diamond geezer

 Monday, May 27, 2019

Top performing party in each London borough in the European Elections

16 boroughs preferred the Lib Dems.
13 boroughs preferred Labour.
4 boroughs preferred the Brexit Party.
No boroughs preferred the Conservatives, Greens or Change UK.

Lib Dem608,725 (27%)❁ ❁ ❁
Labour536,810 (24%)❁ ❁
Brexit Party400,257 (18%)❁ ❁
Green278,957 (12%)
Conservative177,964 (8%) 
Change UK117,635 (5%) 
UKIP  46,497 (2%) 

 Sunday, May 26, 2019

The (very) latest exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands is called Secret Rivers.

It's mainly about London's lost rivers, but several unburied rivers get a look in too, so best to think of this as a roomful of fluvial secrets. The Thames features early on, allowing the curators to present peculiar items mudlarked from the river, but then they dive on to the Walbrook, Fleet, Neckinger etc where your interest will be truly piqued. A bishop beating the bounds really did wear that unrecycled plastic cape. This three-hole wooden seat really was once used as part of a latrine above above the Fleet. That toy sailboat was actually recovered from former pleasure garden lakes in Chelsea fed by the Westbourne. And that Oscar-winning musical was indeed partly set in a rookery along the Neckinger.

A video wall featuring the Fleet sewer is the largest exhibit at the centre of the gallery, confirming the river's psychogeographic pre-eminence. On the back wall maps and posters from the Effra Redevelopment Agency and Tyburn Angling Society illustrate not-entirely-practical daylighting projects. Elsewhere an impressively large number of artistic interpretations have been included, including soundmaps, blurry films, over-exposed Polaroids and a blue ribbon that once threaded its way down the Walbrook. What's really nice about the exhibition is the eclectic selection of artefacts, that and the in-depth information posted up alongside.

As someone who's blogged a lot about lost rivers, I wish similar maps had been available years ago. Not only can you see where the Fleet, Tyburn, and Neckinger go, road by road, but there's also a huge map by the entrance displaying the whole shebang. Top tip - if you'd like to take a copy home it's printed on the back of the Top Trumps freebie, so make sure you never perforate the cards to play. Drop by sometime before the end of October, perhaps timing your visit for one of several events scheduled over the summer, including a special 'Liquid Late' this Thursday with special guest Ben Aaronovitch.

» Peter Watts' review
» Matt Brown's review
» The Guardian's review
» Tom Edwards' news item

unnamed stream
Southgate → Winchmore Hill (¾ mile)
[→ Hounsden Gutter → Salmons Brook → Lea → Thames]

London has so many rivers that some of them don't have names. This one used to be the Bourne, then got relegated to Glenbrook South Drain, and was recently partially daylighted. It runs through Grovelands Park on its brief journey through the N21 postcode. I never even knew it existed until yesterday, and now I've walked it. Didn't take long. [map] [map]

As usual the best clues are street names and contours, in this case a very obvious dip in Bourne Hill, which is the road connecting Southgate to Palmers Green. At the foot of the slope is a set of very impressive gates, donated by Lord Inverforth in 1925, signalling that the park beyond is no ordinary recreation ground. A wealthy brandy merchant called Walker Gray bought the estate in 1796, got John Nash to design him a house and Humphry Repton to lay out the gardens. His landscaping dammed the existing stream to create an ornamental lake, which survives, and that's probably why the former Bourne stream no longer has a name.

The lake is fed by several underground pipes, and also a tiny rivulet flowing down through the pitch and putt. Stop by at the clubhouse, which is actually a shipping container, for a £2 Ice Lolly or some £1.50 Microwave Chips. Don't expect to get inside the former mansion as that's now a private hospital, and has been known to house the occasional Chilean dictator. But the lakeside's good for watching swans, geese and other waterfowl, or picnicking near, and is also a good length for walking your dog round. The dam on the northern side is a 20th century addition, with an outflow that looks a bit like a bobsleigh run except you wouldn't get far sledging down a dozen concrete steps.

At the foot of the descent the water enters a proper wiggling earth-banked stream. The council have made this into an adventurous play area for children, complete with logs and trunks to scramble across, although apparently much of the original equipment has subsequently been removed for tedious health and safety reasons. And beyond that comes a buttercup-bordered boardwalk as the stream suddenly becomes muddier and shallower. Five years ago this 320m section was underground - officially the Glenbrook South Drain - but Enfield council decided to daylight it to create a sustainable drainage system which could intercept pollutants piped down from neighbouring streets and ease the risk of flooding. I would not have guessed any of this before I got home and did some research, so natural does it now look.

A culvert then leads the stream out of the park and underneath Church Hill, one of the oldest lanes in Winchmore Hill, before disappearing between the back gardens of two prime 1930s suburban avenues. Somewhere round the back of number 50 Broadfields Avenue our tributary merges with the brilliantly-named Hounsden Gutter, a short waterway of ancient provenance feeding in from the Oakwood direction. This too hasn't long to go before merging with the Salmons Brook up the side of Grange Park station, remaining dutifully out of sight so as not to lower the tone of this somewhat upmarket suburb. It might have been more fun to blog the Hounsden Gutter, but I suspect not quite so interesting.

 Saturday, May 25, 2019

Yesterday would have been Queen Victoria's 200th birthday, her death in 1901 not withstanding. I celebrated by going to the room where she was born, then visiting two places named after her.

Kensington Palace

This former country mansion has long been home to royalty, from William and Mary in 1689 to William and Kate today. It's therefore only right and proper that one of Britain's defining monarchs should have been born here, precisely 200 years ago, although nobody necessarily realised at the time.

Her father had been forced to marry in his fifties to try to maintain the line of succession, following the unfortunate death of his niece in childbirth. Duty done he made haste from Germany to Kensington Palace with his heavily-pregnant wife shortly before the birth. They picked a first floor room above the kitchens, ideally sited for the ready supply of hot water, and kitted it out with green drapes, a four-poster bed and a mahogany crib. And on 24th May 1819 Princess Alexandrina Victoria was born, right here, in a bedchamber now very much on the tourist trail.

Kensington Palace is owned by Historic Royal Palaces, an independent charity which also manages Hampton Court and the Tower of London. Admission's not cheap, with a voluntary donation and guide book given the polite hard sell at the ticket desk. Wave an Art Pass and they grit their teeth and let you in for free. Three separate period trails lead off from the Stone Hall, one to wood-panelled Stuart treasures and one to amazing Georgian finery. These were of course splendid, but enjoying the Victorian offering was obviously the focus of my day.

Two fresh Victoria-related exhibitions opened yesterday, one focusing on A Royal Childhood, the other Woman and Crown. The childhood walk-through is located in the family apartments, and includes baby portraits, dolls houses and a full sized puppet theatre (offering regular seated performances), as well as nitty gritty details of her mother's controlling nature. This is where you'll find the room in which she was born, complete with replica furniture and a small silver plaque.

The post-1837 exhibition is an upgrade of rooms I've walked round before, now with a bit more emphasis on international affairs, specifically the Indian subcontinent. Victoria made friends with deposed Sikh princes, learned to speak Urdu and wrote in Hindustani in her diary, which I hope isn't too much of a spoiler for future ITV drama episodes. A London school have been let loose to write poetry to accompany some of the displays, providing some jolting balance lest you thought Empire and acquiring giant diamonds was all a good thing.

I confess I was expecting bicentenary day to be busier, and was pleased when it wasn't. I thought the palace would be making more of a fuss of the date, and was intrigued when they weren't. And I appreciated the opportunity to stand in the room where the royal umbilical was cut, 200 years on, and to reflect on the reverberating significance a single birth can bring.

Victoria Park

With the permission of the sovereign, an eponymous park was laid out across East End fields the 1840s. Generations have enjoyed its spacious acres... just not so many at the moment because a significant portion of the park is sealed off. This weekend and next see a takeover by the All Points East Festival, which is the only event left now that Field Day and Lovebox have skedaddled. A very long green fence has been erected with gates for intermittent access, and a village of music stages, food tents and entertainment foci erected within. And so, late on Friday afternoon, the revellers came.

Average age thirty-something, but with glittery teenagers and paunchy pre-retirees amongst them, the parade trooping up Grove Road stood out somewhat from the local demographic. Some clutched their last cheap drinks for several hours, others tottered on inadvisable heels. I'd like to have been joining them, having entered the Tower Hamlets' prize draw for a handful of daily tickets, and even had my May 24th choices sorted (Kate Tempest, Spiritualized, Hot Chip, Chemical Brothers), but unsurprisingly wasn't successful. Instead I got to listen to their distant thud from home throughout the evening, and smirked slightly when an unforecast heavy downpour drenched the lot of them.

Market Hall Victoria

This Victoria namesake is much younger, a mere six months, and is located in the former Pacha nightclub adjacent to Victoria bus station. It's one of those food halls that send Time Out into paroxysms of joy, essentially a streetfood lineup moved indoors and made permanent. The idea is that mates can turn up together and go off separately to pick their cuisine of choice, then return to sit at a tiny table before disposing of their trays and moving on elsewhere. In this respect it's exactly the same as the food court at a provincial shopping mall in the 1990s except more cramped, and almost all the dishes are foreign-sourced.

Don't expect pie and two veg. Instead plump for roti, tacos, udon, dim sum or pastrami, perhaps with a side of beef curry chips topped with salty satay peanuts. Admittedly one of the current eleven takeaway counters does specialise in fish and chips, but at £10.5 per portion they saw you coming. Market Hall Victoria is of course wildly popular, so expect to have to weave your way awkwardly through brunchers, lunchers or post-work diners with noodles in one hand and prosecco in the other. If you find the right swing doors at the back of the first floor you can ascend to the roof terrace for further seating and an outdoor bar, notionally also the perfect vantage point for bus spotting down below. Not that the clientele would be in any way interested, you understand, but the set-up at Market Hall Victoria is very much the direction of travel.

 Friday, May 24, 2019

It's been a torrid three years on the Gospel Oak to Barking line. The line closed for months for an electrification upgrade, which failed, forcing another year of intermittent rail replacement buses. Then new trains ordered to take advantage of electrification couldn't be put into operation because the software wasn't ready, then the existing trains disappeared because they'd been promised to other operators. Since March replacement stock has been running at half frequency and rail replacement buses have been running again, exasperating locals.

Finally yesterday, eighteen months later than originally planned, the first Class 710 train entered public service. The 11:36 from Gospel Oak to Barking set off packed with TfL staff, Overground personnel, Men Who Like Trains and accidental ordinary passengers. And about time. [photos] [video]

The new trains have four carriages rather than two, which is a big win. Inside is space for 700 passengers, but most of this is standing room, continuing the trend towards TfL interiors being mostly open space. Seats are longitudinal, like on the original orange Overground trains, but the doors and information systems are much more reminiscent of new purple Crossrail stock, from the buttons you press to the displays telling you what the next station is.

The moquette is orange and brown with a flash of green - the green to symbolise the train's energy saving credentials. It has 'intelligent aircon', which probably just means a thermostat, but the ambient temperature was more than welcome in yesterday's warm weather. The lighting's also cleverer than usual, brightening noticeably when we entered the tunnel east of Gospel Oak and dimming again after.

One significant innovation is that a significant number of the poster spaces above the seats are filled by electronic screens. These were circulating between public service information about the train's new facilities and a rather splendid roundel overlaid with date and time. How impressively eye-catching, I thought... before worrying that TfL's ultimate intention might be to show us video adverts while we travel, a future onboard dystopia which begins here.

Another first is the provision of USB charging points. These are located in the walls at the ends of the carriages, in pairs, making these the seats to aim for if your battery's low. USB charging may be new for Londoners, but let's not forget passengers aboard double decker buses shuttling between Midlands towns have been able to do this for years, so we're actually a long way behind.

Some of the maps above the doors show line diagrams, with zones printed in an uncharacteristically unobtrusive grey. As well as the 'Gospel Oak to Barking route', the other map is for the 'Watford Junction to Euston route' which will be the next to receive new trains. After that it'll be the Overground out of Liverpool Street, whose ageing trains desperately need replacement, but best not place any bets on exactly when.

Eight Class 710s are required to operate the Goblin, that's six in service and two spares, but currently only two are running. The stumbling block is driver training - a lengthy course which only a third of the line's drivers have so far completed, repeatedly delayed by the software taking so long to perfect. But two new trains is enough to plug several of the half hour gaps in the timetable, and eventually things will be back to a proper 15 minute frequency.

So hurrah, the Goblin is finally returning to a new improved normal, its capacity much increased and boasting the very newest trains on the network. This doesn't make up for years as the cursed child of the Overground empire, but TfL hope a month's free travel in September will ease the pain somewhat... so maybe come back then.

 Thursday, May 23, 2019

Last weekend a walkway in the Olympic Park was named Tessa Jowell Boulevard.

A lovely idea, following her death last year, in honour of her decisive contribution to securing and delivering the 2012 Olympic Games for London.

The newly-named boulevard runs down the southern half of the Park between the Stadium and the Aquatics centre. It's the broad path with the globe-shaped lanterns hung from trees, so about as prestigious as it gets. I spotted five TJB signs in total, either attached to fencing or 'planted' in the flowerbeds.

But then I spotted these.

These are signs attached to boulevards in the northern half of the park. They too have only just appeared, but this time they're proper street signs.

Essex Way is the broad path from the Timber Lodge cafe to the Velodrome on the eastern side of the river, and Middlesex Way is the broad path north from the traffic lights near the Copper Box on the western side of the river. These are also brilliant names because 100 years ago Essex Way would actually have been in Essex and Middlesex Way would actually have been in Middlesex, with the boundary running along the River Lea inbetween. These days the boundary between Hackney and Newham follows the river, but as heritage throwbacks Essex and Middlesex are perfect.
The sign for Middlesex Way shouldn't have a Newham coat of arms, it has been pointed out, because it's not in Newham.

The administrative trio is completed by London Way - a path from Here East towards the Velodrome which crosses the river via the Park's northernmost footbridge. It runs perpendicular to Middlesex Way and Essex Way, crossing both. London Way doesn't have any signs up at present, or none I've seen, but give it time.
On maps issued in 2012, London Way was the name given to what's now Tessa Jowell Boulevard, so presumably someone's had second thoughts.

Meanwhile several of the other bridges have also been officially named with official signs.

Eastcross Bridge is the other footbridge in the northern half of the park, slanted towards the Timber Lodge. Thornton Bridge is a lot further down, spanning the Lea at the non-functional end of the Aquatics Centre, and has been named after the railway sidings erased to make space for the Olympics. The Iron Bridge is a 20th century original, now painted purple, at the very southern end of the Park near the railway line.
The most important footbridge, the one which links Westfield to the Stadium near the Aquatics Centre, doesn't appear to have a name, so doesn't have a sign.

None of these Ways or Bridges are officially designated for road traffic, but each has been given a proper genuine E20 street sign. Meanwhile Tessa Jowell Boulevard is also traffic free, but hasn't been granted a proper genuine E20 street sign, just a scattering of small signs in some flowerbeds. Still a damned lovely idea, but not quite as impressive as it appeared at first sight.

I've been back to Hammersmith to see how the bridge closure bus changes are getting on.

Hammersmith bus station, stop K
The N782 tile has been removed and a proper N72 tile is in its place
The bus stop now has timetables for the new daytime routes
There are no new route maps (here or anywhere else)

Hammersmith Bridge Road, stop S
The 72 stops here but there is no tile to say so, only a 533 tile

Hammersmith Bridge
Now has a whopping big banner at one end promising that Hammersmith Bridge will be restored to full working order

Castelnau, stop K
Now has timetables for the new routes
Has no stewards to advise passengers who've walked across the bridge which bus to catch
Bus stop flag says "towards Barnes Pond or Putney" (this is mostly true)

Castelnau, stop J (just across the road)
Has no timetables for the new routes
Has two stewards to advise passengers who've just alighted from buses where to go next
Bus stop flag says "towards Barnes Pond or Putney" (this is entirely false)
Lady complaining to stewards that since they cut the 72 she has to take two buses to get to hospital

Mortlake - Putney Bridge, route 209
Formerly ran between Mortlake and Hammersmith (you may remember)
Map of route on TfL website is out-of-date
Service runs every 6 minutes, which is proving unnecessarily frequent
Maximum number of passengers seen aboard any 209 bus - two

On my 209 journey...
First passenger boarded in Mortlake - stayed on for two stops
Second passenger boarded in Mortlake - stayed on for two stops
Third passenger boarded in Barnes - stayed on for one stop
No further passengers from Mortlake or Barnes
Supposed length of bus journey - 18 minutes
Actual length of bus journey - only 12 minutes...
...but walk from final bus stop to Putney Bridge station - 5 minutes

 Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Norfolk isn't known for its hills, indeed global warming is predicted to take quite a chunk out of its eastern flank. The county's highest point is Beacon Hill near Sheringham at a mere 105m (or 344 ft), a figure even Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex can beat. But even Norwich has its hills, so while I was in the city on Monday I climbed some.

I'm not counting Castle Hill because that's artificial, knocked up by the Normans at the end of the 11th century. And I'm not counting Elm Hill, once voted one of Britain's top ten prettiest streets, because that's more a sloping cobbled relic than a proper full-on ascent. Instead I mean proper breathless uphill climbs, of the kind that my part of East London has absolutely none whatsoever.

There's Gas Hill.

Gas Hill lies a few streets north of the railway station, and is renowned in Norwich as the place where you practise hill starts. The road breaks off from the River Wensum opposite Bishop's Bridge and climbs steeply up the chalk escarpment, becoming narrower as it ascends. The pub at the bottom is called the Lollard's Pit after the execution site on which it was built - why not enjoy a pint of Fosters on the site where Queen Mary had dozens of religious protestors burnt at the stake?

The reason for Gas Hill's name used to be obvious further up on the right hand side. This was a giant disused gasholder, the last surviving feature of the city's gas works and a locally listed building. The council hoped developers would be able to incorporate it into a future housing development, but this proved unviable so this familiar feature on the Norwich skyline is to be replaced by a dozen or so flats. May 2019 marks the end of the dismantling project, and all I could hear behind the gates were the last vestiges of demolition.

There's Ketts Hill.

Technically Ketts Hill is exactly the same hill as Gas Hill, just a different (busier) road slightly further north. I've been driven down it dozens of times but never walked, so never slipped through the gate to visit the wooded ridge of Kett's Heights. The Kett in question is Robert Kett, a yeoman farmer from Wymondham who rallied fifteen thousand anti-enclosure protestors in the summer of 1549. They camped up here when taking over the city, holding out for a few weeks before the rebellion was quashed and Robert was hung from the walls of the castle. This is peak Norwich history, this is.

Kett's Heights was a 1980s attempt to open up a strip of historic hillside to the public, and has been dramatically improved since 2015 when a group of local volunteers took over. They cleared undergrowth on the terraces, tidied up the remnants of an old chapel and cleared trees to open up the view (although one remains in an awkward location part-obscuring the cathedral spire). Plainly visible are the castle, the thin clocktower of Norwich's City Hall and both cathedrals. I'd like to apologise to the retired couple on the bench beside the Armada beacon for interrupting their afternoon tryst.

There's St James' Hill.

This is a proper summit, though a small one, essentially a gorse-covered hump poking out from exactly the same ridge we were discussing earlier. You can access it by finding the small track behind the pub at the Ketts Hill roundabout, then scrambling up a sandy path that weaves through vegetation. Or you can drive - a big car park's been provided beyond the summit in front of an very imposing Victorian building. This was originally Britannia Barracks, home to the Royal Norfolk Regiment between 1885 and 1959, and is now occupied by Norwich Prison. I wondered why prisoners were outside drinking tea and eating cake, but it turns out the front terrace now operates as a social enterprise cafe for current and ex-offenders.

Inmates have the best view in the city, or would do if only they could see out. The unconfined can step out across the heath to a single bench at the optimum peak position and stare down. I stared lots. The spire of Norwich Cathedral dominates - at 96m the second tallest spire in England (which thankfully isn't quite enough to attract unwanted Russian tourists). If the council get their way it'll be joined by a single 20-storey residential block on the site of 70s shopping centre Anglia Square, tainting the skyline, but the government have called in this decision and the communities minister may not be so financially minded.

And there's Mousehold Heath.

Technically, again, this is just a continuation of much the same ridge overlooking the River Wensum. But Mousehold Heath is very much its own entity, an undulating 184 acre nature reserve to the northeast of the city. Originally it was treeless and stretched all the way to the edge of the Broads and was used as common land for grazing, but the rest became farmland or housing and this preserved chunk was taken over by broad-leafed woodland. At weekends it's a bit of a recreational magnet. On Monday afternoons the ice cream van waits in vain.

I'd been to the American diner at the heart of the heath before for a birthday meal but never ventured further up the hill into the trees (it was dark at the time, it wouldn't have been wise). And it was glorious, a proper woodland labyrinth with broad tracks plunging down into shadowy valleys and narrow paths weaving across sandy slopes littered with pine cones. I found the pond and the bandstand on my solo stroll but missed the old tram track. And rubbing up along more than one side I found rows of very ordinary houses with this wonderful resource on their doorstep, higher above Norfolk than you might imagine.

 Tuesday, May 21, 2019

For years East Anglians have been trying to make their trains run faster. A typical rail journey between London and Norwich takes about one hour fifty minutes, best case one hour forty-two, which does the region's economy no favours. So a decade ago the political imperative became "Norwich in 90", not because it was doable but because it sounded good, and the most recent franchise was awarded on the basis that it must happen. Since then track and signalling have been upgraded, new trains have been purchased... and yesterday Greater Anglia finally delivered. I took the 11am train to Norwich, and it took one and a half hours precisely.

The initial timetable looks unadventurous. Only two trains from Norwich to London take ninety minutes, and only two trains from London to Norwich. They start quite late. They tend to avoid peak hours. They only require a single train shuttling back and forth. They don't run on Sundays. And they only stop once along the way.

0900 Norwich
0933 Ipswich
1030 London Liv St
1700 Norwich
1733 Ipswich
1830 London Liv St
1100 London Liv St
1153 Ipswich
1230 Norwich
1900 London Liv St
1955 Ipswich
2030 Norwich

This timetable's brilliant if you happen to want to go all the way at the time the trains actually run, or if you're a politician wanting to claim a massive personal success. Several politicians, businesspeople and railway top brass were on board the very first train which left Norwich at 09:00 yesterday morning. They must have been delighted, and somewhat relieved, when it pulled into Liverpool Street two minutes early. Several grey-haired men looked very pleased when they hopped off for a lengthy photocall at the head of the train. London in 88, very impressive.

Most of the VIPs went straight back again in first class. I headed for second class and found an impressively underpopulated carriage. There shouldn't have been any classes because yesterday was also supposed to see the introduction of a brand new train set, the all-standard-class Class 755. But these four-car units aren't ready to go into service yet - a sadly familiar story - and were themselves an unplanned stopgap for longer, also-delayed, Class 745s. So Greater Anglia wheeled out their most reliable ageing workhorse Class 90 and prayed it wouldn't fail. It didn't.

We crossed the M25 in under 15 minutes. This is normal. We skated through Shenfield in 17 minutes. Slowcoach Crossrail's going to take 43. We skipped Chelmsford in 24 minutes and Colchester in 38. This train doesn't bother stopping in Essex because the sacrifice allows it to reach Suffolk and Norfolk quicker. The view was often gorgeous, with rippling fields of yellow rape, dense herds of cattle and a glistening tidal estuary. The gentleman sat in the seat in front of me read his railway magazine, filled in his notebook and unwrapped a buffet brunch.

We reached Ipswich in a highly impressive 52 minutes. Technically the doors were open and passengers were stepping onto the platform at 51 minutes 55 seconds, so I'm going to call that Ipswich in 51. I'm baffled why the chosen slogan is Ipswich in 60 when the outbound timetable shows the intended target is 55, but I guess marketing folk and politicians have a thing for round numbers because they reckon people remember them better.

The train departed Ipswich on time, accompanied by a previously unheard-of announcement stating we'd be "calling at Norwich only". Normally every northbound train stops at Diss, and maybe Stowmarket too, because economically it's a poor idea to run straight past 40 miles of intermediate population. In this case it's OK because the Norwich in 90 services are all extras, shoehorned into the existing half-hourly timetable as a bonus rather than a replacement. But this cunning fix has created additional pressures elsewhere... as we'll see later.

Just before Diss the train slowed, unnervingly, raising the possibility that we might not hit our target. A member of Greater Anglia's Engineering Team wandered down the aisle, because politically important trains require extra staff on board lest they be seen to fail. He wasn't needed. We returned to full whack and approached Norwich with the clock inexorably ticking. Four minutes to go, just crossing the outskirts. Two minutes to go, passing all the shiny new trains in the depot that were supposed to be operational by now but aren't. And absolutely bang on time (OK, maybe 20 seconds late but that's irrelevant) we pulled in beside the platform. Norwich in 90 achieved. A dozen careers saved.

And at 17:00 I was back on platform 2 to ride the second fast train of the day back to London. I should have been on platform 4 to ride the slower 17:03 to London instead, because that was scheduled to stop at Stratford and I'd actually have got home faster. Staff were really careful to announce that the next station was Ipswich and the only other station after that was London, but some passengers still overshot their intended destination so had to get out at Ipswich and grab another train back the other way.

Beyond Ipswich we were running bang on time, or fractionally early, strategically sandwiched between the train from Clacton and the train from Braintree. We zoomed through Stratford at 18:22, i.e. still eight minutes before our deadline, so all looked good. But towards Bethnal Green we slowed, and dammit stopped, then sat there at a red signal for six minutes and threw everything away. BBC Look East were livestreaming our arrival on local news, and the timing couldn't have been worse. I think the train in front of the train in front of us got delayed pulling into Liverpool Street, but that was enough to unravel everything and we only managed London in 97.

The last fast train of the day also failed, having started to lose time after Chelmsford and arriving into Ipswich four minutes late. On it went, inexorably catching up with the slower 18:30 departure which was running even later. The signallers then did something heinous, switching the slower northbound train onto the 'wrong' platform at Diss to allow the fast train to overtake, and simultaneously delaying the next southbound departure from Norwich. The overtaken train ended up being 15 minutes late, the overtaking train a less newsworthy five. Unsurprisingly you can't squeeze magic trains into a timetable without damaging the others.

So yesterday's final tally was London in 88, Norwich in 90, London in 97 and Norwich in 95. Two successes, two fails. Technically even London in 97 is brilliant, but when you play the simplistic targets game it's all too easy to brand wins as losses. Expect dozens more wins and losses as the service inexorably improves, and maybe by the mid-2020s Norwich in 90 will be the status quo rather than an unreliable ideal.

 Monday, May 20, 2019

Last month Hammersmith Bridge had to be closed to road traffic after safety checks revealed "critical faults". The bridge is 132 years old and built for elegance rather than strength, its decking comprising 999 square panels in various states of disrepair. Best not stare too carefully as you cross.

Previous emergency closures have been relatively short, whereas this latest closure is indefinite pending a proper funded plan. Walking and cycling across the bridge is still allowed, which is just as well, but motorists now face lengthy diversions via Chiswick Bridge or Putney Bridge.

Before the closure five bus routes crossed the bridge, providing an invaluable connection for Barnes residents otherwise hemmed inside a sweeping Thames meander. TfL responded with some temporary rejigging of routes, then launched a consultation on something more medium-term, then enacted those changes three days later. The 72 they curtailed to run only north of the river, the 33, 419 and 485 only south. The 209 was diverted to Putney Bridge instead of Hammersmith, linking to the tube being its raison d'être. And because the less mobile still need to be able to get across the river without walking they introduced a new route, the 533. I took a ride on the 533 on its first day, which was Saturday. It was an unexpectedly awful experience.

Here's a map showing roughly where all the rejigged routes go.

It's of very poor quality because I knocked it up in MS Paint, but simultaneously very much better than any map TfL have produced because they haven't produced one. In what follows, the lack of a coherent map will be a significant contributory factor.

Route 533: Hammersmith to Castelnau
Length of journey: 6 miles, 30 minutes
In normal times: ¾ mile, 5 minutes

Route 533 runs every half an hour between Hammersmith bus station and Castelnau, Lonsdale Road - which is just the other side of Hammersmith Bridge. You could walk it in 15 minutes. The bus takes rather longer because it has to go the long way. Not everybody who gets on board realises this.

I turn up at Hammersmith bus station in time for an afternoon departure. I head to Bus Stop K in the lower bus station where about a dozen passengers are waiting. Amongst them are two young footballers, a pair of brownies in uniform and a mum with pink hair swigging an orange juice. I need to show you Bus Stop K, because it contains the worst tile infringement I've ever seen on a London bus stop.

There is no route N782, never has been, never will be. TfL don't run buses with numbers in the seven hundreds, let alone nightbuses - the bus in question should be the N72. And yet someone made a tile labelled N782, someone else installed it, and somebody more important failed to spot it shouldn't be there. If you need firm evidence that the team who organise TfL's bus operations have taken their eye off the ball, here it is.

A poster displayed inside the shelter shows which bus stop to use to board your bus, either here in Hammersmith or on the other side of the bridge. Two of the stops are called Bus Stop K, the one we're starting at and the one we're going to. One of the most useful stops doesn't have a letter. Two bubbles depict walks of 10 and 20 minutes respectively, which it turns out relate to thin dotted lines across the river. This is the sole reference to the bridge still being open to those on foot. I've seen far clearer explanations of complex situations.

A steward in an SFM tabard is waiting beside the stop to offer guidance if required. She's the only person who has a map of route 533, marked on a printout in blue highlighter, and also the only person who has a timetable. She's also very keen to warn people against boarding a 72 instead. "It's only going as far as Hammersmith Bridge," she shouts, four times, before the next number 72 departs.

In fact, assuming you're reasonably able-bodied, the 72 is easily the quickest way to cross the Thames. A one-stop hop takes you to Hammersmith Bridge Road, from which it's a two minute walk to the bridge and a further five minutes to Castelnau on the other side. As things turn out, anyone taking the 72 and walking would have saved themselves an hour on how long it'll eventually take, but instead the footballers and brownies and orange juice swiggers dutifully wait.

Every few minutes an announcement about Route 533 is made over the tannoy. I'll be hearing it several times while I'm waiting, so I'm pretty certain it goes like this...
"The Hammersmith Bridge is closed. The route 533 will run a shuttle service via the A4 towards Chiswick Bridge and continue the service towards the south side of Hammersmith Bridge via the Barnes area. For more details speak to SFM or TfL staff or visit TfL-dot-gov-dot-uk."
In the absence of a map or a timetable, this is the best explanation of route 533 any of us will be getting. Those with local knowledge, and who are actually listening, will realise that's quite a long way. But everyone else is just pleased there's a direct bus, a magic red box that'll transport them somehow across the river. And so they wait.

The incoming 533 arrives and lets off quite a lot of passengers. The driver does some tidying up, closes the door behind him and wanders off. The time of our scheduled departure passes, and "533     due" sits at the top of the electronic display for some considerable time.

Another member of staff wanders over and complains that she can't get into the ladies toilet. Our steward knows the door can be a bit stiff, so wanders off to provide assistance. While she's away a number 72 arrives and, because there's nobody to warn them, several people get on. Four get straight back off after the driver explains he's only going one more stop. These include the two footballers and their mum. "The 533 will be fine," she says, "it's only four stops." She's wrong, of course, it's going to be twenty.

The staff member who wanted the toilet turns out to be our bus driver. She boards the vehicle twelve minutes after it should have left and faffs around inside. Sorry, says the steward on her return, they've cancelled the quarter to and this is now going to be the quarter past. She also reveals she's been on duty since six this morning and won't be off shift until nine this evening. She's doing a sterling job.

Up rolls a member of British Airways flight crew with a peaked cap hung over the handle of his suitcase. He's making a call and his phone is still glued to his ear when a 72 pulls in, and on he gets. "It's only going to the bridge!" says the steward, repeatedly, following him onto the bus to try to press the point. But Peter the pilot isn't listening and heads off obliviously aboard the curtailed bus. Perhaps he cursed at the other end. Perhaps he got home quicker.

At last our 533 is driven over and on we get, sixteen of us in total. The driver doesn't go anywhere for five minutes, just sits there revving the non-Euro-VI-compliant engine. The footballers' mother walks forward to the driver's cab and waves the screen of her phone, keen to confirm that our bus will actually be going to her chosen destination. She returns reassured. According to the electronic display outside, the next 533 departs in 6 minutes. But this is rubbish, it's quarter past and off we go.

Our first stop is beside St Paul's church on Hammersmith Bridge Road. Anyone alighting here and proceeding on foot could be in Castelnau in under ten minutes. From there four different bus routes proceed through Barnes at regular intervals, which is easily the fastest option for several of those on board. But nothing at the bus stop mentions this, only an out of date map showing the previous temporary situation, and so a hockey player and a lady carrying a bunch of M&S dahlias climb aboard.

Beyond the flyover we ease onto the Great West Road and join three slow moving lanes of traffic. No other bus goes this way, only the 533. The iBus display is now showing that our next stop is at the Hogarth Roundabout, which is over a mile away. After a few minutes Footballers' Mum finally twigs that we're taking the scenic route to Barnes, and heads up to the front of the bus to show the driver her phone again. The driver uses hand gestures to reassure her, successfully, and back she sits.

Eventually we bear off the A4, and lose the traffic, speeding instead past the grounds of Chiswick House towards Chiswick Bridge. Traffic in the opposite direction looks somewhat clogged, so I don't rate the chances of any 533 heading back to Hammersmith. The view from the bridge is splendid. After fifteen minutes we have finally crossed the river Thames... but are now two miles away from the point we could have walked to in that time instead.

The Brownies and their mother alight outside the Stag Brewery in Mortlake, three quarters of an hour after they first turned up at the bus station. Further passengers alight on the riverside road towards Barnes, where we're now making good progress because traffic heading away from Chiswick Bridge is light. Towards Chiswick Bridge, not so good. I notice that every bus stop along the route has the same yellow poster to try to explain the latest changes. Unfortunately all it shows is where to board your bus on either side of Hammersmith Bridge, so out here it's no use whatsoever.

Waterfront Barnes is, as ever, gorgeous. It's also where buses on route 209 would normally head off down the High Street towards the heart of the village. Alas none of the newly-rejigged routes currently do this. Instead we head north along the riverbank, which provokes Footballers' Mum to make yet another trek up front to speak to the driver. Route 533 runs in a big clockwise loop round Barnes and Castelnau so the driver confirms yes, we really are going to the Red Lion. On foot from here it would only have taken ten minutes. Aboard our 533 it's going to take more than fifteen.

The next mile up to Castelnau is normally Hail and Ride on the 419, so is also designated Hail and Ride on the 533. The lady with the M&S dahlias spots this on the display and dings the bell at the appropriate point in the hope of getting off. Alas our driver has other ideas and ignores her, even sailing past a mysterious innovation I've never seen before - a bus stop labelled HAIL & RIDE. Admittedly its temporary sign was obscured behind a leafy tree and a school sign, so maybe she missed it. Further dings have absolutely no effect, so Dahlia Lady has to walk up front and urge the driver to obey instructions and stop. She departs huffily with an "And now I have to walk all the way back there!"

The next Hail and Ride dinger is equally unsuccessful, failing to alight at the traffic lights a short walk from the south side of Hammersmith Bridge. Instead she has to wait until we've swung round to an actual bus stop outside the shopping parade on Castelnau proper. At least 30 people are waiting on the pavement, but our driver doesn't open the front doors, merely closes the middle ones. Footballers' Mum is getting restless. The lady in front of me turns round with a look that says "what on earth is going on?"

I know what's going on, because I've spotted the light on the Oyster card reader has turned red. This stop is the so-called hesitation point on the 533's looping journey, the place where the driver has to stop and flip the blind. I've also seen the timetable online, so I know a) we're two minutes late b) we're only scheduled to wait here for a minute. Our driver decides to wait for four minutes... doors closed, engine running, passengers waiting, no explanation offered.

When the doors do finally open, many of the hordes boarding have questions for the driver. They're confused by a bus which says 'Hammersmith' on the front but is pointing away from Hammersmith Bridge. Our driver tells them yes she is going there, and yes Barnes Pond too, and in they pour. This is what happens on the first day of a new bus route when all the bus timetables and spider maps at a bus stop are out of date and the only information available is a small diagram showing where to catch your bus but not which way it goes.

We set off nine minutes late, rather than two, very much standing room only. Driving down Castelnau is a dream, there being hardly any traffic, this the advantageous consequence of closing a nearby bridge to all motor vehicles. We reach the Red Lion in a trice, which is where Footballers' Mum and her two strikers finally alight... 65 minutes after turning up at Hammersmith bus station. Lots of people alight with them, indeed most of the crowd who've only just boarded had no intention of going to Hammersmith, they merely wanted a lift to Barnes.

At Barnes Pond a lady waiting with a terrier engages with the driver, fails to receive an intelligible answer and reluctantly boards. She gets off a couple of stops later with an exasperated shrug, having not been carried to where she expected to go. This is also where the very last passenger from Hammersmith bus station alights, right at the end of the 533's loop, indeed we were barely 100 metres away twenty minutes ago. I think I've had enough too.

Unbelievably it's at this point that another 533 overtakes us. This shouldn't be possible on a route than operates every half an hour - we're not running that late - but it's happened all the same. The overtaking bus is almost empty. At least a dozen poor souls are still aboard our overtaken service, heading towards the queues at Chiswick Bridge and a lengthy detour. I wish them luck, and walk back to Hammersmith instead.

Sorry if that went on a bit, but I don't ever remember blogging a bus journey that was quite such a fiasco from start to finish. The rogue driver didn't help, but the main bone of contention was the 533 itself. It's a perfectly reasonable route in the circumstances, linking across the Thames as best it can for the benefit of those who can't walk across the bridge. What's unforgivable is how badly it's been explained, as the baffled public I met along the way so ably demonstrated.

A raft of changes hurriedly implemented. A bus stop tile depicting an entirely fictional nightbus. Bus stops with changed tiles but unchanged timetables. Spider maps still showing what buses stopped doing a month ago. Passengers told the destination of a bus but not where it actually goes. A map showing where to board your bus in Hammersmith stuck to every bus stop in Barnes and Mortlake. Maps of individual routes hidden within a consultation subpage but nothing showing how everything links together. And dozens of people wasting their lives aboard an infrequent indirect bus when they could have been told to walk across the bridge and catch their normal bus from there.

The team that coordinates and communicates changes to London's bus routes is an embarrassment. With dozens of big changes across Central London imminent, this is unlikely to end well.

 Sunday, May 19, 2019

Today's the day.

Sunday 19th May 2019 was supposed to be the day that Crossrail connected up to Shenfield.

Nah, not even close.

According to long-established timelines, purple trains should already have been shuttling between Paddington and Abbey Wood for the last 23 weeks. As we all know, this did not happen.

Today was going to be the day that Crossrail's second arm came into being, with trains bearing off after Whitechapel towards Stratford, Ilford and beyond. Technically speaking the day the Central Section Passenger Service linked up to the Great Eastern Surface Section. Proper Crossrail, with just the extension to Reading to go. Not a chance.

Today the platform indicators at Bond Street should have been showing alternating eastbound trains for the first time... Shenfield/Abbey Wood/Shenfield/Abbey Wood. Not only is that not happening, but Bond Street is so far behind schedule it could never have happened anyway.

I'd long been looking forward to hopping onto a train at Stratford today and disappearing through the Pudding Mill Portal to destinations like Farringdon, Tottenham Court Road and Paddington. No further, because the connection at Paddington wasn't due to happen until Sunday 15th December 2019, but of course that won't be happening either.

Today's also the day every Crossrail station from Stratford out to Shenfield should have been completed with upgraded entrances and step-free access, but this hasn't happened either. Maryland, Forest Gate, Manor Park and Seven Kings made the deadline, as did Brentwood and Shenfield further out.

But at Harold Wood the front entrance remains closed and passengers have to enter via a temporary gateway up the side of the eastbound platform, then lumber over the footbridge to head into town. Lifts at Gidea Park and Chadwell Heath are also not yet ready. And at Goodmayes the ticket office is still lodged in a stack of portakabins out front which blocks the pavement, and looks nothing like the final picture on the Crossrail website.

At least passengers on the Shenfield arm are getting to use their stations while they wait. Purple trains with TfL Rail branding have been running into Liverpool Street (high level) since 2017, and will continue to do so for some time. But Woolwich's Crossrail station remains non-functional, Canary Wharf's is still just a shopping centre, and the front entrance to Whitechapel hasn't even re-opened yet for District and Overground services. Everything's still really really behind schedule. We know this.

As a proper kick in the teeth, today trains are skipping Maryland, Forest Gate and Manor Park "to allow for testing of trains transitioning between Crossrail tunnels and Network Rail infrastructure." The poor folk along what should today be Crossrail East have suffered dozens and dozens of weekend engineering closures over the past few years, and on the very day the whole thing was supposed to open they're again being told to get the bus.

Worse, we still have no idea when the Whitechapel - Stratford connection will be made. Stage 1 from Abbey Wood to Paddington is pencilled in for New Years Eve 2020 plus or minus three months. Nobody has dared give a date for Stage 2, save that it'll be after Stage 1, so likely some time in 2021. Two years after the day it was supposed to happen.

Which was today.

I doubt that anybody official will be reminding you of this.

 Saturday, May 18, 2019


(number 30)
May 2019

Dear Subscriber,

So it's out! The thirtieth tube map of the modern era landed in tube stations across London on Friday, and it's caused quite a stir. Map T2019i builds on its illustrious predecessors with a further evolution of the post-Beck diagram, and aims to transform the way in which we see the capital today.

If you've not yet been able to pick up the new map, say if you've been out of the country or something, please send a stamped addressed envelope to TMCA, PO Box 1863, SW1.

What's new on the map? [By our Topological Director]

There are no new station openings or improvement works, so why the sudden rush from TfL to print a new map?

It's because six more stations have become step-free since the last map in December.

One is South Woodford, which now has step-free access to both platforms. Another is freshly-renovated Finsbury Park.

The other four are all on TfL Rail out of Liverpool Street, namely Maryland, Forest Gate, Manor Park and Seven Kings. Brilliant though this may seem, it means four further 'Crossrail' stations have missed their May 2019 step-free deadlines, the most significant of which is Ilford.

The other big news is the addition of three more walking connections. Walking connections appeared for the first time in December as dotted lines between stations up to 10 minutes apart. The new three are as follows...

• Hanger Lane - Park Royal
• Caledonian Road - Caledonian Road and Barnsbury
• Manor House - Harringay Green Lanes

I think we all saw the first one coming! Park Royal has moved north of the Central line (not where it is in real life!) as a consequence.

The two Caledonian Road stations are 650m apart, entrance to entrance, although the platforms are considerably more distant. As for Manor House to Harringay Green Lanes that's 750m, so very much pushing at the 10 minute threshold. One wonders if that's now the final complement of walking connections!

Just two more things of note...

The Victoria line has lost one of its bends and now does a stark right-angled turn between King's Cross and Highbury and Islington - that's a 50-year first! Also the designers have pushed the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines apart on the Uxbridge branch leaving a thin white gap between them, although of course we all remember this being done on T1997ii so it's nothing new.

Please note: There is no new Night Tube Map, because step-free access at South Woodford is not deemed worthy of kickstarting a whole new print run. Please retain N2018ii for your records.

If you spot any other differences, please update us via the T2019i forum on our Facebook page.

Readers' letters

Dear TMCA,
I went to my local tube station yesterday and every single paper map in the ticket hall was of the old style. I mean, what is the point of announcing a brand new tube map if you're going to carry on stocking the old ones?
Yours, Gavin453

Dear TMCA,
I went to my local tube station yesterday and every single paper map in the ticket hall was of the new style. I mean, what a waste of money to pulp all the old ones overnight. I hope they recycle them or something.
Yours, TrevorK

Dear TMCA,
I went to my local tube station yesterday and grabbed ten copies of the new tube map for my collection. The member of staff in the ticket hall looked at me like I was some nutter or something. Why are we collectors never taken seriously?
Yours, 1974Nigel

Dear TMCA,
Does anyone have a T1969i I can swap for a T1983ii?
Yours, MikeMcT

The map features a brand new cover design created by Turner Prize-winning artist Laure Prouvost. Her work is entitled "In Grand Ma's dream this map would always be with you and would resist the passing of time", and consists of the title written in capital letters in front of a very pale swirly blue skyscape. Anyone could have done it, but Laure did which is why she's the artist.

This cover is merely the advance guard of Laure's first public art commission which will appear at all 270 Underground stations from June. Each poster will be a digital reproduction of a hand-painted sign complete with a sentence explicitly devised for the Underground in Johnston typeface. The crux of the project begins with a poster stating ‘you are deeper than what you think’, an interplay between the literal place the work will be encountered and a reminder that there is more inside all of us than we might initially feel. Significant installations at Heathrow and Stratford stations will bookend the project from east to west London.

Exclusive Interview With T2019i Cover Designer Laure Prouvost

TMCA: We love your distinctly playful and poetic voice.
Laure: English is my second language. I am French.
TMCA: What inspired you to create this iconic new image?
Laure: In my dream and Grand Ma's we were in the underground and they asked us to fly (post) along the walls… deep down to reach new states, for you to stay with us and stay connected. Her dream is here.
TMCA: Grand Ma is the abandoned partner of your conceptual grandad, we understand. Did he collect tube maps too?
Laure: (continued on page 4)


The number of daggers on the tube map has not changed - four blue and six red. As usual if you want to know what the red daggers mean you have to go to the TfL website and plan a journey, then click on further details, then think to open the Access, lifts and escalators tab. This is apart from Emerson Park station where no such information appears, but if you do eventually manage to click through to the station webpage you'll discover that "A limited service runs on this branch" which is no bloody help whatsoever.


We're extremely excited because the index is now in alphabetical order for the first time in three years, following the shuffling of Acton Main Line before rather than after Acton Town.

Deeper scrutiny reveals that West Ealing no longer has cycle parking, Blackhorse Road no longer has a car park and Euston no longer has a TfL Visitor Centre (the latter because it's been demolished to help create a new station entrance).

Alas the addition of a symbol depicting step-free access at South Woodford has necessitated the use of an extra line, displacing Sydenham into the final column and knocking Woolwich Arsenal into the margin at the bottom of the page.


The paper on which T2019i has been printed is even thinner than T2018ii, as you can easily determine if you hold both maps in your hand simultaneously. At this rate of reduction, T2023i will be printed on toilet paper.

Subscribers please note: Map T2019i completes the third volume of the exclusive leatherbound Tube Map Collectors album. All regular subscribers will automatically receive the next 10-pocket album before the next scheduled map launch in December.

Tube Map Prediction Competition #30

Post your predictions for Tube Map 31 (T2019ii) in the following categories to the usual address by 1st November.
1) Total number of daggers (currently 10)
2) Total number of walking connections (currently 26)
The winner of competition #29 is Caroline from Colindale

See inside for...
• In or out? - a full history of tube map folds.
• The Finchley Kink - good riddance to bad rubbish.
• Reading or bust - expectations for T2019ii.
• Minimum readable font sizes - an optician speaks.
• The quest for information accessibility (part nine)

 Friday, May 17, 2019

Next week's European elections are likely an irrelevance, assuming the UK leaves the EU shortly after they take their seats. Our MEPs won't be around to make decisions on trading relations between the EU and Britain, or any other legislation, assuming the forces of Brexit get their way. But the political fallout at home may be profound, as certain parties gain momentum and others fall behind, indeed it was UKIP's strong showing in the 2014 European Elections that propelled us into the mess we're in today. Whatever, we have a vote we weren't expecting, and it's important to have our say. But who to vote for?

Former Conservative and UKIP voters keen to back Brexit in the European elections will be drawn inexorably towards the Brexit Party, a one-issue protest bandwagon with no actual policies, but the best chance of delivering a broken nose. Its simple message ensures it's going to do really well.

Those keen to demonstrate loyalty to the EU face a much harder choice because parties insist on fighting separately. Labour's wishy-washy Brexit position is deterring those who want to send a stronger message. Change UK have achieved very little momentum since their launch and may be a lost cause. The Greens beat the Lib Dems last time but the Lib Dems are doing much better this time, so which to pick? Gina Miller's Remain United website proposes voting Lib Dem across the whole of England as the best chance of beating Nigel. But electorates tend not to vote tactically en masse, so the risk of splitting the Remain vote remains very real.

When the votes are counted next week, the anti-EU party that doesn't want a second referendum is likely to claim that its strong showing is the equivalent of another referendum victory, before disappearing in a puff of logic. There'll be pressure on the two main parties for doing badly, and smiles on the face of smaller parties for doing so well. But the entire procedure likely remains a irrelevance... unless it tips the domino that starts the unstoppable process of leading us towards wherever we're ultimately heading, just like it did in 2014.

London elects 8 MEPs out of the UK's total of 73. Five years ago London chose four Labour MEPs, two Conservatives, one UKIP and one Green. According to latest polling, this time might be very different.

Labour37% (4 MEPs)24% (2 MEPs)
Conservative23% (2 MEPs)10% (1 MEP)
UKIP17% (1 MEP)  0% (0 MEPs)
Brexit Party-20% (2 MEPs)
Green9% (1 MEP)14% (1 MEP)
Lib Dem7% (0 MEPs)17% (2 MEPs)
Change UK-  7% (0 MEPs)

Just to remind you how the European Elections work, the UK is divided up into large regional constituencies each of which elects multiple MEPs. Each party puts forward a list of candidates in each constituency and MEPs are elected from the top of each list in approximate proportion* to the number of votes cast. Electors only get to make one cross on the ballot paper, voting for a party rather than for individual candidates, so it's important to know precisely what those candidates stand for. In normal times that's obvious. But these are not normal times.

Green/Lib Dem/Change UKLabour/ConservativeBrexit Party/UKIP
pro-EUmight be pro, might be antianti-EU

If you're thinking of voting either Labour or Conservative, it pays to know what the candidates on each party's list think of Brexit. I've checked that for London. Nobody from the bottom half of a list is going to get elected, so you really only need to canvass the views of the top four.
Labour's London list
1) Claude Moraes: Current MEP. Has been since 1999. REMAIN, but not loudly so.
2) Seb Dance: Current MEP. Has been since 2014. Staunchly REMAIN.
3) Katy Clark: Formerly Jeremy Corbyn's private secretary. Doesn't support a People's Vote.
4) Laura Parker: Momentum-backed candidate. Supports a People's Vote.
5-8) irrelevant
So if Labour gets two London MEPs they'll both be pro-EU. But if Labour reaches three or more, and Katy Clark slips through, the tally will include someone who doesn't want to be part of Europe. Remain voters might be keen for Labour's total to stop at two.
Conservative London list
1) Syed Kamall: Current MEP. Has been since 2005. Subdued LEAVE. Quietly toeing the government line.
2) Charles Tannock: Current MEP. Has been since 1999. REMAIN, and supports a People's Vote.
3) Joy Morrissey: Ealing Councillor. Failed Mayoral nominee. LEAVE supporter.
4) Tim Barnes: Voted REMAIN, but now says Brexit should go ahead.
5-8) irrelevant
The Conservative top four are more mixed, probably deliberately so. If the Tory tally reaches two or more then its MEPs will be on different sides of the debate. As we've discovered at Westminster lately, personal opinion now generally trumps party loyalty.

If public opinion holds from now until polling day then London would end up with...
❁ ❁ 2 Labour MEPs, Claude and Seb, both REMAIN.
❁ ❁ 2 Brexit MEPs, property mogul Ben and salmon-king Lance, both LEAVE.
❁ ❁ 2 Lib Dem MEPs, lawyer Irina and eBooker Dinesh, both REMAIN.
1 Conservative MEP, Syed, dutifully LEAVE.
1 Green MEP, environmentalist Scott, fiercely REMAIN.
That's five REMAINs and three LEAVEs, which'd be London sticking up its fingers at at the rest of the country. It may not make much of a difference to the national result though. We could even end up with another 52%/48% split...

* The European elections don't use strict proportional representation, but rather an algorithm called the D'Hondt method - a process employing highest averages to allocate seats from party lists. It works by giving the first seat to the party with the most votes, then dividing their vote by 2 and looking at the list again. Whoever's top of the list now gains the second seat, then has their vote divided, and so on until all the seats have been allocated. Votes are always divided by "the number of seats you currently have plus one", so get smaller as the process continues.

The D'Hondt method churns out an end result that's roughly proportional to the number of votes cast without over-rewarding a landslide or under-representing minor parties. It's not perfect, but it does the job. If you're interested, here's an online calculator which allows you to play around with various voting combinations. I've had a go and discovered that in a seat like London it's pretty much impossible to gain an MEP on less than 9% of the vote. In constituencies with fewer than eight seats, even double figures can earn you nothing.

If you'd like a worked-through example, here's how the D'Hondt method was used to determine London's MEPs in the 2014 election.

In 2014 the votes cast in London were as follows.
Labour 806,959 (37%)
Conservative 495,639 (23%)
UKIP 371,133 (17%)
Green 196,419 (9%)
Lib Dem 148,013 (7%)
Others 8%
Labour took the first seat, after which their vote was halved (to 403,479) so the Conservatives now headed the list. They took the second seat after which their vote was halved (to 247,819). The list now looked like this.
Labour '403,479'
UKIP 371,133
Conservative '247,819'
Green 196,419
Lib Dem 148,013
Labour took the third seat, demonstrating how far ahead they were in the original poll, after which their initial vote was divided by three (to 268,986). UKIP now topped the list, so took the fourth seat, after which their vote was halved (to 185,566). The list now looked like this.
Labour '268,986' ❁ ❁
Conservative '247,819'
Green 196,419
UKIP '185,566'
Lib Dem 148,013
Labour took the fifth seat, their third, after which their initial vote was divided by four (to 201,739). The Conservatives took the sixth seat, their second, after which their initial vote was divided by three (to 165,213). The list now looked like this.
Labour '201,739' ❁ ❁ ❁
Green 196,419
UKIP '185,566'
Conservative '165,213' ❁ ❁
Lib Dem 148,013
Labour took the seventh seat, their fourth, after which their initial vote was divided by five (to 161,391). The Greens then took the eighth and final seat, at which point all the arithmetical jiggerypokery ceased. If there had been a ninth seat UKIP would have taken it, and the Lib Dems would have had to wait until seat number twelve so earned absolutely nothing. End result as follows.
Labour ❁ ❁ ❁ ❁
Conservative ❁ ❁
And this time? Maybe ❁ ❁ ❁ ❁ ❁ ❁ . But we'll see.

 Thursday, May 16, 2019

Here's an exhibition you'll enjoy because it's about what's under London, and that's very much your kind of thing. Very probably.

Under Ground London is the latest exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives, and is up and running until October. The LMA is the capital's premier county record office, administered by the City of London and located in Islington. It opens weekdays only, except Fridays, but also the first Saturday of the month, which sorry you've just missed. It's primarily an archive so busy with staff and visitors heading for the reading room, but also free for anyone to wander inside and access the staircase to view the exhibition on the first floor landing. They've packed a lot in.

A quick scan of the subterranean categories displayed includes the obvious - sewers, railways, lost rivers - but also the less obvious - public conveniences, caves, conduits and burials. None of these can be done justice in the space provided but that's not the point, which is to showcase some of the relevant gems the LMA has in its A. Should an old document, photo, illustration or map pique your interest, you could always pop into the research room nextdoor and search for several more like it.

I lapped up plans for Southall's nuclear bunker, never used in anger, with air filters and single sex dormitories clearly marked. I queried the old wives' tale about wild hogs in the Hampstead sewers. I gasped at the intricate network of pits dug beneath Alliance Road in Plumstead. I loved Charles Pearson's unrealised plans for the first Underground railway station at one end of Smithfield Market. I stared for ages at the plans which showed precisely where the River Fleet flowed past buildings since replaced by Farringdon station. I was intrigued by the abandoned cobbled street supposedly hidden under Lilley & Skinner in Oxford Street. I watched the 1970s documentary snippet about Mail Rail with a nostalgic smirk. There was a fascinating nugget on every wall, usually several.

The free exhibition guide with colour cover (as only the City of London can provide) made for a scholarly takeaway summary. My congratulations to the curators for digging out such a densely packed and diverse collection relating to life under London. Half an hour should do it, sometime between now and the end of October.

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jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

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