diamond geezer

 Saturday, December 31, 2016

I hope your year gone by went well - I had a good one, cheers.
It really wasn't all that bad, despite your darkest fears.
Sure, many heroes passed away, from fame's increasing pool.
It's next year that the gloom kicks in, and life becomes more cruel.

Do you have a ticked-off tube map?

That's a tube map on which you tick off every tube station you visit. A tube map which shows all the stations you've either entered or exited. A tube map which shows the extent of your travels on the tube network.

Daniela has a ticked-off tube map.



She uses a biro to strike though every station she's been to. She crosses them out really thickly, because otherwise the marks can be really hard to see. As of two months ago, when she tweeted her map for us all to look at, she'd been to around ninety stations altogether. I wonder how many stations are crossed off on your ticked-off tube map.

I've got a ticked-off tube map. But mine doesn't show every tube station I've ever been to, it only shows those I've been to this year. Here's 2016's.



I use the tube map in the back of my diary, because that's a document I open every day. I start with a clean sheet every year and update it every night. At the beginning of the year, if I've been out and about, there are often two, three, four or more stations to tick off. Later in the year the ticking off gets less frequent, but over the course of three hundred and sixty-something days it all adds up.

The tube map in the back of my diary is out of date and black and white, which isn't ideal, but does make it easier to cross out the stations with consistency. I also highlight all the bits of track I've been along, which is why there's so much colour, but let's not worry about that for now. And I use a thick yellow pen, which works for me, but isn't great for you lot attempting to look at a small version.

So I've copied out my ticked-off tube map onto a proper December 2016 tube map, and used a red pen to cross out all the ticked-off stations. There, that's better. [click to enlarge]



That's quite impressive, isn't it? There are over 200 red crosses on my map, each of which marks a station I've walked into or walked out of over the last year. Interchanging doesn't count, and nor does simply travelling through, otherwise in my case they'd almost all be crossed.

My life as a serial London nomad helps to keep the map so full. I've been to Uxbridge, Barnet, Upminster and Brixton for the blog, and all sorts of stations inbetween. I believe in blogging the whole of London, not just the well-known bits in the middle, which means this map looks a heck of a lot healthier than it would otherwise be.

I've blogged about Greenford and Upney and Woolwich so they're all included. Last summer I wrote a long post about trams which is why almost all of the tram stops are covered. I've alighted at most of the stations on the DLR, a lot of the outer Metropolitan line and all the Heathrows. You probably haven't done these things because you lead a more normal life.

But I'm not out to tick off as much as possible deliberately. I haven't used Covent Garden this year even though I easily could, nor popped my head above ground at Marble Arch, nor even ticked off all the stations in Tower Hamlets. OK, if there's ever an equal choice between two stations I do tend to visit the station I haven't yet ticked off, just to move things along, but overall this is a pretty accurate picture of what a busy boy I've been.

One thing that helps to me tick off quite so many stations is my annual Travelcard. I've paid up front to travel anywhere in zones 1-3, so hopping onto a train anywhere across central London is essentially free. But this also means I haven't been to quite so many stations in zones 4, 5 and 6 because of the extra cost. I've been to Richmond several times this year, for example, but never exited the station because I always get out at Kew Gardens and do the last bit by bus.

I mentioned that on my 'proper' ticked-off tube map I also highlight all the lengths of track I've ridden on. This is an additional stage, not always easily accommodated, and only for the serial ticker-offer. But it does allow me to tot up how much of the TfL network I've ridden this year, and to compile the following list as a convenient track-bashing summary.
Bakerloo: all
Central: all
Circle: all
District: all, except Richmond
Hammersmith & City: all
Jubilee: all
Metropolitan: all, except the Chesham spur
Northern: all, except the three stations south of Tooting Broadway
Piccadilly: all
Victoria: all
Waterloo & City: all
DLR: all
Overground: all, except the three stations north of Walthamstow Central, the Enfield branch and the entire Goblin
Tramlink: all
TfL Rail: all, except the four stations east of Romford
Dangleway: none
It's not a competition. But if you got yourself a tube map and a biro, you could join in next year. Pick up a map on your first journey of the New Year, hang onto it, and mark off all the stations that you visit throughout 2017. You'll probably forget, but you might not, and then you'll have a record of where you've been and how much of the capital you've covered. You could even come back to this post this time next year and tell us how you got on.

» If you're the online type you could create an app which allows you to do your ticking off on the go, or use a spreadsheet.
» If you're really hardcore you could get hold of a London Rail and Tube services map and use that instead.
» If you have a really good memory, maybe you could try ticking off a map of all the stations you've ever used in your lifetime.
» If you don't use the tube much, ditto.
» But if you live abroad, maybe this one's not for you, sorry.

 Friday, December 30, 2016

dg 2016 index

Ten memorable London jaunts in 2016
1) The View From The Shard: I went up the Shard nine times this year, for £20.16. I may never go up again, but now I know what London looks like in all weathers. [photos]
2) Night Tube world record: On the first night, when there were only two lines up and running, I grabbed the unofficial all stations record. I believe it still stands.
3) Miglia Quadrato: A car rally round the City of London, starting at midnight and ending after dawn, hunting barely visible clues... brilliantly bonkers fun.
4) Open House: This architectural freebie is a cracker every year, and 2016 was no exception, from Crossrail to Robin Hood Gardens. [photos]
5) To the edge of London: My idea was to walk from Charing Cross to the nearest place not in London, in as near a straight line as possible. A fascinating stroll. [photos]
6) Transit of Mercury: I observed this rare astronomical phenomenon from Greenwich, Piccadilly and Hampstead - the next really good one's not until 2049.
7) Green Lanes: To understand north London, walk the full length of its longest street.
8) East London Mosque: ...and to understand another religion a little better, step inside a place of worship and speak to those inside.
9) Walking Crossrail: I followed the path of Crossrail on the surface from North Woolwich to Paddington. [photos]
10) Line of Fire: ...and I also followed the perimeter of the Great Fire of London, 350 years on.

Runners up: Brunel Museum, Lumiere, Kensington Palace, Winter Lights, Out There, The Bishops Avenue, Kenwood House, Wanstead Park, Little Ben, Roman Road Market, Museum of Brands, Widow's Son, four squares, Barking Riverside, 17 Bruton Street, William Shakespeare, Regent's Canal, Woodberry Wetlands, Abbey Wood, Boring Conference, Tate Britain, The Line, South London, Regent's Park, The Patron's Lunch, Geological Museum, Switch House, artificial hills, Parkwalk, warmest day, Designing a Moment, World Cup hedge, southeast London, Royal Docks, places Londoners never go, Nine Elms, Notting Hill Carnival, The Great Fire, Interesting 2016, Garden Bridge, Zeppelin over Bow, three postcodes, Best Cocktail Secrets, Anywhen, crisp restaurant, Queen's House, Heath Robinson Museum, department stores, Long Wall Path, North Ockendon, Stratford gyratory, Boxpark Croydon, City of London Police Museum, walking the Thames, Oak Compass, Design Museum, River Effra plaques, Winton Gallery, Twelvetrees Ramp, Ruislip Lido.

Tube: Whitechapel, TfL outside London, Fit For The Future, openings, Holborn escalators, Museum Depot, Anorak Corner, busiest time, Transported by Design, same station exit, Art on the Underground, Night Tube timetables, station closures, Johnston100, longest journey, Bow Creek, Night Tube timetables, quicker to walk, station entrances, stations with an R in, next train indicators, Canary Wharf screens, S stock, Metropolitan line extension, Croxley Link
Tube maps: January 2016 map, Zone 2/3 overlap, Battersea Park, June 2016 map, Morden error, A-Z, December 2016
Rail: rail devolution, Woodside & South Croydon, Lea Bridge, Belmont Trail, Anorak Corner, North Woolwich line, Greenford branch
Crossrail: Walking Crossrail, unveiling the Elizabeth Line, Crossrail stopping pattern, Tottenham Court Road
Buses: route 31, route 194, route 234, route 398, route 493, daily cap, route 508, blinds, route 51, least frequent, route 167, Hopper, route 108, route 563, best routes for Christmas lights, West End review, busy bus stops
Airport: Estuary, 3rd airport history, 3rd runway
Other transport: cablecar ridership, Trams, Quietway 1, The Knowledge, Blackfriars Pier

Bow Roundabout/CS2: January, February, peak roadworks, March, May, Bus Stop M, pedestrian crossings, bus stops, pedestrian crossing survey, October, Bromley-by-Bow masterplan
E20: The Orbit, London Stadium, the Slide, West Ham store, Make the Future, unfinished things, West Ham at home, Here East, Hackney Wick Central, London Stadium tour
Random grid square: Upney, Osterley, Barnet
Unlost rivers: Beverley Brook, Pymmes Brook
London Loop: section 10, section 21, Loop 8


Ten favourite Out-of-London destinations
1) Versailles: What better on one's birthday than to take a day trip to Versailles? It would have been easier without the train strike, but the lack of crowds was fabulous. [photos]
2) Hill Top and Windermere: 2016's other extreme day out was a day trip to the Lake District, and a walk to Beatrix Potter's house. [photos]
3) Manchester and Salford: How much of these two great cities could I see in one day? More than plenty. [photos]
4) Liverpool: Yes, it would have been nicer if it hadn't rained all day, but Merseyside's amazing in all weathers. Crosby beach was a highlight. [photos]
5) West Midlands: I rode the Midland Metro from Wolverhampton to Birmingham and checked out the culture along the way. [photos]
6) Poole, Sandbanks and Brownsea Island: A day trip to Dorset's harbourside finest (and next time it has to be Swanage). [photos]
7) Pointless: I went to Borehamwood to watch Xander and Richard record two shows... which might be on BBC1 next month.
8) Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft: Not just a delightful small museum, but also the chance to climb the South Downs afterwards. [photos]
9) Lowestoft: I'm not saying Ness Point's a great tourist destination, but the easterly desolation was certainly memorable. [photos]
10) King's Lynn: The only town where I've ever watched the Mayor and civic dignitaries board dodgems in the main square and gleefully bash one another. [photos]

Runners up: the Lavender Line, Lake & Riverside Walk, Newbury, Swanley, Faversham, The Great Explosion, Woking, Quebec House, New Ash Green, Copped Hall, Arundells, Clacton, Reigate Caves, Hadleigh Park, Portsmouth, Essex Architecture Weekend, Milton's Cottage, Bedford, Cliffe Fort, where I've been, Reading Gaol, Oxford
Least used stations: Midgham, Park Street, Sudbury & Harrow Road, White Notley, Kempston Hardwick, Longcross, Little Kimble
Beyond London: Three Rivers, Hertsmere, Welwyn Hatfield, Broxbourne, Epping Forest

Brexit: EU deal, Leave/Remain, alternative timeline, as it happened, London data, Armed Forces Day parade, split, Romford skinhead, vote to Leave, the problem, St Brexit's Day, Certificate of Britishness, Brexmas


Ten other favourite posts from 2016: Fruit and vegetables, afternoon tea, Little Waitrose, membership expired, pizzas, London Above, pedantry, St Median's Academy, Riddlesdown, Chez DG

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

 Thursday, December 29, 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, I thought I'd look back at what the weather's been like. Not because it's something we all want to reminisce over, but because I thought it'd be interesting to see what a full year's weather looks like.

The tables below show the weather for each day in 2016, grouped into categories and totted up by month. Yes, there are still three days to go, so I've used the forecast to predict the rest, and I'll come back later to update speculation with fact. You'll see I've blanked out the background of every empty cell, to make the pattern of the coloured data stand out more, and emboldened any tally that enters double figures.

This is data from a weather station in Hampstead, so the data won't perfectly reflect your experience, nor the national picture. But it does present an interesting picture of the year gone by, and who knew the weather wasn't really that bad?


Maximum daily temperature, Hampstead, 2016

 JFMAMJJASOND
30-35°C       311   
25-30°C     11383   
20-25°C     619201812   
15-20°C    61975414161 
10-15°C 147162053   151415
5-10°C 1120153      1515
0-5°C 62         1

Yes, we did have a summer this year - there were five days when the maximum temperature in London topped thirty degrees, and another sixteen when the temperature topped twenty-five. That doesn't sound like many, but with almost a hundred days making it past the 20°C mark there was plenty of short-sleeve weather to go around. The impressive month here is September, with maximum temperatures running three degrees above the long-term average, and no day ever cooler than 15°C. January and December were also atypically mild, with roughly half their days topping ten degrees, while February was the coldest month overall. Less than ten days all year failed to reach 5°C, while there's not a single occurrence of temperatures remaining below freezing all day, but that's the joys of the inner London heat island effect for you.

Minimum daily temperature, Hampstead, 2016

 JFMAMJJASOND
15-20°C      416138   
10-15°C  1  1524151818513
5-10°C 137716142  4261013
0-5°C 141523142     1612
-5-0°C 461       33

Minimum temperatures show a similar up and down pattern, with February slightly bucking the trend thanks to one unusually mild night. Forty days this summer had nights with temperatures exceeding 15°C, ideal for sitting outside, and the temperature pretty much never went below 10°C from June to September. As for cold nights there were fewer than twenty days all year when the temperature dropped below freezing - again anywhere outside central London would likely have more.

Hours of sunshine, Hampstead, 2016

 JFMAMJJASOND
12-15hr    141361   
8-11hr  27108466533 
5-7hr 476484775896
2-4hr 11559361287945
0-1hr 101185410326885
0hr 645145 263614

We're less used to seeing actual sunshine data, rather than simply thinking "gosh it's sunny" or "oh it's dull". So look, we've had only sixteen days with over twelve hours sunshine this year, but of course the sun's not always above the horizon that long. Meanwhile well over a hundred days saw only one hour of sunshine or less, with over fifty having none at all. December has been the month with the greatest number of entirely overcast days, way more than any other, whereas June was the most uncharacteristically dull month, and November the month that most exceeded seasonal expectations.

Daily rainfall, Hampstead, 2016

 JFMAMJJASOND
>20mm   1 1  1 1 
10-20mm212 211  23 
5-10mm213123 11211
1-5mm1166918423331
0-1mm863737494376
0mm81517122310221921211523

It doesn't actually rain that often here, with more than two hundred days this year (the bottom row) completely dry. Even most of the wet days aren't that wet, with only 36 days exceeding 5mm, and 68 days sprinkled with less than 1mm. The true downpour days have over 20mm of rain - that's pretty much relentless - and there are only four of those. June turned out to be the wettest month, which may confirm your worst suspicions about the early summer, while December has been by far the driest, with less than a fifth of what you'd normally expect. But rainfall is a notoriously erratic statistic, often varying wildly geographically, and one torrential outburst can outrank weeks of lighter precipitation.

Extreme weather, Hampstead, 2016

 JFMAMJJASOND
Fog          217
Frost 541       33
Snow 2 12        
Hail   1  1      
 Thunder   1217  11  

Finally, still based on observations in Hampstead, a look at some of the more unusual meteorological conditions. Fog has been an autumn phenomenon this year, specifically this month (which has been unusually grey). Air frost has been rare, again because this is London, with the last frost of the winter in March, then starting up again in November. You may not remember the five days of snow, because all but one of them was an insignificant flurry (the exception being in January). It never hails much, but thunder is rather more common, this year especially in June. And overall, as you'd expect, the weather has been fairly ordinary. Here's to more typically atypical weather in 2017.

 Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Family Christmas

Friday 23rd
» On the train up to Norfolk, curse silently when a loud family takes over the adjacent table in the quiet coach.
» Loud Family Mum answers a phone call, then rolls a fag. Loud Family Gran gossips while reading The Sun. Loud Family's Son plays with the Loud Family iPad.
» On arriving in Norwich, spot that the iPad is still on the table, under Gran's discarded newspaper. Laugh.
» Decide to be nice, so dash after Loud Family to tell them they've left their iPad on the train.
» Loud Family chooses to ignore the gibbering old man and carries on through the ticket barriers, where the penny finally drops and a rescue attempt is mounted. No thanks are offered.
» Greet Christmas Family.
» Pop over to see Mum, in the last place we left her, on the hillside under the tall trees.
» Join the last-minute shopping queues on the ring road.
» Watch five TV shows and a Harry Potter.

Saturday 24th
» I appear to be sleeping on a mattress in the study, because my brother doesn't have a seven bedroom house.
» Cough, sniffle and fill a handkerchief, on repeat.
» Vegetables are sliced, and the turkey gets a large onion inserted.
» Watch five TV shows and a Harry Potter.

Sunday 25th
» Wake up late enough that ten years ago, when everyone was ten years younger, we'd already have opened everything.
» Oversee the unwrapping of several pairs of socks, a shelf of mugs, more than one gift box of smellies, and a considerable amount of chocolate.
» Watch one of those slow motion tumbles where someone's head falls towards a sharp point and a hard surface in a way which could easily end up with the rest of the day being spent in hospital, but actually results in nothing worse than a bloody cut on a different part of the body.
» Smile because my torrential sniffle appears to have eased just in time for the big meal.
» Pile a plate high with more calories than the average diet allows in a week.
» Overlook Doctor Who to sit on the carpet and play a card game we got as a Christmas present in 1969 instead.
» Check through social media just in case anything's happened in the last five minutes, only to discover it has, and bloody hell not George, and remark with some trepidation that 2016 still has a week to run.

Monday 26th
» Ahhh, sleep in.
» Reckon we can probably watch all of Doctor Who before the day's visitor arrives, except there's still half an hour left when they do.
» Over lunch the cracker jokes are predictably bad, and badly predictable.
» Assist with the reconstruction of youngest nephew's computer on the kitchen table, inserting a new motherboard in fading light, and being wildly impressed when it still works afterwards.
» I think that's the fourth consecutive meal involving turkey.
» Wonder who it is actually buys all these cut-price sofas.
» Note that I'm no longer the only member of the family drinking the bottles of Becks.
» Plan to definitely go to the cinema tomorrow.

Tuesday 27th
» Overlook going to the cinema because the sofa is quite comfy.
» Settle in to watch Outnumbered, and oh blimey don't the kids look older now (well at least two of them)?
» Four minutes in, interrupted by the unexpected arrival of two relatives, who settle down on the sofa for the rest of the afternoon.
» Escape to Sainsbury's for an hour, because oh look we've run out of milk, perhaps regretting not having pre-booked those cinema tickets.
» Smile because we got through the whole of Christmas without the Monopoly set ever being taken out of the cupboard.
» Catch up on various Christmas TV shows, then start another Harry Potter but only get halfway through because sheesh it's long.

Wednesday 28th
» Train back from Norfolk - no anecdotes yet

Five more answers

Here are the answers to yesterday's puzzles.
You may have to highlight some of the answers to read them.
(or check in the comments)


6) Six words: The missing word is JIGSAW.

7) Quiz questions: The boy with all the correct answers was Larry.

8) First to last: First in the list would be APRIL EIGHTEENTH and last would be SEPTEMBER TWENTY-THIRD.

9) Count the squares: There are 32 squares altogether.

10) Premier League: Each of the 20 teams plays 19 home games, so there are 380 matches in one season. If every game was won/lost, the total number of points scored would be 380×3 = 1140. One point is lost for every game drawn. To cut the total down to 1000, the total number of draws must be 140.

How did you do?

 Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Five more puzzles

Another quintet of bank holiday puzzles for you. The last one's the hardest. Answers tomorrow.


6) Six words

Add one more six-letter word to this list so that every letter of the alphabet appears at least once.

  LIQUOR
  BACKUP
  FRENZY
  CONVEX
  METHOD
  ??????


7) Quiz questions

In a short quiz, four boys gave these answers.

 Q1Q2Q3
Barryquoitquickquid
Garryquadquitqueen
Harryquoitquickqueen
Larryquincequickquid

Each boy had a different number of answers correct, ranging from all right to all wrong. Which boy had all the answers right?


8) First to last

All the days of the year (e.g. JANUARY FIRST, NOVEMBER NINETEENTH) are written in alphabetical order. Which date comes first in the list, and which comes last?


9) Count the squares

How many squares are there in this diagram?




10) Premier League

Over the course of a season, each of the 20 football teams in the Premier League plays every other team twice. Teams score three points for a win and one point for a draw.

At the end of one particular season, the 20 teams had amassed a total of 1000 points between them. How many of the matches were drawn?


Answers tomorrow.
Please don't post any answers or heavy hints in the comments.

Five answers

Here are the answers to yesterday's puzzles.
You may have to highlight some of the answers to read them.
(or check in the comments)


1) Eight colours: The seven colours in the wordsearch are azure, pink, rose, indigo, cream, orange and tan. The eighth colour is apricot.

2) Missing number: Write each number as a word and take the first letter. The first three numbers spell TEN (12=Twelve, 11=Eleven, 19=Nineteen). The second three numbers spell ONE.

3) Orbital: The 15-year planet overtakes the 24-year planet every 40 years. After this time the 15-year planet has completed two and two-thirds of an orbit, and the 24-year planet has completed one and two-thirds of an orbit.

4) All the stations: Start at Apcot at 11.36. Travel to Bilton (11.42) and Denge (12.02). Catch the 12.13 train back to Crowe (12.18). Finally catch the 12.30 train to Eston (12.45). Altogether the journey takes 1 hour and 9 minutes.

5) Sprouts: A lot of trial and error (or some spreadsheet-bashing) may be needed here. To get 33% you'd only have to ask 3 people (1÷3 = 0.33). To get 35% you'd have to ask at least 17 people (6÷17 = 0.35). But to get 34% you have to ask at least 29 people (10÷29 = 0.34).

How did you do?

 Monday, December 26, 2016

Five puzzles

A quintet of bank holiday puzzles for you. The last one's hard. Answers tomorrow.


1) Eight colours

This word search contains the names of seven colours, written horizontally, vertically or diagonally.

 O T A N K M
 R G R N A A
 A O I Z E E
 N P U D Y R
 G R E F N C
 E S O R L I


Rearrange the first letter of each to make the name of an eighth colour.


2) Missing number

What's the missing number?

12T 1?
11E 9?
19N 11?


3) Orbital

Two planets orbit a far-away star, one every 15 years and the other every 24 years. How often does one overtake the other?


4) All the stations

Using only the trains listed in the timetable, and waiting as long as you like, how is it possible to visit every station?

SOUTHBOUND NORTHBOUND
 11.06  11.36 -Apcot 11.51  12.10  12.39 
11.42 12.15  Bilton 11.4512.04
11.2712.30Crowe11.4912.18
11.3212.02Denge11.2512.13
11.42-12.45Eston11.1511.3412.03

And how long does the journey take?


5) Sprouts

In a survey, 34% of people said they liked brussels sprouts. That's 34%, rounded to the nearest whole number. What's the smallest number of people who could have taken part in the survey?


Answers tomorrow.
Please don't post any answers or heavy hints in the comments.

 Sunday, December 25, 2016






 Saturday, December 24, 2016

On the twelfth day of Brexmas, the Daily Express promised me
 Twelve foreigners fleeing,
  Eleven immigrants packing,
   Ten years a-booming,
    Nine lords interfering,
     Eight ethnics a-plotting,
      Seven migrants a-swimming,
       Six Remoaners a-whingeing,
        Five false things,
         Four cures for Alzheimers,
          Three freezing blizzards,
           Two Diana conspiracies,
            And an instant Article Fif-tee.


Good King Vladimir looked out
On the feast of Clinton,
When the chaos lay round about
Deep and soundly beaten.

Brightly shone the gloom that night
And the fear was cruel,
When a braggard came in sight
Tweeting like a foo-el.

"Hither, Trump, and stand by me
Bring me tributes hither,
Thou and I will rule the world
'Til the weak doth wither."

Therefore, Western men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will crush the poor
Shall doom us all, no messing.

O come, all ye faithful,
Naïve and deluded,
O come ye,
O come ye to Momentum;
Come and behold Him
Born the Seer of Islington;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us fight for Him,
O come, let us restore Him,
Corbyn, the Lame.

Hark! the climate deniers sing
"Let us still burn everything,
Gas from earth and oilwells wild
Ice and glaciers all defiled!"
Joyful, all ye floodwaters rise
Join the maelstrom of the skies;
With the melting poles proclaim
"Man is surely not to blame!"
Hark! the climate deniers sing
"Let us still burn everything!"

O little Ten of Downing Street,
How oft we see thee lie.
Above May's deep and dreamless sleep
The silent Brexit goes by;
Yet in thy dark corridors sprouteth
A tangled compromise,
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are lost in thee tonight.

...and one to look forward to next year...

Deck the shelter with whitewashed windows
Fa-la-la-ll-out, la-la-la.
'Tis the season to be incinerated
Fa-la-la-ll-out, la-la-la.
Don we now our protective apparel
Fa-ll-out, fa-ll-out, la-la-la.
Madmen place us all in peril
Fa-la-la-ll-out, la-la

 Friday, December 23, 2016

Today's the day that one of London's runtiest railway lines gets runtier. The GWR branch line to Greenford is currently served by half-hourly trains from Paddington, but the last one of these departs just after nine o'clock this evening, and passengers will then be on their own.

The Greenford branch line is an anachronistic leftover from an Edwardian agricultural show. It's almost three miles long, and links the Great Western Railway to the Central line at Greenford. It serves some minor communities to the west of Ealing, and its four stations are all amongst the twenty least used stations in London. It sees no trains on Sundays. It probably ought to have been closed by someone at some point, except it remains a remarkably useful freight link, and those minor communities are very grateful.

Unsurprisingly Crossrail is the catalyst for change, requiring the use of two out of four of the GWR's tracks when services kick off in May 2018. Greenford's pootling two-carriage trains are getting in the way, so are to be cast out, which will leave the line through to Paddington clear. Instead, rather than connecting to the big city they're to be cut back to Ealing... and not even Ealing Broadway, but the unconvincing backwaters of West Ealing.



West Ealing station used to serve the adjacent London Co-operative Society creamery, with a special terminating platform for the milk train. That platform was swept away when the creamery closed, but Crossrail have decided it needs rebuilding to accommodate trains from Greenford. Platform 5 is still a mess of building works at present, as is the milk depot site where a new step-free station will arise. But when it's finished, which is scheduled for the New Year, trains from Greenford will be able to keep out of the way of more important services, and shuttle back and forth forever.

A massive shutdown is taking place west of London over Christmas, with no services into Paddington from 24th-29th December. This means no services on the Greenford branch whatsoever, nor on the following days up to 2nd January, with passengers turfed off onto ordinary buses instead. And when trains kick off again on the morning of Tuesday 3rd, passengers will have to alight at West Ealing and wait for a connection, sometimes only a few minutes, at other times rather longer. In a couple of years that connecting service will be able to take them into the heart of London and onward to Stratford and Shenfield, which'll be great. In the meantime, well, it's not ideal.



I thought I'd take a last through train, so turned up at Paddington yesterday and climbed aboard. Nothing happened. "Sorry, train's cancelled," said the driver, "there are problems down the line." The Greenford trains are the easiest to cancel in such circumstances, only inconveniencing a few, although I was impressed by how many passengers actually trooped off. Those signalling problems then lingered, so they cancelled the next train, and the next one, and I could see where this was going so I went and walked the line instead.

Peter's Hairdressing Salon, A 2 Zee's Cafe and the Brookford Launderette are going to do very well when the new West Ealing station entrance opens nextdoor - that or be consumed by redevelopment that's passed them by for years. An industrial estate fills the triangle of land where the branch line bears north, and the next station's not much further along. Drayton Green's barely ten minutes on foot from West Ealing, across the greenspace of the same name, so no wonder passenger numbers are light. I noticed one man sitting in the shelter on the down platform, either oblivious to the serial cancellation of trains, or unaware of how short a distance it was to walk.



The railway line then ducks into a long tunnel, all the way to Castle Bar Park, not because of contours but because a housing estate has been built on top. It's all quite post-modern too, in contrast to the avenues of semis to either side, but all can't be well because the flats adjacent to the next station are boarded up. From the station footbridge you get a really clear view up the arrow-straight line towards Greenford, with tiny Central line trains snaking past in the distance. As a joyful throwback, Castle Bar Park's ticket office is supposedly open every weekday morning between seven and ten, despite it having far fewer passengers than every single station on the Underground.

I chose to cross to the east of the line and walk up the edge of the Trailfinders Sports Club, eventually reaching some blocks of flats close to the River Brent. In a world with unlimited money this is the obvious place for an intermediate station - five bus routes pass underneath the railway - but in every other world the expense of hanging platforms off a viaduct in a location surrounded by sports grounds is entirely unviable. Pretty viaduct, though. I should blog this walk in more depth sometime, I thought.

Eventually the footpath reached a golf course and then South Greenford station, which is the third least used station in London, accessed via two long ramps up from Western Avenue. Here I found a gentleman with a large camera tripodded on the platform, and wondered what on earth he was doing given that there were no trains. The answer came once I'd departed - a long freight train rumbled through, and later what looked like a train from Hull, although I might have been imagining. This last trek up to Greenford in the shadow of the railway embankment will be familiar if you've ever walked the Capital Ring, it's the end of section 8.



And what do you know, by the time I reached Greenford trains were actually up and running again. It was initially impossible to tell, because Greenford is a TfL station and they don't have any obvious electronic signs detailing departures on the GWR line. I don't know how long some of the passengers there might have been waiting, but eventually the diesel came slowly round the corner and nudged into its peculiar mid-platform terminus. It didn't take the driver long to change ends, and then we were off on the full ride into Paddington, picking up a not insignificant number of passengers along the way.

When I said you'd never be able to do this again that's not quite true. From 3rd January the first Greenford train of the day will set out from Paddington, simply to get the unit onto the line, and the last will head back all the way. But if you're not up at 0542, or out at 2152, all the other trains will do a stunted eleven minute shuttle. Today's your last chance at a sensible time in daylight hours. And then, unless you live out this way, or the Overground ever takes it over, you can forget the Greenford branch ever existed.

 Thursday, December 22, 2016

There are many good reasons to visit Ruislip Lido. For a start there's the lido itself, a 60 acre reservoir built 200 years ago for the express purpose of feeding the Grand Union Canal. There's a proper beach, a sprawl of sand ideal for family fun in more clement weather. There's the excellent Ruislip Lido Railway, Britain's longest 12-inch gauge line (which will be open daily from Boxing Day to New Year). There are Ruislip Woods, the largest block of ancient semi-natural woodland in Greater London. There's a cafe. There's a carvery. There are hundreds of ducks. And now, as if all that weren't somehow enough, there's an entire solar system.



You know the kind of thing. A small model in one particular location marks the position of the Sun, then other smaller models in other locations mark the relative positions of the planets. There's a rather good example in Otford in Kent, another along a canal in Somerset, and another along a disused railway near York. But there isn't one in London, or rather there hasn't been one before, until Hillingdon Council and the West of London Astronomical Society stepped in this summer and provided one.

The Sun is located at the south end of the lake and Neptune at the other, which defines the scale. That scale is four and three quarters of a billion to one, which is quite some squish, and places the two extremes just under a kilometre apart. What's more, there really is a Sun, it's a yellow ball raised high on a pole near the new boathouse, and just under 30 centimetres in diameter. Immediately underneath is an information board, jam packed with facts and recent images. And a few steps away is a telescope, installed a while back with Lottery funding allowing visitors to squint down to the far end of the lake. "Do Not Point At The Sun", it says, although the new one's perfectly safe.



The designers have then drawn several imaginary concentric circles with appropriately calculated radii, looked to see where they cross the path round the edge of the lake, and placed an information board at each location [map]. Half the planets are very close, within direct sight, lined up on the top of the dam. It's only twelve metres to Mercury, for example, then ten to Venus and nine to Earth. This time there are no models, they'd be too tiny, but the information boards remain excellent. They're written in child-friendly language, but without being patronising, and are full of facts and full-colour photos. If you have small scientists in tow, they'll be engaged.

A particularly nice touch is that each of the planets has its own dedicated webpage, and this features a subtly different descriptive passage. You've got to love the fact there's a page on the local council website called hillingdon.gov.uk/mars (and coming up later, even better, hillingdon.gov.uk/uranus). As an added bonus an mp3 file of the spoken text is embedded so you can play that, either in the comfort of your own home or whilst standing in position by the lake. You don't even have to live in Hillingdon, you simply need to be interested in our solar system.

After Mars the distances start to get larger, so an asteroid has been inserted in the sequence to maintain attention. We learn that on Ceres you'd weigh only 3% of your Earth weight, and that life on an asteroid would be very boring. Jupiter is hidden round the first corner, as the lakeside path bends left, and then it's almost twice as far to Saturn. The ringed planet is at the far end of the beach and its sandy playground, outside the timber-themed San Remo café. Also right here is the terminus of the Ruislip Lido Railway, that's Woody Bay station, as yet not renamed Saturn Spaceport or anything similarly galactic.



What follows, up the remote wooded eastern bank of the lake, is the first proper inkling of the scale of the Solar System. The walk to Uranus takes considerably longer than you're expecting, even based on the rate the gaps between planets have been lengthening thus far. Even when you think you've finally spotted the next board, it turns out to be merely reassurance that there will be another planet soon and you should keep going. Eventually Uranus pops up, close to the railway's passing loop, the board revealing its image as a disappointingly featureless blue disc.

It's almost as far again to the next planet, thanks to a wiggle in the path. The planets have all been located on the edge of the lake at the correct scaled distance from the Sun, so don't lie in a direct straight line, indeed it would be a fantastically unrealistic state of affairs if they ever did. An intermediate board about comets has been added for interest along the way, not specifically Halley-related, but positioned at the approximate farthest extent of its orbit.



Ultimately you'll reach Neptune, maybe twenty minutes after starting out, at the very top end of the lake where the footpath squeezes right up against the railway. There's no Pluto, because Pluto isn't a planet any more, and it'd have to go in the middle of the golf course if it were. But there is one final information board to remind you of what else lies beyond in the vast realms of deep space... into the unknown. We're told that Alpha Centauri would have to be in San Francisco, for example, with Barnard's Star in Hawaii and Sirius in Brisbane.

Hillingdon's 'Walk The Planets' trail is a marvellous idea, well realised, and still at the stage in its early life where all the boards are pristine and legible. Much credit too to the West of London Astronomical Society, who might even get some new members out of this, either now or grown up in another ten years' time. Meanwhile it's not that Ruislip Lido was ever lacking a number of good reasons to visit, but now there's another.


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