diamond geezer

 Friday, September 30, 2005

And so ends diamond geezer's third annual tube week. Admittedly I only managed five days of tubular goodness, whereas people like Annie manage this sort of thing day in day out all year. But I continue to be amazed by how much interactive interest the London Underground inspires, and how much tube-related stuff remains to be written about at a later date. I mean, three years in and I still haven't written a tube week post about disused stations. Maybe next year...

Tube watch (15) ssssh... Secret Stuff
• Here's a special tube infrastructure map showing i) where all the depots are, ii) which company owns each line and iii) where all the disused stations are. Ssssh!
Tubeworker is a campaigning blog written by a disgruntled tube worker comrade. "Don’t mind us, we only work here." Ssssh!
• Green Park station has three lifts, eleven escalators, six platforms, and step-free access between the Piccadilly and Jubilee lines. How do I know? Ssssh!
Shoreditch station closes next summer, forever, to make way for the East London Line extension. This deadline is tucked away deep inside London Underground's website, as are hundreds of other fascinating pages. Ssssh!
• If you're delayed by more than 15 minutes on the tube, you can claim a refund online. And you can also complain give feedback about your underground experience online too. Ssssh! They don't want everyone trying it...

Tube quiz (15) Name that station
1) the furthest i) north [Epping] ii) west [Amersham] iii) south [Morden] iv) east [Upminster] on the network
2) Which one of the above answers will change over the next five years, and to what? [1iii) will change to West Croydon, the southern terminus of the East London line extension]
3) the furthest i) north [King's Cross St Pancras] ii) west [Notting Hill Gate] iii) south [Sloane Square] iv) east [Aldgate] on the Circle line?

Tube geek (15) (C)rush hour

The tube network's 20 busiest stations (by peak flow), and the time when they're busiest
08:15 - 08:30 Stratford (16th busiest)
08:30 - 08:45 Bank/Monument (1st), Victoria (4th), Liverpool Street (6th), Moorgate (7th), London Bridge (8th), Baker Street (10th), Finsbury Park (11th), Euston (15th), Earl's Court (18th), Paddington (19th),
08:45 - 09:00 King's Cross St Pancras (3rd), Waterloo (5th), Green Park (9th), Holborn (12th), Embankment (17th)
17:45 - 18:00 Oxford Circus (2nd), Bond Street (13th), Tottenham Court Road (14th), Piccadilly Circus (20th)
tubegeek comment: The City is busy early, mainline stations peak in the morning rush and the West End is busier in the evening

The ten busiest ¼ hours at the three busiest stations
0800             0900             1000 ; 1700             1800             1900
Oxford Circus
0800             0900             1000 ; 1700             1800             1900
King's Cross St Pancras
0800             0900             1000 ; 1700             1800             1900
[data source here]

 Thursday, September 29, 2005

Tube watch (14) Tube watching
Seen on the tube home tonight:
three gangly teenage males in furry anoraks laughing and pointing down the carriage, a small man trying to read half of a half-opened newspaper, chattering Asian mothers, a City bloke apologetically shuffling his bulging gym bag across the floor of the carriage, a fat man sweating home oblivious of his all-pervasive whiffiness, two middle-aged middle managers manoeuvring forcefully towards the door as the train enters the platform, a strap-hanging suited woman staring aimlessly round the carriage, an snoozing bloke with brown sandals cuddling his brown leather bag as he sleeps, a pouting girl applying pinky-red lipstick as the train swerves through the tunnel, young secretarial types tapping away on their mobile phones, two city mates engaged in up-close post-work banter, a tired lady picking her teeth as she flicks through a magazine, a small child failing to wave goodbye to his auntie as the train departs, the same child letting go of an upright pole and having to be rescued from toppling by his worried father, a smiling student just three pages into a foreign novel, one huge yawn, is that woman trying to flirt with me?

Tube quiz (14) Name that tube line - the zone challenge
1) Zone 1 only [Circle, Waterloo & City]
2) Zone 2 only [East London]
3) Zones 1-3 [Victoria]
4) Zones 1-4 [Hammersmith & City]
5) Zones 1-5 [Bakerloo, Jubilee, Northern]
6) Zones 1-6 [Central, District, Piccadilly]
7) Zones 1-D [Metropolitan]

Tube geek (14) Going Underground
Only 45% of the London Underground network is actually underground. The earliest underground railways were shallow sub-surface tunnels, dug using the cut and cover method beneath the roads of central London. By the time later lines came to be built there was only room beneath the ground for deep level tubes. But out in the suburbs the trains arrived in advance of the houses, so there was plenty of space on the surface and no tunnels were required. Today London has a total of 113 miles of tube tunnel (20 cut and cover, and 93 deep level) - an underground nirvana which no mobile phone signal can yet penetrate. So, where are these tunnels? Here's my line-by-line guide to subterranean travel (compiled via geoff's special underground map). I hope it's correct, near enough...

Where the Underground goes underground (very roughly)
Bakerloo: Harrow & Wealdstone → Queen's Park → Kilburn Park → Elephant & Castle
Central: West Ruislip → White City → Shepherd's Bush → Mile End → Stratford Leyton → Leytonstone → Wanstead → Gants Hill → Newbury Park → Hainault → Woodford → Epping
Circle: Edgware Road → Baker Street → King's Cross St Pancras → Farringdon → Barbican → Moorgate → Victoria → Sloane Square South Kensington → Gloucester Road → High Street Kensington Notting Hill Gate Bayswater Paddington Edgware Road
District: Ealing Broadway & Richmond & Wimbledon → Earl's Court → Gloucester Road → South Kensington Sloane Square → Victoria → Aldgate East → Whitechapel → Stepney Green → Mile End → Bow Road → Upminster
East London: Shoreditch → Whitechapel Shadwell → Wapping → Canada Water → Surrey Quays → New Cross (Gate)
Hammersmith & City: Hammersmith → Paddington Edgware Road → Baker Street → King's Cross St Pancras → Farringdon → Barbican → Moorgate → Aldgate East → Whitechapel → Stepney Green → Mile End → Bow Road → Barking
Jubilee: Stanmore → Finchley Road → Swiss Cottage → North Greenwich → Canning Town → Stratford
Metropolitan: Amersham & Watford & Uxbridge → Finchley Road → Baker Street → King's Cross St Pancras → Farringdon → Barbican → Moorgate → Aldgate
Northern: Edgware → Golders Green → Hampstead → ...  / High Barnet & Mill Hill East → East Finchley → Highgate → South Wimbledon → Morden
Piccadilly:  Heathrow → Hounslow West → Hounslow Central → Barons Court → Earl's Court → Bounds Green → Arnos Grove → Southgate → Oakwood → Cockfosters
Victoria:  Walthamstow Central → Brixton
Waterloo & City:  Waterloo → Bank 

 Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tube watch (13) Bow Road station update
When renovation work on my local tube station began we were promised completion by October. Unfortunately that was October 2004, and the whole project has now dragged on almost a year longer than originally planned. Nothing major's happened for months, but the portakabin out the front of the station remains occupied while repairs and renewals continue intermittently inside. New poster frames are still being erected, old surfaces are being repainted, and only last week several random paving slabs on both platforms were mysteriously replaced. Having been wondering for months why this project has taken so long, I've at last uncovered 'the answer' inside September's edition of Metronet's in-house magazine (downloadable here). And who'd have guessed - it's all somebody else's fault...
"Bow Road was the first station on which work started. It is a Section 12 station, which has tougher fire and safety regulations. The reason for the delay has been achieving agreement over the removal of old cables made redundant by our work. There are lots of other utilities' cables that we can’t whip out without prior consent."
Not that this appears to have stopped Metronet from installing huge lengths of new cable at Bow Road. It's been like the spaghetti harvest above some parts of the platforms and stairwells, even if much of the new wiring has now been hidden away inside non-heritage plastic ducting. And as for the 'Section 12' excuse, this relates to special fire safety regulations which apply only to stations which are 'wholly or partly underground'. That's 40% of all the stations on the network, then, including several which Metronet have yet to renovate. But reading elsewhere in the article it seems that an end to the Bow Road upgrade nightmare may (really, genuinely) be nigh.
"Following the 'handover' of the first station – North Harrow – to LU on 13 July, a further six will have been delivered into service by the end of September: Turnham Green, Northwick Park, West Ruislip, Roding Valley, Bow Road and Chigwell."
So the whole circus at Bow Road should be over... by the end of this week! Maybe. I'll let you know if Metronet meet the deadline. What do you think?

Tube quiz (13a) (for everyone): Parklife
How many tube stations can you name which contain the word Park?
[You've found all 24: Belsize Park, Canons Park, Chiswick Park, Elm Park, Finsbury Park, Green Park, Holland Park, Hyde Park Corner, Kilburn Park, Moor Park, Newbury Park, Northwick Park, Park Royal, Queen's Park, Ravenscourt Park, Regent's Park, St James's Park, Stonebridge Park, Tufnell Park, Upton Park, Westbourne Park, Wimbledon Park, Wembley Park, Woodside Park]Tube quiz (13b) (for Londoners): Non bus-y stations
How many tube stations can you name which aren't served by a bus route? (i.e. are more than three minutes walk from a bus stop)
[So far we've definitely got
Arsenal, Barons Court, Covent Garden, Fairlop, Moor Park and Shoreditch. Any more?]

Tube geek (13) Rolling stock
Very different types of rolling stock run on London's different tube lines. Some of this is age-related - for example renovated 1961 carriages are still in use on the Metropolitan line, whereas the Jubilee boasts more modern 1996 stock. But trains are also different because tube tunnels come in two different sizes - taller and wider on sub-surface lines like the District and Circle, and squatter and narrower on deep level tubes like the Bakerloo and Piccadilly. And trains are also different lengths, usually because platforms are different lengths - longest on the Central and Victoria lines and shortest on the Waterloo & City. You can peruse the full technical specifications for all London Underground tube trains here. Or simply scan through my special summary table below. But I need some help with the 'Comfort' rating on the bottom row... any thoughts?

Train length metres41329311113011513266108109109
Train height metres53.693.683.632.872.882.872.872.892.882.88
Train width metres52.952.922.842.642.642.622.622.622.632.63
Train weight tonnes021615614620316717086157176156
Seating capacity0448192280304264272136228248200
Standing capacity01045958958926816930518798773873
Crush capacity6149311501238123010801202654102610211073
Double doors7202401614168121212
Single doors740241211148101010
Comfort (out of 10)09236476?78

Note 1: Includes Metropolitan and East London lines
Note 2: Includes Hammersmith & City, Circle and District (Wimbledon branch)
Note 3: Increasing to seven carriages this Christmas
Note 4: dg estimate, based on length of carriages plus a couple of metres for couplings
Note 5: The first three columns are sub-surface trains, the rest are smaller deep-level tube trains
Note 6: Crush capacity = Seating Capacity + Standing capacity
Note 7: One side of the train only

 Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Tube watch (12) Tube games (a clickable selection)
The London Game - a mighty fine 70s board game that my family used to play slightly too often. Still available from the London Transport Museum Shop (images here, travel version here)
Lobo - a 1930s card game based on the London Underground. See the station cards (most evocative), the rules, and what the network looked like at the time.
The Last Tube - an online interactive adventure from the promoters of tube horror film Creep (impressively playable for a freebie, but rather memory-hungry)
Adventures Underground - slightly interactive online game for kids, courtesy of the London Transport Museum again. Would you like to go on an adventure with Toby the train?
Mind The Bombs - tasteless (and very loud) online game which the Sun newspaper thought was sick (but I just think is rubbish).
Tomb Raider 3 [Level 13] - Aldwych
Mornington Crescent (rules here)

Tube quiz (12) Name that (closed) station
1) closed on Saturdays [Shoreditch]
2) closed on Sundays [Chancery Lane & Cannon Street]
3) no entry on Sunday afternoons [Camden Town]
4) closed before 7am [Shoreditch & Kensington Olympia]
5) closed after 8pm [Roding Valley, Chigwell & Grange Hill]
6) closed until next year [Heathrow Terminal 4 & Queensway]
7) the last three stations to be closed forever [Aldwych, North Weald & Ongar - on 30th Sept 1994]
8) the next station to be closed forever [Shoreditch]

Tube geek (12) Barrier codes
How annoying is it when an automatic ticket barrier refuses you passage? You may try inserting or swiping your card again, usually to no effect, but usually a queue of frustrated travellers builds up rapidly behind you and you have to shuffle off to get your ticket checked manually. It happened to the bloke in front of me at Bow Road yesterday. He was baffled, but the small green number 11 that flashed up briefly on the barrier's electronic display revealed to those of us in the know what his ticketing sin had been. Naughty man. Below are some of the more common ticket/Oyster error codes and their meanings (and if you want the full list you'll find it here).

00 Valid ticket
03 National Rail only (no Underground validity)
07 Code unreadable (usually when ticket is upside down)
09 Ticket damaged
11 Out of date
12 Not valid at this time of day (e.g. Off Peak Travelcard before 0930)
13 Under value (additional fare due)
19 Start date in future
21 Ticket already used for entry
22 Ticket already used for exit
24 Has season ticket but travelled out of zone and has insufficient Pre Pay to cover extension
25 Unstarted journey
26 Entry and exit at same station
34 Exit not allowed (Pre Pay not validated on journey)
41 Ticket used three times in quick succession at same station (entry-exit-entry or exit-entry-exit or purchase-entry-exit)
42 Pass back - double use in one direction
51 Already used for 1 journey (single) or 2 journeys (return)
61 Too long spent making interchange
82 Illogical use of ticket

 Monday, September 26, 2005

Tube watch (11) One hour later
Lots of Londoners would like the tube to run later in the evening. To be honest many drunken partygoers and debauched clubbers would like it to run all through the night, but that's never going to happen because an overnight gap is needed for cleaning and maintenance. Earlier in the year Londoners were asked to vote on a compromise - running services an hour later on Friday and Saturday nights. The results of the survey are now in (in enormous and fascinating detail) and, what do you know, 73% of respondents were in favour. But the proposals would also mean starting tube services one hour later on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and this was by no means universally popular. "How are we going to get to the airport for our early flights?" wailed some, concerned that the first tube from central London to Heathrow on a Sunday morning wouldn't arrive until nine o'clock. And "How the hell are we going to get to work?" asked those who work shifts or weekends, and who face either loss of earnings spent on taxi fares or loss of sleep caused by having to catch a slower, earlier nightbus. The key message from the survey results seems to be that while a later finish might benefit those who choose to have a night out, a later start would disadvantage key workers who have no choice whatsoever. So, expect nothing to change. Or maybe a compromise "half hour later".

Tube quiz (11) Spot the genuine apostrophe
a) Canon's Park, b) Dolli's Hill, c) Earl's Court, d) Gant's Hill, e) Golder's Green, f) King's Cross St Pancras, g) Knight's Bridge, h) Queen's Park, i) Rayner's Lane, j) Regent's Park, k) St James's Park, l) St John's Wood, m) St Paul's, n) Shepherds' Bush
(Correct apostrophes now underlined. Congratulations to Pashmina and Chz for spotting the lot)

Tube geek (11) Overcrowding
Some tube lines are busier than others. Travel from Kensington Olympia to Earl's Court late in the evening and you'll probably have the whole carriage to yourself. But risk a trip southbound through King's Cross on the Victoria line in the early morning rush hour and you'll probably end up more squashed than the proverbial sardine. Here's a tubegeek guide to the busiest station-to-station journeys on the network at morning peak time (courtesy of Transport for London's stats department):

Busiest line: Victoria line southbound
Finsbury Park(10th busiest section)Highbury & Islington(3rd busiest)King's Cross St Pancras(4th busiest)Euston(busiest)Warren Street(2nd busiest)Oxford Circus
tubegeek comment: The most cramped conditions anywhere on the tube are to be found between Highbury & Islington and Oxford Circus, used by in excess of 42000 passengers every morning rush hour.

2nd busiest line: Central line westbound
Leyton(15th busiest)Stratford(14th busiest)Mile End(9th busiest)Bethnal Green(7th busiest)Liverpool Street(5th busiest)Bank(8th busiest)St Paul's(11th busiest)Chancery Lane
tubegeek comment: This explains why I never manage to open my newspaper on my morning commute into Central London

3rd busiest line: Victoria line northbound
Victoria(6th busiest)Green Park(13th busiest)Oxford Circus

4th busiest line: Northern line northbound
Clapham Common(16th busiest)Clapham North(12th busiest)Stockwell

TfL have definitions of what 'overcrowded' means, which I'll illustrate using a Victoria line train as an example:
Seating Capacity means "the total number of Seat Spaces on a given Rolling Stock type" [304 seats per train]
Crush Standing Capacity means "the maximum number of standing Customers that can be accommodated on a Train at a density of seven Customers per square metre" [one train has a standing area of 132¼m², so the Crush Standing Capaciity is 926]
Crush Capacity means "the sum of Crush Standing Capacity and Seating Capacity" [926+304=1230, i.e. more than three times as many passengers standing as sitting]
Fully Loaded Train means "a Train carrying a load which is equivalent to the Crush Capacity multiplied by 72kg" [1230×72kg = 88½ tons of passengers]

Time once again for diamond geezer to go totally tubular with another week devoted to the London Underground. Prepare for five days of quizzes, facts, commentary and obscure statistics. Two years ago I looked at average speeds, the busiest stations, the great north/south divide, picking the right carriage and journeys where it was quicker to walk. Last year I investigated the closest stations, the easiest interchanges, wheelchair accessible platforms, shortest possible journeys and the growth of the network (amongst other things). I wonder how much I'll manage to cram in this year. Mind the doors.

 Sunday, September 25, 2005

Terminal loss

It's an act of faith placing your bank card into a cashpoint machine. You might scrutinise the machine's metal front for evidence of potential tampering, just for a split second, but generally there's no reason why your card shouldn't be completely entrusted to the mechanised interior. You push your small plastic rectangle into the little slot, watch it disappear, do your business and then expect your card to come back. I've been using cashpoints for twenty years (because they're bloody convenient and they save queueing inside the bank for hours) and nothing's gone wrong yet. Until yesterday, that is.

There's a pair of cashpoints on the landing halfway down the escalators at Cutty Sark DLR station. It's always struck me as a strange place for a financial facility, suspended in some artificial transport netherworld, but at least it's usually quiet. It was very quiet yesterday afternoon so I decided to stop off and withdraw some money. I didn't really need some, I could have survived a few more days on the cash content of my wallet, but the convenience of the opportunity attracted me. Drat. And I could have chosen the cashpoint on the right rather than the cashpoint on the left because they were both available, but I didn't. Double drat.

I didn't mean to ask for a balance enquiry on my account, I just pressed the wrong button. Never mind, I thought, I'll just go through the motions, wait a bit and then request a withdrawal. Alas no. It was at this point that the cashpoint's internal computer rebooted. I was no longer being presented with procedural options, just a screenful of technical processing commands - rather like watching a late 20th century PC spluttering back into life after some random internal glitch. The rebooting continued, very very slowly, with more techie gibberish followed by complete and utter blankness. Damn. I stood helplessly watching the empty slot from which it was becoming increasingly evident my card was never going to return. A succession of other travellers used the cashpoint to my right, successfully each time, probably wondering why on earth I was hanging around quite so suspiciously by their side. And finally the stark green words Temporarily Out Of Service flashed up on my screen, and my monetary bereavement was complete.

This is presumably where you expect me to tell you of my continued tale of woe. How I checked my online bank statement and discovered several mammoth withdrawals from a high street I've never visited. How I rang my bank's service centre and spent fifteen munutes struggling to explain to an illiterate foreigner that my card had mysteriously vanished. Or how I'm going to be left destitute for weeks before my replacement card arrives. But no. A human being with a friendly Scottish accent answered my call a split-second after I pressed the button for 'stolen or lost cards'. My replacement card and PIN number should be arriving separately in the post within the week. And if I need any money in the meantime all I have to do is pop into any Abbey branch with photo ID and a bank statement and they'll pay up. Not all UK customer service is yet crap. Hurrah! Although I do have this nagging doubt that as many as three important letters have disappeared on their way to my letterbox over the past few weeks, so I'll not start feeling too optimistic until my new card arrives. And damn, I used to know my 16-digit card number off by heart - now I'll need to learn a new one...

 Saturday, September 24, 2005

Hurricane facts
• Tropical cyclones are called hurricanes in the Atlantic and typhoons in the Pacific.
• Hurricanes rotate anti-clockwise in the northern hemisphere, and clockwise in the southern hemisphere.
• For a hurricane to form, ocean temperature must be at least 26½°C down to a depth of at least 50m.
• One third of Atlantic hurricanes form in September, and three quarters between August and October.

Hurricane force:
Force 1 (minimal): 74-95mph [110 have hit the US since 1851, 1 of them this year]
Force 2 (moderate): 96-110mph [72 have hit the US since 1851]
Force 3 (extensive): 111-130mph [73 have hit the US since 1851, 2 of them this year]
Force 4 (extreme): 131-155mph [19 have hit the US since 1851, 1 of them this year]
Force 5 (catastrophic): 156+mph [3 have hit the US since 1851 - in 1935, 1969 and 1992]

Category 4+ hurricanes to make landfall in the US over the last 50 years:
1960 Donna (4), 1961 Carla (4), 1969 Camille (5), 1989 Hugo (4), 1992 Andrew (5), 2004 Charley (4), 2005 Katrina (4), Rita (4) (3)

The five Atlantic hurricanes with the lowest recorded pressure since records began:
1988 Gilbert (888mb), 1935 Labor Day (892mb), 2005 Rita (897mb), 1980 Allen (899mb), 2005 Katrina (902mb)

2005 tropical cyclone names (with hurricanes underlined):
Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Dennis, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irene, Jose, Katrina, Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Philippe, Rita, (Stan, Tammy, Vince, Wilma)

• Hurricane Able was the first named hurricane, in 1950.
• Only female names were used from 1953 until 1979 - now hurricanes alternate in gender.
• A list of 21 names is picked for each hurricane season. Lists repeat every 6 years.
• This year's list will be reused in 2011, but Katrina and Rita will almost certainly be retired.
• There are only four names left on this year's list. If the names run out (which would be the first time ever) then Greek letters will be used instead.

2005's Atlantic cyclones and hurricanes (very detailed maps & data)
Satellite photographs of this year's hurricanes
Hurricane history (all about the most serious US hurricanes of the last century)
• Hurricane strikes by severity, by decade, by state and by city
More anorakky hurricane facts than you could ever dream of

 Friday, September 23, 2005

While I've been writing about Open House and ITV's 50th, a number of other notable events and anniversaries have slipped under the radar. Here's a few that I missed...

  Sunday, 18 September, 2005   Fifty years ago Britain officially annexed the tiny islet of Rockall, a remote rocky outcrop located 287 miles west of mainland Scotland. Back in 1955 a Royal Navy helicopter lowered two sailors onto the island's only narrow ledge where the Union flag was raised in a shamelessly political attempt to extend British territorial waters. And then they left. An SAS chappie lasted five weeks on Rockall back in 1985, but the only current inhabitants are a few squawking seabirds. When listening to the shipping forecast I've always wondered... (etc etc)

  Monday, 19 September, 2005   Dr Thomas Barnado died 100 years ago today. He's famous for his pioneering children's homes, the first of which opened in 1870 just down the road from me in Stepney. When I was a kid living in cosy suburbia I had a Barnardo's collecting box shaped like a little cottage, in which I (occasionally) used to collect a piddling amount of small change. Every year all of the cottage-fillers in my village were invited to a big garden party at which our boxes were ritually opened and copious thanks showered upon us. Unjustly, in my case, I suspect. I threw a pound coin into a Barnardo's collecting bucket at my local tube station tonight, and I had a nasty feeling that this single donation was larger than everything I'd ever managed to contribute to this fine charity in the past. Next year maybe I should... (etc etc)

  Monday, 19 September, 2005   Everybody's favourite sitcom Fawlty Towers was first broadcast thirty years ago tonight. I remember sitting down and watching it as a curious ten year old, and loving it. Not that the case of Lord Melbury's mistaken identity was the best of the twelve episodes ever made, but all that farcical class snobbery we grew to adore was present right from the very start. John Cleese probably never topped... (etc etc)

  Thursday, 22 September, 2005   We don't have libraries in Tower Hamlets any more. Libraries are old hat. Not even historic Whitechapel Library, the famous intellectual refuge which opened back in 1892 bringing books and culture to the poor undereducated masses of the East End. A huge collection of Jewish texts was built up, overtaken more recently by an even larger set of Bengali books, inspiring several generations to academic greatness. But 21st century locals don't want musty shelves any more, they want internet terminals and beanbags, so this remarkable building finally closed to the public last month. Its replacement is a shiny glass 'Idea Store', up the road next to Sainsbury's, and it opens today. It's the only way to inspire the borough's youth, I know, but I can't help feeling that the Whitechapel Idea Store won't have anywhere near as significant a legacy as its eradicated counterpart... (etc etc)

  Thursday, 22 September, 2005   The London Olympics open in precisely 2500 days time. Not long when there's a stadium or seven to build and an industrial wasteland to eradicate. So far almost nothing tangible has changed on the Stratford Olympic site, but what has changed is that even the tiniest non-event around here is now news. Potential killer turtle spotted; mini nuclear reactor uncovered; giant hogweed on the loose - everything hits the headlines now, however minor. But there's still approximately 500 days to go until the media can report the rather more newsworthy headline 'Olympic demolition starts'. Come visit while you still can... (etc etc)

 Thursday, September 22, 2005

ITV 22 Sept 1955

7.15pm Opening night - live on air from The Guildhall

7.30pm The Hallé Orchestra perform Cockaigne (In London Town) by Sir Edward Elgar

7.45pm Inaugural speeches

8.00pm A sparkling Variety Show from ABC's Television Theatre

[8.12pm Britain's first TV advert, for Gibbs SR toothpaste]

8.40pm Robert Morley introduces excerpts from The Importance of Being Earnest, (starring Dame Edith Evans and Sir John Gielgud), Baker's Dozen (starring Pamela Brown and Alec Guinness) and Private Lives (starring Kay Hammond and John Clements)

9.10pm Professional Boxing - Terrence Murphy v Lew Lazar for the Southern Area Middleweight Championship.

10.00pm News and Newsreel

10.15pm Gala Night at the Mayfair - Leslie Mitchell introduces some of the guests.

10.30pm Star Cabaret with Music by Billy Ternant and his Orchestra.

10.50pm Preview - a glimpse of some of the programmes to come on Independent Television during the coming months.

11.00pm Epilogue, National Anthem and close-down.

(relive opening night here)
ITV 22 Sept 2005

6:00am GMTV - litenews and lifestyle from the banal comfy sofa

9:25am Inbred council estate scum shout at one another

10:30am Daytime filler, including Fern & Philip, Loose Women and some cheap antiques trading

3:30pm CITV (because it's worth making programmes for children young consumers these days)

5:00pm Paul O'Grady meets Cilla Black, and the world shudders

6:00pm Local News, almost the only nod to ITV's regional past

6:30pm Evening News, because bad stuff happens

7:00pm Emmerdale - the lesbian vet is on trial again, and the sheep are worried

8:00pm The Bill - a live edition of the popular copsoapdrama

[8.12pm Britain's five millionth TV advert, for dental whitening surgery]

9:00pm 49 Up - a bit of sheer documentary class, just to prove ITV can still cut it

10:30pm News at Ten (thirty)

11:00pm Regional programme produced on a shoestring for an audience of twelve

11:35pm An American movie for you to fall asleep during

1:50am Cheap overnight fillers
ITV 22 Sept 2055

6:00am A celebration of 100 years of Independent Terrestrial Vision, presented by Sir Ant and Lord Dec

6:30am News for subscribers (but 30 minutes of pop-up adverts for the rest of you)

7:00am Who wants to be a EuroMillionnaire?

7:30am Coronation Street - Ken Barlow's twelfth stag night doesn't quite go according to plan

8:00am I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, live from the fifth moon of Saturn (hosted by Brooklyn Beckham and She-droid XQ9)

[8.12pm Personal adverts delivered to your hovercouch by hologram]

9:00am 99 Up, in which Tony's great great grandchildren club together to buy him a surprise parachute jump and Lynn looks forward to early retirement

10:00am Ads at Ten

10:30am Heartbeat - Aidensfield Police tackle another quaint early 21st century shoot-to-kill drugs bust

11:00am You've Been Cloned

11:30am Wish You Were Here, featuring a cruise to Alpha Centauri and a scuba diving holiday in Birmingham-on-Sea

12 noon Programme loop repeats

6:00pm Programme loop repeats

12 midnight Programme loop repeats

 Wednesday, September 21, 2005

An (über-clickable) ITV 50 : Tiswas, Upstairs Downstairs, The South Bank Show, Brideshead Revisited, 7/14/21/28/35/42/49 Up, The Krypton Factor, Metal Mickey, University Challenge, Robin of Sherwood, Sunday Night at the London Palladium, Game For A Laugh, Gus Honeybun, The Saint, Cracker, The Jewel In The Crown, Blockbusters, The New Statesman, Rainbow, Inspector Morse, Thunderbirds, The Prisoner, Sapphire and Steel, Interceptor, Press Gang, Tales of the Unexpected, Mr and Mrs, Emmerdale, Knightmare, 3-2-1, Rising Damp, Sale of the Century, Take Your Pick, Magpie, Gladiators, Prime Suspect, Crown Court, The Avengers, How, Whicker's World, Spitting Image, The Sweeney, Ready Steady Go, Crossroads, Opportunity Knocks, Bullseye, Whoops Apocalypse, Emergency Ward Ten, Cluedo, World In Action and that soap opera with the killer tram (Did I miss anything?)

ITV 50 (a semi-clickable history)

Franchise birth:
1955: Rediffusion (London), ATV (London weekend)
1956: Granada (North), ATV (Midlands), ABC (North weekend & Midlands weekend)
1957: Scottish (Central Scotland)
1958: Southern (South), TWW (S Wales & West)
1959: Anglia (E), Tyne Tees (NE), Ulster (N Ireland)
1961: Westward (SW), Grampian (N Scotland), Border (S Scotland)
1962: Channel (Channel Islands), Teledu Cymru (N Wales)
1983: TV-am

Franchise changeover:
1968: ABC & Rediffusion → Thames, ATV → London Weekend, Granada (E) → Yorkshire, TWW & Teledu Cymru → HTV
1982: ATV → Central, Southern → TVS, Westward → TSW
1993: Thames → Carlton, TVS → Meridian, TSW → Westcountry, TV-am → GMTV

Franchise takeover/merger
1993: Yorkshire merge with Tyne Tees
1994: Carlton takeover Central, Granada takeover LWT
1996: Carlton takeover Westcountry
1997: Granada takeover Yorkshire/Tyne Tees, Scottish takeover Grampian
2000: Granada takeover Anglia and Meridian, Carlton takeover HTV
2004: Granada merge with Carlton and Border to form ITV plc

Franchises today
2005: ITV, Scottish, Ulster, Channel

 Tuesday, September 20, 2005

London Open House: It's four years ago this week since I first moved to London, and events like Open House remind me just how little of the capital I've so far seen. It's always a joy to discover a new treat, and thankfully there must many more delights I have yet to experience. Here are details of the final three of the nine visits I crammed in this weekend [and my photos are here]

Crossness Pumping Station: There are always queues on Open House weekend, but I wasn't expecting to find them at an old sewage works on the Thames marshes in deepest Bexley. The old dear driving the ageing minibus from Abbey Wood station had never seen the like either. We'd endured a rattly journey past Thamesmead and down a godforsaken approach road, before being dropped off outside an unexpectedly ornate brick building in the middle of almost nowhere. The smell of effluent filled the air, which made the snaking queue of locals and curious centre-of-towners all the more surprising. The stench was coming from the modern sewage works just along the river but we were here to see its Victorian predecessor - the pioneering and palatial Crossness Pumping Station.

You'll remember from last month's journey down the River Fleet that London's sewage problem was finally solved in the 1860s by master engineer Joseph Bazalgette. Crossness was his crowning glory, the ultimate destination of all the icky brown waste in South London which was piped here so that it could could be stored in huge subterranean reservoirs before being pumped out into the Thames on the ebb tide. And to do the pumping Bazalgette constructed four huge beam engines, each able to lift more than a thousand gallons of sewage in one stroke. The scale of the operation is phenomenal, with 47 ton iron beams rising and falling with the rotation of enormous flywheels spinning beneath. Only one engine has so far been restored, by a group of willing volunteers who clearly love nothing more than the allure of steam and sooty hands. They've done a particularly good job on the decorative ironwork around the central 'Octagon', although even the rustiest corners of the building still retain a genuine industrial charm.

Crossness proved a fascinating building to explore, not just the main hall but also down into the dark pipe-filled bowels and up the winding staircase to the broad ironwork floor at beam level. We were only afforded a glimpse of the dilapidated Triple Expansion Engine House nextdoor, which still waits for an injection of Heritage Lottery Fund cash and for restoration. Meanwhile outside in the old boiler room (safety helmets off) a Museum of Sanitation is being established. Look - a row of old porcelain toilet pedestals! See - a collection of 19th century bedpans! Lo - a roll of Izal medicated toilet tissue! All a little twee perhaps, but the importance of this building to the long-term health of South London should not be overestimated.
(full details on the highly informative and well-illustrated Crossness website)

Trinity Buoy Wharf: It may sound ludicrous but London does indeed have its own lighthouse, situated on the thin strip of land where the river Lea enters the Thames, just to the north of the Millennium Dome. The lighthouse was never used to warn of underwater hazards but was instead kitted out by Trinity House back in Victorian times as a testing ground for their latest lighthouse technology. The site today is surprisingly inaccessible given its proximity to Docklands, with road access hidden away down a shabby industrial backstreet in the southeast corner of Tower Hamlets. There are great views of the Dome and the Thames from the top of the lighthouse, the interior artily filled by the computer generated ringing of Tibetan 'singing bowls' performing a 1000-year sound symphony (honest).

The rest of the wharf site is a strange mix of old and new, and oddly enchanting. An old red lightship is tied up a few yards from a genuine aluminium American diner. Brightly coloured metal containers have been piled up to create low cost office and studio space in a pioneering (keyword: sustainable) project called Container City, which us weekend visitors got to peer inside. Few central London office blocks can beat its low cost riverside panorama. And out at the end of Jubilee Pier I was surprised to be allowed access to the Vic 56 - an 85 foot long WW2 steamboat. There was no gangplank so I had to clamber aboard over the side of both the pier and the boat - rather inexpertly and inelegantly I thought. But it was a treat to wander the decks of this partly restored ship, clambering over ropes and climbing to the wheelhouse, and to meet and talk to the present owners. Seaworthy at least as far as Harwich, apparently, and no shortage of volunteers wanting to hide themselves away in the grimy engine room and stoke the steam engines.

Bank of England: There's only one bank to which we all belong but from which we can never draw money. All the more strange then to be allowed access to the Bank of England first thing on a Sunday morning. I had my rucksack searched by a top hatted security gent in a pink frock coat, and was then taken on a tour of (some of) this mighty fortress's interior by a softly spoken bank worker. As you'd expect the decor is magnificent, from fine crafted Derbyshire limestone walls to painstakingly beautiful mosaics underfoot. Corridors stretch off into the distance, a cantilever staircase rises seven storeys into the sky, and three floors of basement and vaults are hidden underfoot. We trudged through the Governor's office (he has a cheap black plastic government-issue pencil stand on his desk containing just one yellow highlighter pen) and on up the stairs to the room where the Bank of England decide the UK interest rate each month. Every wall and ceiling screamed opulence, especially in the facsimile Court Room, although we were assured that most of the bank's offices were rather more utilitarian. Our tour ended in the Bank of England's mini museum, where I took the opportunity to handle a genuine (and surprisingly heavy) gold bar - worth either 28 pounds or a hundred thousand pounds depending on whether you're weighing it or buying it. The queue was at least two hours long by the time I got back outside - bloody typical even for a top bank, I thought.

 Monday, September 19, 2005

London Open House: Details below of three more properties I visited over the weekend. Still to come tomorrow, the room where they decide UK interest rates, a Victorian sewage cathedral and London's only lighthouse. [and see my photos here]

BBC Broadcasting House: The original BBC Broadcasting House was built in 1932, an Art Deco masterpiece at the top of Regent Street [explore the interior here]. Wartime news broadcasts, Listen with Mother and Desert Island Discs - they all came from here, as have millions more hours of BBC radio broadcasts. Now the building is undergoing refurbishment as part of a multi-million pound construction project (don't worry, none of it is coming out of the licence fee), due for final completion in 2010. To the east of old Broadcasting House a new building is being erected on the ruins of Egton House, and between the two there'll be a new public piazza where it's hoped concerts will be staged. On the roof of the east wing a glass cone sculpture [photo] has just been erected as a memorial to journalists and crew killed while on assignment. A laser beam installed inside will fire a beam of light high into the London sky at key moments of national importance (such as the death of a monarch or the start of the Ten O'Clock News). It's like the Batsignal made real, and it's due to be switched on for the first time next year.

As part of London Open House I was lucky enough to get a space on one of the very limited tours that took place this weekend, so I've been inside to see the old and the new. The Art Deco entrance foyer has been sympathetically restored, complete with Latin inscription to "the temple of the arts and muses" and a glowing white reception desk. We were taken inside up a narrow utilitarian 1932 staircase to the BBC Board of Governors' council chamber which, like the whole of the building, had been gutted and restored (now with sprung wood floor to conceal multimedia cabling). On the floor above we entered the holy of public broadcasting holies - the Director General's Office. It's empty at the moment, and will be until the whole building project is complete, but I felt quite at home in the DG's lair. On to a more modern facilty in the heart of the building - the new Radio 4 drama studio. The original studio suffered from vibrations every time a Bakerloo line train passed underneath, so the new facility has been very carefully sprung and soundproofed. There are front doors with knockers and bells for that authentic radio sound effect, as well as two sets of stairs, a bedroom and even a kitchen sink. Finally on to the new open-plan offices on the top floor and out onto the balcony at the front of Broadcasting House. We stood beside the big clock beneath the tall white 'radio mast' and enjoyed a most impressive view south over All Souls' church towards Regent Street [photo]. The whole tour, though brief, was a fascinating insight behind the scenes of a national landmark just before the broadcasters move back in. And I'm sure it'll be lovely when it's finished.
(full details on the BBC's very detailed New Broadcasting House website)

Alexandra Palace: The BBC's other key acquisition in the 1930s was a failed amusement centre located high atop Muswell Hill in North London. Alexandra Palace had first opened to the public in 1873, and then promptly burnt to the ground 16 days later. The replacement building wasn't much more successful, long term, and so was vacant when the BBC came looking for a base for their inaugural high-definition television service. A competition was held between John Logie Baird and Marconi-EMI to see who had the better broadcasting technology, so two studios were built at either end of the building to give them both an equal chance. The world's first public television broadcast was made from the Baird studios on 2nd November 1936. Programmes were shown for just two hours a day (except on Sundays) and could only be received by the very few with appropriate receiving equipment living within 25 miles or so of the site. Eventually the 405-line EMI system won out, until the service was interrupted for six years by World War Two during which time the TV mast was used to jam German navigation signals instead. BBC TV production moved to Lime Grove in the Fifties but television news continued here until the Seventies at which point those bearded Open University types moved in. Then in 1980 Alexandra Palace was hit by another catastrophic fire, the BBC cancelled its lease and the studios fell into disrepair.
(highly recommended histories of Ally Pally here, here and here)

Saturday's studio tour was hosted by the Alexandra Palace Television Society, whose dream it is to restore this unique slice of broadcasting heritage to some sort of working operation. These very keen amateurs have assembled a fine collection of historical televisual ephemera, from an old BBC television camera to 70-years worth of old TV sets. As part of their presentation we got to watch a video of the cinema newsreel that reported the opening transmission of the new television service in 1936. A Thirties glamourpuss sang a scarily over-the-top song in praise of television (X-Factor it wasn't), and the realisation that she had sung on the very spot where we were sitting sent a chill down my spine.

After an all-too-brief a look round the exhibits our next stop was back in the main building. Here the main attraction is now a municipal ice rink, and I don't think I've ever seen quite so many cocky adolescent girls in fluffy hooded jackets and snarling sportswear-attired boys as I did in the lengthy snaking queue. We headed instead to the old Victorian Theatre. Nothing quite prepared us for the experience as we emerged from the foyer into a cavernous dark space that had once been an auditorium. The theatre had never quite been a success, not least because acoustics and lines of sight were poor, and several decades of neglect made for a very sorry sight indeed. Naturally there's a charitable band of volunteers dedicated to restoring the rotting boards and crumbling ceiling, although I couldn't help thinking they were in danger of spending several years and several hundreds of thousands of pounds on rescuing a theatre that couldn't possibly stand on its own two feet financially. Still, good luck to them, and if you ever get the opportunity to peer inside, do.

19 Princelet Street: Tucked away in a quiet street between Spitalfields and Brick Lane lies a unique 18th century silk weaver's house, now an extraordinary museum. Over the years this house has been occupied by generations of immigrants, first Huguenots fleeing from France and later Jews who built a Victorian synagogue in the back garden. Astonishingly the house and synagogue still stand - but only just, and £3 million is needed to stave off the threat of decay and possible collapse. The exhibition inside depicts the history of East End immigration, right up to modern Bangladeshi and Somali arrivals, using the symbolism of piled-up suitcases. Impressively the majority of the displays throughout have been contributed by local Tower Hamlets schoolchildren, most of whom are immigrants themselves. It's genuinely inspiring stuff, putting across powerful messages with simplicity and clarity. No wonder there were queues outside all weekend (thanks for keeping me company, Ben). Due to the house's fragile nature the museum is only open for a handful of days each year, but I'd urge you to visit this hidden treasure at the next available opportunity.
(make a virtual visit to 19 Princelet Street here)

 Sunday, September 18, 2005

www.flickr.com: London Open House 2005
(30 photos taken this weekend all around London)

London Open House: It's that weekend again, the one where hundreds of London properties open their normally-closed doors to the public (but no Gherkin this year). There are probably too many buildings open, to be honest, because you'd need more than one lifetime to get round them all. But I managed five yesterday from across the capital, and I'm off out again today to visit some more (so I'm in a bit of a rush). Here's where I've been so far, and I'll come back tomorrow and tell you a bit more about the top two.

BBC Broadcasting House: currently closed during a hu-uuge rebuilding project. I've stood on the roof, I've stood in the new Radio 4 drama studio, and I've even stood in the DG's office. Which was kind of appropriate. (more tomorrow)

Alexandra Palace: I can't tell you how spooky it was to watch a video of the world's very first television programme in the same studio (on the very spot) where that broadcast was recorded. (more tomorrow)

Wellcome Trust, Gibbs Building: This year-old office space on the Euston Road won the RIBA 2005 Prize for its architecture, and from the inside you can see why. There's a huge central atrium, there are several floors of glass-walled open workspaces and, most impressively, there's a stunning seven-storey sculpture (called Bleigiessen) made from a hundred thousand glass beads threaded on thin wires in a sort of dangly globby shape that glows and shimmers. See photo left. Lovely.

Kingsley Hall: A few hundred yards down the road from me, in Bromley-by-Bow, there's a community centre with a unique history. I've written about the place before (full history here) but I'd never previously ventured inside. Mahatma Gandhi stayed here for several weeks in 1931 on his only visit to London, advancing the case for Indian home rule (and meeting local people), while psychologist RD Laing took over the centre in the 60s for a not terribly successful schizophrenia project. The current beardy centre manager showed a leftish group of us around, from the pool tables on the first floor to Gandhi's tiny cell on the roof. I was most impressed by the commitment of all those here to peace and to the community, and it's a place I'm proud to have as a neighbour. (more information here)

A13 Artscape: Of all the things I could have done yesterday afternoon, I chose to take a minibus tour down the A13 through Barking and Dagenham. You might think that I was mad. I was certainly the only person on the tour (although I was told that the noon tour had been packed). But I wanted to see a pioneering urban art project which has engineered new landscapes and landmarks alongside what it has to be said is one of London's dreariest arterial roads. My guide in the minibus was the borough's Head of Arts Services, so she was duly passionate about a couple of subways, a lot of fencing and some lights on sticks. And, by the end of the tour, so was I. The various projects along the road are both innovative and functional, from the airport-style lights of Holding Pattern to the towering tarmac cones on the Goresbrook roundabout. The upgraded subways heal the scar cut across underprivileged communities by the A13, and carefully chosen fencing and tree-planting will give the road a new kind of rhythm. Four million quid has transformed dreary and unsafe locations into welcoming public spaces of which the borough are rightly enormously proud. The rest of London would do well to follow their lead. (official website here)

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