Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas in Trafalgar Square

 Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas at St Paul's Cathedral

 Sunday, December 24, 2006

The 12 London addresses of Christmas
1 Partridge Way, Wood Green
2 Doves Close, Bromley
3 French Place, Shoreditch
4 Callingham Close, Limehouse
5 Goldrings Road, Oxshott
6 Gooseacre Lane, Kenton
7 Swan Street, Isleworth
8 Milkwood Road, Herne Hill
9 Pipers Green, Kingsbury
10 Drummond Road, Bermondsey
11 Ladysmith Road, Edmonton
12 Lordship Lane, Dulwich

 Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Important Christmas travel information* (just in)
The East London line is to be completely closed from 23 December. And it's not just shutting down for Christmas, it's closing down for several years. This is so that substantial building works can take place, extending the line both north to Dalston Junction and south to West Croydon. Buses will replace trains throughout the closure. And the revamped line won't be reopening until June 2010 at the very earliest, as part of the new overground East London Railway. A big poster at my local tube station announced this news today, and warned customers planning to buy an annual season ticket that they might want to think again.
Liverpool Street mainline station will also be completely closed from 23 December to 1 January inclusive. The 10-day closure is also related to East London line re-engineering, which requires major construction work across the approach to the station. Alternative arrangements will be put in place to replace trains that normally serve Liverpool Street, but expect extended journey times right through the Christmas and New Year period. It says so in the latest one railway timetables. You have been warned.
* (Oh, but this is Christmas 2007, not Christmas 2006. Isn't it great how much advance warning they give these days?)

 Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Happy 400th birthday America

Virginia Quay, and DomeYou thought the Pilgrim Fathers founded America? You thought wrong. The first British settlers arrived in the New World in 1607, some 14 years earlier. These pioneers landed in modern day Virginia, at a place they named Jamestown in honour of the reigning monarch. And they had to sail from somewhere, and that somewhere was the Isle of Dogs. Blackwall, to be precise, close to the mouth of the River Lea, immediately opposite (yes, where else) the Millennium Dome. [map]

Exactly 400 years today, on 19th December 1606, three ships slipped anchor into the Thames and sailed off to found a nation. Aboard the Susan Constant, the Discovery and the Godspeed were more than 100 brave souls, charged with establishing a new colony in Virgin territory. Their journey was an eventful one. The wintry Atlantic storms took their toll during the crossing, after the flotilla had spent several weeks becalmed off the coast of Ireland. One of the ships' captains, a certain John Smith, spent several weeks locked in the hold on trumped up charges, but was thankfully released on arrival at Chesapeake Bay. Here he helped lead the new colonists through their first tough years on alien soil, and kept maintain an uneasy local peace by trading with the native Indians.

One of those Indians was 11-year-old Pocahontas, princess of the Powhatan. You know her story, you've seen the cartoon (you may even have bought the Happy Meal). When she was (a bit) older she married one of the widowed settlers, and took on the somewhat unlikely name of Lady Rebecca. In 1616 her husband sailed with her to London, ostensibly to wow the local venture capitalists into throwing more money at the new colony. The royal couple spent several months living in Brentford (on the site of the present Royal Mail Delivery Office) and were guests of honour at a number of important social gatherings. The following year they made plans to return to Virginia, but sailed no further down the Thames than Gravesend before Pocahontas was taken ill and died. She was only 22, but her mixed-race marriage had helped a new nation take root.

Virginia Quay, BlackwallThe departure point of that initial 1606 voyage is marked today by a monument beside the Thames. The best way to find it is to take the DLR to East India, then head down towards the river past the brand new Budgens. This used to be dockland, but a vast Barratt's housing estate now covers the site. Walk along the Greenwich meridian and turn left at the water's edge, and there facing the Dome is the First Settlers Monument [photo]. The memorial was once topped off by a stone mermaid, but she got stolen overnight once and has since been replaced by a metal astrolabe [photo]. In fact the whole monument was given a much-needed restoration by Barratt's when they moved on site (I know, who'd have thought) and now stands proud and double-flagged beside the river. [map]

Not that anyone ever comes to visit, as far as I can tell. Mews residents in Jamestown Way may step out of their front doors and stare past the monument towards the Dome, and the odd waterside jogger may occasionally puff by, but this most historic site remains well off the usual American tourist trail. Although today, I think, will be an exception. There are a scattering of quatercentenary events planned, both at here at Blackwall and at the Museum in Docklands, to help commemorate the place where the American dream began.
From near this spot 19 December 1606 sailed with 105 adventurers the 'Susan Constant', Capt Christopher Newport in supreme command. Landed at Cape Henry, Virginia, April 26 1607. Arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, May 13 1607 where the adventurers founded the first permanent English colony in America under the leadership of the intrepid Capt John Smith. (Erected by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities)
The 'First Settlers' Monument at Blackwall
Model showing the Virginia Quay estate and site of the memorial
Museum in Docklands exhibition & full-size replica of the Discovery
Jamestown 1607 & Captain John Smith
The real Pocahontas
Official site for the Jamestown 2007 anniversary celebrations
Website to encourage Americans to visit historic England in 2007

 Monday, December 18, 2006

Let's all giggle at the Dome The O2 website
Before I go any further, I should make the following clear:
• I have a very big soft spot for the Millennium Dome
• It'll be great to have it open and accessible again, even as a massive bland "entertainment hub"
• I still think that The O2 is a bloody stupid name for a building
OK, now let's all giggle at the The O2 website.
[Or The O2 as they call it, because the site can't cope with subscripts]
Don't giggle at the virtual tour, because that's rather good.
Ignore all the stuff about booking tickets too.
Let's concentrate instead on the text on the information pages.
The following are genuine quotes. Honest. Straight up.

"The O2 will be Europe’s leading entertainment destination – a new city-within-a-city for Londoners and the world to explore and enjoy."
It's a big tent on a reclaimed gasworks, for heaven's sake. Let's not overdo the hyperbole.

"The O2 will be a leisure and hospitality experience of a kind never before known in the UK."
The Dome was a leisure and hospitality experience of a kind never before known in the UK. This is not necessarily a good thing.

"When the world’s best performers do London, they have to Do The O2 Arena."
Er, no they don't. They might do Wembley, or do Earl's Court, or do the back room of a pub in Camden. They don't have to do you.

"The Entertainment District will surround The O2 Arena, in a street as long and as wide as Bond Street. Occupying 60% of The O2’s floor space, The Entertainment District will host numerous restaurants, bars, leisure attractions and retail outlets. It will be open day and night and will soon become one of London’s favourite entertainment destinations in it’s own right."
So, most of the new O2 will be the usual collection of chain-brand high street clones? Tapas, vodka, cappucinos and handbags. That does indeed sound world-beating. And do let's please try to ignore the rogue apostrophe, OK?

"With such a mix of performers, a world-class music venue, numerous restaurants, bars and shops, a cinema and exhibitions we asked ourselves what more could you add to such an incredible cocktail of entertainment? Lots of ice. So when you Do The O2, Do The Ice Rink"
So, The O2 is aimed at visitors who still think ice rinks are cutting edge. Is this really the peak entertainment experience that the 21st century can bring? I think not.

"The O2 Trivia: The O2 equals ten St Paul’s Cathedrals"
Presumably that's in volume, not in status. I think you'll find in reality that one St Paul's Cathedral outranks ten O2s. At least.

"There really could be no more perfect place to site a major entertainment destination than on the banks of the River Thames at Greenwich."
You know, I think there could. Piccadilly Circus, for example. Or even Birmingham.

"Getting there: The O2 is an interesting walk from historic Greenwich, while various cycle routes lead up the peninsular to The O2 where there are cycle racks available"
Erm, 'interesting' is an understatement. Have you ever tried walking or cycling up the Thames Path from Greenwich to the Dome? The route passes along a series of alleyways and deserted riverside quays, round the back of large industrial units and past some distinctly smelly belching chimneys. It's wonderfully atmospheric, but I wouldn't recommend it a) alone, b) after dark, c) to the O2's target audience.

In fact, can I just criticise this map for a minute? How utterly useless and misleading is this map? The main road shown (the A13) doesn't appear to link to North Greenwich because someone has forgotten to draw in the Blackwall Tunnel. The same symbol is used for 'Bus', 'River' and 'TFL' (whatever a 'TFL' is - I think they mean 'tube station'). Some of the DLR is shown, but not all. "East India Docks" (sic) may be the closest DLR station to the Dome, but you'd have to swim across the Thames to reach it. London City Airport has been unceremoniously dumped on top of Bow Creek, with just a small arrow hinting that it's really rather further away. And where do the buses actually stop? There's no clue either on the map or underneath in the text. This is a nigh perfect example of how not to draw a useful map. </rant>

"When you come to The O2, you’ve got to Do Peninsula Square - as soon as you arrive, you’ll be amazed by the vibrancy of the outside space and surrounding area at The O2. It covers an area the size of Leicester Square and will be just as exciting."
Just as exciting as Leicester Square, eh? I don't think we're going to be "amazed by the vibrancy" of a tramp-infested litter-strewn scrappy patch of grass swarming with tourists eating over-priced ice cream and rubbery pizza.

"To maintain a safe and comfortable environment The O2 will not permit any action that may be perceived as intimidating – these include Gathering in large groups"
Surely the whole point of the O2 is that people gather in large groups. Are security guards seriously going to shut down the cinema after five people have entered? This looks to me like a poorly-worded catch-all rule to bar undesirables at the whim of management.

"The removal of clothing inside The O2 is forbidden so shirts and shoes should be worn at all times"
Justin Timberlake's opening concert on July 4th is going to be a bit dull then, isn't it? No wardrobe malfunctions allowed. And some of us don't wear shirts all the time, you know (like most of the female population, for example).

"For legal reasons alcohol may only be consumed within premises that hold a relevant license, customers must stay within the demise of the premises where they bought the drink."
Demise of the premises? You've made that up, haven't you. It may be an amusing error, but it's wholly inappropriate on the website of such an important redevelopment project. This entire online presence appears to have been cobbled together by PR apprentices who should have known better, and whose proof-reading skills and quality procedures are at best questionable.

"The venue is set for a July 2007 opening"
I do hope that the venue is better than its website. No really, I do. But we'll see, won't we?

 Friday, December 15, 2006

Piccadilly 100

The Piccadilly line is 100 years old today. Not that it was called the Piccadilly line to start with. The line originally went by the less catchy name of The Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway, because it had been created from plans for two completely separate tunnelling projects. One of these went east-ish from Hammersmith to Piccadilly Circus, the other south-ish from Finsbury Park to Aldwych, with an extra tunnel built inbetween to link the two together. The financial mastermind behind the line was American tube entrepreneur C.T. Yerkes, who was also responsible for construction of the Bakerloo and Northern at around the same time. David Lloyd George, then President of the Board of Trade, opened the brand new railway on Saturday December 15th 1906. The new trains were painted crimson red, with tropical yellow upholstery, and shuttled 9 miles from suburb to suburb. The quintessential London tube line was open for business.

A history of the Piccadilly line
Another history of the Piccadilly line, and another, and another
Piccadilly line geographic map
Piccadilly line platform tiling patterns (mmm, lovely)

The Piccadilly line is 100 years old today. Not that TfL have put on a big show. They've baked a cake. They've produced quite a nice leaflet, which you might maybe be able to find at certain Piccadilly line stations. They've placed commemorative posters in certain trains. They've rustled up a wholly unimpressive webpage with links to some nice arty bits. And there's an exhibition of Piccadilly line photography opening at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith on Monday, and moving to City Hall in January. It's not much, but it'll have to do. Take your pick.

Centenary posters and leaflets
Piccadilly Line - Past, Present and Future (photography exhibition)

The full list of 100-year-old Piccadilly line stations is as follows:
Hammersmith, Barons Court, Earl's Court, Gloucester Road, Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner, Dover Street (now Green Park), Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Holborn, Russell Square, King's Cross, Caledonian Road, Holloway Road, Gillespie Road (now Arsenal), Finsbury Park.
Two other Piccadilly stations opened on that same day in December 1906, but closed long before their 100th birthday. Just for a change we're not talking Down Street (opened March 1907) and we're not talking Aldwych (opened November 1907). We're talking two other forgotten stations, through which modern trains regularly rumble, but neither of which have seen a passenger in more than 70 years. Here's a tribute to them both.

York Road station
York Road station
Station opened: Saturday 15th December 1906
Where on the tube map? Between King's Cross and Caledonian Road (station 5 here)
Distance from Kings Cross station: 650m north
Distance from Caledonian Road station: 1.3km south
Location: on the corner of York Way and Bingfield Street [map]
Named after: York Way, which used to be called York Road
Lying almost on top of: the main railway lines north from Kings Cross station, just as they emerge from the first tunnel
Station building designed by: Leslie W Green - with one of his iconic crimson-glazed arched frontages
A bit of history: York Road station was never busy, being a bit too close to Kings Cross to be really worthwhile. Even as early as 1909 many Piccadilly line trains no longer bothered to stop here. Sunday services were withdrawn in 1918.
Station closed: Monday 19th September 1932
What's it like now? The station building still stands, severed from its neighbours, aloof and alone like an old mausoleum [photo]. The facade's still in pretty good shape, the tiles remain a satisfyingly deep ruby red, and the words "YORK ROAD STATION", "ENTRANCE" and "EXIT" are still clearly visible across the front [photo]. There's now a big metal fence around the building, and a high padlocked gate to the left which may one day need to be used as an emergency exit from the station below. A lonely bus stop lurks on the pavement outside, from which there are surprisingly good views across the bleak openness of the Kings Cross Railway Lands. It's still easy to see why the local passenger trade never took off. York Road is rather more astonishing than any abandoned tube station deserves to be, to be honest, just by still being here.
What can you see from a passing train? Keep an eye out of the right-hand window and you may spot a platform-sized cavity, but with the platform itself removed. As an added treat for southbound travellers, a small patch of wall is visible revealing the station's original maroon and cream tile design.
What does the station look like inside today? There's a highly informative page with photographs here.
Will the station ever be reopened? Maybe. Local councillors certainly hope so. There is an awfully long gap on the Piccadilly line between Kings Cross and Caledonian Road, and nowhere to get off. The best chance for a reopened station comes through redevelopment brought about by the controversial Kings Cross Central project just across the road, sometime in the distant near-future. But probably not. New residents and office workers will have to get the bus like the rest of us.

Brompton Road station
Brompton Road stationStation opened: Saturday 15th December 1906
Where on the tube map? Between South Kensington and Knightsbridge (station 7 here)
Distance from South Kensington station: 500m northeast
Distance from Knightsbridge station: 700m southwest
Location: on Cottage Place near its junction with Brompton Road [map]
Alight here for: the Brompton Oratory, the large domed Catholic basilica which stands opposite the station entrance. It's well worth a look inside just to gawp at the glorious ostentation of the interior. Marvel at the intricate decoration, the elaborate side-chapels, the tall marble columns, the vaulted roof, the whole overbearing experience. Forgive me, I may possibly be underselling the magnificence of the building. And, for someone like me unused to Catholic spaces, it's strange to be surrounded by so much pious public activity. There are candles to be lit, and stone bowls like birdbaths for dipping hands in, and hassocks to kneel on, and altars for genuflecting in front of, and a series of wardrobe-sized wooden cabinets each labelled with the name of a father confessor. I felt appropriately awed, and duly welcome, but not quite as if I belonged.
Also alight here for: the Victoria and Albert Museum, just down the road. Rather quicker than walking through the long subway from South Kensington, anyway.
Station building designed by: Leslie W Green, as were so many of the other 1906 Piccadilly line stations
A bit of history: The station was never busy, being a bit too close to its neighbouring stations to be worthwhile. Even as early as 1909 not all Piccadilly line trains bothered to stop here, and "Passing Brompton Road" became a bit of a joke, even immortalised in West End lights. A new southern exit from Knightsbridge station, close to Harrods, provided the last nail in the station's coffin.
Station closed: Monday 30th July 1934
What happened next? The station, along with liftshafts and various underground passageways, was used during World War Two as the capital's Royal Artillery's Anti-Aircraft Operations Room. This use was discontinued in the 1950s. The surface building is still owned by the military and is currently used as the London HQ of the University of London Air Squadron.
Brompton Road station, plus dogWhat's the station like now? It's quite innocuous, really [photo]. You'd probably never notice the station frontage up a sidestreet if you were walking up the Brompton Road because this was only ever a tiled facade, never a separate building in its own right. It remains as elegant as before, but now surrounded by more ordinary modern buildings and with an extra nondescript storey layered on top. The station door is firmly locked, with a pushbutton answerphone to one side for air force admittance. Press 3 for ATC Wing HQ, 8 for ULAS Sqn Adjt and 5 for a Mess.
What's outside? Sandwiched between the station and the Oratory is a cut-through alley with three parallel grey pathways. The well-heeled of Kensington walk up and down, shuttling between posh shops and their even posher villas beyond. Ladies are usually impossibly well coutured, and botoxed within an inch of their lives. But they're not too proud to allow their exercising hounds to defecate on the weedy strip of grass in front of the old station, and then scoop up the offending excrement in a plastic bag. Delightful.
What can you still see from a passing train? Not much, because the platforms have been bricked off. All you'll see as your train passes through the disused station is the tunnel wall changing from black to brick and back to black again.
What does the station look like inside? There's a very informative page with photographs here.
Will the station ever be reopened? Not a chance.

 Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The route of the London 2012 marathon
Tower Bridge
Then three laps of the following circuit: past the Tower of London, along Lower and Upper Thames Street, down Queen Victoria Street and along the Victoria Embankment, opposite the Eye, beneath Big Ben, round Parliament Square, up Birdcage Walk, past Buckingham Palace and back up The Mall, through Trafalgar Square, along the Strand, down Fleet Street, up Ludgate Hill past St Paul's, round to the Bank of England, up Cornhill, along Leadenhall Street past the Lloyd's building and the Gherkin, down Minories
Then a straight run up the A11: round Aldgate, along Whitechapel Road, along the Mile End Road, beneath the Green Bridge, along Bow Road, past my front door, over the Bow flyover
And finally the last mile of the marathon: Along Stratford High Street (new property hotspot), turn left onto the Greenway (jogging atop a sewer), cross the Waterworks River (through security turnstiles), over the London to Norwich railway line (via an as-yet unbuilt footbridge), through the remains of Thornton Fields railway sidings (major Olympic Park thoroughfare), cross the City Mill River (across yet another new bridge)
Finish: the Olympic Stadium (on the site of Marshgate Lane Industrial Estate).

background reading
Map of the London 2012 marathon route
My Olympic Park photo gallery
Last mile of the marathon - aerial view
Map of Lower Lea Valley 2007 road closures to allow for Olympic building

 Sunday, December 10, 2006

The North London Line - the future

Yesterday's closure of part of the North London line isn't such grim news for East End travellers as you may have thought. Local residents will still be able to get around, almost as easily, using alternative rail transport[map]. The Jubilee line already duplicates the NLL between Stratford and Canning Town, and the DLR does the same between Canning Town and Custom House. There's no direct service replacement at either Silvertown or North Woolwich stations, but both are sited very near to the new DLR City Airport extension that opened twelve months ago [photo gallery]. Oh yes, this has all been carefully planned, this has. And the newly-disused NLL tracks won't be wasted either, oh no, because there are plans to run new services along those at some time in the near future. As follows:

Closed section 1: North Woolwich → Canning Town
Should reopen as part of: Crossrail

One day, maybe, the Government will decide to give the go-ahead to the Crossrail project. Not just a general statement of support with due funding to be provided when the time is prudent, but a big green light with all the money up front. If that day ever comes, then the far end of the North London Line may live again. One of Crossrails's two eastern branches (the one through Canary Wharf) is due to pass this way, and reusing a stretch of old track will be much cheaper than digging new tunnels. Big chunky Crossrail trains will emerge through a new portal just to the west of Custom House station, where a stonking big island platform will be built on the site of the current NNL platforms. The Crossrail route will then follow the just-closed NLL line through the Connaught Tunnel to Silvertown, where the old station and footbridge will be quietly demolished. Finally, a few hundred yards before North Woolwich station, another new tunnel opening will be dug so that Crossrail can head beneath the Thames to (maybe) Woolwich and (definitely) Abbey Wood. So (probably maybe) this end of the North London line will live again, in shiny 21st century form, but with none of its existing stations intact.
latest Crossrail news
simple Crossrail map
complicated official Crossrail maps and planning documents

Closed section 2: Canning Town → Stratford
Will reopen as part of: Docklands Light Railway

The DLR continues to extend its twintrack tentacles across East London. Its next target is the new Eurostar international station at Stratford, which will be linked by rail to the existing Stratford station in 2010. New DLR trains will arrive at the low level platforms, currently occupied by the North London Line, before continuing south along the old NLL tracks to Canning Town. Three new intermediate stations will be constructed along the way, including one at "Abbey Road" (which should confuse Beatles-seeking tourists). From Canning Town services will continue on to either Beckton or Woolwich Arsenal (via City Airport), which means that through services to the Silvertown area will once again be restored. Trains will stop more frequently and take a little longer to arrive, but they'll also run more often and be a great deal more pleasant to travel in.
official DLR extension information (with maps)
latest DLR extension news

How to travel from Woolwich to Hackney Wick
Take the ferry or foot tunnel across the Thames. Walk a few hundred yards to North Woolwich station. Wait up to 30 minutes for the next train. Ride all the way to Hackney Wick.
Today: Take the ferry or foot tunnel across the Thames. Walk 356 extra metres to the DLR station at King George V. Wait up to 10 minutes for the next train. Ride to Canning Town. Descend to lower platform. Wait a few minutes for a Jubilee line train. Ride to Stratford. Exit through ticket barriers. Walk to platform 1 (or cross to platform 2 via escalator, bridge and stairs). Wait up to 15 minutes for the next NLL train. Ride to Hackney Wick.
In 5 years time: Enter Woolwich Arsenal station. Wait up to 12 minutes for a DLR train to Stratford International. Ride to Stratford. Alight at low level platform. Cross to new NLL platforms on northern side of station via long subway. Wait up to 8 minutes for an "Overground" train. Ride to Hackney Wick.

 Saturday, December 09, 2006

The North London Line (partly closes today)

the lovely North London lineThe North London Line is a railway curiosity. It's the only National Rail line to be given prominence on the tube map. It winds around the less fashionable parts of the capital's northern suburbs, taking the most indirect route possible from west to east [map]. The trains are overcrowded, underfunded and infrequent, which means nobody travels this way unless they have to. And today, exactly one year to the day after the demise of the Routemaster, the North Woolwich end of the North London Line closes down forever. From Sunday NLL trains will run only from Richmond to Stratford, and the remainder of the track will be mothballed. It's au revoir to West Ham, adieu to Canning Town, cheerio to Custom House, goodbye to Silvertown and farewell to North Woolwich.

Tonight, just after eleven o'clock, a purple and yellow train will set off from Stratford on the last ever return journey to North Woolwich station. No doubt it'll be packed full of gentleman who like riding on 'last ever' trains, adjusting their after-dark camera settings to grab a final historic photograph. For once in its life, during the minutes leading up to its demise, this runty end of the North London Line will actually be busy. But to experience the true nature of this forgotten railway you really had to be here before today, back when this line was nothing special going nowhere much. Here's a tribute.

www.flickr.com : North Woolwich - end of the line
25 photographs taken between North Woolwich and Stratford - take a look

The past
1846: The Eastern Counties and Thames Junction Railway opens between Stratford and Canning Town, for the transport of coal to Bow Creek.
1847: The line is extended from Canning Town to North Woolwich, alongside the river.
1855: This new stretch of line is diverted inland via Custom House to avoid having to pass over a swingbridge across the new Royal Victoria Dock. The original stretch of line is retained as the "Silvertown Tramway".
1880: Another Thamesside dock opens - the Royal Albert - so the line between Custom House and Silvertown has to be diverted into a new tunnel beneath the basin.
the rest: It's really very complicated. More here.

The present
Stratford (Low Level)Stratford (Low Level): The North London line cuts through shiny Stratford station like an open wound. If only the tracks weren't there, you could nip straight across from the Jubilee line to the exit without needing to negotiate the current escalator assault course. But no, platforms 3 and 4 are still in the way [photo]. The southbound platform, for all stations to North Woolwich, is usually much quieter than its Hackney-bound counterpart opposite. A ragbag handful of passengers wait patiently for one of two trains an hour to curve into view and glide beneath the bridge [photo]. On arrival each purple train disgorges a never-ending stream of passengers, all keen to escape into the welcoming arms of Stratford station. Anything but continue down the line to somewhere insignificant and underdeveloped. Climb on board, against the flow, and you'll easily find a seat amongst the discarded newspapers and general detritus of the departing hordes [photo]. The edge of civilisation is less than a quarter of an hour away.

West Ham: From Stratford south the North London line follows the route of the Jubilee extension. Or rather it's the other way round, because the the NLL was here 150 years earlier than the upstart Jubilee. In a pattern which will be repeated right along the line, there are rows of very ordinary houses to your left balanced by a much more industrialised landscape to your right. At West Ham a long narrow platform juts out from a brick-supported glass girder. It's not as luxurious as the Jubilee platform opposite, more an exposed forgotten backwater with distinctly uncomfortable sloping wooden benches. [photo]

Canning Town NLLCanning Town: Down the line at Canning Town the North London platform is slightly less intimidating, but just as isolated [photo]. All the action is on the unique double decker platform opposite, with the DLR whirring by on top and the Jubilee line below [photo]. NLL passengers could sit and wait for up to half an hour for a North Woolwich train, while across the tracks there's action a-plenty every couple of minutes [photo]. This unique vantage point will be lost after tomorrow, although you'll still be able to get a not quite as good view from the modern bus station next door. Anybody still on the train travelling eastwards? Not many.

Custom House: Now the NLL follows the Beckton branch of the DLR, east into the heart of "The Royals". Once desolate marshland, the docks here thrived during the late 19th century but couldn't survive the 20th. The most obvious sign of the recent regeneration of the area is the hu-uge ExCel exhibition centre, opened in November 2000, and accessible from the station via a series of concrete walkways. These cavernous exhibition spaces specialise in trade shows and major 'events', only a couple of which I've ever thought interesting enough to visit. And almost all of the visitors arrive either by car or on the DLR, not via the poor old North London Line. This stutters on apologetically eastwards, before veering south round Prince Regent station and into the arched gloom of...

the Connaught Tunnel: A short narrow canal is all that links the Royal Victoria Dock to the Royal Albert Dock, so it's here between the two that the North London line dips underground to cross beneath the water. From here down to North Woolwich this becomes a single track railway, with the old second line through the tunnel now overgrown and impassable. The train passes beneath a series of low stone arches before plunging into damp brick blackness for just over a minute, emerging eventually into a different world. Welcome to...

the lovely North London lineSilvertown: The name suggests some shiny futuristic utopia, but that's a long way from the truth. The deserted station is a dead giveaway [photos]. A single platformed halt beside a barely-open ticket hall, built optimistically in 1963 for a workforce who've long since faded away. One industrial behemoth remains by the riverside - the giant Tate and Lyle refinery [photo]. Once the largest cane sugar refinery in the world, now the home of (and I quote) "a world leader in renewable ingredients". The company remains at the heart of the local community, although there's not much local community left. A few short leftover terraces stack up side by side across the footbridge on the opposite side of the railway. You might (or more probably might not) want to pop into Cundy's Tavern for an ale, or nip into Terry's Cafe (still adorned with 071 telephone number) for a cuppa. Or just stay on the train. Nearly there now.
Silvertown station - a history with photos
Silvertown life - some great old postwar photos, plus Stan's 69 page autobiography
Silvertown - site of London's biggest ever explosion

The last mile down to North Woolwich makes for a strange finale. The railway line runs sandwiched between two parallel roads, neither connected to the other, just a thin strip of green dividing industrial estate from housing estate [photo]. Several new businesses have moved in beside the river, from the Loon Fung wholesale warehouse (complete with ornate Oriental gateway) to a concrete field of big white satellite dishes. A single frail footbridge connects river-side to dock-side (expect it to be chock-a-block with zoom-lensed photographers today). Inland are highly typical East End houses, some modern and council-built, some high-rise and low rent, others handed down from dock worker to unemployed son. England flags flutter from these windows even when no World Cup is on the horizon. But the streets have almost no depth, stretching back only a few hundred yards before the Royal Albert Dock cuts them short. The area is both remote and isolated, and this old railway was once its lifeline. [photos]

the lovely North London lineNorth Woolwich: And finally, the single track curves slightly towards the Thames to end at buffers beside a lamplit platform [photo]. Expect a handful of hardy souls to exit the train [photo] and wander dolefully towards the ticket hall [photo]. This is rarely open, so everyone passes instead through an undignified side gate out into the street. To the left is the original terminus building opened in the 1840s, now home to the North Woolwich Old Station Museum [photo]. Admission to this compact collection of railway memorabilia is free, but time your visit carefully because the museum's rarely open either. Most passengers exiting the station aren't locals. They're walking the short distance to the Woolwich ferry, or perhaps the Foot Tunnel, for onward connections to southeast London [photos]. Even the questionable delights of Woolwich are more attractive than the mean streets of North Woolwich, so it seems. There's not much more to investigate on this side of the river than a parade of shops and a waterside park, and a few leftover dock buildings, and (if the tide's right) some steps down onto the 'beach'. It's probably a good idea to head straight back to the deserted station before the train driver swaps ends and pulls off back towards Stratford [photo]. Atmospheric though the platform may be, you don't want to have to wait half an hour for the next service. Or maybe forever.
North Woolwich station - a history with photos
Rail shots from North Woolwich and Silvertown

Last train (9th December 2006)
North Woolwich23:37
Custom House23:43
Canning Town23:46
West Ham23:48
(where this line terminates)

Last train to North Woolwich - flickr group [mmm, very lovely]
North London Line - urban landscapes project
more about the North London Line

 Thursday, December 07, 2006

What An Olympic Clock Up!
(says Evening Standard journalist)

2063 days to go

Remember this photo of Stratford's mis-timed Olympic countdown clock? Alerted by my post, tonight's Evening Standard and London Lite have taken the story one step further. Read the full article here. One of their reporters has contacted Newham Council, who have now apologised...
"It's very disappointing for this to go wrong when we are trying to get it right. It is something we are aware of. This is something people rely on and the countdown message is important for Newham residents. It's a symbol that needs to be got right. It's very frustrating. We wanted to do something that was simple but it has turned out to be tricky. It's a bit like the Games itself."
...and blamed the software company who installed the countdown timer two years ago...
"A spokesman for the council said the mix-up occurred after officials wanted to update the written message thanking the people of east and southeast London for their backing of the successful bid. They discovered the company had gone out of business and so engineers were brought in to try to change the message but succeeded only in altering the time."
So, there you have it. The whole thing's been a semi-amateur well-meaning typically-British balls-up. I wonder how long it will take the council to fix it, now that they know we know it's wrong. That's the power of blogging.

 Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"TfL announce air conditioned tube trains by 2009" - good? or bad?

"The Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines will get new air-conditioned trains from late 2009." [press release]
good: And about time too. There's nothing tube travellers complain about more in the summer than sweaty overheated tube carriages. And now it'll be lovely and cool, like a New York apartment.
bad: But for the other 10 months of the year, air conditioning really isn't very important at all, and tube passengers have completely different grumbles.
bad: But air conditioning is only being introduced on four of London's twelve tube lines - the ones in the shallowest tunnels - and not the deep level lines where all the sweatiest sweat is.
bad: But aircon won't be arriving until late 2009, so that's another three record-breakingly sweltering summers to survive unaided.
bad: But it's only the Metropolitan line which gets new air-conditioned carriages in 2009. The rest of this rolling stock upgrade doesn't start until 2012.
bad: But the full fleet of 190 ice-cool trains won't be in place on these four lines until 2015, by which time we may all have died from overheating.

"Trains on the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines will increase in size from six to seven carriages, an overall capacity increase of 17 per cent."
good: And about time too. Current 6-carriage trains always stop short of the end of the platform, leaving hordes of passengers rushing forward to cram into the last doors of the rear carriage. There'll be less pushing and shoving in future.
bad: But 16 of the platforms on the Circle and Hammersmith and City lines are going to be too short for these new longer trains. Either somebody's got to find the money to extend them (and we've got to put up with long-term engineering works) or some of the doors on the new trains will have to stay shut when they pull into the shorter stations.
bad: But the new 7-carriage trains won't fit into some of the existing railway sidings. The sidings at Farringdon, for example, only just fit 6-carriage trains, and will be useless come 2015.

"Train interiors will be larger thanks to a new seating layout and door design. This will help ease congestion." [pictures here]
good: And about time too. The new carriages will be able to carry 9% more passengers, which means fewer people left standing on the platform.
bad: But if there's more space, then something's got to be removed to make room for it. And what's being removed are several of the seats. "More capacity" really means fewer people sitting and more people standing.
Metropolitan line A Stockbad: But at the moment every train on the Metropolitan line has a nominal 448 seats. The new trains will have only 307 individual seat places. If you're commuting for over an hour all the way from Amersham into town, that lack of seats is really going to hurt. Perhaps not surprisingly, Metropolitan commuters are seething.
bad: But the new seats will be hard plastic things with thin cushions, and not the comfy upholstered seats passengers are currently used to.
bad: But there are overhead luggage racks and coat hooks in today's Metropolitan carriages, and none of these will be replaced. Where is Chorleywood Man supposed to store his briefcase and brolly now?
bad: But the needs of the long distance Metropolitan commuter are completely different to the needs of the one-stop Circle line user. Why should all these new trains have to use the same carriage layout?

"Trains will have wide aisles and an end-to-end walk-through design"
good: And about time too. There'll be space for wheelchairs and luggage and pushchairs, which can only be a good thing. And better security too, because you'll be able to see all the way from one end of the train to the other and need never feel isolated.
bad: But that'll just make it easier for rag week students, buskers with accordions and gangs of muggers to work their way down the entire train seeking money and valuables.
bad: But you know what the articulated interior design of these new trains really reminds me of? Bendy buses. Cavernous seat-lite bendy buses. Giant walk-through people carriers for the mass movement of human cattle. A lowest common denominator travelling experience, coming soon to a railway line near you.

"Better signalling means the upgrade will deliver 21% more trains per hour on the busiest sections of the upgraded lines."
good: And about time too. More frequent trains can only be a good thing. There'll be 5 extra trains an hour to Uxbridge, for example, and as many as 34 trains per hour on the south side of the Circle/District line. Hurrah!

"The work will be undertaken by Metronet."
bad: It'll be a bloody disaster, then.

 Sunday, December 03, 2006

2012 days to 2012

2063 days to go

Look, there are only 2012 days remaining until the 2012 Olympics. Or so it says here, in this (blurry) photo I took this morning outside Stratford station. This is the countdown timer looming high over Meridian Square, just a hop, skip and a jump from the site of the new Olympic Stadium. Back in the summer of 2005, when London's Olympic bid had yet to be won, a giant fibreglass statue of a strangely indiscernible athlete stood here beneath this high metal bar [photo]. The timer was then counting down to the 2012 decision (and the ripping of a golden envelope) at lunchtime on 6th July. And then, after London won the Olympics, the model athlete was removed and the timer restarted. It's now counting down to the Games themselves, displaying the remaining days, hours, minutes and seconds to any Stratfordian who cares to look upwards.

Except it isn't correct. This timer isn't counting down to the opening ceremony on 27th July 2012 at all, because that's still 2063 days away. Instead it appears to be counting down to mid-morning on 7th June 2012, some 50 days earlier. I'm not quite sure how this miscalculation could have happened (and neither is the last Olympic official I spoke to), but it is a trifle embarrassing. Seb Coe and friends are going to find it hard enough to build all their stadia in time for the real July 2012 deadline, without setting themselves this even tougher imaginary target. I wonder how long it will take whoever owns this giant mis-timer, be it the London Olympic team or Newham Council, to get their act together and shift the time seven weeks into the future. The clock is ticking...

volumevolume: A forest of flashing speakers has been erected this week in the John Madejski Garden at the Victoria and Albert Museum. This usually serene courtyard is now home to an impressive piece of interactive audio-visual sculpture, entitled volume. Each thin black post, of which there are many, is covered by rows of tiny lights and topped off with a loudspeaker. As visitors wander around amongst the installation, motion detectors control an ever-changing sound-and-light show. Groups of lights glow, and ripple, and change colour, while a random electronic symphony echoes against the surrounding walls. The musical brains behind the volume project are Robert del Naja and Neil Davidge of Massive Attack, and the end result of their efforts sounds both soothing and upbeat (like one of those New Age trippy CDs, but one you might actually buy). The composition evolves, pulsates and modulates, but only until the last visitor retreats from the platform. In the absence of any human stimulation the colours fade away and the electric forest falls silent, pulsing occasionally with white light to beckon back any distant spectators. Go on, step back in, and pump up the volume.

••• V&A volume exhibit (closes 28 January)
••• volume designers (9 after-dark images)
••• volume photos

 Saturday, December 02, 2006

Santa's GhettoVery Important Pedestrians: Oxford Street and Regent Street have been closed to traffic today in attempt to attract crowds of shoppers to the capital's two main shopping streets. It's not like the pavements are usually quiet, you understand, but today it's possible to step off into the road without being mown down by a passing double decker. Crowds of shoppers have duly turned up, and are swarming around the big (and little) stores snapping up Christmas goodies like there's no tomorrow. The roads aren't completely clear, though. At the intersection of the two streets a group of mysterious white inflatable globes is causing almost as much congestion as the usual traffic lights. Mobile musical entertainment is being provided by bagpipers and a couple of Sally Army brass bands, as well as the odd steel band and ethnic drumming ensemble. Elsewhere there's free mulled wine (if you know where to look), plus the usual balloon-sculpting elves and stilt-walking angels who gravitate towards events such as this. Beside Tottenham Court Road station people are queueing to enter Banksy's annual "Santa's Ghetto" exhibition (photos here). And outside John Lewis I stumbled upon a photocall by Ken Livingstone flanked by a row of grinning Santas (alas, they all buggered off into the nearest department store before I could grab a photo myself). Today's event seems to have been a great success (so long as you weren't trying to ride a bus anywhere nearby), and can only hasten the day when Oxford Street is pedestrianised for good. As for the Christmas shopping, though, it struck me that more pedestrians just means busier shops and longer queues, so I resisted. Maybe I'll return when the cars do - it should be quieter then.

 Thursday, November 30, 2006

My mp3 player's battery ran out during my journey to work yesterday, so I was forced to listen to my fellow commuters instead...
[Bow Road → Mile End] The train grinds to an unexpected halt inbetween stations. The all-enveloping silence in the carriage is suddenly punctuated by a loud snore. Sprawled across two seats is a well-fed bloke in oversized overalls, his head tipped back and his eyes firmly closed. His boots are splattered with dirty white paint, and his lunch dangles from one arm in a blue plastic bag. A second disturbingly loud snort fills the air, causing several nearby passengers to peer up from their newspapers. Intermittent snoring continue, reverberating in all directions as the train goes nowhere. The assembled audience begin to smile and glance at one another in guilty pleasure, relieved not to be the snoozing sideshow themselves. This unintended entertainment continues for three increasingly uncomfortable minutes. And then the train starts forward with a jolt, and one pair of heavy eyelids flick open. The semi-conscious traveller gathers his belongings and prepares to disembark at the next station, blissfully unaware of all the embarrassment he never felt.
[Liverpool Street → Bank] The carriage is rammed. Desperate commuters barge aboard from the platform. An off-duty London Underground employee in bulging blue uniform pushes past me to stake his claim to two square feet of spare floorspace. His over-thick head of grey speckled hair is somewhat unconvincing. A bulky laptop bag packed with official paperwork grazes my leg. As the doors clang shut, the newly-arrived tube worker taps the dreadlocked gentleman beside me on the shoulder. "Can you turn that down?" A hand emerges and pulls half a Sony headphone from one ear. No sound whatsoever can be heard. "Can you turn that down please?" Humiliated, the tapped man fiddles with an unseen volume knob and plugs himself back in. Tubebloke smiles, and looks to the rest of the carriage for implicit approval. Only one lady returns his gaze and smiles back. I feel a sudden urge to bash this sycophantic self-satisfied jobsworth over the head with a rolled up copy of the Daily Express for his totally unnecessary public intrusion, but I resist. The train screeches on through the noisiest tunnel on the entire tube network, far louder than any headphone bassbeat. Nobody utters another word.

 Sunday, November 26, 2006

QueenhitheLow tide London

Most Londoners probably think that their nearest beach is in Southend, or maybe Brighton, but they'd be wrong. There are several beaches (or at least bits of foreshore masquerading as beaches) along the Thames, even through the middle of Central London. When the tide's high you can't see them at all, and many tourists probably never even realise that they exist. But as the river level falls, up to 6½m every twelve hours, so the river ebbs away to reveal long stretches of rock and mud. It may not be golden Mediterranean sand, but if you fancy a bit of beachcombing it's a darned sight more convenient to get to.
watch the Thames rise and fall

beach below Tate ModernThis is the beach at Bankside [photo], just below the Tate Modern [photo]. It's one of the longer stretches and, if you time it right, also one of the widest. With a bit of luck somebody will have unlocked the gate in the railings along the river's edge [map] and you can make your way down the low stone steps onto the sand. Yes, that's definitely sand at the top of the beach, although it soon gives way to rock and muddy shingle further down. Eroded half-bricks and pebbles litter the exposed river bed, some dark and jagged, others bleached white and smooth. Decaying wooden stumps stick up from the ground, the remnants of some old wall or Tudor jetty. Dark brown rusty pipes snake half-covered beneath the shingle, thankfully no longer dribbling ooze into the river. There's not as much washed-up litter and glass as you might fear, nor as much green slime as you might expect.

beneath the Millennium BridgeBest of all, you've probably got the whole quarter mile of beach to yourself, all the way from Blackfriars Bridge [photo] to Bankside Pier [photo]. Well, just you and a ragbag collection of feral pigeons, swooping seagulls and big black crows. Try picking your way across the rocks directly underneath the non-wobbly Millennium Bridge and looking across the river towards St Paul's Cathedral on the opposite bank [photo]. You might even spot some fragments of pottery or an old sailor's clay pipe in the mud, although I suspect that most of these were spotted and nabbed long ago. Don't stand too near the water's edge, or the backwash from a passing speedboat or Thames cruiser might overflow your boots. And ignore the funny looks you're getting from tourists wandering along the South Bank above you. Perhaps they can't work out how you got down there, or maybe they simply can't imagine why anyone would want to slum it on a low rocky shelf. But they're the ones missing out. Just make sure you get back up the steps before the beach disappears from view beneath the rising tide.

Other stretches of Thames beach accessible at low tide:
• between Coin Street and the Oxo Tower [map] [photo]
• in front of the Festival Hall (location of "Reclaim the Beach") [website] [report] [panorama]
• at the end of Cousin Lane beside Cannon Street station [map] [photo]
• beneath Old Billingsgate Market [map] [report & photos from onionbagblogger] [panorama]
• New Crane Stairs (close to The Prospect of Whitby pub), Wapping [map] [photo]
• Golden Anchor Stairs [map] and Piper's Wharf [map] between Greenwich and the Dome
• at North Woolwich, between the ferry and Royal Victoria Gardens [map] [photo]
Steps, stairs and landing places on the tidal Thames (hurrah, a nearly-comprehensive list!)

Low tide at London Bridge today is at 11:10am

 Friday, November 24, 2006

London: A Life in Maps
British Library: 24 November 2006 - 4 March 2007

You can tell an awful lot about the history of London from its maps. Not that there were many London maps to begin with, because they weren't needed. But the British Library has amassed an enormous collection of London maps from the last 500 years or so, and their new cartographic exhibition makes for fascinating viewing. I thought I'd better visit on the first day before it gets too popular, because it surely will.

The exhibition is divided into eight sections, from the old walled City to postwar suburban sprawl. Inbetween you get to watch the capital expand, gradually at first, then with increasing speed towards the docks in the east and the prestigious estates to the west. See how quickly ye olde London was wiped from the map by the Great Fire, only to be rebuilt in ten years flat. Watch the fields north of Piccadilly sprout streets and squares and mansions. You can even track the River Fleet as it evolves from stream to ditch to underground sewer... or maybe that was just me. Some of the maps are bloody huge, which is great because it means you can get up close and inspect the really small detail. Many of the earlier maps are more pictorial than planar, but they're all equally beautiful and intricate in their own way.

Bow 1825What many visitors seem to do (and I'll confess to being no exception) is to pay extra special attention to the place where they live. It helps if you live somewhere fairly central, of course, and I'm fortunate that Bow often crept onto the very easternmost edge of certain maps. I was able to trace Bow first as a medieval village on the banks of the Lea, then a tiny 'town' surrounded by grassy meadowland, and finally a suburb swallowed whole by expanding London. If you'd have been wandering around the exhibition with me I'd probably have bored you silly by pointing out every time I spotted precisely where my house now stands, and you'd probably have done the same.

It's just my sort of exhibition, filled with frame after frame of cartographic porn to salivate over. I'm sure I'll be back for another visit at a later date, just so I can stare again at the million and one details I overlooked the first time. But in the meantime there's plenty to view from home. The free exhibition guide folds out to reveal a high quality print of Richard Newcourt's pre-Fire London map of 1658, which is gorgeous. I was also inspired to buy a copy of the book accompanying the exhibition, as did a surprisingly high proportion of departing visitors. At £15 a time (£25 hardback) the British Library have a worthwhile moneyspinner here, and very lovely the book is too. And if you can't get to the exhibition yourself, or can't get there yet, there's an excellent website to explore complete with images of several of the maps. It's based on a virtual Google map, of course, and there are some real gems tucked away on there. You've got three months to get your A-Z out and find your way to the British Library to see for yourself.

London: A Life in Maps (admission free)
London: A Life in Maps - virtual exhibition
more reviews of the exhibition
Old London Maps (explore 16th-19th century London in detail)

 Monday, November 20, 2006

Oyster - always touch in and touch out (OR ELSE!)

As of yesterday, if you travel on the tube using a pay-as-you-go Oyster card and fail to touch in or touch out, you'll now be charged a "maximum cash fare". To assist you in understanding the new penalty system, Transport for London have helpfully provided a detailed online FAQ explaining all the changes. It's only 2600 words long, and is therefore easily assimilated by any Londoner. Come on, this is important, because if you don't know these rules inside out you might end up paying extra for your ignorance. Just in case you can't spare the time to read the full rules in depth, allow me to present my own simplified Oyster FAQ below:

Q: How much is the new "maximum cash fare"?
A: It's £4 per journey. Which is a bit sneaky, because the maximum Oyster fare for the longest possible Zone 1-6 journey is only £3.50.

Q: Is it always £4?
A: No, it's £5 if you're using National Rail from certain mainline stations (Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Elephant & Castle, Euston, Fenchurch Street, Liverpool Street, London Bridge and Marylebone). Apparently £5 is the "average fare" from these stations, so you deserve to be charged more. Here's a map showing the (not many) National Rail routes where use of Oyster is permitted.

Q: Surely this "maximum penalty fare" only affects miscreants and barrier jumpers?
A: Not at all. Life would be simple if all Oyster journeys started and finished at a ticket barrier, but they don't. Exit the tube at Finsbury Park without swiping and you'll be fined. Start your journey on the DLR without swiping and you'll be fined. Change onto National Rail at Farringdon without swiping and you'll be fined. It's all too easy to forget, and to end up paying for your mistake.

Q: How does this new system penalise you for not touching in?
A: If you didn't touch in, then when you eventually touch out at the other end the system assumes you've made the longest possible journey (eg from Heathrow Airport) and slaps down a maximum fare Exit Charge of £4.

Q: How does the system penalise you for not touching out?
A: Every time you touch in at the start of a journey, an Entry Charge of £4 is automatically applied to your Oyster. If you don't touch out at the end of your journey, then this £4 is automatically deducted. If you do later touch out, like you're meant to, then the correct fare is charged instead.

Q: So, pay-as-you-go travellers are assumed to be "guilty until proven innocent"?
A: Yes, although the £4 Entry Charge is never actually deducted while you're travelling, so you can have less than £4 pay-as-you-go and still be able to travel.

Q: How does the system know that I haven't touched out?
A: You're allowed up to two hours to complete your journey, but take any longer and a penalty fare applies. Even a tube journey from Epping to Chesham on a Sunday evening allegedly only takes 1 hour 58 minutes, so anybody taking longer than two hours is clearly a criminal.

Q: What if my journey is delayed?
A: If your journey exceeds two hours because of service disruption, you should seek assistance from a helpful member of staff or call the Oyster helpline. Calls cost only 3½p per minute, unless you're calling from your mobile (which, given the circumstances, you probably will be).

Q: And what if I don't touch in and I don't touch out? Do I get to travel for free?
A: Yes, you do. Unless an inspector catches you along the way, in which case you'll be charged £4. Or maybe prosecuted.

Q: Is it ever cheaper not to touch out?
A: Yes, but only for Metropolitan line passengers travelling beyond Rickmansworth. For example, if you travel from Baker Street to Chorleywood and exit through the car park on the westbound platform, then you'll pay a fare of £4.50 if you touch out but a penalty of only £4 if you don't.

Q: Are there any special rules about Wimbledon station?
A: Funny you should ask. Yes, Wimbledon is an Oyster-user's tram/train/tube charging nightmare. Please read this scarily complicated list of extra instructions.

Q: I have a season ticket on my Oyster card, not pay-as-you-go, so I'm OK aren't I?
A: Not if you venture outside your paid-for zones. If you touch in at a station outside your chosen zones but fail to touch in later, then you'll be charged an extension fare of either £1 or £1.50. But if you touch in at a station inside your chosen zones and later fail to touch out at a station outside your chosen zones, then the system won't notice and you won't be charged extra.

Q: What if there's major disruption and I get turfed off my usual tube route onto a bus?
A: In these circumstances you shouldn't touch out when leaving the station, but you must touch in on the bus, but only if you've been told that buses are accepting tube tickets, otherwise you might be overcharged. Simple.

Q: What if there's an accident or something and I get carted off the tube network on a stretcher without touching out?
A: No problem, they'll refund your £4 Entry charge later, so long as you don't go catching a bus before you get back on the tube again in which case the £4 won't have been refunded yet and you might be refused entry until you top your card up again. Honest.

Q: The Oyster system is full of over-complex badly thought-out inconsistencies, isn't it?
A: Yes, but please try not to mention them because it frightens people.

Q: So, to summarise, please?
A: Expect to be charged £4 at the start of your journey for not touching out, or £4 at the end of your journey for not touching in.

Q: I am new to London and my English it is poor. Can you please be explaining these rule again?
A: No, sorry. Just pay up.

Q: I don't understand what an Oyster card is.
A: My apologies for wasting your time.

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