diamond geezer

 Thursday, December 31, 2009

We do the strangest things to celebrate the passing of a single second. We stay up until midnight to watch the year change. We travel long distances to be in the 'right' place with the 'right' people when the magic moment passes. We pay ridiculous admission fees to enter places that are truly ordinary. We open unnecessarily expensive bottles of bubbly. We shake the hands of complete strangers, lengthily, vigorously. And we mutter a peculiar Scottish verse which everybody knows but few people truly understand. Lunacy, obviously, given that this one tick of the clock has no intrinsic special meaning whatsoever. Whatever.

So this New Year's Eve I'm taking the plunge and heading somewhere they celebrate properly. To Edinburgh, to stand in the street with a hundred thousand other revellers and watch the fireworks erupt over the castle. There will be music. There will be alcohol. There will probably be gloves and woolly hats. I'm flying up because the hotel needed booking in August and it wasn't possible to buy a train ticket that far ahead. But I'm reducing my carbon emissions by making only one flight per year, because that'll help won't it? And I'm hoping for a celebratory end to what's not been the greatest year. Here's to a (possibly) better 2010. And Happy Hogmanay!

 Friday, December 31, 1999


A decade of the DomeIt's ten years ago tonight since a motley group of politicians, celebrities and royalfolk popped down to a disused gasworks in Greenwich to open a giant Teflon tent. The Dome was supposed to be the UK's millennial showpiece, and indeed became the top visitor attraction of 2000, but was ultimately damned by missed targets, excessive budgets and a hostile media. After 366 days it was mothballed in disgrace and spent most of the decade empty, before being reborn as a hugely-successful (but depressingly bland) entertainment megaplex. Odds are it'll still be bringing in the punters in 2020, but I bet it's called something different by then.

I've written about the Dome several times - during its quiet forgotten phase, on opening weekend, and since. But, as the decade draws to an end, I'm whisking you back ten years to try your luck at The Dome of Doom. This is one of those text adventure games where you make decisions, then turn to the appropriate numbered option and read on. Perfectly suited to zipping about on a webpage, I thought. Good luck, and see if you have better luck reaching the midnight celebrations than some of the Dome's unfortunate millennial guests...

The Dome of Doom



Tis Millennium's Eve, and a motley crowd of creatures have gathered by the Dockside beneath YellowBird Tower. There across the raging River Tamesis lies their goal, the giant Dome of Doom. Lights flash from within, and 12 tall spikes pierce the chill December air above. Our band of friends must cross the river to reach the object of their quest before the clocks strike midnight, else their lives will surely be over and no mistake.

Now choose your character wisely, then click upon their name to proceed.
Tony, the Wizard [1]
Mandy, the Goblin [2]

 Wednesday, December 30, 2009

dg 2009 index

Ten memorable London jaunts in 2009
Gold State Coach1) A-Z of London Museums: Two London museums a month, none of which I'd ever visited before, that was the plan. A ridiculous thing to attempt, but it turned into a fascinating cultural odyssey. All 24 museum reviews now appear on their own page, here.
2) The Greenway: I spent a lot of time watching the Olympics take shape this year. But getting interviewed by Matt Baker for Radio 4 (blimey, me, after the shipping forecast) was the most memorable.
3) Oxo Tower: I got treated to a bloody expensive (but rather special) meal atop the crumbly-stock-cube, yum.
4) Citizenship Ceremony: It's not every day you get invited along to witness folk becoming officially British.
5) Open House: The annual architecturefest, this year spent in Haringey and Southwark.
6) Marking the Meridian: I celebrated the meridian's 125th anniversary by walking south from Greenwich [photos]
7) Chord: Mechanical threaded artwork in the Kingsway Tramway Tunnel (mmm, special).
8) 52 Festive Road: Ooh, it's Mr Benn's house. And it's been in Putney all this time.
9) Victoria line: To celebrate the light blue line's 40th anniversary, I visited every station and snapped photos of the lovely tiling patterns. [photos]
10) Olympic bus tour: These days the only way to revisit the inner park is by minibus.
Runners up) Avro centenary, Big Ben, Boris Airport, debendification 507, debendification 38, Edgware Road, Euston Arch, Golf Sale, Imperial Wharf, Little Green Street, Little Wormwood Scrubs, London Loop 3, Northala Fields, number 44 bus, One and Other, Science Museum, Selfridges, Soho cholera, Stratford International, Street Pianos, Thames-free tube map, tube week, Valentine's Mansion, View Tube, West London, Whitechapel Gallery, Woolwich, Woolworths.
Random boroughs: Croydon, Waltham Forest, Wandsworth, Greenwich.

Ten favourite Out-of-London destinations
Seven Sisters1) Seven Sisters: A lengthy undulating yomp along the chalk clifftops from Seaford to Eastbourne, via Beachy Head. I'll be back. [photos]
2) Lea Valley Walk: I walked all 40-something miles down the river Lea, from the outskirts of Luton to the Thames at North Greenwich. It took a while, but not quite the whole of August. [photos]
3) Canvey Island: Yes, that grim floodable island in the Thames estuary, I rather enjoyed my winter visit. And I must go back to the Labworth for lunch. [photos]
4) Winchester: A day out in the ancient capital of Wessex, including a walk out to the evil motorway scything through Twyford Down [photos]
5) Portsmouth: The Historic Dockyard, the Mary Rose, and (woo) the 170m-high Spinnaker Tower [photos]
6) Blackpool: The sunniest weekend of the year along the Golden Mile and beyond - what's not to love? But just the once. [photos]
7) Sevenoaks: Scenic historic loveliness on the outskirts of commuterville.
8) Walton-on-the-Naze: The fossil-rich headland north of stuffy Frinton.
9) Nonsuch Palace: Henry VIII's enormous Tudor mansion (or at least what's left of it) (which is nothing) (in a park just outside Cheam) [part of my H8 500th anniversary week]
10) Epping Forest: Why had I never been for a wander round before?
Runners up: Croxley Revels, M1 (Garston).

Ten other favourite posts from 2009: crime maps, Tramlink celebrates, 21 years of Comic Relief, my inbox festers, Protest for London, MP lynching, Harrington Hill, farewell thelondonpaper, National London Museum, Advent Circle.

Half of my ten favourite photos of the year:
(or all ten here)

 Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thank you so much for all the kind comments you've left over the last few days, and all the emails, and all the other messages via various diverse routes. It's not been the easiest Christmas, as you can imagine, but support from every quarter has helped the family through.

If you did leave a comment, you may have noticed that my commenting system has changed. Haloscan's days are numbered, bought out by a bunch of self-confident entrepreneurs called Echo. Their upgraded system is an over-flash, over-complicated real-time streaming box, which might be what some people want, but it's not for me. Echo offered a simple choice - pay up and join us, or get out - and set a two week rolling deadline for all former subscribers. My fortnight ends today. And I got out.

If you did leave a comment, you may not have noticed that my commenting system has changed. Grey background, row of cards across the top, small white boxes underneath for entering personal data and text. Good, innit? Only down at the bottom of the pop-up is the telltale line "Commenting by Tridentscan". It's a custom-built Haloscan clone, that's what it is, and it's been put together by a very kind reader who understands coding, scripts and databases. I am very grateful.

You've made 41229 Haloscan comments over the years, which is a heck of a lot. All of these have had to be extricated from the old system and dropped ever-so-carefully into the new so that my seven-year archive is maintained. Echo prefers log-ins and profiles to empty-box simplicity, and would have lost all your email addresses and homepages during the transfer, whereas (hurrah) this homemade system has retained the lot of them.

The big change has already happened, a week in advance of enforced Echo takeover, thanks to a lot of hard work by a certain person behind the scenes. Thanks Kirk! So now, whenever you're moved to comment on something I've written here, you'll be entering your message into a bespoke non-profit-making template. And most definitely not into an elaborate "has it loaded yet" realtime lifestream.

The new system is still very much a work in progress, so it's not yet functioning perfectly. There are no "numbers of comments" at the bottom of each post, yet. You have to enter your name afresh every time because the system doesn't remember it, yet. Comments don't appear on a few old posts, yet, and line breaks aren't working brilliantly in IE8, yet. But we'll get there. And it's most definitely a whole lot better than ostentatious bloated Echo, I hope you'll agree. Long live Tridentscan!

 Monday, December 28, 2009

She'll never drink the rest of that bottle of spiced berry cordial.

She'll never finish the packet of Honey Hoops, or complete the other half of Just Wordsearch magazine (volume 199), or eat the other three quarters of a melon in the fridge.

She'll never read today's news headlines, or find out who killed Archie Mitchell, or listen to the last CD I bought her.

She'll never make me another lemon meringue pie, or pick the bobbles off my new jumper, or tell me my shirt needs ironing (and fetch the ironing board and actually iron it).

She'll never get her free TV licence, or need her National Trust 2010 membership card, or attend her next scheduled outpatients appointment.

She'll never see the snow melt, or plant that potted primrose in the flower bed, or watch her garden bloom into life next spring.

She'll never craft another lace masterpiece, or invite the patchwork ladies round for an afternoon of sewing, or add her signature to next year's hand-stitched birthday cards piled ready in the spare room.

She'll never sit back in her cushioned chair in the corner, or shoot another knowing look across the living room, or ring me up on a Sunday evening and tell me what she really thinks.

She'll never read this blog again, or spot the latest spelling mistake that I missed, or send me a helpful email pointing it out.

She'll never enjoy another Christmas, or share another birthday, or celebrate her Golden Wedding.

She'll never flick through all the cards of sympathy, or read the 100+ comments you wrote on Thursday's post, or hear the heartfelt tributes of fellow villagers at her funeral service.

She'll never have to take another handful of tablets, or put up with persistent debilitating pain (without complaining), or spend another hateful night in hospital.

She'll never see the grandkids grow up, or watch me go grey, or be the one left living home alone.

She'll never know any of the things the rest of us will take for granted. But she will always be a part of them.

 Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas in Soho

 Saturday, December 26, 2009

There's one less chair around the Christmas table. The turkey's carved and eaten, and a few unserved sprouts sit cooling on the worktop. Plates cleared, we're ready for the pudding. Our chef pauses by the microwave, bowl in hand, preparing to type an unknown number into the machine.

"Anyone know how long this takes?"

Somebody would have known, but somebody's not here. Mum mixed and stirred and steamed it, but she's no longer around to tell the rest of us the appropriate cooking time. We plump for five minutes, for starters, then another two for good measure after the beep.

The pudding is delicious, as usual. It's rich and moist and tasty, not too hot, not too cold. And there are three more in the cupboard where that came from. She'll be with us for a few more Christmases yet.

 Friday, December 25, 2009

Bow Church, snow church

 Thursday, December 24, 2009



For a long time now, the very first saved message on my answerphone has been one from my Mum. I can't remember quite when she left it, probably a year or two ago, but I never quite got round to deleting it. It wasn't a long message either. I was out when she rang, so she left a message to say she'd noticed I was out when she rang, and she'd catch me later. A few seconds, that's all, but happy and chirpy and positive and forward-looking.

I decided to keep this message because I knew that one day my Mum wouldn't be around any more, and it would be nice to pick up the phone and press a button and hear her voice. A bit ghoulish perhaps, but she's not been in great health for some time now and I wanted something reassuring as a keepsake, just in case.

Then a couple of weeks ago, while I was fiddling with answerphone messages from letting agents and decorators and the like, I managed to press the wrong buttons and my Mum's message was lost. I'm not sure quite how I wiped it, it wasn't deliberate, but suddenly it was wholly and irreversibly gone. Dammit, I thought, I really didn't want to do that. But next time she rings, and I'm out, I'm sure she'll leave me a replacement.

Last night I got another phone call, the one every son dreads, to tell me that my Mum wouldn't be ringing again. While I'd been sat crosslegged on the carpet wrapping her Christmas presents, the expert ambulancefolk of Norfolk had been fighting a losing battle to keep her alive. The news wasn't entirely unexpected, and yet everything that happened was so shockingly abruptly sudden. I'm glad that her passing was quick, but I'm heartbroken it had to happen so soon.

I've already bought my Christmas train ticket up to Norfolk - arriving one day too late as it turns out - where this morning I'll be catapulted into a world of shock and grief and emptiness. I'm taking all her presents, even though she'll never open them, and I'm taking a lifetime of love and laughter and memories for good measure. But what I'd really like to do, right now, is to press the message button on my answerphone and to hear her speak those few comforting words once again. Needlessly deleted, but never forgotten.

 Wednesday, December 23, 2009

ZLONDON A-Z
An alphabetical journey through the capital's museums
Grant Museum of Zoology

Location: Malet Place, UCL WC1E 6BT [map]
Open: Monday - Friday 1pm-5pm
Admission: free
Brief summary: pickled beasts & bones
Website: www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/zoology
Time to set aside: up to an hour

(Yes, I know I've skipped X and Y. That's because museums starting with X or Y aren't terribly common, even in London. But mostly because I've been visiting two museums a month since January, so I need to skip two letters if I'm going to reach the end of my alphabet by the end of the year. So I've skipped X and Y. Cue Z)

Grant Museum of ZoologyWhen you're studying zoology, you need somewhere to go look at animals. The real thing isn't always accessible, not without a round-the-world journey and/or a diving helmet, so it makes sense to collect together the remains of various species and display them for the benefit of future students. So believed Robert Grant, the UK's first Professor of Zoology, who in 1827 started a museum of preserved organisms at the University of London. Such was Mr Grant's talent that he had a sponge named after him - an honour he shares with Queen Victoria (although in this case a hermaphrodite aquatic invertebrate, not a gooey icing-filled cake). A Grantia sponge is one of the many hundreds of animals still on display at the Grant Museum of Zoology, now to be found crammed into a hospital-like basement at UCL in Bloomsbury. Find your way to the University and you can peruse the specimens like a student, no grant required.

The museum isn't huge, more like the corner of a library, but the space is packed full of cases, jars and bones. The most impressive exhibits are the skeletons, one especially large rhino dominating the centre of the room. Another cabinet contains the skeleton of a quagga, one of only seven such specimens remaining in the world today, although more fortunate than the dodo alongside of whom only bits remain. I was able to confirm that the nine-banded armadillo really does have precisely nine bands, and that the three-toed sloth is similarly well-named. As for the aye-aye, that looks particularly cute with all its organs stripped off, and blimey doesn't an orang-utang have very long arms? Although scholarly throughout, there's also an element of humour. The skull of a male deer has been labelled "Bambi's Dad", for example, and a human skeleton has been dressed up with tinsel, fleecy hat and baubles as a seasonal affectation [photo]. No giggling at the long white bone just inside the door, though. It's a baculum, or walrus penis bone, and the size of it is enough to make any female walrus's eyes water. Or light up, whatever.

Grant Museum of ZoologyPeer into the many pickle jars and you'll see animals that died up to 150 years ago, preserved beyond their time for future scrutiny. A "jar of assorted reptiles", for example, or a bloated axolotl, or some tiny crusty sea creatures. Several specimens are labelled with spidery Victorian handwriting, although this is a living museum and there's 21st century printing on more recent acquisitions. Every animal is also marked by a coloured pictogram sticker - a simple but informative way to depict its classification, be that amphibian, crustacean or whatever. Wander round the museum clockwise and the specimens generally get more complex, starting with some of the smaller sea creatures and moving on to fish, birds and mammals. There's not much explanatory text alongside, but there doesn't need to be because the dead animals do the talking. It's a lot more interesting than staring at a textbook, that's for sure.

In the week before Christmas I was expecting to have the place to myself, but not so. Several parents had brought along their inquisitive children, here to stare at animals inside-out, and also to take part in some holiday activities. Nothing too outlandish, just some cards to shuffle and drawings to colour, but engrossing enough for those I had to squeeze past. There was also a lady from the Camden Health Trust sitting patiently in the corner, waiting to dispense rubella-related goodie bags (I trust there wasn't a free virus inside to play with). But today's your last chance to visit before the university, and therefore the museum, shuts down for the festive period. Grant's ex-animals won't be back on show until Monday January 4th, but you can always study some of the collection's highlights here while you wait.
by tube: Euston Square

X, Y, Z is also for...
» London Zoo (I've been)

 Tuesday, December 22, 2009

 Walking the Regent's Canal
 Limehouse Basin to Islington
 (4 miles)


I went for a lovely stroll along the Regent's Canal at the weekend. Not the canal itself, you understand, because it wasn't quite cold enough to freeze over. But there was plenty of ice about, and a biting wind and the purest blue skies, which made for a more than pleasant walk. Or slide, in some places.

Limehouse to Islington, 4 miles in total, and some of it remarkably quiet on a Sunday morning. The Limehouse end, in particular, was far busier with flapping wildfowl than with human beings. The occasional jogger, the odd dog, a few hardy cyclists, nothing more. I was particularly impressed that the joggers didn't seem to be put off by the inclement weather, especially those wearing not-very-thermal trackies and lycra. The towpath was treacherous with black ice, and occasionally one skidded awkwardly before regaining composure and jogging on. I had enough trouble walking, and on more than one occasion thought I was about to tumble into the icy channel where nobody would have spotted me until permanent hypothermia had set in.

Meath BridgeThe number of modern flats that have grown up along the Regent's Canal in recent years is quite astonishing. Where once were backyards and warehouses, now sleek residential cuboids stack relentlessly along the non-towpath side of the canal. Tenants pay more for a waterside location, I'm sure, but the ribbon of blue is being increasingly overshadowed by characterless piles. One of the newest is opposite Mile End Park, at what used to be Suttons Wharf. Once a bargeworthy haven, it's now a gently curving sky-village with tasteful greenspace views. A couple of months ago a new footbridge was opened to help residents escape to the wider world, although it isn't terribly convenient for many other through journeys. [another photo]

Footfall increased past Victoria Park, with well-wrapped souls in furry hats out for a pre-lunch constitutional. I could tell it was cold because the giant gasholders near Broadway Market were nigh empty. [photo, for those who like Victorian metal against an azure sky] The towpath through Hackney is quite narrow, especially when half of it's treacherously icy, so overtaking folk wasn't always easy. Several impatient cyclists ting-tinged their way along from one low-arched bridge to the next, their breath streaming upwards in clouds of angry steam.

i am hereIn Haggerston, just before the new East London line railway bridge, an intriguing artwork beamed forth in the low winter sun. Samuel House is part of an about-to-be-demolished council estate, and several of its apartments are already empty and boarded up. To brighten the building, and to make a powerful visual statement, the boarded-up windows have been covered over by giant portraits of former residents. They stare down over the canal, a reminder of disappearing community, and creating an arresting artwork entitled i am here. Modern flatlets will be built in place of the old, eventually, forming a nucleus of greater density housing (but alas no finer view). [close-up photo]

After a bone-chilling hour and a quarter I reached City Road Basin, a long side-arm of water just before the mouth of the Islington Tunnel. By detouring through the backstreets I was able to reach the other end of the basin where a new public open space has been created. I'd arrived expecting Christmas-themed celebrations for the official opening, and that's what I sort of found. A huddle of stalls had been erected to create a very-Islington foodie market, all chorizo and cupcakes, around a hastily erected Christmas tree. I might have paused for a bratwurst, had the bloke behind the brazier not been too engrossed on his mobile to engage with customers. And I might have visited Santa and his elves on a barge in the basin too, if only the place had opened 40 years earlier and I'd still been target audience. It was all a bit bleak and concrete for my liking, but I suspect the basin may look more enticing come the spring. [arty photo] [nice idea for a walk, this, if you have a half-day to fill over Christmas] [walk a bit further and you might even see the new Banksys]

 Monday, December 21, 2009

Lenovo ThinkpadIt's a very exciting morning in the DG household. I've bought a new laptop (thank you for your recommendations) and it's about to be delivered. I actually bought it three weeks ago, but these custom-assembled things take a fair while to get fitted out. Then there's still the round-the-globe shipping to take into account. Thanks to internet tracking I know that my new laptop emerged in Hong Kong last Thursday, then spent Friday being flown first to Dubai and then on to Germany. It touched down at East Midlands Airport in the early hours of Saturday, then passed into the hands of a courier company who don't do weekend deliveries. So I'm expecting it today, sometime before 6pm, which means staying indoors until it arrives. Which is both immensely exciting, and immensely frustrating. So I thought I'd tell you all about it, with regular updates during the day. Oooh, new laptop!

07:00: Typical, I have the day off work, but I'm still up as early as usual in case a man with a van attempts to deliver early. The last thing I want is to for the entryphone to buzz while I'm asleep, and to have to stumble downstairs in the freezing cold looking like a comatose zombie. So, kettle on.

08:00: The online package-tracker tells me that my laptop left East Midlands Airport at half past four and is now "in transit". There are no clues to an approximate delivery time. I know these things can't be guaranteed, but it shouldn't be rocket science to add "probably before 10am" or "definitely after noon", should it?

09:00: OK, further news. You're kidding. From Nottinghamshire my laptop has been driven 125 miles south to a distribution hub near Southampton, presumably skirting round the M25 on the way. How unnecessary a detour is that? The package arrived in Eastleigh just after half past seven, got scanned "out for delivery" at eight and is presumably now on the 75-mile journey back to London.

10:00: While I wait, I've knocked up a map so you can follow my laptop's journey across the world. Three flights, then at least two lorry/van journeys around England, a total of 7500 miles altogether. And that's still cheaper than manufacturing in the UK, is it? In the meantime, I'm doing the washing and having another cup of tea. Beats work.

Smoke 1511:00: I've cleared a lot of space in the living room for the grand unpackaging, should it ever happen, but no sign yet. In the meantime I'm flicking through my copy of Smoke magazine - the irregular London fanzine whose 15th issue has just been published. Ooh, that's Bow on the front cover. Inside there's all the usual wordy/photo-y goodness (snippets here), and all 52 pages come highly recommended (as ever). Too late to mail a copy before Christmas, alas, but available in real shops now. I wish I'd bought my laptop in a real shop. <taps fingers>

12:00: Last time UPS delivered something, it arrived before 10am. Must be Christmas or something.

12:17: Hurrah, the UPS vanman has arrived (and he's parked on a red route, so he's keen to get away). My new laptop ends its 7500 mile journey with a quick trip upstairs, and the ripping open of a cardboard carton with a big pair of scissors. Everything in the box is very cold, but also (thankfully) in one piece. Now, do I read the instruction manual carefully, or just power up the 'on' switch?

13:30: The first thing I got when when I switched on was an error message, oh joy, something about invalid remote changes to security settings. So I fiddled around in the BIOS (I think) and tweaked a setting two levels down, and hey presto, next attempt it worked. I suspect this makes me a geek, but a chuffed one. Then a hop through the Windows terms and conditions (I'd rather not thanks, but what choice do I have), and a skip past various pre-installed programs they'd like me to use. Do I want to try a 30-day Vodaphone mobile trial? Not yet. Do I want to try a 30-day Norton Anti-virus trial? No thanks, even if you claim it no longer slows me down, because it slowed me down like treacle last time. And then the nightmare moment where I tried to remember what my router's security password is, or at least where I wrote it down, probably. Erm. Ah, yes, it's on a sheet of paper in the spare room somewhere. And I'm in! Action 1: download Firefox instead of Internet Explorer. Action 2: download AVG instead of Norton. Action 3: grin.

15:00 And then the nightmare of trying to make my new Windows 7 laptop feel like my old XP relic. I don't want the taskbar down there, I want it over there. I don't want that as my default font, I want whatever it was I used to have before (wherever that's hidden). And I want all my browser favourites to load like they used to, which means trying to locate log-in passwords I haven't needed to type since 2006. I've managed to enter most of them, but accessing Flickr took at least 20 attempts because the username and password which were 100% obvious when I chose them aren't 100% obvious any more. Some of the keyboard buttons aren't where they used to be, but I guess I'll have to get used to that. And, success, this paragraph is the first bit of blog posted from the new laptop. Now, what shall I try transferring next - all my email or all my photos?

17:47 (Winter solstice) There really ought to be an easier way of swapping files from one laptop to another. There probably is, but I don't have the requisite cable, and only one of my laptops is Bluetooth-enabled. So I'm scooping up photos and mp3s and Word documents onto a memory stick and transferring them across that way. Photos are taking ages. Six years of email may take longer. Cautiously optimistic.

23:30 Phew, that's all the photos transferred across, 7MB at a time. I knew I'd taken too many! I've also reinstalled iTunes, and almost managed to persuade it I don't have two copies of every tune in my library. Meanwhile I'm still trying to get the hang of Windows 7 and all the things it does different to XP (which is quite a lot). So, yay, 80% success! But I have yet to tackle email, and various other niggly transfers, so there's life in the old laptop yet.

 Sunday, December 20, 2009

Anorak Corner (annual update)

London's ten busiest tube stations (2008)
1) ↑1 Waterloo (77.2m)  2) ↓1 Victoria (76.4m) 3) Oxford Circus (72.9m) 4) King's Cross St Pancras (67.1m) 5) Liverpool Street (64.2m) 6) London Bridge (60.6m) 7) ↑1 Canary Wharf (43.5m) 8) ↓1 Bank/Monument (42.8m) 9) Paddington (40.7m) 10) Piccadilly Circus (38.9m)

London's ten busiest tube stations that aren't also National Rail stations (2008)
1) Oxford Circus (72.9m) 2) ↑1 Canary Wharf (43.5m) 3) ↓1 Bank/Monument (42.8m) 4) ↑1 Piccadilly Circus (38.9m) 5) ↑1 Tottenham Court Road (36.6m) 6) ↑1 Bond Street (36.4m) 7) ↓3 Leicester Square (33.9m) 8) Holborn (30.2m) 9) Green Park (29.6m) 10) Hammersmith (District & Piccadilly) (29.0m)

London's ten busiest tube stations outside Zone 1 (2008)
1) Canary Wharf (43.5m) 2) Hammersmith (District & Piccadilly) (29.0m) 3) Stratford (27.2m) 4) Finsbury Park (26.3m) 5) Brixton (20.9m) 6) ↑* Shepherd's Bush (20.7m) 7) ↓1 Camden Town (19.6m) 8) ↓1 Ealing Broadway (17.9m) 9) ↓1 North Greenwich (17.8m) 10) ↓1 Wimbledon (15.1m)

Roding ValleyLondon's ten least busy tube stations (2008)
1) Roding Valley (210000) 2) Chigwell (410000) 3) ↑1 Chesham (450000) 4) ↓1 Grange Hill (460000) 5) Theydon Bois (650000) 6) ↑1 Croxley (750000) 7) ↑1 Moor Park (760000) 8) ↓2 Fairlop (800000) 9) ↑* South Kenton (820000) 10) ↑* Chorleywood (860000)

London's ten busiest National Rail stations (2007/8)
1) Waterloo (100m) 2) Victoria (77m) 3) Liverpool Street (58m) 4) London Bridge (54m) 5) Charing Cross (39m) 6) ↑1 Euston (29.3m) 7) ↓1 Paddington (29.2m) 8) King's Cross (25m) 9) ↑1 East Croydon (23m) 10) ↓1 Cannon Street (22m)

London's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't central London termini (2007/8)
1) East Croydon (23.3m) 2) Clapham Junction (19.9m) 3) Wimbledon (15.8m) 4) ↑1 Vauxhall (15.0m) 5) ↑3 Putney (14.0m) 6) ↓2 Stratford (11.2m) 7) ↓1 Surbiton (9.7m) 8) ↑* Lewisham (8.2m) 9) ↓1 Romford (7.4m) 10) ↓1 Richmond (6.7m)

South GreenfordLondon's ten least busy National Rail stations (2007/8)
1) South Greenford (15400) 2) ↑1 Angel Road (32100) 3) ↑1 Birkbeck (33400) 4) ↓2 Sudbury & Harrow Road (40400) 5) ↑1 Crews Hill (55100) 6) ↑1 Emerson Park (56100) 7) ↑2 Morden South (63200) 8) ↑2 Drayton Green (81000) 9) ↑* Castle Bar Park (114000) 10) ↑* Belmont (133000)

The UK's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't in London (2007/8)
1) Glasgow Central (21.8m) 2) ↑3 Manchester Piccadilly (20.7m) 3) ↓1 Leeds (18.1m) 4) Birmingham New Street (17.1m) 5) ↓2 Edinburgh Waverley (16.2m) 6) ↑1 Glasgow Queen Street (14.6m) 7) ↓1 Reading (14.6m) 8) Brighton (13.5m) 9) Gatwick Airport (12.7m) 10) Cardiff Central (9.9m)

» Tube passenger data here (total annual entry and exit frequencies)
» Rail passenger data here (total annual entry and exit frequencies)

 Saturday, December 19, 2009

As well as being a time of celebration, this time of year is also a time for reflection. And I get to reflect every year, the week before December 25th, as I write the envelopes for my Christmas cards. Who's getting one? And, more particularly, who's not?

I always send a card to all of my work colleagues. Most of them never bother to send one back, and quite frankly I don't mind if they don't, but I still aim for a one-to-one correspondence. This year my team's been undergoing what's perhaps best described as refocused downsizing, and there are only half as many people to send to compared to last Christmas. People I used to work with day in day out have moved on, continuing their lives somewhere far away and out of sight. I can't leave a card on their desk any more, and I never got an address when they left, so they've disappeared forever off my Christmas card list. It's strange how quickly long-term working relationships melt away. One year these are some of the most important people in our lives, the next we've all moved on and are busy leading separate lives.

I still send Christmas cards to certain people I used to work with. Only a few, usually the ones who make an effort to send back, but it's good to keep in touch and to remember that each other still exists. Often there's a letter tucked inside, or a few sentences scribbled inside the card, as a tiny brief summary of how their lives are ploughing forward without me. I still send cards to half of the folk I worked with in my last job, and a quarter of those in the job before that, and one single married couple from very first job. Decade-by-decade attrition diminishes their numbers, some gone but not forgotten, others simply no longer acknowledged.

I still send Christmas cards to a number of folk I used to go to university with. We never chat, we never meet, but I know they're still out there because we swap cardboard each Christmas. As for the hundreds of kids I went to school with, they've all fallen completely off radar. The last schoolmate I used to send a card to went off to work in Brussels a few years ago and there's been festive silence ever since. It's odd how such an important chapter of my life has been reduced to simply memories and a stack of old exercise books in the spare room.

I still send Christmas cards to other people I've met outside of work and education. Not very many, because I'm a generally anti-social bugger at heart, but they're often the people I'm most likely to continue sending to for the longest time.

And I still send Christmas cards to the rest of my family, obviously, to a circulation list that hasn't changed in a couple of decades. For which I remain unduly thankful.

I'm not sending a Christmas card to one very special former colleague who passed away this year. We worked closely for several years, and then she retired with so many plans for the future, and then that future was relentlessly ripped away. Hers was always the card with the longest letter, reporting back in depth on family and friends, but never quite hinting at what was really going on closer to home. I started writing out her envelope this year, then took a very deep breath, then deleted her from my list.

My Christmas card list for 2009 is, I've checked, 25% shorter than that for 1999. Umpteen former contacts have fallen off, and not enough have taken their place. My circle of festive acquaintances is shrinking as my life moves on, and as communication shifts relentlessly from letterbox to online. But there's still nothing quite like a signed reindeer in an envelope, or a scribbled note on the inside of a snow-capped robin. I wonder how few I'll be sending by 2019.

 Friday, December 18, 2009

fivelinks

» Whodunnit: Fancy a good murder mystery for Christmas? Hell, why not? One of my favourite London authors - Christopher Fowler - has written a festive short story entitled Bryant & May's Mystery Tour. Should you not have made their acquaintance, Mr Bryant and Mr May are well-past-retirement detectives who specialise in solving Peculiar Crimes, and they star in a series of novels which Mr Fowler churns out about once a year. This latest mini-whodunnit is freely available on Christopher's blog, and I suspect that many of you will rather enjoy it. [not least because it's set on a double decker bus, and I know what you lot are like]

» Music: Every year the BBC picks a list of fifteen artists to watch, then whittles it down in January to a top 5 and eventually a "Sound of 2010". My tip from the list is Hurts - a moody Mancunian duo of slick suited operators crooning in a late-80s style. Theo and Adam practise a style of music they call Disco Lento Doloroso, and they've endeared themselves to me via their first release - Wonderful Life. This isn't a cover version of Colin Vearncombe's very lovely Black record, but it is of a similar laid-back ilk. There'll be an official release of the Arthur Baker remix of Wonderful Life in January, which hopefully will gain mainstream attention. [anyone who loves the song as much as I do should investigate (cough) this blogpost] [ooh, they're playing Wilton's Music Hall in February] [via Popjustice]

» Mail: If you ever find yourself urgently needing to locate the nearest postbox (as I did with a big pile of Christmas cards yesterday afternoon), then there are two websites up and running to help you out. One is Postboxr, which knows precisely where nearly 5000 of Britain's pillar boxes are located (and even what type of postbox it is). But even better is Matthew Somerville's Locating Postboxes which places 30000 of the things on an OpenStreetMap. London's well covered (here's E3, for example), but certain other areas of the country aren't yet (don't bother looking, Dad, it's rubbish round your way). If you live or work in an existing gap, the site allows you to chip in with the precise location of any boxes that aren't yet pinpointed. Most impressively, the last collection times for each postbox are given, where known, which means that my Christmas cards plopped into the box with several minutes to spare. [first class!]

» E3: Calling all residents of Bow (hello, I know there are a few of you). There's a bit of a kerfuffle at the moment regarding Tesco's plans to redevelop the old Safeway supermarket off Roman Road. A ten storey residential tower is currently planned, with a less-than-super supermarket on the ground floor, and the disappearance of a significant amount of car parking spaces. Roman Road desperately needs a pick-me-up, but this may not be it. Concerned residents should address their concerns to the Bow Safeway Site Action Group. [via Alan]

» Snow: It's doesn't snow very often in the UK, but when it does you can keep an eye on general blizzardiness via Ben Marsh's #uksnow Map. It's sourced via the #uksnow hashtag on Twitter, with amateur meteorologists tweeting the first half of their postcode and the current snow intensity (as a mark out of 10). Bet the map crashes again through over-use this morning (if it does, there's a backup here). And, woo, yay, snow! [via loads of people]

 Thursday, December 17, 2009

WLONDON A-Z
An alphabetical journey through the capital's museums
Whitewebbs Museum of Transport

Location: Whitewebbs Lane, Crews Hill EN2 9HW [map]
Open: Tuesdays 10am-4pm (& Open Days last Sunday of the month)
Admission: £4
Brief summary: low-key many-wheeled ephemera
Website: www.whitewebbsmuseum.co.uk
Time to set aside: an hour or two

And for W, the northernmost museum in London. You can't go further north in London than Crews Hill - a semi-rural outpost of greenhouses and garden centres. Most people arrive by car, probably from the M25, queueing patiently along the only road in the village as they attempt to drive from one horticultural car park to another. Reaching the museum by public transport is a little trickier, especially for their Sunday Open Days, because the weekend's last bus departs mid-Saturday afternoon. The only option is to travel via one of London's least used stations, a bleak halt on the Hertford North line, and then trudge past the potted shrubs and fibreglass birdbaths to the museum.

Whitewebbs Museum of TransportWhitewebbs' main building used to be a pumphouse for the New River, the artificial contour-hugging canal which channeled drinking water into London in the 1600s. The pumphouse dates from 1898, which is of a similar vintage to the earliest vehicles housed therein and roundabout. Old vans and early automobiles are parked in an outdoor shed, mixed in with classic cars from later in the 20th century. When I was young an Austin Princess or Vauxhall Victor would have been fairly commonplace, but this is one of the few places you'll see either today. Or a Ford Capri, a chocolate-brown Ford Capri no less, another reminder of a less flash pre-TopGear age.

Nextdoor are a couple of fire engines, because they're exactly the sort of thing this sort of museum collects. When the nation's Green Goddesses were phased out a few years ago, one of them ended up here. Out here you'll also find a tractor, and some motorbikes, and quite a few piled-up motoring accessories. One rather interesting room contains a Mini Clubman van, a display of old car radios, plus shelf after shelf of old packets and tins that your uncle might have stored in his garage. A Castrol oilcan, a bottle of 1001 carpet cleaner, an austere chunky Thermos flask, that sort of thing.

There is, of course, a model railway layout. It's housed inside a disused railway carriage, and there's not very much space for the public to squeeze inside to take a look. Little locos whizz round on a split-storey circuit, nothing special, but enough to enchant small boys ("Thomas!!" "James!!!") and their moist-eyed grandfathers. Inside another room, past the level crossing gate and a "Rhyl" platform nameplate, is a fully functioning rotary steam engine. You always seem to find one of these in a museum like this, because it's something for the volunteers to enjoy greasing and tweaking while they wait for any visitors to pop in.

Whitewebbs Museum of TransportOn the day of my visit, two floors of the old pumphouse housed a Toy Collector's Fair. These are fascinating occasions, even for the non-collector, because the enthusiasts are usually as intriguing as the objects they're being enthusiastic about. Those with stuff to sell sat behind tables crammed with model cars, or vans in pristine boxes, or Hornby engines, or whatever, and waited patiently for a customer to take an interest. Most such folk were older middle-aged, often here with friends or partners, and happy to have hundreds of subtly different miniatures to pick over. I will confess to being drawn to the stalls piled with Matchbox cars, but only because my brother and I played with Hot Wheels rather a lot as kids, and I wanted to see how much they might have been worth. They might have been worth something if we hadn't taken them out of the box, it seems, but smashing them down a plastic track and chipping half the paint off meant their value was rather closer to what we'd paid for them in the first place.

I resisted a bite to eat in the cafe, not because toasties and beans on toast aren't my thing, but because it was full. Whitewebbs is almost more of a social club than a museum on these Open Days, and many people need little excuse to meet up and reminisce about a golden age of transport. All credit to the Enfield and District Veteran Vehicle Trust, who've nurtured an attraction out of nothing and continue to preserve the everyday past for future enjoyment.
by train: Crews Hill

W is also for...
» Wallace Collection
» Wandle Industrial Museum (is it still open?)
» Wellcome Collection (all things medical)
» Wellington Arch (I've been)
» Whitehall (the one in Cheam) (I've been)
» William Morris Gallery (I've been)
» Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum Museum

 Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Echo update: It's been a busy few days in the world of no-longer-Haloscan commenting.
• The "switch over or get out" countdown for Haloscan-enabled blogs has begun, one batch at a time. Some received their upgrade email on Saturday, whereas my announcement didn't arrive until Monday evening. My Haloscan dashboard now presents me with three options - 1) Pay $10 and upgrade to Echo; 2) export all my comments to another commenting system, or 3) "ask me later". I keep choosing the latter, but I can't hold off the future for more than a fortnight. I have until December 29th to select either option 1 or option 2, else 41000 comments disappear.
• Meanwhile JS-Kit, the company who swallowed Haloscan, has just relaunched itself under the "Echo" brand umbrella. There's a buzzword-heavy media announcement here, should you feel like reading some drum-banging gobbledyspeak. Echo now has a new core mission statement - "to enable publishers to create and curate ‘real-time streams’ for their content." In other words, whereas Haloscan was static text in a box, Echo's killer feature is that it updates while you're watching. On certain global megablogs and political soapboxes this could be quite exciting. On most other blogs however, mine included, expect nothing to happen for hours.
• Echo comments run backwards rather than forwards, which is great for seeing the most recent reaction but rubbish for following a conversation. Haloscan's simple "Email" and "Homepage" boxes have been discontinued. Instead commenters are encouraged (or forced) to log in and create a profile, in which they might choose to share further contact details. These contact details are then hidden, unless you click through and have a look. One additional side-effect of this profiling system appears to be that people can read every comment you've ever written on any Echo site anywhere, all conveniently accumulated for easy stalking.
• If you'd like to see the new comments system in action, and maybe try it out, Ham has installed Echo over at the London Daily Photo blog. See what you think (and maybe say something nice about a photo at the same time).
Sigh, some things are never simple.

Ebbsfleet International → Stratford International
Ebbsfleet International station0m:00s Doors close at Ebbsfleet. Start the clock.
1m:10s Into tunnel, about to head beneath the Thames.
2m:20s Out of tunnel, and swinging beneath the QE2 Bridge.
3m:40s Grandstand view of Rainham Marshes.
5m:30s Speeding past Ford Dagenham, and into another tunnel.
9m:20s Emerging into Stratford Box, slowly braking.
10m:20s Doors open at Stratford International.

Stratford International interlude
"Excuse me, the ticket barrier has eaten my ticket."
"Yes, it's meant to, what's the problem?"
<deep breath, and tell a small white lie to make a point>
"But there's another ticket gate to go through at the main Stratford station, after my bus ride. I need that swallowed ticket to get out of the station, because the barrier staff are never going to believe I've paid otherwise."
"Ah yes. We hadn't thought of that."
<bus to Stratford Regional station pulls off without me>
<bloke digs around in green tube of discarded tickets and finds mine>

"There you go. This is going to be a problem with other people too, isn't it?"
<wait 10 minutes for next bus>

Stratford International → Stratford Regional
0m:00s Bus sets off on tour of Stratford City building site.
3m:00s Bus stops at far end of Stratford Regional, platform 11.
5m:00s Reach subway, after long walk down platform 11.
7m:00s Finally pass through ticket gates at front of station, and freedom.
<during which time I could have High-Sped to St Pancras instead>

 Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Stratford International → Ebbsfleet International

In terms of pounds per minute I wonder if there's a more expensive rail journey in the country. £12.40 return for ten minutes there and ten minutes back, that's highway robbery. But to travel as many as 16 miles in those ten minutes, from Olympic London to a Kentish field, that's not quite so terrible. Not quite.

The new bullet-headed trains that run on the High Speed route are comfortable without being luxurious. There's plenty of room for luggage, and the usual preference for twin seats rather than family-friendly tables of four. And it's a very smooth ride, accelerating up to a speed of "rather nippy, most definitely faster than usual". The train zips beneath Newham, emerges in Dagenham for a few above-ground marsh-side minutes, then dips below the Thames into Kent. There's barely time to do anything (except perhaps read a copy of the London Lite, if it still existed) before ascending into Kent [photo] and decelerating [photo] for arrival in Ebbsfleet [photo].

Ebbsfleet International stationThere aren't many reasons to go to Ebbsfleet [photo]. You might be here to catch a train to Brussels or Paris, given that you can't board one in Stratford. Or you might be here to climb into your car, because Ebbsfleet at the moment is little but an enormous car park. Eurostar know that nigh everyone in Kent and around the M25 has a car, so they've made it really easy to drive here. Elevated signs direct passengers towards the car parks but not towards the only bus stop, and absolutely definitely not towards any pedestrian exit. I had to ask a member of staff how to escape on foot (answer: follow the signs toward the car park). On my way I passed another entrance to two more platforms, used no more than twice an hour by trains to Rochester and Faversham. There were two staff here, clearly with almost nothing to do, so they were more than happy to spare the time to help me out.

It's a very long car park. I got funny looks from another member of staff as I paused to take a photograph (cracker of a photograph, I think), but thankfully no vanful of armed police arrived to arrest me a few minutes later. At the barrier I had to step up onto the muddy verge and then wander across a roundabout because nobody's thought to provide a pavement. I think the station planners assumed that non-car drivers would take the bus, but it's not worth it for a single stop to Northfleet.
I'm not the first person to attempt this journey on foot. Paul tried it back in June on the day the first High Speed preview services ran, and ran into loads of trouble trying to walk from Northfleet to Ebbsfleet. Flick through his photo story here.

Ebbsfleet UnitedWhereas Ebbsfleet will one day be Kent's largest housing estate, Northfleet is rather smaller and older. It clings to the chalk ridge above the River Thames, staring out over estuary-side industries towards Tilbury Docks. Nowhere here will win any prizes for scenery. There's a 14th century church, and a quarry or two dug out of the escarpment, and a football ground at the bottom of the hill [photo]. Ebbsfleet United have been pottering around in the lower leagues since the 1940s, but last year made history when they were bought out by an online consortium. Twenty thousand global shareholders lifted the team to FA Trophy victory, but when annual memberships started to elapse the money dried up, and now the future looks less rosy.

As for Northfleet station, that's a world away from the International Gateway across the car park at Ebbsfleet. Up Station Road there's an unloved wooden ticket hall, locked on Sundays, and two lonely platforms where trains to Gravesend sometimes pause. Southeastern's High Speed services may soon suck the passengers away from this old faithful halt. But those who value money more than time will still assemble here, day in day out, to catch the Slow Speed up to London.

www.flickr.com: my Stratford High Speed gallery
(18 photos altogether)

» And tomorrow I'll give you a brief rundown of how easy (or not) it was to get back to Stratford.

 Monday, December 14, 2009

Stratford International

Stratford InternationalStratford used to have one station - the big glass megahub close to the town centre. And now it has two. A brand new station has opened to the north of the old, on the High Speed rail line between St Pancras and the continent. The station's called Stratford International and it opened for regular service yesterday, although it's been open for "preview" services for the last fortnight. It's cost millions to construct, requiring the removal of a vast trench of earth (the Stratford Box) and the erection of a state of the art passport-enabled terminal. It was completed more than three years ago, but has been mothballed ever since because of one slight drawback - it's located in the middle of an enormous building site. Planners did have the sense to build an access road on concrete stilts across the Lea Valley, but the sealing-off of the Olympic Park sealed that off too. Eurostar have since shown no interest in stopping here, but the dawn of Southeastern's new High Speed timetable has forced the station to open, sort-of, however inaccessibly.

Stratford International station is a genuine challenge to get to. But I like a challenge.

The sign beside the ticket window in front of Stratford Regional station said that I could buy all my train tickets here. So I tried. "I'd like to buy a return to Ebbsfleet, please." The poor bloke behind the counter struggled with his keyboard, tapping away for at least a minute before giving up. "I can't do that here," he said eventually. "But you can buy a ticket from the end of Platform 11". So off I trudged through the ticket barriers (lucky I had my Oyster travelcard on me, otherwise I'd have been stuck) and along to the end of the subway. Eleven's a long and lonely platform [photo], and I had to walk the entire length of it before reaching the plastic shelter where a uniformed contractor was waiting with a ticket machine slung round his neck.

Stratford International"I'd like to buy a return to Ebbsfleet, please. Oh, and I've got a Gold Card, does that help?" It turned out (after a bit of a search) that a Gold Card didn't help, so I wouldn't be getting my usual one-third off. No, it was full fare, £11.10. Except that I'd been sold a duffer. "Excuse me," I said, "this ticket says 'not valid on High Speed' services, but there's no way to get from Stratford to Ebbsfleet except on High Speed services." So he had another go, and admitted he'd been wrong, and sold me a proper ticket for £12.40. Ouch.
For comparison, a return from St Pancras to Ebbsfleet costs only 10p more, so Stratford passengers are being fleeced here. And if I'd taken the slow train from central London to Ebbsfleet's nearest non-Highspeed station, I could have bought a return for under a fiver. Velocity costs, big time.

And then the weak link in my futuristic journey. A single decker bus was waiting to whisk me from Stratford Regional to Stratford International (via a particularly tortuous detour through a building site) so that I could eventually be dropped off on the other side of the Eurostar chasm [map]. Along the way we passed the London 2012 Athletes Village where only a few blocks are so far semi-complete, but legacy apartments are already being created on a massive scale [photo]. From the opposite window there was also a fine view of the new Westfield Stratford City retail fortress, risen from the soil and now at the adding-cladding stage [photo]. Come 2011 you'll be able to mall-walk between the two stations past an M&S and John Lewis (in Stratford! how optimistically aspirational!). Before that, next summer, a lengthy sinuous DLR link will go live, ending at a terminus that currently looks more like an incomplete petrol station [photo]. The bus journey through the building site took three minutes, quicker than I expected, but I fear that the Regional and International stations are destined never to be particularly well connected.

Stratford InternationalStratford International had one customer when I arrived - me. The long hangar-like ticket hall hadn't changed much since I last visited two years since ago as part of London Open House. It was still a featureless echoing void, completely empty apart from a few (unstretched) staff and a big Christmas tree [photo]. I could tell that this isn't yet a proper profitable station because nobody's opened a coffee shop, or indeed a kiosk or outlet of any kind. The gates to the Eurostar departure zone remain firmly shut until there's a business case for stopping continental services mid-E15. Indeed the station's very badly named at the moment because the most 'International' place served by train services is Dover. Other destinations on the badly-sited departures board include Faversham and Margate, but not yet Paris or Brussels.

plaque at Lewisham stationI proceeded down the escalator [photo] to the domestic platforms, deep in Stratford Box, with dim distant tunnel portals visible at each end of the giant trench. Engineering-wise this might be a fascinating place, but architecturally it's bland and uninspiring [photo]. Concrete pillars, broad featureless platforms and occasional security announcements - best hope your train arrives soon [photo]. The occasional Eurostar service rushed by, its occupants no doubt delighted not to be wasting time by stopping [photo]. No such luck for the next Southeastern service to St Pancras Domestic, which braked and slowed and stopped and paused and waited, all so that a single passenger could disembark. There were plenty of souls on board, mostly families enjoying the fast route from far distant Kent to the heart of King's Cross. But it'll be a long time before Stratford International becomes a short haul commuter hub of choice. It may be only seven minutes from St Pancras to here, but it takes rather longer than seven minutes to escape (via hopper bus and long trek) to Stratford proper.

» Tomorrow I'll tell you about where I went, and whether things were any less bleak at the other end.


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camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
itv