diamond geezer

 Thursday, February 28, 2013

During February 2003 on diamond geezer I kept myself busy by counting things. Ten different counts, to be precise, in a none-too thrilling daily feature called The Count. My 28-day tally chart may have been deathly dull to the rest of you, but I've continued to count those categories again, every February since, purely to keep tabs on how my life is changing. Ten years later, I think we can agree it's changed quite a bit, and yet not changed too. Below are my counts for February 2013 (also available in graphical form via Daytum), accompanied by the previous statistics and some deep, meaningful pondering.
(Part one yesterday, part two today)

Count 5 (Nights out): Only four. That's not good. That's an average of one night out a week, or to put it another way six nights in. All I've managed up until today is one night in a pub, one trip to the cinema and one visit to Best Mate's house. Even worse they were all in the same week, like I was gorging on attention, creating a lengthy social drought on either side. I'm only upping the nights out total to four by heading to Norfolk tonight and spending the evening with my Dad. That'll be lovely, but somehow going "home" isn't a proper night out. What I have managed instead this February are a number of days out, or mornings out, or afternoons out, but alas under the official rules they don't count. I thought my evenings had been getting a bit livelier over the last few years, but either I'm retreating again or else there aren't the opportunities there used to be.
The number of nights in February 2013 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 4
Ten year review: It's been a very consistent picture over the years, with one exception. February ten years ago was a social whirlwind - heading out most nights, drinking here, showing my face there. Best Mate emigrated three days later, which both explains the excess and killed it off, and things have never really picked up since. You don't visit this blog to read about London's sparkling nightlife, that's for sure. But perhaps I should try experiencing London a bit more often rather than forever writing about it.
(2003: 21) (2004: 7) (2005: 2) (2006: 2) (2007: 3) (2008: 7) (2009: 7) (2010: 4) (2011: 9) (2012: 6)

Count 6 (Alcohol intake): Disaster. I've only been to one pub this month, where they didn't serve Becks so I couldn't order it. And that would have been it, had not Best Mate sprung a surprise the night I went round to his for dinner. "I've got you some Becks," he said, "because it's February and you're counting." It's every statistician's nightmare - to have one's data collection skewed by the act of trialling - and probably invalidates the result. Had he not acted, though, I'd have recorded a miserable lager-related zero. My liver would no doubt have rejoiced, but where's the fun in that?
Total number of bottles of Becks I drank in February 2013: 2
Ten year review: Again, 2003 is the outlier, with a couple of further uptick years in 2008 and 2011. But overall my Becks consumption is falling, not least because considerably fewer pubs are stocking the stuff. How my heart sinks when I scan the selection behind the bar and realise I'll have to order something else. I like familiarity, and ease of ordering, even though I know this gassy lager is hardly an erudite choice. If current trends continue, I fear another zero year can't be too far off.
(2003: 58) (2004: 17) (2005: 0) (2006: 7) (2007: 1) (2008: 28) (2009: 4) (2010: 3) (2011: 20) (2012: 14)

Count 7 (Tea intake): Apart from one dodgy year when workplace kettle usage was banned, my tea consumption remains astonishingly consistent. I am, it seems, a four-and-a-half cups a day man. Although I am fractionally down this year, which I can blame almost entirely on taking a week off work. My office days are always remarkably consistent, brown-liquid-wise, whereas days off tend to find me rushing around without pausing for refreshment. Milk, no sugar, thanks.
Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2013: 127
(2003: 135) (2004: 135) (2005: 81) (2006: 128) (2007: 137) (2008:134) (2009: 129) (2010: 136) (2011: 135) (2012: 133)

Count 8 (Trains used): This one's normally remarkably consistent too... always just over a hundred a month. That's apart from the year when I had a "one train" commute rather than two, when the total dipped a bit. And apart from this year, when I appear to have upped the total somewhat. I can blame this almost entirely on "writing about the Bakerloo line", which has involved several short trips between stations I'd not normally make. We Londoners do swan around on trains a lot, don't we? Whereas tomorrow, once I'm safely up in Norfolk, I think I can guarantee absolutely no trains at all.
Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2013: 139
(2003: 103) (2004: 109) (2005: 117) (2006: 107) (2007:100) (2008: 117) (2009: 103) (2010: 83) (2011: 109) (2012: 118)

Count 9 (Exercise taken): Rather than fork out good money to use a gym, I get my step action by walking up escalators, usually at tube stations. I always attempt to walk up every escalator I ascend, which usually works so long as there's not some tourist, suitcase or buggy blocking the left hand side. I'm quite pleased with my total this year, but my commute doesn't afford the multiple climbs it once used to, so I could do better.
Total number of escalators I walked up in February 2013: 40
(2003: 73) (2004: 72) (2005: 38) (2006: 35) (2007: 31) (2008: 33) (2009: 28) (2010: 13) (2011: 32) (2012: 43)

Count 9a (Steps walked): Here's an innovation for 2013. By uploading the Moves app to my iPhone I've been able to keep track of my daily step count without the need for a pedometer attached to my waist. It's a brilliant app, and free, if a bit of a battery hog, and potentially stalky because it records everywhere you go. So, what have I found out. I've learned that a typical working day requires me to walk only 4500 steps. I've discovered that I walk 1000 steps in about 10 minutes. This month I've walked more than ten thousand steps in a day on ten separate occasions, and more than twenty thousand steps three times. And I've never walked less than 4000 steps in a day (although that might go wrong today because I'm off to Norfolk where the car is king). I'm chuffed to have managed more than quarter of a million steps in four weeks, but disappointed not (quite) to have reached the magic daily average of 10000 steps.
Total number of steps I walked in February 2013: 273300

Count 10 (Mystery count): Sorry to disappoint you all, again, but the legendary diamond geezer Mystery Count continues to be nil. I will confess there were a few times when it could potentially have increased, but I favoured inertia, and the count probably wouldn't have risen anyway. Which means that February 2013 has thrown up yet another big fat mystery zero. Ah well, maybe next year...
Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2013: 0
(2003: 0) (2004: 0) (2005: 0) (2006: 0) (2007: 0) (2008: 0) (2009: 0) (2010: 0) (2011: 0) (2012: 0)

» The Count 2013

 Wednesday, February 27, 2013

During February 2003 on diamond geezer I kept myself busy by counting things. Ten different counts, to be precise, in a none-too thrilling daily feature called The Count. My 28-day tally chart may have been deathly dull to the rest of you, but I've continued to count those categories again, every February since, purely to keep tabs on how my life is changing. Ten years later, I think we can agree it's changed quite a bit, and yet not changed too. Below are my counts for February 2013 (also available in graphical form via Daytum), accompanied by the previous statistics and some deep, meaningful pondering.

Count 1 (Blog visitors): Blimey. That's (already) by far the highest number of visitors I've ever had in a February, and an increase of more than 25% on the total last year. I suspect I can blame, or more likely thank, the Olympics for this. Having the biggest show on earth at the bottom of the road helped to make a lot of what I had to say last summer widely relevant, and July and August 2012 were the busiest months this blog's ever had. A number of those people appear to have hung around, even when I'm not blathering about the Olympics, which is nice. Or maybe there's another reason for the visitor spike which is smartphones. Approximately 20% of my visitors are from smartphones, and ease of mobile access anywhere, any time, might help to explain the increased viewing figures. I can't believe it's writing about trips to Margate and Hatch End that keeps you coming back.
Estimated total number of visits to this webpage in February 2013: 55369
Ten year review: Ten years ago, when this blog was mere months old, I attracted one double-decker busful of readers a day. That leapt up a bit in the following years, with an atypical peak in February 2006 skewed by external linkage. Numbers have bobbed around a bit since, but almost always upwards, and this February's total is the equivalent of three crowded Bakerloo line trains of readers daily. That's still bugger all compared to the population of London, and peanuts compared to what some blogs get, but most gratifying all the same. Accurate visitor numbers remain incredibly difficult to ascertain, given the number of folk reading via RSS feeds or whatever. But it's quality of readership rather than quantity which most makes me smile, so thank you!
(2003: 2141) (2004: 6917) (2005: 9636) (2006: 42277) (2007: 23082) (2008: 32006) (2009: 26048) (2010: 30264) (2011: 37200) (2012:40018)

Count 2 (Blog comments): There's nothing quite so unpredictable as comments. Some days this blog attracts almost none, while other days the discussion catches fire and you add dozens. Altogether this February you've fired more than 500 comments my way, and we've still got two more days of the month to go. This represents approximately 20 comments per day, on average, which is a fantastic level of engagement. Most blogs have commenting zones resembling tumbleweed, but somehow you lot always seem to carry on talking. Often you're taking me to task or telling me something's wrong, but that's good because I'd rather my posts were correct than riddled with errors. Sometimes you only join in when I discuss something generic (like coffee) and not when I get too place-specific (because you've never been). Sometimes you veer off-topic, but rarely wildly so, and sometimes the discussion is far more interesting than my post. Somehow a community has evolved here, where regular and occasional commenters co-exist, and that's not an easy thing to create. Thanks everyone, because it's you that helps to bring this page to life.
Total number of comments on this webpage in February 2013: 546
Ten year review: What's most surprised me about a decade of diamond geezer comments is how similar the monthly totals are. They bob up and down a lot, and the first year was understandably low, but since then the average has been unexpectedly consistent - between 400 and 600 comments a month. I might have expected numbers to fall, because commenting's a very old-school blogging thing, peaking in the "Golden Age" of 2005-2008. People don't have time to comment any more, not now there's a wealth of online content to distract them. Or else they're busy commenting on Twitter or Facebook, where debate is entirely transitory and rapidly ebbs away. To still have readers commenting in 2013 is a bit of a triumph, and against all the odds. Alternatively I might have expected numbers to rise, because I have far more readers now and they ought to talk more too. Ten years ago I received one comment per 13 readers, whereas now it's only one comment per 100, and that's a far less impressive engagement rate. But at least what comment remains is intelligent, relevant, insightful and (mostly) kitten-free. I'm delighted, obviously.
(2003: 166) (2004: 332) (2005: 463) (2006: 648) (2007: 566) (2008: 504) (2009: 472) (2010: 396) (2011: 558) (2012: 440)

Count 3 (Blog content): I had wondered if I was writing too much, and here's the proof. 2013 is my most prolific February yet, with blog output now averaging more than 1000 words a day. I always mean to keep things succinct, but rarely manage. There's usually something extra I want to add, another fact to add, another sentence to squeeze in, and before I know where I am I've written another daily essay. One thousand words a day is not to be sniffed at - it's the equivalent of writing a novel every two months, except I never end up with a book at the end of it. Things got psychologically worse a few months ago when Blogger redesigned its interface, providing me with a larger white space into which to type my posts. It might feel like I'm entering the same number of screensworth of text, but the lines are longer so my word count has increased. I know you'd still read this blog if I wrote a bit less, but something keeps driving me to write a bit more, and then a bit more again. I need to learn to ease off a little.
Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2013: 29410
Ten year review: I kept my output pretty much in check until 2009, writing approximately 500-600 words each day. That was manageable, even allowed me a social life as necessary, and you probably didn't think any the worse of me. But then the slow climb began. A few more words each day, a lot more words each month, it all eventually added up. I have effectively doubled the number of words I write compared to ten years ago, approaching a 15% increase in the last year alone. You might be loving the outcome, because you get more to read. But I'm spending more of my time writing, and less of my time "having a life", and that's not really how things should be. Don't worry, I haven't broken yet.
(2003: 14392) (2004: 16214) (2005: 16016) (2006: 15817) (2007: 17102) (2008: 17606) (2009: 20602) (2010: 21595) (2011: 23120) (2012: 25698)

Work/life balance, February 2013Count 4 (Work/life balance): Daytum provides a fascinating way to visualise my February as a purplish pie chart (reproduced here), and 2013's graph is no exception. What's especially reassuring is to see how my life isn't dominated by work. I put in more than my contractual hours, but the total still comes to less than a quarter of my time. I suspect your graph might be similar, or close-ish, if you ever stopped and calculated the percentage. However this year I'm having an atypical February because I'm enjoying a week off, which never normally happens, so that's skewed the figures somewhat. As for sleep totals, I doze for an average of six hours a day. That's borderline normal, I suspect, although I'm edging slowly down towards five and a half, which is probably not a good thing. Only 7% of my time is spent on the move, less than half of which is my daily commute and the rest is time spent gallivanting round the capital. And that leaves nearly half my life for everything else - eating, blogging, socialising, visiting, tellying, slobbing, that sort of thing. Thankfully I'm extremely good at dragging things out to fill the time available, because there's a lot of it, but that's the joy of being footloose and offspring-free. What I really should do one year is count how much of this 'play' time is spent blogging, because I fear it's rather a lot, even rather too much...
Total number of hours spent doing stuff in February 2013: 672 (=24×28, obviously)
2013 - (work: 138) (rest: 163) (play: 313) (travel: 58)
2012 - (work: 169) (rest: 167) (play: 287) (travel: 49)
2011 - (work: 158) (rest: 172) (play: 290) (travel: 53)

(to be continued tomorrow)

 Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Yesterday I visited two art events at the Barbican. Both close on Sunday.

The Queue (4 October 2012 - 3 March 2013) (9am-8pm)
This dynamic artwork has been gathering considerable attention over the last few months. Located on the Barbican's main ground floor corridor, ostensibly it's nothing more than a flimsy chain of taped barriers. The layout resembles a very simple labyrinth, up and down and back again. It's nothing that should challenge the intellectual fibre of any visitor, and yet the temporal nature of the installation inexorably draws them in.

Space is limited, so it pays to arrive early. For some it's been a nine o'clock start, a full two hours early for the main action. The couple staking their claim at the front of the line have brought two packets of Nik Naks for sustenance, and occasionally nuzzle each other in mutual support. The entire line behind them is seated on the ground, coats sprawled and bags laid out to claim the territory. Nobody wants to sit too close to a stranger so the queue winds back further than it might, threatening to extend beyond the end of the barriers into the foyer. Occasionally someone nips off to buy a coffee, but better organised attendees have their own already, or a yoghurt, even sandwiches.

I arrive before ten, narrowly beating the pushchair invasion. There must be approximately sixty people ahead of me, which becomes sixty-two when the student I'm sat beside welcomes two female friends under the barrier. They sit on the carpet and discuss the club they visited last night, and that time they got so paralytic they can't remember what they did - an anecdote which is mercifully short. A few of the waiting participants have books to read to pass the time, but most are relying on their smartphones. Tap, flick, swish - their fingers engage in digital ballet as the minutes slowly pass. I bet half these people couldn't have have stuck out the tedium without 3G support, and ten years ago the queue would have been considerably shorter.

At ten o'clock black-shirted staff begin to appear behind the glass, chatting on walkie talkies. A couple eventually emerge, setting up the artwork's official photograph on an easel and wandering down the line to dispense leaflets. At ten past, one wanders by with a sign reading "the queue is approximately four hours from this point", which she plonks down approximately one hour behind me. An audible shudder resonates, but we are resilient, and the wait goes on. Newcomers wander in from the street, no doubt thinking how clever they are to have arrived early, and their faces fall. Two grandparents have to break the news to their pink-hatted progeny that she won't be getting inside today. Sadness ensues, and the trio go make alternative plans elsewhere.

At twenty to eleven the "approximately six hours" sign appears, if only briefly, as the line reaches the front doors as threatened. An old lady walks past clutching a carrier bag laden with Waitrose provisions - she could be a Barbican resident, but I like to think she's an actress brought in to keep us entertained. The disappointed faces come thicker and faster now, as new arrivals mentally add four hours to the current time and decide their day's too short. "Are you queueing for something?" asks a bemused visitor who's read none of the publicity. And finally the Nik Nak couple stand, followed by a smattering of those behind them, as the appointed time for action arrives and expectations peak.

The Curve's doors open late, something to do with a private view running over, and the atmosphere changes. Books are tucked away, scarves and jackets are gathered, eyes head up front. Where 100+ people had been sitting now 100+ people stand, and everyone politely shuffles forward. This is all it takes for the queue to shrink dramatically in length, and suddenly things aren't looking quite so "approximately four hours" any more. But when only half a dozen people are ushered through the doors ahead, and then nothing else happens for ten minutes, those standing right at the back revert to muted passive pessimism.

It's slow progress to the front, nudging fractionally and occasionally forward. A bunch of students are using the time to do some work, reading through notes on "An overview of the solar system" and jotting down complex equations. Further would-be attendees drop in, sum up the futility of the situation and take photos of an entrance through which they have no intention of passing. At last the distant sound of running water can be heard, and there's a clean smell which reminds very much of swimming pools. "Are you just a one?" asks the member of staff on the door as he ushers me forward. It's half past twelve, and my time in The Queue is finally over.

Rain Room (4 October 2012 - 3 March 2013) (11am-8pm)
The shadows on the wall are the first sign. They appear round the bend in The Curve, a line of heads, lit from behind by a very strong white spotlight. And listen to the sound of that downpour, pounding down like an indoor monsoon which eventually manifests ahead. This rain moves out of the way as you pass - that's the key idea of this artistic installation, but can it possibly work?

The set up is relatively simple, although delivery must be much more complex. A black plastic grid hangs above the end of the gallery space, 72 holes wide and considerably more than 72 holes long. No rain emerges from the front four rows but beyond that a steady stream of droplets falls, then drains away through plastic grooves below. It ought to be enough to drench anyone stupid enough to stand underneath, yet stand they do, such is their faith in the electronics powering the system. Sensors in the suspended ceiling deduce human presence beneath and ease off the rainfall, creating a bubble of safe space amid the deluge. You can watch it most clearly on the ceiling - circles of dry amongst a torrent of wet, slowly shifting as the silhouettes below move around. Looks fun. You'll be inside soon.

Stepping into the rain feels like stepping into the shower, but unnerving because you're still fully clothed. Have faith - the sensors are doing their job, and they'll part the waves for you as you enter. So long as you step slowly, minimal wetness occurs. Tread a little quicker and you'll likely get damp, because the system can't stop any droplets that are already falling before you move into them. Just as well it's winter because everyone's wearing coats, and the overall effect might be more disagreeable with a summer wardrobe. Some visitors even put their hoods up on discovering that speed equals moist hair. But another on my visit defied the odds by wandering around with an open laptop, and over five minutes barely splashed the screen.

It's fun to test the parameters of the installation's programming. Stick an arm out and the rain retreats. Stick out two and the drought zone enlarges to encompass both. You can even spin around, so long as you don't mind how foolish you appear to the outside audience, without getting unduly wet. It's great to have control over the weather, like some all powerful Norse rain god, even if only for a limited period. Five minutes, maybe ten minutes tops if you push it. Nobody's timing your spell beneath the artificial clouds but the next group of moisture-avoiders is already lined up waiting, and it would be wrong to delay their approach any longer.

Rain Room is a unique and highly enjoyable experience, as you may have discovered if you've visited over the last five months. If not, you've only got until Sunday, and your chances aren't good. To reach artwork two you have to queue through artwork one, and that's a considerable investment of time. I calculate only 40 people are getting inside every hour - that's less than 400 a day - so your chances of ruling the rain depend on how early you turn up and/or how long you're willing to wait. Bring a very good book. Walk slowly enough and you could even read it through the storm.

 Monday, February 25, 2013

BAKERLOO - February 2013
» Ten line facts
» First in line: Piccadilly Circus
» Down the line: Elephant & Castle → Harrow & Wealdstone
» A fine line: Warwick Avenue, Maida Vale, Kilburn Park
» Out of line: Queen's Park
» Extended line: beyond Elephant & Castle
» Dotted line: beyond Elephant & Castle
» Off line: Hatch End, Carpenders Park
» Between the lines: Wembley Central → Wembley Park
» Line of sight: Oxford Circus
» All of the above on one page
» ...and a centenary wander from 2006: Baker Street → Lambeth North

BAKERLOO: Line of sight

Before we leave the Bakerloo line, I wanted to mention one particularly badly positioned Next Train Indicator. I've grumbled about this for years, silently, so I'm hoping it'll be cathartic to share it with you. The offending NTI is at Oxford Circus, on the northbound Bakerloo line platform, as seen when you enter from the Central line. I thought I'd best go along and take a photo to show you what I mean.

But it's not an easy photograph to take. To capture the view as you enter the platform you have to stand at the platform entrance, obviously, except a stream of passengers is forever flooding out of the passage behind you. Occasionally the deluge breaks, so you might step in to get your shot, but there's invariably some slowcoach puffing up the tunnel late and you'd only get in their way. So you stand to one side, which is almost the right angle, and wait for the view down the platform to clear. First you have to wait for the crowd on the platform to vanish, which happens when a train arrives and they clamber on board. Then you have to wait for everyone getting off the train to leave the platform, which can take some time because there's an exit fairly close to where you're standing. By now a further surge of people has usually spilled in, and they haven't walked far because people rarely do, but they've walked far enough to be standing in the way of the shot you want. Either you wait patiently for "one minute after a departing train" to coincide with "no wave of passengers pouring in from the Central line", or you come here at six in the morning. I managed neither, and this out-of-focus blurry mess is the best photo I've got.

But you get the idea. Passengers walk along the winding passage from the Central line, they turn the corner and emerge onto the Bakerloo line platform, then they stare ahead to see where the next train's going. No can do. The Next Train Indicator is almost perfectly blocked by a sign of similar size and shape hanging in front. Destinations, 100% invisible. Timings, maybe the "mins" part if you're lucky. Is the next service going all the way to Harrow & Wealdstone? Don't know. Is there a lengthy gap in the service ahead? No idea, because there's a white rectangle in the way.

And what's the especially ironic thing? It's that the offending blocking sign points the way to the Central line platforms, from which emerging passengers have just come. The one piece of information they don't need is blocking the one thing they do. Next Train Indicator, installed by cretins?

Maybe not. TfL have an important rule of positioning which decrees that every platform exit must always be clearly marked. Wherever the exit to the Central line is located, it's got to to have a ← Central line sign beside it. Passengers alighting at the rear of the train have to locate this sign to find their way off the platform, so it needs to be here. Maybe it doesn't need to be so wide - there's a big white space at the end of the sign which appears to be entirely superfluous. But look from the other side and you'll see that this extra length is needed, there's something there, an electronic "Way out" sign which occasionally flashes up. The problem isn't the platform exit sign, no, it's where the Next Train Indicator's been placed.

TfL have another important rule of positioning, once explained to me in an email by a nice lady called Tracey.
The layout of many of our stations means it will never be possible for customers to see the train indicator boards from anywhere on the platform and it is for this reason that we stipulate that train indicators should be positioned so that the information on the display can be read as customers enter the platform and from the middle of the platform. If this cannot be achieved by a single display then an additional one should be fitted where possible. Using this criteria, although customers may not be able to see the display wherever they stand on the platform they should be able to access the information in the majority of cases.
There are indeed two Next Train Indicators on the northbound Bakerloo platform at Oxford Circus. One's close to the middle, so is relatively easily seen by the majority of those waiting around. And the other's further up where the majority of passengers enter the platform, including those arriving down the main escalators from the surface. Everyone else gets to see where the next trains are going, but not the unfortunate folk arriving from the Central line. They can only stop and stand and hope, or else walk further up the platform until the crucial information appears. TfL's budget doesn't stretch to having three Next Train Indicators on the same platform, even at one of the busiest stations on the entire network, and so a black hole of information remains.

And you might say who cares, just move along the platform. But that might not always be possible, if the station's particularly crowded. You might not want to walk any further, indeed you might not be able. And as Tracey alluded, the one time you particularly want to know about the next train is the very moment you enter the platform. In this case that information is blocked, thanks to a mixture of prescriptive rules, poorly-positioned signage and lack of budget. Expect no change at Oxford Circus. The next northbound train to somewhere will hopefully be along shortly.

 Sunday, February 24, 2013

London's postcodes work roughly like this....
  • Outside central London there are six lettered zones - NW, N, E, W, SW and SE.
  • In each zone, postal district 1 is the closest to central London.
  • The other districts are numbered in alphabetical order.

    A schematic map of London's inner postcodes
    NW2 Cricklewood, NW3 Hampstead, NW4 Hendon, NW5 Kentish Town, NW6 Kilburn, NW7 Mill Hill, NW8 St John's Wood, NW9 The Hyde, NW10 Willesden, NW11 Golders Green
    NW1 North Western head district
    N2 East Finchley, N3 Finchley, N4 Finsbury Park, N5 Highbury, N6 Highgate, N7 Holloway, N8 Hornsey, N9 Lower Edmonton, N10 Muswell Hill, N11 New Southgate, N12 North Finchley, N13 Palmers Green, N14 Southgate, N15 South Tottenham, N16 Stoke Newington, N17 Tottenham, N18 Upper Edmonton, N19 Upper Holloway, N20 Whetstone, N21 Winchmore Hill, N22 Wood Green
    N1 Northern head district
    E2 Bethnal Green, E3 Bow, E4 Chingford, E5 Clapton, E6 East Ham, E7 Forest Gate, E8 Hackney, E9 Homerton, E10 Leyton, E11 Leytonstone, E12 Manor Park, E13 Plaistow, E14 Poplar, E15 Stratford, E16 Victoria Docks, E17 Walthamstow, E18 Woodford, E20 Olympic Park
    E1 Eastern head district
    W1 Western head district
    W2 Paddington, W3 Acton, W4 Chiswick, W5 Ealing, W6 Hammersmith, W7 Hanwell, W8 Kensington, W9 Maida Hill, W10 North Kensington, W11 Notting Hill, W12 Shepherds Bush, W13 West Ealing, W14 West Kensington
    WC1 WC2
    EC1 EC2 EC3 EC4
    SW1 South Western head district
    SW2 Brixton, SW3 Chelsea, SW4 Clapham, SW5 Earls Court, SW6 Fulham, SW7 South Kensington, SW8 South Lambeth, SW9 Stockwell, SW10 West Brompton
    /SW11 Battersea, SW12 Balham, SW13 Barnes, SW14 Mortlake, SW15 Putney, SW16 Streatham, SW17 Tooting, SW18 Wandsworth, SW19 Wimbledon, SW20 West Wimbledon
    SE1 South Eastern head district
    SE2 Abbey Wood, SE3 Blackheath, SE4 Brockley, SE5 Camberwell, SE6 Catford, SE7 Charlton, SE8 Deptford, SE9 Eltham, SE10 Greenwich, SE11 Kennington, SE12 Lee, SE13 Lewisham, SE14 New Cross, SE15 Peckham, SE16 Rotherhithe, SE17 Walworth, SE18 Woolwich
    /SE19 Norwood, SE20 Anerley, SE21 Dulwich, SE22 East Dulwich, SE23 Forest Hill, SE24 Herne Hill, SE25 South Norwood, SE26 Sydenham, SE27 West Norwood, SE28 Thamesmead

  • The London postal district system was introduced by Rowland Hill in 1857. [map]
  • Originally there were ten districts - WC, EC and the eight compass points. Each stretched out approximately 12 miles from the central post office (near St Paul's Cathedral) [map]
  • SW was, and remains, the only London postal district to cross the Thames.
  • In 1866 Anthony Trollope merged the NE and E districts under E. He also nudged in the outer boundary, removing Ilford, Romford and Dagenham from the system. NE would later be used for Newcastle.
  • In 1868 he abolished the S district by splitting it between SW and SE. S would later be used for Sheffield. [map]
  • In 1917, to improve wartime efficiency, the eight postal districts were subdivided and numbered. The head post office in each district was coded 1, then the remaining areas were numbered in alphabetical order of the main delivery office. [map]
  • Because W1 (the West End) was so important, the western head district (in Paddington) got to be W2 instead.
  • SW had two head districts (inner southwestern and outer southwestern) so had two alphabetical lists, one for SW1–SW10 and another (starting in Battersea) for SW11–SW20.
  • SE also comprised two alphabetical lists, the inner district being SE1-SE18 and the outer district being SE19-SE27.
  • Multi-character postcodes were introduced across London in the 1970s, each starting with the three or four characters of the existing district code.
  • Ten postcode areas have been further subdivided by adding another letter on the end. These are E1, N1, W1, EC1, EC2, EC3, EC4, WC1, WC2 and SW1.
  • New code SE28 was carved out of SE2 and SE18 when Thamesmead was built. The only other fresh code is E20, created in 2011 for the Olympic Park, and formerly part of E15. There is no E19.
  • The only London boroughs entirely covered by "compass point" postcodes are Camden, Hackney, Hammersmith and Fulham, Haringey, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth and Westminster. Meanwhile Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Hillingdon and Sutton lie entirely outside the London postal district.
  • Sewardstone, an Essex village north of Chingford, is the only place outside the Greater London boundary but within the London postal district.
  • The outer London postal region includes postcodes AL, BR, CR, DA, EN, HA, IG, KT, RM, SM, TW, UB and WD.
  • If the NE postcode still existed, it would contain modern postcodes E2, E4, E5, E8, E9, E10, E11, E17 and E18. An NE street sign remains on Victoria Park Road in Hackney.
  • If the S postcode still existed, it would contain modern postcodes SW2, SW4, SW9, SW12, SW16 and SW17, plus SE5, SE11, SE17, SE19, SE21, SE24, SE24, SE25 and SE27 (I think).
  • Explore each postcode's heritage with the Museum of London's Postcodes Project.
  •  Saturday, February 23, 2013

    Museum Mile is the umbrella name for a swathe of museums across the middle of town, between King's Cross and the Aldwych. There are a dozen in total - one a cluster of smaller museums - which makes more than enough to keep anyone busy on a London day out. So, let's go and visit a few...

    » British Library: Major book stash, plus treasured manuscripts. [I've visited before] I'm writing this sat on the first floor of the British Library, which is kind of appropriate given that these words will eventually be archived here. The public facing side of the building features temporary and permanent exhibitions - the former currently a display of the A-Z of crime fiction. In a darkened room are illustrated Bibles and Shakespeare's folios along with dozens of other literally important works. In the entrance hall they're spending the day celebrating all things Indian, with music, dance and henna painting. Meanwhile backstage the serious work continues, as students emerge from the Reading Rooms clutching books protected inside clear plastic bags. I've never been up to the third floor before, but the best view's probably from the walkway across the second, looking down over the foyer with the central bookstack towering behind. Busy, serious, welcoming.
    » British Museum: Global collection of arts and culture. [I've visited before] You could, indeed probably should, spend an entire day exploring here. The warren of galleries is busy today, with visitors come to pay respects to their own culture and to be inspired by others. On every visit I always manage to discover some corner I've never been inside before - in this case the subterranean Africa galleries showcasing a wealth of craft-based talent from across the continent. Upstairs, also from Africa, is a 1.8m year-old cutting tool - the oldest exhibit in the museum. Always a pleasure, and an education.
    » Brunei Gallery: African, Asian and Middle Eastern art. [I've never visited before] Based at SOAS - that's the School of Oriental and African Studies - you might never realise from outside that access was permitted. One room houses finer things from two continents, while the main space is given over to temporary exhibitions. Currently that's beautiful Malaysian textile art downstairs and an eye-opening display of photographs chronicling Waltham Forest's Tamil community upstairs. On the top floor is a roof garden, a bit bleak today, but which must be much nicer in the summer. And every visitor other than me was female, but that's shawls and embroidery for you.
    » Charles Dickens Museum: The author's sole remaining London home. [I've visited recently]
    » Courtauld Gallery: Petite artshow upstairs at Somerset House. [I've visited before]
    » Foundling Museum: London's first home for abandoned children. [I've visited before]
    » Museum of Freemasonry: A library full of regalia (and trowels). [I've visited before]
    » Grant Museum: Recently revamped collection of zoological specimens. [I've visited before] Relocated from a cramped corner of UCL two years ago, this collection of pickled animals is now housed in a large room on the other side of Gower Street. Saturdays are particularly child-friendly with well-attended hands-on activities run by PhD students at a central table. See rare skeletons (only seven quaggas exist), various bisected heads and the famous jar of moles. Maybe you could join Bex, Jethro and Clemency in sponsoring a dead animal. Even the walrus penis bone is sponsored, thanks to Seamus, but each subscription only lasts a year so you might be able to join the waiting list. A much improved experience.
    » Hunterian Museum: 200 years of medical and anatomical history. [I've visited before] John Hunter was an 18th century anatomist whose collection of bones, tissues and body parts supported his teaching work. Now held by the Royal College of Surgeons, and extended, they make an amazing and somewhat morbid ensemble. Perfectly preserved specimens in sparkling jars surround a central gallery, including bits of you that you probably try very hard not to think about. See Charles Babbage's brain, the skeleton of a giant and a variety of dissected animal organs. As an added extra today, graduating medical students are wandering around in mortarboards with their parents and pointing out their favourite glands. Most enlightening, if a bit queasy-making.
    » John Soane's Museum: The architect's townhouse, on Lincoln's Inn Fields. [I've visited before] Even in February, best queue early because it gets much busier later. Only 80 people are allowed inside at a time, and they've had 500 visitors every day this week. No electronic devices, warns the Warder at the gate, no large bags and (on Saturdays) no sketching. The interior is an astonishing treasure house of classical collectibles - foreign visitors audibly gasped. Stone carvings cover the walls, relocated monuments fill every alcove, and there's even a proper sarcophagus in the basement. The museum's recently been extended nextdoor into Soane's original home, where there's currently an exhibition of Piranesi drawings - masterworks of perspective. With snowflakes gently swirling around the tiny inner courtyards, viewed through stained glass windows, this is a joy. A regular must-visit.
    » London Transport Museum: The capital's transport system, past and present. [I've visited before, obviously]
    Petrie Museum: Crammed-in collection of Egyptian artefacts. [I've visited before] This scholarly centre of Egyptology is accessed up a backstair up a backstreet. Here are umpteen shelves of tiny ancient objects, and a room full of chronological pottery, and stacked up chunks of carved hieroglyphics. It's also probably the only place in London where you'll find a painted limestone monkey harpist. Best not to turn up at the same time as a tour party of retired curio hunters - they do block the narrow aisles somewhat. Open afternoons only, and a true open secret.
    » Wellcome Collection: All things medical, with a populist touch. [I've visited before] Death is very busy this afternoon. The Wellcome's morbid exhibition closes this weekend, so is packed to the gills with those attempting a last minute visit. I had been expecting a more medical approach to human demise but this is mostly art, in particular a lot of manifestations of grimly staring skulls. It's very trendy place to be seen too - the galleries are full of paired-off twenty somethings and the cafe's seating is full. Come quickly.

    Today's post is a first for this blog... started at home, but written in chunks and updated on location. Hurrah for smartphones, and the special Blogger app. I've edited it a bit afterwards, to get rid of some accidental predictive text errors and the like, but hurrah, it all worked.

     Friday, February 22, 2013

    BAKERLOO: Between the lines

    Before the Jubilee line opened in 1979, the Bakerloo had two northern branches. One went to Watford, and the other went to Stanmore. These two branches ran fairly close together, like a bent tuning fork laid out across northwest London. So I thought I'd go for a walk between them at one of the points where they're closest together, in Wembley. The shortest hike is between North Wembley and Wembley Park, but I tried walking that and it was really boring. So instead I walked from Wembley Central to Wembley Park... and I can write you 1000 words on that.

    Wembley Central is another of the Bakerloo's wholly unimpressive stations. It started out as ordinary platforms on the mainline, way back in 1842, with the Bakerloo arriving in 1917. In the 1960s a concrete piazza was constructed over the tracks, with a shopping parade on top and covered platforms beneath. They're a fairly gloomy place to wait, but not as unappealing as the five year-old station entrance up top [photo]. This is destined to be swallowed whole, as the space overground slowly morphs into the "vibrant and bustling" Wembley Central Square. This has a very 2010s look, all angular apartments with coloured panels, plus several mid-range superstores at ground level. It's in complete contrast to the other side of the road, the much older Central Parade, which is more pawnbrokers and pharmacies than TK Maxx and Sports Direct. The street is genuinely bustling on a Saturday, with teens in pink leggings and mums dangling Iceland carrier bags, a proper multi-ethnic retail mix.

    I've long associated this corner of London with very slow traffic, and this was again the case last weekend with cars queueing down the High Road. I managed to outwalk a bus with ease, which is never a good sign, although that turned out to be the result of a crane lifting metal girders to the roof of some new flats. The big word in Wembley at the moment is redevelopment, which includes the main council offices here at Brent House. They look long past their use-by-date, so they're being vacated this summer and a big foodstore is pencilled in as the replacement. That'd also be why Barham Library has been closed down. This used to be down Sudbury way until last year, but lives on now only as a shop on the High Road where volunteers lend volumes. 25p buys you a paperback or a comic from a box outside, but it's only 20p for an REM single.

    That's enough of mundane Wembley (for those of you who are still reading) because here comes the famous bit. Its arch has been looming over the rooftops since I left the station, but here it comes full on, dominating the area ahead. This is of course Wembley Stadium, the national arena, where some of the most forgettable events of the London Olympics were held. The approach (from central Wembley) is across a relatively new structure, the White Horse Bridge, which spans the railway cutting over the Chiltern line [photo]. Accessed between futuristic lightpoles, its arches echo the main stadium ahead. The scale of the walkways is appropriate for post-match fallout, but come at any other time and you'll likely feel dwarfed. The London Development Agency are very proud of this area, one of the Mayor's Green Spaces, but the dominant features are the bland tower hotels alongside. [photo]

    Walk up to the podium around the stadium and you might expect to be here alone. There's nothing to see except the outside wall of a sports fortress, complete with state-of-the-art turnstiles and twisty curve above. But Wembley has a lure all of its own, and many come here on a footballing pilgrimage. I saw a fair number of twenty-something lads, the type you'd expect to see down the pub of an evening, who'd clearly come hoping the stadium might be a good day out. They didn't look disappointed, but they did look entirely aimless. Unless they'd pre-booked they wouldn't be getting inside the stadium or onto the 5-a-side pitches outside, so all there was to do was stand around and take each other's photo [photo]. A few more enterprising souls had brought skateboards and were using the extensive system of ramps to manoeuvre downslope, or the stepped piazza outside Wembley Arena for some tricks and jumps. The infrastructure's unintentionally ideal, especially for beginners who can practice (and fall over) in peace. [photo]

    But that peace won't last. A new urban centre is being created here, and you'll likely be coming to look even though you don't know it yet. The land around Wembley Stadium has been levelled over the past few years, and modern buildings have finally started shooting up, everywhere. Closest to the stadium is a Hilton hotel, dark and squat, with an exclusive roof terrace up top and a TGI Fridays underneath. To the right is the council's latest masterwork, the new Brent Civic Centre, an environmentally-friendly replacement for Brent Town Hall [photo]. From the summer residents will be able to come here to marry, to gain citizenship and to interact with council services via a self-service portal. There'll also be a big "21st century" library, assuming those who live near Brent's many closed libraries can be bothered to travel this far. Eventually even the car parks round here are scheduled to become flats, as the Wembley City project takes hold.

    The true game-changer is being erected to the west of the stadium. This is the London Designer Outlet, a retail complex the size of Wembley's pitch which expects to be open before Christmas. Expect several dozen stores on three levels, plus restaurants and a cinema, all hoping to attract the more discerning shopper to HA9. The official brochure calls it a "lifestyle destination", and revels in the size of its affluent northwest London catchment area (which it measures solely by car-driving distance). Why go to Bicester Village or Hatfield Galleria for your cut-price designer leftovers when you can snap them up in Wembley, that's the plan. They expect 8 million visitors a year, and if you fancy last season's trousers you could soon be one of them.

    Head up Wembley Way, as generations of football fans have done, and the view is changing. Beyond the hot dog stands and burger booths a cluster of newbuild towers has risen, in blue and brown and gold. Some are offices, but others are hotels, because this corner of Wembley is fast becoming a place you stay and eat and spend. One plot of heritage survives [photo], part of the Palace of Industry from the 1924 British Empire Exhibition. It's only concrete, and unlisted, but within its classical walls appeared the finest innovations our nation could muster. Today it's used as a warehouse by a distribution company, and is due for demolition because a shabby palace would be out of keeping with a world-class destination. Make no mistake about it, this area's on the up. And next time you fancy a steakhouse meal, some designer togs and a bed for the night, you might just be heading to Wembley.

     Thursday, February 21, 2013

    It's been almost six months since I last reminded PR folk and marketeers not to bother sending me stuff. That's because sending me stuff is counter-productive. I have a rule that if you send me an email about an event, a campaign, a website or whatever, I can guarantee I won't blog about it. Please, don't waste your time on me, go splatter your publicity machine elsewhere instead.

    Here are some of the choicer promotions I've been sent recently, with the campaigns shamed but not named.
    Today <London charity> is beta launching <a map of stuff near you> <blah de blah de blah>. We wondered if you would be interested covering this new site on Twitter or on your blog. I really like the long content on Diamond Geezer, especially the Bakerloo line series of posts. Perhaps we could even chat about a long content post on unknown or unusual <locations> using the map?
    No Tom, my blog doesn't work like that. I come up with the ideas, not you. Plus your map of stuff near me doesn't have anything near me. Fail.
    Hi there 'Diamond Geezer'
    I have noticed that on your page http://diamondgeezer.blogspot.co.uk/2007_04_01_diamondgeezer_archive.html the link you provide for the Royal Opera House is broken as the website has expired. As broken links are harmful to websites, may I suggest a suitable replacement? <Page on Rebecca's website> has in-depth advice on travel, box office and ticket booking information, a list of the theatre's facilities, nearby restaurants and hotels as well as detailed information on upcoming shows.
    I don't replace five year-old broken links, Rebecca. And if I did, I'd link back to the Royal Opera House, not your opportunist website.
    Hi London Geezer,
    I hope you’re well. I’m Kate and I’m contacting you on behalf of <accommodation company> who has just released an infographic marking the London Underground’s 150th birthday. There are some amazing facts and even a couple of stats that creeped me out. Nevertheless, this infographic is a fantastic way to celebrate a remarkable achievement.
    Your infographic was also wrong, Kate. If I had published your sponsored infographic, I would also have ridiculed it.
    Good Morning! I hope you’re well.
    Huge apologies for the late notice, but we’ve just been told we’re able to invite a couple more guests to an event tonight at <East End hotel> – you’d be very welcome to take a friend or colleague. It starts at 7pm - please see invitation below - essentially cocktail making, delicious food and music from DJ Teamy (who’s pretty good!). Let me know if you fancy popping along.
    Thanks for highlighting that I'm a second-class last-minute invitee, Jess. But I can imagine few things more uncomfortable than a mystery night out mixing cocktails in a loud room with strangers. Please give your freebie to someone a little shallower.
    To whom it may concern,
    I am looking to see if I can write articles for your site. I write articles for a site at the moment. I am looking to get links to a property development finance related site from your blog and hope that there might be a way that I could provide some interesting and unique content as well. I understand this is a London Underground blog site, so might not be that appropriate.
    You have to wish James well in his job search. I fear it's not going well.
    Let’s celebrate one of the most important days of the year, the National Women’s Day! Live, Love, Laugh for longer. <Nutritional product> is a great anti oxidant supplement designed to provide strong nutritional support for the heart and other vital organs of the body.
    Well done Kasia, that's a supremely patronising and misdirected campaign. Let's not celebrate that at all.
    I'm emailing you about a new video for <crinkle cut rice snacks> involving people dressed as mice running on a life-size hamster wheel. The video is a sequel to the extremely well received <crinkle cut rice snacks>-o-matic video from this past summer. I thought the video would be something your viewers would enjoy because of how amusing it is.
    Hi Shawn. You thought wrong.
    How are you? I hope you’re well.
    I am working with one of our clients at the moment on a rather exciting car challenge. We would give you one of the cars and the challenge would be to see how far you can get over a two day period, you would be asking your Twitter and Facebook fans for advice/guidance. We would give you budget for a hotel, and you would not have to pay for petrol. The person that gets the furthest away can win a set amount of money.
    I wondered if this be something you be would be interested in, do let me know as we are only involving 5 bloggers in this project – it is super exciting, so let me know and I can tell you more details soon.
    Wow. Sometimes, when you're a blogger, top offers like this drop into your inbox and you'd be a fool to say no. I said no. I don't know who Gemma found to go in my place, but I don't remember reading about their exploits anywhere.
    Hello dg,
    As you'll know, <the observation deck at the top of a very tall spiky building> is opening in February, and I wondered whether you might want a free ticket up to the top? We wouldn't force you to write about it, except obviously you would, because this is <the observation deck at the top of a very tall spiky building>. So we'll see you soon?
    Actually, this was an email I didn't get. Large numbers of London bloggers did, both amateur and professional, and they all (rightly) posted their photos and experiences online. But no PR person offered me a ticket, and for that I say a genuine thankyou. Someone's got the message that emailing me promotional stuff is entirely counter-productive. If only the others would learn the same.

     Wednesday, February 20, 2013

    I went to work at the usual time on Monday, expecting to go home at the usual time. I'm fortunate like that, I have a usual time. I'm not forced to stick to it, I can be flexible, but I do have a time I usually start and a time I usually finish. It all helps to create a working life I can generally plan around, more often than not, which is nice.

    Early on Monday afternoon I got a phone call. "You know that X which Y is doing? Could you send it to Z? It's not ready yet, but Y has promised to send X by half past hometime. You'll send that will you? Great." So I stayed later than usual in the office, which was fine because I had plenty to do. But when half past hometime arrived no X from Y had turned up. I couldn't get in touch with Y, but it was business critical that their X was passed on, so I hung around. At hometime o'clock plus one hour, still nothing, and at hometime plus two, no change. I could have been at home on my sofa, having a nice cup of tea, watching the evening news. Instead I was sat at my desk, waving at the ceiling to turn the lights back on, waiting patiently for X to turn up. Half an hour later an email arrived announcing that X was ready, but only half of it, and that was all I was going to get. I packaged X up, wrote a diplomatically apologetic covering note and sent it off to Z. And then I went home, arriving nearly three hours later than usual. It happens sometimes.

    On Tuesday morning I got a meeting request. Somebody more important than me wanted to hold a meeting starting half an hour after my usual hometime, duration one hour. It's always the way with last minute meetings, they're always either after work or at lunchtime, because those are the only slots available that "everyone can do". I smiled weakly, waited half an hour, then fired back my response. She'll have read it as "Yes", whereas really it was "oh go on then, but only because you're important, and the project is important, and this needs doing". Unlike the previous Tuesday I hadn't booked anywhere to be, so this meeting was only going to be an inconvenience, not a evening-stopper. When my usual hometime came round I made an extra cup of tea, watched as others packed up and left, and got some X ready for the meeting. I wasn't complaining, it's all part of the job, but I'd rather have been somewhere else. During the meeting we spent so long picking apart U, V and W that there wasn't any time to discuss X, so I never got a chance to mention all the good work I'd done the previous night. And we overran, because last meetings of the day always do, because nobody's standing outside glaring through the glass waiting for everyone to leave. By the time I'd got back to my desk there were emails to deal with, to be forwarded to people working much later in the evening than me. And eventually I headed home, leaving more than two hours later than usual. It happens sometimes.

    I'm not sure about tonight. I don't have any meetings booked in my calendar, and there are no definite plans for things to finish late. But there is a deadline looming, and a lot of that relies on other people doing their stuff first, so things might not go as planned. I might get out at the usual time, but more likely not, so I haven't planned anything after work tonight either. It could well be another late one, and I have very little control over whether it is or isn't. It happens sometimes.

    Look, I'm not complaining. But it did get me wondering. It struck me that different jobs vary a great deal in the freedom they give you over your hometime. Perhaps more importantly, different jobs vary a great deal in the certainty they give you to know your hometime and to stick to it. So I've tried to come up with a 10-point scale to gauge where I might stand on the matter of predictable clocking-off.

    The Hometime Uncertainty Index
    0) I don't have a job.
    1) I work for myself and I can stop whenever I like.
    2) I have a set hometime, and I can always stick to it.
    3) I work flexibly, and can I usually stop when I please.
    4) I have a typical hometime, and I can normally stick to it.
    5) I have an expected hometime, and I can sometimes stick to it.
    6) I have an average hometime, but I can't rely on it.
    7) I have a notional hometime, but it almost never happens.
    8) I have to work until the job is done, however long it takes.
    9) I get home eventually, but I still have to check in with work.
    10) I'm always on call, my work never ends.

    I've had an 8 job before. I couldn't plan to do much of an evening because there was always lots to do and I never knew when it'd be finished. I've had a 5 job before, which had widely varying hometimes each day, but at least I usually knew when they were in advance. I've never had a 9 job, thankfully, because at work I'm one rung below those deemed Blackberry-worthy. I reckon my current job is a 4, because I do generally get home when I expect and weeks like this are the exception. So I should stop complaining, and rejoice in the general predictability of my employment. Because we don't all have that, or indeed have work at all. I hope you're not a 10.

     Tuesday, February 19, 2013

    BAKERLOO: Off line

    The Bakerloo line now terminates at Harrow and Wealdstone, but for most of its life it pushed further north. The top end used to be at Watford Junction, that's from 1915 all the way through to 1982 when the line was abruptly pulled back. Six stations were expelled in that curtailment, and they're now served by a less frequent London Overground service. So I thought I'd go and visit two of then, one on either side of the Greater London border, the first in Zone 6 and the second in Zone 7.

    After passing through a flurry of not-that-thrilling stations, architecturally, Hatch End comes as a pleasant surprise. You might not guess immediately from the platforms, but look more carefully at the station building on the western side and you'll see the attraction. Signs aren't written on plastic above the doorways, they're carved in stone. Two locked doors behind the footbridge are still labelled "Bicycles" and "Cloak Room", the latter a hint of a more genteel age when left luggage was a service the public desired. Two thirds of the entrance into the "Booking Hall" has been panelled off, and the chiselled lettering above is part covered with moss. If it's wet, an overhanging gable shelters no more than a carriage-length of passengers from the rain. If it's dry, the flowers blooming in their baskets might turn out to be no more than plastic. But step out into the car park and look back, because that's where the finest view's to be found. Hatch End station is a proud vertical affair, raised up like a miniature town hall with central clocktower and a golden weathervane on top. Pride of place goes to a sculpted stone carving of fruit and foliage, topped off by the year 1911 and the initials of the London and North Western Railway. It's so nice here that the Harrow Heritage Trust have placed one of their special brown plaques on the outside, an honour bestowed on only 30 locations in the borough. "This (Wrenish Style)" building by Gerald Horsley was built in 1911 on the site of the first station opened in August 1842" it says, but in capitals. John Betjeman rather liked the place, as you'd imagine. It even won 'Small Station of the Year' at the National Rail Awards last year, for all the kudos that's worth.

    Hatch End itself is rather likeable too. A few minutes walking along the The Broadway and I got the feeling this is somewhere that Jewish couples aspire to retire to. The floral baskets are sponsored by the local synagogue, the bakery does eggless cakes, and everything's really suburbanly 'nice'. Most of the shops on the parade are aimed at keeping folk busy, be that getting your hair done or politely dining out. Hatch End's culinary status is long established, thanks to the inestimable Mrs Beeton. She moved into an Italianate villa here in 1856, and stayed long enough to write the The Book of Household Management (compiled from monthly supplements to The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine). Her house was destroyed by a bomb during WW2, but Hatchets restaurant now proudly occupies the site, and the Harrow Heritage Trust awarded them a brown plaque too.

    I thought I'd walk from Hatch End across the border into Hertfordshire. The London Loop runs parallel to the railway, up a pine tree avenue many are proud to call home. Here sons kick footballs against their double garage, and signs on trees invite residents to 'Garden Planning with Monica'. I was looking forward to the walk past Pinnerwood Farm until I discovered that an appealing looking field was in fact a squidgy cushion of mud. I tried to follow the path but succeeded only in turning my trainers an unappealing shade of brown so was forced to retreat. The only alternative was a mile-long detour across the railway, via the Hatch End Millennium Bridge, below which the Bakerloo line no longer passes. I was particularly surprised to stumble upon another HHT brown plaque marking the site of Grim's Dyke, an ancient British earthwork, running up a narrow patch of woodland between two sets of back gardens. The very edge of the capital is on Oxhey Lane, past the finest detached villas, past the golf club. The line is marked by a squat white boundary post, and a topiary hedge, and a sign saying County of Middlesex. And then finally it's out into broad rolling countryside, a stripe of lush Green Belt before the overspill estates begin.

    There are two settlements either side of the West Coast mainline here, of which Carpenders Park is the smaller. There's no park, although the entire area was fields and the occasional farmstead until the 1930s. The first semis and bungalows rose up the hillside before the war, while the later flat-roofed houses were the fictional setting of Leslie Thomas's Tropic of Ruislip. I saw no such wife-swapping exploits on my traverse, just one happy husband painting his guttering while a football commentary blared, and there's no novel in that. Perhaps I missed the interesting bits of this Watford outpost, but it seems the station's only called Carpenders Park because this side of the railway grew up first.

    South Oxhey, on the western side, is more of a beast. It's almost entirely council estate, built by the LCC in the late 1940s to rehouse thousands displaced from the capital. In its day it would have been aspirational, but those days are long gone, and there's an especially tired feel to the central shopping centre. Two rectangular blocks sandwich a bleak central piazza, lined by shops like Cheapjacks, Pound Smart and Sunny Boy's Cafe. The Fisherman's Cabin advertises itself with a painted St George's flag and the legend Love England, Love Fish and Chips, while a dog paws against the window on a balcony above. Just one building pierces the postwar sprawl, and that's Oxhey Chapel, a 400 year-old flint and redbrick mini-church plonked between the vicarage and the sports centre. It's perhaps no surprise that Gareth Malone's production company settled on South Oxhey as the ideal setting for a series of The Choir - one down-at-heel community within easy driving distance of his home. They rose to the challenge magnificently, but it'll take some major investment from Three Rivers Council to kickstart this place back to proper life. The contrast between the streets of South Oxhey and the avenues of Hatch End is striking, so perhaps it's for the best that the two are separated by a barrier of temporarily impenetrable mud.

    Oh, and Carpenders Park station? Nothing to get overly excited about, more a subway that rises gently between the tracks to a canopied island platform. From here you can watch businessfolk speeding past in their Pendolinos whilst waiting for the Overground to turn up, sometime in the next twenty minutes if you're lucky. They say that maybe one day the Bakerloo line will return, because if it can't go to Camberwell it could at least come here. It needn't rush.

     Monday, February 18, 2013

    The BBC opened Television Centre in 1960. Famously designed on the back of an envelope, its question mark shape was the perfect arrangement for a swirl of studios, offices and storage areas. Since then it's been at the heart of nation's consciousness, churning out memorable programmes from Come Dancing to Strictly Come Dancing, and only a licence-denying curmudgeon would deny otherwise. But no more. Next month the BBC moves out and the studios go dark - three of them for two years, the other five permanently. The site's been sold off to developers Stanhope plc who plan to transform it into a cross between a residential village and a heritage attraction, complete with hotel, cinema, health club and restaurants.

    Whilst it'll no doubt be entirely unaffordable to live at Television Centre, the site will at least be open, and you'll be able to wander in from White City or Hammersmith Park without hindrance. But it has been possible to take a look around inside TVC while it's been operational, in some detail. The BBC have been running tours for years, and these have increased in number as the building's slowly emptied. The last of these tours runs this week (don't bother looking, they're already sold out), before the final TV shows are recorded next month and the remaining handful of staff move out. I nipped back inside last week for a lingering look at the end of an era.

    Tours of TVC vary according to what's going on where, so sometimes you get to see one studio and at other times another. But all tours begin on the BBC Star Terrace, which is an elevated area near the main entrance with dozens of circular plaques underfoot. Here are commemorated Dick Emery, and Harry H Corbett, and Paul Eddington, and one suspects Sir Bruce Forsyth is out there somewhere. From here the exterior of the famous 'doughnut' is visible, that's the central ring containing the earliest offices, and the bobbly walls of Studio 1, one of the largest recording spaces in the country. There's also a Tardis up the back, or at least a few bits of wood painted blue and banged together to look like a Tardis, which (to break the illusion) is all a Tardis is. It's here so that visitors on the tour have something to take their photo next to, although I waited specially until there was nobody in the way before I snapped.

    At the front of the building is a new block, opened in 1997, inside which the BBC's TV news broadcasts have been based. Not for much longer. This giant room full of desks is being replaced by another giant room full of desks at the revamped Broadcasting House in the centre of town, and now only a handful of staff remain. Those on the tour get to sit inside the News Bubble, which sounds like a concept invented for The Day Today but is instead a crescent-shaped meeting room with glass walls where producers meet each morning to map out the day's news. Last time I was here the actual John Simpson walked past - now one of his bulletproof vests sits in a case in the corner as a reminder of how dangerous truth-gathering is.

    The interior of the doughnut is a mixture of elegance and mothballs. Several rooms are already closed, with a sign on the door saying "This room is now vacated". Others are very much in use, like the dressing room with Jamelia's name on the door (she's been filming 8 Out Of 10 Cats). Our tour got to enter one of the communal dressing rooms, a sparse affair with mirrors and a few bowls, for a round-up of anecdotes from our BBC guide. We trekked up and down the cantilever stairs, lovely, and emerged in the main reception where the talent signs in. This is a gorgeous space, with chequerboard ceiling, wood-panelled walls and marble floor. Above the main desk is a dazzling John Piper mosaic... which'll no doubt look the part when this bit of TVC is transformed into a boutique hotel.

    Normally the tour gets to go outside into the central court where the golden figure of Helios stands atop the fountain. Not on this occasion, alas, because the exterior of the building was being used for filming. The very last TV drama to be filmed at Television Centre, no less, a drama entitled An Adventure in Space and Time. This recounts the awkward birth of Doctor Who in 1963, and will be on your screens for the anniversary in November. We weren't allowed to take photos, indeed there wasn't too much action to see, but we did get to share reception with a dozen extras dressed in everyday Sixties garb, waiting patiently for their cue. Later author Mark Gatiss wandered past, deep in discussion on some point of production, perhaps preparing for Sunday morning's filming of Daleks on Westminster Bridge.

    We got to visit three studios, two from above and one on the floor. There are viewing galleries high above the racks of numbered lights, ideal for keeping an eye on the action without ever getting into shot. In Studio 4 they were filming Beat The Pack, a new daytime quiz with Jake Humphrey, and in Studio 3 Gory Games, some CBBC extravaganza. We couldn't see much, but the scale of the latter space was impressive, far larger than you'd ever have imagined watching Top of the Pops on the screen. We weren't allowed to spy on Let's Dance For Comic Relief in Studio 1, although some of the protagonists wandered by trailing brightly coloured headgear. And we did get to enter Studio 5, a smaller setup where the Match of the Day sofa has been left lying around after BBC Sport's exodus to Salford. Some were excited to step up and sit where Gary Lineker had ruled court, whereas I was far more keen on imagining Play School, Jackanory and The Sky At Night being filmed here.

    Elsewhere on the tour we got to visit the floor on the inner ring where the weather forecasters self-broadcast, and a small room where three of the party got to play at being quiz contestants. We saw Pauline Fowler's laundrette pinny, and the Blue Peter time capsule for the year 2000, and the actual Gordon the Gopher. We visited the BBC shop where all the stock was being flogged at 75% off... or at least what stock was left after BBC employees had descended en masse earlier in the month. But possibly best of all was a visit to the Grade II listed scenery block round the back of the studios, beneath a gabled roof whose skylights are said to have inspired the design of the Tardis. Here was the Blue Peter set, the last before the programme moved up north, complete with big ship, totaliser and fragile plywood walls. But four Daleks were lined up where Val, Simon, Yvette and Barney should have been, their plungers poised, awaiting their turn in front of the cameras. They'd have scared the life out of me once, but any lingering fear disappeared when two workmen wandered in to start wheeling them away.

    Comic Relief will be one of the last big shows to be filmed at Television Centre, although Studios 1-3 should reopen by 2015. The BBC will have to compete with other production companies to hire them, while other perfectly good studios will be transformed into attractions such as TV-themed restaurants - a decision which leaves many current employees scratching their heads. Meanwhile from April you'll be able to take tours of the new Broadcasting House instead, peeking inside the new newsroom and the Radio Theatre, recordings permitting. But a tour of Sound somehow won't have the thrill of this tour of Vision, so I'm glad I had a last chance to visit Auntie at work before her premature retirement.

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