diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 30, 2013

WALK LONDON
The London Loop
[section 1]
Erith to Old Bexley (9½ miles)

I'm now halfway through my decade-long circumnavigation round the London Loop. I've been attacking its sections intermittently, in a semi-random order, so I thought now was a good time to head to the beginning and tackle section number one. It's one of the longer stretches, nearly ten miles in total. It follows the far eastern edge of South London. And it's very rivery, tracing first the Thames, then the Darent, then the Cray. A cracking start.


Wandering down to the estuary from Erith station, you might be fooled into thinking the whole area is like Riverside Gardens. Not so. This is a one-off patch of cultivated green, where the inaugural London Loop signpost points the way. Most of the rest of Erith's waterfront is dully residential or maritime, much like Dartford but without the splash of history. Whenever I'm here I like to stroll out down Erith Causeway, a wooden jetty poking out into the middle of the Thames across an expanse of tidal mud. That's the London Loop's final section passing by on the opposite bank, so close, yet technically 150 miles distant. This first mile heads out of town past some especially grim industrial units. Important though scrap dealers and haulage centres are to our national economy, they're really not the ideal environment for a weekend stroll. And steel yourself for inconsistent apostrophe abuse, notably at Transit Breakers where they want FRIDGE'S & BIKES CASH PAID.



And then a path turns off towards the yacht club, no really. Take this route and you're committing yourself to at least a two and a half mile walk, with rivers blocking every other escape route. The marshes open out ahead, with horses grazing to one side, and plenty of space to exercise your dog or motorbike. Watch for the sailing boats on the Thames, or the ships transporting containers of landfill to Coldharbour. The radar tower ahead marks Crayford Ness, a sharp bend in the estuary, and beyond that is the mouth of the Darent. This tributary of the Thames is kept in check by a tidal barrier a few hundred yards upstream, not that walkers or cyclists can get across, it's a lengthy detour for them. Tucked into this marshy dead end is an industrial estate nobody has to live next to, blessed with breakers yards, van depots and crushers. But try to ignore that and the view east is much better... assuming you like power stations and suspended motorway bridges.

I loved the feeling of space. You don't normally get so much sky in London, and this is still London, right up as far as a line bisecting the river channel. This early in the year the vegetation is still light, with only a few budding trees to break the flat green of the marshes. Things look very different too according to whether the tide's in or out - I got out, making the Darent a deep brown hollow edged by mud. And all so very quiet, apart from the distant roar of motocross bikes jumping off unseen mounds across the river. Eventually another tributary feeds in, this the Cray, and from its mouth we follow the waymarked Cray Riverway footpath for the rest of Loop 1. A final patch of reeds blesses the waterside, dampened somewhat by the accompanying swarm of midges. And then a perhaps not unexpected shock approaching Crayford... striding straight back into an enclave of can crushers and scrap merchants round the back of the railway viaduct.



The nicest part of the entire walk follows beyond the main road and the Jolly Farmers pub. The River Cray has suddenly transformed from a tidal channel to a wooded stream (although in reality it's the other way round - we're walking backwards). On Sunday a team of volunteers from Thames 21 had turned up to try to keep the river in pristine condition. They waded into the water to retrieve cans of lager, they wandered up the towpath wearing fully protective rubber gloves, and they rowed out aboard the Lady Cray to remove fly tipping from the rushes. A round of applause please for their dedication. Further up in Barnes Cray the path switches to the northern bank and isn't quite so lovely, sandwiched between back gardens and a trading estate. But the Cray isn't always this accessible, so best make the most of proximity while you can.

Waterside Gardens is a relatively new public space off Crayford High Street, making the most of the river's progress with landscaped lawns and spiky artworks. Swing gates keep local hounds at bay, making this an ideal place to rest (or even nap) before continuing with the shopping. A roadside yomp follows, dodging the traffic pouring out of the mega-Sainsburys, before turning off back to the river at Bourne Hall Recreation Ground. These fields ring to the sounds of junior league football at weekends, which appears to mean bullet-headed dads bawling encouragement from the touchlines, and the local ambulance service turning up to rescue a fractured leg. Head to the water's edge and you might find the second team's substitutes passing the time by digging out chunks of mud with sticks, and dogs splashing through the shallows while their owners look on with unabashed pride.

The Loop turns right across the footbridge, but don't do that immediately, head straight on towards Hall Place. This Tudor house and gardens is Bexley's pride and joy, and if you've never been, perhaps you should. The greenhouse by the entrance is full of flowering plants and occasionally owls, while the cafe in the new visitor centre serves up popular-looking tea and lunch. There are ducks to feed and blossoms to picnic beneath, plus a marvellous line of topiary sculpted to form ten of The Queen's Beasts. I still can't tell the griffin from the unicorn, nor the dragon from a yale. But the high spot is the house itself, with fine minstrels gallery and a local museum upstairs. I was hoping to nose around except the entrance fee appears to have leapt from zero to seven pounds since I was last here two years ago, and the current temporary exhibition wasn't quite enough to lure me in.



Back to that footbridge, and the Loop follows an unexpected zigzag round the back of Hall Place Gardens. A lonely path tracks alongside the railway, up and over the hard shoulder of the A2, back down along the railway again, and then in cutting beside the dual carriageway. There is a purpose, which is to direct the walker through the long thin wedge of Churchfield Wood. I had the entire woodland to myself for a full half mile, and grinned to find the first bluebells of 2013's late spring flowering on the banks throughout. A proper treat. The path emerges near St Mary's church, Old Bexley, with its historic octagonal shingled spire, and where a brief diversion through the cemetery nature reserve is recommended.

In the village centre I spotted a sign stuck to the door of the local barbers announcing that they were closing down for good at two o'clock. I read the handwritten message in which Penny and Anita offered their heartfelt thanks for years of customer support, while one of them sat alone on a chair in the nigh-empty shop, staring out of the window as the final five minutes ticked by. There wasn't much else doing on a Sunday afternoon in Old Bexley, except for nipping round Costcutter or waiting for the B12 to Joydens Wood. Loop section 2 beckoned invitingly up the side of the Railway Tavern, promising yet more Cray-side walking, but best save that for later.

» London Loop section 1: official map and directions; map
» Who else has walked it? Stephen, Oatsy, Tim, Mark, Paul, Paul, Tetramesh, Richard
» See also sections 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, 17, 20, 23, 24
» Six photos: Erith, Thames, Darent, Cray, Hall Place

 Monday, April 29, 2013

Route B12: Erith - Joydens Wood
Location: London southeast
Length of journey: 8 miles, 50 minutes


London has some pretty obscure bus routes... unless they're your local bus route, in which case they're pretty important. For the folk of Joydens Wood, an estate on the southeastern outskirts of the capital, the B12 is their link to Bexley's high life. Just one catch, it only runs Monday to Saturday. Several bus routes around the edges of London do this - there's no demand on Sundays so the buses would merely be transporting air at unnecessary cost. The people of Joydens Wood said they'd be different, that they'd use their Sunday bus honest, but the funding just wasn't there.

And then suddenly last month TfL ran one of their consultations to determine whether or not the B12 should gain a Sunday service. More than 100 stakeholders responded, nigh all of them positively, as well you might expect. Oh go on then, said TfL, we'll give the full daily service a go. Normally these consultations take months or even years to come to fruition, but unusually the B12's renaissance took less than a fortnight. The first on-Sunday B12s rode round Joydens Wood yesterday, every half an hour no less, and the residents duly turned out to climb aboard. And so did I, not because I'm a sad bus geek or anything, but because it struck me I knew bugger all about Joydens Wood. And you probably don't either... so come along for the ride.


The most important thing you need to know about Joydens Wood is that it's in Kent. Only just in Kent, by a few hundred metres, but very definitely under the auspices of Dartford Borough Council. There are no especially old buildings here. The estate grew across farmland in the first part of last century, and has been topped up and infilled a few times since. A few thousand live here - in bungalows, in 60s townhouses, in nice semis, up detached avenues, inside gated villas, whatever. The property mix is quite varied, but generally on the more aspirational side. They have lovely gardens, indeed the magnolias at the moment are magnificent. But despite all the cars parked out the front of everywhere, there are still just enough residents you can imagine might still need a bus service.

The B12 enters Joydens Wood past Coldblow, which is just in London. The driver stops at St Mary's Road to wind the destination round to "Erith", then continues along a two and a bit mile loop around the edge of the village. The route is peculiar, possibly even unique, in that buses run one-way clockwise in the morning, then flip to run the other way anticlockwise after noon. That means Joydens Wood has two sets of bus stops, one labelled "AM journeys" and the other, on the opposite side of the road, "PM only". I have no idea why this split should be deemed necessary, but if you look in the comments box some clever soul will no doubt be able to explain. Please check your watch before you travel.

The bus I rode into Joydens Wood ran anti-clockwise. It wasn't especially busy, although the previous bus I'd just missed had been. We skipped past most of the stops, until at last I thought someone was flagging us down, except it turned out she was merely trimming her hedge. There was a lot of front garden action all the way round, including the digging out of dead daffodils and the hoovering of cars. I was pleased when another passenger did finally board, because it meant the driver wouldn't be lonely on the journey back. And then I nipped off to explore the village properly.

It's not easy to find a shop open in Joydens Wood on a Sunday. Denny's Sandwich Bar was firmly closed, as were the Indian restaurant and the petrol station up the hill. I had more luck at the Post Office, where the newsagent was mopping the floor ready to close up but hadn't quite. The needs of stay-at-home souls were served by the chiming van of Rossi's Spiderman Ices, although I didn't see anybody come out to meet it, perhaps because Nico's Ices had got their custom earlier. But my favourite shop in the locality was a business on Old Bexley Lane which went by the fantastic name of Modern Screws. Alas, its shutters were firmly down.



The best thing to do in Joydens Wood on a Sunday, indeed possibly on any day of the week, is to go for a walk round the ancient woodland on the hill. It's called Joydens Wood, obviously, and its 300 acres are now under the management of the Woodland Trust. Conifers and broadleaf trees intermingle, the former a post-war intrusion, but the many tracks and paths make for a lovely place to stroll. There's a lot of up and down, and plenty of flowering spring ground cover, and even a 1km-long Saxon ditch called the Faesten Dic. This was built to keep Roman Londoners out of Saxon Kent, and is still very much intact, even today. Follow the red posts to track the Faesten Dic, or the blue posts for a general woodland walk. Indeed, head far enough in and the other side of Joydens Wood is actually in London. Just good luck finding your way out - it took me ages to find a gap in the back gardens that would allow me to escape back to the bus route.

The B12 that took me away was late, but it was also popular. There were about ten of us on board by the time we'd looped back to Coldblow, with the bus providing a most useful means of escape for local youth. They all alighted in Bexleyheath, where another tranche of jabbering youngsters boarded, because it's not just Joydens Wood benefiting from the B12's extended hours. I may have been the only passenger aboard by the time we reached Erith, but TfL's confidence in the new Sunday service seems well placed. Let Joy abound.

[B12] map, timetable, consultation outcome
[B12] The Ladies Who Bus
[B12] Paul explains the history behind the B12's previous lack of Sunday running
[B12] Paul's slightly obsessive photos from yesterday #B12onSunday

 Sunday, April 28, 2013

As bleak urban safaris go, few come better than the western edge of the Greenwich peninsula. The wealth of Docklands rises from the other side of the Thames, but there's none of that along here. Not yet. The developers are moving in, and have already demolished almost every trace of the area's industrial past. But for now there's just a riverside footpath of questionable quality underfoot, and hundreds of razed acres ripe for rebirth. Get here soon before someone builds apartment towers everywhere.

Drawdock Road's not easy to find, not unless you've already walked the best part of a mile round the top of the peninsula. Nobody really wants you to walk this way from the bus station, they'd much rather you headed Dome-ward and splurged on entertainment. A redundant road heads west from Millennium Way, its pavements fenced off from the development opportunity behind. At the T-junction turn right above the deep bore of the Blackwall Tunnel, curving past a mushroom-shaped ventilation shaft cover (number 4, if you're counting). And here's where Drawdock Road ramps down into the Thames, should you be stupid enough to drive that far. A "Road Closed" warning sign has appeared - that's new-ish, as is the raised hump presumably added to prevent flooding during especially high tides. The second there's the chance of people paying good money to actually live here, in goes the protection.

To the north the last remains of 2000's outbuildings are being bulldozed. The Living Wall had a good innings, even though most of that time its plant life was dead. Now a hotel is to be added here on the meridian, although I've been reporting the imminent arrival of this hotel for years and nothing's yet happened. Ditto Peninsula Quays. That's the posh name for the wasteland you've just walked through, aka 20 acres of prime residential opportunity. Planning permission is about to be sought and, according to the latest schedule, construction should begin next year.

Peninsula Quays will be a "mixed-use urban village", which is developer-speak for "lots of people living very close together". There'll be 1683 dwellings, so we're told, of which precisely 0% are scheduled to be affordable housing. That's because Docklands is only one stop away on the tube, so this area has been pencilled in as "convenient for affluent Canary Wharf or City workers". Architects drawings show a series of looming crystalline apartment blocks rising from anodyne turf to glass-topped penthouses... and that's just the first phase. Staring through the fence at levelled rubble, it's hard to match the vision to current reality.

A broad path now snakes around the first few riverside corners, with two-way cycle lanes and a separate pedestrian section alongside. It doesn't last. Once past the PQ development the path peters out to become a loose uneven track, much as it has been for years, and all the more characterful for it. The land ahead isn't part of the main peninsula masterplan, and remains home to a messy business that new wealthy residents may not appreciate. Proper ships moor up at the quayside to unload powdery aggregate materials, and these are then scooped up and piled within for processing. The Thames Path still runs straight through the unloading zone, between the moorings and the aggregate works, even though you'd assume health and safety (or security) would have had this open stretch closed down long ago.



If nothing else, it doesn't smell quite so foul round here now most of the former industries have been wiped away. But what used to be an atmospheric continuation past wharves and silos has lost a lot of its bleak character and is now merely bleak. Some local yarnbombers have attempted to brighten things up by dressing a couple of tree trunks with stripy coats - we thank them for that. Concentrate on the waterfowl in the Thames and a handful of budding trees and you can almost make this into a nature walk. But only one of the jetties retains public access - the others are padlocked off - and of those buildings that remain almost all their windows are smashed.

You wouldn't come to the beach at Enderby's Wharf to paddle, not when the foreshore's littered with chunky rusting pipes and shopping trolleys. Greenwich Council were, maybe even are, planning a cruise liner terminal here, but the rusting hulks currently anchored offshore make a mockery of that lofty ambition. They don't make a fine view for the residents of Lovell's Wharf either. This residential development off Banning Street has been 10% complete for years, with thoughtless planning forcing the Thames Path to divert inland. Now the path has reopened, but only with the prospect of more flats being crammed into the site than previously designated. The current lot look grim enough, but one day most of the river's edge from the O2 down to Pelton Road will look the same. Come enjoy the riverside urban safari while you can.

 Saturday, April 27, 2013

It pays to keep an eye on TfL Consultations microsite, because you never know what changes may be coming up next. This one popped up on Thursday.
Proposed changes to bus routes in Hackney town centre

As part of wider plans by Hackney Council to help attract more visitors and customers to the area, there will be a trial removal of traffic on Mare Street (Narrow Way). There will be exceptions in the evenings to allow for deliveries. The road is currently open to southbound bus routes, and to delivery vehicles at certain times.

We are therefore proposing a number of bus route changes. Buses on routes 38, 48, 55, 106, 242, 253, 254, 394, N38, N55 and N253 will be diverted along Dalston Lane and Amhurst Road. Buses on route D6 will finish and re-start at Cambridge Heath. First and last stops will be altered for route W15. There will be new stops in Amhurst Road (opposite Hackney Central Station) and Dalston Lane, replacing the current stop in the Narrow Way.
That's a lot of southbound buses kicked out from the Mare Street shortcut past the shops, and forced instead to follow the same lengthy triangular detour that northbound buses already use. Will a pedestrianised street attract more customers, or just slow down thousands of passing passengers? The consultation runs until 30th May and, subject to the outcome of any feedback, buses will be diverted from Saturday 15th June. You have been alerted.

Four blogs I've not previously mentioned
  • thamesfacingeast: "The blog to find out about the Thames east of the City of London" ...which means a lot of grey estuarine stuff, from Greenwich-ish towards Southend and Thanet. Rest assured the writing's not as flat as the landscape.
  • 101 London Museums: Nicky's visiting 101 of the capital's museums, and blogging about them. Medium to larger so far, but London has so many museums there's no chance of running out. (Not coming soon, 101 Ipswich Museums)
  • Modernist Estates: Thinking of moving house? Keen to live in a modernist brutalist concrete box? I know you are. This tumblr's keeping track of the estate agents' details.
  • Up Your Street: "Information-sharing service for seniors on the perimeters of the Olympic and Paralympic Games site 2012". Think of it as a listings service for the community in Hackney and the Lower Lea Valley, packed with cheap joining-in social events rather than glossy pop-up cocktail bars. Post-youth East Enders should look in.

    Four blogs in the middle of stuff
  • Round the north we go: Scott's the one trying to visit (actually visit) every station on the Northern Rail network, you may remember. He's just back from an epic trip round the Cumbrian coast, and is part way through an equally epic write-up.
  • 150 great things about the Underground: Ian's ongoing list of the network's finest features isn't in any particular order, but surely number 100 will be a cracker. He's up to 99.
  • London buses: one bus at a time: The numbers are done, and now The Ladies Who Bus are ploughing through the letters. Ealing is complete, so now there's a brief spell of Dagenham and Hampstead before they hit Hillingdon.
  • The Model Villager: Tim loves model villages, and is stacking up posts about them ready to publish. Hopefully he'll show us the second one shortly.
  •  Friday, April 26, 2013

    HAMMERSMITH & CITY: the West end
    Having walked from Hammersmith to Royal Oak, how about riding it? There are eight stations in total, each a bit different, but still very much of a type. Here are a few notes on each, plus two photos. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments boxes, and I'll add the most interesting later.

    Hammersmith
    Designed by the Great Western Railway Chief Architect P.E. Culverhouse, and opened in 1909.
    The prow-ended central ticket office was removed as part of an upgrade in 2010.
    The Next train indicator by the entrance tells you which platform to head to, but not how long before the train goes ("oh damn, it's just left, I'll have to walk back to the entrance to see which train's leaving next")
    [exterior] [interior] comments

    Goldhawk Road
    Entrance is via one of the arches in the viaduct, in an entirely non-attractive way.
    The platforms have been extended to take longer trains, then bits of them painted a non-attractive shade of yellow.
    There are no Next Train Indicators anywhere between here and Royal Oak. Please listen for announcements.
    [exterior] [interior] comments

    Shepherd's Bush Market
    Used to be called Shepherd's Bush, except there were two of them, so TfL grasped the opportunity of an imminent Circle line extension to rename the station - something usually deemed too impractical and expensive.
    The stairs are narrow and really steep, and therefore entirely buggy-unfriendly.
    Goldhawk Road could also have been called Shepherd's Bush Market, because the market runs between the two stations.
    [exterior] [interior] comments

    Wood Lane
    Opened in 2008 to serve Westfield, so all silvery-glassy modern.
    Deliberately built without a ticket office, to save TfL the bother of closing it later.
    There's an old-style roundel in mosaic, massive size, at the end of the passageway through the arch. It was salvaged from the surface building of the old Wood Lane station on the Central line.
    [exterior] [interior] comments

    Latimer Road
    Yet another station entered via an arch in a viaduct up steps to reach a long facing platform with an extended bit at the end.
    This time the extended bits have a lot of brown on them. It's not much nicer than the yellow.
    The platform canopies look quite arson-friendly. Please don't check this, obviously.
    [exterior] [interior] comments

    Ladbroke Grove
    It's "Ladbroke Grove (for Portobello Road)" on the roundels on the platforms.
    The eastbound platform has an 'Information and assistance' window, from which staff make "next train" announcements that are broadcast all down this end of the line.
    Even 23 years after the line was rebranded, the handrails in the stairwells are still painted Metropolitan purple.
    [exterior] [interior] comments

    Westbourne Park
    After a run of viaduct-level stations, this one's back at ground-ish level.
    Has a special side entrance wide enough for ten-abreast entry, round the back of The Metropolitan pub, for use solely during Notting Hill Carnival chucking out time.
    Beyond this station the H&C dives under the Great Western mainline and emerges on the other side.
    [exterior] [interior] comments

    Royal Oak
    A permanent sign out the front points the way to the Notting Hill Carnival (and to Bayswater, and to Warwick Avenue).
    The station has a "Community Board" in the entranceway off the bridge. The paucity of notices on the board suggests there's not much of a community round here.
    The island platform, in a chasm with mainline trains rushing by, is a lonely place.
    [exterior] [interior] comments

     Thursday, April 25, 2013

    HAMMERSMITH & CITY: Walk the line
    I'm following the western end of the Hammersmith & City line. I'm travelling on foot, rather than by train. I'm walking four miles alongside the railway viaduct, near enough. And I'm about halfway through. [map]

    North Kensington's a peculiar place. Some of it, like Notting Hill, is upmarket like nowhere else in London. Other parts are rather less so, for which we can partly blame transport links. First the Hammersmith & City viaduct divided the land in two, then a century later two motorway-standard dual carriageways scythed through the streets. To see the nicer houses, stay well away from the railway. However, that's precisely where this walk is heading. The Hammersmith & City line rattles across the main road between a forest of warehouses and commercial blocks. The inhabitants advertise themselves in big branded letters on the top floor - Monsoon, Accessorize, Talk Talk. Even Heart FM are based here, firing up the playlist computer from a gated development erupting from a former brewery. A least someone on Bramley Street has a sense of humour - a mixed-use block near the railway is called Pippin House. [Here be Latimer Road]

    Latimer Road no longer runs as far as the station of the same name. Instead it's been amputated by the A40, with the area around the station now stacked full of flats and low-rise modernity. As kids ride their bikes up onto the pavement past Costcutter, it's hard to imagine that David Cameron's house (pre number 10) is only a few hundred yards ahead. We'll not go there. It used to be possible to take a shortcut along Station Walk by following an alleyway immediately alongside the viaduct, but that's been temporarily blocked while a new academy is built. So great has the pace of change been around here that a Methodist church spire marks the only readily visible sign of pre-war construction.



    It's around here that the Hammersmith & City line nudges up against the Westway, although chronologically speaking it was the other way around. Why destroy new areas with a road on stilts, argued the planners, when you could simply eradicate the row of houses closest to the railway line. Local people have made the best of this concrete intruder by installing a range of businesses and services underneath. North Kensington's ambulance station is located here, as is the Westway Sports Centre and the occasional plumbers' merchant. At St Mark's Road the space is filled by a forlorn looking lightpole sculpture, apparently temporary, but the weatherbeaten state of the floor covering suggests otherwise. [Here be Ladbroke Grove]

    Sainsburys have filled the void beneath the roadway at Ladbroke Grove, with trains running across a brightly coloured bridge alongside. Metronet helped to provide this vinyl disguise, as well as two vibrant Bridget Rileyesque panels at street level on either side of the span. The space ahead is used for overspill to Portobello Market, and has such edgy graffiti that one couple on Sunday had brought along their lemon yellow 1970s car for a photoshoot. The under-road spaces here are occupied more commercially, including a dark uninviting arcade of boutiques, plus a cavernous live music and arts space called Flyover. Only a handful of stalls spread out their wares on the second day of the weekend, but there's just enough crafty-stuff and collector-bits to make a Sunday visit not quite utterly wasted.

    To escape the hubbub, and for the longer walk to a station, head east up Tavistock Road. Outdoor cafe culture soon subsides, past one last tweely-painted row of terraces. At a triangular open space the road divides, providing a rare public oasis for slouching and rocking on swings. Tavistock Crescent has clearly been rebuilt as a residential sound barrier, its brick façade blocking out the noise of the Westway for the benefit of those living in the proper houses to the south. Only one gap exists, to allow St Luke's Road to continue across the railway, but not for cars, which is why the roads are so quiet. [Here be Westboune Park]



    Alongside Westbourne Park station is a pub called The Metropolitan, which sounds wrong, but up until 1990 that was indeed the underground line which served here. The bridge marks the point where the H&C meets the Great Western Railway, with the station's ticket hall straddling the mainline. From here onwards Brunel's chasm divides the landscape in a not especially attractive way, which is why Westminster council built the Brunel Estate alongside and rehoused people there. And then suddenly comes a dash of wealth. I was taken aback by the crowds drinking outside The Westbourne, and the achingly hip kids popping into the Idler Academy for books and espresso. I shouldn't have been - the avenues to the south are home to the well-to-do of Bayswater, and I'd merely approached from the wrong direction.

    A long stout brick wall shields the northern side of Westbourne Park Villas. There are only two ways across the railway, one a lonely-looking metal footway, the other a characterful pink/green-painted iron span for vehicular traffic. Lord Hill's Bridge looks much the worse for wear, with plastic barriers down the middle of the road to prevent overloading, and segregated pedestrian walkways. The ironwork blocks sight of the entrance to Royal Oak - surely the underground station whose name least matches up to the reality of its situation. Crossrail are busy digging the Royal Oak Portal beneath, their mammoth works clearly visible from the island platform. A modern railway will soon descend beside the old, but only the H&C can whisk you from here to Paddington. [Here be Royal Oak]

     Wednesday, April 24, 2013

    HAMMERSMITH & CITY: Walk the line
    125 years before the Hammersmith & City line there was the Hammersmith & City Railway. Opened in 1864, it was built as an offshoot of the Great Western Railway to carry passengers from Paddington to Hammersmith. The new tracks left the GWR mainline at Westbourne Park and ran on a curving viaduct through mostly undeveloped fields. At Latimer Road the line split, one branch to Hammersmith, the other to Kensington. The latter branch is now part of the Overground, while the former remains the Hammersmith & City. I thought I'd walk it, following a four mile arc alongside the viaduct. [map]

    There are two Hammersmith stations, as every local knows, but which still comes as a surprise to visitors attempting what appears a simple interchange on the tube map. Instead there's a busy gyratory to cross, on one side a modern shopping mall, on the other the H&C station. This is a fine Edwardian edifice, a symmetrical structure with pedimented gable end, mostly unencumbered by modernity. Only the far right entrance is used these days, while Alexander's barbershop soldiers on in the central retail space. Something much less memorable is going up alongside, an eight-storey glass block called 10 Hammersmith Grove, into which developers would simply lurrve your business to relocate. Just not yet, because it's a right mess at ground level while builders complete the concrete piazza outside. Beyond the gym and training centre the rest of Hammersmith Grove is much more desirably residential. Most of the streets ahead are similarly blessed, lined by tall terraced houses with white bay windows and fortunate tenants. Only when a road slips off to the right is the reality behind revealed, with a builders yard and a secure facility lodged up against the railway.

    Trussley Road provides a rare crossing beneath the viaduct, but the sight of businesses in the arches will become more familiar as the walk progresses. Shoots and Leaves is one of the more upmarket outlets - they do landscape design and garden maintenance - with neighbours involved in bathrooms suites and paint. Sulgrave Road is currently a riot of pink cherry blossom, most appropriate on a Hammersmith & City line walk, but alas only a temporary signposting system. An unexpected sight is the back of a bus garage, accessed on foot up a "no public access" alleyway which all the local public seem to use. This emerges into the heart of the machine, where terminating buses turn into the front of the depot and where the drivers park their cars under the viaduct. It's no safe place to be, hence no footpath, but it is the perfect shortcut to the shops. [Here be Goldhawk Road]



    Goldhawk Road has loads of shops, surviving as best they can in the shadow of Westfield and under imminent threat from developers. There are some ace survivors, including several eateries dating back to the glory days of the 60s. The Zippy Diner has a Wimpyesque interior, rarely preserved, nextdoor to the darker Rostomia cafe/restaurant. Further down is a pie and mash outpost, courtesy of A Cooke's, where a QPR 2010/11 Champions banner hangs well past its sell by date above the tables. I ventured inside Vivian Patisserie, a Chinese Food Bakery where cheap sweet treats are laid out and inventively labelled. A 'Lemond Tart' appealed, but instead I plumped for a large juicy 'Raisimg Danish', a sub-£1 snack that put corporate coffeeshop fare to shame.

    For further bargains, try the market. Shepherd's Bush Market runs along the edge of the railway viaduct, all the way from one station to the next. This characterful multi-ethnic bazaar is the place to come for shoes, foam, unlocked phones and halal cuts... but not on a Sunday. On a Sunday the arched entrances are shuttered shut and the usual retail cut-through is unavailable, so you'll have to make do with some words I blogged 18 months ago. Instead the shortest route north is via Lime Grove, past where the BBC studios used to be but where there are now bland flats. The rest of the road maintains smart residential decorum, or so you'd think by the looks of it, but the sight of two late-middle-aged ladies in hoodies squabbling over a recently-purchased aerosol of glue told me otherwise. [Here be Shepherd's Bush Market]



    The Uxbridge Road has a more Middle Eastern flavour, ideal if you need a jilbaab or Damascene cuisine. It's also not the place to dash across the street without looking, as I deduced from the ambulance staff tending to a prone body in the middle of the road beside a knocked down suitcase. I crossed more safely, lest the rubberneckers turn their steady gaze on me instead. The bustle of Shepherd's Bush Green can be avoided by turning left at the Bush Theatre to follow MacFarlane Road. This is another desirable residential street, right up to Auntie's massive satellite dishes hanging over the railway viaduct at the end of the road. Here you'll find the back entrance to BBC Television Centre, the direct route to the rear of the scenery block, now deceased. When this end of the site is redeveloped for flats, expect renewed interest. [Here be Wood Lane]

    Redevelopment has already transformed the next part of the walk. You'll know it as Westfield, rather than the Central Line Railway Generating Station and Depot. No shops stretch up here by the pink railway bridge, instead there's an unexpectedly underused bus station and an expanse of warehouses. One of these belches out multi-coloured Ocado lorries on a regular basis, so best cross the entrance with care. To avoid the crowds follow the broad pavement along Ariel Way, where no shopper has any need to go, and where of course a large hire bike docking station has been installed. Planners kindly installed a pedestrian footbridge over the Overground when the megamall complex opened, allowing the estatefolk beyond to avoid a long detour. It's cut my H&C walk by half a mile too, for which I am forever grateful. Let's pause here above the dual carriageway, and continue into Kensington & Chelsea tomorrow.

     Tuesday, April 23, 2013

    Things are looking up again for London's cablecar*.
    * That's because it's no longer winter. Indeed, if you catch me saying anything positive about the cablecar in what follows, try adding the phrase "because it's no longer winter" to the end, and see if that explains it.

    As the weather gets milder and the sun comes out, so more and more people are heading for an aerial ride above the Thames. They turned up in number at the weekend, because five minutes in the air makes for an ideal day out. Many of those present were families with small children, most of these somewhere between toddler and top of primary. A cablecar ride's wasted on anyone too young to see out, it seems, and not cool enough for young Londoners in their teens. But a very large proportion of riders weren't local, they were visitors to our city, with one group I saw in Greenwich wafting in with Harrods bags fresh from shopping.

    The other clue that most cablecar passengers are tourists came from the queues at the ticket booth. There shouldn't have been queues, because anyone with Oyster pay as you go can board without waiting and is charged considerably less into the bargain. But no, the great majority of would-be riders joined the queue, and stayed in the queue even after the flight attendant had confirmed whether they really need to be there. They ended up forking out £4.30 a go, or more likely £8.60 for the round trip, instead of the £3.20 they could have paid if they were chip-enabled. From what I saw on the Greenwich side on Sunday, most spent longer queueing for a ticket than they did in midair.

    Unlike the average weekday, when you're likely to spot umpteen empty pods overhead, on Sunday lunchtime the majority of pods were full. Don't expect to turn up for a quiet solo ride - instead you'd most likely be bundled in with another family and they'd spend the entire crossing silently wishing you weren't there. But this lack of privacy is good for business. Passenger numbers are back up to forty thousand-ish a week, after a few weeks in the doldrums of less than half that. Indeed the Dangleway has just welcomed its two millionth visitor, although at least a quarter of that total turned up during the Games last year.

    To boost tourist revenues this spring and summer, TfL has published a full-colour leaflet entitled Fly across the Thames. There are hundreds of these leaflets at stations, even at those miles away from the Greenwich Peninsula, issued in hope of luring additional visitors aloft. On page 2 Boris introduces this "handy link between the O2 and ExCel", and mentions "jaw-dropping views of London's skyline". These views include "St Paul's Cathedral", if you squint, and "the Olympic Park", so long as you have a good zoom. Come in the evening and apparently "the skyline takes on a magical and romantic glow as darkness descends"... although the cablecar closes down before sunset for two months at the height of summer.

    On the back of the leaflet is a big map showing the Dangleway's neighbouring attractions. On the North Greenwich bank that's The O2, plus Ravensbourne College (which isn't an attraction) and the London Soccerdome (which has to be booked by entire teams in advance). But on the other side of the river the selection is worse. The only yellow-shaded buildings nearby are a hotel, a community centre and the ExCel. And the ExCel may be vast, but it's like a morgue when there are no exhibitions on, and you're unlikely to want to visit one even when there are. Essentially the map, and the entire leaflet, give no good reason for visiting the area apart from the cablecar and the O2. Which would be wrong.

    A major visitor attraction now exists on the Royal Docks side, which those responsible for the cablecar's cartography appear to be entirely unaware of. The Crystal - a corporate sustainability exhibition - opened in a striking glass building last September on the dockside adjacent to the northern cablecar terminal. It ought to be a natural destination hereabouts but it doesn't appear on the map, and most tourists entirely ignore it too, from what I've seen. Signage is poor to non-existent, as are hints that The Crystal's exhibition space is open to the public. Indeed you could wander right up to the front entrance before noticing the apologetic board outside announcing daily opening times in small type. The cafe nextdoor does a little better, but the exhibition itself (reviewed here) caters to but a trickle of the potential trade walking off the cablecar.

    And there's more. A watersports centre has been established at the western end of the dock, complete with cable-tower wakeboarding and stand-up paddleboarding facilities. Some call it an urban beach, which is going too far, but several wetsuited punters were down here at the weekend sipping drinks at The Shack and falling in the water. As it is, most visitors seem to get no further than the opportunistic burger van parked up by the Dangleway outflow, or nipping into the new Tesco Express for provisions. Poor old Londis. They had a lonely branch here before, which I expected would thrive, but instead Tesco killed them off and the store has been reduced to a pile of mopped up rubbish in the centre of the floor. The cablecar's arrival hasn't brought prosperity to all.

    So the tourist leaflet clogging up stations across the tube network is a lost opportunity. It appears to be a direct copy of the leaflet published last autumn, but with a different cover and some minor tweaks to the text inside. Nobody's thought to update the map, nobody's thought to mention the watersports, and nobody's pointed out that the Crystal and its cafe are a family-friendly way to spend an hour. Instead this is off-the-shelf publicity to drum up support for a publicly-funded tourist attraction, which has completely failed to keep up to date with the other potential tourist attractions growing up around it. They aren't yet many, but a visit to the Dangleway needn't be a five minute wonder.

    3pm update from Linda at TfL: "Just to let you know TfL are working closely with The Crystal, Wake Up Docklands, ExCeL, The O2 and Greenwich and Newham Council to promote the two areas that the Emirates Air Line connects. We are also working with The Crystal to increase signage at the Royal Docks terminal and I believe The Crystal is looking at their signage too. The next leaflet with a map will include The Crystal and possibly some other additions."

     Monday, April 22, 2013

    Every year, big crowds come out onto the streets for the London Marathon. They come to cheer for the elite runners and the wheelchair riders, but most of all they come to cheer for the club athletes and the ordinary folk running for charity. Usually they get a decent view. The course really is 26 and a bit miles long so there's plenty of room to spread out, unlike the Olympic marathon course which followed a much shorter loop. Nevertheless some sections are rammed. The Embankment for one, as the runners enter the mid-twenties, and where everyone who lives to the north and west of London pours out of the tube. Here too several charities have clustered, each signalled by a flapping banner or an arc of balloons tied to the temporary barrier, and each with their own chorus of vocal support. There is applause, and sweat, and sunshine, and even a brass band under Waterloo Bridge playing the BBC's London Marathon theme. But this is three hours from the start, when anyone running through is doing well. What of seven?



    Seven hours from the start, the same spot on the Embankment is much quieter. Not quiet, because a stream of straggly runners is still panting through, but considerably less busy than earlier. Anyone of decent fitness finished some time ago, and a few of these are now standing around with their proud families, an imitation-gold rectangle hanging from their neck. Those still on the course have around two miles to go, and pain is etched in their faces. Whatever fine thoughts they had when starting out this morning, now all they strive to do is finish. Nobody is running any more. They gave that up some time ago, and now they walk. The turtle, the chicken, Superman, the pantomime horse... and everyone who decided to come in ordinary running costume too. By my calculations they could have walked the whole thing at 3½mph and still be on this pace, but they tired themselves out earlier by jogging so their legs no longer comply. Mile twenty-four is an unforgiving mistress, so near and yet oh so very far.

    But there is hope. Amongst the spectators still watching from the sidelines are that special British breed, the enthusiastic cheerers-on. These resilient folk may have been here since morning but that hasn't dimmed their vigour, as they whoop and cheer and applaud each passing athlete. In particular they encourage anyone who's thought to write their name on their running vest, because that means the cheers can be directed, and because they might receive a signal of thanks in return. "Come on Eva!" "Keep it up Kenty!" "Go Margie!" "Keep going Fishpig!" A few respond, generally with a smile, occasionally a weak wave of the hand. But most are locked in a steely bubble, focused on the road ahead, and plod on without acknowledgement. Still the cheerleaders continue their whooping, and their whooping truly helps because there's not much of a crowd left to lift the soul any more. A pile of leftover plastic beaters lies by the roadside, alongside numerous empty bottles of water, as the Westminster council cleaning trucks make their way up from behind. There are still another two hours before the Embankment reopens to traffic, but until then the last stragglers have the road to themselves, if their legs will let them.

    It's tough to be an independent bookshop these days. Really tough, now all you lot buy your books online or upload text to your Kindles and smartphones. So it's especially brave, or perhaps foolhardy, to open an independent bookshop in 2013. Once such venture is Woolfson & Tay, which opened last week in the backstreets of Southwark. They used to have premises in Bermondsey Square, but closed down there at Christmas after business wasn't quite as brisk at they'd hoped. It's hard to see how the new location is better. The shop's in Bear Lane, between the railway viaducts of SE1, close to various main roads but not actually on one. If you followed the orange lampposts from Southwark tube to the Tate you'd almost pass by, but not quite, so fingers crossed you'd notice. W&T's worth noticing.



    The shop's long and thin, and not especially big, with two walls for books and two for windows. Enter past the pink picnic tables on the pavement, and perhaps meet Matzo the dog lying in his basket by the door. It's a very light and airy space, with bright shelves of forward-facing covers and some movable tables in the centre. There's a fine choice of books too, not your bog-standard Waterstones best sellers, but carefully curated modern stuff and a shelf of classics. This is the sort of bookshop which sells Scarp, which for some of you is all you'll need to know. The new premises being smaller than the old they're selling off some of their stock in 'book bundles' - two hardbacks or three paperbacks mostly for under a tenner, should any of the string-bound selections in the window take your fancy.

    Behind the central desk I had the pleasure of meeting the two ladies whose business this is. "I'm Woolfson, and this is Tay". They were clearly very proud of the place, opened thus far for so few days, and were keen to pass on details of all aspects of the shop's business. They have a loyalty card for repeat purchasers. Tea and cake are on offer, in Saturday's case a lemon and courgette cake with premium-priced slices. In the week they serve a homemade Asian lunch, and every Saturday morning starts off with Tai Chi. Then most Wednesday evenings an author or two turns up to give a talk - Toby Litt and Maureen Duffy are lined up for May. That's the advantage of having a flexible retail space that can be a bookshop sometimes and a literary hub for the remainder. Just so long as people make use of the facilities, otherwise Amazon will have won, and where's the joy in that?
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     Sunday, April 21, 2013

    I don't think most visitors to the V&A ever find the 6th floor. It took me several years to get there, having missed the staircases up from Contemporary Glass and Victoriana on the 4th. Now the top floor Ceramics galleries are one of my favourite places in the entire museum, not least because they're generally devoid of visitors. Glazed goodies from around the world, and from Bow, are lined up in room after room of glass cases, including one stunning domed space where you can peer down to the main entrance below. But now there's a new reason to visit floor 6, has been since November in fact, which is a room full of Furniture. Allegedly it's three galleries, although they all run together to create one long space beneath the skylights. And it's very well done. A series of two dozen pieces run down the centre, visible from either side (which isn't always how furniture is meant to work). Some are medieval, others from the last two decades, because the entire story is being told here, and the mix works well. Along each wall are a series of bays, each devoted to a different style, type, designer or construction method. Again there's a mix, so lovers of Orkney wickerwork, classic upholstery and plastic stacking chairs will find something for them. One unusual novelty, for the V&A at least, is the emphasis on materials and construction, rather than beauty and chronology. But perhaps the most innovative thing here is the way you learn about each item on display. There are no labels alongside or in front, instead everything is explained on an electronic touchscreen angled in front. Press the image which matches the piece of furniture in front of you and up come its details, not at great length, but sufficiently in-depth and informative. Swipe across to explore the rest of each furniture cluster, and perhaps some background to the designers too. This very modern form of presentation has one major downside which is that it's impossible to read the information about, say, a chair if someone else is already reading about a table. On the plus side, all the text and images can be enlarged to fill the screen if your eyesight's not what it was. I eventually got used to this form of electronic presentation, indeed I suspect it's the future, but I did feel the need to wash my fingertips afterwards. Whatever, the Furniture galleries are well worth seeking out, as is the whole of the V&A's upper sixth, even if you think you're only visiting for the Bowie. [full info here]

    Every year, on the weekend closest to April 23rd, the Mayor throws a St George's Day bash in Trafalgar Square. Yesterday he threw a Feast of St George, or at least his underlings did - Boris probably only signed the piece of paper that paid for it all. And I'm guessing he agreed a slightly smaller sum of money this year. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, you understand, but the clues were there.

    Your average Trafalgar Square knees-up celebration consists of some kind of entertainment on a stage beneath Nelson's Column, plus several stalls round the edge serving up food and beer. At the Feast of St George the focus of the event was the stalls round the edge, which was clever because it reduced the need to bring in proper entertainment. Instead of a stage there was a bandstand, and instead of well known names there was a lesser line up including Megan McCall and The Man From Archway. Again, not a problem, not least because lack of audience left the central section of the piazza free for picnic tables. Here sat the lady with the red cowboy hat and the punk with the red mohawk, plus all the ordinary people enjoying a sit down with the foodstuff of their choice. There were no noodles, which made a change. This was an entirely English affair, more the sort of stuff you might have guzzled at a village fete or opened at a picnic. Fresh lemonade was going down a treat, thanks to the weather being blue sky perfect, and there were muffins, cheese and chutney if you had the patience to queue to see what might be for sale on some of the stalls. Prices weren't cheap, with £2.50 for a single scoop of ice cream one of the more brazen offers successfully parting punters from their money. A lot of "hot meat in bread" was evident, as you'd expect, although none of the "dragon on a fork" suggested by the event's somewhat tasteless logo. Pie-based booths and hog roasts performed well, but the clear winner appeared to be the two chefs selling hot scotch eggs. Not for me, thanks, but runny yellow yolks in sausagemeat were everywhere.

    Non-calorific activities were available. Children were well-catered for with a 'Dragon Training Camp' set up in front of the National Gallery, a lot of which appeared to involve colouring, but there was also a none-too-taxing treasure hunt to follow. A handful of mummers and knights in costume were wandering around and playing the hurdy gurdy to mild applause from the crowd slouched on the main steps. Red and white banners fluttered in the wind to add atmosphere, and a papier mache dragon glared from where the Christmas tree usually stands. In one over-stretched tent a series of chefs demonstrated "stuff they could cook", from pub kitchen favourites to posh chocolates. Elsewhere Jason had come along to explain about foraging in London and the Love Food Hate Waste team had free freezer-bag clips to dish out, in case your tastes were more towards austerity than excess. Oh, and there was no beer. Indeed there was nothing alcoholic on sale at all, which meant City Hall didn't have to barrier off the square and hire security guards to look stern at every entrance. St George got an off-the-shelf celebration this year, at minimal cost, and that seemed to work fine.

     Saturday, April 20, 2013

    Sorry to go on about PR emails again, but you can blame the Daily Mail this time. They've just published a list of "the best websites for exploring London Town", and were kind enough to include diamond geezer in their top ten. It's not a definitive list of the capital's greatest, else (as one commenter notes) Spitalfields Life would have been included. And it's not brought many readers here, because the list's not on any prominent menu page or cellulite-packed sidebar. But it has brought a new tranche of marketeers out of the woodwork, seeking fresh blood to promote their services, and their pleadings have been pinging into my inbox.

    Here's one of the promotional emails I was sent yesterday, entitled Apologies in advance :(. I'd like to rate it publicly as one of the ghastliest attempts at PR outreach I've ever received. Well done Heather.
    Hello Diamond Geezer
    Oh no it's another damned pitch!
    I suspect Heather was trying to get in first with the self-deprecation in the hope of winning me over to her side. Unfortunately her opening line fell flat, and had me thinking "Oh no it's another damned pitch!" all the way through what follows.
    I do apologise but I'm going to have to send it anyway because it's my job. :)
    Oh Heather. Your job is to send pitches to people who might actually be interested. If you click on the email link in my sidebar you get a message which says "Marketing emails not welcome, thanks" and yes Heather, that includes you.
    My name is Heather - don't panic - you don't know me!
    That's quite a relief, to be honest. And I'd like to keep it that way.
    I work on behalf of a wee company called <insert name of fancy dress company>
    Heather's agency also works on behalf of Channel 4 and IBM, but I end up with spam on behalf of a shop that hires out clown costumes.
    and I have a little something which may be of interest to you - let me cut to the chase...
    I wish you would, Heather, I wish you would.
    In time for Sunday's London Marathon we have designed a fun infographic...
    Ah, it's the dreaded "infographic" pitch. Bloggers of little inspiration lap up these wodges of fake content because they fill a lot of space with colourful pixiedust for minimal effort. They don't care if there's a brand name at the bottom, indeed given a little nudge they'll probably reciprocate with a little click-through linklove into the bargain. But there will be no sponsored infographics here.
    ...which looks at the amazing runners who have taken part in fancy dress (and often for great charitable causes). It includes a few stats and some charming facts. If you thought running 26.2 miles wasn't hard enough then you should check out the guy who ran it dressed as the Blackpool Tower!
    I found Heather's infographic posted on a blog about running. Imagine a set of Top Trumps with cartoon drawings, plus some cut and paste facts, and you'll get some measure of precisely what you're missing. Nothing much.
    In fact, do you know who ran the event and holds the record for the world's fastest fruit?
    No I don't, Heather. Neither do I care. Although I checked, and to be precise the record was for "Fastest Marathon Dressed as a Piece of Fruit", which sounds like just the kind of trashy pseudo-achievement they pad out the Guinness Book of Records with these days.
    If I've tempted you in with fruit and British seaside attractions and you'd would like to take a look, please do get in touch and I will send it right over.
    Heather doesn't provide her infographic up front, oh no. She requires engagement, hopefully leading to brand discussion and a longer-term client-facilitator relationship.
    I hope this in-bread cat will charm you into submission. ;)
    And at this point Heather inserted a photo of a cat with a slice of bread around its head. No, honestly, she did. She was hoping I'd go ROFL lols, but instead I went WTF sheesh. Appropriately enough the Daily Mail can provide all you kitten lovers with a flavour of this online meme (which fizzled out over twelve months ago). But honestly, what is PR stooping to these days?
    I await your profanity filled response.
    Best regards,
    Heather
    You don't get a profanity filled response, Heather. Instead I offer ridicule.

    So let me again remind PR folk and advertisers not to bother sending me stuff. If you send me an email about an event, a campaign, a website or whatever, I can guarantee I won't promote it. Please, don't waste your time on me, go render positive your publicity machine somewhere else instead.

     Friday, April 19, 2013

    HAMMERSMITH & CITY: Door not in use

    Coming soon to a sub-surface platform near you...



    As walk-through S Stock trains roll out across the Hammersmith & City line (with Circle and District lines to follow), this small red sign will become a more familiar sight to Londoners underground. The H&C's new S7 trains are seven carriages long whereas their predecessors had only six. These used to stop embarrassingly short at the rear of platforms, whereas the new trains sometimes stop embarrassingly long. Several of the stations along the Hammersmith & City line weren't built with 117m-long trains in mind, so the new trains have to stop with one end poking off the end of the platform, and some doors don't open. It's not ideal.
    Before you write in and tell me, yes, I know that selective door opening is nothing new on London transport. Northern line trains don't open every door at every station, and there are five DLR stations where a third of the doors don't open on 3-carriage trains. More to the point, S Stock trains already run a full service on the Metropolitan line, and these all have eight carriages to the H&C's seven. S8 trains are a whopping 134 metres long, and they really don't fit into a number of older stations (such as Farringdon). But today, if you'll forgive me, I'm going to concentrate on the foibles of the shorter S7.
    The way it works is this. Before the S7s were allowed into public service, TfL ran test trains along the Hammersmith & City line to determine the best position to stop at each station. They've marked this at the front of the platform, if you look, with a long arrowed board labelled >>>>>S7<<<<< which shows the driver exactly where to pull up. There are similar boards on the Metropolitan line labelled >>>>>S8<<<<<, and some where both lines run simultaneously labelled >>>>>SS<<<<<. The upshot of this level of precision is that TfL know at which stations all the doors can open and at which they can't, and then they've programmed the train's computer systems appropriately.

    Take Baker Street for example. The Hammersmith & City line platform is one of the oldest on the underground and therefore a little on the short side. TfL can't just swan along and knock an extra hole at the end of a grade II listed building, so the platform lengths are fixed and trains are unable to open all their doors. Baker Street is a particularly bad case, with doors at both the front and the back staying closed, and passengers are left staring out at the tunnel wall instead. TfL have thought of this, so have pinned special notices to walls advising passengers what to do. "Move along train to exit", they say, with a helpful arrow pointing left if you're at the front of the train and right at the back. If you're planning to travel to Baker Street, be careful not to sit at the very end of the train.

    But there's a more blatant alert system than this. Above each door in the front and rear carriages is a small rectangular sign which lights up when a door is not in use. It says "Door not in use", as you might expect, along with a big red cross to make this clear to passengers who can't necessarily read. Added alongside are two permanent stickers which warn passengers that "These doors will not open at some stations". This is to encourage passengers to approach the doors with an air of healthy scepticism, to be aware that they might not open so that it won't be a surprise when they don't.

    There's also a written hint to listen out for announcements, because these will tip you off in advance regarding non-opening doors. "The front two doors will not open at the next station. Please use other doors." The announcements only occur at the end of the train where the disruption will occur - nobody else is inconvenienced by having to listen. But cleverest of all, the volume of these announcements is slightly higher than the usual generic "the next station is...". The idea is that you're bound to notice this special message, and then you'll shuffle your way up the train to an opening door to alight. Alas, reality is not so smooth.

    What often happens is that people don't listen to the announcements. After a few hours, days or months underground we tend to blot these out, because they don't tell us anything new, and continue in our travelling bubble without engaging. For those who don't speak English, or those plugged into headphones, no early warning signal via the spoken word is going to get the message across. Miss this announcement, as many passengers seem to do, and you'll never know how many doors won't open. Do you need to walk back one set, two sets, perhaps even three? Guess wrong and you'll be standing at a wall when the train stops, not an exit.

    But there's a bigger problem, which I'd like to suggest is a major design flaw, should anyone responsible be listening. The red sign above the door only lights up at the precise moment that the door doesn't open. It doesn't light up beforehand to warn you the door won't open, which would actually be useful. The message is "Door not in use", not "Door will not open" - present tense rather than future. Annoyingly the red warning is flashed up only when it's too late, which is bugger all use except to confirm that the door is staying shut. In any rational system the red sign would light up well in advance, ideally as soon as the train left the preceding station, which would give departing passengers ample time to wander up the train to a non-red exit. Instead, instant frustration, even mild panic, in a suddenly desperate attempt to escape.
    I had the misfortune recently to be riding an eastbound S7 train being driven by a driver in training. I first got a hint that something was up when we rolled into Farringdon station and the front doors didn't open. They should have, we were alongside a platform, but instead the red "Door not in use" sign flashed up for no good reason and passengers were duly inconvenienced. The front doors did open at Liverpool Street and Whitechapel, where the front of the platform is incredibly narrow, but then stayed shut at Stepney Green whose platform is whopping. Entirely unpredictable and atypical behaviour, as if the driver was pressing the wrong buttons or the onboard computer was playing up.

    And then, in a packed rush hour train, we reached Bow Road. Normally every door opens, but on this occasion the front three didn't. We departing passengers stared at each other in disbelief, because we wanted to go home but for some reason we couldn't. We looked down to the next set of doors, also shut, and the next set, hard to see but looking shut too. It seemed likely that the doors beyond that had opened, as other passengers were spilling out onto the platform, but there was no chance we could push through those standing and reach that on time.

    And so we were trapped on board, thanks to malfunctioning modern technology or driver error, and the train duly carted us off unwillingly to Bromley-by-Bow. Would we be trapped here too? There were no clues because, as you'll remember, the red sign doesn't light up in advance. Thankfully everything opened here, and we faced no more than an additional ten minutes walk home. It had been a completely one-off incident, entirely atypical, but symptomatic of the chaos which ensues when folk get no warning in a crowded train that the door in front of them is temporarily out of action.
    Instead of this laissez faire attitude to selective door opening, where doors "may not open" at some stations, something a little more concrete would be useful. A red sign that lights up in advance, rather than too late. A list of stations where the doors won't open, rather than leaving passengers to find out through experience. Something to help avoid embarrassment and awkwardness on discovering too late that you're standing somewhere you shouldn't. In particular, something to make the system more appropriate for those with accessibility issues who can't dash down the carriage and escape without due warning.

    So here's my attempt to list the doors that don't open on the new S7 Hammersmith & City trains. I've only ridden in the front carriage from one end of the line to the other, and it'd take another journey at the rear to get the full list. Maybe you can help me to complete the list, and to check it, but only if you can find one of these rare S7 trains in the first place. And only if the doors open to allow you on board.

    Do not open eastbound: Hammersmith (front door), Goldhawk Road (front door), Baker Street (front door, last 3 doors)
    Do not open westbound: Baker Street (front 2 doors, last 3 doors)


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    Sunday 27 April (10am-4.30pm)
    Perivale Wood Open Day
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    my special London features
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    ten of my favourite posts
    the seven ages of blog
    my new Z470xi mobile
    five equations of blog
    the dome of doom
    chemical attraction
    quality & risk
    london 2102
    single life
    boredom
    april fool

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