Friday, June 30, 2006
World Cup (neighbours) quiz: There are 32 countries taking part in the 2006 World Cup. Can you identify them from this list of 'countries next-door'? For each participating nation I've listed (up to) two of the neighbouring countries with which they share a land border. Can you identify all 32 competing countries? Quick, before the quarter finals kick off.
For example, if China had been in the World Cup the clue might have been "India, Mongolia". But they're not.
1) Albania, Romania
2) Andorra, Portugal
3) Austria, Slovakia
4) Belarus, Romania
5) Belgium, Denmark
6) Belgium, Germany
7) Bosnia Herzegovinia, Hungary
8) Finland, Norway
9) France, Liechenstein
10) Germany, Lithuania
11) Luxembourg, Spain
12) San Marino, Slovenia
13) Scotland, Wales
15) Jordan, Yemen
16) Pakistan, Turkey
17) North Korea
18) Algeria, Libya
19) Benin, Ghana
20) Congo, Namibia
21) Ivory Coast, Togo
22) Liberia, Mali
23) Canada, Mexico
24) Guatemala, USA
25) Nicaragua, Panama
26) Bolivia, Brazil
27) Bolivia, Chile
28) Colombia, Peru
29) Uruguay, Venezuela
30) no neighbours
31) no neighbours
32) no neighbours
Useful links: <teams> <teams & map> <maps>
(Answers in the comments box)
posted 07:00 :
Stuff-to-do in London: Front Page
Where? British Library
When? 25 May - 8 October 2006
The British Library saves a copy of every newspaper published in the UK, from the national press to the Stornoway Gazette, and stores them all away in a warehouse in Colindale. Now they've assembled 200 of the most memorable front pages published over the last 100 years - from "Titanic: 'no lives lost'" to "Gotcha" - in an impressive free exhibition. Some of the older newspapers look a little folded and faded, but the headlines still maintain their impact. It's a fascinating way to review the major news stories of the last century, as well as a bit of a jolt when you see a front page you remember from first time around. Top attraction is an 'interactive newsroom' where you can sit down at a computer and attempt to assemble your own newspaper front page. Play the game properly and you can even print out the final life-size result (complete with your own photo and byline) and take a copy away with you. And there are plenty of other newsprint freebies too. Recommended for a visit (about an hour should cover it) or, if you're a bit too far away, you can sample the online exhibition here.
posted 00:15 :
Thursday, June 29, 2006Would you credit it?
The UK's first credit card was introduced 40 years ago today. I had a credit card once. My bank gave it to me when I was a student and offered me an impressive £100 credit limit. When I failed to use my card they doubled this to £200, then tried £500, but all to no avail - I wasn't temptable. I still get several desperate junkmail missives from banks every month begging me to consider taking out a Platinum Visa 0% Transfer Bonus Gold Card, or similar, but they're all wasting their time. My ordinary bank debit card does me just fine, and I'll happily leave the debt-accumulating, rate-tarting and balance-juggling to others.
Barclaycard was launched on Wednesday 29th June 1966.
The original Barclaycard company was set up in a converted shoe factory in Northampton. It was, quite literally, all a load of old cobblers.
The first Barclaycards were sent, unsolicited, to 1,008,387 of Barclays' most creditworthy customers. Many sent the card straight back.
From day one Barclaycard boasted a network of 30,129 retailers across the country.
1966 customers could spend a maximum of £100 on their card - roughly equivalent to the average credit limit for a new customer today.
Initially at least, every single transaction had to be verified over the phone with a member of Barclaycard staff.
Barclaycard's first UK competitor was the Access card (your flexible friend), launched jointly in 1972 by Lloyds, Midland, NatWest and the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Credit cards are 85mm long, 54mm wide and 1mm deep.
There are now 70 million credit cards in the UK (plus 67 million debit cards and 5 million charge cards).
63% of British adults have a credit card (it's 80% in the USA).
Last year 282 plastic transactions took place every second in the UK.
A typical Barclaycard APR (Annual Percentage Rate) is 17.9% - equivalent to charging you an extra 1.38% every month.
The average UK interest rate on credit card lending is currently 15.5% (around 11 percentage points above base rate). An APR of 15.5% is dead convenient if you pay off your complete balance every month, and daylight robbery if you don't.
25% of UK credit card accounts bear no interest. The other 75% are being screwed.
If you'd bought a mini skirt on plastic back in the heady days of June 1966 and merely paid off the minimum amount each month, your debt would now be the size of a small African country.
Britain's personal debt increases by £1 million every four minutes.
Britons owe a total of £56 billion on credit cards (but £999 billion on mortgages).
14 million adults (35%) rely on their overdrafts to get by each month, 3½ million are permanently overdrawn and two million workers start each month in overdraft even after they've been paid.
The average debt of a client contacting the Consumer Credit Counselling Service for advice is now £32000.
On average it would take Citizens Advice Bureau clients 77 years to pay back their debts in full.
Plastic overtook cash as the main form of payment in the UK in 2004.
Last year plastic was used for 63% of all UK retail spending.
If you're the twat I got stuck behind the other day who was paying for a newspaper and a bottle of water by credit card, then I hope your reproductive organs shrivel up and die you lazy cashless bastard.
<source> <source> <source>
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, June 28, 2006Silver discs (June 1981)
A monthly look back at the top singles of 25 years ago
Sorry, there I was thinking 1981 was the top year for music, and then along comes the top five from hell. 1) Smokey Robinson - Being With You. 2) Michael Jackson - One Day In Your Life. 3) Kate Robbins - More Than In Love. 4) Red Sovine - Teddy Bear. 5) Champaign - How 'Bout Us. I take it all back.
The three best records from the rest of the Top 10 (16th June 1981)
Hazel O'Connor - Will You?: From Breaking Glass (the post-punk movie musical) came this surpremely laid-back ballad. But sorry Hazel, the true star here was session musician Wesley Magoogan whose extended saxophone solo at the end of the song raised goosebumps along the tingling spines of all who heard it. Wes and Hazel's lawyers had a bit of a tiff over copyright payments, but you'll be glad to hear it's all sorted now. And if you're 24 years old, you might just have been conceived during this nigh perfect slice of rampant sax.
"You drink your coffee and I sip my tea... but it's getting kind of late now, oh I wonder if you'll stay now, ...or will you just politely say goodnight?"
Odyssey - Goin' Back To My Roots: They're not the greatest lyrics in the world, but then it's hard to rhyme anything genealogically relevant to "roots". Here Odyssey reflected upon increasing black American interest in African ancestry, not that this mattered much to Brits shuffling round their handbags in some Saturday night suburban disco. Lillian and Louise had true soul, but even 25 years later I still have no idea what they were singing about in this record's introductory warble.
"Zippin' up my boots, goin' back to my roots, yeah. Take the place of my birth back down to earth"
Ultravox - All Stood Still: Look I know this isn't a true classic, it's just good, but there wasn't much left to choose from after that rubbish Top 5. I could tell you that this was Ultravox's first single also to be released on 12 inch, except that you wouldn't care so let's move on...
"The turbine cracked up, the buildings froze up, the system choked up, what can we do? Please remember to mention me in tapes you leave behind"
My favourite three records from June 1981 (at the time)
Our Daughter's Wedding - Lawnchairs: File under "Bands named after section dividers in greeting card display stands". File under "Obscure New York New Wave". And file under "Fantastic". It baffles me why this quirky synth tune never made the charts (unless you count reaching number 49, which I don't), but I'd take a bet that anybody who still remembers Lawnchairs loves it. It may have been simple (plink plink plink - plink plink plink - plink plink), the lyrics may have been half insane ("she's a boy that we like and he's gonna go far) and the UK release should clearly have been called Deckchairs instead, but then the magic would have gone. Everybody deserves a secret track which they adore but nobody else ever quite caught on to, and this is mine.
"Lawnchairs are everywhere, they're everywhere in my mind, describe them to me, to me"
Depeche Mode - New Life: One failed single down, the Basildon boys came back with this childlike electronic operetta. And this time it worked. A memorable Top Of The Pops appearance propelled the unlikely lads into the Top 40, four suited teens who looked more like bank clerks than popstars. Back then an impossibly cute Dave Gahan danced with an embarrassed wiggle, light years away from the addled crackhead he would later evolve into. But then Depeche Mode have evolved more than most over the last 25 years, so New Life was a perfect point to begin. [New Life on youtube]
"I stand still stepping on the shady streets and I watched that man to a stranger. You think you only know me when you turn on the light, now the room is lit, red danger"
The Evasions - Wikka Wrap: Most comedy records are only funny once (if that). This Alan Whicker piss-take - a string of rap clichés expertly stitched over the classic Chic Good Times bass bed - still makes me smile. It sounded like any other US rap record around at the time, except that the narrator was a plummy Brit and the lyrics were more leisure-suit than ghetto. UK hip hop doesn't get more old school than this. Ever mindful of this record's place in history, Coolio immortalised one memorable line ("1, 2, 3, 4, get your woman on the floor") in his 1996 hit 1234 (Sumpin' New). Personally I'm most excited by having just uncovered the 12 inch version available for free download, here. Utterly far out, man.
"As you can see it's all too easy to get wrapped up in the kaleidoscope of sounds, the handclaps and the bass throb erotically, and the piano tinkles invitingly like so much crushed ice into a dry martini."
15 other hits from 25 years ago: Being With You (Smokey Robinson), One Day In Your Life (Michael Jackson), More Than In Love (Kate Robbins), Teddy Bear (Red Sovine), How 'Bout Us (Champaign), Funeral Pyre (The Jam), All Those Years Ago (George Harrison), Spellbound (Siouxsie & The Banshees), Take It To The Top (Kool & The Gang), Piece Of The Action (Bucks Fizz), If Leaving Me Easy (Phil Collins), Too Drunk To F**k (Dead Kennedys), Would I Lie To You? (Whitesnake), Dancing On The Floor (Third World), Norman Bates (Landscape) ...which hit's your favourite? ...which one would you pick?
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, June 27, 2006Making less mistakesI must endeavour to make less grammatical mistakes.It's been drawn to my attention, by several pedants on several occasions, that I have a real problem with my use of the word "less". I use "less" far more frequently than I ought, in particular on occasions when I should be using the word "fewer" instead. I'll write something like "I got less visitors last Saturday than on any day since Christmas" and somebody will pop up in the comments box and chirrup "It's not less, it's fewer, for heaven's sake don't you know any better you ignorant bastard" or words to that effect. So I'd like to apologise, unreservedly and wholeheartedly, if I've offended your grammatical sensibilities either this week or in the past. But it's an easy mistake to make.
I must endeavour to make less grammatical mistakes.
I must endeavour to make less grammatical mistakes.
I must endeavour to make less grammatical mistakes.
I must endeavour to make
lessfewer grammatical mistakes.
According to commenters BW, NiC, Chris (and indeed the unyielding rules of the English language) the difference between "less" and "fewer" comes down simply to whether something is countable or not:Fewer is used with discrete countable items, less with non-countable amounts.It's that straight-forward. If I can count it then I should use "fewer", otherwise I should "less". And yes, I understand this perfectly. I even scored full marks in the online test that Chris suggested I have a go at, because counting is something that I'm good at. What I'm not so good at is spotting when to do the counting. My subconscious lets me get away with writing "less" every time because it sounds right, without me ever pausing to question whether "less" might perhaps be "fewer" instead. As with so many errors in so many walks of life, if you never notice that you're making a particular mistake then you're unlikely to be able to rectify it.
Fewer eggs, less milk. Fewer grains of salt, less salt.
So I need to try hard to make this particular grammatical error far fewer often. I must write "less" on less occasions, and "fewer" fewer infrequently. It's the fewest I can do. But realising precisely when to use "less" and when to use "fewer" remains fewer than obvious to me. Personally I blame my primary school teachers. If they'd wasted fewer time teaching me gorgeous italic handwriting (which is fewer than usefewer in this digital age) then I might have picked up more of the key rules of grammar instead. But one can't improve one's English unfewer one's mistakes are identified. That's why I've been much too carefewer on countfewer occasions in the past. Sorry, it's all been mindfewer thoughtfewerness on my part. Bfewer you all for pointing out my linguistic reckfewerness. I recognise now that my writing has been fewer than perfect, and I've learnt my feweron. But don't expect less mistakes overnight. Quite frankly I still couldn't care fewer.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, June 26, 2006University Challenged
(nb - this is a companion post to "It's exactly twenty years today since I went to university")
It's exactly twenty years today since I left university. Twenty years since I discovered that I didn't know as much as I thought I did. Twenty years since I stopped drinking coffee at three in the morning and wondering who'd nicked my milk from the fridge. Twenty years since I waved goodbye to certainty and stepped out into the real world. All in all twenty years since I've been out here making a go of things on my own. And I was lucky, I got through the system back when it pretty much guaranteed you a job, not a five figure debt.
My last term at university passed in a blur. Most students get stuck into a decent social life at the beginning of their course then tone things down at the end for revision purposes. I went the other way, slowly upping my number of friends until my college room was the heart of our social circle. Making friends with the second years who didn't have big exams to prepare for helped keep the visitors flowing, as did a never-empty jar of Nescafé and one of the few television sets in college. I'd never before managed to hold down quite so many close acquaintances and, bar just a few months rather more recently, my social life's never been as busy since.
The examination dates for my subject were right at the end of term. My college was keen to throw everybody else out of their accommodation to make way for a far more profitable conference of grown-ups, but those of us with late exams were permitted to stay on within the dwindling community of remaining students. The weather during exam week was ridiculously hot so I was literally sweating over every question, and the World Cup was on too, so Maradona's Hand of God was a most unwelcome interruption during my last night of revision. By the time I'd sat my final paper it was evident that my degree wasn't going to be a stunning one, so the alcoholic celebrations at the end of those last three hours were more in relief than exuberance. I was at least sober enough to be pissed off by my fellow examinees spraying fizzy lager all over my room, and thankfully managed to keep the lunatic in the corridor wielding a fire extinguisher from gaining entrance.
My last 24 hours at university were a bit of a rollercoaster. I was trying to lap up the last few hours of the university experience, only to discover that normality had already departed. I retrieved one last camera film from the chemist only to discover that it hadn't wound on properly, so the memories contained in my last college photographs were all superimposed and therefore useless. And in my pigeonhole I received yet another rejection letter from yet another company who didn't want me - more my loss than theirs, I suspect. When my Dad finally arrived to cart away all my belongings I had absolutely no idea where any future career might be heading, just that life would never be quite so easy ever again. Or quite so much fun.
I now rarely communicate with those university friends who I used to know so well. I exchange Christmas cards with a few of them, in which we often scribble how nice it would be to see each other again but never do. I've forgotten virtually everything I was ever taught as part of my three year course, although I still keep folders of now-incomprehensible lecture notes in my spare room. And nobody comes round for coffee until three in the morning any more, which is probably just as well because I realise now that we could never put the world to rights anyway. Few moments in my life were quite so much of a jolt as that sunny June day twenty years ago when, with a tear in my eye, I walked out of the known into the unknown. Maybe that's why, after a lot of head-scratching, I went straight back in again in September and did another year...
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, June 25, 2006Arty weekend (because there's a lot of it about)
1) Greenwich + Docklands International Festival
Before the Sultan's Elephant there was the GDIF, a grand gala of theatre and spectacle on the streets of East-ish London. This is the festival's tenth year, and last night it was Bow's turn for a touch of international glamour avec "Les Roues de Couleurs". Normally at half past nine on a Saturday night Roman Road is home to pubbers, kebabbers and bulging teenagers eating chips. They were still here last night, but swept up in a smiling crowd come to watch semi-naked Frenchmen rolling giant wheels down this narrow shopping street. Imagine if you will pairs of fabric-swathed metal hoops, each joined by a central axle and spun round by a human operator wearing little more than a loincloth and caked-on glittery body paint. Hire some blokes in yellow safety goggles to run around waving industrial strength flashlights and the odd burning torch, stick a big PA system on the front of a tractor pumping out upbeat techno, and top the whole thing off by projecting a series of giant faces onto nearby buildings. That's what thousands of us enjoyed down Roman Road last night, with the added spectacle of several exploding suitcases (roughly one every ten minutes) shooting a shower of tissue paper into the sky. The experience was unexpectedly entrancing, with a gleeful crowd following the parade of spinning wheels from one end of the street to the other. Several residents watched smiling from their open windows, the older folk unable to believe this was really happening on their doorstep, the younger folk recording the passing lightshow on their mobiles. The procession continued for a good hour, bringing traffic to a standstill, before ending in Mile End Park with a bang so fierce that I felt the heat from several rows back. A bit of a triumph really, and all the better for bringing art and pageantry into the hearts of people who wouldn't dream of stepping inside a gallery or going to the theatre. If you're interested there are two more events today - a party in Greenwich this afternoon and a pyrotechnic finale at Three Mills tonight. [brochure]
2) London Architecture Biennale
London has some fantastic architecture, and over the last week its streets have hosted the second celebration of London's architectural fantasticness. It's all part of Architecture Week 2006, a national excuse to go out and look at nice buildings. The London event has three foci - Kings Cross, Clerkenwell and Southwark - joined by lots of pink stickers dotted across the pavements inbetween. At the heart of the Biennale is Smithfield House, just north of the meat market, where there are a couple of disappointing exhibitions and a trestle-table "shop" (currently selling off Biennale merchandise at half price). There have been a few good one-off events, notably the sheep drive through the City and some intriguing tours and lectures. The colourful panels stuck unobtrusively to the handrails along the Millennium Bridge relating Peter Ackroyd's history of the Thames are also particularly fine, and deserve not to be peeled off at midnight tonight. But overall the 2006 programme feels rather too spread out, making it much too easy to overlook many of the sites and attractions. And the Bienalle's poorly joined-up website doesn't help either, hiding all the interesting stuff beneath a desperately ineffective search engine. Hopefully the 2008 Bienalle will have a little more magic.
3) Bow Arts Trust Open Studios My (very) local art studio (which used to be a nunnery) has opened its doors this weekend so that its 90 resident artists can show off their works. You don't care because you have no intention whatsoever of visiting, but I just wanted to say that I stumbled upon Amy Lame in there yesterday afternoon schmoozing with one of the artists. Bow's cutting edge, you know, arts & media-wise. Well, maybe just this weekend.
posted 01:00 :
Saturday, June 24, 2006It's been an odd time on diamond geezer of late. At the start of the month I went for a protracted ramble up the East London line. Then I left you blogless during an unprecedented week-long hiatus (I'd previously posted every day for the last three years - Christmas excepted). And most recently I've provided you with yet another week of travelogue, this time telling you all about where I was when I wasn't here. You could call it concentrated psychogeography, you could call it excessive introspection or you could just call it boring, whatever.
If instead I treat June (so far) as an experiment in how to lose readers, here's how I'm doing:
In my nine days writing about the East London line I shed 20% of my visitors. Perhaps that's not surprising. The area's off the beaten track for most of you, and nine consecutive days of similar-ish content can get a bit much, can't it?
In my post-less week away I shed another 25% of my visitors. That sounds fairly dramatic, but at least some people kept coming back even when they'd been told there was nothing new to see. Creatures of habit, you are.
I got less visitors last Saturday than on any day since Christmas. How quickly we fade away.
After I came back from the Hebrides, visitor numbers stayed lower. Last Tuesday, for example, less people turned up to read something than had read nothing the Tuesday before.
You were only half as interested in my Hebridean photographs as you had been in my shots of Shoreditch. Perhaps you pay more attention to somewhere you've actually been than to somewhere you'll probably never visit.
I've had roughly the same number of comments this week, when I've posted tons, as I did last week, when I posted nothing. Makes you wonder.
I've had roughly the same number of visitors this week, when I've posted tons, as I did last week, when I posted nothing. Maybe I should take a break more often...
And yes, I know not all my readers are like this (bless you, some of you would come back every day even if all I posted were photos of kittens). But this short-term decline is the pattern across the board for my readership in general. Focus repeatedly on something they find dull, or stop writing anything at all, and off they go in search of pastures new. It's a fickle world, blogging - stars rise, stars fall and stars fade away into a black hole never to return. Thankfully most blogs, mine included, are resilient enough to survive a few weeks of atypical behaviour.
So now there's just one week of June left. Maybe I should take the hint and go back to writing a more eclectic mix of stuff, not all of it location-based, just to keep my audience happy. Except, as you've probably noticed, I write my blog for me, not for you. diamond geezer is a record of what I've done, where I've been and what I've been thinking, as well as a chance to practice writing about things I'd not otherwise get out of my system. And if you enjoy reading all this stuff too then that's just a bonus, for which thank you. Hell, I'd still be blogging even if I only had ten visitors a day... (hmmm, do you think a whole month off sometime would see to that?)
posted 08:00 :
Friday, June 23, 2006Postcard from the Hebrides: the remotest village in Britain (1986)
On the northeast coast of Harris, above a long loch looking out towards Skye, is the insignificant village of Reinigeadal [map]. Like many a Hebridean village it grew up as a self-sufficient fishing community cut off from the outside world. But unlike every other Hebridean village that's how it stayed, because nobody ever got round to building a road to connect it to the rest of the island. As late as the 1980s the only way in was by boat, or by yomping several miles over the moors. Residents started drifting away until there were only three employed men left, one of them Kenny MacKay the postman. Three times a week for 20 years, come rain, shine or tempest, he collected the mail from the village's postbox and set off to walk the twelve mile round trip to Tarbert.
And this is no easy stroll [map]. I walked the path in the opposite direction, starting in glorious sunshine from a tiny car park above East Loch Tarbert. First a steady ascent up the hillside to a pass (hmmm, pant, maybe I'm not quite as fit as I though I was) with stunning views from the summit across to distant peaks on the Scottish mainland. Then a steep zigzag descent (which must be a nightmare in the opposite direction) down to the deserted cove at Loch Trolomaraig [photo] and finally a scramble along the clifftops to Reinigeadal. The signpost said it had been 3½ miles, but with all the ups and downs it felt a lot lot further. After all this effort the village was something of a disappointment - the usual assortment of motley white buildings, nothing particularly special apart from their location [photo]. And by now it had started raining quite heavily, so the prospect of a three hour trudge back across the moors felt particularly underwhelming. Thankfully the European Union came to my rescue.
In 1986 the EU, or EEC as it was then, put up a £½ million grant to build a road connecting Reinigeadal to the rest of the island. The road didn't deliver best value, nor provide a positive cost benefit ratio, in fact it made no economic sense whatsoever. But six miles of single track tarmac laid across forbidding terrain brought a lifeline to the village which otherwise would have died away several years ago. And so it was that a kindly retired couple out walking on the hillside offered a welcome lift back to the other end of the footpath, along the road that shouldn't officially exist. The round-about drive was more like 15 miles in total but it was dry, and it was much quicker than the postman's walk would have been. Not all EU subsidies go to support French farmers or Latvian fishermen - sometimes they help to sustain a traditional way of life in the Outer Hebrides... for which my feet give due thanks.
A Road For Rhenigidale (eloquent Washington Post article, 1986)
posted 07:00 :
Postcard from the Hebrides: the remotest village in Britain (1930)
For several centuries the tiny volcanic islands of St Kilda, 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides, were home to the farthest-flung residents of the UK [map]. A hardy community of birdcatchers lived here on a 'gannet and eggs' diet, taking advantage of some of the largest seabird colonies in Western Europe. Usually the locals stayed on the islands munching puffins, but occasionally they travelled to the mainland and accidentally brought back diseases which wiped out half the resident population. By 1930 the 36 remaining inhabitants had had enough, and so willingly packed their bags and evacuated to start new lives on the mainland. Nowadays the National Trust for Scotland maintains a presence on St Kilda protecting the unique environment, and nobody eats the puffins any more.
One of my reasons for visiting the Outer Hebrides was to attempt to reach St Kilda for myself. It's not quite as impossible as it sounds, with several boatowners offering trips and cruises out across the choppy waters of the North Atlantic. For £120 Angus from Kilda Cruises will even get you there and back in a day - except, as I discovered to my cost, all his seats get snapped up months in advance. Never mind, the weather last week turned out to be too wet and windy to run daily sailings anyway, so even a confirmed booking would have been a disappointment. Ah well, at least it gives me an excuse to return.
Kilda links: main site (fab); blog (honest); history; photo tours; more photos; visiting; World Heritage Status; sheep; byelaws; Kilda for kids; more facts
posted 00:01 :
Thursday, June 22, 2006Postcard from the Hebrides: single track roads
Turn to the back of your road atlas and you'll probably find a page, or half a page, devoted to the Outer Hebrides and various other outlying islands. There aren't a lot of roads up here, they're quite expensive to build across forbidding upland landscapes. And why go to the bother of building a proper road for a handful of motorists when you can cut costs and lay something rather narrower? Welcome to the single track road with passing places, a challenging highway that probably wasn't part of your driving test. They're not everywhere up here - all the A roads in Lewis are now double track - but try taking the main A859 south across Harris from Tarbert and you'll be watching out for oncoming traffic most of the way.
Driving on single track roads requires both consummate skill and unshakeable faith. For a start these roads are rarely straight, so you never quite know what might be around the next bend. Most unnerving are the blind summits - on any other road merely a hump, but here a rollercoaster climb into the unknown. Slow down... there almost certainly isn't anything coming the other way but you'd better be able to stop fast if there is. Passing places are generally located at fairly sensible intervals, although if you meet an oncoming vehicle somewhere inbetween you might have to reverse back rather further than you'd like. And it only takes one broken down van in the wrong place to bring traffic in both directions to an impenetrable standstill for several hours. Always remember to pull in to the left, never the right (I watched one particularly satisfying crash where two drivers both tried entering the passing place). And bad luck if you end up in a convoy of traffic which meets another convoy of traffic coming the other way - it can be a real challenge attempting to get everyone past with only limited spaces for overtaking. But this rarely happens. Normally you get the entire road to yourself for several minutes at a time, encouraging you to push ahead at 30mph, 40, 50, wheee 60... oh bugger! It is perhaps surprising that life expectancy amongst Highland motorists isn't considerably lower.
One of the finest (for which read scariest) single track roads in Scotland runs for twelve long miles along the western coast of Harris [details] [B887 map]. The road to Huisinis begins near the filling station at Aird Asaig, one of the first UK garages to charge more than a pound for a litre of petrol [photo]. The road begins innocently enough, past the ruin of an old whaling station, round the first headland and... good grief, there's a single lonely tennis court beside the road in the middle of absolutely nowhere! Several troublesome bends and blind summits follow, above hillsides you wouldn't want to accidentally tumble down. Then, after miles of moorland and the odd isolated cottage, you suddenly drive beneath a stone gate and enter... blimey, the front garden of Amhuinnsuidhe Castle. The setting may be damned impressive but the occupants have to put up with tourists driving round the lawn directly past their front door. Maybe that's why the last owners (the Bulmers cider family) sold up for £4½ million - and the place is now let out for upmarket house parties.
At the end of the single track is the tiny hamlet of Huisinis. Rest your clutch foot by parking up beside the toilet block, then wander down to the charming sandy beach [photo]. From the rocks I watched as two oystercatchers shuttled back and forth pulling worms out of the sand to feed to their fluffy youngsters. And out there in the middle of bay... surely not... bloody hell yes... two telltale fins announced the presence of a pair of sharks! Across the headland, weather permitting, you can join a handful of sheep looking out towards the deserted island of Scarp. When this island was still inhabited (as late as 1970) the Post Office tried several different means of delivering letters, even including a failed experimental attempt at Rocket Mail. But if you've travelled this far there's no flying back. You've no alternative but to drive all the way back along the same twelve miles of single track road, back to some semblance of civilisation. Take care, won't you?
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, June 21, 2006Postcard from the Hebrides: midsummer twilight
It doesn't get dark in the Hebrides in June. Not properly dark, anyway. I was quite taken aback on my first night to discover it was still broad daylight at 10pm. By eleven the local streetlamp had come on, but it really wasn't necessary. The sky had dimmed noticeably by half eleven, but you still couldn't call it dark. It was even possible to read outdoors at midnight (I checked by studying the Stannah stairlift advert at the back of my Radio Times). Half an hour later night had definitely arrived, but the horizon was still distinctly bright in places. I didn't stay up to watch the sun rise, but I'm guessing it didn't stay hidden for long. There's barely time enough to dream on a Hebridean midsummer night.
Stornoway lies at 58° north, just six degrees off the Arctic Circle, so all this extended daylight shouldn't have been too surprising. The late arrival of summer darkness is related not just to the high latitude but also to the time of (cue official astronomical term) "civil twilight". This is defined as the time after sunset when the centre of the Sun lies six degrees below the horizon (before which time outdoor activities are still possible without the need for artificial light). The midsummer sun may set in the Hebrides around 10:30pm, but 'civil twilight' doesn't officially arrive until much later, around midnight. Then it's a mere three hours before the sky starts getting light again, making the nights seem much shorter than they should. You can check out civil twilight times wherever you live here (be patient), or just scan down my solstice summary table below...
Duration of the shortest night, June 21 2006 (all times BST) Location latitude sunset civil twilight begins duration civil twilight ends sunrise Arctic Circle 66½°N no sunset - - - no sunrise Shetland 60°N 22:33 00:25 1h 22m 01:47 03:38 Stornoway 58°N 22:33 23:52 3h 9m 03:01 04:20 Glasgow 56°N 22:06 23:09 4h 20m 03:29 04:31 London 51½°N 21:22 22:10 5h 46m 03:56 04:44 Madrid 40½°N 20:47 21:20 7h 50m 05:10 05:43 Timbuktu 17°N 19:47 20:11 10h 4m 06:15 06:39
posted 03:01 :
Postcard from the Hebrides: Solstice stones
Forget Stonehenge. A much better place to celebrate this morning's summer solstice is the stone circle at Callanish on the north-west coast of Lewis [photos]. This is one of the largest megalithic sites in Britain, dating back to approximately 2600BC (making it even older than Stonehenge). Several smaller circles are scattered around the surrounding mooorland, but the main feature is a ring of 13 tall monoliths at the centre of two intersecting avenues of standing stones. Legend tells that "the shining one" walks amongst the stones on midsummer's dawn, his arrival heralded by the cuckoo's call. If you're up early enough, check out the webcam and see for yourself.
A very rare lunar alignment is visible at Callanish every 19 years when the moon appears especially low in the sky. First the moon rises over the hills to the southeast [photo], whose curvaceous silhouette is said to resemble a sleeping woman [what do you think?]. Viewed from the main avenue the moon then skims and dips below the southern horizon before reappearing directly behind the central stones. Alas I arrived at the stones the day after the special full moon, missing the phenomenon by approximately 12 hours. Ah well. Apparently it's almost as spectacular in mid-July, but then you'll have to wait until 2025 for another dose of spiritual moonshine. [full details] [report]
The close proximity of this celestial event probably explained the mini campsite of toking pagans I observed tented up on the hillside nearby. It was more disturbing to discover cheap tealights laid out behind some of the stones - clearly offerings to the great Norse god Ikea. Larger numbers of people were keeping warm and dry inside the tasteful visitor centre at the foot of the hill, home to a small exhibition and a well-attended cafe. But the encroaching tourist trail means that the stones of Callanish are at increasing risk from human erosion. Visitors are urged to keep to a perimeter path around the edge of the main circle, but few do. The humble camera is to blame, as tourists trample across the site to capture conclusive visual evidence of their visit. It's therefore become nigh impossible to take a perfect people-free shot of the site, but I discovered the magic alignment of the stones and managed to grab a photograph without a single luminous kagoule in sight [photo].
posted 00:10 :
Tuesday, June 20, 2006Postcard from the Hebrides: Luskentyre
I'd heard great things about the beach at Luskentyre on the west coast of Harris [map]. The east coast of the island is nothing to write home about, not unless you like bleak granite-strewn lunar landscapes (the "Jupiter" scenes in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey were filmed over that side of the island). But the fertile west coast is something else and, as it turned out, so utterly worth a visit.
At Luskentyre a narrow triangular river estuary snakes down to the sea [photo]. At high tide the bay is (just) covered by water, but pause a while and the central meandering ribbon of blue shrinks to reveal shallow-sloping powder-white sands to either side [photo]. A peninsula of grass-topped dunes (complete with its own primary school!) sticks out across the river's mouth [photo]. Sweeping deserted beaches stretch out at low tide along the front of the dunes, both here and across the stream beneath Luskentyre's old cemetery [photo]. Gulls and oystercatchers squawk and circle low to guard their nests on the rocks - but only when human beings approach, and there really aren't very many of them. Gentle waves lap up against the shoreline, beyond which lies an impossibly blue sea resembling more a Hawaiian lagoon than Atlantic waters [photo]. The entire bay looks absolutely magical in the sunshine, though admittedly rather less mesmeric beneath typical Hebridean drizzle.
But the key to perfection isn't just the sand, sea and solitude, it's the surrounding scenery. To every side of the beach stand dark looming hills, even offshore where a long lumpy island rises up out of the turquoise waters [photo]. This is Taransay, once home to three small crofting villages but more recently reborn as the site of Castaway 2000. You remember, it was the BBC's first venture into reality TV, with a bunch of oiks and misfits left to fend for themselves on a deserted island for a whole year. The island doesn't look so cast away when viewed from Luskentyre, just a mile or two across the Sound of Taransay, but in heavy rain and winter gales life here must have been pretty bleak. The current landowners now run day trips to the island, departing from nearby Horgabost. I bet the view looking back towards Luskentyre is stunning, but alas I never woke up quite early enough to catch the boat out. Maybe next time. [tons of photos of Taransay]
posted 07:00 :
Postcard from the Hebrides: low cloud and drizzle
When so much of life is spent outdoors, the weather can make or break a day in the Outer Hebrides. Being right on the edge of the Atlantic doesn't help - this is usually the first strip of land to be buffeted by incoming storms or drenched by approaching rainclouds. But proximity to the warming flow of the Gulf Stream is a real plus, with mean minimum temperatures in winter no colder than in London. And when the sun does come out, as it does far more often than you might think, the illuminated scenery looks quite spectacular.
"HEBRIDES: SOUTH 5 BECOMING CYCLONIC 6 TO GALE 8, PERHAPS SEVERE GALE 9 LATER. RAIN. MODERATE OR POOR"I was semi-lucky with the weather during my stay in the Hebrides, kicking off with two days of uncharacteristically fine sunshine... at least until damp, grey conditions swept in on Monday afternoon and took hold for most the rest of the week. It proved essential to keep an eye on the daily weather forecast, living in hope that a brief brighter spell might lie just over the horizon. I now fully understood how poorly the BBC's new weather graphics serve the north of Scotland. I needed to scrutinise conditions in the islands at the top left of the map, but they were too small, too distant and too often obscured behind the presenter's head. The new blotchy rainfall radar was no use either, frequently promising a break in the drizzle which never materialised. It was especially galling to watch most of the rest of the country enjoying a protracted summer heatwave, apart from one persistent swirl of low cloud and precipitation lying directly across the Western Isles. At least the national weather summaries on Ceefax were good value for money, their brief text consistently including pinpoint local phrases such as "except for Northwest Scotland". But hey, even under a pallor of grey my view of the Hebrides was still something special. And it could have been worse, I could have been there this week.
posted 00:01 :
Monday, June 19, 2006Postcard from the Hebrides: On the edge of nowhere
The Outer Hebrides run down the western coast of Scotland, a string of rocky islands stretching 150 miles along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. There are three main island groups, from Barra in the south, through the Uists and Benbecula in the centre to the largest island of Lewis/Harris in the north. These are some of the most remote islands in the UK, left to fend for themselves for generations, with strong traditions and a culture all their own. Electricity only arrived here in the 1950s, helping to sweep away a relatively primitive lifestyle based on crofting and fishing. Nowadays the Western Isles are anything but primitive, but you're still far more likely to see a sheep than a lamppost.
You have to make a real effort to visit the Outer Hebrides. There's no cosy bridge across from the mainland, just thirty miles of forbidding water across the Minch. The only way to reach the islands used to be by sea, perhaps taking the ferry from Oban, Skye or Ullapool (none of which are especially easy to reach themselves). I chose to travel by air instead, greatly reducing my travel time and easing the risk of seasickness. A couple of hops from Gatwick got me to Stornoway Airport in 2½ hours flat - but only because my first flight departed late, requiring a dash through Glasgow airport to make the onward connection. The corkscrewing descent into Stornoway aboard a tiny Saab 340 wasn't for the faint-hearted, but Linda the Loganair stewardess was the very model of smiling professionalism throughout. So too were the few staff in the nigh-empty terminal building, and they even managed to deliver one particularly important item of 'lost' baggage forty miles down the island on the Sabbath. Cheers fellas.
Lewis (Eilean Leòdhais): The top part of the main northern island, most of which is flattish boggy peatland (population 17000). Famous for a set of chessmen. Main town Stornoway (Steòrnabhagh).
Harris (Na Hearadh): The bottom part of the main northern island, most of which is hilly or mountainous (population 3600). Famous for Harris Tweed. Main town Tarbert. [I was based here last week]
North Uist (Uibhist a Tuath): Flat and boggy, more than half covered by water (population 1700). Famous for its birdlife.
Benbecula (Beinn na Faoghla): Squashed between the Uists (population 1250). Famous for its RAF station.
South Uist (Uibhist a' Deas): The second largest island - long, thin and sandy (population 2000). Famous for its machair.
Barra (Eilean Bharraigh): Tiny and scenic (population 1000). Famous for its airport runway, which is on the beach.
Hebridean websites: visit; culture; outdoors; wildlife
Hebridean bloggers: silversprite; Councillor Angus Nicolson; BBC Islandblogging
Hebridean photographs: cjcampbell; Hebrides photos
Hebridean flickr sets: Bluewave; Ian JC; silversprite; cjcampbell
posted 00:01 :
Sunday, June 18, 2006www.flickr.com : Harris & the Hebrides
(full set of 35 photographs here, first photograph here, photostream here)
posted 18:00 :
Postcard from the Hebrides: Respect the Sabbath
I really shouldn't be writing this today. Sunday is the Lord's Day, a day of rest and worship, and most definitely not a day for indulging in ungodly pleasures such as shopping, travelling or blogging.
They take Sundays very seriously in the Outer Hebrides. The Presbyterian church and it's strict Bible-based teachings hold sway over the population, especially in the northern islands. Most villages are built around a large stone chapel, tall and unassuming with a single bell atop the roof, to which the locals flock each Sunday. Men in dark suits and wives in black hats drive cautiously to church for their weekly fix of praise and psalm-singing. Many of the services are conducted in Gaelic, and the pews are filled in numbers that churches on the mainland can only dream of.
The influence of the church on the island community is strong, especially on Sundays. All good Christians should be at home reading the scriptures or perhaps taking a meditative stroll along the beach, so virtually all local services shut down for the day. Shops are shut, none of the bus services run and it's impossible to buy petrol. The only alcohol being served is communion wine. And yes, this is serious Lord's Day observance, so even the use of children's playgrounds is discouraged on Sundays. A stern notice beside each entrance urges would-be frolickers to "Please respect the Sabbath" [photo], and if the gate can be physically padlocked all the better. Sometimes even the swings are chained up, allegedly, although I didn't see it myself.
But very gradually the special nature of the Hebridean Sabbath is slipping away. There are now a handful of flights in and out of the airport on a Sunday, and more recently a highly controversial sailing on the ferry between Harris and North Uist. Travellers and younger locals appreciate being able to get about the islands, but to many staunch Wee Frees this is just "another example of money-grabbing, culture-destroying commercialisation being imposed on the islands against the will of God". [I would link to the Free Presbyterian Church's website to tell you more, except it closes on a Sunday "in recognition of the Lord's day"]
Unusual though all this behaviour might seem, I guess it's nothing more than the typical British Sunday shutdown from several decades ago. Plan your visit to the Hebrides carefully and the enforced break is no hardship, although God help you if end up stranded without provisions, petrol or means of travel.
posted 10:00 :
Saturday, June 17, 2006Having just returned home from the Outer Hebrides,
here are 4 things about London that I'm really not used to...
it's 11pm and it's dark
posted 23:00 :
Saturday, June 10, 2006How to escape the World Cup:
Step 1) Fly off to a country that isn't taking part
Step 2) Take a connecting flight to a remote island
Step 3) Book yourself into an even remoter cottage-by-the-sea
Step 4) Stay there (or thereabouts) for a week
How to escape the heatwave:
Repeat steps 1 to 4 above
posted 08:30 :
Friday, June 09, 2006The East London line: Terminating Shoreditch
Finally, the end of the line. After more than a century of intermittent service, Shoreditch station gets ditched tonight. It's all in a good cause, to allow the extension of the East London line northward into the tubeless wastes of Hackney, but in the process the old station gets to be wiped from the map. Not that it'll be sorely missed, not outside the ranks of the anoraked tube afficionado, because this is one of the least used, most rarely open stations on the entire underground network. But it's also strangely charming... at least for the next few hours.
Shoreditch has the air of a small rural station, accidentally dropped slap bang in the middle of the metropolis [photo]. The single track curves round from the southeast, channelled up a deep brick cutting [photo]. Grass grows up between the rails, while wild green weeds edge the disused second platform [photo]. A couple of small red lamps on sticks mark the limit of travel, although the track continues beneath the station building before petering out into the undergrowth [photo]. It's surprisingly quiet too, given that mainline trains to and from nearby Liverpool Street rumble by on the opposite side of the far arched wall. A half-timbered signal box looms above the station on a neighbouring viaduct, like a tiny cottage on stilts [photo]. There might be one or two expectant passengers hanging around for the next train, or there might not. A cleaning operative waits patiently in a small hut at the end of the platform, ready to clear litter from the next train in three minutes flat, should it ever arrive.
Trains don't arrive here very often. Weekday mornings between seven and half ten. Weekday afternoons from half three to half eight. And Sundays from seven until three. And that's it. The rest of the week the station's in limbo, the front door's locked and all the trains terminate back at Whitechapel. It's been good practice for the future.
But eventually a nigh-empty train will arrive. A dribble of passengers will disgorge onto the platform [photo] before making their way beneath the canopy to the foot of the stairs [photo]. It's a short climb up to the tiny ticket hall, which has the look of a cosy village scout hut [photo]. Several green doors lead off into unexplored backrooms, one of which is home to the lonely station supervisor. So quiet is the place that you can still pick up a copy of the Metro newspaper here during the evening rush hour. Not that it's much of a rush, of course.
Outside Shoreditch station, in a cobbled alleyway beside a block of flats, the urban reality of backstreet Spitalfields hits home [photo]. A grizzly old bloke is probably slumped up against the wall swigging industrial strength cider, egged on by an equally sozzled group in the corner of the park. Three lads are stoking a perpetual bonfire inside the big metal bin on the pavement. And how did all those shoes end up dangling from the overhead cable across the street - surely some local hurling champion must be responsible [photo]. Cross the park (if you dare) and you'll stumble upon the unexpected charm of Spitalfields City Farm. It'd be nothing impressive to you lot living out in the real countryside, but Tower Hamlets residents don't get to see a donkey very often. Just the one, mind, and just the one pig too, but there are several goats, a proper gaggle of geese and some rather splendid ferrets. Alas the farm was built directly above the East London line and so, when construction begins on the new extension, the paddocks out the front are doomed. Thankfully Tilly the Shetland pony and the rest of her friends are scheduled to remain.
But most of the handful of passengers emerging from Shoreditch station turn right, not left. It's only a very short distance up the alleyway into Brick Lane - one of the most lively streets in the capital [photo]. Here the Bangladeshi community mixes with Shoreditch's trendy arty set in a lively symbiosis of dynamic cultures. You can wear your embroidered hat to the Jamme Masjid mosque on the corner of Fournier Street., or you can wear your rectangular specs to the bar beside the Old Truman Brewery. The curry restaurants are numerous and legendary, although personally I much prefer the 24 hour beigels. And once a week there's an extremely well-attended street market, which explains why the station opens on Sundays. Sorry, used to open on Sundays.
So, if this is one of the busiest streets in East London, how can the station have been so poorly used? Well, it's not easy to find for a start. It's at the quieter end of the lane, just past the spice/alcohol epicentre. There's just one tiny roundel sign, with paint peeling like athlete's foot, beckoning lamely to passers-by [photo]. The station's name is wholly inappropriate too, because the heart of 'real' Shoreditch is a good ten minutes walk away, at least. If only somebody important at TfL had thought to rename the station Brick Lane instead (because that's exactly where it is), maybe more trendy young things in the West End might have looked on the tube map and thought "ooh, let's go for a curry on the East London line". Alas not. On average no more than 700 people enter Shoreditch station every day, which is a pitifully low number. Across the London Underground, only stations on the Hainault loop of the Central line are less busy. The ELL's Shoreditch service won't be missed in the future, not by more than a handful of real people anyway.
But a few locals will be inconvenienced after the station doors slam shut, so TfL are obliged to run a replacement bus service on their behalf. Look, there it is on the updated tube map. Unfortunately this looks set to be a particularly useless replacement bus service. The problem is Brick Lane, which is too narrow to support bus traffic. Shoreditch's replacement buses therefore have to stop up on Bethnal Green Road, which is in completely the wrong direction, and then follow a distinctly roundabout detour over to Whitechapel. It would be much quicker to walk from Shoreditch to Whitechapel instead, or even better to Aldgate East, rather than taking a ride. Pity the poor bus drivers, soon doomed to repeat this mindless journey several times a day carrying virtually no passengers at all.
So if you want to visit Shoreditch station don't bother waiting for the bus, come down here today. I bet you won't be alone [photo]. The trains into this little backwater terminus will be packed tonight, full of Londoners come to pay their last respects [photo]. And they won't be staying for a curry either. These irregular passengers will be hanging around the ticket hall absorbing the station's doomed ambience [photo]. They'll be hovering at the end of the platform snapping pictures destined for their blog or photo-sharing website. They'll be shooting camcorder footage of the last train to pull in [photo], and they'll be battling for a seat on the final train out [photo]. In the digital 21st century, tube station deaths no longer go unreported or unremembered. But the genuine Shoreditch, a station to nowhere used by nigh nobody, will have faded away rather earlier in the day. And that's the station I prefer to remember [photo].
Last train in: 8.31pm
Last train out: 8.34pm
Shoreditch terminated: 8.35pm
Opened: 10th April 1876
Closed: 9th June 2006
Distance from Whitechapel: 800m
Annual passenger throughflow (2005): 0.4 million
Annual passenger throughflow (2007): 0
Other people's photographs of Shoreditch station
Arrangements for the closure of Shoreditch station
Underground history: Shoreditch station
Last trains - East London line timetable
posted 00:09 :
www.flickr.com : East London line gallery
70 photos, terminating Shoreditch
All of my East London line reportage on one page (in the right order)
posted 00:01 :
Thursday, June 08, 2006The East London line: Whitechapel
It's only right that the East London line passes through the very heart of London's East End. And Whitechapel is very much a place of 'passing through'. It grew up as a medieval village on the main road into town from East Anglia, a last staging post before the city walls at Aldgate. Being outside the jurisdiction of the City it attracted workers, traders and chancers, but also ever-increasing poverty. A succession of Irish, Jewish and German immigrants moved in, worked their way a few rungs up the ladder and moved out. Generations of salt-of-the-earth Cockneys grafted a living crammed into back-to-back terraces. Since the 1970s the Bangladeshi community has been on the ascendant, absorbing their culture into the local mix. The worst slums may be long swept away, but the colourful heritage of this historic neighbourhood continues to evolve.
Whitechapel Road, which passes the front of the station, shows the contrast more than most [photo]. The white chapel which gave the area its name is long gone, and a tall modern mosque stands proud over the roadway. The street market still sells fruit, clothing and carpets but with an Asian flavour. Blacksmiths, tailors and pawnbrokers have been replaced by betting shops, sari emporia and Poundbusters [photo]. The vast Royal Hospital, home to London's air ambulance, is due to be almost completely replaced by a landmark 18-storey monstrosity within the next six years. The Grave Maurice pub, haunt of the Krays and the odd Morrissey cover, has been transformed into a charmless salsa bar [photo]. The famous Whitechapel Library has been closed down, replaced further along the street by a gleaming glass 'Idea Store' [photo]. The bland shell of the East London Mail Centre, where the Royal Mail's miniature underground railway once terminated, looks ripe for demolition. And the stableyard in Buck's Row, where Jack the Ripper slashed his first victim, has been razed and replaced by an anonymous parking bay [photo]. History doesn't hang around for long in Whitechapel.
In just two days' time this will be the end of the line. That's nothing special because the East London line always terminates at Whitechapel on a Saturday, but it won't be going any further for several years after tomorrow. Platform 6, awkwardly located over a winding footbridge, can be mothballed. There'll be no more trains arriving round the curve from Shoreditch [photo], not until 2010 or thereabouts when the upgraded ELL extension finally opens. But by 2015(ish), when Crossrail finally arrives, today's Whitechapel station will be almost unrecognisable [plans] [plans]. An enormous new ticket hall will be slammed down on top of the open-air District line platforms. Long escalators will burrow down to a new interchange concourse beneath the East London line tracks. Two deep wide-bore tunnels will help whisk commuters away to Heathrow, Docklands and Romford. The whole station will become a complex mix of sleek modern engineering and an endearing Victorian shambles. Like I said, it's always all change around here, but the past never quite fades away.
Opened: as Whitechapel (Mile End) in 1869
Renamed: Whitechapel in 1901
Distance from Shadwell: 1.0km
Change here for: District and Hammersmith & City lines (up the stairs from platform 5) [photo]
Change here one day for: Crossrail (a bit contentious, this one)
Platforms: a deep brick cutting, half open to the elements, crossed by various roads and railways [photo]
Up at the far end of the platforms: lots of huts and portakabins
Platform murals: cuddly local scenes in vibrant colour
Exit: up some old steps into the old ticket hall, through new ticket barriers
Outside the station: non-white, no chapels
Annual passenger throughflow: 8.9 million
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