diamond geezer

 Wednesday, October 31, 2012

TfL are currently considering building two new river crossings in East London. What they'd like is a new tunnel at Silvertown (roughly underneath the cablecar) and a new ferry at Gallions Reach. To this end they've been running a public consultation to see what the public thinks, and what do you know, the public appears to be in favour.
• "Over 90% of those who responded agreed that there is a need for more river crossings in East and South East London."
• "Over 80% of respondents supported the Silvertown Tunnel."
• "Over 60% supported the Gallions Reach Ferry."
So now there's a new public consultation to iron out some of the more niggly detail, like the fact the Blackwall Tunnel will suddenly have to have tolls, and the Woolwich Ferry will probably have to close. Once they know this, will London's motorists still be so keen?
"Some of the people who responded to the previous consultation on river crossings suggested that tolling would be a good way to fund the investment."
Hang on, where have the statistics gone? There were proper percentages to back up the previous conclusions, whereas this is empty babble. It might be that only 2 people out of 4000 suggested introducing tolling on river crossings, but someone's subtly nudging this consultation towards tolling being an acceptable idea. Here's why.
"There is currently no funding set aside in TfL's budget for the major infrastructure projects outlined in this consultation. This means that in order to deliver them we would need to identify a means of paying for them."
This is the future of public transport development in Austerity London. No money for new projects is available from the public purse unless someone other than TfL coughs up and contributes. We've already got a cablecar part-funded by a Middle Eastern airline. The proposed Northern line extension is only being built to keep developers at Battersea happy. Crossrail will have a station in Woolwich solely because a housing company wants to pay for it. What next?

In particular, what additional toll-funded river crossings could we introduce to keep the Arabfly Dangleway company? Here are ten suggestions. You may have more...

1) The McSilvertown Drive Thru: Ride through Ronald McDonald's magic tunnel, placing your order on one bank and exiting with a bag of burgers on the other.
2) The Wonga Gallions Reach Ferry: No need to pay for your £5 ticket straight away. Instead interest on your loan accrues at 4214% APR, allowing you to pay £50 on the way back.
3) The O2 Priority Foot Tunnel: A new pedestrian walkway will be created between Docklands and North Greenwich. Free to O2 customers, otherwise £29.95 a time.
4) The Rotherhithe Skycycle: Let's build an aerial superhighway suspended from balloons. Entirely impractical, but it'll look pretty, and that's what's important.
5) The Erith Catapult: The perfect tool for Bexley to rid itself of undesirables and NEETS, by firing them across the Thames to a new workfare camp on Rainham Marshes.
6) The Elizabeth Embankment: A six lane express motorway floated on the Thames between Richmond and Chelsea to smooth the traffic flow.
7) The Utterly Butterly Westminster Punt: This essential transport link will allow Cambridge graduates to ferry small groups of tourists across to the South Bank for £25 per trip. Discounts available for regular users.
8) The Carlsberg Frost Fair: Refrigeration technology allows the Pool of London to be artificially frozen over, with visitors charged for access to the fairground, lager concessions and skating rink.
9) Old London Bridge: An exclusive cross-river housing development of luxury apartments for Russian multimillionaires, built parallel to the existing London Bridge on the site of its medieval predecessor.
10) Boris Airport: A series of floating runways off the coast of Kent, linked to London and Southend via toll motorways and a bloody expensive rail service. Probably the least likely project on this list to get built.

 Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I suspect my boss is reading my blog.

I have no proof. Indeed I rather hope I'm wrong. But I have a sneaking suspicion she might have stumbled upon it by mistake, and put two and two together, and be popping back for regular updates on my life.

I don't go round at work advertising that I have a blog. What I write has bugger all to do with work, and I don't think it's an especially wise move to mix the two. I never fire up diamond geezer on my monitor, not even a sneaky peek when I think nobody's looking. Indeed I've never ever written my blog in the office, nor logged in to Blogger on a corporate computer, not once in the last ten years. I like to keep work for work, and publishing stuff on the internet for home, with a strict dividing line inbetween.

Nevertheless I suspect my boss is reading my blog. It's my own fault. Normally I write about disparate stuff, nerdy stuff, you know the sort of thing. But a while back I made the mistake of writing about something local the boss is really interested in, without stopping to think that she might be really interested in it. I thought I was writing about something obscure and niche, but it turned out to be a niche with rather broader appeal. Anyone as enthusiastic as my boss would undoubtedly have noticed it, and clicked through and read it, and maybe assumed I wrote about that sort of stuff all the time. And from there it would have been only one small step to noticing everything else.

A few months later we were chatting at work, my boss and I, and she suddenly brought up a topic I've championed on the blog. Hmm, I thought, that's an unlikely conversational topic, about which my boss appears to know rather too much. This was immediately followed up by another off-the-wall London nugget, again something I've blogged about frequently but which isn't especially widely known. Whoa, I thought, two direct hits in two minutes! Can that be a coincidence? Or is she deliberately prodding, probing, testing to see if I'll react and confess. I didn't react, obviously, let alone confess. Neither was any other pertinent conversation forthcoming, so the entire encounter soon faded away. But it did leave me with a nagging doubt, wondering, repeatedly, is she now keeping tabs on everything I do?

I'd rather colleagues at work didn't know how nerdy my outside life gets. I'd rather they didn't know I'd spent the weekend on a bus, or visiting some geeky spot in the suburbs, or walking ten miles to an obscure museum. I'd rather they didn't look at me in the morning and go "seriously, you so need to get a life". I'd undoubtedly stop blogging the more personal stuff the minute I thought my words were circulating widely in the office. I'd more than likely start censoring the majority of other topics too, rather than risk face-to-face scrutiny and humiliation in a professional context. So if my boss is indeed reading my blog, as I suspect, that's not good. But if I ever found out that she was reading my blog, well, that would be worse.

If you are my boss and you're reading this, hello. Please don't hold my online exploits against me, or look at me in a funny way in the morning after I've posted something extreme. I'm not always like that. But, most importantly, please never ever mention that you've read today's post. You may know all about my blog, but I don't want to know that you know, because that would irrevocably change what I write about. Say nothing, drop no hints, don't even look up from your monitor right now and give me a sly bemused look. Pretend we've never had this conversation, and carry on as normal. Let's maintain this charade where you know, and I know you know, and now you know I know you know, but without ever reaching the stage where I know you know I know you know. It's better that way, for everyone's sake.

(for the avoidance of doubt, I flipped a coin before writing this to decide whether my boss would appear as male or female)
(if my boss is reading my blog, there's a 50% chance he flipped out long before reading this far down today's post)
(sorry, but ssssh anyway, say nothing, thanks)

 Monday, October 29, 2012

South Downs Way: Devil's Dyke to Ditchling Beacon
6 miles [map] [route] [ten photos]


It's surprisingly easy to get to Devil's Dyke, which is somewhat surprising given it's two miles beyond the edge of Brighton in the middle of nowhere. But there is a regular bus service up to the top of the South Downs, at this time of year weekends only. The number 77 runs eight times a day, from the heart of the city and from just outside the station. If you wave your rail ticket at the driver he's supposed to offer you money off, although that's difficult if the barrier at Brighton has just eaten your ticket. But 20 minutes later you could be stepping off at the bus stop on the ridge, and blimey look at those views, and whoa isn't it windy?

Devil's Dyke is the largest dry valley in the UK. Some say it was dug by the devil himself, with a very big spade, but in truth it was carved out naturally by permafrost meltwater. Today it curves for just under a mile down to the village of Poynings, a narrow grassy chasm in places 100 metres deep. And it's very pretty. An Iron Age hillfort was built on the adjacent plateau, defended on three sides by a sheer drop, though mere traces of its ramparts are all that remain. The Victorians were so taken with Devil's Dyke that an entire entertainment industry grew up around it, including a fairground and a funicular railway. There was even a cablecar across the chasm, linking nowhere to nowhere except for the sheer hell of it, which sounds familiar. No such extravagances today, just a mobile phone mast and a pub (which is much nicer on the inside than the outside).

The lofty elevation attracts glider pilots, soaring silently across the grassland, as well as enthusiasts with model aircraft to fly. For larger craft look carefully to the north and you can just make out proper commercial traffic coming into land at Gatwick. That's miles away, but the view from the escarpment across the Lower Weald is amazing. A patchwork of towns and fields and villages stretches off into the distance, seemingly flat as a pancake, until the North Downs rise up like a low blur on the horizon. The lack of shelter means it can be utterly windswept up here, as it was on Saturday, which made the presence of an ice cream van almost inexplicable. "Chill out" said the sign above the door, which it was impossible not to do, and so the crowds of 99-buyers stayed away.

The South Downs Way departs by following Summer Down, a ridge on the Brighton side of the dry valley. Again there are fine views to the north, this time through a gap between hilltops. It was at this point that I spotted my first rainbow of the afternoon, a faint arc grounded somewhere in the vicinity of Hassocks. How pretty, I thought, unaware that I'd see ten separate rainbows by the end of the afternoon and that this was merely the precursor to a heavy shower. It was drizzling by Saddlescombe, so the detour through a muddy farmyard to see the Donkey Wheel didn't appeal. If you have better weather, turn off to the right just after the organic refreshment room with the yummy cakes.

Up to this point there had been plenty of walkers but beyond it there were none. The path rose inexorably up the lengthy slopes of West Hill, which it appears are ideal for cycling down very very fast. I was bemused to see a line of gentlemen with white flags walking slowly four abreast through the field on the right. I assumed they were scaring pheasants or preparing the way for the local hunt, but was forced to reconsider when two deer ran by and were summarily ignored. A further gentleman with an orange flag stood on the edge of the escarpment staring out across the suburbs of Brighton, beyond which the English Channel glinted in the sunlight. Alas the track downhill was a bit of a mudbath, churned up by hooves from the adjacent riding school, and made less comfortable still by a sudden hailstorm.



The path has to descend to cross the A23, the main road into Brighton, which nips through a gap in the Downs in a not entirely beautiful way. Thankfully the road beyond has been safely blocked off, a winding lane up into the heart of Pyecombe village and its 12th century Grade I listed church. The next half mile passes up the middle of a golf course, which must have one of the best views in the South East, and then past some inquisitive friendly sheep. On the edge of the ridge overlooking the village of Clayton are two famous windmills, named Jack and Jill. As I approached they were briefly silhouetted against an ever-darkening sky, which soon gushed forth in another heavy shower. The path around the front of the mills was the muddiest yet, and alas Jill is only open to the public on summer Sundays.

The last two miles of this walk are an almost straight run along the top of the ridge. Brighton's still visible across the fields to the south, but the main attraction is still the view to the north across miles of the Lower Weald. The drop's fairly precipitous, as grassy slopes go, so only a couple of footpaths break off to descend to Underhill Road below. The track is churned up at present, and a bit of a trial to plod along. But the lane opens out halfway into broad undulating uplands lined by the occasional windblown tree and dew pond. Here's where I spotted rainbows six to ten, but thankfully the journey to the summit of Ditchling Beacon stayed dry. Close to the car park the path got busy again with short-distance ramblers, but few stepped off the main track to the triangulation point. The Beacon here is four metres higher than The View From The Shard, and what it lacks in city rooftops it makes up for with wow.

The road over Ditchling Beacon is a key part of most London to Brighton bike rides. Cyclists face a masochistic mile-long ascent up a steep winding chicane before emerging by the car park and frequently collapsing. I wouldn't. He did. A footpath descends alongside, a surprisingly slippery chalk furrow through a nature reserve, leading eventually to Ditchling village (and very eventually to Hassocks station). Alternatively you can continue walking along the South Downs Way to Lewes, but that's miles, or you can wait for the bus. The number 79 runs on Sundays throughout the year, but on Saturdays only during the summer. Best come when it's dry.

 Sunday, October 28, 2012

The London Underground celebrates its 150th birthday in January. That's still a way off, but you might like to start planning your part in the celebrations now.

In particular you might want to take your seat on the extra-special steam train that'll be running along the original Metropolitan railway on two Sundays in January. Puffing from the front will be Met Locomotive No. 1, an E-class steam loco built in 1892 that was rescued and restored by the good folk up at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre. It was one of seven engines designed for use on the Baker Street to Verney Junction service, and in 1904 headed the very first passenger train between Harrow-on-the-Hill and Uxbridge. Also part of the 150th anniversary train will be an 1892 Metropolitan Railway carriage, the "Chesham set" of carriages (which usually run on the Bluebell Railway) and early electric locomotive Sarah Siddons. Imagine that lot puffing underground through Baker Street station, and it's clear these are going to be very sought after tickets.
» Met Loco No 1: facts, photoset, history

They're also going to be very expensive tickets. How does £180 first class and £150 standard class grab you? That's just slightly less expensive than the peak time Virgin fare from London to Glasgow. Even if you won't pay that much, TfL have calculated that sufficient train buffs will be so keen to recreate the age of steam they'll pay almost anything for a place on board. If that's you, the online ballot for places begins tomorrow. There'll be eight trains in total, with approximately 300 passengers carried on each. Some are pulled by steam, some aren't. Some are round trips, some are one way only. Some last an hour, some barely thirty minutes. Some cost £150, others 'only' £50. But you can't pick a trip for yourself. You'll be only able to specify your chosen date, chosen locomotive and whether you want first or third class. And then a computer ballot will allocate you a specific service, if you're lucky. That sounds terribly (terribly) random to me. If you're not lucky, or if your finances can only stretch to an Oyster card, you'll have to be content with waving from the platform as history steams by.

LU150 Public timetables and prices
First class £180 / Standard (3rd) class £150
* First class £80 / Standard (3rd) class £50

Sunday 13th January
  • Moorgate 12:10 → Kensington (Olympia) 12:42 (pulled by Sarah Siddons)*
  • Kensington (Olympia) 19:15 → Moorgate 19:47 (pulled by Met Loco No 1)
  • Moorgate 20:10 → Edgware Road → Moorgate 21:02 (pulled by both)
  • Moorgate 21:25 → Edgware Road → Moorgate 22:17 (pulled by both)
  • Moorgate 22:40 → Earl's Court 23:06 (pulled by Sarah Siddons)*

    Sunday 20th January
  • Kensington (Olympia) 18:23 → Moorgate 18:56 (pulled by Met Loco No 1 for the first 6 mins, then Sarah Siddons)*
  • Moorgate 21:30 → Baker Street → Moorgate 22:17 (pulled by both)
  • Moorgate 22:40 → Earl's Court 23:05 (pulled by Met Loco No 1)

    That's not the end of London Underground's Sesquicentennial. Other very special events involving the same train set are planned, and we're told they'll include the following:
       » Rickmansworth Festival on 19 May
       » Steam back on the Met on 25-27 May
       » London Transport Museum at Buckinghamshire Railway Centre on 3-4, & 7 August
       » Neasden Depot Open Day on 31 August
       » Amersham on 8 September

    You can keep tabs on everything that's planned for next year at http://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/lu150/calendar. Alas there are no plans as yet to run any events at 1863 prices.
  •  Saturday, October 27, 2012

    A bunch of journalists were taken up the Shard yesterday to see what the view looks like. They were duly impressed, pretty much. This was to promote the launch of London's highest viewing gallery, The View From The Shard, which opens on February 1st next year. Visitors will get to access floors 68, 69 and 72 - that's 800 feet up - and enjoy a 40-mile panorama across London's tiny rooftops. Ticket prices, appropriately, are rather steep. The full "kaleidoscope lifts" and "cloudscape" experience will cost you £24.95, bookable in advance. And that's a lot of money. I thought I'd check how much by comparing The View From The Shard with some of London's other major ticketed attractions. Several cost more on the day, but can be bought rather cheaper if you go online. The Harry Potter Tour is more expensive, but that's in far flung Watford and buys you several hours entertainment. Which I believe makes The View From The Shard London's most expensive major tourist attraction. Lucky bunch of journalists, that's what I say.
    £30.00 Madame Tussauds (on the day)
    £29.95 The View from The Shard (if booked via the Time Out website)
    £29.00 Harry Potter Tour (Watford)
    £28.00 Up at the O2 (weekends) (on the day)
    £26.95 Ripley's Believe It Or Not (on the day)
    £24.95 The View from The Shard
    £24.00 The London Dungeon (on the day)
    £23.00 London Zoo
    £22.91 Ripley's Believe It Or Not (online)
    £22.50 Madame Tussauds (online)
    £22.00 Up at the O2 (weekdays)
    £20.90 Tower of London (on the day)
    £19.80 London Aquarium (on the day)
    £18.90 London Eye (on the day)
    £18.00 Tower of London (online)
    £17.82 London Aquarium (online)
    £17.01 London Eye (online)
    £16.95 Hampton Court Palace (on the day)
    £16.00 The London Dungeon (online)
    £16.00 Westminster Abbey
    £16.00 Kew Gardens (includes £1.50 voluntary donation)
    £15.00 St Paul's Cathedral
    £14.40 Hampton Court Palace (online)
    £14.00 HMS Belfast
    £13.50 London Transport Museum
    £13.00 St Paul's Cathedral (online)
    £12.00 Cutty Sark
      £8.00 Tower Bridge exhibition (and walkways)
      £7.00 Royal Observatory Greenwich (down from £10)
      £1.00 Tower of London (for Tower Hamlets residents)
    Tickets for The View From The Shard aren't selling fast. The first tour on the first day is sold out, and most of the first Saturday too, and one evening slot on Valentine's day. But other than that you can pick almost any half hour window you like up to the end of May and pre-book your visit.
    Admission to The View will only be valid on the date and time stated on your ticket.
    For the avoidance of doubt, dates or times booked are non-transferable.
    That's really risky, isn't it? What if the weather's rubbish? What if there's thick fog? Most importantly, what if the cloudbase is so low you can't see anything? Well, sorry, bad news.
    Low visibility
    There will be times where the visibility at The View will be low or non-existent in particular weather conditions. SVGM shall not be liable to provide a refund, or for any loss or damage, direct or indirect (including for claims relating to the loss of enjoyment or for travel expenses) as a result of such low visibility conditions.
    You might end up forking out a fortune to see bugger all, or swirling mist, or driving rain, or accidental darkness because you forget to check when sunset was. I'm sure the experience at other times will be unforgettable, but is it worth £25? I'm yet to be convinced.

     Friday, October 26, 2012

    One hundred years ago today (oh how I love blogposts that begin like that) the Woolwich Foot Tunnel was opened. It linked Woolwich to North Woolwich, which at that time were both in Kent despite being on opposite sides of the Thames. Hundreds of dockers needed to commute from one side to the other, and they couldn't always rely on the Woolwich Ferry (born 1889) to get them there. The tunnel had been designed by Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, who also engineered Vauxhall Bridge and the Aswan Dam. The Woolwich Foot Tunnel was his pre-retirement project, a glazed tube opened by the Chairman of the London County Council on Saturday 26 October 1912. Centenary visit anyone?

    As 100 year old foot tunnels go, it's not in the best of conditions. Greenwich Council have thrown millions at the old girl over the last couple of years, but the contractors missed their deadline and the revamp was terminated partway. What a mess. You'd be hard pressed to spot where any of their money's been spent if you turned up today. Indeed you'd be hard pressed to spot the tunnel at all, so appallingly is it signposted on either bank of the Thames. On the Woolwich side the entrance is hidden round the back of the Waterfront Leisure Centre, tucked in beside the goods entrance and the Riverside Suite. Even then the rotunda at the top of the shaft is wreathed in scaffolding and screened by a blue wall, with the only indication of what's below being a sheet of A4 paper tucked into a plastic pocket. "Tunnel Entrance", it reads, with a red arrow scrawled below in marker pen pointing round the corner to an unlabelled recess. It looks like you're about to walk down into a backyard where tramps piss, but look more carefully and the doors into the underworld are open.

    I turned up at the Woolwich end of the Foot Tunnel earlier this week, just before dusk. I can't say the view ahead was inviting. I love a decent bit of urban decay, but even I stepped inside with a certain degree of trepidation. The air was gloomy and the walls thick with grime, as if nobody's given the place a scrubdown in years. Discarded litter lay scattered across the steps - a spicy tuna wrap here, several ketchup-dipped chips there, one empty McFlurry. I followed the staircase down as it wound around the sealed-off liftshaft, for 100 steps or so to under-river level. Woolwich never got the great glass elevators that were installed at Greenwich. Instead the beloved wood panelled lifts were rendered inoperable, seemingly permanently, until someone with money and motivation gets their act together. If you're in a wheelchair, forget it. This former step-free crossing is now the preserve of pedestrians and bike-carrying cyclists only.

    As I reached the bottom and looked ahead beneath the Thames, I was surprised. Normally there's somebody else down here, usually more, approaching in the distance or wandering slowly away. Not this time. This time I appeared to be completely alone in the tunnel, which is an unusual feeling fifty feet down, and not the sort of thing which happens in Woolwich's sister tunnel at Greenwich. This was seriously creepy, a pre-Hallowe'en taster, and I was nervous lest some ne'erdowell might interrupt my subterranean crossing. In truth I knew there was nobody there, because approaching humans are very obvious down a straight tunnel where every footstep echoes. But the contour of the footway slopes, sufficiently so that there could have been unmentionable horrors lurking silently beyond the halfway point. From the middle of the tunnel it's a good five minutes back to the surface in either direction, which is plenty of time to be left bleeding in a severed pool on the floor. There may be Help Points installed on the wall at either end but don't think they'll save you - each is taped up and inoperable. This tunnel is for use at your own risk, with no emergency exit.

    Banishing any painted devils, I started to thoroughly enjoy my crossing. An entire 500 yard foot tunnel all to myself, that's no everyday experience. I strode ahead beneath umpteen narrow metal pipes and ceiling-mounted boxes, and fresh lamps that have only recently brightened the way. London's great river was above me, perhaps only ten feet away, as I followed in the footsteps of Woolwich's pre-war dockland workforce. And then I saw him - one dark figure walking towards me from the southern side. Damn, this now meant the genuine possibility of thuggery. I carried on walking, not in any way disturbed, probably, no really it's fine, until closer visual scrutiny proved he was no more scary than I to him. Now I was merely bitter that an intruder had wrecked my opportunity to cross the Thames solo. Ah well, it was good to see this cross-river link actually being used, even if passenger numbers were well below even Dangleway levels.

    The tunnel flattens out in the middle, then curves back up towards the Newham shaft. It would make a great place for skateboarding, or very fast cycling... which is why Greenwich council have installed several metal chicanes to prevent excessive acceleration. They look a bit ugly, especially if you're going for a longshot longitudinal photo... but then Greenwich Council have also banned the taking of all photographs in the tunnel as well. Flash photography might set off visitors' epilepsy, that's the excuse, and let's have no busking, animal fouling, skating or spitting while we're at it. And no loitering, so bang goes any opportunity of holding a special 100th birthday party down here today. The council want you through and gone with a minimum of fuss, and quite frankly I'm not sure you'd want to linger.

    At last I reached the final staircase, and a second dead lift, at which point rush hour suddenly arrived. Five Woolwich-bound commuters appeared in sequence down the stairs, one of them a solo female, two more with bikes. It gets busier here whenever a bus arrives at the terminus up top and passengers don't want to wait to board the Woolwich Ferry. Down they pour, again far fewer than in the tunnel's heyday, keeping the link alive. But it's a wonder any new visitors ever find their way in. The rotunda is scaffolded and boarded off, as on the southern bank. The only entrance is hidden from view, unless you're directly in front of it. There's no pavement access, not unless you're thin and can walk along steps, which means walking instead into the ferry-bound traffic. Nobody seems to be proud of this tunnel, nobody's offering a welcome. Indeed there's not a single notice nor signpost announcing what this riverside portal is or where it might lead. And that's sad.

    As centenaries of great London institutions go, this one seems to have been summarily ignored. Instead there's distant talk of a road tunnel at Silvertown and/or a new ferry at Gallions Reach. But Woolwich remains the prime crossing hereabouts for those on foot, indeed the very last crossing for pedestrians before the North Sea. Nobody would build it today, it's not swish enough. But its resilience has seen it through the last century, and one suspects it'll still be here long after the last cablecar has flown. Happy 100th, Woolwich Foot Tunnel, and here's to many decades more.

     Thursday, October 25, 2012

    poppyThe Royal British Legion's annual Poppy Appeal launched yesterday. On a Wednesday. That's funny, I thought. I'm sure last year the Poppy Appeal launched on a Thursday. And indeed it did.

    Year
     
    Poppy Appeal
    launch date
    Length of
    campaign
    Remembrance
    Sunday
    2012Wed 24 Oct18 daysSun 11 Nov
    2011Thu 27 Oct17 daysSun 13 Nov

    Last year's 17-day campaign has become this year's 18-day campaign. A whole extra day of selling and pinning and collecting. Why is that? I'm all for raising money for ex-Service personnel and their families, but do we really need an extra day to ram the message home? Say no to poppycreep.

    2010Thu 28 Oct17 daysSun 14 Nov
    2009Thu 22 Oct17 daysSun 8 Nov
    2008Thu 23 Oct17 daysSun 9 Nov

    The British Legion's campaign's been 17 days long for some years now. And even that I think is pushing things somewhat. An entire two and a half weeks of poppy-wearing risks turning the act of remembrance into a duty rather than a tribute. Woe betide the celebrity or newsreader who's seen without a poppy between now and Sunday 11th. Watch how every singer on the X Factor dutifully pins a paper flower to their costume for three consecutive Saturdays because someone's told them to. We've somehow allowed a two minute silence to takeover twenty-five thousand minutes each year, and that can't be right.

    2007Wed 24 Oct18 daysSun 11 Nov
    2006Thu 26 Oct17 daysSun 12 Nov

    Except hang on, we've had an 18 day campaign before. Interestingly this occurred the last time Remembrance Sunday was on 11th November, so maybe there's something about this particular calendar configuration which makes the British Legion launch early. Or maybe not. Let's go back a little further.

    2005Mon 24 Oct20 daysSun 13 Nov
    2004Thu 21 Oct24 daysSun 14 Nov

    Woo, what happened there? 2005's Poppy Appeal was long enough, but the previous year the campaign had stretched to an astonishing three and a half weeks. From the earliest launch date there's ever been to the latest date Remembrance Sunday can ever fall, now that's extreme. However elongated this year's campaign is, it's nothing compared to 2004's marathon.

    2003Sun 26 Oct14 daysSun 9 Nov
    2002Sun 27 Oct14 daysSun 10 Nov
    2001Sun 28 Oct14 daysSun 11 Nov
    2000Thu 26 Oct17 daysSun 12 Nov
    1999Sun 31 Oct14 daysSun 14 Nov

    About a decade ago, the Poppy Appeal operated on a less extensive scale. Each year's campaign was launched precisely a fortnight before Remembrance Sunday, which still allowed for a full two week collection period. There was a blip in 2000, but maybe that's because either S Club 7 or Thora Hird weren't available on the Sunday so they had to push back to the Thursday instead.

    1998Mon 26 Oct13 daysSun 8 Nov
    1997Wed 29 Oct11 daysSun 9 Nov

    Now that's more like it. 1997 was the year in which the Spice Girls launched the British Legion Poppy Appeal, and they did so only a week and a half in advance. That's more the length of campaign I think is appropriate - a concentrated burst of honour rather than a diluted spell of expectation. I'd be much happier if 2012's Poppy Appeal had launched next Wednesday, to prevent the entire campaign from descending into an unnecessarily lengthy period of soldier-worship.

    If I'm honest, I'd be even happier with this.

    1979Mon 5 Nov6 daysSun 11 Nov

    And I'm living in dread of this.

    2014Mon 4 Aug97 daysSun 9 Nov

    We should remember them, we will remember them, but let's not overdo it.

     Wednesday, October 24, 2012

    It's early evening at a quiet East End station. I've alighted at the very far end of the platform, and before long I'm the only man remaining on the platform. As I approach the foot of the exit staircase I notice a young woman with a buggy standing there waiting. She's motionless, facing the steps, holding her pushchair tightly in front of her. It's clear she's waiting for assistance.

    Would you stop and help out? Or would you walk on by?

    What would you do?
    Stop and help out        Walk on by

    Surely it's only polite, even chivalrous, to offer to help. She could be standing waiting for several minutes otherwise, the unwitting victim of TfL's inability to make all stations step-free. A flight of stairs can be a terrible barrier to movement, not only for those in a wheelchair but also for those with small children. Imagine having to make your way around the capital facing these challenges every day. The very least a passer-by can do is to stop and offer to assist. Grabbing hold of one side of the buggy would be the right thing for a caring citizen to do, surely, and walking backwards up some steps isn't hard. Then there's the pleasure to be gained from helping out, especially when a young child's involved, and the "thank you" that's sure to come at the top of the flight. If more people stopped and helped rather than walking on by, imagine how much nicer our society could be.

    But why not leave her to it? Everybody else walked off the platform and left her to it, so why should you be any different? She couldn't have known you'd be here, and relying on goodwill to get around is somehow wrong. It's her own choice to be on this inaccessible platform, when there's a perfectly good step-free bus at street level. And who's to say she wants you to nip in and take control anyway? Imagine how scary it could be for a stranger to appear from leftfield and grab hold of your child, however well meaning they might be. A lot of would-be Samaritans are far too keen to assist without stopping and thinking whether they're actually required. Not to mention, what would be the consequences if you slipped or tripped on your buggy-carrying journey up the steps? You could do more harm than good, with no legal means of recourse.

    If you haven't made your decision yet, now's your last chance before reading ahead. Go back and select an option - help out or walk by - and then I'll tell you what I did.

    I had a good think about this one. I was trying to work out why a young woman with a pushchair might be waiting at the bottom of a staircase facing away from the platform. Was there somebody else I hadn't seen who she was waiting for? I looked up to the footbridge and indeed there was. An older woman, probably her mother, was standing at the very top of the steps setting down several bags of shopping. This was no solo journey, this was a planned manoeuvre in two parts with the buggy going second. I could still have intervened. I could have offered to help out, saving the mother a walk back down the steps and speeding up their eventual exit. But no, they had it all worked out, so I left them to it.

    I'm a walking on by kind of person. If someone's lugging a heavy suitcase up some steps, I'm content to leave them. If two young parents are negotiating a staircase with two buggies, I won't intrude. It's their choice, not my responsibility. I'd not expect anyone to stop to help me. I'd make sure I could cope with my luggage before leaving the house, or travel with a friend, or take an alternative route that allowed me independence. Sorry, if that was you on the stairs when I walked on by. You coped without me. I'd rather not get involved.

     Tuesday, October 23, 2012

    It's time to wave goodbye to Ceefax. You probably didn't realise it was still broadcasting, because it probably isn't round your way. But Ceefax lives on in the one corner of the country where analogue TV survives, which is Northern Ireland. And it lives on until just before midnight tonight, at which point the plug is pulled, the final digital switchover takes place and Ceefax is consigned to history.

    You could have watched Ceefax yesterday, had you been awake early enough. BBC2 sometimes shows Pages From Ceefax in the slot before breakfast, complete with authentic testcard-style music, rather than simulcast the BBC News Channel with BBC1. Yesterday's highlights kicked in at 4:45am, a rolling programme of news, sport and weather, just like it has done for decades. But this was the very last Pages From Ceefax, because you can't have Pages from something which doesn't exist. Did you not tune in, or at least record it to replay over a bowl of Shreddies before work? Just me then?

    The BBC's early morning continuity announcer gave the final Pages From Ceefax an appropriate sendoff. A rare appearance for the 1979 BBC2 logo was accompanied by a reminder to viewers of the significance of what was about to happen. We learned that Ceefax in Vision has been broadcast on the BBC since 1980, until today, and that this was "the end of an era". So "Enjoy for the very last time...", said the mellifluous voice, before a blue screen with a blocky yellow C E E F A X appeared. How exciting those graphics once were, and now how utterly superseded. The usual parade of pages rolled by for just over an hour, accompanied by a selection of those easy listening sax pieces that were such a part of testcard viewing in my youth. This was the full version of "Great Ocean Road", I understand, which aficionados can relive here if in need of melodious respite.

    Ten minutes before oblivion an intermittent countdown (in red) appeared in the top left corner of the display. With four minutes remaining the music changed to a complete rendition of "Bart" by 70s US rock band Ruby - which you might have sat through while waiting for a schools programme in your youth. The final news page had the headline "BBC Journalist's Savile Warning", an unfortunate self-referential dig, and indeed a potential headline from 1972! The latest stock market indices followed, with the FTSE 100 at 5896.2, down 20.9. But it was the sports headlines which had the honour of being the very last page, led by "Ten-man Newcastle in Derby Draw". And then at 05:57/04 precisely (because Ceefax was brilliant at knowing the time, unlike any of its digital successors), fade to black. Actually make that blue, and a final widescreen montage specially created as a pixellated parting shot.



    "And that was TV history," said the announcer. "Farewell and thank you Ceefax for the last 38 years."

    I could invite you round to mine to watch the recording, but these days you can relive the whole thing via YouTube so there's no need. And that'll be one of the reasons Ceefax has died. It used to be the fastest way of finding out what had just happened in the outside world, and now the outside world's available everywhere all the time. In the 1970s you might have had to wait until tomorrow to find out who won a particular football match, whereas Ceefax allowed you to watch each goal update in real time. It was the UK's first widely available digital service, very much the precursor of that global newspaper you now keep in your pocket.

    As well as nostalgia, Ceefax leaves behind its younger sibling, the BBC Red Button. This is essentially the same service, improved, yet somehow it isn't nearly as good. Red Button teletext hides in a world of interconnected one-way menus, accessible via a chain of coloured commands you might or more likely might not remember. Yes there are numbers for most of the pages but most people don't use these, choosing instead to weave their way through a series of branching indices. I used to know that the Top 40 was on page 197, whereas now I'm so uncertain where Friday's weather is I never choose to look. Indeed whereas Ceefax was slow but simple, the Red Button version's too complex, and anyway, the internet's better.

    BBC Northern Ireland are throwing a farewell party for analogue television after News At Ten tonight. No doubt Ceefax will get a mention, if only in passing, before spluttering out in the early hours. We'll cope, indeed most of us already are, barely registering the departure of a service that was once a trusted friend. Ceefax's demise has been planned for the best part of a decade, with its disappearance tomorrow bang on schedule. I'm much more nervous about the next phase of digital switchover, the loss of FM radio, even though that particular doomsday's continually being delayed due to lack of consumer interest.

    So farewell to blocky Mode 7 graphics, and the latest vegetable prices, and pages that rolled round only once every 30 seconds. It may have shone brightest in the 80s and 90s, but Ceefax brightened our lives for almost 40 years. We'll not miss it, because for most of us it already isn't there. But it was far more important to us than our grandchildren will ever imagine, could ever imagine. A pioneering service closes tonight.

     Monday, October 22, 2012

    Day out: Ely
    It's about fifteen miles north of Cambridge. It's just over an hour by train from London. It's a city, one of the three smallest in England. It's named after a slippery fish. I met my Dad there for a birthday rendezvous on Saturday. And it's not a bad place for a day out.

    Ely Cathedral: You can see this 12th Century masterpiece from miles away. It was built on a hilltop, or what passes for a hilltop round here, which earned it the nickname "The Ship of The Fens". The nave is one of the longest in England, and the Lady Chapel one of the largest. Throw in an octagonal Lantern, built as a replacement for the Norman Tower following its untimely collapse, and there's no mistaking the cathedral's silhouette on the flat horizon. Alas Ely is also famous for being the first UK cathedral to impose an admission charge, at prices that have escalated since - currently £7 to get in and £16.20 for the full works. That does include a tour, a trip up a couple of towers and a look round the Stained Glass Museum, but my Dad and I both agreed we wouldn't be paying up to go inside. Had we arrived on Sunday (top tip) then general admission would have been free, but instead we made the most of admiring the ornate exterior. There are particularly good views across the Dean's Meadow.

    Ely Eel Trail: Ely wouldn't be Ely without eels. There wasn't much other industry hereabouts before the fens were drained, and the townsfolk made a living catching, selling and smoking these abundant creatures. Even the stone for the cathedral was paid for in eels (8000 a year, to the Bishop of Peterborough, in perpetuity). Not surprisingly the city makes much of its eel-related past, including several sculptures and works of art dotted around the town. You can track these down by following the Eel Trail, a two mile stroll which also passes all of Ely's other interesting attractions. It's marked in the pavement by dozens of small copper plaques, which is a nice idea but utterly impractical for following without getting hopelessly lost. Instead you'll need a leaflet from the Tourist Information Centre, only 50p, and surely the best way to explore Ely without missing anything.

    Oliver Cromwell's House: The commoner who destroyed the monarchy lived in Ely. Oliver Cromwell moved his family here from Huntingdon in 1636 after inheriting a large estate, and became an increasingly important member of the local community. That family home still stands, and has become both the city's Tourist Information Centre and a small museum. It's worth a look round, for a small fee, to see the surroundings which inspired revolution. A short film kicks things off, then there's an audio guide to lead you through a handful of rooms downstairs and up. You won't be surprised to hear that Eel Pie is being prepared in the kitchen, allegedly one of Elizabeth Cromwell's favourite recipes. Most of the other rooms are filled with information and artefacts and re-creations, including animated mannequins whose mechanical innards are just a little too audible. That includes Oliver's sleeping body in the final chamber, which has been dressed up as 'The Haunted Bedroom' despite the fact that Cromwell died many miles away in Whitehall. And was he hero or villain? The museum attempts to stay equivocal on the subject, then asks visitors to vote before they leave.

    Ely Museum: It used to be the city jail, with its own peculiar ecclesiastical take on the law. It's also very old, with parts of the building dating back to the 13th century, and scratched graffiti from several very old prisoners evident on the walls. Now it's the local museum, with exhibits ranging from Roman remains to (obviously) the history of eel fishing. On view is the velocipede ridden to victory in the world's first recorded bicycle race, and also a model of Ely Cathedral made out of thousands of matches. It's that sort of place, and the kind of repository every small community needs.

    High Street/Market Street: Ely's not been taken over by clone stores and chains, and retains a variety of independent stores and eateries. Twice a week the market comes to town, on Saturday a pleasing mix of aspirational and down-to-earth.

    Riverside: At the foot of the hill, below the town, the River Great Ouse rolls by. It's broad and slow, with extensive water meadows beyond, and plied by a substantial number of boats of all sizes. The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race was rowed here in 1944, the only time in the race's history that it's taken place away from the River Thames. Now it's Ely's artistic quarter, combining an art gallery, an entertainment centre and a former maltings now home to dozens of antiques dealers. There are geese and ducks and swans everywhere, which adds to the charm, plus an award-winning tearoom that has queues out of the door even on a grey October day. And watch out too for the eel sculpture, the eel mosaic, the eel forks and the eel etchings. Just don't expect to spot any of the slippery creatures wriggling in the water, not any more.

    » Visit Ely
    » Ely miniguide (pdf)

     Sunday, October 21, 2012

    It's Apple Festival Day in the heart of the city.



    Hundreds have gathered on Palace Green to celebrate Britain's favourite fruit. A ring of stalls encircles the damp grass, some here with specific apple-related activities, others merely to flog stuff.

    The Scouts are planting pips in pots, while the WI have baked you-know-what sponges. The apple juice guys are doing a roaring trade selling home-crushed bottles, and more usefully have warm cider punch for immediate ladling. The burger vans, meanwhile, have merely shifted pork and apple to the top of their menus. A basket of apples is up for grabs for whoever can most closely guess how many fruit are within. There's also a "longest apple peel" competition, for which it's alleged many have been practising for several weeks, although you'd not guess from looking at the results.

    Instead of a coconut shy there's an apple shy, where teenagers are busy hurling balls at cookers to win eaters. The Mayor and his wife are at the Farmers Market stall, he bedecked with ceremonial chain, she resplendent in a floppy feather hat. Even the local health club have got in on the act, handing out all their usual promotional material along with a dubious leaflet relating the fruit's supposed health benefits. "Apples lower cholesteral" is their starter for ten, before moving on with "Apples keep you slim" and a triumphant "Apples may fight cancer".

    Over by the museum a small band of morris dancers are jigging to the sound of a fiddle, like they do in these parts. A larger band of musicians has gathered outside the refectory, their faces painted, and with scraps of coloured handkerchief hanging from their clothes. The couple who booked the noon wedding in the cathedral probably weren't expecting to have quite so many spectators looking on... and look like they wish they'd wrapped up warmer.



    In one tent a group of orchard owners are holding court. They've brought along samples of a hundred or so different varieties of apple, from humble Bramleys to Kidd's Orange Green. They're laid out in a wooden grid, in alphabetical order, with dates and places of origin typed neatly underneath. The idea is that visitors bring apples from their own gardens to be identified, although few are taking up the offer, and most seem more than happy to scan the racks in reverent awe. With so much choice the message is clear - why would you ever pick up a bag of Golden Delicious at the supermarket again?

    Harvest home, a celebratory crunch, and roll on autumn.

     Saturday, October 20, 2012

    Railway walks: The Ebury Way
    Rickmansworth → Watford (3½ miles)


    The Watford and Rickmansworth Railway should be celebrating its 150th birthday this month, but never survived long enough. It opened on 1st October 1862, a speculative four mile link between two Hertfordshire towns across Lord Ebury's estate. The railway had to negotiate three river valleys, a canal and a section of open moorland, and failed to pass any other population centres along the way. Only a handful of trains ran each day, even in the early years, and passenger numbers remained low. Eventually London-bound traffic was superseded by the more useful Metropolitan line, and so the railway closed sixty ago in March 1952. After a long period of dereliction the trackbed was reopened to walkers and cyclists as the Ebury Way - a nice easy stroll or a family ride, and a fine afternoon out.


    The Watford and Rickmansworth Railway: disused stations, map, photo gallery
    The Ebury Way: leaflet, leaflet, cycle route, walk, Herts Memories, six photos


    You'll find no trace of Rickmansworth station today. This is the station at the foot of Church Street, down by Batchworth Lock, and completely distinct from the Met line station in the heart of town. The terminus and platforms have long since been replaced by a builders merchant, so the Ebury Way starts by sidling its way ignominiously between a metal fence and a housing estate. It gets better, quickly. A cluster of narrowboats fills an overgrown basin off the Grand Union Canal. A former rail bridge crosses almost-the-very-end of the River Chess. And then the path strikes out between two long leafy lakes, each a filled-in gravel pit. These are favoured fishing spots, both for the Croxley Hall Carp Syndicate and for the local heron, who might appear for you on the bankside if you're lucky. Keep an eye out through the trees for the Croxley Great Barn, a gabled monastic storehouse built in the 14th century, with tours available on the last Saturday of the month.

    The watery vista continues as the Grand Union Canal curves around and underneath the railway. At this point the channel doubles up as the River Gade, very close to where it meets the River Colne - not for nothing is the local authority known as Three Rivers. It's a pleasant spot, close to Lot Mead lock, with Metropolitan trains rumbling across the canal in the background. Divert along the towpath here for a woodside walk to Croxley station (details here), whereas the Ebury Way continues along the line of the former railway. It's a blue and green and pleasant stroll, with another lake or two set beyond the trees, nothing wildly special, but still a proper rural getaway.



    Ah, hang on. Beyond the Metropolitan line bridge a trading estate kicks in, thankfully on one side only, but that's not so lovely. A long row of warehouses has been shoehorned into a remote slice of land, plus a mobile phone mast - anything the people of Rickmansworth would rather not have on their doorstep. Best look left instead towards Croxley Common Moor, an extensive but squelchy Site of Scientific Interest. It's wild and marshy and rather lovely, should you care for a detour, but mind your step for hidden cowpats. The cattle roaming free here used to frighten me as a child, at least during the summer months, but I bet the herd's not that scary really. That's my grandmother's old house you can see on the hillside across the moor, overlooking the housing estate where John Dickinson's paper mill isn't any more.

    Just beyond the tip of the moor, one of the business units on the right is a little posher than the rest. This is Camelot HQ, home to the organisers of the National Lottery (and definitely not the site of King Arthur's round table). If you ever win a million you'll likely end up in a meeting room here to be advised on what you might do with your windfall. The neighbouring Holywell estate is precisely the sort of neighbourhood which people buy tickets to escape, but the Ebury Way thankfully only glances the perimeter. Beyond Tolpits Lane the valley opens out again, with rolling views to the south across fields and farmland. Ignore the pylons and the spiky electricity transmission station and it's almost pretty. And take a closer look at the final footbridge over the River Colne, or what's left of it, for an original 1862 iron plaque.

    And that's about it. Just before Riverside Park the path bends off into Oxhey towards central Watford, no longer following the route of the original line. But that's because there's a junction ahead and another railway is about to swing in from the left. This is the Croxley Green branch line, an abandoned railway of some legend and considerable future importance. It was opened precisely 100 years ago, and somehow survived the Beeching axe to run limply into the 1990s. I used to commute to work on this line, for one summer at least, so it won't surprise you to hear I've blogged all about it before. What's new is that the Metropolitan line is now due to be extended this way from Croxley into Watford Junction, with plans now at the public inquiry stage, and scheduled for completion in 2016. Fancy a sneak peek?

    Look for a gap in the undergrowth close to the Sustrans cycling totem, and head up the brief slope beyond. Within a few seconds you'll be up on the embankment standing on the actual rails of the Croxley Green branch line, still very much in situ. No train could pass this way at present, it's much too overgrown, with a thicket growing up fast between the sleepers. But duck down and you can follow the railway for some distance east or west, stepping over lengths of twisted black rubber cable as you go. It's not trespassing - the line's unprotected by fencing or signs or anything - but there's still an illicit thrill to standing where you probably shouldn't. Don't expect such access to last. By 2014 TfL's engineers will have moved in, wiping away the thorny stalks and resculpting this narrow curve for a twin tracked future. And before long we'll all be able to ride through this very spot, between Watford Hospital and Watford High Street stations, on a disused branch line brought back to life.

    The Croxley Green branch line (1912): disused stations, photos, photos, history
    The Croxley Rail Link (2016): project website, map, TfL page, 3D flythrough

     Friday, October 19, 2012

    With perfect timing, the Dangleway's Autumn marketing campaign has launched this week. A bit of PR money is being splashed around - at stations, on buses and on trains - to make us love and use the cablecar a little more. Might work. Could hardly make things worse.

    The campaign has four aims:
  • to increase awareness of this new route within the local boroughs
  • to promote the winter timetable that will be in place until 31 March 2013
  • to increase awareness of Oyster Pay as you go ticketing options
  • to promote the benefits for regular users

    It seems unlikely that residents of Greenwich, Newham and Tower Hamlets have missed the cablecar's birth. You only have to look towards the river and there it is, even from the other side of the borough - a series of small blobs moving across the horizon. What residents may not have realised is precisely where it is (a friend at work thought it launched somewhere near the Tower of London), or that they can use it to get across the river.

    It's a dead cert that the cablecar's opening hours aren't widely known. Those who view it as a tourist attraction might be surprised to hear it starts running at 7am on weekdays. Those who view it as a commuter route will be disappointed to hear it stops before the end of the evening. The winter timetable's most important feature is that the gondolas now only run until 8pm, not 9pm. But this also means a significant period of after-dark journey time, so please (please) come and enjoy "the twinkling lights of London".

    Most people aren't yet aware that Oyster Pay as you go is an acceptable means of payment. During the Games there were scores of people queueing up to buy tickets, many of whom could have walked straight aboard but didn't realise. But no, it's simple. You just stride up to the gate, swipe, and hey presto, that's £3.20 gone. Think of this as the poor man's London Eye.

    And then there are some 'special benefits' for regular users. Travel five times in one week and kerching, 50% of your £16 fare is repaid. There is a catch, which is that the refund only occurs the following calendar week, and only if you ride the cablecar again. But if you're a regular user who rides the cablecar more than five times, good news, half of that total's repaid too.

    Except, well, I'm trying to work out who on earth these 'regular users' might be. Who is it who needs to travel from the O2 to ExCel, or thereabouts, on a repeated basis? The campaign poster reproduced above is aimed specifically at these people, whoever they are, if indeed they exist. Are there a significant number of people for whom the cablecar could be a sensible regular travel option, better than the Jubilee line, or are TfL delusional? Let's have a go...

    Londoners who could be regular cablecar users

    a) People who live on the North Greenwich peninsula and travel regularly to the west end of the Royal Docks
       i) Cleaners at the hotels alongside ExCel
       ii) The bloke who works in the Londis opposite the northern terminal
       iii) Cafe staff at The Crystal
       iv) People who book themselves into every exhibition at ExCel
       v)


    b) People who live at the west end of the Royal Docks and travel regularly to the North Greenwich peninsula
       i) TfL employees working at the Pier Walk office block right next to the southern terminal
       ii) Students at Ravensbourne College
       iii) River-commuters who want to pick up the Thames Clipper into town
       iv) Michael Jackson fans who want to attend every night of the Immortal tour at the O2
       v)


    c) Cyclists (not that I've seen one yet)
    d) Slightly weird Newham residents who like getting off the DLR one stop away from Canning Town and changing to a means of transport that costs £3.20 extra
    e) Cablecar fetishists

    Any more?
  •  Thursday, October 18, 2012

    It was good to see the Arabfly Dangleway being scrutinised in the news yesterday. SE London newspaper News Shopper submitted a Freedom of Information request regarding passenger numbers on the new cablecar, and got back some interesting data. Indeed, some might say shocking.
    "The number of passengers using the controversial Greenwich cable cars nose-dived after the Games to less than five per cent of its capacity."
    Let's take a closer look at the figures everyone's getting upset about.

    Average number
    of passengers
    per hour
    The last
    three days
    of the Games
    The three days
    immediately
    after the Games
    Hourly
    capacity
    Olympics17477115000
    Paralympics11812465000

    From 1747 passengers an hour during the Olympics to 711 afterwards, that's a 60% drop. And from 1181 passengers an hour during the Paralympics to 246 afterwards, that's an 80% drop. It's a nose-dive alright. These are truly awful figures.

    And yet this is rubbish data. The last three days of each Games were a Friday, Saturday and Sunday, which are three touristy types of day. The three days immediately after each Games were a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, which are quieter, non-day-out types of day. The newspaper's not comparing like with like here, quite the opposite. Instead these are stage-managed figures, hand-picked to look more awful than they really are. Indeed, if you were to pick any other major London tourist attraction and compare the Fri/Sat/Sun figures with the Mon/Tue/Wed figures, I bet you'd see a substantial drop there too. What we should be comparing is Monday-Wednesday during the Games with Monday-Wednesday after the Games, or something similar. Yes, there's been a huge drop in Dangleway numbers, but not quite as huge as the newspaper's been making out.

    As for passenger numbers being "less than five per cent" of the cablecar's capacity, that appears to be true. The cablecar can cope with up to 2500 passengers an hour in each direction, that's a total of 5000 per hour. But immediately after the Paralympics the average was only 246, fractionally below the magic 5% mark. It's a shockingly low percentage. These are truly awful figures.

    And yet this is also rubbish data. In this case the problem is the number 2500, merrily splashed around by TfL in early press releases related to the Dangleway's opening. "It has the capacity to carry up to 2500 people per hour in each direction, the equivalent of 30 buses," they crowed. How fantastic it would be to have a new Thames crossing that could move so many people. But this total of 2500 relied on every gondola containing ten passengers, and there being one gondola taking off every fifteen seconds. This was blue skies drivel pumped out by TfL's press office back when they were attempting to portray the Dangleway as a mass people carrier. Alas this fictional mega-capacity has now come back to bite them, as actual passenger totals fall embarrassingly short.

    To give you an idea of what a bad statistic "hourly capacity" is, look back again at those peak Olympic ridership figures. The best usage the Dangleway's ever likely to get was during the Games, with all gondolas occupied and queues at either terminal. If you flew over the Thames during the Olympics you were probably crammed in with at least one other party, probably more. There won't have been as many as ten passengers in every cabin, but they were still crowded enough that you wouldn't have wanted to share with more. Crunch the figures - 1747 divided by 5000 - and the number of passengers using the cablecar during the Games was only 35% of the theoretical total capacity. That's a scandal too, yet it's gone unreported while everyone focuses on the 5%.

    As an added complication, the Dangleway's not open for the same number of hours each day - opening at 7am on a weekday, 8am on a Saturday and 9am on a Sunday. During the summer it closes at 9pm, in the winter at 8pm, but during the Games the last flight was nearer midnight. Those longer hours during the Olympics meant more traffic, so if you compare total daily passenger numbers the difference between before and after is even more stark. During the Paralympics, for example, the hourly rate of 1181 was spread out over approximately 16 hours, making a daily passenger total of about 19000 people. After the Paralympics, however, those 246 passengers an hour for 13 hours add up to only 3200 people. That's an astonishing 83% drop - the equivalent of five in every six passengers disappearing.

    246 passengers an hour is the equivalent of just two double decker buses in each direction - hardly a mammoth user base. Or, looked at another way, the post-Games midweek figure of 246 passengers an hour is only four passengers a minute. That's the equivalent of only one passenger in every gondola, just one, which doesn't sound like a good use of public money to me. It's only brilliant news if you're an introverted tourist, because you're unlikely to have to share your cabin with a screaming child, a passing hen party or, well, anyone really.

    However imperfect these figures may be, they correctly reveal the Dangleway as a visitor attraction, not a commuter lifeline. When it's the weekend or during a mega-event, passengers turn up. When it's a bog-standard Wednesday, passengers don't. TfL initially justified the cablecar's construction by saying it would form an integral part of East London's transport network, but that's proven to be bollocks. Instead they've built an expensive novelty sideshow for tourists and thrill-seekers, outside the Travelcard system, on a Mayoral whim.

    Speaking in the Evening Standard the Dangleway's boss, Danny Price, is upbeat. "The latest weekly passengers numbers are in line with our forecast for business as usual in the first year of operation," he says. "As with all new transport links, the number of regular users builds over a period of time as people become familiar with new journey possibilities for both work and pleasure." I'm unconvinced. Riding the cablecar to work is always going to be of minor interest. The two terminals are poorly located, and there's a perfectly good tube/DLR journey between the two ends at no additional cost. I can see why passengers will come for pleasure, indeed hundreds of thousands already have, but sightseers are highly unlikely ever to become regular users.

    Recent visual evidence suggests that passenger numbers are even lower now that autumn's here. Midweek September was still sort-of the tourist season, whereas grey October weekdays must be attracting even less than 246 passengers an hour. I'd love to know how few passengers there were on the Dangleway yesterday, or indeed how few there'll be on some foggy afternoon in February. To uncover the true paucity of the cablecar's commuter user base, what's really needed is a regular series of Freedom of Information requests to add to the initial data so far unearthed. Go on, who's going to be the first to submit a request? Because however bad the News Shopper's figures may look, I fear we ain't seen nothing yet.


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