva)
Tube quiz (10) Name that station
1) It has only one platform (Chesham, Heathrow Terminal 4, Mill Hill East, Shoreditch)
2) It has only one platform used by tube trains (New Cross, New Cross Gate, Kensington Olympia)
3) It's the only station in its zone (Chalfont & Latimer - zone C)
4) It has the same name as a New York subway station (Kew Gardens, Stratford)
5) It has the same name as a Paris metro station (Temple)
6) It contains all five vowels (Mansion House, South Ealing)
7) It's one word long and starts and ends with the same letter (Eastcote, Edgware, Hammersmith, Hornchurch, Neasden, Southfields)
Tube watch (10) Ten more tube links
Tube map superimposed on satellite image of London
Temperatures on different tube lines (it's bollocks, obviously)
AllZones - the London Transport Museum website for all your designer Christmas shopping needs
More facts than you could ever want about tube investment over the next 5 years (huge pdf)
3D tube map (by Corey)
Animals on the Underground (16 discovered so far)
What the numbers on your tube ticket mean (from This Is Not London)
New Johnston - the London underground font
The London Transport Users Committee (where to complain)
Pictorial solution to last year's Tube quiz (5)
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Tube geek/watch (9) Inaccessiblity
The Underground network is a nightmare for disabled passengers. Very few stations have step-free access from street level and, even if you can get down to the platforms, even fewer allow you to change lines. Victorian planners weren't well known for their adherence to accessibility legislation and so the older deeper lines are the worst. It's better on the Jubilee line extension (and Docklands Light Railway) where 100% of stations have lift access, but if you venture outside East London you can expect your wheels to be grounded. Transport for London have very helpfully provided a tube access map that shows just how bad the problem is. The map even shows stations with step-free access in one direction only so that, for example, you can depart Amersham station on the Metropolitan line but you can never get home again. Brilliant. You'll find a clearer, and therefore scarier, version of the map here.
Below is the london geezer tubegeek guide to line-by-line accessibility. I've calculated the number of possible return journeys on each line and what percentage of those return journeys are accessible in a wheelchair. It makes for grim reading.
Most accessible tube lines
1) Jubilee 12/27 stations = 44%; 66/351 journeys = 19%
2) District 12/60 stations = 20%; 66/1770 journeys = 3.7%
3) East London 2/9 stations = 22%; 1/36 journeys = 2.8%
4) Metropolitan 5/34 stations = 15%; 10/561 journeys = 1.8%
5) Piccadilly 5/51 stations = 10%; 10/1275 journeys = 0.8%
6) Hammersmith & City 3/29 stations = 10%; 3/406 journeys = 0.7%
7) Bakerloo 2/25 stations = 8%; 1/300 journeys = 0.3%
8) Central 3/49 stations = 6%; 3/1176 journeys = 0.26%
9) Northern 3/52 stations = 6%; 3/1326 journeys = 0.23%
10=) Circle 2/27 stations = 7%; 1/702 journeys = 0.14%
11) Victoria 1/16 stations = 6%; 0/120 journeys = 0%
12) Waterloo & City 0/2 stations = 0%; 0/1 journey = 0%
You'd expect the Jubilee line to be top of this list, but who'd have thought that the ancient District line would be second. The green line still has less than 4% of its possible journeys with step-free access though, which is still rubbish. Then there are three lines where only one accessible journey is possible - the East London line (Canada Water → New Cross), the Bakerloo line (Harrow & Wealdstone → Willesden Junction) and the Circle line (Westminster → Liverpool Street) - and two more lines with zero accessibility. You've probably never seen a wheelchair on the tube, and this is why.
Thank goodness that additional journeys are possible if you change lines. For example, how can a wheelchair-bound passenger travel by tube from Tottenham Hale to Liverpool Street? Simple. Take any Victoria line train to Finsbury Park, then cross to the southbound Piccadilly line platform and take a train to Green Park. Make your way to the Jubilee line (via two lifts and an extra-long passenger walkway), then it's one stop to Westminster where you ascend to the Circle/District line platforms and wait for a Circle line train (clockwise only) to take you round to Liverpool Street. The total number of stations on this journey is 31, whereas an able bodied passenger could do it in 8.
Transport for London have an obligation under the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) to make all their stations and trains fully accessible. Currently only 40 out of 275 stations meet this standard, and even then there might be a scary gap between the train and the platform as well as a nigh-impossible step up or down of up to 12 inches. Only a few key stations will be added to the step-free list over the next 20 years (Balham, you're due in 2024), for which you can blame poor funding and ancient infrastructure. The best solution for wheelchair users appears to be to use the bus network instead, 100% of which will be accessible within the next two years (sob, Routemasters, sob). Or maybe TfL should just buy everyone a taxi.
Tube quiz (9) Mornington Crescent
Anyone for a game of Mornington Crescent?
Normal rules apply.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Tube geek (8) Lines of colour
Ever wondered precisely what shade of blue the Victoria line is? Wonder no more.
Bakerloo: Pantone 470 brown (#994F14)
Central: Pantone 485 red (#D42E12)
Circle: Pantone 116 yellow (#F7D117)
District: Pantone 356 green (#007336)
East London: Pantone 137 orange (#F7A30A)
Hammersmith & City: Pantone 197 pink (#EB9CA8)
Jubilee: Pantone 430 grey (#8C8F91)
Metropolitan: Pantone 235 mauve (#8A004F)
Northern: black (#000000)
Piccadilly: Pantone 072 blue (#2905A1)
Victoria: Pantone 299 blue (#00A3E0)
Waterloo & City: Pantone 338 green (#7DD1B8)
Tube quiz (8) Interchanges
Can you name these 22 tube interchange stations? I've swapped all the colours of the lines around just to make it a bit harder.
Tube watch (8) Bow Road station update
They're spending lots of money doing up the Underground. You can tell this because every weekend they shut down half of the network. Last weekend you couldn't travel anywhere up the eastern end of the Central line, this weekend Wembley Park is (again) a no-go zone, and the following weekend the entire middle chunk of the District line will be out of action one more time. You have to check where you're going very carefully these days in case what should be a quick tube trip turns into a bus replacement nightmare. Then there are tens of stations being closed for months, for part of the day at least, so that workmen can erect big blue hoardings and then pretend to deepclean the walls behind. I actually saw some of these workmen at Bow Road yesterday, during the rush hour no less, which was something of a revelation because I had thought that workmen at Bow Road were imaginary creatures like leprechauns or something. There are two big doorways in the front of the station building, one of which never ever opens. Until last night. Through the autumn gloom I saw a long secret room bathed in golden light, packed with orange-coated men in clean white helmets. There were at least four of them anyway, either busy renovating this space no travelling passenger ever uses or standing around in cryogenic storage until this whole sorry modernisation illusion is finally over. To give them their due these mystical workmen have somehow managed, over the last nine months, to paint half the ceiling, hang some lights and plug in some new cameras. But not a lot else. If this is where the government's hard-earned tube subsidy is going then I'd rather they'd left the old station as it was - rundown, functional, and 100% open.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
Tube geek (7) Growth of the tube network
1860s: 33 new stations, 3 new lines (Metropolitan, District, Hammersmith & City)
1870s: 27 new stations, 2 lines extended (Metropolitan, District)
1880s: 33 new stations, 3 new lines (Circle, East London, Northern), 2 lines extended (Metropolitan, District)
1890s: 24 new stations, 1 new line (Waterloo & City), 1 line extended (Metropolitan)
1900s: 84 new stations, 3 new lines (Central, Bakerloo, Piccadilly), 2 lines extended (Metropolitan, District)
1910s: 26 new stations, 2 lines extended (Bakerloo, Central)
1920s: 19 new stations, 2 lines extended (Metropolitan, Northern)
1930s: 23 new stations, 4 lines extended (Bakerloo, Piccadilly, District, Northern)
1940s: 41 new stations, 2 lines extended (Northern, Central), 1 line cut back (Metropolitan)
1950s: erm, nothing
1960s: 4 new stations, 1 new line (Victoria), 1 line cut back (Metropolitan)
1970s: 5 new stations, 1 new line (Jubilee), 2 lines extended (Victoria, Piccadilly), 1 line cut back (Northern)
1980s: 1 new station, 1 line extended (Piccadilly), 1 line cut back (Bakerloo)
1990s: 7 new stations, 1 line extended (Jubilee), 2 lines cut back (Central, Piccadilly)
2000-2010: 13 new stations planned, 3 lines due to be extended (East London, Metropolitan, Piccadilly)
The numbers may be a bit approximate in places because it's not always easy to tell what is a new station and what isn't. But it is clear that the golden age of tube building was exactly 100 years ago at the turn of the 20th century, back when property developers were trying to open up suburbia for London's commuters. Things dropped off somewhat from the 1950s onwards, which you might argue is because governments are more careful with their money than private companies, or maybe they're more cautious, or maybe they're more short-sighted. And maybe, just maybe, expansion is picking up again in the 21st century. Let's hope so.
Further information here
Clive's Underground Line Guides
Book: The Spread of London's Underground
Book: Underground to Everywhere by Stephen Halliday
Proposed Changes to the Network for 2016
Tube quiz (7) This way or that?
Each of the tube journeys listed below is possible on two different tube lines. Which line is faster (that's time, not distance)?
1) Notting Hill Gate to Liverpool Street: (a) Central or (b) Circle?
The Central line is 6 minutes faster
2) Paddington to Embankment: (a) Bakerloo or (b) Circle?
The Bakerloo line is 8 minutes faster
3) Baker Street to Waterloo: (a) Bakerloo or (b) Jubilee?
The Jubilee line is 1 minute faster
4) Euston to Stockwell: (a) Northern or (b) Victoria?
The Victoria line is 3 minutes faster
5) Finsbury Park to Green Park: (a) Piccadilly or (b) Victoria?
The Victoria line is 4 minutes faster
6) Kings Cross St Pancras to Hammersmith: (a) Hammersmith & City or (b) Piccadilly?
The Hammersmith & City line is 2 minutes faster
7) Kings Cross St Pancras to Uxbridge: (a) Metropolitan or (b) Piccadilly?
The Metropolitan line is 19 minutes faster
8) Westminster to West Ham: (a) District or (b) Jubilee?
The Jubilee line is 5 minutes faster
9) Bond Street to Stratford: (a) Central or (b) Jubilee?
The Central line is 9 minutes faster
10) Ealing Broadway to Mile End: (a) Central or (b) District?
The Central line is 15 minutes faster
Tube watch (7) Ways you can tell that the tube is out of date
The Victoria line is one of the few lines that isn't Victorian.
Tube trains don't have a buffet car where you can buy a latté and a muffin.
You can't get a train home at 1am on a Saturday morning.
You can't get a mobile phone signal underground (long may it stay that way, please)
You can't download music onto an Oystercard.
The tube doesn't go to Hoxton. Yet.
The London Transport Museum is also below ground, not just restricted to one building in Covent Garden.
Monday, November 08, 2004
Time once again for london geezer to go totally tubular with another week devoted to the London Underground. Prepare for five days of quizzes, facts, commentary and obscure statistics. Last year I looked at average speeds, the busiest stations, the great north/south divide, picking the right carriage and journeys where it was quicker to walk (amongst other things). Who knows how much I'll manage to cram in this year. Mind the doors.
Tube geek (6) Station to station
The average distance between stations on the London Underground is almost precisely one mile (1600m). But neighbouring stations are only precisely the same distance apart on Harry Beck's topologically morphed tube map, not in real life. Some stations are so close that the train barely has time to accelerate out of the platform before braking to stop at the next, whereas trains can travel for well over five minutes between certain other 'neighbouring' stations. With the aid of Ian's marvellous map annotated with inter-station mileages (via Annie), here's my list of the stations on the tube that are the closest and the furthest apart:
Closest together (Zone 1)
1=) Leicester Square → Covent Garden (0.16 miles, 260m)
1=) Embankment → Charing Cross (0.16 miles, 260m)
3) Cannon Street → Mansion House (0.19 miles, 305m)
4) Cannon Street → Monument (0.21 miles, 340m)
5) Leicester Square → Tottenham Court Road (0.24 miles, 390m)
next 5: Holborn → Chancery Lane, Waterloo → Southwark, Edgware Road → Marylebone, Goodge Street → Warren Street, Embankment → Waterloo.
tubegeek comment: That's a very strong showing for Leicester Square station and for the Northern line (Charing Cross branch). In fact from Euston to Waterloo there are seven Northern Line stations in less than two miles, which feels a little excessive. Plus you can see why they close Cannon Street station after 9pm and at weekends, given that it's so close to the two stations on either side (and to Bank too).
Closest together (outside Zone 1)
1) Rotherhithe → Canada Water (0.20 miles, 320m)
2=) Bow Road → Mile End (0.30 miles, 480m)
2=) South Ealing → Northfields (0.30 miles, 480m)
4) Rotherhithe → Wapping (0.32 miles, 510m)
5) Stamford Brook → Turnham Green (0.33 miles, 530m)
next 5): Canada Water → Surrey Quays, Earls Court → West Brompton, Holloway Road → Caledonian Road, Finchley Road → West Hampstead, Finchley Road → Swiss Cottage.
tubegeek comment: The East London line features strongly here, mainly because they added a new station at Canada Water to allow interchange with the Jubilee line. And look, there's good old Bow Road right up at the top of the list too, which is just as well when they keep closing it for renovation work and you have to walk between the two instead.
1) Finchley Road → Wembley Park (4.50 miles, 7¼km)
2) Chalfont & Latimer → Chesham (3.95 miles, 6½km)
3) Heathrow Terminal 4 → Heathrow Terminals 1, 2, 3 (2.71 miles, 4½km)
4) Rickmansworth → Chorleywood (2.24 miles, 3½km)
5) Chorleywood → Chalfont & Latimer (2.15 miles, 3½km)
next 5: Finchley Road → Baker Street, Moor Park → Rickmansworth, Debden → Theydon Bois, Chalfont & Latimer → Amersham, Moor Park → Croxley.
tubegeek comment: No surprise to see the outer limits of the Metropolitan line dominating this top 10 because the Met is more of a suburban railway than an inner city metro. There are five Jubilee line stations between Finchley Road and Wembley Park, however, so some would argue that Chalfont to Chesham should be top of this list instead.
The Real Underground
London Underground map with walklines
Simon Clark's geographical tube map
Tube quiz (6) Name that station
I asked you to name a tube station which includes the name of...
1) ...a mammal. You found 8: Blackhorse Road, Buckhurst Hill, Colliers Wood, Elephant & Castle, Lambeth North, Oxford Circus, Rickmansworth, Seven Sisters.
2) ...a bird. You found 9: Canary Wharf, Cockfosters, Finchley Road, Finchley Central, East Finchley, West Finchley, Goldhawk Road, Hendon Central, Ravenscourt Park.
3) ...a tree. You found 5: Bayswater, Burnt Oak, Elm Park, Oakwood, Royal Oak.
4) ...a country. You found 3: Canada Water, Holland Park, Swiss Cottage.
5) ...a football team from the Premiership or Championship. You found 10: Arsenal, Gunnersbury, Fulham Broadway, Leicester Square, Liverpool Street, Preston Road, Tottenham Court Road, Tottenham Hale, Watford, West Ham.
Tube watch (6) Visiting every tube station
About 20 years ago some friends and I tried visiting all the stations on the Underground. It wasn't a very serious attempt, more a university students' day out, and we were slightly hamstrung by having to start and finish at the tube station nearest to where I lived. Nevertheless we made it to 224 different tube stations, which sounded a pretty good total until we realised we'd missed nearly 50 stations out. It wasn't as easy as it looked. There wasn't a Jubilee line extension to contend with in those days, but we did have to make our way all the way out to Ongar (now deceased) as well as popping down the Holborn spur to Aldwych (ditto). We took a useful shortcut by walking from Ickenham to West Ruislip (I believe if you're taking these things seriously you're supposed to run) but we also discovered that the biggest problem with these attempts is that unplanned delays always conspire to make you miss planned connections. People take things much more seriously these days, and the record for visiting all 275 stations currently stands at 18 hours, 35 minutes, 43 seconds. Well done Geoff! Let him tell you the full story...
Sunday, November 07, 2004
Returning home this week: Temple Bar
1293: A chain stretches across the road between two wooden posts outside the New Temple at the top of Fleet Street.
1351: A timber gate is now in place, with a central arch, two side arches and a prison above.
1588: Queen Elizabeth I halts at Temple Bar to meet the Lord Mayor on her way to St Paul’s Cathedral for a post-Armada Service of Thanksgiving.
1669: The old Temple Bar is demolished, not because it was damaged during the Great Fire of London (which it wasn't) but because it's a traffic bottleneck. Sir Christopher Wren builds the new Temple Bar (pictured left). Cost £1500.
1746: The last severed head to be dispayed on a spike on top of Temple Bar belongs to Jacobite traitor Francis Towneley.
1878: Temple Bar has become a traffic bottleneck again and so is dismantled. A dragon on a plinth is erected instead, which still stands.
1889: At the request of his wife, Sir Henry Meux buys the stones and reassembles them to form the gateway to his park and mansion house at Theobalds, near Cheshunt. Cost £10000.
1910: Lady Meux dies and the gateway subsequently falls into disrepair, just an old ruin in the woods.
Oct 2003 - Oct 2004: Temple Bar is painstakingly dismantled, renovated, transported back to London, and reassembled as part of the new Paternoster Square development north of St Paul's Cathedral. Cost £3000000. (You can read my in-depth report from January here)
10 November 2004 (11:30am): Temple Bar is officially reopened by the Lord Mayor. Shame it's in such a crap location, sandwiched between two tall buildings and totally dominated by modern redevelopment. But it's good to have it back.