diamond geezer

 Wednesday, November 30, 2011

photosPublic sector workers. Aren't you glad you're not one?

With their cushy jobs, gold-plated pensions and overbearing sense of self-importance, don't you just hate them?

They squander our taxes, draining away hard-earned cash writing endless reports or filling in forms or whatever rubbish it is that public servants do all day. They're counting the days until they retire, while the rest of us are counting the pennies.

In any public sector job there are always far too many people duplicating each other's work when only one would do. They should try working in the private sector, where any excess in personnel is ruthlessly trimmed to ensure shareholder growth. You never see public sector workers losing their jobs to call centres on the subcontinent, do you? Jobs for life, that's the culture in local and national government these days. It can't go on. We simply can't afford it.

So it's great to hear that 700000 additional public sector workers will soon be on the unemployment scrapheap. What the hell were the rest of us doing paying their salaries, when it turns out they weren't even needed anyway? If there's one thing Britain needs it's fewer workers, so long as that's fewer workers in the public sector and doesn't affect my job.

Public sector workers don't live in the real world of profit margins and economic peril, where you can lose your job overnight if market conditions prevail. One or two of them even earn more than the Prime Minister, which is blatantly unfair and unjustified, and so everyone's salaries should be cut back because they're all as bad as each other.

And suddenly we have public sector workers moaning about a 1% cap on their pay rises for the next two years. They should count themselves bloody lucky. Some of us have had our pay frozen, our jobs trimmed and our pensions withered away for much longer than that. I mean, most bankers have even had their bonuses cut! What they wouldn't give for a 1% rise, rather than this unjust and unprecedented fall in take-home pay.

As for state-funded employees having to work longer until they retire, and paying more for the privilege, join the club. We're all having to work longer out here in the private sector, so why should the public sector be immune? Our pensions are paltry opt-in funds tied to stock market fluctuations, so those of us without decent share packages expect to be poverty-stricken by the time we retire. If we've got it bad, why should anyone else have it good? We should all be in this economic mess together, taking an equal hit, otherwise it's simply not fair.

It's not fair that public servants have it good when the rest of us have it bad. It's not fair that we should suffer just because they haven't got the drive or the charisma to try their luck in the private sector. It's not fair that they should carry on inside their cosy protective bubble, while the rest of us are being buffeted by a never-ending economic storm. Only if we spread the pain will Britain become a more equal society... and surely a more equal society is what everyone wants?

And now the nation's public servants are taking part in the biggest strike for decades, rampaging down our high streets with angry placards and forming picket lines outside essential services. How are the rest of us expected to make a living when these selfish wastrels think only of themselves? They should be thinking of us instead, because we're the important ones. We're the cogs that make the UK economy go round, but you never see us taking strike action because we're not in trade unions so we're too frightened. Fairness, that's all we ask, a lot less for them and a lot more for us.

There's nothing these layabouts do that couldn't be better served by the private sector. Indeed today's strike perfectly exemplifies how trade unions have been allowed to ride roughshod over the entire public sector, protecting workshy layabouts in overpaid roles and forcing the continuation of outdated inefficient practices. As our civil servants skive off work today, costing the nation billions in lost revenue, ask yourself how little these petty bureaucrats contribute to our beleaguered economy.

How dare millions of public sector workers go on strike over such a petty trivial matter as their personal finances? Don't they realise that they're forcing the rest of us to make alternative childcare arrangements and miss planes and forfeit essential healthcare procedures? And yet these people do so little work, day in day out, that if they all took the day off I bet we wouldn't even notice.

I mean, what have doctors, teachers, headteachers, nurses, ambulance workers, roadsweepers, lollipop ladies, firefighters, social workers, refuse collectors, immigration officials, hospital cleaners, quantity surveyors, auditors, trading standards officers, family support workers, legal assistants, parks officers, environmental health officers, accountants, librarians, archivists, benefits officers, classroom assistants, meals on wheels supervisors, building services engineers, personnel officers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, care managers, care assistants, youth workers, administrators, registrars, radiographers, caretakers, secretaries, fostering workers, CCTV operators, air traffic controllers, gravediggers, dentists, payroll assistants, museum curators, solicitors, dinner ladies, dog wardens, hostel managers, nursery workers, laboratory technicians, cleaning supervisors, pool attendants, fraud investigation officers, highways maintenance engineers, waste management officers, technicians, IT support workers, educational psychologists, pest controllers, consumer advisers, day care officers, midwives, surgeons and judges ever done for us, eh?

 Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Watford Underground station open day
Date: Saturday 31st November 2011
Times: 10am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm
Tickets: £20 (concessions: £15)

This will be a rare opportunity to visit the not yet disused Watford Underground station. Please note this event has not yet SOLD OUT.
(So, yeah, look, I thought it was about time to jump on the bandwagon of closed-station visiting. TfL have been raking in tens of thousands of pounds from opening up Aldwych over the weekend, for example. Then there's Ajit Chambers, an enterpreneur who's negotiating to buy 26 empty former tube stations and turn them into restaurants, climbing walls, nightclubs - whatever revenue-raising schemes he can cram in. If there's that much untapped cash underground, then organising visits to ghost stations is surely my way to a fortune. But arranging all that health and safety stuff is such a hassle, and a drain on resources, so I thought I'd take a slightly different approach. I'm going to lead visits to stations that aren't yet closed, on the basis that they're exactly the same as ghost stations but with far better access. Come and enjoy the platforms and staircases before they're mothballed - you'll see far more, and everything'll be in much better nick. I'm starting out with what's likely to be TfL's next disused station - Watford - which may soon be cut off by an extension to Watford Junction. The Croxley Rail Link has just passed its first proper public consultation, and plans are now in front of elected officials awaiting funds. After four decades of railroading, it's finally reached the top of the pile at the precise moment when the Chancellor needs a Plan B to kickstart the economy. OK, so Watford's upgrade will probably be trumped by that semi-private pimp out to Battersea, but I plan to take full advantage of this brief window of rampant speculation. Come join me on a tour of London's next ghost station, and give me your money, please, thank you. Kerching!)
Watford Underground station has a mystique surrounding it, enduring since it opened in 1925. The station was never meant to be the terminus of the line, but a proposed Metropolitan extension to Watford Central was sadly never built. The famous Underground station is well known for its proximity to Cassiobury Park, and as the place where drunkards wake up on the night train from Baker Street. Watford station is still used for training purposes and is infrequently accessed by the general public.

Please note that visits to the station are not suitable for children or anyone with breathing or walking difficulties as there are 20 stairs to the platform and no working lift. No digital SLR cameras will be allowed into the station.

The station building is of variegated brown brick with vitrified brick plinth, clay tiled roof and timber multi-pane sash and casement windows [photo]. Built in an Arts and Crafts-influenced vernacular manner, the hipped roof boasts tall brick stacks and three gabled dormers. A polygonal metal canopy on twin Doric columns projects in front of the main entrance, which comprises part-glazed double doors with overlight and flanking windows. Our tour begins with an architectural appreciation of the bike racks near the bus stop, followed by the opportunity to buy chocolate bars and souvenir cigarette lighters from the Newsbox kiosk.

In the booking hall, we pause awhile to inspect the square central light-well overhead with its projecting cornice and moulded panelling. The hardwood surround to the former telephone kiosk matches the panelled hardwood door to the ladies' toilets, which retain original cubicles and wood-block floor. Sea-green and mauve Metropolitan tiling covers the walls, characteristic of architect CW Clark's faux-rural revivalist style. By the ticket barriers the station manager, or rather an actor playing the station manager, will recount anecdotes from Cup Final day 1984, and "that morning the snow came".

A single broad flight of steps with moulded hardwood handrails leads down to the platform, with extensive original tiling to the flanking walls [photo]. The island platform is sheltered by W-section glazed canopies on steel stanchions, manufactured by Lincolnshire's famous Frodingham Iron & Steel Company [photo]. Our tour has been granted rare access to the rectangular brick building containing the waiting room (with boarded walls and built-in seating) and the gents' toilets (with original cubicle partitions) [photo]. Finally we will walk up to the end of the platform [photo], pretending that the station has already closed and there are no trains, and gaze out along the tracks towards the soon-to-be-severed Gade Viaduct. [photo]

You must arrive at Watford 15 minutes before the visit you are booked on takes place. If you do not arrive on time, your place may be sold to another visitor, due to very high demand for this event. Admission to the event is at the ticket holders own risk. The management reserves the right to make any changes to the programme owing to unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances, including cancellation of the event. Please send me your twenty pound notes now. You may never get the opportunity to visit a not-yet-closed station again*.
(* tours continue until at least 2016)


Date:  Time:  Number of tickets:  

 Monday, November 28, 2011

If you'd wanted to visit Aldwych tube station 20 years ago it would have cost less than a quid. Over this weekend, and over next, it costs twenty. But then if you'd have been at Aldwych station twenty years ago you'd have been one of a handful of passengers, whereas this weekend there were hundreds of people trying to get in, and queues outside on the pavement. That's what happens when you close down a station - initially nobody cares, and then people start clamouring to get back inside to see what they've been missing. Aldwych has been firmly closed since 1994... apart from all sorts of filming down on the disused platforms, and staff training, and a surprising amount of other stuff for a mothballed station. And suddenly the London Transport Museum have flung wide the doors to let people inside, just for a fortnight, no gimmicks, to experience this most peculiar station for themselves.

You'll know the story of Aldwych, if you're interested, and if you don't then it's well documented here, here (four pages) and here (three). Opened 1907, originally planned as the southern terminus of a line down from Wood Green, but cruelly bypassed when two tube projects were merged and the Piccadilly line was born. Aldwych had been intended to be an important interchange station, but withered when the theatre traffic it was built to serve dried up. Two platforms were built, but the second was in service for only ten years before being mothballed. Soon the shuttle service to Holborn was cut on Sundays, later on Saturdays too, then restricted to weekday peak times only. Eventually it was the ancient lifts that killed the branch line off. Replacing the 1907 originals would have been too expensive, so a closure notice was served and the station closed on 30 September 1994.

This weekend and next, a series of six Open Days has opened the place up. Don't go looking for tickets, they sold out weeks ago, but those of us fortunate to have one duly assembled at the top of Surrey Street for our subterranean treat. The queuing system confused almost everyone, because there wasn't a back to the line, only a front-entry corral. Museum staff mumbled something about DSLR cameras being banned, although it was impossible to hear over the peal of Aldwych bells. Bags were searched, tickets were torn, smiles were exchanged, and in we went. Ooh, the Leslie Green ticket hall, and... oh, hang on, Health and Safety. There were a lot of Health and Safety messages, some would say too many, as our chief guide reiterated stuff we'd already been told about high-heeled shoes, trip hazards and how anyone unable to walk up 160 stairs should back out now. Peter, who's a City of Westminster Tour Guide, was desperately unimpressed by the patronising spiel and the endless nannying he endured underground. It wasn't quite so bad on my tour, thankfully, but I guess it's only thanks to draconian health and safety procedures that we were allowed down below in the first place.



Ooh, the lifts. Two are visible up top, each large enough for 45 passengers, although 45 passengers rarely materialised. Each has an ornate Art Nouveau flourish above the doors, because back then beauty was an important part of London Underground design. We heard an anecdote about a bell the driver at Holborn used to ring to summon the lift, and then we heard the same anecdote later in the tour, which is one of the perils of a multi-guide presentational experience. And then we set off down the stairs. Twelve straight to begin with, then the spiral staircase of 119 (someone's chalked "½-way" on the wall, at a point which isn't). These emerge opposite the lifts, and it's a surprise to see how many there are. Three lift shafts in total, each with space for two lifts, although only one of the three shafts reaches the surface. The ticket office was built on top of the other two, once it was apparent customer throughflow would never merit sextuple vertical elevation. The empty columns are massive, as I guess lift shafts have to be, and would make a fantastic hideaway lair if any London-based archcriminals or superheroes are reading.

But what everyone really wanted to see was the platforms. Access is down a long white-tiled passage, then 21 more steps to the trains (wherever the "there are 160 steps" fact in the Health and Safety briefing came from, heaven knows). Platform 1 was the platform used by timetabled Piccadilly line services. A long curved space with hooped ceiling, stuck in a timewarp pre-Metronet, pre-Tube Lines, pre-PPP initiative. It could almost still be 1994 down here, apart from a few telltale signs that it isn't. The posters on the walls look proper vintage, except they're all recent fakes pasted on for filming or event purposes. And there are loudspeakers equally spaced all the way along the ceiling, of the kind that didn't appear in other stations until the 21st century, because Aldwych is often used as a testing ground for TfL staff. They drive trains in, they parade up and down the platforms, all in a safe bubble disconnected from the rest of the system. Someone had driven a 1972 train into the platform to give us something to look at, which was nice, and there were also two museum volunteers ready to impart their Aldwych knowledge. We listened to one volunteer up one end, and the other up the other, and were then told we had five minutes to take photos. Off we trooped, non-DSLRs at the ready, only to be summoned back after two minutes and ordered off on the next stage of our tour. Muted disgruntlement ensued. Maybe staff will have the timings a little better sorted by weekend two, or maybe they'll be able to explain what's going on a little more clearly without being openly misleading. [photo: platform 1]



Platform 2 is very different, and the chance to visit was a rare opportunity. The last train left here in 1917, and the tunnel walls at each end have since been bricked up. Those aren't modern railway tracks down there, and you don't get wide sleepers like that these days either. A fragment of the original Edwardian tiling can be seen, from the days when the station was called Strand rather than Aldwych, although covered over by more recent designs trialled here before being rolled out elsewhere. Down one end is a multicolour curve, Piccadilly Circus style, although we weren't allowed quite that far down. And the adverts here are the genuine article, not 1917 vintage but pasted up in the 1970s, featuring such delights as Heals department store and the National Exhibition of Gardening at Syon House. One particularly trippy illustration for Madame Tussauds and the Planetarium could only have been printed at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. But overall this was a dark austere place, never wholly coherent, never quite complete. We had plenty of time to explore here before it was time to ascend less-than-160 steps to the surface. [photo: platform 2]

By the time these two special weekends are finished, more than 2500 fortunate souls will have had the chance to venture into Aldwych's seldom seen depths. That's £50000 for the Transport Museum's coffers, minus staff and organisational costs, which sounds like a nice little earner. It could have been organised better, to be frank, but then opportunities like this don't come round very often. If nothing else the internet is now chockful of photographs of Aldwych station, from every internal angle, so if you never made it, at least you can now peruse precisely what you missed.

Aldwych photos from: Chris, Ian Visits, Mike, Beth, James, Stewart, Mike, copwatcher, Alan, minifig, Ben, Katy, Andy, Carlbob, Anne

 Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cable car baggage
✔ vanity project
✔ financially unviable
✔ waste of public money
✔ pimped out to a sponsor
✔ links two business interests, not two communities.
✖ timesaver for commuters
But... ✔ tourists will love it
✔ the view will be great
✔ Woo, a cable car!
Boris's planned cable car for Docklands comes with a lot of baggage. Lots of reasons why it might not be the best thing to build in the place where its going for the cash it'll cost. But let's put that baggage to one side. Let's assume that the cable car is going to be built, because it is. In which case, it had better be built well.

Mace, the construction company, held a cable car open day yesterday, although the date wasn't exactly shouted from the rooftops. It merited a mention on the back page of the project's stakeholder newsletter, flyered through several North Greenwich letterboxes, but not generally required reading. Even if you'd walked past the construction site on Saturday, you'd probably not have noticed. A single A3 sheet stuck in the worksite window mentioned opening times, but gave no indication that the place was open nor where precisely to go. An oblique doorway labelled "site entrance" led round the edge of a prefab to a security turnstile. Is this the Open Day? And yes, it was.

Up on the walls inside, all sorts of information about the construction of London's first cable car. Maps, summary text, artists impressions, even detailed blueprints of precisely what one of the cable car stations will look like. All pictured with sleek elegant curves, and probably sufficient to relieve the nearest inkjet printer of its complement of blue ink. Rather delightfully there was minimal mention of the airline whose name will be slapped across the entire project, because this was all about about the construction, not the branding. And in one corner, a selection of tiles, lamps, alarms and other fittings that'll be used to fit out the project. I was slightly concerned at first that they'd assembled this showcase especially for the handful of Open Day visitors, but no, this was the day-to-day HQ, behind the security gateline, at the heart of the project.

Shall we go outside? Here's a photo taken from the top of the stairs outside the door to the second-storey portakabin. Look, there's the southern cable car station under construction. It's got a long way to go yet, but you'll get the general idea. Carriages will swing down from the sky to a U-shaped turn - you can see the curve in the line of the roof, with the tip pointing towards the camera. On the incoming arm the passengers will step off and on the other they'll step on (safely guided by a cable car operative). The set-up reminds me a little of the London Eye, but rather more like an aerial ride at a theme park. Ten passengers maximum, two passengers minimum (for safety reasons, apparently), and plenty of flip-up-seat space for a wheelchair or bike. Would you like to see a video run-through? Go on then.

The four-minute video shows how a vector-drawn family unit might ride the cable car from north to to south. First there's a carefully abbreviated walk from the DLR at Royal Victoria, then arrival at (insert sponsor name here) Royal Docks station. Interestingly there'll be both machines and a window for the acquisition of 'boarding passes', making this possibly the last ever TfL project with a physical ticket office. They're expecting a lot of tourists, remember, indeed probably counting on them. Then it's swipe and up the stairs, or take the lift, to the first (maybe second) floor, and on you get. There's no sign of a security friskdown or metal-detecting arch before boarding, unless that's in some bit of the plans I've not been shown. And then whoosh, you're off on an aerial glide above some restaurants, some landscaped riverside, and the glorious majesty (cough) of the East London skyline.

There'll be three main towers, each an elegant twisty spike, the tallest of these up to 88m high. All the piling to support their weight is already complete, so expect to see the first tower start to be erected within the next fortnight. Uplift will continue into the New Year, and I'm told London's tallest crane will be appearing too. Eventually the cable will have to be threaded across the river, which is no mean feat, either dangled from a helicopter or lifted from a barge. Such is the pressure to complete this project by next summer that Mace are doing something highly unusual - undertaking major construction work during the winter months. If the weather is kind, they might just hit that Olympic deadline (no promises). But if it's freezing and windy and icy, well... just remember that the winter weather is out of their control. Watch the skies.

One thing that came across very strongly was how proud individual members of the construction team were to be involved in the delivery of such a major project. This is high profile stuff, and a big tick for them if they can get it up and running smoothly. They're being handsomely paid too, part by the sponsor and part from TfL's rail budget, so no wonder they're smiling. The company will also be involved in the day-to-day operation of the cable car, for at least the first three years of its operation, so it's in their interest to make everything here work. And OK, so this may still be a completely (insert baggage here) project. But if it's got to be built, then best it were built well.

 Saturday, November 26, 2011

6 |
6 | 1
Introvert walks into a pub
6 1 |
7 | "Evening"
5 2 |
4 1 2 |
4 2 1 |
3 3 1 |
3 2 2 |
2 2 3 |
2 2 2 1 |
2 3 2 |
2 2 2 1 |
3 3 1 |
4 2 1 |
5 2 |
4 2 1 |
3 3 1 |
3 2 2 |
2 3 2 |
2 3 1 1 |
2 3 1 | 1
2 3 1 |
2 2 2 |
4 2 |
3 3 |
3 2 1 |
5 1 |
4 2 |
2 2 2 |
2 3 1 |
2 3 1 | 1
2 3 1 1 |
6 1 |
3 3 1 |
2 2 2 1 |
4 2 1 |
2 4 1 |
6 1 |
7 | "Goodnight"
6 | 1
6 |

 Friday, November 25, 2011

  Walk London
  CAPITAL RING
[section 14]
  Hackney Wick to Beckton (5 miles)


After encircling most of London, I've reached my home patch. A bit of river, a burst of Olympics, then a very long walk along the top of a sewer. To Beckton which, quite frankly, is never going to be of the capital's beauty spots. The best of the Ring may be behind me, but keep the faith.

From White Post Lane, the Ring enters the heart of the Olympic Park [photo]. Down a slippery ramp to the newly rejigged towpath, watching the diggers and workmen making the final tweaks to the 2012 backroom zone. It's a busy stretch, with joggers and cyclists jostling with dogwalkers and tour groups. That pink building's a salmon-smokery-cum-art-gallery, which isn't something you see every day, and that cottage is the former Big Breakfast house. A Water Bus stop has sprung up beneath Old Ford Lock, although as yet there's no sign of Water Chariots' scheduled pleasure cruises "starting in mid summer 2011". And then first sight of something the Ring'll be following for miles - the Northern Outfall Sewer. Here's a rare chance to view it from underneath - four hooped metal tubes of human slurry, reflecting the dappled dancing waters of the Lea.

Up on the Greenway, the Olympic Stadium looms large [photo]. It still amazes me how close this public footpath comes to high security areas, even if the razorwire fences and ubiquitous cameras never let you forget who's boss. To the left, the Orbit's twisty-red coils now support a split-level viewing platform [photo], while to the right the athletes' practice circuit is nearing completion. "Look at that mess," says an old man gesturing toward the extensive construction works, "all that for just two weeks." He's not technically correct, but it is a remarkable amount of effort to give a few thousand runners a brief somewhere to jog. If you fancy a cup of coffee the View Tube is your last chance - my auntie heartily recommends them, you'll be pleased to hear.

Beyond the railway the Ring is on diversion. You won't get anywhere near this bit of the Greenway until Crossrail's finished digging stuff, which'll be "late 2014", apart from a brief spell in summer next year when Games entry trumps trains. Today's ramblers must instead pass the southern entrance to the Olympic Park, and the layby where provincial coach drivers disgorge their eager cargo, and a forlorn-looking VIP-facing shrubbery, all the way down to Stratford High Street. This is as close as the Ring gets to my house - give me a wave as you go by.

There's a lot of Greenway ahead. The first straight's been tarmacked by contractors in readiness for thousands of Games spectators being frogmarched from West Ham station, and quite frankly it's a bit ugly. I remember going to a planning consultation which claimed that the Greenway here would be beautifully transformed, all wild flowers and intricate paving [photo], but I can only assume that almost all of the money ran out. Even Abbey Mills pumping station, which ought to be a visual highlight, now lurks behind an obstructive metal security fence. Only past the new Olympic exit ramp do things improve, by which I mean the Greenway reverts to the familiarly mundane one-third path, two-thirds grass. The view opens up too, walking now at rooftop level [photo], with the City's skyscraper cluster bursting from the western horizon beyond the rugby ground.

Traversing the top of the sewer allows the Ring to carve straight through Plaistow without ever pausing to peer down its terraced backstreets. Some of its residents pop up to the Greenway to walk their 'playful' Staffies, others nip from intersecting road to intersecting road carrying carrier bags of inexpensive groceries. Newham General Hospital goes on and on and on, not exactly the architectural highlight of any capital circumnavigation. And all the time there's a nagging sickly whiff, reminding you that you're walking atop four tubes of effluent that have sourced in bathrooms across a wide swathe of central London. I'm not selling this well, am I? It's no match for the sylvan delights of Richmond or Highgate, that's for sure, but those of us who live out on this side of town are used to making the best of what we have. [photo]

At last a sign pointing down off the sewertop, which means a brief stroll past ultra-ordinary houses and a hop over the roaring A13. And then, good news, a park. It's only Beckton District Park, but round here any patch of green is a welcome bolthole from residential sprawl. The Ring summarily avoids the rather lovely lake to the north of the park [photo], which is a shame, preferring to cut direct to the adventure playground and the closed-down leisure centre. A nice touch is the circuit of unusual trees, each labelled 'hornbeam' or 'Indian bean' or whatever, which in Beckton is what passes for an arboretum. It's a long thin park, this, veering from ornamental to woodland to meadow to blighted-by-pylons. Newham Council have put up several signs warning against the exercising of horses here, signs which appear to be summarily ignored by all and sundry. But hey, that did mean I got to meet a hyperactive horse lying on its back waving its hooves in the air [photo], which just goes to show that the Ring is never dull. Only one final runt-end section to go.

» Capital Ring section 14: official map and directions
» Who else has walked it? Mark, Darryl, Tim, Paul, Stephen, Tetramesh, Richard
» Today's eight photos; all 107 Capital Ring photos (so far)
» On to section 15 (or back to section 13)

 Thursday, November 24, 2011

Did you miss out on Olympic tickets? And Paralympic tickets? And tickets for those cycling and diving test events that sold out last week in a few minutes? Well, never fear, because London Live is here.
Welcome to London Live
Free to enter and held across three iconic locations London Live will give Londoners and visitors to the city the chance to join in the excitement of the biggest sporting event on the planet – the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
That's right. If you're in London for the Olympics next summer but don't have a ticket to the proper Olympic Park, you can join in the fun in another London park instead. No need to feel like you're missing out at all, you'll be right in the thick of things.
The Olympic Games coverage, from the BBC, will be broadcast at both Hyde Park and Victoria Park from 27 July to 12 August 2012.
The Paralympic Games coverage, courtesy of Channel 4, will be broadcast at Trafalgar Square from 29 August to 9 September 2012.
Expect several giant screens on which to watch the Games, especially for people who aren't at home so can't watch exactly the same events on smaller screens there. I'm sure visitors to town will make a special effort to visit these two parks to enjoy the sporting megavideos and all the available facilities. But that may not be the case for the Paralympics, which is no doubt why London Live then relocates to Trafalgar Square - a much smaller venue with a greater potential audience in the local vicinity.
A combination of multiple state-of-the-art screens and concert quality sound systems will show all of the London 2012 action. Everything from sports participation activities, live music and cultural entertainment will be on offer from early morning until late evening so get involved!
That sounds pretty good. Victoria Park will be the more sporty of the two Olympic sites, with particpatory games and coaching experiences, plus a "double zipline offering a unique perspective of London Live, as riders zip down the two high-tension steel lines, high above Victoria Park’s trees". A whizz down the zipline will cost you money, as will a ride on the 40 metre high observation wheel that will "highlight Victoria Park’s proximity to the Olympic Park, offering stunning views of both the Olympic stadium and the city’s skyscrapers." And Hackney Wick too, as an added bonus.
The Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, said "Just a javelin throw from the Olympic Park itself, London Live in Victoria Park will give Londoners and visitors alike the chance to be at the heart of the excitement of what promises to be a fabulous 17 day period to celebrate London 2012.
Just a javelin's throw, really? If Lutfur can find anybody local who's capable of hurling a sharp pointy object more than 500 metres, I do hope he'll urge them to win gold for Tower Hamlets in the Games. Meanwhile, over in Hyde Park, expect more of an entertainment vibe. There'll be live music throughout the day (could be Coldplay, could be a lady from Peckham with a banjo). There'll be performers from the London Outdoor Arts Festival (could be tightrope-walking fire-jugglers, could be a lady from Peckham with a banjo). There'll be hands-on sport, and kiosks selling falafel and burgers, and also a rather more commercial side...
Olympic and Paralympic sponsors will also use Hyde Park to showcase and entertain visitors with a number of fun and interactive public pavilions being created especially for London Live. Hyde Park will also offer hospitality opportunities for both groups and individuals via 'Live Nation Experience'.
So we can expect exhibits of BMW cars, and a walk-through display of Panasonic televisions, and some freebie giveaways from Procter & Gamble, and probably a Thomas Cook pavilion too if they're still trading. And it's all free, remember, all of it, apart from the bits that aren't free.
Starting early morning and running through to midnight each evening (Trafalgar Square will run until 11pm*) (* subject to licence), London Live is free to attend apart from the 2 celebration concerts, for which ticket prices will be announced in February. Either turn up on the day, or to guarantee entry on a specific day and avoid potential queues you can book Guaranteed early entry tickets which will be available from February 2012.
The two big celebration concerts sound potentially excellent, and I'm sure people will happily stump up hard cash for those. Entrance will otherwise cost you nothing, but only if you can get in. Special "early entry tickets" will guarantee entry to the sites at Hyde Park and Victoria Park before 2pm, which presumably means anyone without a ticket won't be allowed access until after 2pm. And that's only if there's space, which I suspect there won't be. Capacity in Hyde Park is set at 50000, and in Victoria Park at 30000, and we've already seen how fast any kind of Olympic ticket gets snapped up. Especially when they're free tickets...
Advance tickets - up to four tickets will be able to be booked in advance for entry to Hyde Park and Victoria Park before 2pm each day for a transaction fee of £3.50 per booking. Registration via the website will be required for these tickets.
OK, the tickets may be free but they come with a mandatory booking fee of £3.50, no doubt because posting a strip of cardboard is so very expensive. With 80000 tickets available each day for 17 days, bookable in groups of no more than four, I make that a minimum turnover of £1,190,000. Nice little money earner, these free tickets. And then there's the perils of registration.
By registering for advance London Live tickets you agree to receiving regular news and updates about events from Live Nation about London Live.
T&C 3.2: From time to time, we may use your Personal Data to let you know about other services and products that we or our associated companies provide, special offers and also to provide news about our business. You will be given an opportunity to unsubscribe every time an electronic marketing communication is sent to you by us.
The organisers seem very keen to get you to sign up now, even though no tickets will be available until February. They claim it's so you can "get the most out of your London Live experience", but really it's so they can fire marketing spam at you for a few extra months. If you're really interested, bookmark the site today and wait. But don't be surprised if, come the summer of 2012, this is yet another must-visit Olympic event that you can't get into.

 Wednesday, November 23, 2011

London place names visible on Google maps
Zoom=0:
Zoom=1:
Zoom=2:
Zoom=3:
Zoom=4: London
Zoom=5: Barnet
Zoom=6: London, Bexley
Zoom=7: London, Bromley, Croydon
Zoom=8: London, Brent, Barnet, Bexley, Croydon, Sutton, Hounslow
Zoom=9: London, Brent, Barnet, Enfield, Greenwich, Lewisham, Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth, Wandsworth, Merton, Sutton, Kingston Upon Thames, Hounslow, Pinner, Romford
Zoom=10: London, Brent, Barnet, Enfield, Islington, Bexley, Greenwich, Lewisham, Bromley, Beckenham, Croydon, Lambeth, Wandsworth, Merton, Sutton, Kingston Upon Thames, Hounslow, Pinner, Noel Park, Romford, Richmond

Selected London streets and their road number classification

(because you never know when you're going to be in a pub quiz and someone asks "By what name is the A401 better known?")
A3: London Bridge, Borough High Street, Clapham High Street
A30: Great South West Road
A300: Southwark Bridge
A301: Waterloo Bridge
A302: Westminster Bridge
A3211: Victoria Embankment
A3212: Whitehall, Millbank, Chelsea Embankment
A3217: Kings Road
A1: Goswell Road, Upper Street, Holloway Road
A10: Bishopsgate, Shoreditch High Street, Stoke Newington High Street, Stamford Hill
A11: Whitechapel Road, Mile End Road, Bow Road
A12: Blackwall Tunnel Approach, Eastern Avenue
A13: Commercial Road, East India Dock Road
A100: Tower Bridge
A101: Rotherhithe Tunnel
A102: Blackwall Tunnel
A103: Hornsey Rise
A4: Fleet Street, Strand, Pall Mall, Piccadilly, Cromwell Road
A40: Holborn Viaduct, High Holborn, Oxford Street
A41: Baker Street, Finchley Road
A400: Camden High Street
B400: Chancery Lane
A401: Shaftesbury Avenue
A404: Westway
A406: North Circular
B406: New Bond Street
A4201: Regent Street, Portland Place
A2: Old Kent Road, Shooters Hill Road
A20: Loampit Vale
A21: Lewisham High Street
A23: Westminster Bridge Road, Brixton Road, Streatham High Road
A24: Tooting High Street
A201: Blackfriars Bridge
A205: South Circular
A5: Edgware Road, Cricklewood Broadway
A501: City Road, Euston Road, Marylebone Road
B507: Lisson Grove
B521: Hatton Garden
B524: Marylebone High Street
A5200: Gray's Inn Road
A5201: Old Street
A5204: Wigmore Street, Goodge Street

 Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Making the Bow roundabout safer for pedestrians

Whilst there's (rightly) been a lot of fuss about how poor the Bow Roundabout is for cyclists, let's not forget it's also a death trap for pedestrians. Built as a motorway junction circa 1970, the Bow Interchange was never designed for easy crossing on foot. But with the Olympic Park and Lower Lea Valley blocking alternative routes to the east, anyone trying to travel between Bow and Stratford has little choice but to pass this way. Two major roads cross here, with a total of eight slip roads to negotiate. The four entry roads have traffic lights but not pedestrian signals (the blue arrows on the map below) (safe-ish). Meanwhile the four exit roads have no aids to crossing at all (the brown arrows on the map below) (very unsafe). Here the car is king, and local pedestrians all but ignored.



Let me take you through one complete anti-clockwise circuit of the roundabout, starting outside the McDonalds drive-through, to show you how dangerous it is. You might want to follow on this Google map. And TfL planners, you might want to take notes.

1) Bow Roundabout West to Bow Roundabout South (across the A11, under the flyover)
1a) Eastbound sliproad from A11: This is fairly easy to cross on foot. There's no pedestrian signal, but all traffic stops at a red light for about 75% of every 50 second cycle. This gives plenty of time to stroll over, so long as you don't start out just before the light turns green, which it does with no warning, so beware.
1b) Westbound sliproad to A11: This is not at all easy to cross. Traffic streams off the roundabout at all times, so you have to judge best when there's a gap and nip across. If you're lucky then approaching cars will signal that they're continuing round the roundabout, leaving the sliproad clear, but accurate use of indicators can't be guaranteed. If you're too old or infirm to be able to break into a run, when necessary, then it's probably best not to risk it. If you're in a wheelchair, then you'd never dare cross here.
Shortest alternative safe crossing: From McDonalds walk up the pavement past St Mary's Church to the pedestrian crossing by the Gladstone statue. Cross to the centre by the church gates, then take the second pedestrian crossing to the other side of Bow Road. Next use the zebra crossing at the top of Bromley High Street, then walk down the pavement to the Bow Roundabout. Total diversion time: 6½ minutes.

2) Bow Roundabout South to Bow Roundabout East (across the A12, above the underpass)
2a) Northbound sliproad from A12: This is fairly easy to cross on foot. There's no pedestrian signal, but all traffic stops at a red light for about 75% of every 50 second cycle. This gives plenty of time to stroll over, so long as you don't start out just before the light turns green, which it does with no warning, so beware.
2b) Southbound sliproad to A12: This is not at all easy to cross. Traffic streams off the roundabout at all times, so you have to judge best when there's a gap and nip across. If you're lucky then approaching cars will signal that they're continuing round the roundabout, leaving the sliproad clear, but accurate use of indicators can't be guaranteed. If you're too old or infirm to be able to break into a run, when necessary, then it's probably best not to risk it. If you're in a wheelchair, then you'd never dare cross here.
Shortest alternative safe crossing: Walk south to the exit from Bromley High Street. This isn't entirely safe, but if there is any emerging traffic then it usually stops. Continue to the subway opposite Tesco, then pass through to emerge opposite the aforementioned supermarket. Cross Hancock Road, looking carefully to check that no traffic's coming, then walk north along the pavement to the Bow Roundabout. Total diversion time: 9 minutes.

3) Bow Roundabout East to Bow Roundabout North (across the A118, below the flyover)
3a) Westbound sliproad from A118: This is fairly easy to cross on foot. There's no pedestrian signal, but all traffic stops at a red light for about 75% of every 50 second cycle. This gives plenty of time to stroll over, so long as you don't start out just before the light turns green, which it does with no warning, so beware. Except hang on, what's this?
3b) Eastbound contraflow to Sugarhouse Lane: Yes, watch out, there's a contraflow lane here running along the southern edge of the flyover. Traffic's rare, but that makes speeding cars even more deadly when one does eventually come along. To cross at the lights requires blind faith that no vehicle will suddenly divert off the roundabout - you'll get only a few metres notice if one does. And there's a distinct hump in the edge of the pavement here - this is most definitely not a recommended crossing route. Maybe they want you to cross away from the traffic lights instead (that's 3a and 3b at the same time), but if you try that then beware of two-way traffic!
3c) Westbound contraflow from Marshgate Lane: And another contraflow lane, this time along the northern side of the flyover. There are no lights at the exit onto the roundabout, but there is a damned good view back towards Stratford so you'll easily see any traffic approaching. This one's safe... unless you forget it's there when crossing 3c and 3d at the same time, in which case the unexpected contraflow could easily kill you. Nearly has me.
3d) Eastbound sliproad to A118: This is not at all easy to cross. Traffic streams off the roundabout at all times, so you have to judge best when there's a gap and nip across. If you're lucky then approaching cars will signal that they're continuing round the roundabout, leaving the sliproad clear, but accurate use of indicators can't be guaranteed. If you're too old or infirm to be able to break into a run, when necessary, then it's probably best not to risk it. If you're in a wheelchair, then you'd never dare cross here.
Shortest alternative safe crossing: Time to use the new floating towpath! Walk away from the roundabout, turning left past the Calor Gas depot down towards the River Lea. Turn left along the floating towpath underneath the main road (which is illuminated at all times, even if the approaches aren't). On reaching the new footbridge turn left, and back up the slope to return to the roundabout. Total diversion time: 3½ minutes
Shortest alternative safe crossing after dark: Don't take the floating towpath route after dark. I tried this at 8pm last week, walking down an unlit path into a remote tunnel (where any crime would have gone wholly unseen), and it's probably the most unwise scary thing I've done all year. The 24-hour safe route involves walking up Stratford High Street as far as Abbey Lane, crossing that, then crossing the main road at new traffic lights, then walking back down Stratford High Street to the roundabout. It's a lengthy, but necessary, detour. Total diversion time: 12 minutes


4) Bow Roundabout North to Bow Roundabout West (across the A12, above the underpass)
4a) Southbound sliproad from A12: This is fairly easy to cross on foot. There's no pedestrian signal, but all traffic stops at a red light for about 75% of every 50 second cycle. This gives plenty of time to stroll over, so long as you don't start out just before the light turns green, which it does with no warning, so beware.
4b) Northbound sliproad to A12: This is not at all easy to cross. Traffic streams off the roundabout at all times, so you have to judge best when there's a gap and nip across. If you're lucky then approaching cars will signal that they're continuing round the roundabout, leaving the sliproad clear, but accurate use of indicators can't be guaranteed. If you're too old or infirm to be able to break into a run, when necessary, then it's probably best not to risk it. If you're in a wheelchair, then you'd never dare cross here.
Shortest alternative safe crossing: Ah, now this is difficult. There's no pavement along the eastern side of this former motorway, nor any useful footbridge or subway anywhere nearby. Instead, walk down the slope to the towpath beside the River Lea and continue north for approximately one kilometre. Exit the towpath at the Greenway, then walk up the ramp, double back and cross the river. Walk ahead to the end of the Greenway, turn right onto Wick Lane, and then left at the mini-roundabout to cross the A12 via the footbridge. Walk along Old Ford Road to the traffic lights, then left to the end of Parnell Road. Use the two zebra crossings to reach Tredegar Road and then Fairfield Road, crossing the latter at the zebra crossing further down. On reaching Bow Road turn left, and continue past the church to the roundabout. Estimated total diversion time: 35 minutes

I hope that's given you some idea of how utterly pedestrian unfriendly the Bow Roundabout is. So unfriendly that people are compelled to dash across and hope. So unfriendly that to make a safe circumnavigation of the roundabout on foot would take over an hour. So unfriendly that I've even seen mums with pushchairs catch a bus to take them one stop from one side to the other, that's how unsafe they feel. And what have TfL been doing about it? Quite a lot, allegedly, but nothing concrete.
Question by John Biggs (18th May 2011): What progress has been made to provide safe pedestrian crossings at the Bow Flyover/roundabout on the A12?
Answer by Boris Johnson: TfL has spent substantial effort looking at options for pedestrians crossings in this location and modelling various possible solutions. TfL have been unable so far to find an immediate solution for providing controlled at-grade pedestrian crossings at Bow Roundabout that does not push the junction over capacity and introduce significant delays to traffic. The feasibility of providing pedestrian crossings at the roundabout will continue to be investigated for the future.
None of the obvious solutions for improving the Bow Roundabout would work well. You can't build subways because there's an underpass. You can't build footbridges because there's a flyover. You can't add traffic lights at the four exits from the roundabout, because traffic would seize up. You could add zebra crossings at the four exits from the roundabout, except that would slow the flow of traffic and Boris won't have that. You could add an "all red" phase to the sequence of traffic lights at the roundabout, say once every 90 seconds, except that would seriously restrict the throughflow of traffic and cause major tailbacks, and be a complete waste of time if pedestrians weren't trying to cross, plus it could still take several minutes to walk from one side to the other. All deemed impossible, infeasible or impractical by TfL, so it seems.

And yet TfL are going to have to find a solution. They've promised an urgent review of the Bow roundabout in response to the recent death of two cyclists, and there'll be an outcry if it ignores pedestrians. Thousands of Olympic spectators will be heading this way next summer, intentionally or unintentionally, and it would never do to accidentally kill one.

So I'd like to offer a solution. It's "at-grade". It's cheap. And, best of all, it already works. All that's needed is to utilise the open space in the centre of the roundabout, beneath the flyover. Here's how.



There are currently eight sets of traffic lights at the Bow Roundabout, marked on this map with black arrows. Add a proper pedestrian crossing at each - red man, green man, dropped kerbs. That's all this solution needs. Two crossings will take anyone to the centre of the roundabout. And then two more crossings will take them to whichever other side they want to reach. Four crossings in total, via a safe route that already exists but isn't obvious. For example...

1*) Bow Roundabout West to Bow Roundabout South (across the A11, under the flyover)
1*a) Eastbound sliproad from A11: Pedestrian crossing one, from McDonalds to the concrete space beneath the flyover. The green man will be showing for 75% of the time. Easy.
1*b) Bow Roundabout West: Pedestrian crossing two, to the centre of the roundabout. Might be a bit of a wait, and there's only a short period to cross.
1*c) Bow Roundabout South: Pedestrian crossing three, to the pedestrian space above the underpass. Might be a bit of a wait, and there's only a short period to cross.
1*d) Northbound sliproad from A12: Pedestrian crossing four, to the Bromley-By-Bow side of the roundabout. The green man will be showing for 75% of the time. Easy.

Like I said, this already works. There are no green men to aid you on your way, but all the lights already turn red, and all the traffic already stops. It's just counter-intuitive, that the safest way to cross the roundabout isn't the most direct route, but via the huge bleak space in the centre. So why isn't this an ideal solution? Well, there are a few drawbacks...
i) Pedestrians are very bad at doing what they're told. Even though there's a safe route, most pedestrians will choose to ignore it, taking the existing (risky) quick route instead.
ii) Inviting people to cross to the centre of the roundabout adds pedestrians where there aren't any at present. Any sudden increase in jaywalking would make the roundabout more dangerous, rather than less.
iii) Metal barriers would need to be erected to constrain pedestrians to the approved routes, and to stop them running willy-nilly across the roundabout. Adding metal barriers isn't what Boris's TfL does - their policy is to aid choice and freedom by taking barriers away.
iv) The Bow Roundabout is a key hub on the Olympic Route Network. The last thing Games organisers want is eight new pedestrian crossings on the ORN.
v) These changes do nothing for bikes - nothing at all to improve the Cycle Superhighways.
Anyway, this is my solution. Eight pedestrian crossings attached to existing traffic lights, and a new safe refuge in the centre of the roundabout. It wouldn't cost much, and it wouldn't unduly affect existing traffic flow. Indeed, as I think I've already argued, the infrastructure already exists and the safe routes are already there. Obviously TfL will have considered this option and discarded it, otherwise they'd have introduced it by now. But I look forward to seeing what their alternative proposed solution at the Bow Roundabout is. Because nobody likes an appallingly-designed junction at the bottom of their road, and I'd rather not live near a death trap any longer than necessary.

 Monday, November 21, 2011

Ten ideas for Boring 2012

There must be several posts on here that would make an ideal ten minute burst of presentational tedium at next year's Boring conference. Not that I would, obviously, but if I did...

1) The annual variation in the date of Easter
Easter Day can fall on any Sunday between March 22nd and April 25th. The period between March 28th and April 20th is the most common, and any Easters outside that range are rather less frequent. The cycle of Easter dates repeats every 5,700,000 years. During this period, Easter falls on March 22nd only 27550 times (less than ½% of the total) but on April 19th 220400 times (nearly 4% of the total). Even if you're not particularly religious, the date of Easter affects the length of the Creme Egg season every year, which can be as long as 17 weeks (as in 2011) or as short as 12½ weeks (as in 2008). Look at this graph...

2) The redevelopment of Bow Road tube station (Feb 2004 - Oct 2005)
My local tube station, Bow Road, was the first to be upgraded by Metronet as part of the PPP station upgrade programme. They took their time, delivering not very much very slowly, and squandering £3.3m of public money in the process. As a permanent record of this process I took notes and recorded all the daily changes to my blog. I think you'll find this very interesting...
Monday 9th February (Day 1): Four blue portakabins have appeared on the pavement outside the station.
Tuesday 10th February: A blue wall has appeared in front of the four portakabins. It is made of metal.
Tuesday 27th July: The top two layers of scaffolding across the passenger bridge are now covered by white sheeting. The new white sheeting is made from flame retardant fabric (satisfying "LPS 1215 standard").
Wednesday 1st September: In the absence of any apparent renovation work going at the station, I thought I'd report on the progress of the conkers on the horse chestnut tree outside the station instead.
Sunday 20th March: Along the westbound platform I counted 24 security cameras and 28 microphones.
Tuesday 2nd August (7:30am): Three policemen are standing in the glass-fronted control room in the ticket hall, presumably watching some of Bow Road's 75 new CCTV cameras.
Friday 30th September: The second conker season looks to be drawing to a close.
Friday 14th October (Day 614): The three blue portakabins on the pavement outside the station have been removed overnight.
3) London's four geographical extremities
I thought I'd tell you about the times I visited the points in London that are the furthest north, south east and west. One's in a field, one's on a country lane, and two are on the M25. Think of it as an urban safari, following in the footsteps of Amundsen, Peary and Raleigh, but using equipment no more specialist than an Oyster card. Look, I've even taken some photos to show you...

4) The Count
Every February, for reasons even I'm no longer sure about, I count things. It seemed a good idea at the time, anyway. What this means is that I have ten years of data about my life, in a variety of areas, which is ideal for turning into pretty graphs and spreadsheets. See how stable my daily tea consumption is. I think this pie chart of daily escalator usage is particularly illuminating. And then there's this table which looks like binary but is in fact the number of times I've...

5) Rail Replacement Safari
One of the most boring, but enlightening, things I've ever done is to spend the entire day travelling on all of the different rail replacement buses in London...

6) The oldest food in my kitchen cupboards
We all keep food for longer than we should. It looks appealing as we place it in our trolley, then it languishes forgotten at the back of the larder for years. But even though many sell-by dates are purely for convenience, the contents of any packet or tin are likely to be less tasty the longer they're kept. So I've rifled though my kitchen cupboards to find the ten foodstuffs that are most out of date, and here they are on the table. What's first up?
» Microwaveable Apple and Cinnamon Sponge Pudding (320g) [use by Nov 2002]. Ah, do you remember the days when 'microwaveable' was a) still novel b) a selling point?

7) Olympic pin badges
You'd be amazed by the number of different inanimate objects that appear, for no particularly good reason, on London 2012 Olympic pin badges...

8) Installed by cretins
It never fails to amaze me how TfL manage to install so many next train indicators where people can't see them. At the far end of platforms, stuffed into alcoves, and especially blocked by "Way Out" signs and security cameras. I've put together this slideshow for you, starting with the northbound Piccadilly line platform at Holborn where the next two trains are going to Cock...

9) The Joys of Canvey Island
...out of season, even the crazy golf is locked away...

10) (tomorrow's post)

 Sunday, November 20, 2011

Notes from Boring 2011
A conference at York Hall, Bethnal Green, 19th November 2011

James Ward: Clement Freud goes through the Customs
James is the conference organiser, and he has a lot of early back copies of Which magazine. The very first review was for electric kettles, in which the top three were made by GEC, Swan and Russell Hobbs. Adjusting for inflation, the Swan would cost £30 more today than the most expensive kettle in the Argos catalogue. In a later test, scientists inverted ballpoint pens inside an oven heated to 90°F to simulate regular use inside a suit jacket pocket. Which magazine also deemed it "maddening" that so many cereal packets topple over due to excess empty volume (although Sunnybisk and Shredded Wheat were both commended for not doing this).

Tim Steiner: Hand Dryers - a beginners guide
There are three different kinds of hand dryer, as you will now notice every time you visit a public washroom. Warm air dryers, for example the ubiquitous World Dryer A48, remove more moisture by blowing than heating. Jet air dryers are considerably noisier (90dB for the Excel Xlerator, as opposed to 72dB for the A48). And finally there's the new generation of hand dryer, exemplified by the Dyson Airblade, which has its roots in the Mitsubishi Jet Towel from 1993. A perfectly-targeted presentation.

Chris T-T: My favourite loos from 2010 and 2011
Chris is a folk musician who gets around Europe a lot, especially (it seems) to heavy metal clubs. The VIP urinals at the Doghouse in Dundee are shaped like open mouths with red lipstick, while one continental loo he visited had an aquarium overhead. He's especially offended by mismatched toilets, for example those at the BBC Maida Vale studios with neighbouring black and white seats.

Matthew Crosby: Talking, tweeting, not talking and not tweeting about Nando's Chicken Restaurant
(recycled Edinburgh Fringe routine)


Dr Galit Ferguson: The Question of Budgens - the reorganisation of a local supermarket
Dr G applied academic techniques to the Crouch End branch of Budgens, proprietor Andrew Thornton. She provided photographic evidence of shelving reorganisation, and survey transcripts from customers annoyed that they could no longer find the Red Thai curry sauce or the falafel. In conclusion, she argued, Budgens create their own pricing policy along Gigetian lines. Spot on.

Jon Ronson: Eyes Wide Shut (London Streets : Islington area)
Following Stanley Kubrick's death in 1999, Jon was invited to his mansion near St Albans to rifle through two portakabins full of photographs. They'd been taken to aid the selection of locations for filming, notably for Kubrick's final film Eyes Wide Shut. In one particularly extreme example, a freelance photographer was commissioned to photograph the whole of Commercial Road from the top of a 12ft ladder, then stitch the whole lot together to create a 6m-long panorama. In the end, the relevant scene was filmed on set at Pinewood. Jon's documentary on Stanley Kubrick's Boxes was released in 2008.

Peter Burnett: The Supper Book
Peter diligently chronicled everything he ate and drank in one year - an art form he describes as "potential literature". Rather than read us an extract he focused instead on key themes, such as the bastardisation of food products (eg the Creme Egg lolly, the Kitkat milk drink) and the regional nature of the pasties sold at Gregg's (eg cheese and leek pasties in Wales). "I will be going to Gregg's later" he said, "not to eat but to see what things are called and what people are saying." When I popped down at lunchtime for a Jaffa Cake doughnut (1½m sold), what people were saying was that management have recently moved the bread racks to make way for additional seating, which is a bad idea - "probably for the Olympics, innit?"

Toby Dignum: The square root of 2
Toby led us step by step through a proof that the square root of 2 can't be expressed as a fraction - a proof which led to the murder of its discoverer Hippasus of Metapontium. In its day this was a world-shattering breakthrough, so I'm not sure it counts as boring, but those in the audience with low level algebraic skills may have concurred.

Leila Johnston: About A Boy - the film that taught me what it is to be bored
With the tenth anniversary of this seminal film coming up, Leila revealed some of its key themes, notably the emphasis on being bored. Lead character Will is a flaneur, making a Baudelarian lifestyle choice, she argued, in a way that might resonate with students and the unemployed today. Through her blog she uncovered the key filming locations, mostly in Clerkenwell and Camden but with statistical outliers in TW9 and SW18. Her readers' online pinpointing of Marcus's school as West Hill Primary in Wandsworth led to the inevitable conclusion that "if you want something doing, ask a bored person". Leila's presentation best summed up the innate irrelevant fascination of Boring 2011 - a highpoint.

Matt Parker: Barcodes
Matt, who'd twisted his security wristband into a Mobius strip, described himself as a Number Ninja. He performed a party trick by predicting the last digit of the bar code on a packet of crisps, using checksum arithmetic. He explained precisely why the ASCII codes used to send text messages use 256 different combinations. And he revealed the maths behind QR codes, including how all the information is compressed into only 30% of the design (in the bottom right hand corner) thanks to Reed Solomon polynomial-based error correction.

Greg Stekelman: Personal reflections on London Underground lines
Better known online as The Man Who Fell Asleep, Greg cantered through all eleven tube lines delivering facts, opinions and celebrity titbits. The Piccadilly line looks like a weeping tuning fork, the Circle line was separately named in 1949 and Steve Davis's favourite line is the Central. The best line, apparently, is the Victoria, whereas he's never been on the Waterloo and City and it looks a bit rubbish. A glaring error crept in when he claimed that the Metropolitan line went from Chalfont & Latimer to Cheshunt, but as he's never been out there either we should let him off.

Helen Keen: "There are no boring shuttle flights"
(recycled Edinburgh Fringe routine)


Will Barratt: The Loebner Prize
Every year since 1990 a competition has been held to determine whether computers have sufficient artificial intelligence to pass themselves off as human in conversation - the so-called Turing Test. The most successful computers win by being either defensively boring or programmably paranoid rather than linguistically independent, Will argued, because humans are too easily fooled.

Rhodri Marsden: Small Talk
Like many of us, Rhodri is very bad at small talk. He doesn't have the knack of asking appropriate questions to move a conversation forward. But he does have a book coming out in February. And he did make us laugh.

Josie Long: Ten maligned towns to which I recently took an alternative pop-up comedy protest tour
(future Edinburgh Fringe routine, no doubt) (she went on far too long)


Mark Stevenson: Cynicism
(badly-pitched sweary rant) (like a lead balloon, I'm afraid)


Richard DeDomenici: Health and/or Safety
22 photos illustrating global health and safety malaise, from escalators in Chicago to doorless lifts in Helsinki. Remember how dangerous Routemasters used to be, especially when driven at speed? And have you seen how hazardous the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin is in snow - they don't grit it, all those sharp corners.

Dr Felicity Ford: Vending machines of the British Isles - a Sound Diaries project
After a fairly lean spell, Boring 2011 was right back on target with this project from sound-diaries.com. Dr Felicity's audio quest had begun at the Oxford Brookes University coffee vending machine, which we all had a listen to, from the initial whirr to the final plaintive ting. Her Powerpoint played up after this, overlapping the sounds of a Glasgow Coca Cola machine, an Oxford Mini Cheddars vend and a vitamin water dispenser in Reading, but we got the idea. Dr Felicity described her project as a good exemplification of Georges Perec's theory of the infraordinary, which sent the two people sitting either side of me scuttling to their iPhones (which tells you a lot about the conference audience).

Adam Curtis: BBC Television Archives
Adam started out on That's Life, but now makes opinionated documentaries for the BBC like All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace. He brought us news of a behind the scenes project at the BBC Archive (a big shed in Perivale) where an employee called Andrew has been staying behind after work to catalogue "the bits between the programmes". Announcements, trails, logos, public information films, that sort of thing. He's watched his way through the first fifty years of this stuff - the stitching between the programmes - and has noted everything down in marvellous detail. Adam treated us to a compilation of archived BBC continuity, like the introductions to party political broadcasts, the spinning globe, a GPO TV Detector Van film and the elegiac closedown sequence at the end of another day on BBC2. "Over on BBC1 now, some space-age hippies feature in the latest episode of Star Trek (except for viewers in Wales)". And then Adam switched completely, to his trademark documentary style, warning of parallels between 1980s Soviet society and our current sleepwalking austerity. We live in an era of boredom, he argued, brought about by innate passivity and exploitable stagnation. So that was a far from cheery note to end on. But a boring note, hell no.

» A wonderful three page sketched summary of Boring 2011 by Eva Lottchen
» The contents of the Boring 2011 goodie bag

 Saturday, November 19, 2011

Last night, mid rush hour, hundreds of cyclists converged on the Bow roundabout for a candlelight vigil. They'd turned up because, one week earlier, Svitlana Tereschenko had died in a bike accident on the eastern side of the roundabout. And they'd turned up because, three weeks earlier, Brian Dorling had died in a bike accident on the western side of the roundabout. Both were entering the roundabout, both were hit by a left-turning tipper lorry. One roundabout, two distressingly similar deaths - not really what was intended when Cycle Superhighway 2 reached Bow in the summer.

The vigil had been organised by the Tower Hamlets Wheelers, an august body of local biking enthusiasts, here to pay their respects. They'll have been very pleased with the turnout, if not for the reason it was necessary. So many turned up that the only safe place to congregate was the centre of the roundabout - the bleak central circle where normally nobody goes. They surrounded themselves with candles, laid out in a flickering arc on the concrete. They draped a banner across a pile of Skanska barriers ("Safer Junctions For All"). And they stuck posters on the traffic lights where passing drivers could clearly see them ("Two deaths too many"). Too late for Brian and Svitlana, but maybe timely enough to prevent a third E3 casualty.

All ages of cyclist turned up for the vigil, some on their first ride along the Superhighway. A lot were in bright yellow fluorescent jackets - taking no chances on this dark East End night. Brian Paddick was here - the Lib Dem Mayoral candidate - as well as Rushanara Ali - the local MP. So too was Debbie Dorling, widow of the first CS2 victim. It must have been tough returning to the site of her husband's death, again, but immensely reassuring to see how many people cared.

On Brian's side of the roundabout, outside McDonalds, a ghost bike has appeared. A pure white chassis, plus a "Remember Me" tag on the lamppost - a stark reminder of mortality beneath the sodium glare. The flowers here have been refreshed, now pert bright blooms, with the toppermost roses dedicated "in memory of my dear husband". There's a larger collection of flowers on Svitlana's side, plus a haunting full-colour portrait, laid out along the wall to mark the more recent death. Here too a line of candles, the largest burning brightly in an empty jar of crunchy peanut butter. Even an hour after the vigil had packed up and ridden off, cyclists were still turning up to read the cards on the tributes and to pay their respects.

And we have a result, of sorts, as TfL have pledged to reassess the Bow Roundabout and report back to the mayor on "as a matter of urgency." He'll listen this time, unlike the team who installed CS2 in the first place. The pre-construction report from the Jacobs consultancy warned of dangerous traffic flow and proposed that toucan crossings be built to ease westward and eastward travel. As it turns out those two toucan crossings might have saved one life each, had they been built, which other priorities determined they were not. It is of course over-simplistic to cherrypick consultants' reports after a series of tragic events, and to claim that they could obviously have been prevented. But either lack of money or the smoothing of traffic flow took precedence, and cyclists received merely lip service rather than protection.

TfL have also promised to review all the junctions on the existing cycle superhighways, which would be a massive undertaking if done properly, and one fears that any review will be either glacially slow or superficially cursory. There's also no commitment to investigate the sections of superhighway between junctions, which means those pathetic half-blue shared lanes will continue, and continue to be rolled out elsewhere. It's not best practice, but in these times of austerity apparently it'll do. Only at Bow do I think we can guarantee action, because a road junction which kills your electorate isn't a vote winner. Something'll happen here, before the Olympics, because the force of public opinion has made its voice heard. But whether it'll be cosmetic tweaks or life-saving transformation, that's yet to be seen.

» London Cycling Campaign report on the vigil (with photos)
» Just Giving collection in memory of Brian Dorling


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