diamond geezer

 Wednesday, December 19, 2018



The last Christmas posting date for second class mail, which was yesterday, usually spurs me to get my Christmas cards sorted. I still post cards every year, in part as an annual reminder to former acquaintances that I still exist, but I used to post a lot more than I do now.

» I still send eight cards to people I knew in the 1960s. That's all my immediate family, plus my surviving aunts and uncles, plus all the cousins who now send me a card because their parents no longer can. Also on this list is my godfather, who must be pushing 80 but still remembers every birthday and Christmas without fail.

» I only send one card to someone I first knew in the 1970s. That's because all my friends from primary and secondary school have lost touch, the absence of digital communication one key reason our connections inexorably faded away.

» I send six cards to people I first knew in the 1980s. Mostly that's university friends, now all grown up with families of their own... the number of appended offspring occasionally increasing year by year. My first job provides the only other recipients, specifically the friendly pair who took me under their wing all those years ago.

» I send eleven cards to people I first knew in the 1990s, making this my most Christmas-cardy decade. Four of those are additional family, because when your brother gets married that introduces in-laws and eventually nephews and nieces. Five of the cards are from my second job, a cheery place to work, with both the boss and the secretary still on my annual list. And the final two relate to job three, a less cheery period but with a couple of connections shining through.

» I only send two cards to people I first knew in the 2000s. That number used to be over fifty when my team at work was huge, but repeated downsizing put paid to that, and the only former colleagues I'm still in regular contact with aren't really the card-sending sort.

» And I send no cards to people I first knew in the 2010s. People you're friends with online don't tend to be the cardboard-rectangle-sending type. Must try harder.

That's 28 cards in total, which might be far more than you send, or far fewer. But it's still enough to force me to spend at least an hour on the annual card-signing ritual and its envelope-completing routine.

The process involves looking at the list of people I sent a card to last year, and deciding who gets one this year. Generally if I sent them one last year and they sent me one, they get another. Sometimes if I sent them one last year but they didn't send me one I still send another, but if non-delivery occurs two or three years in a row I stop. When communication's only ever annual it's hard to know whether you're sending a card to someone who's moved out, someone who's moved on or someone who simply doesn't send Christmas cards any more.

Because my list's stayed pretty static over the years, several of the addresses are peculiarly hardwired into my brain. When I start to write my aunt's envelope I know I'm going to stumble over the end of her postcode, and 6QJ gets me every time. When I start to write Robert's envelope I remember that his is the one whose postcode looks like it starts with POLO. And when I get to Jane's envelope I always remember that the diplomatic thing to do is not to write a surname because her post-divorce status has never been fully addressed.

Checking my complete Christmas card list, the counties receiving the most cards are Norfolk, Bedfordshire, London and Essex. Jobs and family explain most of those, boosted by a couple of uni friends who coincidentally ended up in the same place. The only other county getting more than one card is Suffolk. I manage one to Kent, one to Devon, one to Gloucestershire and one to Greater Manchester, but my overall geographical spread shows an appalling bias towards the southern half of the country.

As is usual these days, the stamps I stuck on the envelopes cost rather more than the cards inside. A pack of 12 second class stamps costs a smidgeon under £7 these days, whereas 40 years ago a dozen would have come in for less than a quid. No wonder so many people send e-cards or nothing these days. There again, normally when I pop round to the post office at Christmas I have to join a lengthy snaking queue of long-distance-senders and parcel-balancers, but this year I walked straight to the desk and got served straight away.

To the half dozen of you who read the blog and also get a card, watch your letterboxes. The annual ritual is ticked off for another year.

 Tuesday, December 18, 2018

In need of a last-minute Christmas present?

Please buy my new book Bus Stop M, The Complete Compendium



This fantastic stocking filler brings to life the fascinating story of one of the capital's most iconic transport icons.

Thrill to a tale of reconstruction, bureaucracy and project management. Relive the amazing period when Bus Stop M was dynamic infrastructure in motion. Then bring yourself right up to date with the current state of the most famous bus stop in the entire E3 postcode.

All this for only £12.99, plus postage and packing. It's M-agnificent!

In chapter 1 we cover the driving force behind Bus Stop M's birth - the implementation of a segregated Cycle Superhighway. The book opens when CS2 was just a blue stripe on a road and none of the subsequent tumultuous changes were afoot. But the need to drive a separate cycle lane behind a trio of bus stops on Bow Road soon set in train a domino effect which led to the entire chain of events which subsequently followed.

In chapter 2 we investigate the reshuffle that saw the original Bus Stop M disappear before Bus Stop G got dug up which meant all buses stopped at Bus Stop E instead but then bus stop E got closed when Bus Stop G reopened using the bus stop pole from the original Bus Stop M leaving just one bus stop called Bus Stop M where Bus Stop G used to be. It's simplicity itself, and all fully illustrated.

In chapter 3 we detail the cavalcade of follow-on errors which transpired because Bus Stop M's electronic systems failed to be updated in a timely and correct manner. Remember how announcements on board passing buses suddenly gave the wrong name for the stop? And how everything might have worked OK if only somebody hadn't previously diverted buses over the Bow Flyover to save time? We reminisce the entire shebang in comprehensive detail.

Chapter 4 tells a riveting tale of bus stop assets, including the timetables that never appeared and the shelter that wasn't there, until it was there, and the timetables did arrive. Who can forget the difficulties caused by not knowing when the next D8 might turn up and where it was going? Now you can read witness testimony in inordinate detail from those who were actually present.

In chapter 5 we take a break from the ongoing narrative and look back at all the bus routes which have stopped at Bus Stop M over the years. As well as the iconic 25, in its bendy and non-bendy incarnations, the full list naturally includes the classic 169A Barkingside to Mile End Gate, not forgetting the complete complement of Green Line Coaches to Bishops Stortford, Brentwood and Corbets Tey.

In chapter 6 it's back to the main story and the incredible five month period during which the bus stop bypass looked finished but somehow wasn't. Gasp as orange barriers popped up to block the emergent bypass. Laugh as cyclists knocked them over to avoid having to ride in the dangerous traffic. Sob as the barriers reappeared in an upright position every morning. You'll love the emotional rollercoaster of the ongoing saga.

Chapter 7 introduces what might have been the climax to the tale as the bus stop bypass finally opened, except that workers then inexplicably turned up and carted the bus stop away on the back of a lorry. The book's amazing cover photo will no doubt have given you the flavour of the slapstick farce which ensued during the four weeks 'M' was absent without leave! Golden days.

Chapter 8 explores the functioning of a bus stop bypass in pedantic detail. In particular we investigate why pedestrians wander into the blue lane without looking, how angry cyclists get when pedestrians blunder into the bike lane without looking, and why on earth this particular bus stop bypass has a gap in the middle which ensures there might not be a kerb in front of the middle doors when passengers alight.

Chapter 9 investigates the innumerable major tourist attractions which can be accessed from Bus Stop M. These include St Mary's, the medieval church in the middle of the road, and the vibrant Nunnery Gallery with its many artistic displays. Alight here also to enjoy the foodie streetfood hub that is the McDonalds drive-through, and to ponder on whether the Kray brothers really did bury the body of one of their long-term enemies in the concrete of the Bow Flyover.

In chapter 10 a series of minor transgressions takes centre stage. The temporary disappearance of one particular bus timetable is but one extraordinary highlight. Then there's the gripping tale of the phantom '205' tile, inexplicably showcasing a bus route that never stopped here. And how could we fail to mention the permanent reallocation of another nearby Bus Stop M to a different letter of the alphabet so as not to confuse spider map users? You'll not want to miss a word of this.

In chapter 11 we investigate the current state of Bus Stop M, now arguably the most optimal bus stop in the environs of Bow Church. Today's passengers enjoy the luxury of a Countdown display screen, borrowed from former-now-defunct Bus Stop E, so are able perch in comfort on the red bench in the secure knowledge that a bus to Stratford will be along not quite as frequently as it used to be. The adjacent litter bin is fully described.

Chapter 12 is unapologetic filler, because otherwise the book would come in under 100 pages and not be worth the cover price. In this enjoyable travelogue we visit all the other Bus Stop M's in Tower Hamlets, from the busy interchange outside Cambridge Heath station to the Blackwall Tunnel's concrete hellmouth. There's also a special surprise as we uncover the only Bus Stop MM in the borough, but you'll have to buy the book to discover where that is!

Chapter 13 invites you to take an onward journey from Bus Stop M. Those drawn to this famous location can enjoy a cavalcade of exciting destinations for forward travel, including Ilford, Oxford Circus and that grim turnaround spot behind Newham General Hospital. If a glass of champagne tempts you, the local Tesco is just one stop away. Alternatively the 108 can whisk you to Stratford International and from there on to Dover, and suddenly Europe awaits!

Finally a forward-looking Chapter 14 looks ahead to the future of Bus Stop M and considers what that future might bring. Discussions regarding a blue heritage plaque have yet to bear fruit, and the Mayor's low emission bus corridor has not yet taken flight, but an updated nightbus map is always a possibility and interactive holographic advertising may only be a few decades away. Finally we consider the potential impact of global warming on Bus Stop M and try to pinpoint the year it will be engulfed by the Lea Estuary.



This is the Christmas gift purchase you need, whether for yourself to treasure as a keepsake forever or as a unique memento for a dear friend.

Hurry now to purchase Bus Stop M, The Complete Compendium from the publisher or from your chosen online retailer.

All orders received by 7am on 18th December 2018 will be despatched in time for Christmas.

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 Monday, December 17, 2018

A strange thing has happened at Bow Road station this month.



There are no longer any tube maps on the platforms.

And it's by no means the only station where that's happened.

You might have seen these heritage panels popping up at stations all across the underground network.



They're rather nice. They cover subjects such as trains, architecture and signalling, and come with a selection of old photos. On the District line, the boards focus on the line's 150th anniversary this year. I've seen several people stop and read the panels with interest. But they all used to be tube maps.

Here's what they used to look like.



These weren't paper posters behind glass, they were vinyl tube maps stuck to a frame. And vinyl maps cost more to produce than paper maps, so it seems TfL have decided not to produce them any more. They have had to produce replacement heritage panels on vinyl this year, which will have cost, but now they'll save money every time a new tube map is released.

To be clear, this isn't every tube map on every platform, just the maps in special frames.



One map on every platform is actually a secret sign which opens up to read "Station Closed 5MPH", and is unlocked as necessary to tell drivers not to stop. When the station's open the sign is locked shut, so all that passengers see is the map stuck on the front... except there's now a heritage panel on the front instead. Other maps along the platform, in ordinary frames, are not affected.

At Bow Road, what's happened is this.

Previously there were two maps on each platform - a tube map, and a tube/rail map showing the wider network. The tube map was stuck to the Station Closed sign, and the tube/rail map was in an ordinary frame. But now the tube map has been replaced by a heritage vinyl and only the tube/rail map survives.



I've checked, and the tube/rail map is the very latest version with dotted lines. That means someone must have come along and deliberately updated one map while covering over the other. The more complicated map remains, so travellers aren't completely lost, but I'd argue that the simpler map showing TfL services is more appropriate and should be displayed instead.

I wondered how widespread tubemaplessness is, so I went exploring to find out. I visited every station on the District line between East Ham and Embankment, every station on the Charing Cross branch of the Northern line between Waterloo and Mornington Crescent and every station on the Central line between Oxford Circus and Mile End. It's a complicated mess, I tell you.

DISTRICT: East Ham to Embankment (17 stations)

The first thing I noticed is that not every station suddenly has blue heritage panels.
Blue heritage panels: East Ham, Plaistow, West Ham, Bromley-by-Bow, Bow Road, Stepney Green, Whitechapel, Mansion House, Temple, Embankment
No blue heritage panels: Upton Park, Mile End, Aldgate East, Tower Hill, Monument, Cannon Street, Blackfriars
Every station platform has a Station Closed sign, but it turns out there are two different types and only one type has been converted. One type has a frame on the front you can put a paper map in, so it still has a paper map in it. Here's one at Tower Hill.



This type often has a green stripe on the metal down one side. I also found one at Blackfriars, so I think this is the newer of the two styles. But the other, older type doesn't have a frame on the front, so its tube map always had to be stuck on. It's this older type whose maps have been covered up, and they're located seemingly randomly across the network.

A lot of tube platforms used to have more than one tube map along their length, so covering over one of them hasn't created a problem. East Ham, West Ham, Mansion House, Temple and Embankment are examples of these. But some other station platforms only ever had one map, so covering that over wasn't a good move. Here are the District line stations with issues...
Plaistow: The eastbound platform only had one tube map, but no longer has any maps at all.
Bromley-by-Bow: The eastbound platform only had one tube map, but no longer has any maps at all.
Bow Road: Both platforms had a tube map and a tube/rail map, but now only have a tube/rail map.
Stepney Green: The eastbound platform only had one tube map, but no longer has any maps at all.
Whitechapel: Both platforms had a tube map and a tube/rail map, but now only have a tube/rail map.
NORTHERN: Waterloo to Mornington Crescent (9 stations)

Again, a right mixture.
Blue heritage panels: Waterloo, Embankment, Goodge Street, Warren Street, Euston, Mornington Crescent
No blue heritage panels: Charing Cross, Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road
And again there are several platforms which previously only had one tube map so now have none.
Waterloo: The southbound platform has a tube/rail map and a Night tube map, but no longer a tube map.
Embankment: The northbound platform only had one tube map, but no longer has any maps at all.
Warren Street: Both platforms had a tube map and a tube/rail map, but now only have a tube/rail map.
Mornington Crescent: The southbound platform only had one tube map, but no longer has any maps at all.
It's the platforms which only ever had one map on display that surprise me most. Someone made a high level cost-cutting decision to cover over every vinyl tube map without considering it'd leave some platforms with no tube map at all. The northbound platform at Embankment is a prime example - part of a busy interchange, but no longer offering any means for passengers to follow their journey ahead.

I also checked the Victoria line platforms at Warren Street, and these were the same as the Northern. Every platform at Warren Street originally had a tube map and a tube/rail map, which was fine, but now only has a tube/rail map. What were they thinking? I'd suggest they weren't thinking at all.

CENTRAL: Oxford Circus to Mile End (9 stations)

Here we go again.
Blue heritage panels: Holborn, Liverpool Street, Bethnal Green
No blue heritage panels: Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road, St Paul's, Mile End
Blue heritage panels on one platform only: Chancery Lane, Bank
That's three stations with the old style Station Closed signs, with maps covered over, and four stations with the new style Station Closed signs, so no change. At the other two stations it's a mixed picture. Here are the problem five.
Holborn: Both platforms had a tube map and a Night tube map, but now only have a Night tube map.
Chancery Lane: The eastbound platform had a tube map and a tube/rail map, but now only has a tube/rail map.
Bank: The westbound platform has a tube/rail map and a Night tube map, but no longer a tube map.
Liverpool Street: The eastbound platform has two Night tube maps, but no longer a tube map.
Bethnal Green: Both platforms had a tube map and a tube/rail map, but now only have a tube/rail map.
Holborn is bad. By removing all the tube maps from the Central line platforms, passengers can now only check a patently suboptimal Night tube map. Liverpool Street is absurd. The eastbound platform now only has two Night tube maps, one at each end, but nobody thought to replace either of them with a tube map instead.

And Chancery Lane is awkward, because the vinyl tube map on the westbound platform is still in place. At all the other stations I visited every vinyl tube map had been covered over, but the Overnight Heritage Panel Update Squad somehow missed the westbound platform at Chancery Lane. That's how I managed to show you a photo of a vinyl tube map at the start of this post. If it is ultimately covered over, will the only map on the platform still be the existing tube/rail map, or will someone twig that a replacement tube map might be more useful instead?

I visited 72 platforms altogether, of which 22 no longer display a tube map and five no longer display any maps at all.



If you're the "Ah but..." type you may already have starting writing in the comments box "Ah but pocket maps are available in stations". Yes they are, but by the time you reach the platform they're on the other side of the ticket barrier so you're not going to go back and get one. You might also be typing "Ah but everybody has an app on their phone these days", except that not everybody does, and looking at a big map on a wall is hugely easier than scrolling round a small one on your phone.

Of course TfL's map-covering decision comes down to a lack of money, and is another example of budget-squeezed penny-pinching. Vinyl maps cost more to produce than poster maps, so vinyl maps are no more. Adding a replacement frame further down the platform would cost money too. And nobody intends to replace the old Station Closed signs with the newer model because their primary purpose is to slow trains, not to provide a frame for maps. But the underlying problem isn't money, it's is a failure to spot that covering over hundreds of tube maps might have consequences on certain platforms - a lack of foresight coupled with zero mitigation.

I'm surprised that vinyl tube maps which were perfectly usable two weeks ago have suddenly been deemed unfit for purpose and lost from sight. I'm bemused that these maps have been covered over on platforms where no alternative map exists. And I'm astonished that nobody thought to rationalise the maps displayed in other frames where appropriate, which has resulted in numerous platforms no longer displaying a tube map at all. Best grab one from the ticket hall, just in case.

Update from TfL's Senior Press Officer: "We have noticed with interest your blogpost this morning about the new heritage boards at stations. Just so you are aware - we are working to put Tube maps up at any platforms that no longer have one due to the new heritage boards. Additional poster frames are also planned to be installed at stations in the coming weeks. And just for the avoidance of doubt - this was all planned prior to your blogpost this morning."

And he adds: "I think it was just due to scheduling (we had the vinyls ready but we're still waiting for the replacement tube maps to be printed and distributed)."


Having "the vinyls ready" doesn't excuse using them prematurely, but at least some mitigation is on its way. If you do spot any new tube maps on the affected platforms at Plaistow, Bromley-by-Bow, Bow Road, Stepney Green, Whitechapel, Waterloo, Embankment, Warren Street, Mornington Crescent, Holborn, Chancery Lane, Bank, Liverpool Street or Bethnal Green, please pop back to this post and let us know.

 Sunday, December 16, 2018

At the very start of 2009, I asked my readers which High Street stores they thought might not see out the year. This was at the start of the recession, during the death throes of the mighty Woolworths, at which point it felt like no chain was safe. It's now the end of 2018, one tempestuous decade later, and I thought I'd see how we fared.

My readers were duly pessimistic, and came up with the following 30 stores that might not be long for this world. I ordered their suggestions with the biggest names at the top and smaller fry at the bottom. I've now updated that list with the dates that companies did actually fall into administration (and removed a few links which no longer work).

 Storeadministration   nominated by
1)M&S-RogerW
2)Sainsburys-Garax
3)Boots-Sarah
4)BHSApr 2016Henry
5)W H Smith-Debster
6)Debenhams-Ian Visits
7)HMVJan 2013Nox
8)Mothercare-Jack
9)Argos-D-Notice
10)Currys.digital-Kirk
11)CometNov 2012Red Dalek
12)Waterstones-Dave
13)B&Q-Steve J
14)PC World-Christian
15)DFS-Michael
16)Homebase-Adam S
17)BordersNov 2009Lyle
18)BlockbusterJan 2013Embo
19)Burtons-camelType
20)JessopsJan 2013Jag
21)JJB SportsSep 2012diamond geezer
22)Clinton CardsMay 2012Rob
23)OddbinsApr 2011michael
24)Thorntons-graybo
25)Snappy Snaps-kenromford
26)Black's LeisureDec 2011Alfie
27)FADS-Huw
28)Edinburgh Woollen Mill  -Ben
29)PeacocksJan 2012Marc
30)Blue Inc-martin

Five out of 30 no longer trade. I'd say that's impressively few, or maybe we were just bad at predicting the most vulnerable stores. Well done to Henry, Red Dalek, Lyle, Embo and, er, me.

First to tumble was booksellers Borders in November 2009. Books were first up against the wall in the digital economy, assaulted by e-readers and online retail, and yet Waterstones has managed to survive and still has over 250 shops. 2012 saw the end of JJB Sports, engulfed within the Sports Direct empire, and of electrical retailers Comet. Blockbuster fell at the start of 2013 and few were surprised, indeed the market for on-demand digital films has since proved unstoppable. And BHS was the biggest casualty of all in 2016, downed by High Street inertia and a succession of greedy thieving bosses. But that's the lot.

Six other stores in the list entered administration but didn't die. Oddbins stumbled in 2011 and were bought out by the European Food Broker group, their high street presence now greatly reduced (and mostly London-based). Blacks slipped briefly into administration later that year purely as a means to allow JD Sports to buy them out. In January 2012 Peacocks went under but was bought out by Edinburgh Woollen Mill, then Clinton Cards defaulted in May becoming Clintons in the associated buyout. HMV and Jessops both called in the administrators in January 2013 - a brutal month. HMV was bought out by restructuring company Hilco, and Jessops by TV Dragon Peter Jones, trading today as Jessops Europe Limited. Entering administration isn't always the end.

The other 19 stores on the list have avoided administration, although some have come close. Homebase had a terrible time after it was sold to Australian DIY chain Bunnings and was eventually unloaded for £1. Blue Inc placed one of its subsidiaries into administration in 2016, and is reported to be on the verge of collapse at present. Mothercare closed 50 of its stores earlier this year to stave off financial woes. Debenhams are also desperately slimming down, which makes the new store they opened in Watford last month somewhat inexplicable.

Then there are the companies which collapsed but which my readers didn't predict, however obvious their plight looks now. Nobody picked Maplin, the electrical bazaar which ceased operations this summer, nor Toys R Us which went under in the spring. House of Fraser really ought to have been included, even though they haven't downsized to their doom just yet, but who would have guessed that Poundworld would go first?

Our high street retailers have actually been quite resilient over the last decade, even if they have had to slim down and cut back to survive. The next ten years may not be so benign, indeed one bad Christmas could be enough to tip one or more well known names out of existence. You may not miss them, as you sit and wait for yet another gift delivery to arrive, but their customers and staff will. And I wonder who'll go next...

 Saturday, December 15, 2018

ENGLISH HERITAGE: Danson House
Location: Bexleyheath DA6 8HL [map]
Open: 10am-4pm (Sundays only) (but Thursdays only in winter)
Admission: £7 (half price to EH members)
Website: bexley.gov.uk/services/visitor-attractions/danson-house
Four word summary: splendidly restored Palladian mansion
Time to allow: a good hour

In 1995 English Heritage decided Danson House was the most at-risk property in southeast England and in danger of imminent collapse. Consequently they stumped up a £4m grant, repaired the roof and restored the interior, with the intention of creating a heritage attraction of which Bexley could be proud. Ten years later the Queen dropped by for the grand reopening, but local residents never flocked in the numbers hoped, and the building has been recently repurposed. Thankfully Danson House is still open once a week for guided tours, and I can confirm it's one of the capital's lesser known architectural gems.



This striking Palladian villa was built in the 1760s by Sir John Boyd, vice-chairman of the British East India Company and a rich sugar merchant/slave trader (delete as appropriate). His first wife died during construction, so the building contains several decorative flourishes in tribute to his second (considerably younger) spouse. 100 years later the house was sold to Alfred Bean, the engineer who brought the railway to Bexleyheath with a view to selling off most of his estate for housing. The 200 acres that weren't built on became Danson Park, Bexley's finest landscaped resource, and the council took over management of the house in 1924. Used for municipal offices and storage, it inexorably decayed.



After being restored, the building was placed in the care of the Bexley Heritage Trust in the hope they could make a go of it. But when their grant was cut in 2016 the Trust withdrew, leaving the council with a Grade I listed headache, which they solved by relocating the borough's Register Office. Now when you turn up you may find yourself holding the door open for a parent carrying a newborn, or eavesdropping on a bride-to-be mulling over which room to hire, or chatting with the registrar about how the morning's wedding went. It's brought the building to life, but as your volunteer guide leads you through the waiting area to the first room you may sense this isn't how things were intended to turn out.



The hall still impresses, as was Boyd's original intention. Take time to inspect the romantic detail beneath the architraves and look out for the recesses which once held classical busts. Access from outside is up an unnecessarily broad stone staircase, ideal for showing off bridal trains, and the hall is currently dressed with a Christmas tree to give December weddings a festive touch. If royalty is your thing, the Queen's signature has recently gone on display in a wooden case, along with photos of her signing the book and a brief account of her visit.



English Heritage's interior restoration has been based on a set of watercolours painted by one of the house's Victorian residents. These proved particularly useful in the Dining Room, a sumptuous space whose walls are once again decorated with bacchanalian paintings, gilt mirrors and fruity murals. I imagine many a wedding party guest goes 'wow' when ushered through into their venue. My guide, however, confirmed that the room had looked even more impressive a few years ago filled with period furniture rather than rows of plastic chairs.



Next around the piano nobile is the Salon, an octagonal room with striking blue Chinoiserie wallpaper and a central chandelier. The intricate decorative coving is original, having survived in much better shape than the plasterwork on the ceiling. The marble fireplace was one of several fixtures and fittings rescued from a container at Tilbury docks after the building's last leaseholder, a local builder, mysteriously relocated to the Caribbean. As for the painting hung above, that's a copy of a Claude-Joseph Vernet landscape commissioned by the house's original owner, the original of which hangs in a gallery in Baltimore.



The Library completes the first floor circuit. Those books may not be authentic, but all the cases are, and also the very fine plasterwork above the doors. The main focus of the room undoubtedly is the organ, installed to entertain guests to the original house, hence rather larger than the room deserves. The Bexley Heritage Trust enjoyed holding occasional concerts here, but surprisingly the organ gets even less use in the building's new incarnation because the noise might drown out ceremonies taking place in adjacent rooms.



The central elliptical staircase is a proper highlight, spiralling up to a gallery with eight Ionic columns on the second floor. Two upstairs rooms can be hired for ceremonies, so a lift has had to be punctured through alongside the stairs because wedding guests can't be expected to negotiate the narrow swirl of cantilevered steps. I can confirm that the view towards the lake from Sir John's bedroom is particularly fine. Visitors on the guided tour should expect to encounter the full-length mirror the council were asked to provide for the Queen's visit, but are not shown the stationery cupboard they temporarily converted into a lavatory, which was never used.



Topping off the centre of the stairwell is an oval dome, encircled with ornate wooden panels uncovered when the house was restored, and to dizzying effect. Then to end the tour it's all the way down to the basement kitchen, where the servants laboured, and which is much larger than you might expect. It's lightly scattered with the usual collection of Victorian sculleryware, but looked rather different on your TV screens last year when it was used for the Tom Hardy TV series Taboo dressed as a hospital mortuary.



You could top off your tour of Danson House with a visit to Fleur de thé, an independent cafe on the ground floor accessed from the park. Or if "afternoon teas amongst an array of beautiful shabby chic gifts and homewares" isn't quite your style, perhaps you'd prefer the pub in the former stables by the car park, called the Stables. Alternatively the National Trust's top Bexley attraction, Red House, is only a short walk away (although it closes for the winter after this weekend, so a joint visit won't be possible until March). But do add Danson House to your to-visit list... and if only we'd all done that earlier it wouldn't have become the Register Office it is today.

 Friday, December 14, 2018

ENGLISH HERITAGE: Cutty Sark
Location: King William Walk, Greenwich SE10 9HT [map]
Open: 10am-5pm (until 6pm in summer)
Admission: £13.50 (£12.15 online)
Website: rmg.co.uk/cutty-sark
Four word summary: hermetically sealed tea clipper
Time to allow: 1-2 hours



First things first. Cutty Sark isn't an English Heritage property, it falls under the auspices of Royal Museums Greenwich. But English Heritage members now get 25% off the admission price, which is almost a coffeesworth at the end of your visit. Unfortunately the website doesn't offer savings on the online price so the reduction has to come off the walk-up fee, but it's still a 17% cut. Alternatively if you have a National Trust membership card that's worth 50% off, so wave that instead.



The last time I went aboard the world's fastest tea clipper it was the 1970s. A photo exists of the family in typically unflattering garb standing on the edge of the dry dock admiring the coppery hull. These days you can't get that close without paying up, as the ship has been engulfed in a frame of steel and glass. Adding a wraparound provides very necessary support to its fragile structure, holding the ship 3m off the ground rather than resting on its keel. But today's Cutty Sark resembles a galleon with a hovercraft's skirt - fabulous for arty photos but of dubious historical integrity.



One thing the restoration permits is a longer tour, first round the boat from the lowest deck upwards, then into the chamber created underneath. The Lower Hold reveals the iron skeleton of the ship and the original timbers which survived the great conflagration of 2006 (by being elsewhere for restoration at the time). It's also where the majority of the tea was stored, which in terms of presentation means a lot of tea crates, tea trivia and tea-related exhibits. That's fair, as what could be more quintessentially English than tea, but it's also easy filler. Halfway along is a short film to watch, the rack of seats doubling up as a tiny theatre where Nicholas Parsons and Alan Davies have performed, which is inspired, but its inclusion means there's even less for the daytime visitor to see.



The Tween Deck, named for interstitial reasons, is positively bright in comparison. It also looks quite empty. Numerous interactive exhibits are scattered along its length to tell the history of the ship, although overall there is a sense of the Cutty Sark's Wikipedia page being stretched as far as it'll go. Meet the Scottish spirit of the figurehead. See bales representing the years the ship was a wool clipper. Explore the cargoes hauled on later journeys before the steamships took over. Listen to an exported piano. Sit on a wobbling bench. The most fun is attempting to steer the ship home from Australia on a digital screen by following the trade winds, avoiding icebergs and the doldrums, although I bet on busier days you have to queue for that.



Up on the Main Deck you get to walk amid the masts and ropework, and to explore the crew's quarters in several bunkbed hideaways. It's no spoiler to reveal that the senior officers lived better than the deckhands. On my visit there were actual shipwrights up the actual rigging, which added a certain frisson, even if when they descended it turned out they were wearing flat caps and safety boots. Others were tackling the renovation of the Monkey Fo'c's'le, which was out of bounds, busy sawing and painting in readiness for next year's 150th birthday. Exploring the length of the deck does give some sense of daily life aboard ship, although any illusion of seaworthiness is of course shattered by looking overboard towards Docklands, M&S Simply Food or Nando's.



When you're done on board, a gangplank leads to a separate lift tower which'll whisk you down to the cavernous gallery underneath. Walk to the very far end to enjoy a display of massed figureheads, and to clamber back to ground level where a 'viewing platform' allows the capture of Insta-symmetrical shots. Alternatively sit with a coffee to admire the keel in all its glory, or look up at what's always been my favourite feature, the Roman numerals painted on the rudder. Elsewhere a few weak displays tell the story of the Cutty Sark brand and of the ship's 21st century restoration. But the majority of the under-ship is empty, because its true worth is as a hireable venue for generating income, as the stash of plastic chairs hidden behind the back stairs confirms.



For Londoners who've not been for years it's worth a look, rather than forever prowling round the perimeter on trips to Greenwich, although the interior exhibitions are rather thin. I think I also chose well by visiting on a December weekday, unburdened by excessive tourist hordes and excitable school trips, allowing me to focus on the great ship and its heritage. It's all too easy to take a cup of tea for granted, overlooking the chain of events which brought the chopped-up leaves to your kitchen. Cutty Sark reminds us that international trade was once a painstaking challenge... and maybe soon will be again.

Special discounts for English Heritage members (London)
» Cutty Sark (25% off)
» Danson House (50% off)
» Dulwich Picture Gallery (2 for 1)
» Benjamin Franklin House (2 for 1)
» Strawberry Hill House & Garden (discount restarts April 2019)
» Hogarth's House (free entry) (even though it's free anyway)

 Thursday, December 13, 2018

Is Brexit the perfect problem?

The 2016 referendum split the country almost exactly down the middle, along a fault line which hadn't been tested before.

LEAVE
REMAIN

Unlike most political issues, positions are entrenched. It's obvious that the other side is wrong, and a second Leave/Remain referendum would likely split the country as before.

But now we have three options, and that's potentially even worse.

DEAL
NO DEAL
REMAIN

You can't offer a choice of three in a People's Vote, because none of the outcomes would command a majority.

So eventually the decision's going to have to come down to a choice of two, be that in government, in parliament or across the electorate.

And that's potentially worse still, because which option do you ditch?

DEAL
NO DEAL

If staying in the EU is off the table, the choice is between a fudged compromise and a cliff edge. Obviously one of those is hugely more sensible than the other, but it depends on who you are which one of those it is. In recent polling, offered this particular choice, a majority of those surveyed picked DEAL (because Remainers piled in with the least dramatic option).

NO DEAL
REMAIN

If a negotiated deal is off the table, the choice is between a cliff edge and the status quo. Obviously one of those is hugely more sensible than the other, but it depends on who you are which one of those it is. In recent polling, offered this particular choice, a majority of those surveyed picked NO DEAL (because the priority is to enact the result of the referendum).

REMAIN
DEAL

If exiting without a deal is off the table, the choice is between the status quo and a fudged compromise. Obviously one of those is hugely more sensible than the other, but it depends on who you are which one of those it is. In recent polling, offered this particular choice, a majority of those surveyed picked REMAIN (because Leavers found the Chequers sellout unpalatable).

So we have three options, each of which wins against one alternative but loses to the other.

It's like the political version of Rock Paper Scissors.

An impeccably balanced predicament.

Wherever we end up, and whoever's in charge when we do, it seems the perfect problem isn't going to go away.

 Wednesday, December 12, 2018

It's been two years since I discovered that the Metropolitan line extension had been scrapped.

It's been three years since TfL said the extension would open in December 2019. It's been five years since TfL said the extension would open in December 2016. It's been seven years since the Government gave the go-ahead for the scheme. It's been more than 20 years since trains last ran down the line. It's been over 40 years since the extension was originally proposed.

It's been nine months since TfL washed their hands of the project, and six months since the Metropolitan line extension webpage was deleted from the TfL website. At least Crossrail will eventually happen. This one's dead.

Which is awkward, because it leaves a stripe of disused railway through the suburbs of West Watford, and a series of redevelopment works alongside going ahead regardless. So, it being the middle of December, I've gone for my annual walk along the route to see what's not been happening.



At the foot of Baldwins Lane, where the new viaduct was planned to launch off from the existing Metropolitan line, no construction work ever happened. That's good news for the Croxley Car Centre, which has had a reprieve, and for Cinnamond (Demolition & Site Clearance; Windows, Doors & Conservatories) who might now be able to refill the far end of their yard. What is happening is that a brand new secondary school is being erected on the other side of the viaduct, across recently-grazed paddocks, but of what should have been the largest engineering project in the village there is no sign.



The former Croxley Green station, whose mothballed branch line made the extension potentially plausible, remains sealed off. It wouldn't be difficult to squeeze between the metal barriers slumped across the entrance, although an extra sheet of red netting has been added since last year so slipping through and climbing the disused staircase wouldn't be easy either. The viaduct which ought to be the centrepiece of the new extension will never span the dual carriageway, nor disfigure the valley. The children's playground by the Sea Scouts hut is still in action, rather than buried under concrete feet. The narrowboats moored beneath the crumbling lattice bridge no longer face eviction.



Cassiobridge station was intended to be built where the former railway bridge crossed Ascot Road. It would have been a spartan affair, to save money, but not building it at all has saved even more. Walk up the alleyway, round the back of what used to be Sun Printers, and you can peer through the metal fence to see where the platforms were supposed to go. Two years ago the vegetation along this stretch had been completely levelled, but a couple of unrestrained summers mean the grass is back in force, some of it head high, with buddleia encroaching from the fringe. The local cat I spotted sitting on the rails is a fortunate recipient of this undisturbed private domain.



But none of this inaction has prevented substantial development works kicking off alongside. The industrial units on the southern side of the embankment have just been demolished, leaving a space large enough for 485 new homes. According to the developer's website these apartments will have "good access to the London transport network", and there will be "restaurants, cafés and shops along a pedestrian boulevard leading to the proposed Cassiobridge station." Those ultimately moving into the 23-storey tower may find a very different environment awaits them, but there is a new Morrisons on their doorstep, and the Croxley Park business estate is easily walkable.



Watford West station should have been swept away by the new extension, but peering down from Tolpits Lane confirms that most of its infrastructure remains. Lampposts painted Network-South-East-red still lead down the steps and along the platform, where weeds are now sprouting up between the paving slabs. The former British Rail single track can still be clearly seen, not quite as clearly as last December, but enough to suggest someone's still popping down occasionally to keep it clear. It's much better than six years ago, when the entire cutting was a forest with trees far above road height, but a second abandonment phase is decidedly underway.



The narrow humpbacked bridge on Vicarage Road would have been an odd place to build a tube station, surrounded as it is by a primary school, allotments, a recreation ground and a large electricity substation. Walking to the rear of the adventure playground allows you to encroach on the land which should by now be under construction as the entrance to the eastbound platform, but isn't. On the other side of the bridge are the remains of Watford Stadium halt, substantially intact, including another row of worse-for-wear red lampposts. Had anyone ever been serious about building the Underground extension they'd have made a start on knocking it down to make way for a second track, but nobody ever did because nobody was.



At the end of Stripling Way the cycle path under the dilapidated railway bridge has been fenced off, and local ne'erdowells have scattered a great deal of litter (and a very damp sofa) underneath. What lies beyond is the Mayor of Watford's great development project, formerly Watford Health Campus, now more jauntily referred to as Riverwell. Here the diggers are now out in force between the railway and the hospital link road, readying several acres for a 253-unit residential community for Watford's over-55s. Prospective purchasers will eventually be getting a health club, a swimming pool and a multi-purpose village hall, but what they won't be getting is a train service.



The scale of the intended development is much clearer from Thomas Sawyer Way, a lone road swooping impotently down from the hospital. Everything between here and the football stadium will be swept away to incorporate another 408 residential dwellings. Twelve large warehouse units collectively named Trade City await a full complement of business users. The River Colne feeds through the site within what will eventually be a landscaped trench. And the whole thing is divided by an invisible railway, crossed by a potentially pointless bridge, without any station to drive sustainable growth. It's no surprise that one of Riverwell's proposed components is a 1400-space car park.



The final quarter mile of former railway exits the development zone to follow the back of a Victorian terrace, with vegetation slowly retaking hold. Physically it wouldn't take much to restart the project, just some heavy strimming, but with every extra summer all the work done to remediate the line will start to slip away. The undergrowth is thickest at the junction with the existing Overground, where no attempt at a reconnection was ever made. Indeed there's hardly any actual infrastructure anywhere along the extension to act as evidence for the many months the project was supposedly underway. London may not care, but Watford is feeling the loss.



The Metropolitan line extension is now lost on the bonfire of austerity, its supposed benefits unable to convince its paymasters in an era of financial stringency. Further major projects were relegated to the scrapheap yesterday, or at least heavily delayed, as TfL's annual business plan detailed how they intend to survive the total loss of government grant and a four year fare-freeze. Look around London and there are numerous examples of existing railway lines which'd never pass budgetary tests today, but which nevertheless contribute greatly to those fortunate to live close by. But we no longer live in a society where Nice To Have is good enough, which is why West Watford's linear nature reserve is now a permanent fixture.

» 50 photos from 2011/2014
» 25 photos from 2016
» 10 photos from 2018

 Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Anorak Corner [National Rail edition]

It's time once again for the annual splurge of passenger data from across Britain's railway network, this time covering the period April 2017 to March 2018.

Time was when these figures went pretty much unnoticed apart from a brief quirky news article about this year's tumbleweed station. But these days they're social media gold, with the Office of Road and Rail trumpeting the release date weeks in advance, then a wild burst of media excitement on the day itself. That day is today, and the official release time is 9:30am.

London's ten busiest National Rail stations (2017/18) (with changes since 2016/17)
  1) -- Waterloo (94m)
  2)
-- Victoria (75m)
  3)
-- Liverpool Street (67m)
  4)
-- London Bridge (48m)
  5)
-- Euston (45m)
  6)
-- Stratford (40m)
  7)
-- Paddington (37m)
  8)
↑1 St Pancras (35m)
  9)
↓1 King's Cross (34m)
10)
↑1 Highbury & Islington (30m)

London's Rail Top Ten is filled by almost the same stations as last year, and in almost the same positions. Waterloo is still easily top of the list, despite an engineering blockade in the summer, with Victoria and Liverpool Street sitting comfortably behind. King's Cross and St Pancras change places, with improved Thameslink services likely to be a contributory factor. Even if they were a single combined station they'd still only be in third place. Highbury & Islington's new entry is at the expense of Clapham Junction, which slips to 11th.

London's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't central London termini (2017/18)
  1) -- Stratford (40m)
  2)
↑1 Highbury & Islington (30m)
  3)
↓1 Clapham Junction (29m)
  4)
-- Canada Water (25m)
  5)
-- East Croydon (24m)
  6)
-- Vauxhall (20m)
  7)
-- Wimbledon (19m)
  8)
-- Whitechapel (14m)
  9)
-- Barking (13m)
10)
-- Richmond (11m)

Once you strip out the central London termini a rather different picture appears, and it's substantially orange. One reason for this is that at Overground stations the data includes everyone changing to or from the tube, because technically that counts as an entrance or exit even if passengers don't leave the station. You can imagine how much this boosts stations like Highbury & Islington [Victoria], Canada Water [Jubilee] and Whitechapel [District/H&C]. So it might be more informative to discount TfL-operated stations, like so...

London's ten busiest non-TfL stations outside zone 1 (2017/18)
  1) -- Clapham Junction (29m)
  2)
-- East Croydon (24m)
  3)
-- Wimbledon (19m)
  4)
-- Barking (13m)
  5)
-- Richmond (11.5m)
  6)
-- Lewisham (10.7m)
  7)
-- Surbiton (9.1m)
  8)
-- Putney (8.8m)
  9)
↑1 Bromley South (8.6m)
10)
↓1 Balham (8.5m)

Here's a more traditional-looking list, focusing on suburban commuter traffic, with stations operated by the Overground and TfL stripped out. Other than Barking, note that all the big-hitters are south of the river. Only Bromley South and Balham have swapped places this year, and by the tiniest of margins. For comparison purposes, North Greenwich tube sees over 28m passengers a year, so is busier than all but one of the stations listed above. Clapham Junction's total would double if you included interchanges, and interchanges also account for a large proportion of the crowds using East Croydon and Lewisham.

London's ten least busy Overground stations (2017/18)
  1) Emerson Park (308,000) ↑11%
  2)
South Hampstead (422,000) --
  3)
Headstone Lane (455,000) ↓5%
  4)
Crouch Hill (470,000) ↑65%
  5)
Walthamstow Queens Road (501,000) ↑130%
  6)
Woodgrange Park (514,000) ↑160%
  7)
Stamford Hill (543,000) ↓6%
  8)
Wanstead Park (563,000) ↑165%
  9)
South Kenton (570,000) ↓4%
10)
Leytonstone High Road (571,000) ↑170%

Last year's figures were massively distorted by lengthy closures on the Gospel Oak to Barking line. This year they spring back - not quite completely, because those closures dribbled on, but enough to restore some sense of normality. Emerson Park on the runty Romford-Upminster line returns to the bottom of the heap, even though its passengers numbers have increased by another 10%. Meanwhile South Hampstead's total looks remarkably low for a station in a densely-populated part of Zone 2, but in reality nearby Swiss Cottage is a much stronger draw.

London's ten least busy National Rail stations (2017/18)
  1) ↑2 South Greenford (26500)
  2)
↓1 Angel Road (32900)
  3)
↑4 Drayton Green (33600)
  4)
↓2 Sudbury & Harrow Road (44100)
  5)
-- Morden South (75600)
  6)
↓2 Sudbury Hill Harrow (77100)
  7)
↑4 Castle Bar Park (80400)
  8)
↓2 Birkbeck (108000)
  9)
↓1 South Merton (120000)
10)
-- Belmont (141000)

Angel Road has lost its crown as London's least used station (and should be expected to descend more rapidly in two years' time after being reborn as Meridian Water). Its place as the capital's least used station is taken by South Greenford, a desolate halt on the Greenford branch which lost all its direct trains to Paddington at the start of last year, and whose passengers no longer seem keen on travelling to West Ealing and changing there. Also on this branch are 'high climber' Drayton Green and 'new entry' Castle Bar Park, each of which have lost over half of their passengers in a single year. For comparison purposes, London has forty-nine National Rail stations that are less busy than the tube's least used station, Roding Valley.

But enough of London.

The UK's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't in London (2017/18)
  1) -- Birmingham New Street (44m)
  2) -- Glasgow Central (33m)
  3) -- Leeds (31m)
  4) -- Manchester Piccadilly (28m)
  5) -- Edinburgh (23m)
  6) -- Gatwick Airport (20m)
  7) -- Reading (17m)
  8) ↑1 Brighton (16.9m)
  9) ↓1 Liverpool Central (16.5m)
10) ↑1 Glasgow Queen Street (16.4m)

It's no change at the top, indeed no change in the top seven. Recently-revamped Birmingham New Street remains at the top, and is the only station outside London to make it into the national Top Ten, slotting inbetween Euston and Stratford. Glasgow Central remains in second place, and Glasgow Queen Street nudges back into tenth place following a lengthy closure during the previous year. The only other stations outside London to exceed 10 million passengers are Liverpool Lime Street, Cardiff Central, Cambridge and Bristol Temple Meads.

The UK's ten least busy National Rail stations (2017/18)
  1) ↑3 British Steel Redcar (40)
  2)
↓1 Barry Links (52)
  3)
↑9 Denton (70)
  4)
↓2 Tees-Side Airport (74)
  5)
↑5 Stanlow & Thornton (92)
  6)
↓3 Breich (102)
  7)
↓1 Reddish South (104)
  8)
↑2 Elton & Orston (138)
  9)
↑8 Thorpe Culvert (148)
10)
↑8 Coombe Junction (156)

Finally, here's the list everyone finds the most intriguing. These are the stations that can't even muster four passengers a week, such is the inaccessibility of their location or the paucity of their service.

The 'least used' rankings are often volatile, as you'd expect when dealing with very small numbers, and this year is no exception. British Steel Redcar has sprung into pole position, as might be expected when the steelworks entirely surrounding it closed in 2015. Barry Links might do better in next year's figures because golf's Open Championship was held at neighbouring Carnoustie this summer. Denton and Reddish South see only one train a week, hence their appearance. Teesside Airport, which was the least used station from 2010 to 2013, had its two trains a week cut to one this time last year. Elton & Orston and Thorpe Culvert are usually-skipped stations on the Nottingham to Skegness line. Coombe Junction Halt is the only one of these ten in the southern half of the country, and by far the least used station in Cornwall.

There's also a story to be told about the stations which are no longer listed here. Shippea Hill is now only number 19, thanks in no small measure to Geoff & Vicki's incursion as part of All The Stations last summer. Pilning has a passionate users group whose campaigns have successfully doubled ridership this year on top of a previous 400% boost. Sugar Loaf has gone from Wales' quietest station to unexpected tourist attraction with a 700% leap. Least Used stations don't always remain least used, there's always hope. But when there are still 24 stations which can't even muster an average of one passenger per day, we perhaps ought to question the service they're receiving.

» Rail passenger data here (total annual entry and exit frequencies)
» Previous updates: 16/17 15/16 14/15, 13/14, 12/13, 11/12, 10/11, 09/10, 08/09, 07/08, 06/07, 05/06

 Monday, December 10, 2018

Crossrail may not be on the brand new tube map, but TfL have added something else to distract us from its absence - dotted lines. Finally, a hint that it might be better to walk.
"Interchanges between stations have traditionally appeared on the Tube map as two solid lines, irrespective of whether they are internal or external. This approach has now been updated and shows a clear distinction between the two types, with external interchanges now being depicted by a dashed line, linking the two stations or stops."
For interchanges within stations, still two solid lines. In the key they're labelled as Interchange stations. But for external interchanges that pass through gatelines and cross streets, now dotted lines. In the key they're labelled Under a 10 minute walk between stations.

It's a great idea, and also relatively unobtrusive, although as we'll see later there are parts of London where this added complexity has sadly made the map harder to use.



Altogether 23 interchanges have been depicted using dotted lines. I've classified them into three groups (and also timed how long they take to walk).
Please note: All times are from gateline to gateline, because that's easily defined, and are rounded to the nearest half minute. I tried walking these connections on a Sunday, so there wasn't much traffic around and crossing roads didn't hold me up. I walk fairly fast, so you might well take longer.
Group 1: Previously shown as an interchange
» White City ... Wood Lane (2½ min)
» Clapham High Street ... Clapham North (2½ min)
» Archway ... Upper Holloway (4½ min)
» Tower Hill ... Tower Gateway (2½ min)
» Bow Church ... Bow Road (3 min)
» Walthamstow Central ... Walthamstow Queen's Road (4 min)
» Wanstead Park ... Forest Gate (3 min)
» Dangleway ... Royal Victoria (2½ min)
» Dangleway ... North Greenwich (5 min)
These are the uncontroversial ones. Previously joined by two solid lines, they're now joined by dots. No further tweaking of the diagram has been required. All of these involve walking out of one station and walking to another, so it's a lot more honest too. None of the distances are excessive, so they shouldn't take too long to walk (but if you're mobility-challenged, or carrying heavy luggage, you might now choose a different route).
Group 2: Previously shown as one station
» Hammersmith ... Hammersmith (1½ min)
» Shepherd's Bush ... Shepherd's Bush (1 min)
» West Hampstead ... West Hampstead (1 min)
» West Croydon ... West Croydon (½ min)
» Shadwell ... Shadwell (½ min)
» Canary Wharf ... Canary Wharf (3½ min)
These are also fairly uncontroversial. Hammersmith has always been two stations with a shopping centre and a pedestrian crossing inbetween. Shepherd's Bush is really two stations on either side of a bus lane. West Hampstead is a Jubilee line station with a separate Overground station up the road. Canary Wharf's two stations are so far apart that the map once included a dagger to make the point. With dotted lines this is all a lot clearer, and again more honest than what was shown before.

But Shadwell's hardly any walk at all, even if there is a zebra crossing in the middle, and can be tackled in under a minute. Adding a dotted line where the map previously showed two adjacent blobs might even put some people off using the connection, because it looks less convenient than before. And West Croydon's a ridiculously short walk if you use the right exit... but to be accurate, yes, it does now need a dotted line.

So the only potentially contentious connections are the eight new additions...
Group 3: New to the map
» Northwick Park ... Kenton (5 min)
» Finchley Road ... Finchley Road and Frognal (5 min)
» Swiss Cottage ... South Hampstead (5 min)
» Euston ... Euston Square (5 min)
» Camden Town ... Camden Road (4 min)
» Seven Sisters ... South Tottenham (4½ min)
» New Cross ... New Cross Gate (7 min)
» South Wimbledon ... Morden Road (8 min)
Northwick Park to Kenton is a classic Out of Station Interchange, a five minute walk saving an enormously long detour, and well deserves its place. The Finchley Road and Frognal connection is more dubious, because you'd think the existing link at West Hampstead should be good enough. Swiss Cottage to South Hampstead makes sense, and is signed clearly at street level. Euston to Euston Square is a proper timesaver, and the sole Zone 1 shortcut to make the list. Camden Town to Camden Road is an extremely useful link for anyone unfamiliar with the Overground. And Seven Sisters to South Tottenham is the connection the Goblin has been screaming out for (although previously there wasn't space for it on the map, so Tottenham Hale has had to be moved clear to make way).



I worry about the inclusion of New Cross to New Cross Gate. The only people the dotted line might assist are unfamiliar souls trying to get to New Cross from the south, who won't now waste time travelling via Surrey Quays. But to support this tiny group of people the spur has been shortened and the two stations shifted out of horizontal alignment, resulting in a squidge that's less decipherable than before. And although South Wimbledon to Morden Road looks like a damned useful tram connection, it's also further than all the other links on the map and exceeds TfL's notional 700m maximum. I walked it in under ten minutes only by ignoring traffic lights and walking fast.

But Finchley Road and Frognal and South Hampstead are the real wrecking balls. London Travelwatch are particularly pleased with the former, quoting it in their press release announcing the new map feature.
"For example, passengers may not currently be aware that a 5 minute walk between Finchley Road and Frognal & Finchley Road stations enables them to change between the North London and the Metropolitan lines, saving time and money at the same time by avoiding the need to go into central London."
I don't believe passengers were that stupid, but the dotted lines went in anyway. Finchley Road & Frognal had to be shifted closer to Finchley Road to make this work, which also necessitated shifting Hampstead Heath to the 'wrong' side of the Northern line. Meanwhile South Hampstead was nowhere near Swiss Cottage so had to be moved to the other side of the Jubilee line, an action which required moving Swiss Cottage and St John's Wood a lot further down. The name 'Finchley Road' then had to be swapped to the other side of the Metropolitan line to make way for the necessary dots to Finchley Road & Frognal, and the whole thing became a domino effect of increasingly bad design decisions.



On the paper map (left) this has also necessitated pushing the Metropolitan and Jubilee line stupidly far apart, and crashing St John's Wood into the Metropolitan line. And on the poster map, which you'll eventually be able to see on the TfL website, the designers have actually kinked the Metropolitan and Jubilee lines as if Finchley Road & Frognal were a giant magnet. It's such a mess, unnecessarily complicating the journeys of the many for the perceived needs of the few.

Someone should have said "you know what, that's one connection too far", like they did at Paddington. Paddington is famously two stations in one, with the Hammersmith platforms a long way from the rest. This new tube map ought to have been the golden opportunity to make the disconnect clear with a dotted line, but the interchange is so complex that the designers ducked the bullet and gave up. Yanking the Hammersmith & City and Circle lines away from the melee would have had so many knock-on effects that they didn't risk doing it... which perhaps they should have thought with Finchley Road & Frognal as well.

I'm not going to discuss Group 4 - all the walking connections they could have put on the map but didn't - because that's pointlessly subjective. If you feel the need to query a dotted line that isn't there, here's a separate comments box. comments

What I will say is thank goodness the designers didn't overdo things, adding a spider's web of dotted lines in Central London simply for the sake of it, because clarity is always better than confusion. As it is I'd say the balance is almost right, and you might even save several minutes on a future tube journey as a result. I wonder where Crossrail's dotted lines will go, and when?


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jack of diamonds
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