diamond geezer

 Thursday, October 31, 2013

Today sees the opening of the extension to Cycle Superhighway 2 along Stratford High Street. This is the mile between the Bow Roundabout and Stratford Town Centre, the stretch past the Olympic Park, untouched when CS2 was opened in 2011. Most of this road is a three lane dual carriageway, so it's been relatively easy to divide off one lane for the exclusive use of cyclists, creating a segregated (and hopefully safe) space for riding along. I've been watching the increasingly frenetic construction over the last few weeks as TfL's contractors have tried desperately to complete the work by today's deadline. You couldn't have ridden along the blue stripe yesterday - not all the paint was down, and none of the signs were up. But today TfL should be able to boast about a slice of cycling infrastructure that London can be proud of, which makes a change. I've uploaded eight photos of what CS2x looked like last weekend to Flickr, to give you a flavour of what the finished article will be like. And I promise I'll come back and blog properly once it's up and running, when its triumphs and inadequacies will be a little clearer.

But a mile of super Superhighway only gets you so far. To reach the new extension, or to continue from it, cyclists still need to negotiate the notorious Bow Roundabout and pass along the original Cycle Superhighway 2. And this is still rubbish, ambiguous, inadequate, still little more than a strip of blue paint along the road. It's exciting, then, that TfL have finally decided to improve this too. According to board papers published yesterday, "on 31 October we held a media event launching the extension and confirmed our intention to upgrade the remainder of the route." There's no detail as to what "upgrade" actually means, whether that's further tweaks or full segregation - perhaps a journalist at the press launch would like to ask. But I thought I'd show you why an upgrade to CS2 is so desperately necessary, and why the original plans were so ill-thought-through, using my local stretch as an example.

All of the following photos were taken along the last 300m of Cycle Superhighway 2, that's along Bow Road approaching the Bow Roundabout.


What you can see here are two lanes of traffic heading east. Rather than carving out separate cycling space, instead CS2 is nothing but a stripe of blue paint covering the left hand side of the left hand lane. As a cyclist you are essentially sharing your Superhighway with any other road vehicle that passes this way, and if that's a bus or a lorry then your way is entirely blocked. Much of Bow Road is inadequately painted like this. Not so super.


Here we are beyond the pedestrian crossing and approaching St Mary's church. There are two bus stops here, one almost immediately after the other, so the blue paint of CS2 disappears. Instead cyclists are nudged out into the main body of the traffic, at both bus stops, via a big blue rectangle that provides no security at all. But look carefully and there's also a tiny strip of blue inbetween the two bus stops, which must be all of five metres long, nudging you back into the kerbside again. This is no way to guide cyclists safely forward. Not so super.


This photo was taken at the far end of the second bus stop. See how the blue CS2 logo has been positioned so as to divert cyclists into the middle lane of traffic? From this position it would surely be simple to continue straight ahead, across the 'Keep Clear' notice, to enter the left hand lane of the flyover. Indeed that's what the majority of cyclists do, they ride up onto the flyover to avoid having to negotiate the roundabout because they think it's safer that way. I'd agree. But instead the blue stripe reappears along the left hand kerb, delivering you inexorably towards an entirely inadequate road junction. Not so super.


I have two things to show you here. Firstly that's Brian Dorling's ghost bike, or the remains of it, reminding us of his fatal accident a few yards ahead at the Bow Roundabout two years ago. And secondly there's a car parked in the Cycle Superhighway, perfectly legally, blocking passage. This is an official parking bay, operational for loading and unloading outside peak hours, and freely available for parking on Sundays. As a local resident I'm very pleased to have such facilities available. As a cyclist, however, the idea of a parking space on a Superhighway is entirely bonkers. Not so super.


This is the entrance to the segregated cycle lane added at the Bow Roundabout following Brian Dorling's death. Previously CS2 had been nothing more than half a lane painted blue, which was ludicrous this close to the roundabout because it was usually obstructed by queueing traffic. The separate lane seems much more sensible, except it starts only a few metres after a bus stop so (as seen here) can be equally impossible to access. From what I've seen there's a similar schoolboy error on the opposite side of the roundabout, on the new westbound extension, where access to the Bow Flyover bus stop bypass can be blocked by a queue of vehicles. They never learn. Not so super.


This is a shot taken in the opposite direction to that seen above, but taken on a quieter day. It shows TfL's innovative "cycle early start lights" - a two stage system for filtering cyclists ahead of other vehicles so that they can get away in relative safety. I've blogged about this before and how it doesn't quite work in the way TfL had hoped. Cyclists don't always realise that they have to obey two separate sets of lights, and often sail through the second on red, either deliberately or through ignorance. Cars don't always stop where they should either, and no longer get quite so long to pass through the lights on green, which has created longer queues of cars and buses on Bow Road. A good try, TfL, but this is no perfect solution. Not so super.


I show you this photo to illustrate CS2's poor construction values. This isn't even the original not-very-good infrastructure at the Bow Roundabout, it's a 2012 "improvement". When the roadway was remodelled an awkward indentation was created which fills with water after heavy rain. There is a drain which is located to the left where the white stripe breaks, but the surface slopes the wrong way leaving cyclists to splash through a big puddle as they exit their segregated lane. If this section of CS2 ever gets a second makeover, hopefully someone'll fix it. In the meantime it's not so super.


And finally, this is the point where Cycle Superhighway 2 ends, and where (on the opposite side of the roundabout) the new extension begins. It's also the point where Brian Dorling died, crushed by a tipper truck turning left onto the A12. TfL have accidentally discovered the perfect solution to ensure this never happens again - they've closed the slip road. This is for four months while Crossrail undertake work on a new tunnel entrance, so now only traffic for McDonalds and some local flats turns left here. It's brilliant, and completely removes the need to have a "cycle early start" facility at all. Indeed most cyclists have deduced that it's now perfectly safe to jump the lights, so generally do, and are in for a shock come December when the traffic thunders back.

It takes just one minute to cycle down the 300m of Cycle Superhighway 2 I've illustrated above. One minute of roadway that's generally unfit for purpose, but which was lauded as a great leap forward by TfL just two years ago. When the CS2 extension is officially opened later today, and TfL announce that they now intend to upgrade the remainder of the route, please raise a cheer. I don't believe it's going to be easy to make Bow Road as safe for cyclists as Stratford High Street. But until someone comes up with a decent plan, the majority of Cycle Superhighway 2 remains not so super.

 Wednesday, October 30, 2013

NORTHERN - October 2013
» A brief history of the Northern line
» Bank/Monument upgrade: Bank
» Up the line: Morden → High Barnet
» Down the line: Edgware → Battersea
» Bridge To Nowhere: Colliers Wood
» Northern South: Morden → Clapham South
» Totteridge: Totteridge and Whetstone
» Nine Elms: Vauxhall → Battersea
» The Northern line extension: Kennington → Battersea
» Northern Heights: Mill Hill East → Edgware
» Charing Cross: Charing Cross
» Mornington Crescent: Mornington Crescent
» Deepest tube: Hampstead
» All of the above on one page

And three I wrote before, so didn't write this month...
» The Mill Hill Shuttle
» The renaming of Charing Cross
» The Northern line deep level shelters

NORTHERN: Hampstead

Hampstead, on the Northern line, is the deepest station on the London Underground network. It's not that the trains dip down, it's that the land here is higher than at the stations on either side. The platforms at Hampstead are 192 feet below ground level, that's nearly 60 metres, which is a bit taller than Nelson's Column. This means, if you have any sense, you'll use the lifts to make your way between the ticket hall and the trains. Hampstead has extra-speedy Otis lifts, and the longest lift shaft on the Underground at 181 feet deep. But there is a back staircase which is open to customer use, although you have to be relatively fit to use it. Signs at the bottom warn passengers that "this spiral staircase has over 320 steps", and that this is "equivalent to climbing a 15 storey building". At other stations with lesser staircases you might ignore the warning and hike up anyway, but at Hampstead it's best to keep away, unless you're trying to prove a point.

I experienced the 320 steps in the safe direction, going down. The entrance isn't immediately obvious, nor do TfL want it to be, tucked away in the back corner of the ticket hall and then doubling back. The first descent is straight, then comes a brief landing where the spiral begins. It was here I met a brave soul walking up, not obviously out of breath but evidently relieved to be nearly at the top. The top section of the spiral is a little austere, constructed from white-painted curved metal panels, but soon the original tiling kicks in. It's cream with a reddish brown border, and this'll be your guide for several revolutions downward. All the treads are modern with yellow safety trim, and they appear to be grouped in 180° sections each of 17 steps. Round and round and round they go. Someone's stuck a series of numbers on pieces of paper on the central supporting pillar, starting with "1" at the top, counting up to a final "17" down below. I think they're counting the mini-landings, and the idea is to dissuade climbers from getting too far ("What? We're still only at 14? I think we'd better turn back now!"). Even when walking down, the stairs go on and on and on ("Seriously? We're not there yet?"), but then this is the longest staircase on the London Underground by some considerable margin.

Nobody spotted me emerging at the bottom, no train had recently disgorged its human cargo towards the lifts. And nobody waiting on the platform noticed that I was the fit bloke (or nutter) who'd walked down 320 stairs to be there. But I suspect only I fully realised quite how far below the ground we were, at the undergroundest Underground station of all.
The 10 deepest stations on the Underground
  1) Hampstead 58.5m
  2) Holborn 41.1m
  3) Highgate 37.3m
  4) Covent Garden 37.0m
  5) Angel 35.7m
  6) Belsize Park 35.6m
=7) Leicester Square 33.2m
=7) Russell Square 33.2m
  9) Euston (City branch) 33.1m
10) Piccadilly Circus 32.2m

The 10 longest staircases on the Underground
  1) Hampstead 320 steps
  2) Covent Garden 193 steps
  3) Belsize Park 189 steps
  4) Russell Square 171 steps
  5) Goodge Street 136 steps
  6) Caledonian Road 134 steps
  7) Moorgate 131 steps
  8) Bank 128 steps
  9) Queensway 126 steps
10) Edgware Road 125 steps
» Depth data calculated using a spreadsheet spotted by Ian Visits, here.
» Steps data taken from a list counted by Geofftech, here
.

 Tuesday, October 29, 2013

NORTHERN: Mornington Crescent

1) Listeners to the Radio 4 show I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue have enjoyed the game of Mornington Crescent since 1978. I've blogged about the rules before, so I'll not repeat them here. But it's been a while since we played a game on the blog, so let's have a go in this special comments box. Original Standard Rules apply. Let's play!

2) Mornington Crescent is a Leslie Green station. Between 1903 and 1907 he designed stations on what are now the Bakerloo, Northern and Piccadilly lines, with trademark oxblood tiling exteriors. Mornington Crescent is typical, two storeys high with semicircular windows beneath a flat roof. It's one of three of Green's stations to be listed, the others being Gloucester Road and Holloway Road. Eight other Leslie Green stations survive on the Northern line; these are at Tufnell Park, Kentish Town, Hampstead, Belsize Park, Chalk Farm, Camden Town, Goodge Street and Leicester Square.

3) Mornington Crecent is one of nine stations on the Northern line with lifts, not escalators, down to the platforms. The others are Tufnell Park, Hampstead, Belsize Park, Chalk Farm, Goodge Street, Elephant & Castle, Borough and Kennington. That's a very similar list to above, which is because Leslie Green built his stations just before escalators were introduced on the Underground. The lifts at Mornington Crescent have ornate iron grilles above them, labelled 1 and 2. Alternatively you can take the back stairs down to the platform... or even up, it's only 66 steps, it won't knacker you out.

4) Above the top of the staircase, where it rises up into the ticket hall, is a blue plaque to Willie Rushton (1937-1996, Satirist). He died while the station was being revamped in the 1990s, and the plaque is located here to celebrate his expertise at a certain Radio 4 panel game.

5) The tiles at platform level aren't original, they're part of that major 1990s revamp. But they are closely matched replacements, royal blue and cream in colour with brown lettering at one end of the platform. Lovely.

6) The tube map correctly shows Mornington Crescent on the Charing Cross branch of the Northern line. However the tube map incorrectly shows the City branch running to the east of Mornington Crescent, whereas instead it runs to the west.

7) The Camden Town area gets really busy on Sundays when international youth descend on the markets by the lock. That's why TfL bar entry to Camden Town station every Sunday afternoon between 1pm and 5.30pm, and force travellers to enter the system via one of the neighbouring stations instead. If passengers have any sense they'll use Chalk Farm, which is fairly close to the various market sites. But if they trot back to Camden Town station to discover the entrance is closed, signs then direct them instead to Mornington Crescent. That's a six minute walk down Camden High Street, or longer if the pavements are busy. This is the less touristy end of the street - there are no purple Doc Marten outlets here - but the local shops are varied enough to benefit from TfL-inspired additional footfall every Sunday afternoon. Mornington Crescent also gets a significant boost to passenger numbers. It's one of only five stations on the Underground which more people enter on a Sunday than on an average weekday (the others being Kensington (Olympia) and the Heathrows), in this case 55% extra. It's the only time that Mornington Crescent feels properly busy. You did want the Charing Cross branch, didn't you?

8) The station is named after Mornington Crescent, an adjacent street that curves off, round and back to the Hampstead Road. This fine street dates back to the 1820s, with three curved terraces of elegant townhouses facing a communal garden. The neighbourhood went downhill slightly when the mainline to Euston was dug round the back a decade later, and in the 1930s a tobacco factory was opened on those communal gardens. That's the Art Deco Carreras Building, a splendid sight with Egyptian cat statues out front. The rear elevation facing the crescent is less impressive but still striking, with a tall cream chimney rising into the sky. Most of the street's 36 villas have been divided into flats - you might live down the steps in the basement, or you could live on the first floor with a scaffolded balcony. But the cars parked out front suggest that houseowners hereabouts remain on the right side of the property divide, and hey, there's a tube station at the end of the road too.

9) In Christopher Fowler's series of novels, the offices above Mornington Crescent are the home of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. Detectives Arthur Bryant and John May are based here, or rather were based here until the place blew up, but that's fictional alternative London for you. Ideally you should have started reading the Bryant and May novels back in 2003 - approximately one more adventure is published every year - but this may mean you have a glut of twisted intricate mysterious volumes to enjoy. Highly recommended.

10) Mornington Crescent is an anagram of Concerning Torments (and also of Reconnecting Mr Snot).

 Monday, October 28, 2013

While many parts of the country are closing their libraries down, last month Birmingham opened a new one. It's a monster among libraries, a nine storey beacon of regeneration, glistening in gold and silver on the rim of the city centre. It replaces Birmingham Central Library, a brutalist 70s creation overlooking Chamberlain Square. This upturned concrete ziggurat divided opinion, loved by some, hated by others, and a replacement was funded just before the economic downturn hit. All the books were relocated to the new building earlier in the summer, and you still walk through the heart of the old reference library (an ugly shopping mall) before crossing to the new site in Centenary Square. And there it stands, a completely different style of pyramid covered with circular bling - an asymmetric wedding cake with a golden cylinder on top. It cost £189m, which some have said would have been better spent elsewhere. But it is undeniably impressive, the kind of showcase building that England's second city mostly lacks. It's the Library of Birmingham. and crowds are still flocking to see inside.

The building's being marketed as a visitor attraction as well as a library. That's good if you'll never have a Birmingham library card, but it also attracts residents inside who might not otherwise consider availing themselves of the library's services. A Visitor Guide and Floor Plan is available, including a Building Highlights Trail which they reckon takes an hour, and I'd say that's about right. It is that big a building, as befits the most populous urban district in the country.

The main lending library is downstairs, on the largest floor (continue past the cafe and the escalators). They've called it the Book Browse, because Fiction Section isn't alliterative, and here you'll find the popular stuff in that modern 'covers face up' style. It's a lofty pillared space with a Digital Gallery projected on one wall - this probably a better idea in the mind of the designer than in reality. The children's library is a level lower down, complete with extensive 'Story Steps' when parents can read to their offspring. And then there's the music library, poking out beneath Centenary Square and arranged round a glass-edged amphitheatre. It's extensive, from books on 80s pop to classical scores you can browse and tinkle on an adjacent electric organ. Top marks for the music section.

Most casual visitors will miss the ground floor, lured up a level, and up a level, and up a level, by a series of escalators. These glow electric blue under the handrail, adding a futuristic air to the interior. The next three floors have all the non-fiction books, and plenty of users browsing, perusing or taking notes. Most of the shelves look ordinarily library-like, but a ring around the central atrium contains older more valuable hardbacks, accessible via staff-only staircases, and an imposing backdrop to your ascent.



The third floor has an exterior terrace, or indeed roof garden, along two sides. This is a magnet for visitors, and especially locals, who can get a high-level view across Birmingham that's not generally available. To be fair the Birmingham skyline's not especially memorable, lacking in signature highrises and dotted with bland office towers. The Rotunda's quite some distance away, and there's no sign of the bobbly metallic Selfridges from here. But there's Centenary Square down below, and the old library to one side, and plenty of traffic-filled arterial roads threading through.

Floors five, six and seven are staff only, providing office and storage space. But it is possible for the public to get higher via the lifts or a lengthy back staircase (90 steps to be attempted only if fit). Or there's a glass lift that shuttles between floors 4 and 7, rising through an internal void so not for those with vertigo. It's only small, but very enticing, so expect long queues if you choose it. The ordinary lifts or stairs are a better bet, and then the queues for coming down in the glass lift are much shorter so you can enjoy it then. Wheeee!

The only public space on the seventh floor, other than a narrow passage, is the Secret Garden. Obviously it's not that secret, it's mentioned on the map and floor plans, but you probably wouldn't think to come up here unless nudged. It takes the form of two more terraced balconies, on different sides of the building from before, permitting views to the north and to the west. This is a great place to sit amongst the colourful plants, or (if you're local) to promenade round the edge pointing towards some distant suburb and exclaim "I live there". As a non-expert on the geography of Birmingham I wasn't able to identify much, but various tower blocks and multi-storeys and the BT Tower were bright and clear in the foreground.

And there's one more secret hidden inside the golden cylinder on the top floor. You can take the lift, but the stairs are much more interesting and wind through some unseen internal space to reach the summit. Facing the city centre is the Skyline Viewpoint, a small internal lounge with a couple of comfy sofas. But then through a side door is the most unexpected feature in such a modern building - the original 1882 Shakespeare Memorial Room. This is a high rectangular room decorated in an Elizabethan style, with splendid carvings, marquetry and metalwork representing birds, flowers and foliage. It was created to house the council's collection of Bard-related volumes, but had no place in the 1974 library so was almost lost, and has only now been restored to absolute pride of place. The walls seem more interesting than the contents of the shelves, but its survival is a fitting tribute to the West Midlands' most famous son. Birmingham and books, they still thrive together.

My Library of Birmingham gallery
There are 35 photographs altogether [slideshow]

 Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunset in London
(hour by hour, month by month)


 3.xx4.xx5.xx6.xx7.xx8.xx9.xx
J       
F       
M       
A       
M       
J       
J       
A       
S       
O       
N       
D       

White = always daylight
Orange = sunset at this hour
Black = always after dark

For example, in January the sun always sets at four something.
In October the sun can set at six something, five something or (from today) four something.

"If you enjoyed your extra hour in bed this morning, then the man you need to thank is a builder from Chislehurst."

 Saturday, October 26, 2013

NORTHERN: Charing Cross (revised)

It's one of my favourite Northern line stations. Not the top level bit, which is an austere subway. Not the ticket hall, which is a wholly unwelcoming brown, coupled with bright blue and green plastic. Not the mid-level passages, which are over-long. But the platforms themselves, both north and south, which have the most delightful monochrome artwork.

[Insert photo]

The walls on the Northern line at Charing Cross were decorated by artist David Gentleman in 1978. This station had previously been named Strand. It was closed completely in the mid 1970s as part of the Jubilee line project, and these beautiful panels were installed whilst refurbishment took place. Major works were required to amalgamate Strand with the former Trafalgar Square station, including a new ticket hall and new Jubilee line platforms, tunnelled at right angles to the other lines in anticipation of the second stage along the Strand to Aldwych (which station was also originally named Strand). On completion of the works both Trafalgar Square station and Strand station ceased to exist and were renamed Charing Cross station and the former Charing Cross station that was located at the bottom of Villiers Street was renamed Embankment, which due to its location was far more sensible.

Charing Cross's twin 100 metre murals depict the creation of the feature on the streets above that gives the station its name, the Eleanor Cross. Queen Eleanor was the wife of Edward I, but died on royal walkabout in 1290 at Harby which, although only six miles from Lincoln's city centre, is actually in Nottinghamshire. The king was so griefstricken he erected a stone cross at each of the locations her body rested on the 12-day journey back to London. Rather than travel direct, say via Ermine Street, the cortège took a circuitous route via large churches or abbeys in which the queen's body could lie overnight. The penultimate cross at Waltham Cross is original, and easily accessible from London. The only two other extant crosses are at Hardingstone on the outskirts of Northampton and at Geddington (also in Northamptonshire) (which is considered to be the finest example, but is more difficult to reach by public transport). The twelfth monument was at what's now Charing Cross, once located to the south of Trafalgar Square where it meets Whitehall, the current ornate pinnacle being a Victorian replacement of the original which was destroyed during the Civil War.

David's wood-engraved cartoon depicts the construction of London's Eleanor Cross and the workers who toiled to create it, in sort-of chronological order from one end of the platform to the other. There are quarrymen, rough-hewers, masons, mortarers, layers, setters, carpenters, thatchers, scaffolders, labourers, crane-men, apprentices, hodmen, drivers, horsemen and boatmen, plus a few incidental animals as well. If the platform's empty enough you can follow the entire story, from the quarrying of the stone to the lowering of a statue of Queen Eleanor onto the cross at the far end. It's a charming concept, lovingly realised, and entirely upper-class-free apart from one bit which shows the master mason presenting his design to the king, which is about as upper-class as you can get.

[Insert photo]

A particularly unusual thing about Gentleman's design is the holes. Back in the 1970s it was perfectly natural to have litter bins on Underground platforms, so David embedded his into the overall design. Every now and again the picture breaks and there's space for a rectangular slot, say in the middle of a woodpile or workbench. Below the gap is the word LITTER in black Johnston capitals, entirely anachronistic but necessarily functional. But then came the IRA bombing campaigns, or rather then came health and safety risk reduction rules related to potential terrorist outrage, and all the litter bin slots were boarded over. They weren't even artfully boarded over, with a vinyl panel of a vaguely similar colour bolted in across the top. Some look neat-ish, but others look more forced, creating an untidy white void in the middle of Gentleman's mural.

[Insert photo]

Perhaps more evocative, harking back to a simpler age, are the boxes labelled STAFF LETTERS. Up to the mid-1980s internal mail was carried by train in the care of the guard, who would post letters in reusable envelopes in the "staff letters" boxes on platforms. These were located opposite the guards position in the last carriage, so nobody at the station needed to meet the train, thereby enabling time displacement. If the destination station was off that particular train's line then things were more complicated, using dedicated workings as "Despatch" trains. So for example train XX would leave Upminster at 0600 and station staff along the route would meet it and put any letters on board, at St. James's Park the whole lot was put off for the Mail Room in 55 Broadway. Mail from, say, the south end of the Northern Line would be collected by train as far as Embankment, then met by staff and taken up to the District Line for onward travel to St. James's Park. As well as 'ad hoc' individual staff letters there were Revenue Dispatch bags to Edgware Road, used tickets in wicker baskets to the Ticket Sorting Office at Harrow-on-the-Hill, lost property in padlocked cases to Baker Street; plus line correspondence to the four Divisional Managers Offices in 'DMO' envelopes. All of these had their own routes, and the used tickets even 'ran' to their own cross-line printed 'timetable'. All of this might seem a bit hit & miss or overcomplicated but it actually worked quite well for many years, and only came to an end upon the introduction of One Person Operation on trains from 1984.

Underground mail services are no longer required now that communication is instantaneous, so all the STAFF LETTERS boxes are boarded up too. It would be unthinkable to have accessible cavities behind vinyl panelling today, and while you could argue that no bomb has ever exploded in an opaque litter bin on the underground, you could also argue that's solely because there aren't any. Never mind, ignore the modern intrusions and revel instead in David Gentleman's effortlessly excellent artwork. DG even has a print of the entire mural hung on the wall in his Camden home. One expects Queen Eleanor would be proud.

 Friday, October 25, 2013

NORTHERN: Charing Cross

It's one of my favourite Northern line stations. Not the top level bit, which is an austere subway. Not the ticket hall, which is a wholly unwelcoming brown. Not the mid-level passages, which are over-long. But the platforms themselves, both north and south, which have the most delightful monochrome artwork.



The walls on the Northern line at Charing Cross were decorated by artist David Gentleman in 1978. He created a 100 metre mural that depicts the creation of the feature on the streets above that gives the station its name, the Eleanor Cross. Queen Eleanor was the wife of Edward I, and died on royal walkabout in Lincolnshire in 1290. The king was so griefstricken he erected a stone cross at each of the locations her body rested on the 12-day journey back to London. The last of these was at what's now Charing Cross, the current ornate pinnacle being a Victorian replica of the original. David's wood-engraved cartoon depicts the construction of the Eleanor Cross and the workers who toiled to create it, in sort-of chronological order from one end of the platform to the other. There are quarrymen, rough-hewers, masons, mortarers, layers, setters, carpenters, thatchers, scaffolders, labourers, crane-men, apprentices, hodmen, drivers, horsemen and boatmen, plus a few incidental animals as well. If the platform's empty enough you can follow the entire story, from the quarrying of the stone to the lowering of a statue of Queen Eleanor onto the cross at the far end. It's a charming concept, lovingly realised, and entirely upper-class-free.



A particularly unusual thing about Gentleman's design is the holes. Back in the 1970s it was perfectly natural to have litter bins of Underground platforms, so David embedded his into the overall design. Every now and again the picture breaks and there's space for a rectangular slot, say in the middle of a woodpile or workbench. Above the gap is the word LITTER in black Johnston capitals, entirely anachronistic but necessarily functional. But then came the IRA bombing campaigns, or rather then came health and safety risk reduction rules related to potential terrorist outrage, and all the litter bin slots were boarded over. They weren't even artfully boarded over, with a vinyl panel of a vaguely similar colour bolted in across the top. Some look neat-ish, but others look more forced, creating an untidy white void in the middle of Gentleman's mural.



Perhaps more evocative, harking back to a simpler age, are the boxes labelled STAFF LETTERS. In the 1970s, long before email, written messages were passed between stations by underground postmen. They trooped round the network delivering letters and notices - one of the cushier jobs on the tube, often given to those who were long-term sick. Their services are no longer required now communication is instantaneous, so all the STAFF LETTERS boxes are boarded up too. It would be unthinkable to have accessible cavities behind vinyl panelling today, and while you could argue that no bomb has ever exploded in an opaque litter bin on the underground, you could also argue that's solely because there aren't any. Never mind, ignore the modern intrusions and revel instead in David Gentleman's effortlessly excellent artwork. One expects Queen Eleanor would be proud.

 Thursday, October 24, 2013

How happy would you say you are? That's on a scale from zero to ten, with zero being "not at all" and ten being "completely". Picked a number? Great, now let's carry on.

The Office for National Statistics asked Britons from all across the country how happy they are, and crunched the numbers to create a sort of "happiness index". Yesterday they published their latest report, and it turns out that Londoners are some of the least happy people in the UK. Those living in the North East had a lower happiness score but everyone else beat London, with Northern Ireland coming out on top. Scotland is happier than Wales, apparently, and both of those countries are happier than England. I wonder how unhappy that makes you feel.

It's possible to dig down a little deeper into London's happiness figures and explore happiness by borough. So I've done precisely that, and here's a map, with purple the happiest colour and cream the unhappiest.



Look how happy the residents of Kensington and Chelsea are. They're the only borough to score over 7½, which is probably because they're well-to-do and comfortable and secure. But see how unhappy neighbouring Hammersmith and Fulham is, which'll be Shepherd's Bush dragging the area down. And Islington, which'll be all that middle-class angst. And Lambeth, which perhaps doesn't surprise you. And Barking and Dagenham, because it's Barking and Dagenham. Meanwhile look at that red ring of contentedness around outer London. Specifically outer West London, because things aren't quite so happy out in outer east London. Apart from Bromley, that is, where they enjoy rural living. And inner London's not a happy place at all, as you'd expect. Except the City is. And Tower Hamlets is and Newham is, which doesn't quite make sense does it? In fact all the conclusions I've drawn above are drivel, because this entire map is mostly patternless, so you can read pretty much what you like into it.

Let's rewind a little and look at the precise figures. The average happiness score in London is actually 7.21. Meanwhile the average in the North East is 7.17, which seems an extraordinarily accurate figure for a "pick a number from zero to ten" statistic. Perhaps one decimal place might be more realistic, in which case both regions come out the same at 7.2. Meanwhile England scored 7.28, Wales scored 7.29 and Scotland scored 7.32, and they're all almost exactly the same too. Around 7.3. Just over 7. About 7 out of 10. Indeed every single district in Britain comes out as "about 7" (or in special places 8). We're all pretty much as happy as each other, so to try to compare Liverpool's 6.79 with the Orkneys' 8.01 feels somewhat forced.

Now let's go back and review London's precise figures. Kensington and Chelsea scored a maximum 7.51. All the red boroughs on the map managed somewhere between 7¼ and 7½, the pink between 7 and 7¼, and the four cream boroughs dribbled in just below 7. The ONS did ask thirteen thousand Londoners for their opinions, which gives the figures some statistical credibility. But the whole idea of measuring happiness to two decimal places is patently ridiculous. Essentially the whole of London scored about 7 out of 10, and Newham isn't really much happier than Barking and Dagenham, that's just a stupid statistic.

Let's see what the media made of the data on anxiety.
"People living in London are on average the most anxious in the UK, new figures suggest. More than one in five Londoners questioned by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said they had high anxiety levels. The ONS asked people to rate their life satisfaction and personal wellbeing on a scale of zero to ten - zero being "not at all" and ten being "completely". Londoners rated their anxiety as 3.3, which was the highest average rating for anxiety in the UK. The average rating across the UK was 3."
That's a BBC story from yesterday, which makes Londoners out to be inherently more anxious than the rest of the country. And yet the whole of the UK scored roughly 3, apart from a few calm spots scoring 2 (well done Wolverhampton) and a handful of paranoid boltholes on 4 (hmmm, Horsham, West Sussex). We're all roughly 3. Even if the fine detail suggests otherwise, there is no news story here.

Next let's look at the London anxiety map...



Again purple areas are the most anxious and cream the least. See how the wealthier boroughs of west London are hotbeds of anxiety (apart from those that aren't). See how north Londoners are the least anxious (apart from those who aren't). See how Hackney is very anxious (but, oh, Tower Hamlets nextdoor isn't). And see how the City of London is, er, blank (the survey only asked four people in the City, so there's no reliable data). The ONS recognise that their confidence values aren't great, and have been up-front in stating these in the table. But that's not stopped various people pontificating about the headline figures and making judgements that are wholly unfounded.
Dawn Snape, head of personal wellbeing at the ONS, said: "London has the most disposable income but very little life satisfaction and very high anxiety." The ONS said a number of factors could contribute to the ratings, including the fact that London had the highest crime rates and the highest population growth.
Oh please. London does not have "very little life satisfaction" - it averaged 7.3 on that score whereas the whole of England averaged 7.4. Neither does London have "very high anxiety" - we scored 3.3 to England's 3.1. No, instead someone's asking damned stupid questions, looking for depth in data where really there are only broad brush trends.

What's sad is that someone thinks the happiness of the nation can be measured, and compared, and tracked over time, by asking a subjective "zero to ten" question. We can't blame the ONS, they're only doing their job, indeed they did lots of research to try to come up with a convincing methodology. Instead the original idea was proposed by the government, seeking some way of gauging wellbeing in addition to the normal economic data. An intriguing idea, potentially, but instead we've ended up with a blunt instrument that proves nothing being taken far too seriously. Northern Ireland may be happier than London, to one decimal place, but attempting to argue why for political effect is wholly subjective and ripe for misinterpretation.

Instead let's just smile. We're all about 7 happy and 3 anxious. It could be much worse.

» Measuring National Well-being (ONS)
» Personal Well-being Across the UK, 2012/13 (ONS)
» Fairly meaningless maps; fairly meaningless graphs; more fairly meaningless graphs

 Wednesday, October 23, 2013

It's six months since I last warned marketing folk not to darken my inbox with sales promotions. You know the sort of thing.
Hi
I just wanted to let you know about a new West End development report that I think you and your readers will find interesting.
It's a press release about million-pound-plus houses, Dita. Please go away.
Hi
I have a site <kitchen website> that sells kitchens into London and saves Londoners money. Any chance I could get a link with a story to my site??
Not a hope in hell, John.
Good afternoon, I hope you are well.
I am contacting you today on behalf of <hotel company>, one of the brands I work alongside, to extend an invitation to their Blogger Travel Conference coming up in London. The Conference is being held on the 7th October at the <4* Kensington hotel> from 6:30pm and will be an opportunity to meet those in your sector, gain some insight into the Travel industry and question a panel of experts including Simon Calder Senior Travel Editor for The Independent. I attach the official ‘save the date’ invitation with more information.
Georgina made the fatal error of forgetting to attach the invitation, which is surely a sacking error for an 'Outreach Intern'. Fortunately for Georgina her manager Micaela had sent me an identical email two days before, and remembered. The event sounded ghastly. It sounded even ghastlier when I read a "25% Off Voucher Code" post from a blogger who attended.
Dear all,
I’m contacting you with regards to an exciting new vinyl release coming out early November on <record label> that you'll hopefully be interested in. It’s a 10” vinyl follow up from Newcastle based <Newcastle based band> titled ‘<Bodypart>’. Comparisons can be drawn to the likes of <Never Heard Of Them>, <Never Heard Of Them Either>, <Nor Them> and <Them Neither>, who I know you have shown an interest in over the last few years.
'Dear all' is never a great opener, Matt. And my musical taste doesn't stretch as far as 'trouncing waves of distortion delivered over a bed of vigorous clunk.' So that's a no.
Hello,
I’m Bree, like the cheese but not spelt the same ;) - I hope you don’t mind me getting in touch. I work on behalf of <office agency> and together we’re currently working on a rather exciting infographic I wanted to share with you.
Bree has yet to learn that infographics are not exciting, except in the eyes of their creator. She also made the fatal mistake of attaching an in-bread cat to her email, which made me realise she was from the same PR agency I ridiculed back in April for sending me a nauseous missive with an identical attachment. After the email conversation that followed, I trust that nobody at Render Positive will ever contact me again.

Which is more than can be said for 'engagemement agency' Weber Shandwick, who sent me this limp invite last month.
Hello,
Please find below listings information for the <margarine> field of sunflowers which will be popping up this Wednesday in London:
I've got very tired of Weber Shandwick sending me PR emails when I've specifically asked them not to. So I told them so.
Hi <Female 4>
In September 2011 I asked <Female 1> from webershandwick.com not to send me any more PR emails.
In October 2011 I asked <Female 2> from webershandwick.com not to send me any more PR emails.
In November 2011 I asked <Male 1> from webershandwick.com not to send me any more PR emails, twice.
In November 2011 I asked <Female 1> from webershandwick.com not to send me any more PR emails, again.
In February 2012 I asked <Female 3> from webershandwick.com not to send me any more PR emails.
In May 2012 I asked <Male 2> from webershandwick.com not to send me any more PR emails.
In May 2012 I asked <Female 3> from webershandwick.com not to send me any more PR emails, again.
In March 2013 I asked <Male 3> from webershandwick.com not to send me any more PR emails.
In April 2013 I asked <Male 4> from webershandwick.com not to send me any more PR emails.
I would be very pleased if webershandwick.com never sent me another PR email again ever.
Many thanks, dg
How incompetent does an agency have to be to ignore ten polite requests? I'm pleased to say that <Female 4> replied swiftly to apologise, and claimed that my details had been removed from the company's database. I've heard nothing since.

But blimey, I can see why some bloggers sell out so easily, because sometimes there's money in this!
Hello!
I am contacting you on behalf of our client as we are interested in an ad on your site for a period of 12 months.
We are particularly interested in the following 2 options only:
Are you ready for this? The secrets of monetised blogging lie ahead.
1. Published article on an inner page of the website. We can provide the content and ensure it is relevant to the theme of your website. The content would include a sentence with a reference to an online casino. For this we can offer $120 for 12 months.
You've no doubt seen several examples of this sort of thing, although you may not have realised at the time. They're often innocuous-looking posts with a single sponsored link hidden within. Maybe a bland post about the sights of London with a sudden mention of travel insurance, or something anodyne about shopping with a link to an out-of-the-way hotel. You'll note that Lucie's email didn't demand a post on my homepage, I could hide it away somewhere like April 2008 and she'd still get sufficient link-love to boost her SEO. And for this prostitution I'd get £75. Easy money. Like I say, keep your eye open for this sort of thing as you click round the web, and move on.
2. An image ad on the homepage only linking to an online casino. The image is 125x125 in size and can be below the fold. For this we can offer $150 for 12 months.
That's a tiny little advert, not much bigger than a postage stamp, for which Lucie's willing to pay me almost £100 a year. And again she doesn't need the ad to be visible, she doesn't need anyone to see it and click on it. Instead she just needs Google's bots to spot the casino link on my blog's homepage to bump their site further up the rankings. An easy win for her, a cash windfall for me, but wholesale cheapening in the eyes of everyone else.

So just to say one more time, this blog does not engage in promotion on request, not even for pieces of silver. Offenders will be ignored. Repeat offenders will be rebuked. Serial offenders will be publicly named and shamed. And I suspect that's not the sort of promotion you want.

 Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Yesterday, because I had four hours to spare, I hunted down the Norwich 12. That's twelve individually outstanding heritage buildings, constructed over a millennium, in Norwich. The twelve include cathedrals and castles and halls and houses and post-millennial library complexes, and there aren't many cities nationwide that can boast quite such a range. If you're the anti-provincial type then maybe you should switch off now and come back tomorrow. But if you're a tad more open-minded, or might actually be up Norfolk way occasionally, these are a grand dozen to explore. [12 photos]



1. Norwich Castle (1067-1075)
Architecturally the most ambitious secular Norman building in Europe.
William the Conqueror's big blocky tower is visible across much of Norwich. It sits on Britain's largest motte, rather close to the castle's namesake shopping mall (which is definitely not one of the Norwich 12). The castle was used for several centuries as the city jail, and its later extensions now house the city's museum and art gallery (and a cafe and a gift shop). You'd expect a grand view from the top of the mound, but not so, Norwich city planners have dumped some rather ugly modern buildings along the road opposite. But the interior's huge, and historic, and well worth a lengthy visit. [photo]
2. Norwich Cathedral (1096-1145)
An iconic Norman cathedral and one of the most complete Romanesque buildings in Europe.
And it's free to get in, which is excellent, although there is a nice lady at the 'five pounds please' donations desk on the way in. The cloisters are the largest in England, the spire is one of the tallest, and I'd say the volunteers are some of the friendliest. Look up and the medieval roof carvings are beyond compare, in a unique rather than a dazzling way, and you can take as many photos inside the building as you like. I'd rather here than Ely. [photo]
3. The Great Hospital (1249)
An exceptional set of medieval hospital buildings, in continuous use for more than 750 years.
Just don't expect to see them if you trek to the edge of town for a look. The medieval cloister is hidden behind newer buildings and several "private no public right of way" notices, and the single large courtyard you can see isn't so old. Unless it's a Friday morning, when the Lodge welcomes visitors, you can safely give this one a miss. [photo]
4. The Halls - St Andrew's and Blackfriars' (1307-1470)
The most complete medieval friary complex surviving in England.
These flint buildings, of which St Andrew's is the largest, were repurposed as a 'common hall' during the Reformation. They're still used for concerts and conferences, and are apparently open to the public daily, although I couldn't find an unlocked entrance. Not especially whelming, except in longevity. [photo]



5. The Guildhall (1407-1424)
England's largest and most elaborate provincial medieval city hall.
For several centuries, until the Industrial Revolution, Norwich (yes Norwich) was England's second city. Its wealth and power translated into this elaborate seat of government, the largest surviving medieval civic building in the country outside London. If you visit today you'll find much of the interior taken up by Caley's Cocoa Café, which is not quite of the period, but which I can heartily recommend for any liquid chocoholics. [photo]
6. Dragon Hall (1427-1430)
A magnificent medieval merchant's trading hall, unique in Europe.
This 27 metre long timber-framed building was used as Robert Toppes's showroom and warehouse for thirty years, and somehow still survives today. I spotted the dragon hanging outside which gives the building is name, but the museum within is closed on Mondays (and Fridays, and Saturdays, and November to Marches) so I couldn't look inside. I'll be going back. [photo]
7. The Assembly House (1754-1755)
One of the most glorious examples of Georgian assembly rooms architecture in the country.
Hang on, that's quite a chronological leap. Up until number 5, the Norwich 12 has been quite good at showcasing one building per century. Then the 15th century got two, and the 16th and 17th get missed out altogether. The Assembly House is sandwiched between a car park, a shopping mall and a theatre, and is more a posh wedding, conference and dining venue these days. There was a conference going on so I gave the interior a miss. [photo]
8. St James Mill (1836-1839)
The quintessential English Industrial Revolution mill.
It's not just Yorks and Lancs that have the monopoly on satanic mills. Norwich had its own textile trade beside the river Wensum, of which St James Mill was part until 1902 when local department store Jarrolds bought the place instead. Their main offices are still located here, and there's a bespoke printing museum out the back (except, damn, that's only open on Wednesday mornings). [photo]



9. The Cathedral of St John the Baptist (1884-1910)
One of the finest examples of Victorian Gothic architecture in England.
By the time Roman Catholics wanted a cathedral, space in the town centre was limited. So this monster church had to be located outside the inner ring road, that's outside the former city walls, but only just. It's big. It's designed by George Gilbert Scott Junior. It has a lot of Frosterley marble, apparently. But best not arrive during mass if you fancy a look round. [photo]
10. Surrey House (1900-1912)
One of the most elegant and opulent Edwardian office buildings in Britain.
This imposing building near the bus station is the home of Norwich Union insurance, or would be if the company hadn't rebranded as Aviva a few years ago. Most of today's employees work in the modern complex nextdoor, but a few get to work behind the Palladian façade. According to the Norwich 12 leaflet visitors are welcome to go inside to view the Marble Hall and its skeleton clock. You'd never guess if you were merely walking past. [photo]
11. City Hall (1936-1938)
One of the finest municipal buildings of the inter-war period in England.
When the Guildhall got too small for government, between the wars, the city fathers built this mega civic building instead. It overlooks Norwich's covered market square, and boasts an "exceptional art deco interior", apparently. Unfortunately there's no admittance except on official business, or on a Heritage Open Days tour (thanks to which my Dad assures me there's an excellent view from the top of the tower). [photo]
12. The Forum (1999-2001)
The landmark Millennium building for the East of England and a stunning example of 21st-century design.
When Norwich Library burnt to the ground, the opportunity was taken to rebuild bigger and better. The new building is massive, horseshoe-shaped with broad glass frontage and a large open area within. Yesterday you could have visited an architecture exhibition, enjoyed elderly portraits and watched a 15 minute Dr Who audio-visual presentation in the digital gallery. And the library is now one of the busiest in Britain, which just goes to show how good design will always shine through. The Norwich 12 are still going strong. [photo]

 Monday, October 21, 2013

Today sees the launch of a new Poem on the Underground to celebrate the network's 150th year, entitled Thankyou London Underground. It's by John Hegley, comedian and performance poet, and will be appearing in trains as part of Poems on the Underground, which adds culture to your commute. Or at least some of it will. John's original poem Of Mice and Many was rather longer, but has been chopped and trimmed to a couple of verses so that it fits into a single poster space. Gone are some of the less upbeat stanzas, like the slight moan about slow running through Edgware Road, but the nice bit about hanging onto 'billiard ball-bottomed straps' remains.

John's ode also appears, along with eighteen others, in a "free, highly-collectable booklet" containing all the poems that have appeared on the Tube network during this special anniversary year. It's a lovely sturdy booklet with a smart illustrated cover, and can already be found in selected leaflet racks in certain Underground ticket halls. Betjeman and Blake have their place, along with more modern urban and multicultural poets, and I'd definitely recommend trying to get hold of a copy.

I won't reproduce any of the 19 poems here, I'll leave you to discover them for yourself. But what I have done is take the first line of each and reassemble them to create a poem of my own. It almost works, vaguely, but you can't beat the full pocket-sized limited-edition collection.
Great was my joy, with London at my feet -
As in the Underground there's no mistaking
The fields from Islington to Marylebone,
Walk the spiral

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Tufnell Park and Camden Town,
As he travels home on the Northern line
Evening falls on the smoky walls.

My fiftieth year had come and gone,
That first winter alone, the true meaning
It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,
In Jamaica she was a teacher. Here she is charwoman.

Behold, a swan. Ten houseboats on the Lee.
The houseboat tilts into the water at low tide,
He feels a breeze rise from
Stamp Head

The Strand is beautiful with buses,
A holy multitude pouring
In London

A brief history of the Northern line [more] [more]

 Edgware branchHigh Barnet branchCharing Cross branchCity branchMorden branch
1860s Edgware → Mill Hill East → Finsbury Park   
1870s Finchley Central → High Barnet   
1880s     
1890s   King William Street (Bank) → Stockwell
1900sCamden Town → Golders GreenCamden Town → ArchwayCamden Town → Charing CrossBank → EustonStockwell → Clapham Common
1910s  Charing Cross → Embankment  
1920sGolders Green → Edgware Embankment → KenningtonEuston → Camden TownClapham Common → Morden
1930s Archway → East Finchley Finsbury Park → Moorgate (until 1975) 
1940s East Finchley → High Barnet & Mill Hill East   
1950sNorthern Heights plans dropped
(extensions Edgware → Bushey Heath, Mill Hill East → Edgware and Finsbury Park → Alexandra Palace)

 Sunday, October 20, 2013

The last time I saw my Dad he was 74.

We'd made a good day of it. I came up to Norfolk on the train, and he met me on the station platform. We drove to Morrisons, which is the social heart of the local market town, and I pushed his trolley around. He didn't need to buy much, but we bought some staples for the back of the larder, and a "meal for two" deal for later in my visit. Then we drove back home for a cup of tea, and sat in the conservatory discussing how the view over the fields had changed in the last twenty years.

I helped out with a minor issue on his computer, and checked out the latest images for his local village publication. We went out and cleared some vegetation from his driveway, then carried it down the road to nextdoor and dumped it on their bonfire. It was also time to cut down this summer's tomato plants - they went on the compost heap - and then it started raining so we went inside for a tea and a coffee.

Then we went out for a meal. It was some considerable drive, but Norfolk's like that and my Dad knows these roads backwards. We ended up in a restro-pub by the river, where a log fire was blazing entirely unnecessarily, and ordered curry and pie. We chatted about our earliest memories, which for him might have been a bomb dropping in January 1943, and for me might have been an Underground trip to Putney. And we tried not to be distracted by two gossipy ladies from Bexleyheath at the next table, and the slightly over-earnest waiter.

After that we headed to the Norwich Playhouse for an evening of quickfire quips with Barry Cryer. He'd brought along Colin Sell on the piano, who intervened occasionally with some comic songs. And we laughed at all the appropriate and inappropriate moments, even though I think many of the jokes were exactly the same as he'd told two years ago on his previous national tour.

And then we drove home in the dark, in the moonlight, along mostly empty roads. Before locking the car away I stopped to stare up at the stars in the night sky, in detail entirely invisible from London, until the security light switched on and blotted them out. Inside we had a slice of fruit cake each, and watched Arsenal thrash Norwich on Match of the Day. Like I said, we'd made a good day of it.

The last time I saw my Dad he was a shadow standing on the far side of the living room, closing the door and heading off to bed. I was surprised he didn't want to stay up five minutes longer, because midnight was imminent, but he's never been quite so in awe of precise timing as I have.

The next time I see my Dad, which'll be in a few hours time, he'll be 75.

It's his birthday today, which is why I'm up in Norfolk in the first place, and we'll be celebrating with a family meal later. So that's going to be good, and a rightful celebration of three-quarters of a century of life. All three generations of the family will be present, with the exception of eldest grandson (who's now, blimey, off studying at university). And later we'll come home and watch TV, which as of today Dad gets for free without the need to pay for a licence. There are downsides to being 75, but there are benefits too.

So anyway, good morning Dad, and happy birthday. You're probably reading this at some ridiculously early hour with a cup of coffee in your hand, and I'm undoubtedly still fast asleep in the spare bedroom. But congratulations on this temporal milestone, and let's make it a 75th to remember.




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