Monday, December 27, 2004

A century of Neverland

100 years ago today, JM Barrie's classic play Peter Pan was performed for the very first time. You know the story (girl meets flying pixie, girl flies off to magical land, girl has lots of adventures with pirates and crocodiles and fairies, girl flies home, girl grows up) but what you may not know is the fascinating background to the story...

Pan timeline
James Barrie is born in Kirriemuir (it's not far from Forfar).
1866 James's elder brother David dies on the eve of his 14th birthday in a freak skating accident.
1894 Barrie marries actress Mary Ansell, an actress in one of his plays. They remain childless.
1897 Barrie meets the Llewelyn Davis brothers in Kensington Garden. He plays with them and tells them stories (not that he was, erm, one of them). On New Year's Eve he meets their mother at a dinner party and subsequently befriends the family.
1901 Barrie goes on a camping holiday with the boys at Black Lake, near Farnham. On his return he writes The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island, the story on which 'Never Never Land' will be based.
1902 Barrie publishes a novel called The Little White Bird, about a childless author who meets a boy called David in Kensington Gardens and tells him stories about a character called Peter Pan.
1904 The play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up premieres at the Duke of York's Theatre in London on December 27. It is a great success. Even the critics applaud at the end when asked to clap if they believe in fairies. "an artfully artless, go-as-you-please play which has all the pretty inconsequence of an imaginative child’s improvisation, all the wild extravagance of a youngster’s dream…" (Illustrated London News)
1906 Barrie publishes the short book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens with illustrations by Arthur Rackham. The book is dedicated "to Sylvia and Arthur Llewelyn Davies and their boys (my boys)".
1907 Arthur dies of cancer, allowing Barrie to grow even closer to his widow and her children.
1909 Feeling rather betrayed by the whole situation, Mary has an affair and divorces her husband.
1910 Sylvia dies of cancer. Barrie becomes guardian to all five Llewelyn Davies children.
1911 Barrie adapts his stage play to write the novel Peter and Wendy, now more usually known as Peter Pan.
1912 "There is a surprise in store for the children who go to Kensington Gardens to feed the ducks in the Serpentine this morning. Down by the little bay, at the south-western side of the tail of the Serpentine, they will find a May Day gift from JM Barrie, a figure of Peter Pan blowing his pipe on the stump of a tree, with fairies and mice and squirrels all around. (the Times, 1 May 1912)
1915 Eldest son George Llewelyn Davies is killed in the trenches during World War 1.
1921 Middle son Michael Llewelyn Davies drowns in the Thames while a student at Oxford.
1937 JM Barrie dies, having donated the copyright to Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Hospital in 1929.
1960 Peter Llewelyn Davies, tired of being labelled 'the boy who never grew up', throws himself in front of a train at Sloane Square station.

3 outstanding links
A complete Peter Pan theatrical history (follow Smee's pointing finger)
Randy Constan's gobsmacking Peter Pan fanpage

 Sunday, December 19, 2004

Christmastime in E3

Flashing Santas shining down from tower block balconies
A few strands of tinsel draped behind the bar of a pub
Well-dressed couples turning up to a festive dinner party
Stressed-out drivers endlessly honking one another
A pensioner walking back to her lonely basement flat
Wide-eyed children looking forward to the big day
A wreath on the door of a Victorian terraced villa
Cheap lager being lugged home in a Morrisons carrier bag
A mob of feral children hurling an egg at a passing bus
Crowds of beaming worshippers exiting a carol service
Queueing for stamps in the run-down Post Office
Strings of red and white lights illuminating Roman Road
A small fir tree sat on a pile of tyres in a dingy garage

 Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Tube strike quiz: Only two of the following excuses given for strike action on the London Underground are true. I wonder if you can tell which two they might be? (n.b. 'true' is not necessarily the same as 'justified')

• Drivers on the Northern line are to strike because a 35 hour working week is far too strenous.
Drivers on the Metropolitan line are to strike because 52 days annual holiday just isn't enough, poor lambs.
Drivers on the Victoria line are to strike because they were all replaced by computers ten years ago.
Drivers on the Waterloo & City line are to strike because driving backwards and forwards between the same two stations all day is so incredibly boring.
Drivers on the Piccadilly line are to strike in a row over the demotion of a driver for passing red signal lights.
Drivers on the Jubilee line are to strike in protest at having one of their trains repainted to support London's Olympic bid.
Drivers on the Hammersmith & City line are to strike to demand that their line be reassigned any colour other than pink.
Drivers on the East London line are to strike because they fancy a day off to go to the January sales.
Drivers on the District line are to strike in protest at appalling facilities at Earl's Court station.
Drivers on the Circle line are to strike because all that going round and round makes them giddy.
Drivers on the Central line are to strike because Bob Crow fancies some publicity.
Drivers on the Bakerloo line are to strike because being a tube driver means either clocking on before 5am or clocking off after 1am, spending your shift stuck inside in a cramped cab, coping with stroppy passengers who insist on holding the doors open, working weekends, risking dodgy track maintenance, coping when people throw themselves off the platform in front of your train... and because quite frankly you wouldn't put up with it either.

 Sunday, December 05, 2004

Ten reasons why bendy buses are rubbish

1) You have to buy your ticket before boarding: If you're well off you have a pre-paid Oystercard which makes boarding a bendy bus simple. If you're not well off (and let's remember that the 25 passes through Tower Hamlets, the poorest borough in the country) then you have to buy a ticket with cash before boarding. Transport for London have kindly provided a ticket machine at every bus stop along Route 25, but these are notoriously slow and unreliable. Sometimes the machine takes your money and doesn't dispense a ticket. Sometimes the machine won't even take your money, but the bus driver still won't let you pay on the bus so you're completely stuck. Many's the time I've seen unfortunate local residents still struggling to insert a one pound coin into the machine while the bus driver closes the doors and drives off. And when the cost of a ticket rises in January from £1 (one coin) to £1.20 (two coins), expect things to get worse.

2) You can get on board without paying: Actually that's not quite true. You'd never dream of getting on board without paying because you're an upstanding member of the community, but lots of people aren't. Other people get on board without paying. They just slip onto the bus through its middle or rear doors, smile at saving a quid and slip off again a few miles later. I saw herds of ticket inspectors on the route catching unticketed miscreants during the first week of bendy operation but I've not seen any since.

3) Bendy buses are too long: Bendy buses are 18 metres long, so they take up nearly twice as much road space as the double deckers they replaced. This means that traffic jams are getting longer. Longer buses are also far more likely to stop while blocking road junctions or pedestrian crossings, especially in heavy traffic. There are now two bendy bus routes down Oxford Street, a road which was always notorious for bus congestion, and it's evident that the congestion has got much worse since they were introduced. On the 25, for example, it's now usually quicker to hop off at Tottenham Court Road and walk the last half mile to Oxford Circus.

4) Bendy buses are relatively unmanoeuvrable: London's roads weren't designed for bus juggernauts, and the capital's streets are narrow, twisty and littered with obstructions. A bendy bus trying to change lanes can block the entire road, much to the annoyance of other road users. A bendy bus trying to turn a corner has to drive slowly and carefully, and can knock down street furniture and mow down the odd pedestrian in the process. It's like trying to sail an oil tanker down a narrow river. The western end of route 25 has been particularly affected, because here the bus has to take a five minute diversion down Regent Street and around Hanover Square just to avoid one impossible right turn to reach the last bus stop outside John Lewis.

5) The service on a bendy bus route is less frequent: Because bendy buses hold more people than the buses they replaced, Transport for London have bought less of them and are running them at more widely spaced intervals. TfL would argue that, overall, capacity has increased. I'd argue that I now have to wait longer for a bus. In fact I often have to wait an awful lot longer because these new buses travel bunched-up in convoys, usually with one nigh-empty bus trailing behind one packed-out service, but unable to manoeuvre past and overtake. Here's a photo showing four bendy buses nose to tail beside the Bow flyover, and I'll leave you to imagine the gap in the service that both preceded and followed this procession.

6) There aren't enough seats: Despite being nearly twice as long as the old double deckers, a bendy bus has a third less seats. Think of them more as tube carriages on wheels, with more space to stand and less places to sit. That's fine when there are less than 60 passengers on board because everyone still gets a seat. It's far less good when there are 'up to 140' passengers on board because that's really quite hellish, in the same way that travelling on the Central line in the rush hour is hellish.

7) It's no fun standing on a bendy bus: Unlike trains, London buses do not travel in fairly straight lines. They veer round roundabouts, swerve round corners and stop frequently (and rapidly) at traffic lights. This does not make for a pleasant travelling experience (unless you really enjoy rollercoaster rides, in which case it's a lot cheaper than a trip to Alton Towers). If you do end up standing then the hanging strap things are also really difficult to hang onto. They're not like those nice knobbly things that hang from the ceiling of tube trains, oh no. Instead you get to hang onto a grey plastic loop attached loosely around a high horizontal bar, and this rotates as the bus jerks about. Every time the bus swerves, you swerve. Every time the bus stops, you swing around. Hang onto one of these straps for any length of time and you'll probably do terrible things to your wrist as you jerk around like a demented puppet. I reckon these straps are a real design faux pas and should be replaced immediately.

8) It's really quite dangerous standing on a packed bendy bus: When a bendy bus gets crowded (and the 25 regularly does), tons of people end up standing squashed down the aisles and particularly in the two open spaces beside the middle and rear doors. This is especially dangerous should you end up standing just inside the doorway because the bus designers haven't provided anything suitable to hang onto. There are bars and straps further inside the bus, but you probably won't be able to reach those because other people will be hanging onto them or just standing in front of them and blocking them. All it then takes is one jolt or one fast corner and you're very likely to fall over, or at least smash into the five people attempting to stand next to you.

9) The view isn't very good: I miss the view along route 25 that I used to get from the top deck of the old double deckers. The view from a single decker just isn't the same, not least because a sizeable proportion of the seats face backwards. You'd never choose to view the Christmas lights down Oxford Street, for example, from a bendy bus.

10) Bendy buses are rubbish: They may still be red, but they're just not 'proper' London buses, are they? They're just rubbish.

 Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Square Routes

It's time once again for diamond geezer to spend a few days exploring London by bus. I thought I'd get out and view some more of the capital from the best vantage point of all, the top deck of a London bus. And then I'd come back and tell you all about what I saw. Just like I did this time last year.

Last year I travelled on seven buses whose route numbers were cube numbers. This year I've decided to switch my mathematical allegiance to square numbers. (1x1, 2x2, 3x3 and so on.) Square routes. I'm only going up as far as 10x10 because the journeys get a little too suburban after that, but the first ten square routes are fascinating enough.

Click here to read all my Square Route journeys on one page.

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