diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An alphabetical journey through the capital's museums
Linley Sambourne House

Location: 18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington W8 7BH [map]
Open: by timed tour only (two on Wednesdays; four at weekends)
Admission: £6
Brief summary: preserved (and character-full) Victorian townhouse
Website: www.rbkc.gov.uk/linleysambournehouse
Time to set aside: an hour and a half

You may be thinking "who?" and "where?" and "you what?", but by the end of this review I hope you'll be asking "why haven't I been?"

Linley Sambourne was a cartoonist for Punch magazine, and a privileged social climber. His position owed more than a little to luck, gaining his apprenticeship in 1867 via a friend of the family who just happened to know Punch's editor. A forty year career followed, rising up the ranks to become the magazine's chief cartoonist with a recognisably Victorian style. It wouldn't surprise me if there's still a doctor's waiting room somewhere with some of his work piled on a table.

Stafford TerraceSuccess allowed Linley to establish a family home in Kensington. 18 Stafford Terrace was a tall townhouse with a scullery in the basement and maid's room in the attic, with the floors inbetween bedecked in the very latest middle-class style. Most similar properties have long been gutted and modernised, but the Sambourne house has survived pretty much untouched thanks to the efforts of the Victorian Society. This august preservation body held its very first meetings here at number 18 fifty years ago. The place later passed into the care of the Greater London Council, and today the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea are in charge. Rest assured, the building's in good hands.

You'll only get to go round the house if you time your visit for one of the ten weekly tours. Some of these are fairly ordinary, but a few are costumed affairs led by a talented actress and they're the tours I'd recommend. Booking in advance is advised, although I just turned up and got lucky. You might not want to be so reckless. Entrance is via the mini-shop in the basement, and the tour begins with a 10 minute video introduced by Linley's great-grandson, the Earl of Snowdon. From there a RBKC operative will lead you back out into the street and up to the front door, beyond which awaits your host for the next hour.

18 Stafford TerraceOur chaperone was Mrs Reffell, the Sambourne's engaging and chatty cook, although on other occasions I suspect the tour guide is a character from above stairs. Never once stepping out of character, she led us around the interior from one room to the next, recounting stories and anecdotes about the family of the house. In the dining room we heard of the dinner party the Sambournes had enjoyed 'last night', and were also treated to intimate snippets of social gossip. That Mr Oscar Wilde, they'd been round to his recently, whereas Mr William Morris and his wife weren't quite the consummate hosts they'd expected. Mrs R pointed out the expensive Morris wallpaper her employer had pasted up and told us (scandalously) how much it had cost. All the facts and anecdotes were historically accurate, of course, and had been lifted from Marion Sambourne's diary.

Up in the attic we entered Linley's airy studio. A back catalogue of sketches and prints filled several shelves, all of the boxes the genuine article, as was the old wooden desk and assorted objects thereon. A central easel supported a somewhat saucy cartoon, composed (as with all LS's later work) by photographing live models with his new-fangled camera and then copying the result. Often the live model was a member of the family, press-ganged into standing in the garden in some ridiculous costume or holding some important accessory in their hand. The bathroom doubled up as a dark room, and a display of prints across the east wall confirmed that the master of the house had a particular fancy for snapping semi-clad females. Mrs Reffell ushered us out of there fairly swiftly, simultaneously thrilled and embarrassed by her master's fruity fetish.

More rooms to see, ending up in the perfectly preserved first floor drawing room. Again various points of period detail were highlighted and set in context, like the elegant vine painted on the mirror by the front window which was actually covering a crack and had been added to save buying a replacement. Delightful, and the hour was over too soon. Mine was a (very) lightly-attended tour, but the actress playing part of Mrs Reffell made every effort throughout to involve us all in the experience. "Do you have a bicycle, sir?" "Are those really your normal clothes, madam?" We responded with good-natured bonhomie, slightly out of place as visitors from the future, but very much the welcomed guests. The more you join in and interact, the more you'll enjoy it. And you will enjoy it. Why haven't you been?
by tube: High Street Kensington

If you can't get there in person:
Behind Closed Doors - meet the staff in this video preview
House Tour - a photographic journey around number 18

L is also for...
» Leighton House Museum (closed for refurbishment until later this year)
» Little Holland House (Arts and Crafts in Carshalton)
» London Canal Museum (I've been)
» London Fire Brigade Museum (by appointment) (Ian's visited)
» London Motorcycle Museum (a gem in Greenford) (I've been)
» London Sewing Machine Museum (opens 1st Saturday afternoon of the month) (photos)
» London Transport Museum (anybody not been?)

» All my A-Z posts (so far) on a single page

 Monday, June 29, 2009

Circle lineTfL have been playing with the Circle line over the weekend. They've been practising for December, when the orbital route is split apart and all the trains start/finish their journeys at Hammersmith instead. The Circle will be broken at Edgware Road which then becomes a key interchange hub. But can this ageing station cope? I'm not convinced.

Here's how the new split-Circle arrangements at Edgware Road should work:

Platform 1: All eastbound trains (from Hammersmith) [Circle] [H&C]
Platform 2: Start/end of the line for orbital Circle line trains [Circle]

Platform 3: District line trains to Wimbledon [District]
Platform 4: Westbound trains to Hammersmith [Circle] [H&C]
It ought to be simple. Each of Edgware Road's four platforms will have its own dedicated service, so all passengers need to do is go to the correct platform and wait. But over the weekend, without even any temporary signage in place, it didn't feel simple at all. Now wonder the member of TfL platform staff I spoke to described his weekend experience as a "nightmare".

Case study: arriving at Edgware Road platform 2 on a terminating Circle Line train
Circle line at Edgware Road"Last and final stop. This train terminates at Edgware Road. Please cross to platform 1 to complete your eastbound journey. All change please, all change." It's hard to see that the driver could have done more to inform passengers about what was going on. Even so, only 80% of the train's passengers disembarked. The rest sat where they were, either because they "knew" that Circle line trains didn't terminate here or because English wasn't their first language and nobody had warned them in advance that the Circle was no longer a Circle. Eventually most of the non-movers twigged, but some sat tight in blissful ignorance. Meanwhile the first westbound passengers clambered on board, ready for their Circle line journey to High Street Kensington and Victoria. An over-stretched member of TfL staff moved down the platform, knocking on each carriage in turn and yelling "All change, all change please!" Passengers duly disembarked, even those who'd just got on because they actually knew what they were doing. A fluster of animated conversation with the member of staff ensued, and the westbound passengers re-boarded the train they'd boarded correctly in the first place.

One particular Spanish couple stood baffled on platform 2, trying to work out what to do next. They had a pair of large suitcases in tow, no doubt fresh from the Heathrow Express at Paddington, and their command of English wasn't great. "Tower Hill?" they mumbled. TfL-Bloke directed them towards Platform 1 and told them to catch the next Circle line train. Absolutely right, mate. Alas the first train to arrive was an eastbound Hammersmith and City train, and the Spanish couple needed a lot of persuasion not to climb on board. Meanwhile the westbound Circle line train on platform 2 closed its doors and set off. It struck me that this train was actually going to Tower Hill, but the couple had been advised to get off it and wait for a train going round the other way. This should have been good advice because the clockwise journey's normally quicker, but not in this case. A lengthy wait ensued and no eastbound trains arrived at all. Circle line trains will run less frequently under this new revised timetable (six an hour, rather than seven an hour) so expect to wait up to 10 minutes in the future. The "next train" indicators provided no useful information. The system at Edgware Road is supremely useless - ancient boxes with weedy red text, and seemingly unable to announce any arrival until a minute before it happens. If they're not upgraded before December when Edgware Road becomes a key Circle line hub, I'd expect customer annoyance and dissatisfaction to be high.

Another Circle line service arrived on platform 2, and another few hundred people crossed to platform 1 to complete their eastbound journey. Meanwhile some of those already waiting on platform 1 crossed back to platform 2, thinking an eastbound Circle line train had finally arrived. Wrong, it terminated here, all change please. The new influx of passengers waited semi-patiently, adding an extra five minutes to all of their journeys, before the next eastbound train finally appeared. This was another Hammersmith and City line train, to Whitechapel, and it was already fairly full. Within seconds it was a lot fuller. The Spanish couple looked around for assistance, but within such a large crowd there was none. They tried checking their tube map, but it didn't actually show the weekend's temporary service and wasn't much help. Eventually, just before the doors closed, they clambered aboard and set off in cattle class conditions. I hope they changed trains before Aldgate East, because it's no fun lugging a pair of suitcases across from one platform to the other, and it's a mighty inefficient way to get to Tower Hill. They should have waited. One minute later a Circle line service finally arrived, going precisely where they wanted to go, and it was nigh empty. Ah, if only they'd picked a different weekend to travel, one when they'd not been forced to change trains at Edgware Road. Alas, come December, none of us will have that option.

Circle lineThe extended Circle line (anti-clockwise)
Edgware Road → Hammersmith (via Liverpool Street)

Edgware Road (platform 2) round to Tower Hill: All absolutely normal. The train said CIRCLE LINE on the front. Given that nobody this far out would be travelling beyond Paddington, nobody could possibly be confused.
'next train' indicator at AldgateAldgate: Somewhere round the bend from Tower Hill, the destination on the front of the train changed. It no longer said CIRCLE LINE, it said HAMMERSMITH (via Shepherd's Bush). The 'Next train' indicator, however, still read 'Circle Line via King's Cross'.
Liverpool Street to Baker Street: The front of the train said HAMMERSMITH (via Shepherd's Bush), and the 'next train' indicators on the platforms also said 'Hammersmith'. There were absolutely no trains labelled CIRCLE LINE. I wonder how many passengers over the weekend waited patiently for a Circle Line service that never ever arrived.
Baker Street: An A3 poster had been slapped over the line map on this platform, advising passengers of the "Restricted service this weekend, no Circle line service from this platform". I suspect that most people never read it. (Oh, and btw, same again next weekend!)
Edgware Road (platform 4): The train driver did sterling work reading out all the important options for those changing lines. Going to Hammersmith? Stay on. Going to Paddington? Stay on. Going to Wimbledon? Get off and cross (easily) to platform 3. Going to High Street Kensington? Erm, well, maybe the next train's from platform 3, or maybe it's up and over the steps to platform 2, I'm not sure, listen for announcements. This is likely to become a much-despised connection in the future, trying desperately to work out which train's leaving next from one of two non-adjacent platforms.
Paddington (H&C): In the past, most passengers trying to get from King's Cross to Paddington would have arrived at Paddington (District & Circle) station. It's well positioned for the Mainline concourse, and connects easily with Bakerloo line services. In future, after the Circle line splits, everybody's going to end up at Paddington (H&C) station instead. This is a nasty small station with inadequate exits, located a long way away from most of the mainline services, and requiring considerable unpleasant yomping of heavy luggage. Expect a higher number of missed connections in the future.
Royal Oak to Hammersmith: Fantastic. The split-Circle arrangement brings twice as many trains to Hammersmith, so West London residents are the true winners here. For the rest of us, alas, this change means all change. Prepare to hate it.

 Sunday, June 28, 2009

Circle lineYou won't have spotted it on the TfL website (it's ridiculously well hidden). You won't have spotted it in the 27/28 June service changes leaflet available at stations (it's in millimetre-high text on the map, concealed in the key). You might have spotted it in TfL's weekly engineering works email:
Circle line: Customers travelling between Bayswater and Baker Street in either direction will need to change trains at Edgware Road as there will be no through service.
But I wonder, even now, if you've spotted the significance. It's all because later this year TfL are planning to break the Circle line apart at Edgware Road, sending anti-clockwise trains to terminate at Hammersmith instead. No more round-and-round services, not after December. And this weekend they're having a practice to see how it works. Or, indeed, if it works. Yesterday, to find out for myself, I became one of the very first passengers to ride the nu-Circle line in its entirety. And once was enough.

An extended Circle line journey
Hammersmith → Edgware Road
(via Liverpool Street)

Circle line at HammersmithHammersmith: You don't usually see Circle line trains at Hammersmith [photo], and for good reason - there's no orbital track at a station with buffers. But there were Circle line trains departing every ten minutes yesterday, even though they were very hard to spot. There were no signs and no announcements admitting that anything untoward was going on, nor that there might be a yellow cuckoo in the pink H&C nest. No clues either on the "next train" indicator, because this only shows which of the three platforms is leaving first, not where that train is going. Doesn't normally matter, does it? Every train departing Hammersmith is going to Paddington, King's Cross and Whitechapel, then maybe on to Plaistow or Barking. But times are no longer normal. Rears of trains are not to be trusted, so the only way to find out where they're heading is to walk right up to the far end, to the driver's cab, and to read the destination shown on the front. It definitely said WHITECHAPEL on the front of mine when I boarded. But I think the driver tweaked it before he set off, because I stayed on the train right to the end and we didn't go to Whitechapel, we went to Edgware Road. Twice.
Wood Lane: There are no "next train" indicators here, nor at any station between Hammersmith and Paddington. That's probably why passengers waiting on the platform were giving us funny looks as a CIRCLE LINE train pulled in. No, really, it's true. Just climb aboard and stop worrying, because I bet you're not going any further than Liverpool Street anyway.
Paddington: That's Paddington H&C. I'd be visiting the other Paddington underground station later. It would have been quicker to walk (or indeed crawl).
Edgware Road (platform 1): In we pulled for the first time. Eventually we'd be pulling into the adjacent platform [photo], in the same direction, after a whistlestop tour of Central London. But not for another hour. One 'normal' circuit of the age-old Circle line ahead.
Baker Street: It was only at this point that I noticed something strange. Audio silence. Usually there's a disembodied voice announcing the names of each station and where the train's heading, but on this service there was nothing. Quite pleasant, actually, but very odd.
King's Cross St Pancras: Onward, ever onward. All the next train indicators on all the platforms along this northern rim were showing the train as a CIRCLE LINE service, because it was, and absolutely no passengers were confused by anything at all. The clockwise nu-Circle line journey's none too confusing round here, thankfully.
Liverpool Street: But did we get an announcement confirming that the next stop was Aldgate, not Aldgate East? Did we hell.
Aldgate: See, I told you we weren't going to Whitechapel. Anybody who'd boarded at Hammersmith expecting this to be a normal H&C service would be pretty annoyed at this point. But nobody in their right mind would do that, would they, not when the District Line offers a more direct service.
Tower Hill: After a long pause at Aldgate, the train chugged round to Tower Hill and lots of people got on. Then, when the doors closed and we set off, the driver was finally able to switch on the on-board announcements. "This is a Circle line train via Liverpool Street and King's Cross. The next station is Aldgate." Oops. Most of the newly-boarded foreign passengers (and there were many) looked troubled by this and hurriedly checked their maps. Damn, it looked like they must have got on the wrong train at Tower Hill, damn. One Japanese gentlemen even stood up to alight at the next station, thinking he'd need to catch a train back the other way. And then the train arrived at Monument instead. He quickly deduced that the rogue announcement must have been driver error, not passenger error, and sat back down again.
Cannon Street: "This is a Circle line train via Embankment and Victoria. The next station is Mansion House." That's more like it.
Embankment: Busy along here, huh? I was glad I'd grabbed a seat 23 stations ago, because everybody boarding here was having to stand.
Westminster: The train still said CIRCLE LINE on the front, but here we got the first admission from our driver that this might not be a normal Circle line service after all. "Customers are reminded that this Circle Line service terminates at Edgware Road. To continue your onward journey please cross to Platform 1 at Edgware Road." A bit premature, maybe, but we'd had absolutely no clues before this (and wouldn't get another before Paddington).
South Kensington: Ohmigodohmigod. My carriage was suddenly invaded by a troupe of French schoolchildren, fresh from a visit to the London Transport Museum. I had to endure several uncomfortable minutes of Gallic giggling, and bottles of water being passed in front of my face, and being stared at intently by a boy called Clement.
Gloucester Road: "This is a Circle line train via High Street Kensington and Paddington." True!
High Street Kensington: "This is a Circle line train via Paddington and Baker Street." False! The driver was forced to switch off the on-board announcements after this, because the system couldn't yet cope with the new premature stopping arrangements.
Bayswater: Hurrah, Clément et ses amis est descendu. And the train still said CIRCLE LINE on the front, even though it was terminating at EDGWARE ROAD.
Paddington: One stop from the Circle's end, and the driver finally got round to mentioning that we weren't going much further. "Customers are reminded that this train terminates at Edgware Road." Bad luck for all those suitcase-laden souls who'd arrived at Paddington on mainline trains from the West, because they'd only be able to travel one stop before having to change trains again. This proposed Circle line severance isn't going to please everybody.
Edgware Road (platform 2): An hour and twenty minutes after setting out I was back at Edgware Road "where this train terminates. All change please, all change." And that's where things got messy...

I'll tell you tomorrow about what an organisational nightmare Edgware Road was.
Plus I'll tell you why the anti-clockwise nu-Circle line is likely to be even more confusing.

 Saturday, June 27, 2009

Today for the first time in the UK, it's Armed Forces Day.
The first Armed Forces Day is 27 June 2009, and is an opportunity for the nation to show our support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community: from currently serving troops to Service families, and from veterans to recruits.
And I'm sorry, but I don't care.

Let me clarify that statement. I have enormous respect for anyone who chooses to serve in our Armed Forces. I always pause on Remembrance Sunday to remember the fallen soldiers who protected our freedom during two World Wars. And I give thanks that I live in a country where national service remains optional. But I've really never felt the urge to stand up in public and support our lads for all the killing, and avoidance of killing, that they do. I'll do respect, but I can't do pride.

And yet so many people support our Armed Forces unequivocally. If anybody even mentions 'Our Lads', they're ready with a volley of praise. When there's a foreign war on, they're the ones with a Union Flag fluttering from the bathroom window. And when a platoon of local troops returns from foreign service, they're out on the street cheering everyone back at the homecoming parade. I'm not mocking their pro-military attitude in any way. But I just don't get it myself.
• Proud of every one of them. They are not praised enough for what they do or have to put up with. Good Luck to them all. (Sue Jenkins via Facebook)
• Long overdue, having stood and watched an American Vet take their flag down at Disney with MASSIVE support from everyone there its about time UK recognises past and present servicemen. (Mick Warner via Facebook)
• We should all be proud of all our Armed Services. They all do an amazing job and are an inspiration to us all. If only the thugs on the street had half the guts these brave men and women have the world would be a much better place!!! (Gwen Anderson via Facebook)
OK, I can understand this reverence if you've been in the forces yourself, or if a member of your family has enlisted and is serving abroad. But what draws folk with no military connections to become devoted flag-wavers for our armed forces? Why do so many follow the tabloid line that Our Lads are to be venerated alongside celebrities and footballers? What is it about this one particular public service that inspires such elevated levels of pride in so many, whereas (for example) our doctors and nurses slog on week after week unrecognised?
The military has a great friend in Sun readers - shown in your fantastic response to homecoming parades and the excellent Help for Heroes campaign. I know you'll join me and give the first Armed Forces Day your support, so that it is the success our troops, their families and veterans deserve. (Gordon Brown, writing in today's Sun)
Sorry, but I won't be out at any of today's special events in a show of appreciative congratulation. To be honest I don't see the need for a special Armed Forces Day at all. But thanks for being there all the same.

 Friday, June 26, 2009

Happy 100th birthday to the Science Museum.
They had cake on Wednesday evening. Bet you missed it.

Science Museum, Energy HallIt's not the building that's 100, nor the collection inside, but the museum's name and identity. For it was on June 26th 1909 that the "Science Museum" formally split itself off from the V&A across the road. Originally the South Kensington Museum, this repository started off as a museum of the industrial and decorative arts, funded from the success of 1851's nearby Great Exhibition. The steady accumulation of apparatus and instruments during the 19th century created a growing technological nucleus, until eventually the separation of the artistic and scientific collections became necessary. And it's the centenary of that divide which is being celebrated today.

If you've not been down to the Science Museum since you were a kid, you may not have realised that it's changed. If you have offspring of your own, however, you're probably more than familiar with the place. The heart of the collection's still reassuringly familiar, but there's now a lot more now to appeal to a younger more interactive generation. Oh yes, the Science Museum is a sprightly centenarian, and no mistake.

Once you've got past the two shops near the entrance, most people start by exploring the Making the Modern World gallery. This is a timeline of world-changing artefacts extending the length of the ground floor (with a darkroom of space artefacts positioned anachronistically along the way). Ten exhibits have recently been picked out as special Centenary icons, and these are marked by a special plaque on the floor alongside. You're invited to stand in awe in front of each amazing object in turn, and then vote for which of the ten you believe to be the most groundbreaking afterwards.

Stevenson's RocketFirst up is the steam engine, invented two centuries before this museum was born, and then the rather younger V2 rocket, whose engine transformed the way we think about warcraft and propulsion. A few of the ten are included because of what they represent, not because the example on show is anything particularly special. An electric telegraph, a Model T Ford, a model of the DNA double helix. But a few are the breathtaking genuine article. That's Stephenson's Rocket, the first proper steam locomotive, so close that you can almost touch it (please don't). The specks in that tiny brass case are mouldy samples used by Alexander Fleming to isolate penicillin in the 1930s. And that squat cone-shaped metal box at the far end of the gallery, the one with the seriously burnt bottom - that's been round the Moon, that has. It's the actual Apollo 10 capsule, part of a dress rehearsal for the lunar landings 40 years ago, and here it is for you to view in deepest Kensington. What's not to love?

Keep going and you'll reach the newest part of the museum, the high and airy Wellcome Wing. There are some push-button futuristic screen bits on the upper floors, but this extension's really about making money. Buy your tickets for the IMAX 3D cinema here ('U' certificate only), or maybe stop off to purchase the results of an experiment involving coffee beans, lactose and boiling water. Just don't go looking for the excellent Launchpad in the basement - they've moved the hands-on physics extravaganza up to the third floor. Note to interested adults: you'll have more fun (and get fewer funny looks) if you take an eight-year-old with you.

But you'll find the genuine Science Museum tucked away on some of the other floors, away from the major attractions. Many of these areas haven't been upgraded in years, and visiting cub scout groups show their displeasure by nipping hurriedly through the heritage displays in seconds. The Mathematics section, for example, still looks as if a bunch of 1950s geometry teachers made some 3D shapes out of coloured card and then bunged in a few slide rules and pairs of compasses for good measure. The Computing area, once cutting edge, is now lodged firmly in a historical era of cogs, valves and chip-fitted Sinclair calculators. And the Maritime galleries contain an unfeasibly large collection of diving helmets, oil-rig drill-bits and propeller shafts. The number of model ships gathered here verges on the obsessive, and on entering yet another aisle to see yet another British Empire steamboat in a glass case it's easy to imagine that you're still seeing the museum as it was 100 years ago.

If you've not been back to the Science Museum lately, maybe this weekend would be a good choice. Three days of special centenary events kick off today and run through until Sunday, and will no doubt attract large crowds. Alternatively, why not wait and sneak in midweek before the school summer holidays begin. Then maybe you can go stand on the flat-packed plastic suspension bridge without being knocked over, or go play on the pulleys in the Launchpad when nobody's looking, or just go and admire the very finest technological exhibits laid out in all their glory. The Science Museum is for kids, but it's not just for kids. And 100 years on, its history is still the future.

 Thursday, June 25, 2009

RM2071Warning: minority interest post
Bow's buses are changing. Changing a bit, anyway. And I know that some of my readers actually live round here, and occasionally catch buses, and might care, so here's the heads-up.
Other readers may want to come back tomorrow, when I'll be visiting somewhere you've actually been.

Route 8: Bow Church - Victoria
It's five years this month since London's beloved Routemasters were withdrawn from Route 8, which kicks off in Bow. Five years on something else is being withdrawn, at the end of service tomorrow, and that's the last mile of the route. Number 8s have been chugging down to Victoria since 1992, but from Saturday they'll be stopping short and terminating at Oxford Circus. There's a good reason for this curtailment, apparently, which is that Oxford Street is seriously over-stuffed with buses. By stopping the number 8s short there'll be 20 fewer buses an hour clogging up the 500 metres of road between Oxford Circus and Bond Street stations, and every little helps. To make up for this break of service, and to ensure that buses still serve the middle of Mayfair, another route is being extended. Buses on Camden route C2 (which currently terminate at Oxford Circus) will now continue down to Victoria, carefully avoiding Oxford Street along the way. East London residents will then need to take two buses to get to Victoria, not one, which'll cost a few pay-as-you-go users twice as much. On the plus side, however, a shorter journey for the 8 ought to make the service more regular and reliable.

Route N8: Hainault - Victoria
The N8's also being cut back from Victoria to Oxford Circus. Need to get a night bus from Victoria to East London? Sorry, but from Saturday no single bus will take you further than Liverpool Street.

Route 15: Blackwall - Paddington
The 15 may not stop in Bow, but many of the fleet are currently based at Bow Bus Garage in Fairfield Road. Not after tomorrow, though. From Saturday they're all being transferred to West Ham Garage, a huge new complex built as overspill to make up for lost garages within the Olympic Park. Yes, I know, who cares. But...

RM1941 at Bow Church, June 2009Route 15 (heritage): Tower Hill - Trafalgar Square
TfL still run two Routemaster services, one of which is on route 15. Ten old buses are used to run the timetable, and the entire stock is currently held at Bow Garage. This means that the buses have to run empty into town from Bow in the morning, and trundle back to Bow at night. So if I'm ever outside my house at quarter past nine in the morning, there's often a big red Routemaster trundling by on its way to the City. The sight never fails to make me smile, because it means that RMs linger on in Bow even five years after they were officially culled. But not any more, not after tomorrow. On Saturday these heritage Routemasters are also being relocated to West Ham Garage. Off will come the "BW" plate outside the driver's cab, to be replaced no doubt by a less local "WH". And I'll never see these characterful workhorses chugging round Bow Church again, which is a damned shame. Ding ding.

Route 25: Ilford - Oxford Circus
It's five years tomorrow since bendy buses were first introduced on Route 25. Sorry, they're not changing at all. By rights the 5-year contract ought to be ending this weekend, but a two year extension means Boris can't remove Bow's bendies until at least 2011.

Route 205: Mile End - Paddington
And one bit of good news for local residents, but you'll have to wait a bit. At the moment there's only one bus that goes down Bow Road to central London and that's the 25. From 29th August there'll be another, because the 205 is being extended from Mile End to Bow Church. At last, a choice of bus that isn't bendy. At last, a choice of central London destination that isn't Oxford Circus. And (even better) the 205's a 24 hour service, so if you're staggering east to E3 after a heavy night out and the bendy 25s are full, at last there's an alternative. You lose some, you win some.

 Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Was it a bit warm on your tube train yesterday? Aww, poor you. Then you'll probably have been over-excited by this report in yesterday's Evening Standard, which I've reproduced below. Don't be over-excited. Here's why.

Cooler summer for commuters as Mayor unveils aircon Tube
That's a very carefully worded headline. It says nothing untrue, but you've probably read far too much into it. The cooler summer won't be this summer. Only a minority of commuters will benefit. And all Boris did was unveil the first fruits of a project launched by Ken. Don't be over-excited. And don't read too much into it.

The Tube has its first air-conditioned train.
That's one train. The Tube may have 500-or-so trains, but so far only one has air-conditioning. And it's not in service yet.
Mayor Boris Johnson said passengers will be "terrifically impressed".
Emphasis there on the word "will".

He said: "For thousands of clammy Tube passengers some relief is finally in sight.
The Tube has millions of clammy passengers. Alas, relief is only "in sight" for thousands.
We have now begun testing the first of 191 super cool and spacious new trains."
You know why the new trains are spacious, don't you? It's because there'll be fewer seats, so you'll be more likely to have to stand. Cool, but not necessarily comfortable.

Mr Johnson, who boarded the new air-conditioned train at an Oxford test track, said: "Having taken it for a test run myself I can vouch that passengers are going to be terrifically impressed."
The test track's actually in Leicestershire, not Oxford. Here's a website about the Old Dalby track, including some photos taken this week. And the first train started test runs there in March, it's just that Boris didn't visit until yesterday.

He said the air conditioning "will keep passengers comfortable whatever the weather".
"more comfortable", maybe. It'll be lovely to sit in an air conditioned train during a heatwave, but that won't stop your fellow passengers from ramming into the carriages like cattle.

All the trains to have air-conditioning will operate on the subsurface lines.
That's really important to know, because there are only four sub-surface lines. Passengers on the other seven lines will continue to overheat for the foreseeable future.
The first will run on the Metropolitan line, to be followed by the Circle, District and Hammersmith & City.
The correct order is actually Metropolitan first (starting 2010), then Circle and Hammersmith & City (starting 2011), and finally District (starting 2013). The final upgraded train won't be in service until 2015, at least six summers hence, and ten years after plans to introduce aircon were first agreed.

However, the cooler trains won't be in service until next summer.
You're still reading far too much into this, aren't you? Please, don't expect the entire Metropolitan stock to change overnight. The new air-conditioned trains can only be introduced at a rate of one every 10 days, so during 2010 you'll still be more likely to get on board an old hot one than a new cool one.

And for commuters using the deep level lines, such as the Victoria, Central and Northern, it will be years before they get relief from the sweltering conditions. These lines were built long before air conditioning was developed and there is no space for such bulky equipment in the narrow tunnels.
Oh this is so important. The deep level trains are staying hot and sweaty, and don't kid yourself otherwise. This aircon-lessness isn't because Boris doesn't care, and it isn't because there's not enough money, it's because upgrading them would be wholly impractical. Deep tube tunnels are narrower than the subsurface tunnels, so the trains have to be smaller, so there's no room to cram aircon equipment and passengers into the carriages. When you're feeling hot and sweaty down the Bakerloo, blame the Victorians, not the Mayor.

The Mayor said: "Cooling the deeper lines remains a considerable challenge. A crack team of Transport for London engineers is focused on that and is concentrating on the Victoria line in particular."
Don't get your hopes up. The crack engineers are focusing on the stations, not the trains. Brand new Victoria line carriages are arriving imminently, and they won't have any aircon at all.

The Tube's 3.5 million daily users face yet another long, hot and very sweaty summer with in-train temperatures expected to reach as high as 47C which can cause some passengers to pass out.
Do let us know when this long, hot and very sweaty summer begins, won't you? It's Midsummer's Day already, and I can't say my daily commute's come anywhere close to Death Valley meltdown yet.

Measures to keep the ageing network cool have been hit by funding cuts. Instead Tube bosses will resurrect their old campaign of advising passengers to carry bottled water with them, not board a train if they feel unwell and to get off at the next stop if they start to feel ill.
Faced with the choice of a multi-million pound rolling stock upgrade or a few bottles of water, guess what, TfL's plumped for the water. And that's absolutely the right choice, if you ask me. It gets unpleasantly hot on the underground for a few weeks every year, but far better to put up with that and spend the money on something that'll be of benefit all year round. Something like new signalling, or modernised stations, or repaired track - something genuinely useful. Tube passengers really need to pull themselves together and stop moaning about something which makes a few summer hours not quite as pleasant as they could be. Air con - it'll be nice to have, but it's hardly the end of the world without it.

 Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Royal Exchange pianoHave you seen one yet? One of the Street Pianos? They're dotted around central London, out in the open, waiting for you to turn up and play. 30 upright pianos, of the kind you might find in a church hall or a Victorian parlour, left out in the elements for the enjoyment of the capital's populace. Don't worry, they've all got a plastic cover for protection, so if it rains they shouldn't get soaked.

The project's entitled Play me, I'm yours, and the whole thing's a performance artwork devised by multidisciplinarian Luke Jerram*. London's not the first place he's tried this. Pianos have previously been scattered across Sao Paulo, Sydney, Birmingham and (oh yes) Bury St Edmunds. Apparently Bristol's next, and they'll be getting fresh instruments because all of London's are being donated to local schools and community groups. Assuming they don't all get nicked, that is.

You can find the 30 musical locations on the Street Pianos website. Each piano has its own page where you can see photos and post comments, and maybe even upload details of a keyboard-related singalong you've got planned. Don't worry if you don't have any music, there's a songbook attached to every instrument. All the classics are included - Hey Jude, The Lambeth Walk, I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing, Nellie The Elephant. It's lovely idea, especially if you can actually play, or sing, or at least drunkenly tinkle.**

The City's pianos were installed at the end of last week, so I trooped round over the weekend to see how they were being used. Here's what I found...

St Mary Axe (opposite the Gherkin): It being the weekend, all the local City workers had gone home and the piano lurked unnoticed beneath a tree.
Leadenhall Market pianoLeadenhall Market: Another weekend deadspot, but I found it easily enough outside a shuttered fishmongers. I thought I'd have a play, so I tapped out the first phrase of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head with one finger. My only audience was a workman up a ladder who'd been busy dropping paint scrapings onto the keyboard. Thankfully he failed to sing along.
Liverpool Street Station (main exit): I didn't find this one. I'd made the mistake of printing out the map on the website which led me to the wrong "main exit". Ah well.
London Wall: I didn't find this one either, because the pin on the website map was in completely the wrong place. If only I'd read the dedicated webpage before I left the house I'd have found it, but I didn't. Take heed, oh piano hunters.
Royal Exchange Buildings: Another piano not quite where the map said it was, but I found this one by the tube station entrance. So did a passing group of four European tourists who lifted the plastic cover and attempted to take arty photos of one another playing. They also managed a recognisable chunk of Do Re Mi.
Brown's (Old Jewry): This one's a grand piano, but it's a bit of a cheat. It's not in the street, it's inside a restaurant. It's only available to play between 9am and noon, before paying lunch punters arrive. And it's accessible weekdays only. I saw nothing.
St Mary-le-Bow Churchyard: Another lonely sidelined instrument, being stared at (but not used) by coffee-drinking punters in the cafe nextdoor. Rather more popular midweek, it appears.
St Mary Aldermary: Piano inside church. Closed Fridays, closed weekends, closed after 3:30pm (and closed during lunchtime services). Don't wait until the weekend to explore this project, you'll be disappointed.***
Paternoster Square pianoPaternoster Square: Blatantly positioned, and an object of intermittent interest. "Oh I've heard of this," said one woman to her significant other, before walking past. A couple of families stopped to allow their small children to climb up onto the stool and pretend to play. I hung around for five minutes, but no tunes emerged.
St Paul's Churchyard: Big churchyard, didn't find it, couldn't hear it either.
Millennium Bridge (north side): At last, a crowd. Piano + footfall = atmosphere.**** A group of boys had stopped by (more public school than inner city estate), and one got busy showing off his classical skills to the assembled youngsters. Piano + talent = rare. But he played nothing anybody else knew. Piano + singing = non-existent.

*This is not a Boris-inspired part of the Story of London Festival (Luke seems quite keen that people realise this).
** London's Street Pianos will be available for creative mayhem until July 14th.
*** Michael toured the City pianos over the weekend, and found them similarly underused.
**** The piano in Soho Square looked rather livelier last night. Could be a winner, this.

 Monday, June 22, 2009

If you were hunting down the perfect place to live to a ripe old age, you probably wouldn't pick Hackney.
Hackney is one of the most health deprived areas in the country. The majority of the borough falls within the top 30-40% of health deprived areas in the country and rates poorly on most health indicators. Average life expectancy is 77.7 years which is below both the London and England averages. On a national scale, the borough ranks 218th out of 352 local authorities for women and 316th for men.
So it might come as a surprise to discover that the world's oldest man was born and raised in Hackney. He's 113-year-old Henry Allingham - last survivor of the Battle of Jutland, last surviving founding member of the Royal Air Force and one of only two surviving WW1 veterans. Henry was elevated to the official status of "world's oldest man" last Friday, on the death of the previous Japanese incumbent. You might have seen him laying a wreath at the Cenotaph last November, because he still gets about a bit and commands the respect of a grateful nation. Admittedly Henry doesn't live in Hackney any more. His family moved south of the river when he was only 12, and today he lives in a servicemen's home near Brighton. But he's a Hackney boy deep down. So I thought I'd hunt down his childhood home to investigate the secret of his longevity.

Harrington HillHenry Allingham was born in Clapton on June 6th 1896 (that's D-Day, but 48 years too early). According to the Hackney council website - and they ought to know - Henry's childhood home was on Harrington Hill. That's not at the "Murder Mile" end of Lower Clapton, it's in leafier riverside Upper Clapton. North of the pond, north of the station, in a sloping hinterland of residential avenues and more recent apartment infill. Much has changed round here, and Henry wouldn't recognise many surviving buildings from his time in the street, but there's still a bit left if you look carefully.

Anchor & HopeHarrington Hill's a surprisingly steep street leading down to the banks of the River Lea, which you'll probably have spotted if you've ever walked along Walthamstow Marshes near the railway arches. At the water's edge on High Hill Ferry is a tiny white-topped pub, the Anchor and Hope - inaccessible from the footpath opposite but still very popular during the summer months. It was closed when I arrived, but one elderly 'resident' had made his home on the bench outside. He was fast asleep beneath a grotty black sleeping bag, and I'm assuming the bicycle (with a pannier full of blue plastic bags) propped up alongside was his too. I wouldn't give much for his life expectancy, but in this world-beating street who knows?

The road's amazing in one respect, which is for the number of different architectural styles crammed into its 200 metre descent. Alas most are not lovely. I hope that Henry grew up in one of the four remaining Victorian cottages halfway up on the southern side. They're sturdy terraced homes, at least two up and two down, with brickwork cornices and characterful porches. Nextdoor are two pale modern imitations, with tiny windows and pre-built loft extensions, each with a parking space in lieu of a front garden. And everyone else in Harrington Hill lives in a flat.

Harrington HillImmediately behind the pub are the five-storey brick blocks of the High Hill Estate. They were built by the London County Council in the 1930s, and replaced older Victorian stock prone to repeated flooding. And these are the relatively nice flats. A blander late 20th century block rises opposite, presenting a featureless face of wall and window to the street. Further up are a pair of older buildings with chimneystacked roofs, their exterior white paint peeling, divided up into non-luxury living spaces within. And near the summit, blocking the view east from the primary school playground, rises a particularly charm-free eight-storey tower. It's fortunate that Henry escaped when he did, else some 1970s housing officer might have allocated him a fully-plumbed prison cell in the sky.

To get a proper flavour of Henry's childhood home, check out Baker's Hill which runs parallel down to the Lea. Two chunks of Victorian terrace survive intact, admittedly now with proper fitted kitchens and inside toilets to make home life considerably easier. And one other feature remains mostly the same, which is the great view out across the flat green expanse of Walthamstow Marshes. Maybe it's Harrington Hill's refreshing riverside location that's the true secret of Henry's longevity (or maybe I'm reading too much into the whole thing). Whatever, I hope that locals at the Anchor and Hope will raise a glass to the continued good health of an improbable child born right up their street. Live long in Hackney, and prosper.

 Sunday, June 21, 2009

Metro-land revisited
The Croxley Green Revels

"Onward, onwards, north of the border, down Hertfordshire way.
The Croxley Green Revels - a tradition that stretches back to 1952.
For pageantry is deep in all our hearts
and this, for many a girl, is her greatest day"

John Betjeman at Croxley Green ("Metro-land", BBC, 1973)

Croxley Revels

You may never have been to the Croxley Green Revels, but you've probably seen John Betjeman waxing semi-lyrical about it [two minutes into this YouTube clip, if you haven't]. He stopped by in the early 70s to observe the Queen of the Revels in procession round the village, then gently mocked the fair's pomp and faux-heritage before rushing on to some architectural delight in Chorleywood. I, on the other hand, have been to the Croxley Green Revels many times, because this is the village where I grew up. I don't appear in the documentary but I'd have been there somewhere, standing out in my front garden to watch the procession go by, or stuffing my face with an ice cream cornet on the village green afterwards. Yesterday I went back to Croxley on Revels afternoon, after a couple of absent decades, to see if anything much had changed. And, reassuringly, not really.

Yorke Mead School floatQuarter to two along New Road, and families still emerge into their tiny terraced front gardens to watch the parade go by. Some stocky dads lean over the fence with lager in hand, others seat their children in canvas chairs at the roadside to get the best view. In my day the Queen of the Revels used to lead the parade on the back of a haycart, sat amongst a court of giggling teenage girls wearing cloaks made out of glossy curtain fabric. Nowadays the chosen form of transport is an electric blue Ford Consul, and the royal party has been downgraded to one miniature princess with three attendants from the local primary schools. The usual motley selection of dressed-up lorries follow on behind, no less imaginatively themed than before although rather fewer in number than I remember. Most of the participants are schoolkids or churchgoers, with smiling OAPs and vintage penny-farthing riders interspersed for good measure. Be patient, normal through traffic will be restored just as soon as the lady in the Fairtrade banana costume has waddled through.

One of the Revels stallsEveryone in the village (if you can call a dormitory suburb with twelve thousand residents a village) then wanders up to the top of the Green for all the fun of the fair. No big wheels or waltzers here, this is a rather tamer affair set around a central arena. Various community organisations are out in force running their own stalls, from crockery smashing with the Scouts to the local church's pancake tent. Spend your pennies wisely and you might go home with a pot plant, a Victoria sponge or even something big and inflatable. I was pleased to find a few lambs penned up in one corner as a reminder of the area's rural past, and relieved not to win a box of lavender smellies in the Macmillan Cancer tombola. Splat a teacher, fish for a rubber duck and queue for a barbecued burger - this event hasn't changed in years.

The focus of the afternoon is always the central arena. This is where the Revels princess gets crowned, and also where she reads a speech from a scroll to "my people in Croxley Green". Neither her tiara nor her proclamation has changed since 1972, I noted reassuringly (even if her throne now looks suspiciously like a garden chair with a bit of gold material thrown over it). Page boy Owen, however, was no doubt relieved that his headgear was a jaunty top hat rather than the embarrassing black floppy felt number of yesteryear.

Maypole dancingSeveral of Croxley's more active associations get to showcase their activities in the arena during the afternoon, giving mums and dads a chance to ooh and ahh at the assembled tiny dancers and taekwondo white belts. And this is also where the maypole dancing takes place. This rural tradition is taken very seriously in Croxley Green, far more so than in most other UK villages, so much so that my upper junior class was drafted into forming the ribbon-twirling squad back in the 1970s. I was very good at it, apparently, but thankfully no cinefilm of my pole dance survives. These days the Brownies perform the honours, and yesterday they did a fine job of skipping in circles until a disastrously tangled "Double Braid" proved their undoing.

Almost everything about the event felt somehow familiar, even down to the happy crowds of young and old milling around the Revels site. But one thing had undoubtedly changed, and that was who they all were. I walked around all afternoon barely recognising anybody, not a soul, that I once knew. All my old schoolmates had moved on, or at least grown up and disguised their features behind wrinkled brows, middle age spread and grey-specked hair. I couldn't be sure, but maybe that was them watching their kids performing in the maypole dancing or footballing display - a generation removed, a tradition maintained. Croxley's community may have transformed, but this New Elizabethan custom shows no sign of dying out yet.

Revels 1975
The 1975 Revels Queen on her horse-drawn cart (beautifully decorated, Mum)
The Queen and her entourage tour the streets of Croxley Green
All the fun of the "Knock Down The Cans" stall
Watching a dodgy clown making balloon animals

Revels 2009
Period boneshakers in the Procession round the village
The Revels Princess reading out her proclamation
Brownies managing not to mess up the maypole dancing
Revels crowds haven't changed much since the 70s

 Saturday, June 20, 2009

Gallowatch: Even though the expenses scandal has been going on for weeks, thus far my MP appears to have escaped the worst of it. Surely the Right Honourable George Galloway, member for Bethnal Green and Bow, must have a few dodgy skeletons in his financial closet. Could reporters at the Telegraph possibly have missed something during their six week scrutiny? Can citizen journalism bring down the career of Gorgeous George? Or is this smooth operator clean as a whistle? I thought I'd find out.

It's long been possible to track GG's Parliamentary attendance record. From this we discover that George has only spoken in three Westminster debates this year, and only bothered to turn up and vote four times. More wasteful of time than of money, it would seem. And now it's possible to uncover similarly detailed information about his reimbursed costs. All of George's Incidental Expenses have been published and are in the public domain (admittedly with big black bits crossed out), so I've had a delve to see what I could find.

Ohmigod, George is a secret stationery fetishist. Two packs of gel pens at £12.27 each. A black stapler at £3.56. Two pairs of 54p scissors. Seventy-five quid's worth of black, blue and red rollerballs. Two packs of glossy photocopier paper, at £8 a time. Ten wirebound A5 jotta pads, totalling £18.20. A Scotch Magic Tape Strip refill, or two, at £1.46 each. This man seems to have a hotline to Banner Office Supplies.

And he loves buying computer equipment. An £1199 computer in February 2007. An £1199 laptop in December 2007. Various Dell printer cartridges for £365 + VAT in July 2006. A hundred quid keyboard in April 2006. But nothing scandalous.

And he bought a fanheater for £16.99, because February 2006 was chilly.

And he travels in taxis. Various taxi receipts for about £12 each. All of nine times in two years, if I read the archives properly.

And he buys mystery things that cost £66.37, only I have absolutely no idea what they are because everything relevant has been ██████ out. Imagine what criminally wasteful overspend this might be. Or most probably not.

And he spends pays someone to maintain his website. £1575 to create it, then 12 hours a week at £30 an hour thereafter to maintain and update it. Ten thousand quid in six months. That's rather a lot, by the sound of it, given what a not-terribly dynamic website it is. As a constituent, I wouldn't say he's using his communication allowance terribly effectively.

But, all things considered, George's history of backdated claims is distinctly underwhelming. And I for one am appalled. How dare my MP spend so little! When everyone else in the Commons is haemorrhaging public money left, right and centre, how dare my East End representative be so restrained. Why aren't we feeling the ripple effect of Parliamentary wastage here in Bethnal Green and Bow? If only my MP represented his constituents more diligently, surely he'd be able to extort considerably more cash from the Westminster gravy train. But he hasn't. George's financial timidity is a reflection of his political inactivity, and this makes me very angry indeed. MP's expenses - it's a scandal alright.

 Friday, June 19, 2009

There's a lot of stuff going on in London this weekend. It's like all the organisers sat down at Christmas and thought "When's the optimum weekend of the summer? Must be the weekend with the longest day. Let's time our event for then, the weather's bound to be great." And the summer solstice flicks round just after dawn this Sunday, so there's an event pile-up either side. To help you to pick carefully, here are 20 highlights in dg's midsummer events guide.

Saturday only
» Bank of England Open Door: Twice a year the Old Lady throws open her doors for a half-hour interior tour. See the Governor's Office, and the room where they decide mortgage rates, and explore the museum afterwards. The queues won't be as bad as for Open House Weekend in September, but better arrive early anyway (part of the City of London Festival, which kicks off today)
» Henry VIII's Tudor River Pageant: Watch 500-year-old Hal ride up the Thames from the Tower [10am] to Hampton Court [3pm] (approx flotilla timings here), then join his Coronation Knees-up within the royal palace (admission £18) (feasting continues Sunday)
» The Big Event (& Tea Dance): celebrations, processions and carnivality to mark the reopening of renovated Camberwell Park [2pm-7pm] (includes "mass ukulele jam")
» Tottenham Carnival: Parade [11am] then festivities [from noon] in Bruce Castle Park
» Proactive Festival: Interactive sports and cycling round the Emirates Stadium [noon-6pm] (bring an under-stimulated child)
» Croxley Green Revels: A Metro-land tradition that stretches back to 1952, as immortalised by Betjeman (I've been, several times)

Saturday and Sunday
» Paradise Gardens: annual arty pleasure garden in Victoria Park, featuring circus big top, tea dances, a shed-sized nightclub, live music, Carter's Steam Fair, a village fete, Pearly Queens, street theatre, sideshows, beer and the Ken Fox Wall of Death (always delightfully diverse) (2007 report)
» Street Pianos: A plot to place tinkly instruments on street corners. The 15 City of London pianos should be in place this weekend, with 15 more appearing a bit further out next week (but not much further out)
Story of London» Story of London lectures: Two solid days of historical London lectures, at King's Place (the lectures cost £9.50 each, or £60 for all 12, which is a bit steep I reckon)
» Hendon Pageant: Remembering 1944 at the RAF Museum, with all sorts of re-enactments and historic vehicles (try to arrive via wartime-bedecked Colindale tube station) (& there's a Battle of Britain flypast at ten to four on Sunday afternoon)
» A Grand Victorian Fayre: Polo, pig-sticking, soldiers and dance, in the grounds of Kenwood House [11:30am-4pm]
» King Henry's Tudor Joust: More Coronation+500 festivities, this time with knights on horseback, in the grounds of Eltham Palace (admission £12)
» Waterloo Weekend: English Heritage are recreating Wellington's famous battle with vegetables, at Apsley House, as well as doing some more normal historical stuff (11am-5pm) (admission £7)
» Bow Arts Trust Open Studios: My local artist collective invites you to see their warren-like workspace [1pm-5pm]
» Taste of London: Gourmet foodie nibbles in Regent's Park (at a price)

Sunday only
» Exhibition Road Music Day: Celebrate European Music Day with live performance in the middle of the street alongside the museums, and maybe join in a bit [from 10am]
» Enfield Festival of Cycling: Meet Dr Bike, and get cycling [11am-5pm]
» A Step in Time: Living History drop-in weekend at the recently-restored Valentine's Mansion [11am-4pm]
» Gladstonbury Live Music Festival: That's free entertainment in Gladstone Park, Dollis Hill, not the big tentfest in Somerset [1pm-7pm] (photos from last year)

next week
» Greenwich+Docklands International Festival: Spectacular arty marvellousness (do go and see something amazing) (Thu 25 - Sun 28 June)

 Thursday, June 18, 2009

Separation puzzles

Today's puzzles are about separating digits.
[Please don't stick any of the answers in the comments box, and no blatant hints please, but do tell us how you get on]

Look at this row of digits.

There's one digit between the two 1s, there are two digits between the two 2s, and there are three digits between the two 3s.

Got the idea?

Separation puzzle (1)
Now try the same thing, but using two 1s, two 2s, two 3s and two 4s.
Start by making sure there are four digits between the two 4s.

Separation puzzle (2)
Now try the same thing, but using two 0s, two 1s, two 2s, two 3s and two 4s.

Separation puzzle (3)
Finally, try the same thing using pairs of 1s, 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, 6s and 7s.

 Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Yesterday's Digital Britain report hid a nasty surprise. Radio's changing, forever. Prepare to throw your old sets away.
At the heart of our vision is the delivery of a Digital Radio Upgrade programme by the end of 2015. The Digital Radio Upgrade will be implemented on a single date, which will be announced at least two years in advance. On the determined date all services carried on the national and local DAB multiplexes will cease broadcasting on analogue.
Normally listen to Radio 4 on an old transistor? Not any more. Listen to Classic FM in the car? Not on your current set. Wake up to the local breakfast show on your bedside clock radio? Not in the future. All the stations you currently listen to will be migrating from FM to DAB, so if you don't have a digital radio you'll not be able to listen. Upgrade, or lose out.

Don't panic, because this Radio Upgrade isn't yet a definite done deal. It's only a strong recommendation, and it's dependent on two criteria being met:
1) When 50% of listening is to digital; and
2) When national DAB coverage is comparable to FM coverage, and local DAB reaches 90% of the population and all major roads.
But it's the government's intention that both of these migration criteria should be met by the end of 2013, and that means 2015 (at the very latest) for analogue radio switch-off.

There'll be plenty of other ways to access radio by 2015, of course. Digital radio's already accessible on digital TV, and online, and on DAB radios, with these media apparently already accounting for a quarter of all radio listening. In the future your mobile phone will probably be DAB-enabled, and there's bound to be a radio-friendly iPod at some point. But I suspect that a large proportion of the UK population are going to take a lot of persuading to make the switch.
The main challenge to a successful Digital Radio Upgrade is not converting the avid radio listener, who has in many cases already embraced DAB, but the occasional radio listener. Recent research showed that 52% of listeners had not changed their main household radio to DAB because they were “quite happy with my existing radio.”
I could listen to the radio on my television, but I almost never do. I prefer to use my TV to watch rather than listen, and it always seems a complete waste of electricity to light up a big screen for no particularly good reason. I could listen to the radio on my computer, but I almost never do. I don't want an extra window swallowing valuable bandwidth, and I don't need additional sounds blaring out of tinny speakers when the internet's full of noise anyway. And I could listen to the radio on my Pure maplewood digital radio box, but I only get decent reception in one corner of one room which restricts listening somewhat, and the sound quality's not as good as FM is it?

Instead my home listening revolves around good old analogue. I wake up in the morning to an Argos clock radio circa 1987. I get ready for work to the sounds of a ghetto blaster circa 1991. While I'm in the kitchen, I rely on an ancient music centre circa 1983. And in the living room, when I want to listen to the radio in proper stereo through a decent set of speakers, I switch on my faithful hi-fi circa 1996. Works well enough for me. But come 2016 all of these radios are going to be useless, and I can either keep them as heritage instruments for listening to cassettes and CDs, or it's down the tip with them.
We must ensure the environmental impact of any significant analogue radio disposal is minimised through a responsible disposal and recycling strategy.
I'm not going to be left bereft of radio, obviously, but it's going to cost money to regain the same penetration that radio has in my life today. And I'm almost certainly amongst the better-prepared digitally to cope with this upcoming revolution. Imagine trying to persuade every household in the country that every one of their old analogue radios needs to be binned and replaced. Shiny push-button boxes for all, in your bedroom, in your living room and in your car. Radio penetration could be taking one big step back just so that radio can take a very big step forward.
If listeners are to adopt DAB they must be convinced it offers significant benefits over analogue. DAB should deliver new niche services, such as a dedicated jazz station, and gain better value from existing content, such as live coverage of Premiership football or uninterrupted coverage from music festivals.
You may be thinking "Bring it on." You're a cutting-edge blog-reading online adopter, and embracing the drive to digital isn't going to worry you. You may be thinking "I want greater choice and wider diversity and improved functionality and a hugely enhanced radio spectrum." Yeah, me too. But I don't relish an enforced move to a new digital platform, making all my existing equipment obsolete, just so that the FM spectrum can be parcelled up for a variety of temporary "ultra-local" services. And I suspect I'm not alone.

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jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
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the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
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capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
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ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

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london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
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olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
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trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
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jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
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bbc three
vision on
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