Wednesday, October 31, 2007
7 simple steps to an eco-friendly Hallowe'en
1) Offset your broomstick flights: Leave that birch-broom in the cupboard! It's no longer socially acceptable to fly everywhere, especially for short-distance domestic flights where alternative public transport options are available. Remember that witches over the age of 60 travel free on buses, and that most carriers allow cats, owls and other familiars on board for no additional charge.
2) Use low-energy bulbs instead of candles: You might think that flickering wicks add the perfect eerie ambience to any Samhain seance, but they may instead be harming Mother Gaia's cloud-filled airblanket! Have you stopped to consider the damage that an entire pack of IKEA tealights can do to the atmosphere? Blow out that greedy carbon-guzzling flame and flick the switch on the wall instead.
3) Turn down your cauldron by 1ºC: Ask yourself, does your favourite metal pot need to be hubble-bubbling away at quite so high a temperature? Such tender delicacies as eye of newt and toe of frog taste just as good on a low heat, and you'll save money on burning woodpiles too!
4) Recycle your pumpkin innards: Once you've carved out your gap-toothed pumpkins, it would be ecologically irresponsible to throw away the inner flesh. Thankfully everyone in Britain adores the crisp fresh taste of pumpkin, so they'll thank you for converting your leftovers into a series of tasty orange-pulp dishes. Why stop at pumpkin pie? Party guests will lap up a banquet of pumpkin salsa, pumpkin hummus, pumpkin soda and chocolate-coated pumpkin seeds.
5) Use only locally-sourced apples for bobbing: It'd never do to stick your head face-down into a bucket of water for a French Golden Delicious or a South African Granny Smith. Instead you ought to bite your teeth into a knobbly Egremont Russet or Laxton's Epicure scrumped from the orchard just down the road. It may be theft, but it's better than buying some limp irradiated fruit that's been flown halfway round the world.
6) Send your child out trick-or-treating unaccompanied: Everyone says it's dangerous out there at Hallowe'en. Everyone says watch out for strangers with evil intent. Everyone says beware of murderers dressed up as little old ladies. Everyone says stay clear of back alleys and dimly-lit streets where knife-wielding maniacs might lurk. Everyone says double-check any sweets you're given in case someone's laced them with rat poison. But, quite frankly, the very best outcome for the environment this Hallowe'en is that your child ends up dead. That'd be 80 years of wasteful carbon footprint prevented in one simple stab wound. Go on, send 'em out by themselves, just this once. You know it make eco-sense.
7) Switch off your television, turn off your hi-fi and spend the evening sitting in the dark: Not only is it good for the planet, but it's also the best way not to be spotted by those bloody trick-or-treaters. Sssh, they might hear you!
[got any other Hallowgre'en tips?]
posted 00:31 :
Tuesday, October 30, 2007I don't know about you, but I spent a lot of the weekend in hospital. This time it was my mum's turn to be admitted, so I was merely the dutiful son who went visiting (and expressed gobsmacked adoration at how fast she appeared to be recovering). A dodgy knee joint was to blame, half of which has now been replaced by a pseudo-bionic implant (and which hurts like billy-o when you bend it, so I'm told). It's given me yet another opportunity to observe nursing staff and hospital facilities up close. And this time, on the other side of the financial fence.
My mum was admitted as an NHS patient, but she ended up in a private hospital. I'm not quite sure how this switching system works, but it seems that health service reforms now offer greater choice by external outsourcing. Waiting lists are kept down by funnelling off certain patients into private care, and NHS hospitals thereby absolve themselves of providing a sufficient level of services using their own facilities. My mum gets a new half-knee, the NHS "cures" another patient, and private healthcare shareholders rake in profits from their empty beds. Everybody wins, except perhaps the ghost of Clement Attlee who spins ever faster in his grave with every market-driven government health reform.
I recognised the end of town where the private hospital was located - it was a stone's throw from the regional NHS hospital where most of the private consultants have their day job. They spend most of their week operating on the general public in a government funded state-of-the-art operating theatre, and the fifth day up the road in a bijou cottage hospital raking in considerably meatier fees. Fortunately for them it's only a short drive inbetween the two, which makes it easy to keep an intermittent eye on all their patients and tell them how well they're doing. Nobody would sanction such split-site loyalty amongst, say, teachers or police officers, but for senior healthcare professionals it's now seemingly second nature.
I didn't recognise the atmosphere inside the private hospital. Everything seemed calm and relaxed, even down to the "security" (or lack of it) at the front reception desk. No terminal diseases here, no A&E, just nice routine surgical procedures that cure chronic conditions and improve lives. Long carpeted corridors with en-suite bedrooms off to either side - this was more like a hotel than a hospital. A walk-in shower, each, and personal telephones and televisions free from money-grabbing subscription fees. Even the meals came on china plates rather than plastic trays, covered by a clear lid rather than impenetrable clingwrap, and accompanied by proper salt and pepper pots rather than a couple of sachets of mass processed condiment. The service was everything the NHS ought to be, but can no longer afford.
One thing was no different, and that was the care and professionalism of the nursing staff. They ensured that my mum had as comfortable a stay as possible (except when they were deliberately bending her knee) and tended to her every need promptly and with a smile. Rather more of them spoke English than in the NHS hospital over the road, presumably because they'd not had their services contracted out to the lowest bidder. But they too worked stupid ridiculous shifts for not enough money, just like their public sector counterparts.
I'm delighted to have my mum back on both feet again, and pleased that her time in hospital was more pleasant than it might have been. There's nothing like recuperating with dignity in your own private space, and with the maddening witterings of others blocked out while you attempt to sleep overnight. But I'm not quite so comfortable that this was only possible by diverting NHS funding into the private sector. There's something very wrong with a National Health Service that can't treat its own, and is instead beholden to targets, deficits and extended choice networks. I know that "free" healthcare costs, but we'll all end up paying if going private ever becomes the default option.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, October 29, 2007Tube Week Extra Updated tube map
Typical. I run a whole blogweek all about the tube, including lots about the tube map and how it needs updating, and then over the weekend TfL only go and update it. It's one of the biggest updates for years, and incorporates the newly rebranded London Overground lines into Harry Beck's once-elegant design. It's all getting terribly overcrowded. Someone somewhere must have decided that the map has to contain as much information as possible, and with every update there are more symbols, more blobs, more angles and more text. Much more inclusive, but far less accessible. For the time being* you can compare the old (jpg) and the new (pdf) on the TfL website. See if you can spot the difference.
*2pm update: Aha, TfL appear to have removed the new map and have stuck the old one back again. Sorry to all my afternoon and evening readers. Still, enjoy the clear clean lines of the old map while you still can!
Here's what I've spotted...
The London Overground: Wham, a big tangerine octopus has suddenly grabbed hold of the old tube network. The North London line may have been on the tube map for years, but now it's bright orange and unmissable. The Gospel Oak to Barking line appears for the first time, although with no indication of how infrequent the service is. The Watford to Euston line reappears (the north end's been on and off the map several times over the years) while the West London line is brand new (ending south of the river at a rather forlorn looking Clapham Junction). All four lines have been inelegantly embedded onto the map with rather too many bends and several over-long stretches. All in all, not lovely.
Four brand new stations: They're opening "soon" and they're new on the map. They're Wood Lane (on the Hammersmith & City line, "station under construction"), Heathrow Terminal 5 (on the Piccadilly line, "under construction"), Shepherd's Bush ("London Overground station under construction") and Langdon Park (DLR, "opening November 2007").
19 other stations that weren't there before: All of them are Overground stations, including such backwater dumps as Leytonstone High Road, Kilburn High Road and Hatch End.
10 new step-free stations: Don't get excited, they're all on the Overground and they were all step-free before.
Three new airport connections: Maybe TfL were listening to our conversation last week. Harrow and Wealdstone now has a red airport symbol , as do new arrivals Watford Junction and Clapham Junction.
Two big orange boxes: one warning of special fares north of Hatch End, the other announcing the demise of the East London line in December.
The longest station name just got longer: Kings Cross St Pancras is now "Kings Cross St Pancras for St Pancras International". You know, just in case you couldn't work that out for yourself.
Lots of superfluous extra text relating to British Rail connections: It doesnt say Moorgate any more, it says "Moorgate no weekend service". Same thing at Old Street and Highbury & Islington. Like anybody cares. It's even wordier at Sudbury Hill on the Piccadilly line, which now reads "Sudbury Hill Sudbury Hill Harrow (no weekend service) 150m". Whatever happened to clarity?
Lots more squashed-up station names: The northern end of the Bakerloo line is a lot more tightly packed. Acton Central almost crashes into the H&C line nextdoor. Turnpike Lane's been bumped nearer to Wood Green. Which of those three neighbouring stations is Blackhorse Road? And whose idea was it to shoehorn the London Overground lines onto a map where they don't really fit?
Pray that your eyesight never gets worse, because future tube maps can only be uglier, more cramped and even less legible. Someone needs to try to convince TfL that increasing inclusivity doesn't always help Londoners get around.
posted 08:30 :
Sunday, October 28, 2007London Journeys: the Willett Way
Part 2: Petts Wood → Chislehurst
I hope you enjoyed your extra hour in bed this morning. Let's return to Petts Wood and continue retracing the footsteps of William Willett, the man who came up with the idea of British Summer Time. The man who shifted us all sixty minutes into the future. The man who invented saved daylight by inventing time travel. Thanks Willie.
The Willett Way continues up a side alley, underneath the railway and out into deep green woodland. This is what's left of the ancient forest of Petts Wood, the bit that hasn't disappeared beneath a carpet of suburbia. The wood was bought by public subscription in 1927 and handed over to the National Trust, and has since acted as a buffer against unfettered housing development [photo]. And it's rather delightful. Twisting tracks and muddy bridleways lead beneath a leafy canopy, with the occasional view out across sheep-infested fields. And it must have been much the same when local builder William Willett took his morning constitutional 100 years ago. He was riding his horse through Petts Wood early one morning when he noticed that all his neighbours were still asleep in bed. What a waste of daylight, he thought. What if we could shift an hour of summer daylight from the morning to the evening? Being a man of action he went home and wrote a polemic pamphlet entitled "The Waste of Daylight", and campaigned to get his timeshifting plans forced through Parliament. And what do you know, he was actually successful. Eventually.
Introducing British Summer Time took rather longer than William Willett expected. The first Daylight Saving Bill was introduced in 1908, but struggled to get through Parliament despite support from a majority of MPs. It took a world war to focus Europe's attention on the importance of saving daylight, and therefore fuel, and Germany was first to take the plunge. A coal shortage forced Britain to follow suit shortly afterwards, and on 21st May 1916 a bemused nation turned its carriage clocks and fobwatches forward by 60 pioneering minutes. In 1925 a permanent British Summertime Act was passed, and the grateful people of Petts Wood erected this memorial sundial in honour of its trailblazing inventor. It stands in a silent clearing in the middle of the wood [photo] and commemorates William as "the untiring advocate of Summer Time" [photo]. It's another very special hour-ahead sundial, running on BST rather than GMT, with the Latin phrase beneath the dial translating as "I only keep the Summer hours" [photo]. I arrived in the clearing when the sun was almost exactly overhead, so the shadowed time in my photograph indicates 1pm BST rather the more normal 12 noon GMT. Of all the sights along the Willett Way, this was the most special.
But William never lived to see his ideas come to fruition. He died in 1915, just a year too early, and was buried in the churchyard at St Nicholas's in Chislehurst [photo]. The Willett Way passes his burial site, and you can slip beneath the lych gate into the churchyard and search out his grave in the southeastern corner. It's a sorry sight, at least in comparison to some of the more upright memorials close by [photo]. William's marble cross headstone has been snapped off and now lies folornly across the top of a bare earth grave [photo]. Some of the plot's low stone borders have also toppled over, and the text on what's left of the gravestone is barely readable. You wouldn't ever imagine, looking at this mess from the pavement outside, that here was the last resting place of a man once so revered that he had his own waxwork in Madame Tussauds.
The Willett Way terminates just up the road at William's self-built home - The Cedars [photo]. It's an impressive detached pile overlooking Chislehurst Common, and Bromley Council have placed a plaque by the front door to commemorate "the initiator of British Summer Time". Thank goodness a few people still remember William Willett - the ordinary man whose early morning horse-ride ended up changing the world. Ah, if only changing all those clocks back an hour didn't take so long! Damn you William, damn you!Everyone appreciates the long light evenings. Everyone laments their shrinkage as Autumn approaches, and nearly everyone has given utterance to a regret that the clear bright light of early morning, during Spring and Summer months, is so seldom seen or used. Nevertheless, Standard time remains so fixed, that for nearly half the year the sun shines for several hours each day, while we are asleep, and is rapidly nearing the horizon when we reach home after the work of the day is over. There then remains only a brief spell of declining daylight in which to spend the short period of leisure at our disposal. Now, if one of the hours of sunlight wasted in the morning could be added to the end of the day, many advantages would be gained by all, and especially by those who would spend in the open air, whatever time they might have at their disposal after the duties of the day have been discharged. Walk the Willett Way
The Waste of Daylight, William Willett (1907)
My photographs along the Willett Way
Follow the Willett Way on a map
posted 01:00 :
Saturday, October 27, 2007London Journeys: the Willett Way
Part 1: Petts Wood → Petts Wood
If you're looking forward to an extra hour in bed tomorrow morning, then the man you need to thank is a builder from Chislehurst. His name was William Willett and he's the visionary genius who, exactly a century ago, first proposed the idea of Daylight Saving Time. William noticed that late-sleeping Britons were wasting valuable daylight every morning and, in 1907, started a national campaign to put the clocks forward. And he came up with his idea whilst riding through Petts Wood. Let's go for a commemorative walk (in pictures)...
The people of Petts Wood in southeast London are understandably proud of William Willett. Look, here he is commemorated on the town sign in Queensway, just outside Woolworths [photo]. The sun and moon in the lower right quarter represent Daylight Saving (and then there's a horse representing Kent, an old coat of arms and an Elizabethan galleon built from local timber). And it's beneath this sign that a very special walking trail begins - the Willett Way. This three mile walk [pdf] has been put together by a local historian as part of a special centenary exhibition at the Royal Greenwich Observatory [link]. It's not a terribly exciting walk, just a trudge down suburban avenues and through a bit of woodland, but there's a certain charm in following in the footsteps of the man who invented BST. And this weekend would be perfect, because you've got an extra hour to do it.
Cross the railway by Petts Wood station and you'll find a matching sign, and a pub. The pub has been named in honour of William Willett (as have a lot of things round here - you'll get the hang of it as we proceed) and it's called the Daylight Inn [photo]. They do beer and food (and a trivia quiz on Tuesdays) just like any normal pub, but they also specialise in badly-repainted pub signs. The sign may look quite impressive, featuring a big smiling sun flanked by two clocks, but only until you peer a little closer [photo]. In the original pub sign one of the hour hands pointed to twelve and the other to one, representing the one hour time difference that's at the heart of Daylight Saving. But the brainless cretins who recently repainted the sign have set both clocks to noon, representing bugger all. Which is a shame. Don't stop to drown your sorrows, there's a long walk still to go.
Onward past a parade of half-timbered Tudorbethan shops (more 1935 than 1539) where the bored daytime wives of Petts Wood go to fritter away their husbands' salaries on tanning salons and interior design. And onward into the leafy avenues that surround the station, into one of the finest garden suburbs in southeast London. A typical avenue, off to your right beside the church, has been named Willett Way [photo]. It's full of exactly the sort of houses that William himself would have built, had he lived 20 years longer [photo]. It's a long street of black and white executive villas with pristine lawns and well-trimmed rose bushes. It's a privileged commuter haven complete with two-car garages and diamond latticed windows. It's the top of the property ladder, or at least as top as most of us could hope to aspire. It's extremely Metroland, apart from being on the wrong side of the capital. And there is, to be honest, absolutely no reason to walk down it apart from its name. Seen enough? Contain your seething jealousy, retrace your steps and head back towards the local recreation ground.
Yes, obviously, this is the Willett Recreation Ground, what else? Within its hedges you'll find the Petts Wood Bowling Club (please take great care - the path to the pavilion is slippery) and the Petts Wood Cricket Club. Surely some mistake there - two sporting facilities that haven't been named after our favourite Edwardian celebrity. But there's a treat in store embedded in the grass by the cricket pavilion [photo]. It's a very special memorial sundial, the hours marked out by colourful Roman numerals designed by pupils at a nearby primary school. There's no central spike - you have to stand in the middle and see which way your own shadow points [photo]. And, rather delightfully, this is a British Summer Time sundial. During the summer months it tells the correct time, while from November to March it runs an hour ahead of GMT. Unlike normal sundials this one tells the correct time for more than half of the year, and for the part of the year with maximum daylight too. Our William would be justly proud.
[the walk continues tomorrow]
posted 08:00 :
Friday, October 26, 2007And so ends diamond geezer's fifth annual tube week. I continue to be amazed by how much interactive interest the London Underground inspires, even amongst people who rarely or never use it. And I'm also surprised, every year, that I don't run out of new tube-related stuff to write about. I mean, five years on and I still haven't written a tube week post about disused stations. Maybe next year...
posted 20:00 :
Tube geek (25) World metro systems
London's not the only world city with a "metro" rail system. But it does have the biggest (and was, arguably, the first). For the lowdown on which city has what (with lots of lovely photographs, and data, and anorakky facts) there's the wonderful Metro Bits website. Using which, I've come up with the following international Top 5 Metro lists...
» Longest: London (421km), New York (370km), Tokyo (292km), Seoul (287km), Moscow (278km)
» Shortest: Haifa (1.75km), Rouen (2.2km), Newark (2.2km), Volgograd (3.3km), Gelsenkirchen (3.7km)
» Oldest: Mumbai (1853), London (1863), Chicago (1892), Budapest (May 1896), Glasgow (Dec 1896)
» Youngest: Palma (April 07), Valencia (Oct 06), Daejon (Mar 06), Torino (Feb 06), Valparaiso (Nov 05)
» Most stations: New York (468), Seoul (298), Paris (297), London (274), Madrid (219)
» Most lines: New York (27), Paris (16), Köln (15), Tokyo (13), Madrid (13)
posted 19:00 :
Tube quiz (25) Going Overground
Within the next two months the London tube map is going to change quite dramatically, twice.
In two weeks time, on November 11th, the London Overground is born. That's a motley collection of four suburban railway lines (currently run by Silverlink Metro) which will be relaunched and rebranded under the TfL umbrella. The four lines in question run from Richmond to Stratford, from Gospel Oak to Barking, from Willesden Junction to Clapham Junction, and from Watford Junction to Euston. They won't be part of the official Underground network, but they will all appear on the tube map marked by a double orange stripe. It's a welcome shot in the arm for these previously neglected lines, but it's going to make the tube map look a bit of a congested mess.
In two months, on December 22nd, the entire East London Line will close for major redevelopment work. When it reopens in 2010 it'll be part of the East London Railway (from Dalston to Croydon) and part of the new London Overground. Which means that six current stations are about to disappear forever from the official Underground network. They're Shadwell, Wapping, Rotherhithe, Surrey Quays, New Cross and New Cross Gate. Their days are numbered. Their days are 58.
Which brings me to the point of today's quiz. When the East London line disappears, and six stations vanish, several snippets of long-standing Underground trivia will no longer be true. I'm thinking in particular of...
a) The Jubilee line is the only Underground route that connects with all others.
b) The Thames Tunnel is the oldest section of tunnel in the London Underground.
c) The East London Line is the only line without a station in Zone 1.
d) Six London boroughs are not served by the Underground.
e) Wapping is the only station which has no letters in common with the word 'lobster'.
And I'd appreciate your thoughts on how these essential Underground facts will change, and whether you can think of any other pertinent trivia that'll never be the same again.
posted 07:00 :
Tubewatch (25) yet more tube links
If you love all this tube-related stuff, then you ought to consider joining the London Underground Railway Society. They hold monthly meetings and publish a detailed monthly newsletter (all yours for just two quid a month)
Here are a couple of wet and wonderful not-quite-tube-maps, one showing London's waterways, the other London's underground rivers and sewers (both splendid)
Admit it, you've often wondered how many 1930s Grand Union Canal narrowboats share their name with a tube station.
Everybody has to learn how to use the tube the first time they travel. Luckily there are some animated teaching materials at Transport School (where you can also learn about taking the bus, the DLR, a tram, and even a taxi)
You thought they were just litter bins and CCTV cameras, but no. According to TfL's offical Product Standards they're an essential element of a "well designed, confident and consistent visual identity". (mmm, see how "the lack of horizontal surfaces" on that bicycle rack can "discourage the build up of litter and prevent the concealment of suspect packages")
The capital's latest public transport projects are regularly updated at London Connections (where else are you going to find details of the new pedestrian subway at Kings Cross, or see photos of the over-narrow platforms at the new Shepherd's Bush station?)
posted 00:25 :
Thursday, October 25, 2007Tube geek (24) First and last
So much for those late running tube trains that TfL had hoped to be bringing us by now. The unions aren't playing ball, and until they do it'll never happen. It was only going to be half an hour later at weekends, nothing seismic, but enough to keep thousands of Londoners off crowded nightbuses. And an hour later on Saturday mornings too, just to balance things out, condemning thousands of early risers to nigh-empty nightbuses. But half an hour later than what? How many of us actually know what times the first and last trains go, because we're never on them. So I thought I'd pick three typical central London stations and use TfL's first & last timetables to find out.
BAKER STREET First train Last train Bakerloo ← 0551 0037 Bakerloo ↓ 0550 0027 Jubilee ↑ 0545 0040 Jubilee ↓ 0521 0040 Circle ← 0600 0001 Circle → 0540 2346 H & City ← 0511 0046 H & City → 0457 0034 Metropolitan ↑ 0520 0043
First train Last train Central ← 0555 0031 Central → 0549 0031 Northern ↑ 0546 0041 Northern ↓ 0553 0031
First train Last train Piccadilly ← 0548 0036 Piccadilly → 0545 0031
So, first trains tend to start running just before six, and last trains depart the centre of town just after half past midnight. The Circle line starts latest and stops earliest, which is a bit rubbish. But at least the Hammersmith & City line does the opposite to make up for it. One day, just maybe, all these trains will run a bit later. Until then remember, don't miss the last tube, because minicabs cost a fortune and nightbuses smell of puke.
posted 18:00 :
Tube quiz (24) NSEW
Which is the most common compass direction to appear in the name of a London Underground station? Is it North (Harrow), South (Harrow), East (Acton) or West (Acton)?
Here's the full list, and North is the winner!
North: Acton, Clapham, Ealing, fields, Greenwich, Harrow, Lambeth, olt, Wembley, wick Park, wood, wood Hills 
South: Clapham, Ealing, fields, gate, Harrow, Kensington, Kenton, Ruislip, wark, Wimbledon, Woodford 
West: Acton, bourne Park, Brompton, Finchley, Ham, Hampstead, Harrow, Hounslow, Kensington, minster, Ruislip 
East: Acton, Aldgate, cote, Dagenham, Finchley, Ham, Hounslow, Mill Hill, Putney 
posted 07:00 :
Tubewatch (24) Towards an accessible tube
It's only been 14 years since wheelchair users were finally permitted to travel on deep level tube trains. Now TfL make every decision with the needs of disabled passengers in mind, and that includes providing step-free access at underground stations. But it's a slow process. There was no DDA legislation a century ago when most of London's tube stations were built, so steps and passageways and escalators provide insurmountable obstacles for two-wheeled traffic. But TfL are trying, slowly and expensively, to turn the entire tube map blue and blobby. Currently only 47 tube stations are rated step-free (one sixth of the total), but there are plans afoot to increase that fraction to one quarter by 2010 and one third by 2013. That'll be the easy stations converted - then it gets much more difficult.
Which is why TfL are currently holding a public consultation to decide what to do next. With limited money to go round, what should be London's step-free priority after 2013? It's a very important issue and, for those of us who might end up in wheelchairs or pushing pushchairs in the distant future, a very relevant one. There are two options on the table, each very different in its priorities, and we're being asked which we prefer.
Approach 1: Journeys Model – focusing on the highest number of step-free journeysRead full details of the consultation here, including a 40 page pdf with some blobby maps of two potential futures. The consultation ends on 31st December 2007, so there's plenty of time to make your voice heard. What's your preference?
"This approach maximises the number of step-free journeys possible with the funds available. This means adding further to the number of step-free stations in central London at the expense of a greater number of step-free stations in the suburbs. It doesn't take account of where disabled and older people live, and ignores the fact that modern buses already make central London reasonably accessible."
This would mean, for example...
half of all stations accessible, and half of all tube journeys
11 of the 21 stations inside the Circle line step-free
no new step-free stations on the Met beyond Harrow-on-the-Hill
neither of my local tube stations step-free
Approach 2: Demographic Model – focusing on where people live, work and shop
"This approach concentrates on stations that are close to where people who would most benefit from step-free access live rather than concentrating on the number of step-free journeys. This means adding to the number of step-free stations in suburban London at the expense of central London stations."
This would mean, for example...
two thirds of all stations accessible, but only a third of all tube journeys
only 3 of the 21 stations inside the Circle line step-free
10 new step-free stations on the Met beyond Harrow-on-the-Hill
both of my local tube stations step-free
posted 00:24 :
Wednesday, October 24, 2007Tubewatch (23) On your bike
With all the emphasis there's been from Mayor Ken on riding your bike to work, you might expect the tube to be more bicycle-friendly. But no. Only 113 tube stations have parking for bikes, and it's of very variable quality. My local station at Bow Road is one of the 113, apparently, although I don't ever remember seeing anyone risk leaving their two-wheeled pride and joy outside. So, if you can't leave your bike at the station, can you take it with you on the train? The answer is yes and no, depending on when and where you're going. Bicycles aren't allowed in the morning and evening rush hour, they're not allowed on escalators, and they're not allowed on any "deep level" tube lines. These restrictions lead to some strange anomalies, especially at the northwest tip of the Northern line. You can take your bike almost all the way from Golders Green to Edgware, which are five stations apart, but you have to get off and ride between Hendon Central and Colindale because the train goes through a short tunnel beneath the A41. Potential safety risk, apparently, should there be a major subterranean disaster (although I'm willing to bet that cycling along the Watford Way is far more dangerous than commuting underneath it).
Here's a very brief summary of where you can take your bike on the tube and where you can't.
Everywhere: Circle, District, East London, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan
Somewhere: Bakerloo, Central, Jubilee, Piccadilly, Northern
Nowhere: Victoria, Waterloo & City (and DLR)
» For proper full details I recommend the bike page on Richard's SquareWheels website.
» Or take a look at the slightly inaccurate TfL bikes-on-the-tube map.
» Or just buy a folding bike.
posted 18:00 :
Tube quiz (23) Name that station
Here are the names of 26 tube stations with all the consonants removed.
Can you identify them from just the vowels?
(Answers in the comments box)
G) -A--- -I--
H) --A-- -A--
X) -O--I- -I--
posted 07:00 :
Tube geek (23) Change here
Not everyone in London wants to travel on the tube all the time. There are other means of transport, and the tube map now uses little tiny symbols to show where it's possible to change from one to the other. Just for major forms of transport, that is, not for weedy things like buses or bikes. Even so, the tube map is awash with little tiny symbols, which apparently help travellers to change mode. I'm not convinced.
This little tiny symbol represents a connection with National Rail services. There are 56 of these in total. Not every interchange is labelled (especially where tube and rail lines share the same tracks), but all the Central London termini are included, as well as such far flung interchanges as Greenford, Blackhorse Road and Balham (just in case these ever take your fancy). But watch your eyesight. If the rail station is a short walk from the tube, then the symbol (and the distance) has been written so small that no bifocal could ever read it. Text that's only half a millimetre high? So much for accessibility, TfL!
This little tiny symbol labels all the stations where you you can change for riverboat services. Because we all do that, don't we. We all hop off the tube and rush down to the Thames to wait for half an hour on a freezing pier for an empty boat to nowhere. Well, squint at the tube map carefully and you'll spot six places between Westminster and Greenwich where you can do precisely this. But not at Putney Bridge or Temple, apparently, even though the riverboat map says you can. So much for reversible connectivity, TfL!
This little tiny symbol represents interchange with National Rail Services to airport. Not one of the three special airport stations (such as Heathrow Terminal 4) whose symbols are black not red. No, a red plane means "change here for the Algarve". And there are 12 of these. Not that there's any clue which station leads to which airport, which is a bit useless. If a tourist laden with three wheelie suitcases picks up a tube map and heads for the red plane symbol at Kentish Town, they're going to wonder where the train to Heathrow is. Sorry mate, we can only offer you Gatwick or Luton. So much for being fit for purpose, TfL!
Here, for the benefit of any frequent flyers, are the London airports that the red plane stations connect to. But I think there's at least one connecting station they've missed out. See if you agree. So much for completeness, TfL!
posted 00:23 :
Tuesday, October 23, 2007Tubewatch (22) Oyster offers
Is it really only four years ago that I swapped my annual season ticket for an Oyster card? No more trying to feed scrunched up cardboard rectangles into the ticket barriers, now we just beep and go. It's been quite an electronic revolution, hastened by Mayor Ken's insistence on making Oyster fares considerably cheaper than paper travel. Well, now there's a new reason to appreciate your Oyster card, because it can save you money - in some cases a lot of money - at a variety of London events and attractions. Just so long as you've got someone else to go with. A selection of offers are below (and the complete list is here).
2 for 1 at the London Eye (Mon-Thur 3pm-8pm, until 10 Jan 2008)
2 for 1 at the London Aquarium and London Dungeon (until 31 Mar 2008)
2 for 1 at Madame Tussauds (until 15 Jan 2008)
2 for 1 on selected West End shows (Chicago, Avenue Q, etc) (until 31 Mar 2008)
20% off at the Ski & Snowboard Show (opens at Olympia tomorrow, runs until Sunday)
2 for 1 on Fulham FC tickets (home matches against dull opposition only)
posted 19:00 :
Tube quiz (22) Halfway stations
Some stations are exactly halfway along the line. Catch a train one way and you can get to exactly the same number of stations as if you cross the platform and travel in the opposite direction. Can you identify each of the 12 Underground lines from its halfway station?
(n.b. if halfway is halfway between two stations, I've only listed one of them)
(Answers in the comments box)
A) Baker Street
C) Canada Water
H) South Kensington
J) no halfway station (3 answers)
posted 07:00 :
Tube geek (22) Bank/Monument
I made the mistake yesterday of changing at Bank to get to Monument. In particular I made the mistake of following the signs from the Central line to the District line, down into a tortuous subterranean assault course, which took aaa-ages. Whereas I should have gone via the Northern line platforms, or maybe even exited the station and walked along King William Street instead. While puffing down yet another passageway I realised that I don't understand the layout of Bank/Monument station at all, and I really ought to. So I've had a go at researching it, and simplifying it, and I've come up with the map below. It's not a perfect representation of up and down, it's merely diagrammatic, but it's helped to crystallise the layout in my head. And I shall never walk 3-5-6-8-12-13-11 again.
Blue: station entrances
 Bank station concourse: Up to street level (several exits); down travelator to ; down escalator to ; along passage to 
 Waterloo & City line platforms: up travelator to ; along long passage to 
 Central line platforms: up escalator to ; up staircase between platforms to ; down spiral staircase and along passage to 
 Lombard Street entrance (peak hours only): up to street level; along passage to ; down stairs and along passage to ; lift down to 
 Upper junction: along long passage to ; down stairs to ; along passage and up stairs to ; down escalator to 
 West junction: up escalator to ; along short passage to ; down escalator to 
 East junction: along passage and up spiral staircase to ; lift up to ; along short passage to ; down stairs to 
 DLR platforms: up escalator to ; stairs up to ; along passage and up escalator to 
 Northern line platforms: up stairs at north end of platforms to ; stairs down to ; along passage at south end of platforms and up escalator to 
 District line underpass: down escalator and along passage to ; up stairs to ; up stairs to 
 District line eastbound: down stairs to ; up stairs to 
 District line westbound: down stairs to ; down escalator and along passage to ; up stairs to 
 Monument ticket hall: up to street level; down stairs to ; down stairs to 
posted 00:22 :
Monday, October 22, 2007Tubewatch (21) Reading matters
It's always good to see Londoners reading on the tube (unless they've got their reading matter stuck in your face, that is). And there are now more people reading than ever before. But it's not books they've got their nose in, it's newspapers. I did a quick survey in my semi-crowded carriage on the Central line this morning and spotted 20 people reading nearby. 17 of them were reading newspapers (15 the Metro, 1 the Times, 1 The Sun) and three were reading books (1 a computer manual and 2 paperback chicklit). The relentless advance of the disposable newspaper, at both ends of the day, means that commuters no longer get to stare into space quite so often as before. Bored on the tube? Just pick up one of those chucked-away tabloids littering the carriage and your journey will pass more quickly. All this additional reading means that Londoners are better informed about current affairs than ever before. There's not a huge amount of news in these newspapers, but there's enough to make a difference. Greater understanding of everyday issues has to be a good thing, doesn't it? Although I do now fear for the continued circulation of paid-for books and newspapers. Why buy a broadsheet or a red-top when you can pick up some info-lite newsprint for free. Why buy escapist novels when reality is daily thrust into your hand for nothing? We may all be reading more, but I fear we're not reading better.
posted 18:00 :
Tube quiz (21) Name that station
a) A station with no buildings above ground. (You've found Bethnal Green, Bond Street, Chancery Lane, Gants Hill, Green Park, Heathrow Terminal 4, Hyde Park Corner, Manor House, Old Street, Piccadilly Circus, Regent's Park, Vauxhall)
b) A station in two zones, one of which is Zone 5. (Hatton Cross is the only one, in Zones 5/6)
posted 07:00 :
Tube geek (21) It's not always quicker to walk
Back in February a group of students from St Martin's College of Art and Design produced a dead useful map showing how long it takes to walk between neighbouring underground stations at ground level. It only covers Zone 1, but that's OK because that's the bit you're most likely to want to walk round. The map's here, the blog accompanying the map's here, and an interview with the team is here. It was a great idea, and perfectly in tune with the latest anti-obesity zeitgeist. For example, Oxford Circus to Bond Street is only a six minute walk (not worth taking the tube), whereas Oxford Circus to Warren Street takes quarter of an hour (and should be a lot quicker by train).
But the map's not perfect, and has several errors and omissions. Euston station is missing, as are Tower Hill and Aldgate. Many of the rail links don't have times on them (there's nothing immediately east of Kings Cross or east of Monument). And some of the times given aren't between consecutive stations (I'm not quite sure what's going on between Baker Street and Kings Cross but there appears to be a lot of doubling up going on). So I've used the excellent Walkit site to calculate all the missing walking times, and then I've compiled the following Top 10 list. If you're travelling around Central London, these are the ones not to walk.
The ten longest walking times between consecutive stations in Zone 1
1) 21 minutes: Kings Cross → Farringdon
2) 18 minutes: Green Park → Westminster
3) 16 minutes: Angel → Old Street
4=) 15 minutes: Oxford Circus → Warren Street; Waterloo → Bank
6=) 14 minutes: Kings Cross → Angel; Baker Street → Bond Street; Paddington → Bayswater; Green Park → Victoria; South Kensington → Sloane Square
See how far apart many of the stations on the Jubilee and Victoria lines are, unlike the namby-pamby Bakerloo or Piccadilly where stations are rammed tight together. But sorry girls, I'm not convinced that the Top 10 above is 100% accurate. I reckon that Waterloo to Bank should be top of the list, but your map says it can be walked in quarter of an hour. Jogged maybe, but not walked. Alas the students' parting comment that "we hope to have a new and improved map and a shiny new web site available soon" doesn't appear to have come true. And that's a shame because I reckon there's still a lot of mileage left in this walk-minutes idea. I wonder if anybody will ever pick it up and run with it?
posted 00:30 :
Time once again for diamond geezer to go totally tubular with another week devoted to the London Underground. Prepare for five days of quizzes, quirks, commentary and obscure statistics. Four years ago I looked at the busiest stations, picking the right carriage and journeys where it was quicker to walk. Three years ago I investigated the closest stations, the easiest interchanges and the growth of the network. Two years ago I discussed overcrowding, ticket barrier codes and precisely where the underground is underground. And last year I wrote about accessibility, delays and why people never move down the platform. Amongst other things. I hope there's still something left to write about this year. Mind the doors.
posted 00:05 :
Sunday, October 21, 2007Seaside postcard: Whitstable
On the map it's not the most alluring of early autumn destinations. A seaside town on the north coast of Kent, with north-facing beaches looking out across the North Sea. But Whitstable is a delightful and distinctive fishing port with a long established maritime heritage, and well worth a visit. Especially if you like oysters.
Whitstable's been renowned for its oysters since Roman times. The waters off the shoreline are perfect for this special shellfish, and the town hosts a big Oyster Festival every July to celebrate another successful underwater harvest. Oysters are in season now, and will be until April, should you be interested in sampling some of the local delicacies. Yesterday several boxes of empty shells were piled up beside the sea wall outside some of the seafront restaurants, suggesting scores of diners had been busy topping up their zinc levels inside. Oyster processing goes on down at the harbour, in the rather worryingly named "Purification Centre", and outlets like West Whelks and the Whitstable Fish Market sell a wide variety of seafood to visiting tourists. Oysters are currently selling for 65p each, or £6.50 a dozen, while a small tub of cockles will set you back £2 and local dressed lobsters are two for £25. Connoisseurs dine out at the Crab and Winkle Restaurant, immediately above the fish market. I'm afraid I copped out and went for a fish luncheon in the High Street instead (butter-battered cod and chips in the rear dining room at VC Jones, very tasty).
This is still a working harbour, with a charming mix of traditional structures alongside. But Canterbury Council have big plans to redevelop the South Quay, imminently, and local residents are up in arms. They fear that the unique character of the harbour could be lost if any of the proposed schemes are implemented, especially when one of the proposed development partners is a company that builds houses. Plenty of folk have been willing to sign a petition against the plans, and there were more adding their names yesterday afternoon. The local paper, meanwhile, seems more interested in its search for an albino squirrel. There's priorities for you.
Although there's quite a lot of beach at Whitstable, it's all pebbly and not perfect for bucket-and-spading. To the west of the harbour, by the yacht club, an extensive carpet of crunchy cockleshells leads down from the lifeboat station to the sea. At low tide a long pebble ridge is visible at Tankerton, just to the east, where rows of beach huts line the foot of a steep grassy slope. Up top is the town's "castle", which is really just a late 18th century manor house with ornamental battlements (now used for conferences and weddings). Watch out for the rat-faced feral lads swigging lager in the shrubbery. And from the flagstaff atop the hill you can look out across a broad 180° panorama, from the Isle of Sheppey round to Herne Bay, with the southeast tip of Essex just visible in the distance. Yes, that's a wind farm, but more intriguing are the clumps of metal tripods poking out of the water several miles offshore. These are the Maunsell sea forts, tall towers that were part of our defences against German invasion, now rusting away in mid-channel. One day I must take a boat trip out to see them, but alas there are no more tours until next spring.
Back in the old part of town there's more to see, including some extremely narrow beachside walkways, Pray you don't meet a fat man with a wheelie suitcase along Squeeze Gut Alley. You might have met Peter Cushing here several years ago - he moved to Whitstable in 1959 and became one of its most celebrated residents. A seat he donated to the town now looks out over West Beach, across "Cushing's View". You can find out more about his life and acting career in a small corner of the splendid Whitstable Museum where, of course, there's also a lot more about oysters. It's easy to see why this has been a favourite coastal destination for many years, so if you fancy a salty treat you know where to come.
posted 09:00 :
Saturday, October 20, 2007I hate rugby. It's just 80 minutes of controlled violence, played by two packs of lumbering beefcake. It's 30 overgrown men charging up and down a muddy pitch while the opposing team repeatedly attempt to grab their legs. It's an excuse to kick the hell out of other people and not get arrested for it. It's a direct route to casualty, played only by those who haven't been suspended due to serious injury. It's organised sadism. It's played by men whose oversized bodies contravene government obesity guidelines. It's a lot of running around with a strangely shaped ball which can only be thrown backwards. It's an over-complicated mass of perverse rules coupled with a non-intuitive scoring system. It's not football, is it?
I've always hated rugby. I probably didn't realise it existed before I was 11, because my enlightened primary school played (proper) football instead. OK, so I may have been rubbish at playing that too, but at least my life wasn't in danger every time I had a PE lesson. My secondary school, alas, believed that rugger was the one true sport. I spent every winter for five years freezing to death in a stripy jersey while boys who'd already hit puberty wrestled with each other in muddy puddles. I spent every match trying hard to keep out of the way, in case the ball might accidentally be thrown in my direction and a horde of lumbering animals launch themselves on top of me. I cowered every time I was selected for the scrum in case some crucial body part of mine be squashed or wrenched off in the grunting mêlée. And I scored a try only once, when my sadistic PE teacher noticed me standing beside the touch line and threw me the ball, no doubt expecting me to fumble it and then be crushed in a pile of adolescent limbs. He was disappointed, but only on this one single miserable occasion.
I still hate rugby. It's taken far too seriously by too many men, especially those with a middle class background. Some still play the amateur game at weekends, risking ligament injury and cauliflower ear, then drinking to excess after every match whilst singing raucous misogynistic songs. Most rugby fans are too mature, or too unfit, to play properly (often as a result of the drinking) and so have moved on to spectating. They wear oversized replica jerseys and drone on and on about scrummage tactics and Wilko's right foot, as if the rest of us care. Some even pay good money and travel business class to stand in corporate boxes at international matches, presumably as an excuse to get away from the wife for a few glorious pissed-up weekends every year. No thanks, not for me.
I have nothing against people who play rugby. Just don't expect me to be interested in your pointless violent sport. And I have nothing against people who watch rugby either. Just don't expect me to join you in the pub tonight, cheering on "our lads" as they battle against the mighty Springboks. I really couldn't give a damn who wins - life's less disappointing that way. There's only one World Cup, and that's not happening again until 2010. Good luck to England tonight, if it really matters, but I shan't be watching. I am not converted.
posted 08:00 :
Friday, October 19, 2007Time travel
It's good to know that not every heritage feature on the London Underground has been ripped out and replaced by something plastic, modern and accessible. Not yet, anyway. Here's a mighty fine example, seen somewhere on the Hammersmith and City line.
[complete sign here] [full close-up here]
This is the bottom half of the big sign in the ticket hall at Barbican station, at the top of the stairs down to the platforms. But where's the pink Hammersmith & City line gone? It appears to exist only as a bolt-on panel just below Barking. And that's because this is a pre-1990 sign, before the H&C was introduced, back when the Metropolitan line used to go all the way to West Ham and beyond. Nowadays the Metropolitan line terminates at Aldgate, and the Hammersmith and City has taken over the old route out east.
And there's more. The orange of the East London line is missing too. Prior to 1990 the track from Shoreditch to New Cross and New Cross Gate was part of the "Metropolitan line - East London Section". That Metropolitan purple stretched everywhere in those days. No longer. And Shoreditch station isn't open any more, and Canada Water station (apparently) hasn't been built yet (it ought to be between Rotherhithe and Surrey
DocksQuays). This sign just doesn't reflect 21st century reality.
And there's more. The Docklands Light Railway appears to exist only as a connection at Bow Road (via another bolt-on panel). It ought to get a mention at Shadwell too, and probably at Tower Hill, but it doesn't. No matter that the DLR's been open for 20 years, it barely gets a look-in on this sign. Ditto the 1999 Jubilee line extension, which ought to have a connection at West Ham, but doesn't.
This sign is at least 20 years out of date, and quite possibly 30. The network depicted on this sign no longer exists. Several new lines, new connections and even new stations are not included. Any visitor to London relying on this sign for accurate transport information is being seriously misled. This sign is, quite clearly, wholly unfit for purpose. And yet it hasn't been replaced, and it hasn't been significantly updated, and it remains only because nobody quite has the heart to replace it. And I for one am delighted by that. Thank goodness that there are still people working for TfL who have a sense of heritage, rather than a passion to modernise. And let's hope that this tiny corner of Barbican station stays safe from the ravages of the evil redesign barbarians for at least another 20 years.
posted 01:00 :
Thursday, October 18, 2007BBC cutbacks
Big cuts are to be announced today at the BBC. They didn't get quite the increase in the licence fee that they were hoping for, so lots of jobs need to be lost. Which is a shame. Obviously £3 billion a year doesn't go far, especially when you have Jonathan Ross's salary to pay. But where are these swingeing cuts to be made? How can the BBC "secure maximum value out of every licence fee"? Here are some obvious suggestions...
You know that BBC radio station you never listen to? The one with the presenter you really can't stand? They could switch that off. Send the mouthy bastard to the job centre.
The new Blue Peter stick insect needs a name. The phone vote for that should raise thousands (and then we'll call her Sticky anyway)
How about paving over the Blue Peter Garden and building a block of flats on the site instead? I mean, they only use it on screen for three minutes a month.
The BBC's just a bunch of liberal leftie pinkos, spouting their biased Marxist propaganda across the global airwaves. So we should save money by sacking any employee who's ever voted Labour (and, to be on the safe side, Liberal Democrat). That should make the whole organisation a lot less biased, don't you think? And cheaper.
Is it too late to rebrand "Children In Need" as "DG In Need"?
Don't show the new series of Doctor Who on BBC1 - release it as an exclusive box set. 10 million viewers @ £49.99 each - that should stuff Auntie Beeb's coffers.
Would introducing 8 minutes of adverts every hour [The new Argos Christmas catalogue, out today!!!] really be so intrusive? And it would make the programmes 13% shorter too, which could only save money.
They should switch off those analogue transmitters in Whitehaven and then never switch the digital signal back on again.
Who needs daytime telly? Replace it with the test card (at least until I retire, and then they can bring it back).
BBC3's a bit rubbish, isn't it? Let's trim it down a bit, say to BBC2.6
Do you know how much money is spent on the BBC World Service every year? And most of its listeners aren't even British taxpayers!
If those TV licence detector vans actually worked, then maybe the rest of us law-abiding citizens wouldn't have to pay so much. (I mean, 37p a day for all those BBC services, it's both criminal and extortionate)
They should do a lot more of those property shows - you know, the ones where some stuck-up posh tart takes a run-down villa in Putney and sells it for a million three weeks later. The BBC could make a fortune from that.
Sack the bloke whose job it is to remove random letters from all Ceefax pages. Sack him now.
Does it really take two newsreaders to read the news? Surely one should be enough. They should get that Moira Stuart back - she's capable, she's authoritative, and she's cheap.
Here's an interesting idea sent in by a Mr R Murdoch. Scrap all BBC services and give the entire licence fee money to Sky TV instead, and then we can all watch lots of lovely American mini-series and endless repeats of The Simpsons.
Sell off Television Centre, sack lots of journalists and stick adverts on the BBC website (ah, hang on on, that's actually going to happen...)
posted 00:01 :
Wednesday, October 17, 2007Sorry, but your connection to this blog has been terminated.
Digital switchover begins in the UK today, and unfortunately your internet connection has been affected. If you're reading this message then it appears you've been attempting to access this blog via the Whitehaven transmitter. Well that's not possible any more, sorry. We switched it off at two o'clock this morning, just after the snooker on BBC2, and it's not coming back on again. So now you're going to have to make alternative arrangements. It's the future, you know. Get used to it.
Britain needs to clear more space on the electromagnetic spectrum, and that's best done by wiping away all the old signals. The UK can't afford to waste valuable online resources on outdated technology, not when we could be broadcasting glittering modern content across the airwaves instead. Imagine how much lovelier the internet could be with all that tedious text, waffle and gossip eradicated. And just think how much spare bandwidth that'll leave available for streaming video, hi-definition pornography and animated adverts. Britain has to switch off to turn on.
So, sorry, but if you ever want to want to read your favourite blogs again then you'll need to upgrade your online set-up. Terrestrial analogue connections aren't good enough any more, you're going to have to go digital. A single electronic box attached via cable or wireless should do it. Don't worry, it's quick and easy, and it's almost inexpensive.
There are several options to consider:
1) The Rupert Murdoch option: Connect digitally via Sky. It'll only cost you £360 a year, and for that you get Coca Cola Division One football and repeated episodes of Lost thrown in for free.
2) The Freeview option: Connect via a cheap electronic decoder using the BBC's open access platform. But be warned - royal documentary podcasts may not be edited in the correct order.
3) The Ostrich option: Connect via your old dial-up and watch all your screens go blank. If you're reading this, then that's almost certainly already happened.
And there are several important things to remember:
Remember that every computer in your home will need to be upgraded. Even the laptop in your daughter's bedroom and the old 20th century PC in the spare room. Oh yes, this is going to cost. Lots.
Remember that if you want to refresh one webpage while reading another you'll need to get a digital web recorder. More expense.
Remember that if you live in a block of flats and share an aerial and your landlord doesn't give a damn about digital switchover, then you're screwed. Sorry.
People of Britain, prepare yourselves for irreversible change.
As of today digital switchover is a reality, and it's coming soon to a screen near you.
The future is on its way, and you'd better be ready to embrace it.
But, you know, no rush...
posted 02:01 :
Tuesday, October 16, 2007The Great Storm
There have been many Great Storms in British history, including the Really Great Storm of November 1703 and Dawn French's Great Storm that hit the village of Dibley approximately every six months during the 1990s. But today we remember the Great Storm that flattened southeast England during the early hours of Friday 16th October 1987, exactly twenty years ago today. And we remember this for three very good reasons.1) It's within living memory for most of the population.Never mind that Scottish islands see storms of this ferocity more like every 30 or 40 years. Never mind that more people died in the great Burns Day Storm of 1990. Never mind that most of the British population have never even been to Kent, let alone care how many trees grow there. This storm was great, QED.
2) It really was a very great storm, the fiercest since 1703.
3) It hit southeast England, which is where 90% of the UK's media is based.
Those of us who lived beneath the path of the Great Storm of 1987 all have deep-seated memories of the event, which we love to recount in tedious anecdotes. Assuming we were awake between midnight and 6am, that is. I was, just about. I went to bed just after one, having listened to rather a lot of gale warnings at the start of the late night Radio 4 shipping forecast. "Outside the wind goes mad," I noted in my diary at the time, and then fell asleep. I was woken at half past three by the racket outside, stumbled from my bed and closed the rattling window tight shut. And then I slept on oblivious, until my alarm woke me up at seven. I was luckier in this respect than the unfortunate lady crushed to death by a falling chimney in a hotel less than a mile away. All four TV channels were off air at this point, until the BBC managed to resurrect a very makeshift service from what looked like the inside of a cupboard. On my walk to work I had to step over several fallen branches, and detour around two felled trees. It was unusual to see the ground completely covered with green leaves, untimely ripped before autumn proper had begun. And at work a window had blown in, covering my desk with damp and general wetness. Not that you care about what happened to me, of course.
If you want to remember more about the Great Storm of 1987, here's some proper stuff:
» A detailed analysis of what happened from the Met Office
» The storm developed very suddenly over the Bay of Biscay, in an area devoid of weather ships, during a French meteorologists strike and before the introduction of automatic buoys. Here are some (not terribly distinct) satellite photos.
» Hurrah for YouTube - here's Michael's Fish's infamous weather forecast, here's ITN's 5:45 news summary and here's Fred Dineage and Fern Britton doing TVS's regional news bulletin
» Ah, poor Michael Fish. He wasn't talking about this storm, it wasn't a hurricane, and he really did warn of "really stormy weather" ahead. But we pretend not to remember that.
» During the storm the highest recorded wind speed (117 knots) was actually in France, on the coast of Brittany. England's highest gust (100 knots) was felt at Shoreham in Sussex.
» 18 people were killed in Britain that night and 15 million trees were felled (12 million of them in forests, and 3 million individual trees elsewhere). The Forestry Commission remembers.
» The National Trust are holding a series of anniversary events in properties devastated by the storm (see before and after photos from Kent and Sussex here)
» The storm was accompanied by unprecedented rapid changes of temperature (from 8°C to 17°C in 20 minutes in Hampshire) and pressure (up 25mb in 3 hours in Dorset)
» All European high and low pressure systems are given official names, a bit like American hurricanes. But all the European names are up for sale. If you want to "adopt a vortex" then you need to send either €199 (Low) or €299 (High) to the Berlin Institute of Meteorology (or else bid for the leftovers on eBay). Honest, it's official. Names for 2008 are now up for grabs (makes a lovely Christmas present).
» The next Great Storm might come this year, or it might not arrive for centuries. So don't have nightmares.
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