diamond geezer

 Sunday, March 29, 2015


Everyone appreciates the long light evenings. Everyone laments their shrinkage as the days grow shorter, and nearly everyone has given utterance to a regret that the clear bright light of early mornings, during Spring and Summer months, is so seldom seen or used.

Nevertheless, standard time remains so fixed, that for nearly half the year the sun shines upon the land for several hours each day while we are asleep, and is rapidly nearing the horizon, having already passed its western limit, when we reach home after the work of the day is over. Under the most favourable circumstances, there then remains only a brief spell of declining daylight in which to spend the short period of leisure at our disposal.

Now, if some of the hours of wasted sunlight could be withdrawn from the beginning and added to the end of the day, how many advantages would be gained by all, and in particular by those who spend in the open air, when light permits them to do so, whatever time they have at their command after the duties of the day have been discharged.

By a simple expedient these advantages can be secured. If we will reduce the length of four Sundays by 20 minutes, a loss of which practically no one would be conscious, we shall have 8o minutes more daylight after 6 p.m. every day during May, June, July and August, and an avenge of 45 minutes more every day during April and September.

I therefore venture to propose that at 2 a.m. on each of four Sunday mornings in April, standard time shall advance 20 minutes; and on each of four Sundays in September, shall recede 20 minutes, or in other words that for eight Sundays of 24 hours each, we shall substitute four, each 20 minutes less than 24 hours, and four each 20 minutes more than 24 hours. (Another means of arriving at approximately the same end would be to alter the clock thirty minutes on only two or three Sundays.) This is the whole cost of the scheme. We lose nothing, and gain substantially. Having made up our minds to be satisfied, on four occasions, with a Sunday of 23 hours and 40 minutes, the advantages aimed at follow automatically without any trouble whatever; everything will go on just as it does now, except that as the later hours of the day come round, they will bring more light with them.

from a pamphlet by William Willett of Chislehurst
Father of Daylight Saving (died March 1915)

» The Willett Way, Petts Wood
» Walking the Willett Way

 Saturday, March 28, 2015

The name of our capital changed last month.

It's now the Capital.

I don't know if you'd noticed.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: "An extension of the Bakerloo line will provide a vital new transport link for the people of south London and help to spur jobs, new homes and regeneration in this part of the Capital." [27th March 2015]

The public body making the name change is TfL, in what appears to be a deliberate and carefully planned move.

Before the change

'We are hopeful that this work will mean that young wheelchair users feel even more confident to use the Tube for spontaneous - and planned - travel to get around the capital.' [2nd February 2015]

'These schemes will revolutionise cycling in the capital and further demonstrate how London is leading the way in making its roads safe for all road users' [4th February 2015]

The tender will enable TfL to take forward 50+ sites with development potential across the capital. [6th February 2015]

'We know that a large number of cyclist deaths and serious injuries involve a relatively small number of trucks and lorries that are not fitted with basic safety equipment. Such vehicles are not welcome in the capital and the Safer Lorry Scheme will see them effectively banned from our streets.' [6th February 2015]

'With record numbers cycling in the capital we're pulling out all the stops to deliver world class infrastructure that everyone in our city can be proud of.' [17th February 2015]

In March 2013, the Mayor launched his Vision for Cycling in London, which detailed his £913m programme to improve infrastructure and safety for cyclists in the capital. [17th February 2015]
 After the change

Alongside policing activity, TfL's Taxi and Private Hire Compliance Officers continued their on-going activity throughout the STaN campaign to protect the legitimate taxi and private hire industry by conducting checks on drivers, vehicles and operators across the Capital. [24th February 2015]

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: ‎'With almost ten million people travelling on the Thames last year the river is now an even more integral part of life in our Capital.' [25th February 2015]

Richard Tracey AM, the Mayor's River Ambassador, said: 'It is only right that the River Thames, which has served our Capital for centuries, is given the investment it needs to flourish.' [25th February 2015]

TfL's purpose is to keep London working and growing and to make life in the Capital better. [26th February 2015]

'We will continue our work to improve freight road safety in all aspects, be it collaboration, regulation, enforcement and lobbying, to create a Capital fit for freight, and freight fit for the Capital.' [26th February 2015]

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: 'In Santander Cycles, we have a new red icon symbolising the Capital to Londoners, and the world.' [27th February 2015]

And it's not just press releases. Somebody's been through the TfL website updating mentions of 'the capital' to 'the Capital', and probably adding a few extra ones for good measure.

"Currently, 8.4 million people live in the Capital."
"See the Mayor's proposals to revolutionise transport in the Capital"
"The Emirates Air Line is the latest addition to the Capital's transport network."
"There are a number of potential sites for a new hub airport located to the east of the Capital, including in the Inner Thames Estuary."
"We support the Mayor of London's manifesto commitment to reduce the Capital's CO2 emissions by 60% (against 1990 levels) by 2025."
By conserving and explaining the Capital city's transport heritage, London Transport Museum offers people an understanding of the Capital's past development and engages them in the debate about its future.

I don't know about you, but calling our capital the Capital looks distinctly odd.

You'd normally capitalise a proper noun, such as the name of a place or building, but not the noun category to which it belongs. London deserves its capital letter because it's our capital city, but capitalising Capital sounds presumptuous, even snobbish, because our capital is one of many.

And yet this must be a deliberate move on behalf of TfL. Their press office checks what it publishes exceptionally carefully, with never a spelling mistake to be seen, meeting proofing standards that must be the envy of other public bodies. If they're now saying London is the Capital, they mean it.

A couple of years ago, in one of their press releases, they suddenly started calling the New Bus For London a New Routemaster. This turned out to be the first phase of a total rebrand, applied relentlessly across all media, so thorough that even the metal plaques on the bus's rear staircase switched from "New Bus For London 2013" to "New Routemaster 2014".

What can we expect in the next phase of capitalised Capital rollout? Consistent usage in all of TfL's press releases, yes, but are there plans to spread this over-pompous wording elsewhere? The Capital Overground? The New Bus for the Capital? Visit the Capital? The Tower of the Capital? Might TfL even transform into TfC - Transport for the Capital?

No, probably not. But something recently inspired TfL to rewrite their style guide, whatever that reason might be, and however ridiculous the outcome might look. Our capital is not the Capital, surely, whatever this whim of capitalisation might suggest.

 Friday, March 27, 2015


I was going to blog today about how a ride on the cablecar now gets you 20% off your bill at the local Harvester restaurant (honest, it does), but thought better of it. You must be tired of hearing about the Dangleway by now, but then I said that earlier in the week.

Indeed it's been a week for apologies, and rightly so. Over the last seven days I've brought you reports from Birmingham, Hackney Downs, the rural outskirts of Hillingdon, the cablecar and 'my local bus stop'. It's not exactly a cavalcade of riches.

When most people read about London, they want to read about the central bit. That's where most of the big and popular stuff is, and the bit that most people live closest to. By contrast there's nothing much on the edge of the capital, relatively speaking, and once you head across the boundary, who cares?

Which got me wondering about where I blog about. Do I drone on about the periphery too much, or are my eyes fixed further within? Have I so run out of things to talk about in the centre of town that I'm now subjecting you to umpteen reports from the Home Counties instead? So I've done a survey.

I've counted back through the last 100 posts of mine with a specific geographical location to see where they were based. For classification purposes I've plumped for seven spatial areas, the first a 'local' zone for whenever I blather on about postcodes E3, E15 or E20. The next three I based on TfL ticketing zones, that's Central London (Z1), Inner London (Z2-3) and Outer London (Z4-6). I divided the rest of the UK into 'counties touching London' and 'everywhere else'. And I finished off with 'rest of Europe', for those rare occasions where I travel abroad. Results as follows.

of UK

And that wasn't as bad as I was expecting. A quarter of my posts are about Central London, extending to 60% posts being about Zones 1, 2 and 3. A quarter of my posts come to you from the outer suburbs, which actually make up the majority of the capital by area. And only 15% of posts are from beyond the London border - which is a relief, it sometimes feels much more.

Having decided this was quite interesting, I then wondered whether my geographical spread has altered over time. So I went back five years, and then ten years, and did the same thing again. I tallied up the 100 posts prior to 27th March with a specific geographical location, and these are the results I got.

of UK

So, yes, it seems that only around 10-15% of my posts are especially local, with the slight recent drop probably because the Olympics are over. I used to focus a lot more on Central London than I do now, with almost half of my posts ten years ago based in crowd-pleasing Zone 1. I'm definitely focusing on Outer London more than I used to, with the proportion of these posts increasing from a tenth to a quarter since 2005. But my postings from outside London haven't changed that much, still hovering in the region of 10-15%.

One big difference is in the frequency with which I post geographically-based posts. Back in 2004/5 it took me eight months to publish 100 posts about places. By 2009/10 that was down to seven months, and in 2014/5 it's only taken me four and a half. I used to blog a lot more about general stuff, like life and music and TV, but now I blog a lot more about places I've been. It's quite a significant shift in focus, all told, and may or may not be what you like to read.

Then finally I thought I'd analyse two of the most popular London blogs in a similar way. First of all that's Londonist, who fire out a dozen thoughtful London-based posts daily, and then Time Out's blog, the wonderfully titled Now Here This. I looked back at the last 100 posts on each blog that focused on a single location, and made a note of which TfL transport zone that location was in. Here are the results, zone by zone, with my scores along the bottom for comparison.

 Z1  Z2  Z3  Z4  Z5  Z6 Z7+
Time Out553570021
This blog222117761215

I should say straight off that I omitted a lot of summary/compilation/list-type posts, in which several London locations were mentioned, and that a number of these ticked off locations further out towards the suburbs. But the overall pattern revealed is a relentless focus on what's going on in the centre of town and immediately round about, and not much else.

Almost three-quarters of Londonist's single-location posts are about somewhere in Zone 1, very often a show to see, a museum to visit or food to eat. I couldn't find a single post in the last three weeks that focused on a location in zones 4, 5 or 6 (the closest hit being a literary festival in Hendon). Time Out had a more equitable split between zones 1 and 2, generally because no East London pop-up seems to go unreported. But again the outer London suburbs barely merited a mention, the only features in the last month being a cereal cafe in Kingston and the woodpecker-riding weasel in Hornchurch.

It's Greater London's 50th birthday next week, so it'd be nice to think that media purporting to be about London would more frequently remember that the outskirts exist. But then how many people are genuinely interested in Enfield, Croydon or Hounslow, not when there are hipsters serving cupcakes and craft beer from a kiosk in Shoreditch. There's a good reason why house prices are highest in the centre of town, and that's because it's the cool, hip, buzzing and better-connected nucleus of our capital.

In the meantime I shall continue to report on footpaths in Harefield, buses in Stratford and riverbanks in West Wickham. Sorry.

 Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sorry, this is a hyperlocal post, of interest only to those who live near the Bow Roundabout and those who ride the busiest bus in London.

I'm talking about the 25, the bus from Oxford Circus to Ilford, which carries about 25 million passengers a year. On its way it crosses the Bow Roundabout, this via the roundabout's slip roads rather than the flyover, because passing through at ground level best serves local passengers. Or at least it did until last week. Suddenly for no readily explained reason the 25 has been diverted across the flyover, where there are no bus stops, and those who live nearby are missing out.

Here's a map to show you what I mean. Heading east the 25 stops at the cluster of red dots to the left of my map, that's around St Mary's, the church in the middle of the road. It then usually stops outside the McDonalds drive-through, which is the first black cross, then usually stops again near the entrance to Marshgate Lane, which is the second. But as of last week the 25 is instead taking the flyover and skipping these two black crosses, stopping next at the farthest red dot near Warton Road. And that's a half mile gap where you can't get off and you can't get on. And that's not nice.

If you're waiting at either of the two black cross bus stops it's not the end of the world. Three other buses still travel eastward via the roundabout, the 276, 425 and D8, so to get to Stratford you simply wait for one of those. You'll probably have longer to wait than normal, and if you're going further than Stratford you may end up paying twice. But TfL have been very clear about what's going on, slapping a big red cross on the bus stop to show that the 25 doesn't stop, and sticking up a poster that says "Route 25 diverted". "Buses will be unable to serve this stop" it says, adding "Buses will be diverted via Bow flyover." But it doesn't explain why the 25 is taking a sudden shortcut, merely that it is.

If you're aboard the 25, however, things go wrong. And they go wrong because three of TfL's proudest digital systems don't work properly. The TfL website doesn't know about the stop closures, the Countdown indicators at bus stops remain silent, and the on-board announcements don't tell you enough until it's too late.

I thought I'd take a ride on the 25 to discover the true inconvenience of what's going on. Boarding by Bow Road station there was no indication that anything might be amiss a few stops up the road. A scrolling message on the Countdown display provided information about a bus stop in Aldgate that's currently closed, but that's not even in the right direction, so this was an essentially pointless message. Somebody in a control room somewhere needs to think more carefully about what they display.

Once on board the bus the audio announcements correctly ticked off each stop as we approached. But there were no passengers waiting at the last stop before the diversion, at Bow Church, so we didn't stop, and no words of warning cut in. We crossed over onto the flyover, which is not what the 25 normally does, while the non-25 bus in front continued down to the next stop as usual. Bow Flyover, flashed up the on-board display, so I dinged the bell. Bus stopping, flashed up the on-board display, but the bus didn't. After passing the stop, but now several feet in the air, up flashed Marshgate Lane on the on-board display. So I dinged the bell again, and again the display flashed up Bus stopping, and again of course it didn't. It couldn't because the flyover ends a few metres beyond this particular bus stop, so that was two stops we'd completely missed.

I dinged the bell again. This time the next stop was Warton Road, and we really were going to stop there. But Warton Road is a long way up Stratford High Street, past one, two, three separate sets of traffic lights. When we finally arrived it was at least a five minute walk back to the previous closed stop, and nearer ten to get back to the first, which required an awkward crossing of the Bow Roundabout. I'm fit and able so I coped, but for someone considerably less mobile this would be an unpleasant inconvenience.

Because what had happened didn't seem right, and being a glutton for punishment, I decided to repeat the experiment. This time the bus was packed, so did stop at the last stop before the diversion, and this time something different happened. The next bus stop is closed, announced the on-board display. The next bus stop is closed. The next bus stop is closed. The next bus stop is closed. Four times is a bit much, I thought, but at least they've announced it this time. Even so, I had two problems with the announcement. Firstly the next bus stop is not closed. Three other Stratford-bound buses still stop there, it's just that somebody's decided to reroute the 25 elsewhere, so you're on the wrong bus. And secondly, the next-but-one bus stop is also closed, but this never gets a mention. If you'd sat in your seat expecting to get off at Marshgate Lane as usual, your reward would have been an unexpected diversion and a long walk back.

And could I have spotted anything about this closure on the TfL website before I travelled? Well let's have a look. The year-old mobile-friendly TfL website doesn't have a single list of bus diversions any more. But it does have special pages for individual bus routes, and it does have special pages for individual bus stops. Let's take them one at a time.

» Checking the webpage for route 25 reveals three status alerts, each of which (somewhat annoyingly) has to be clicked on before you can read it. We discover that buses will be subject to delays on Drake Street WC1 until October 2016, for Crossrail reasons. We discover that Route 67 will be unable to serve stop 'F' at Aldgate East station until 14th April due to footway works, which isn't of relevance to route 25. And we discover that route 25 will be unable to serve stop 'R' on Aldgate High Street until 24th April due to a reduction of kerb space. We discover nothing whatsoever about the diversion in Bow.

» The webpage for the Bow Flyover bus stop appears to show business as usual. There is a little exclamation mark symbol by the route 25 marker, but clicking on this merely drags you off to the route 25 status alert page discussed earlier, and that's no help. Meanwhile the list of buses and departure times at the foot of the page suggests that the 25 is stopping at the Bow Flyover stop as normal. At time of writing there's apparently a 25 bus stopping in 4 minutes, 10 minutes, 12 minutes, 13 minutes, 15 minutes, 19 minutes, 20 minutes, 22 minutes, 26 minutes and 27 minutes. In reality, none of these buses are stopping here at all.

And this is no brief deviation, this is a three month diversion, running from 8pm on Monday 16th March to 4pm on Friday 26th June. I know this from the yellow sign posted up at the two out-of-commission bus stops, which appear to be the only places with any information about what's going on. What's odd is that nobody has chosen to explain why the 25 has to use the flyover. It can't be for any genuine physical reason, because the 425 still goes via the roundabout and that's a double decker too. It might simply be an attempt to speed up the 25 by skipping over the traffic queues at the Bow Roundabout. Or it might be a temporary balancing act to maintain the 25's overall timetable during the reconstruction of Cycle Superhighway 2. Slower progress through the roadworks at Aldgate might potentially be cancelled out later in the journey by speeding passengers quicker over the Bow Flyover. Which would be fine, indeed might even be good, so long as passengers didn't want to get off the bus in the meantime.

Sorry, this has been a hyperlocal post, of interest only to those who live near the Bow Roundabout and those who ride the busiest bus in London. But there is a wider message, which is that a long-term change to an important means of transport has been under-communicated. Whoever's job it is to post physical information at bus stops has done a good job, and nobody waiting at one of the affected bus stops should be in the dark. But whoever maintains TfL's digital services has missed the ball completely, with nothing on the website, nothing on Countdown displays and inadequate information on the bus. Just because something's flashy and electronic doesn't necessarily make for a good customer experience if nobody's fed in the appropriate information. And in this case the important message should be This bus is on diversion, not The next bus stop is closed.

Late night update
» the webpage for route 25 now says HIGH STREET, E15 ROUTE 25: Buses are subject to diversion via Bow Flyover in both directions until 1600, Friday 26 June.
» the webpage for the Bow Flyover bus stop no longer shows the 25 stopping there.

Friday update
» An email arrives from info@tfl.gov.uk: "Dear DG, I am writing to let you know that bus route 25 has been diverted via the Bow Flyover in both directions until further notice. This is due to Cycle Superhighway 2 works. During this time, route 25 will not serve the bus stops on Marshgate Lane and Bow Flyover.
(Only two weeks late, but thanks)
(But hang on, did you just say "until further notice"?!? Sigh)

 Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sorry, I wasn't intending to write about the cablecar again so soon. But then this happened.
Emirates Air Line extends services
Alas this doesn't mean that the system itself is being extended, say by adding extra cables further west to Canary Wharf. Instead, unsatisfied with transporting air across the Thames for most of the week, the Dangleway will now offer this service for longer.
• 'Night Flights' will be offered with later opening until 11pm on Friday and Saturday
• From Sunday to Thursday closing time will be extended to 10pm
Yes, from this Saturday the cablecar's opening hours are to be extended later in the evening. An extension normally happens at this time of year as the service switches from Winter to Summer timetable, but the newly-announced closing times will be one, two, even three hours later than before. Be warned that closing time will revert to 8pm in October. Opening times remain the same.

Day Opening 
Closing time
 Winter  Summer    New   
Mon-Thur 7am8pm9pm10pm

As an indication of the scale of the change, the cablecar currently runs 88 hours a week, but from this Saturday it'll run 104 hours a week. For comparison, the Waterloo & City line crosses the Thames 108 hours a week, and the 108 bus crosses the Thames 168 hours a week.
Over five million passengers have now taken a flight across the Thames on the Emirates Air Line.
This is a diversionary statistic introduced in an attempt to show how successful the cablecar has been. For comparison, over the same time period the Waterloo & City line has carried about 45 million passengers beneath the Thames, and the 108 bus has carried about nine million passengers, so five million perhaps isn't all that great.
From Saturday 28 March, the Emirates Air Line will offer a new 'Night Flight' experience with later opening hours, a longer flight time and complementary music and video entertainment in cabins and at the terminals.
Of course 'Night Flights' already exist, because it gets dark well before closing time during the winter. What's new is the 'Night Flight experience'. A crossing will now take longer after 7pm, and there'll be mood music and videos to accompany your passage.

I'd bet good money that the 'video entertainment' will feature promotional material from nearby attractions such as The Crystal, The O2 and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The cablecar's so-called feature tour turned out to be promotional material for nearby attractions, the Snowman and the Snowdog flew over the same nearby attractions in cartoon format, and even the Valentine's Day love-in featured the same nearby attractions with hearts on. It'd be a genuine turn up for the books if the 'Night Flight' evening extravaganza failed to mention The Crystal, The O2, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, etc, in passing.
The later opening will ensure customers can sit back, relax and enjoy the unique aerial views of fantastic sunsets or the spectacular lights and colours of London after dark, throughout the summer. From Sunday to Thursday, passengers will be able to fly until 10pm and on Friday and Saturday nights the Emirates Air Line will close at 11pm.
The rationale here is to offer an after dark ride on the cablecar throughout the year. Currently that's possible between the start of October and the end of March, because sunset is always earlier than the 8pm shutdown. It's also been possible in spring and autumn, with closedown at 9pm, but between 26th May and 26th July sunset falls annoyingly later than the last flight time and a few customers may have been disappointed. But rejoice, because in future you need never worry. Whatever day of the year you'll always be able to think "hey, I fancy an after dark flight on the cablecar tonight" (weather permitting).
To allow more time to enjoy the experience, journey times will also be extended every day after 7pm. A round trip will be extended from 20 minutes to 25 minutes (12-13 minutes for a single crossing).
This extended journey time is the ultimate abdication of the cablecar as a serious public transport option. Imagine if TfL announced that they were slowing down any other form of public transport so that reaching your destination took longer, there'd be an outcry. Not so for the Dangleway, where the key selling point is the pretty view and very definitely not getting from one side of the Thames to the other as quickly as possible.

 Approximate crossing time
 2012-14  Now  Future 
Morning peak5 mins5 mins5 mins
Daytime10 mins10 mins10 mins
Evening peak 5 mins10 mins10 mins
Evening10 mins 10 mins  12½ mins 

A big change to timings has already happened, unannounced, with the 5 minute express crossing removed from the evening peak and now restricted to 0700-0900 Monday to Friday. Outside this limited window it's the leisure traveller who has priority over the commuter - most likely because incredibly few commuters exist. And now the evening ride is to be slowed down too, bringing better value for money to the sightseeing experience. But I'm intrigued by precisely what journey time you'll get, given that the current default crossing time is 8½ minutes not 10, suggesting Night Flighters on a return journey probably won't be getting the advertised 25 minutes in the air.
There have been over five million passengers on the Emirates Air Line, the UK's first urban cable car, since its opening in June 2012. Customer Satisfaction Surveys show that around half of all users of the Emirates Air Line are Londoners and satisfaction scores remain very high at 93 out of 100. This demonstrates what a successful addition it is for both Londoners and visitors to the Capital.
This press release paragraph features some of Dangleway management's favourite statistics. The five million passengers we've already discussed. Of course this is the UK's first urban cable car, because who'd ever build a second? As for half of all the users being Londoners, this also means that half of the users are from elsewhere, again cementing the cablecar's credentials as an inessential transport connection. And whilst that Customer Satisfaction rating remains impressively high, what else would you expect from a means of transport that flies through the air, and which customers make a voluntary decision to ride?
Since opening, the Emirates Air Line has helped customers celebrate special occasions, including marriage proposals and welcomed numerous famous faces including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hulk Hogan and Novak Djokovic.
If you're excited by the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of these thrilling celebrities then congratulations, you're target audience. Please report for duty at North Greenwich and help TfL make a return on their investment as soon as possible.
The Emirates Air Line was built to support current and future regeneration in east London and its popularity means that it is more than covering its running costs while encouraging a new footfall of visitors to both the Royal Docks and Greenwich Peninsula.
It's worth remembering that while one and a half million passengers a year might sound paltry, their fares (plus commercial sponsorship) are indeed covering all the operating costs and the wages of the multitude of staff at each end. Indeed for those of you who think I'm always relentlessly downbeat about the cablecar, my 2012 report on TfL's business case made it clear that low passenger numbers were always part of the plan. Once the masts and terminals are paid for, the daily running costs for the cablecar are relatively low. TfL's chirpiness almost sounds as though we should be building cablecars everywhere, if they're really this good at covering their costs.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: 'The Emirates Air Line has been a fantastic addition to the Capital, boosting regeneration in the east and providing a unique way to view our fabulous city. Five million people have taken to the skies already and customer feedback over the last two and a half years remains overwhelmingly positive. Extended opening hours will now give even more people the chance to see one of the most beautiful views in London.'
I see no sign as yet that the cablecar has brought any meaningful regeneration to East London. What it has done is given tourists somewhere new to go, and delivered a few extra customers to the luxury halal burger van on the northern shore. As for the idea that the extended opening hours are somehow giving more people the chance to visit the cablecar, that's clearly rubbish, it's merely giving the same number of people longer to turn up.
TfL's Head of the Emirates Air Line, Danny Price, said: 'Londoners, visitors from around the world and celebrities are all enjoying this special transport experience. By passing five million passenger journeys it shows just how popular it is with both Londoners and visitors to the Capital. It continues to cover its operating costs and generates revenue for local businesses through driving new footfall to the local area. We look forward to welcoming the next five million customers on to the Emirates Air Line.'
At current rates, the Emirates Air Line should be welcoming its ten millionth customer in the summer of 2018. If Danny and friends "continue to increase customer awareness through initiatives aimed at both leisure and transport users", as the latest TfL Budget document promises, then even more people will be lured in and passenger numbers should start rising a little quicker. But whether your ideal Saturday night includes a £6.80 return flight over post-industrial Silvertown inside an ad-packed capsule, that's yet to be proven.

 Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The London Loop
[section 13]
Harefield West to Moor Park (5 miles)

With the good news that TfL have finally recreated all of the downloadable maps for their seven strategic walking routes, I'm back on the London Loop. Section 13 is a remote beast, threading through only-just-London and barely-Hertfordshire, via woods and fields and a famous sitcom homestead. It's also notoriously muddy, or so the comments section on the Walk London website advised before TfL pulled the plug. Remembering this advice I waited until it had barely rained for three weeks and then set off, fully booted, for ultra-north-west London. [map]

To reach Harefield West, deep in the Colne Valley, you take the U9 bus out of Uxbridge. I had a memorable journey in which the driver first turfed off a teenager for trying to pay with a £5 note ("cash was banned over a year ago," he lied), then launched into a strop with an elderly Harefield resident. Braking sharply caused her shopping basket to fall over, sending a frozen shepherds pie skidding towards the door. Our driver hopped out to rescue it, then noticed the old lady was drinking from a can of lager so grabbed this and threw it outside, deliberately littering the pavement in the process. And I mention not this because it has anything to do with the walk ahead, nor to get the miserable bastard into trouble, but merely to reinforce what great entertainment an outer London bus journey can be.

The bus drops you at a turning circle near the bottom of the hill, where one of Walk London's metal plaques foreshadows section 13, and advises you to ring an unobtainable phone number for further information. The walk sets off up an access road above the river, past some light industrial units being transformed into "contemporary canalside living", then heads up a hillside path in front of some almost-pretty cottages. That's a cattery on the right (no kittens were evident), then the contours steepen on the climb through Old Park Wood. Give it a couple of months and this ancient woodland will apparently be ablaze with bluebells and marsh marigolds, I suspect a local treasure for the handful who live nearby.

Ahead is London's most northwesterly hamlet, with the unexciting (but appropriate) name of Hill End. The approach is past a strip of mishmash allotments over which flutter various threadbare football-related flags. What used to be the village pub became what used to be the village nursery, but is now vacant, leaving a small playground across the road as the only toddler-friendly facility hereabouts. Plough Lane beyond looks almost suburban, until the stile at the end reveals that that we are only three fields from the edge of London. Field one features a suspiciously long shed, and a surprising huge number of geese waddling around a muddy pool. Field two opens up a broad gently rolling arable vista, before field three dips gradually through harvested stalks to a small notched stream. It isn't how you'd picture Hillingdon at all, and is all the more charming for it.

Hertfordshire begins with a stud. On the next farm live equine folk with a penchant for collecting old vehicles, hence the path tracks between grazing horses and the decaying remains of an old army ambulance. Walking down their drive I spotted Rickmansworth's hilltop Waitrose on the horizon, barely a mile distant, but the Loop gives that a miss and instead turns up Woodcock Hill. This is one of those awkward pavementless sections, requiring repeated sidesteps onto the verge to avoid oncoming traffic, or if you're unlucky the two-hourly bus. At a T-junction in the middle of nowhere lies the Rose and Crown, described online as "Real ales and classic fare in a wisteria-clad, 17th-century pub with open fires". It sounded lovely (and looked it too), but alas a sign stuck to the door announced the place's very recent closure (seemingly post-Valentine's), and what should have been a bustling beer garden stood wistfully empty.

From here a footpath strikes off down the edge of Bishop's Wood, affording brief views over one of Moor Park's lesser golf courses. A field's edge gave the first hints of potential mudbath conditions underfoot, thankfully unrealised at present, before the risk evaporated completely ahead. Three Rivers Council have upgraded the main track through the wood over the past few weeks, casting a trail of unnaturally clean aggregate in a broad wiggle all the way to the car park. The works have also refurbished a footbridge mid-wood, but without replacing the London Loop sign thereon, which means this is the first point where you could get horribly lost. You'd never think of taking the minor footpath beside the brook otherwise, nor following it into the trees through increasingly unclear and unkempt undergrowth. Ah yes, here's the muddy stretch, and it must be boot-covering after a downpour.

For reasons that are probably coincidental, the last mile of section 13 follows (almost precisely) a line of electricity pylons. They're well disguised by trees, on the whole, which also blot out sight of Mount Vernon Hospital (which lies just across the road). Further yomping brings you out onto Batchworth Heath, one of my grandmother's favourite picnic spots, though I wouldn't lay down a tablecloth at present. One of the pubs overlooking this traffic blackspot is the over-vowelled Ye Olde Greene Manne, ideally suited to the moneyed clientele at the adjacent Moor Park Golf Club, while across the road the down-at-heel Prince of Wales requires a flashing red 'Open' sign in the window to attract somewhat seedier punters.

The next footpath, from the Coal Tax Post onwards, followed the exact boundary between Middlesex and Herts, and still marks the very edge of the capital. It's a peaceful undulating affair, past white blossom and a pile of rubbish that might be flytipping or could possibly be someone's home. And at the end of the track you emerge into Kewferry Road... a name which stirred a nugget of trivial recognition within me. Isn't this...? I reached for my phone and Googled, confirming with some delight that the very ordinary-looking house two down on the right was indeed incredibly famous. 55 Kewferry Road is where Tom and Barbara Good lived, or at least where all the exterior shots were filmed for The Good Life back in the 1970s. The front garden's no longer ploughed for vegetables, and there's now a Landrover Defender parked outside, but this is very definitely self-sufficiency central, and that's still the Leadbetter's gaff nextdoor. Found you at last!

From borderline Northwood the Loop heads up a gated private road into the exclusive Moor Park Estate. Here the avenues are wide and the houses are big, each set in a plot of at least a third of an acre, and divided from its neighbour by hedges rather than walls or fences. Don't worry, they still get an electricity pylon for their trouble, but I doubt it depresses house prices too much. It was here, amid a land of multi-vehicle front gardens, that I met the first pedestrians I'd seen since leaving Harefield - the byways of Loop 13 aren't busy. And almost immediately I reached the low bridge beneath the Metropolitan line where this section terminates. Section 14 heads off across the golf course, but I instead took a wooded stroll alongside the tracks to Moor Park station, my walking boots still impressively presentable.

» London Loop section 13: official webpage; map and directions; map
» Who else has walked it? Tetramesh, Stephen, Mark, Oatsy, Chris, Tim, Maureen, Richard
» See also sections 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24

 Monday, March 23, 2015

The tube map includes several blobby interchanges where TfL claim you can change from one line to another. But there are only four places where stations with different names are linked with black lines to indicate that interchange is possible, even recommended. I've been out with a stopwatch to discover how long each takes.
Please note: All of these times are from front of station to front of station, not from gateline or platform. I tried walking these connections on a Sunday, so there wasn't much traffic around and crossing roads didn't hold me up. I walk fairly fast and I always walk up escalators. Consider these minimum interchange times - you'd probably take longer.

White CityWood Lane [2m 25s]
This is a simple stroll down Wood Lane, past what used to be Television Centre shrouded in sheeting and scaffolding. Unless you're buying a flat there, try not to look.

Clapham NorthClapham High Street [2m 10s]
A poster in the ticket hall at Clapham North claims that this interchange takes "approximately five minutes". Given that I completed it in less than half that, without running, I think this gives you some idea how conservative TfL's timing estimates are. Admittedly I was lucky with the traffic lights, but then it was just a simple zig and zag past the cafes in the railway arches.

Tower GatewayTower Hill [1m 50s]
I timed this from the top of the escalator at Tower Gateway - it'd be 20 seconds quicker from the front of the station proper. Or it could be over a minute slower if you hit the traffic lights at the wrong moment, the stream of vehicles is quite relentless.
Tower HillTower Gateway [3m 30s]
Temporarily, while Balfour Beatty attempt to build a hotel, this link takes almost twice as long in the opposite direction. Access from Tower Hill's main exit is currently restricted, with a series of signs diverting punters down to Roman Wall level, along to the souvenir shop and then back up the other side. The whole thing involves rather a lot of steps, hence the additional minute and a half. And yes, some interloper company really is in the middle of plonking an ugly new hotel on top of Tower Hill tube station. Their cash should mean step-free access to the platforms, eventually, but the new building's not going to enhance anybody's photos of the Tower.

Bow RoadBow Church [3m 10s]
This is my local connection, so I know it well. Newcomers to Bow Road often seem far less sure, however, there being gaps in the signage down the street that cause would-be connectors to doubt they're going the right way. Many are thrown by the sight of a very obvious railway bridge partway between but with no obvious station attached... a historical red herring. Almost once a month I have to stop to help a poor lost soul on their way ("No, really, carry on, it's just down there").

And then there's the cablecar - isn't there always? Its terminals aren't really stations, but they do appear as out of station interchanges on the tube map, so I should include them here.

North GreenwichEmirates Greenwich Peninsula [4m 10s]
It takes just over four minutes to walk from the Dangleway booth at the top of the escalators across Peninsula Square, past Tesco and then across the car park exit road. I was amused/saddened to see that the Dangleway booth was fully staffed yesterday, even though the cablecar was undergoing its annual maintenance closure. Meanwhile, somewhat ironically, North Greenwich's proper ticket office closes forever today.
Royal VictoriaEmirates Royal Docks [1m 50s]
The cablecar's northern end links more closely to the rail network, even though there's a whopping great housing development in the way. Following the official signs round the edge is marginally quicker than taking what looks like a shortcut between the buildings.

But that really is the lot. Every other interchange marked on the tube map is either within the same station, or between separate stations with the same name (eg Hammersmith → Hammersmith, Paddington → Paddington, West Hampstead → West Hampstead, Canary Wharf → Canary Wharf). I'm not including Bank → Monument in this list either, because the entire interchange is within the station complex. It takes a whopping 6m 15s from the Central line at Bank to the eastbound District line at Monument, following the official 'up up down down down along up along up up down' route, should you ever be tempted.

And then in May we'll get three more. A clump of new Overground lines (to Enfield, Cheshunt and Chingford) and the beginnings of Crossrail are being added to the tube map, which means three more out of station interchanges will appear. Here's where.

Hackney DownsHackney Central [5m 15s]
This is an interesting one. Hackney's two main stations sit at opposite ends of Amhurst Road, one on the existing Overground, the other on the line into Liverpool Street. When this is also transferred to the Overground, TfL intend to convince us it's fine to walk from one station to the other by slapping a pair of black connecting lines on the tube map. It doesn't feel easy at present, pounding pavements and crossing a car park to get from one to the other. But that's because a much better, cleverer and more direct interchange is planned, and won't require touching a pavement at all. Hackney Downs' platforms extend to the south, towards Hackney Central, and Hackney Central's platforms extend similarly to the west. A footbridge is therefore planned, a mere 150m long, to link the two. It'll run alongside the Stansted-bound railway, behind the flats on Malpas Road, linking HD platform 1 to HC platform 2. And it's scheduled to be completed next month, or at least it was when the contractors crowed about their new project last June. The current state of affairs suggests otherwise, with no elevated walkway apparent, nor any attempt to create a link at either end. There is a large worksite behind a blue wall, and various containers are scattered in promising locations, but someone needs to get a helluva move on if this Overground to Overground connection is to be complete by 31st May.

Walthamstow CentralWalthamstow Queens Road [3m 45s]
This is an intriguing one. The long-awaited shortcut between WC and WQR finally opened last summer, saving several minutes, but has yet to appear on the tube map. There's a proper Victoria/Goblin interchange at Blackhorse Road, one stop along, so why advertise this lesser link to the wider world? But once the Chingford line switches to the Overground in May, the existence of a Walthamstow interchange will become more important, and an ugly black bar will be added to the map. You'll have to exit from Walthamstow Central's minor southern exit to find the link, and the route's still not officially signed along the way, but this is a useful connection all the same.

Wanstead ParkForest Gate [3m 0s]
This one already exists as a quick walk down Woodgrange Road, plus as long as it takes to cross the traffic lights on Forest Lane. Whilst Wanstead Park has been on the tube map since November 2007, Forest Gate is currently a mere National Rail station so doesn't count. But it's going to be part of Crossrail, and the Shenfield arm is scheduled to arrive on the tube map in May as the operating company changes hands.

And finally, here are two out of station interchanges that perhaps ought to be on the new tube map, but won't be.

Seven SistersSouth Tottenham [4m 0s]
It'll look on the map as if the Enfield line doesn't link with the Gospel Oak to Barking line, whereas in fact it almost does. It nearly links at Seven Sisters, requiring a mere four minute cut through the Stonebridge Road Estate to reach South Tottenham, but sssh, that's top secret.

Bethnal GreenBethnal Green [6m 15s]
The appearance of two completely different Bethnal Greens will be one of the new tube map's more peculiar features. The 'new' Bethnal Green will be on the Overground, and completely separate from the Central line station which is six minutes walk away. The difficulty of squeezing in so many new lines means that Bethnal Green (Overground) will appear to the north of Bethnal Green (Central) on the map, whereas in reality it's to the southwest. Bethnal Green (Overground) is also a similar distance from Whitechapel, but these two stations will appear absolutely nowhere near each other when the new map is published. But then the tube map never was about reality, which is fortunate, because it increasingly isn't.

Official Out Of Station Interchanges not shown on the tube map
Aldgate → Tower Gateway, Archway → Upper Holloway, Brondesbury → Kilburn, Camden Town → Camden Road, Canary Wharf → Heron Quays, Dalston Junction → Dalston Kingsland, Edgware Road → Edgware Road, Euston → Euston Square, Finchley Road → Finchley Road & Frognal, Hanger Lane → Park Royal, Ickenham → West Ruislip, Kentish Town → Kentish Town West, Kenton → Northwick Park, Lancaster Gate → Paddington, Leytonstone → Leytonstone High Road, Manor Park → Woodgrange Park, New Cross → New Cross Gate, Seven Sisters → South Tottenham.

 Sunday, March 22, 2015

Birmingham's position as our second largest city is due to a long history of entrepreneurial craftsmanship. The Industrial Revolution brought not belching factories but an expansion of small workshops, so that 19th century Birmingham was known as the City of a Thousand Trades. So when I unexpectedly found myself in town on the day of the eclipse, I thought I'd dig into its industrious past.

The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter
Even to this day, 40% of the jewellery made in the UK originates here in Birmingham, across a square mile to the northwest of the city centre. Here are broad streets lined by terraced workshops, some still used for their original purpose, others reconditioned as offices and creative spaces. I was amazed by the number of shops selling rings, watches and diamonds, easily eclipsing Hatton Garden, which is worth knowing if you ever need to buy an expensive trinket for your other half. Regeneration has brought a creative buzz to the Jewellery Quarter, seemingly genuine rather than propped up by a hipster cafe culture. And near the station is a museum that tells the area's history by perfectly preserving part of it.

In 1899 Smith & Pepper founded a jewellery business specialising in gold bangles, churned out from a ground-floor workshop round the back of their houses on Vyse Street. Business prospered and dozens of skilled workers were employed, the company taken over by three of Charles Smith's offspring when he died in 1933. They continued to run things the traditional way, until one weekend in 1981 when Mr Tom, Mr Eric and Miss Olive (now in their 70s and 80s) decided it was time to retire. Having been wedded to the business they had no children of their own, and nobody willing to take over, so one day they left everything where it was, locked up, and left to enjoy their retirement in the suburbs. A decade later when the lease expired, Birmingham City Council discovered an industrial time capsule, perfectly preserved, and set about reopening the building to the public. The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter is the result, a fascinating glimpse into how things used to be, not so very long ago.

A fiver gets you into the museum, with tours of the workshops available every hour or so at no additional charge. While you're waiting there are three galleries to explore. One's out front, between the tearoom and the shop, and hosts a temporary exhibition (currently WW1-related). Upstairs is an account of the Jewellery Quarter's history, and how the city came to boast the busiest Assay Office in the land. And upstairs again is a selection of the varied substances from which jewellery is made, from metal to precious stones, and from coral to tortoiseshell. Your tour guide meets you by the comfy sofas, introduces the Smith family and then leads you into the company offices. These are a marvel, especially for anyone who remembers the period, which it has to be said everybody on my tour did. The whole place is laid out as in 1981, with Post Office labels on the packing bench, a stack of stapled brown cardboard boxes awaiting delivery, Miss Olive's typewriter in the corner and even a jar of half-finished Marmite on a shelf by the tea things. I could have poked around for ages, but a strict No Touching policy applies.

Downstairs is the workshop, again left as was, with tools scattered on the workbenches and a set of brown overalls hung up on hooks. All the company's ledgers survive, stashed away in the safe, while one wall is covered with thousands of metal diestamps carved with graphics and patterns. The guide demonstrates (in brass, not gold) how these were used to knock out metal shapes, and also demonstrates their skill with the gas pipe used for accurate targeting of miniature welds. The workbenches are amazing, one a curved table with eleven curved indentations where the artisans would have sat, the 19th century oak heavily chipped and pitted. Much of the machinery still works, rather noisily, hence the proprietors installed loudspeakers to relay the Light Programme to keep the polishers entertained. Watch out too for the Sqezy washing-up liquid bottle and Nabisco biscuit assortment tin, again left where they were, and now part of this glorious celebration of how we used to work.

The Pen Museum

Yes, Birmingham has a Pen Museum, devoted almost entirely to pens, and particularly their nibs which were manufactured in vast numbers hereabouts. It's housed in two ground floor rooms inside the Argent Centre, a polychromatic brick building of narrow workshops, opened 150 years ago and now Grade II* listed. Room one is long and thin, with cabinets full of nibs and pens and bottles of ink, most referenced to the Birmingham company from whence they came. You're then ushered through to room two, where blimey there's even more, the nibs and pens now augmented by a selection of inkwells, blotters and even a display of hole punches. It was nostalgic to sit down and have a go at writing with pen and ink, the end result alas far less convincing than I'd hoped. The museum's volunteers are keen to help and inform, possibly too keen, and admission is free, with repeated reminders that most visitors leave a donation. Having been quirkily satisfied, I think you will.

The Birmingham Back to Backs
It says a lot that the National Trust's only Birmingham property is a courtyard of old back-to-back houses. Court 15 lies adjacent to the Hippodrome in what's now the Chinese Quarter, but was once a densely-packed neighbourhood of artisanal homes. This clump of houses survived only because their frontages had become shops, the last of which closed in 2002, after which the terribly run-down buildings were carefully restored. The first house was built in 1802, later subdivided by the landlord into a front half and back half to boost rental income. Eventually eleven narrow homes faced the street or backed onto a shared courtyard, with privies for sanitation and a well for water supply some distance down the road. Today the National Trust run timed tours round most of the complex, which ideally should be pre-booked, but I got lucky and tagged onto the group departing immediately post-eclipse.

Your hour-plus tour takes you through four different houses each set in a different era. The first is the 1840s, courtesy of a Jewish family up from London to take advantage of Birmingham's crafts-friendly economy. Theirs was the largest home at Court 15, still relatively small, but spacious compared to the 1870s theme nextdoor into which two parents, six children and two lodgers were crammed. By the 1930s oil lamps had been replaced by electricity, and the period fixtures and fittings made several older people on my tour highly nostalgic. Last up, in the shop on the corner, a complete 1970s tailoring business has been retained, with brown paper patterns hung up on the wall, and pairs of tweed trousers still awaiting collection. Be warned there are several sets of very steep stairs if they're not your thing, but the tour was excellent and informative, and a refreshing reminder of how most people used to live, not just the usual mansion-dwellers for whom the National Trust is best known.

The Custard Factory
Alfred Bird's wife was allergic to eggs, so he invented an eggless custard powder and inadvertently made his fortune. Manufactured in Digbeth until 1963, his factory is now a trendy creative hub of juice bars, start-up offices and clothes shops, about fifteen minutes down the road from the Bullring. It's part Shoreditch, part Hackney Wick, and hardly a throbbing hotspot on a Friday afternoon. The shopkeeperbloke in the 80s retro outfitters stood in his doorway awaiting custom, two ladies windowshopped for fruity cosmetics, and a hip kid with a blinged-up bike rode up and down broadcasting R&B from his rear speaker. If you like things just the right side of proper alternative, you'll fit in fine.

 Saturday, March 21, 2015

The ceiling of cloud cleared somewhere between Northampton and Rugby. By Coventry there were sharp shadows, and by Birmingham the sky was almost completely blue. I permitted myself a smug smile as I disembarked the train at New Street, having seemingly picked a perfect location to view the morning's eclipse. If you were trapped under leaden clouds in southeast England, do try harder next time.

At Paradise Circus I whipped out my bright orange eclipse glasses, carefully saved from the 1999 event. Already, twenty minutes into the eclipse, a substantial chunk of the right hand side of the sun was missing. Nobody else rushing by on their way to work seemed to be interested, or indeed to have noticed, despite the fact they had atmospheric conditions Londoners would have killed for. I made my way to the Library of Birmingham, its golden exterior glinting in the partial sunlight, having decided that its roof would offer the best viewing spot.

"Are you here for the event?" asked the member of staff hovering by the door. I should perhaps have brazened my way in and joined the wine-supping guests in pride of place on the third floor balcony. Instead I shuffled off and took the lift to the seventh floor, where public participation was permitted. The outside balcony faces mostly north and west, which is precisely what this eclipse didn't demand, but there were two flanks from which the sun could be clearly seen. Specs on... and already approaching half-swallowed.

Although I was well-prepared, most of the dozens of Brummies up top were rather less so. Some had brought sunglasses in the hope that this would be sufficient - one bloke even doubling up for perceived additional safety. Some had proper cameras with expensive lenses, but most were merely waving their phones at the sky in the vain hope it might record something special. And top marks to one group of retired friends who'd brought a colander to focus the shape of the sun onto a piece of paper, and a cannibalised box of biscuits to act as a pinhole camera. As the aerial spectacle unfolded they saw not much, but still more than the iPhone generation alongside.

The sky was perfectly blue apart from a bank of thin high cloud to the south. This obscured the sun slightly, not enough to block it out but enough to diffuse the sharpness of its outline. Thankfully with ten minutes to go before maximum eclipse the sun had risen high enough in the sky to reach unobstructed blue, pinpoint-edged, and my choice of viewing location was utterly validated.

One of the most amazing things about a partial solar eclipse is the way the shadow of the moon moves relentlessly across the sun's disc. You look up once and a bite has gone, you look up five minutes later and the bite is a) larger, and b) further round. This phenomenon became especially obvious (to those of us with specs) around half past nine, as the sun shrank dramatically to a toenail-shaped crescent. Initially its two horns sloped right, then at maximum eclipse they pointed almost straight up like the ends of a smile, and shortly afterwards sloped to the left instead.

And yet, even with 87% of the sun obscured, it never really got dark. Even as a declining crescent our star pumps out a phenomenal amount of light, always too bright to squint at, so there was no dramatic dimming, and absolutely no lampposts switched on. There was an odd quality to the light, a bit like half an hour before dusk, but because everything happened so relentlessly gradually there was no step change in light at all. I suspect the percentage needs to be into the nineties, or the clouds thick enough to make it pretty dark already, before any kind of cosmic dimmer switch becomes apparent.

There was no massed whoop or sharp intake of breath at maximum eclipse, because nothing obviously special happened. A partial solar eclipse doesn't have a "wow" moment, the moon merely reaches its halfway point across the solar disc and continues out the other side. Indeed to those in Birmingham attempting to watch with the unaided eye there was no way to know that only a sixth of the sun remained, other than by checking their watch and saying "ah, I think this is it." Indeed you could well imagine, before the arrival of the media, that our ancient ancestors would have experienced similarly large eclipses without ever realising they were taking place.

Much of the crowd dispersed at this point, the spectacle having peaked, despite the fact that for the next three quarters of an hour the eclipse would still be larger than anything we'll see in Britain for the next decade. I imagine some left disappointed, having expected instant darkness or a Biblical sliver of gold hanging in the sky. But I carried on looking intermittently over the next hour until the eclipse finally edged away, from whatever bit of Birmingham I happened to be in at the time. And I'm well chuffed, because that's the largest eclipse I've ever seen, as opposed to experienced, and conditions were pretty much perfect.

Coming next (from London)
» 21 August 2017 (4%)
» 10 June 2021 (20%)
» 25 October 2022 (15%)
» 29 March 2025 (31%)
» 12 August 2026 (91%) (woo!)

 Friday, March 20, 2015

I've long been a keen eclipse-chaser, just not a very good one.

Thursday 25th February 1971 [10.39am] (58%): The first big solar eclipse I remember took place during morning break while I was at infant school. Our headteacher came into class and led us all out to the front playground when the sun had just gone behind a cloud, and we all looked up and went woo. If a teacher tried that today, eyes unprotected, they'd probably lose their job. But as far as I know everyone in my class can still see, and I think this collective viewing was a formative experience.

Sunday 11th May 1975 [7.19am] (44%): Too early on a Sunday morning, I don't remember this.
Thursday 29th April 1976 [11.13am] (29%): Junior school, just after break, I don't remember this either.

Tuesday 20th July 1982 [8.38pm] (12%): & Wednesday 15th December 1982 [8.25am] (24%) Neither of these get a mention in my diary. I guess it must have been cloudy.

Wednesday 30th May 1984 [7.08pm] (37%): By this time I was at university, and this was the evening where some other first years and I went looking at flats we might live in the following year. Thankfully one of my fellow students was a physicist, and provided a black slide and UV filter for us to use as we drove around. We watched the moon creep up the left hand side of the sun, that is when we weren't dismissing three of our targets as wholly unsuitable. But the fourth, which we exited as partiality ended, was the five-bedroomer on the Cowley Road where we ended up a few months later.

Tuesday 10th May 1994 [7.36pm] (42%): By now I had my own home, which shows just how far life moves on between eclipses. This one was in the evening, after work, but the sky was hazy making viewing difficult. I didn't have an eye protection either, hence I was trying to catch the eclipse out of the corner of my eye and I only sort of saw it. Woefully inadequate.

Saturday 12th October 1996 [3.19pm] (51%): Best eclipse since 1961 this one. And a direct hit on the weekend, which always aids visibility, assuming the weather plays ball. In this case it had been sunny at lunchtime but then clouded over, and all looked lost until shortly before maximum eclipse. I could see half the sun from my kitchen window through some altocumulus, the moon biting in from top right leaving two sharp horns. But it never got dim, so if you hadn't known it was happening you'd never have noticed.

Wednesday 11th August 1999 [11.12am] (100%): Yay, the only total solar eclipse in the UK in my lifetime, and I'd been able to book an exorbitantly priced bed in Cornwall to see it. Or so I hoped. Except as we all remember it was cloudy, almost completely obscuring the sky along the whole British path of totality. As the cloud thickened this left the hotel television as the only way to view what was happening, which was scant reward. Our hotelier opened the champagne too early, and then very suddenly it went almost dark for 100 seconds. Others around me were quite impressed by this, but I was cursing, fully aware of how fantastic a sight had just passed unseen above the cloud. "I told you it'd be rubbish," said The Ex as light levels rose swiftly afterwards. Back at 30% the clouds parted slightly, to reveal nothing overly special, then rolled back over again. The only total eclipse we saw that day was in The Mummy at the Plymouth Odeon, later in the evening. "It was amazing," said friends who'd seen 97% obscured back in London. But not as amazing as what I hadn't seen. One day, one day.

Saturday 31st May 2003 [4.58am] (69%): More than two thirds of the sun was obscured, so why don't you remember this one? The time is a clue, with the event taking place at dawn and thus ridiculously low in the sky. I wandered up to the Greenway at stupid o'clock to discover my nemesis, clouds, obscuring what little the Newham skyline had not. For ten seconds a red crescent hovered low above Plaistow, scant reward for so early a start. But by the time the disc rose above the cloud layer, heralding a gloriously sunny day, the eclipse was finished.

Monday 3rd October 2005 [10.02am] (57%): This partial eclipse was yet another disappointment. There had been sunshine at dawn, but skies in central London were fully overcast by the time the eclipse began. Even though more than half the sun was suddenly absent, it was impossible to distinguish this extra-special event from any normal grey day in the capital. Mockingly the sun shone back in through my office window with less than ten minutes of the eclipse remaining, just in time for me to observe the tiniest weeniest sliver of the moon's shadow blocking out the lower edge of the solar disc.

Wednesday 29th March 2006 [11.33am] (17%): A busy day at work, this one, hence no chance to get away to see the minor spectacle, other than a brief trip to the teapoint window to eye up the small nibble bottom left.

Friday 1st August 2008 [10.18am] (12%): I took my solar specs to work, and managed to interest other members of the team enough to take a look out of the window. They were surprised by the clarity of the bite, it being pretty much imperceptible without eyewear enhancement. Everyone I showed is now either reorganised, retired or redundant. I fear that the dull bunch I get to sit near these days will have the blinds down this morning, the philistines.

Tuesday 4th January 2011 [8.11am] (68%): This would have been damned impressive, but for two crucial things. Firstly this was early January, around the time of the latest sunrise of the year, hence all that happened at dawn is that the darkened top of the sun didn't appear above the horizon. Secondly this was early January, and the entire morning was willfully woefully cloudy. I stood on top of Primrose Hill to attempt to see this one, along with a motley crew of optimists and random bystanders. But alas, yet again, spectacle denied.

Friday 20th March 2015 [9.31am] (87%): And so to today, the best eclipse since 1999, and the best before 2026. I've taken the day off to avoid being trapped with no view in the office, and to give me the best chance of ending up somewhere sunny during the crucial two hour slot. That might be London, where various astronomical societies are setting up observation equipment around the capital (Greenwich, Regents Park, Horsenden Hill). Alternatively with the forecast for the southeast looking familiarly overcast, I've bought a train ticket to somewhere further north which might (or might not be better). Before breakfast I have to decide whether to stay or go, based on the most up-to-date cloud forecast available. I'll be right pissed off if I escape the capital only to discover, as before, that everyone here saw more than me. But when you're an eclipse chaser you've got to give it a go when you can. A dozen chances down, I don't have too many more to go.

The dg preview of today's partial solar eclipse

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What's on this weekend?
Pitzhanger Manor, Ealing
Saturday 28 March (11am-4pm)
Special 'access all areas' event
before John Soane's mansion
closes to the public forever.

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
tired of london
in the aquarium
round the island
christopher fowler
one bus at a time
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
uk general election 2015

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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
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diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards