diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 30, 2013

JUBILEE: Ten line facts

Although the Jubilee line was only created in 1979, the line we have now was built in five stages. An 1880-ish bit from Finchley Road to Wembley Park, an early 1930s northward extension to Stanmore, a late 1930s parallel overspill tunnel between Baker Street and Finchley Road, a 1970s extension to Charing Cross, and the millennial extension to Stratford.
Originally, everything north of Finchley Road was the Metropolitan railway, then from 1939 to 1979 everything north of Baker Street was the Bakerloo line.
The Jubilee line was originally going to be called the River line, then later the Fleet line. It was rebranded the Jubilee line to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee, just two years before opening.
The Jubilee line has only one disused station, at Charing Cross, served by trains for only 20 years.
The closest stations on the Jubilee line are Waterloo and Southwark. The farthest apart are Kingsbury and Wembley Park (followed by Canada Water and Canary Wharf)
On a typical weekday Jubilee line trains run a total of 29208km (about 27000 on a Saturday, and 21000 on a Sunday)
Jubilee line trains used to have six carriages but now have seven, allowing 6000 more passengers per day to use the line.
Each train is 126m long and contains 234 seats. They're stabled at Stratford Market depot.
The 1970s tunnels have a diameter of 3.85m, whereas the millennial tunnels have a diameter of 4.35m.
The Jubilee line's official colour is Pantone 430.

» This months' nine Jubilee line posts on one page
» Silver Jubilee: one post per station, from May 2004

JUBILEE: Alternative routes

The Jubilee Line nearly didn't go to Stratford. Previous plans, and there have been many, envisaged the extension weaving along the Thames instead. Some of those early schemes became the DLR, while the dogleg up to Stratford was prompted by the East London Rail Study in the late 1980s. If you want to read all about the history of the extension (and I mean all), try this comprehensive 118-page pdf report from UCL. In the meantime here's a brief sketchy summary of the Jubilee extension's evolution.

[Stanmore → Wembley Park → Baker Street → Green Park →
1965 → Charing Cross → Fenchurch Street → New Cross → Lewisham → Addiscombe]
1973 → Aldwych → Fenchurch Street → (DLR style minitram) → Barking] & Thamesmead]
1976 → Aldwych → Fenchurch Street → Millwall → North Greenwich → Custom House → Woolwich Arsenal → Thamesmead]
1984 → Aldwych → London Bridge → Greenwich → Abbey Wood → Thamesmead]
1988 → Waterloo → London Bridge or Bricklayers Arms → Isle of Dogs → Beckton] or Stratford → Tottenham Hale]
1988 → Aldwych → Ludgate Circus → London Bridge] or Stratford → Ilford] or Hainault]
1989 → Aldwych or Waterloo → London Bridge → Canary Wharf → Stratford]
1990 → Aldwych or Waterloo → London Bridge → Canary Wharf → North Greenwich → Stratford and/or Thamesmead]
1992 → Waterloo → London Bridge → Canary Wharf → North Greenwich → Stratford]

And while we're at it, here are some of the options the extension's planners considered when trying to link Green Park to Waterloo...
Green Park → Charing Cross → Temple → Waterloo
Green Park → Embankment → Waterloo
Green Park → Westminster → Waterloo
Green Park → almost St James's Park → Waterloo
Green Park → St James's Park → Millbank → Waterloo

 Friday, November 29, 2013

I'm concerned about Cycle Superhighway 2.

I'm concerned not as a cyclist, but as someone who has to live beside it, walk beside it, breathe alongside it and occasionally ride buses along it.

I'm concerned because TfL plan to improve Cycle Superhighway 2 but aren't yet sure how. In particular I'm concerned they'll improve it for cyclists by making the road worse for the rest of us. This may not be a popular view, sorry, but then you probably don't live here.

Cycle Superhighway 2 runs from Aldgate to Bow along a major trunk road, the A11. It's a very busy road, because no parallel alternative exists along most of its length. It's a very wide road, wide enough that trams used to run down the middle between the traffic. It has two lanes for traffic in both directions, pretty much all the way along. And it has massive pavements, most of the time, easily wide enough to chop a bike lane out of. There's so much width to play with that it ought to be easy to carve out sufficient space for cyclists, vehicular traffic and pedestrians. But I fear that's not quite going to happen.

Last night a Cycling Superhighway 2 Safety Summit was held at City Hall. The Mayor's cycling supremo Andrew Gilligan met with Assembly Members and concerned cyclists to discuss how CS2 could be upgraded from a blue stripe of paint into something decent. You can check out all the tweets from the summit at #cs2summit.

It appears that TfL are currently working on three potential plans for improving CS2, three plans with very different rationales, costs and timelines. Further details will be announced before Christmas, we're told, and eventually one of the three (or something else) will be selected for implementation. Here are those three options, as announced last night, courtesy of tweets from the Tower Hamlets Wheelers.

Option 1: Semi segregation using bus lanes and some full segregation. Timescale: 6-7months #CS2Summit

Here's a photo of CS2's notorious "blue stripe of paint", daubed down half a lane of traffic in an entirely substandard way. But look again. See how wide Bow Road is? You could easily carve a segregated cycle lane out of this, on both sides, because there's plenty of room. Build a low kerb two metres from the edge of the pavement, paint the intermediate section blue, and hey presto, a fully segregated cycle lane. It could be as good as the CS2 extension to Stratford, in places, but the rest of the road would suddenly be a lot narrower. Stratford High Street used to be three lanes wide and now it's two, which is fine because that still leaves plenty of room for traffic. But Bow Road would go from two lanes to one, and that's not so good. Off-peak the road would probably cope, probably, but at rush hours the traffic would back up twice as far as it does now, and that's often bad enough. Imagine a two lane trunk road reduced to one, from Bow to Aldgate, simply to make way for an intermittent stream of narrow bikes. This is a road potentially five cars wide, but CS2 option 1 would leave room for only two. By the sound of it buses might get to share the left hand lane with cyclists for much of the way (good for buses, bad for bikes). But everything else heading to the A12 would be squeezed, which'd mean more traffic jams, slower journeys and an increase in the amount of pollutants I get to breathe in. Great for cyclists, in as many sections as TfL think they can segregate, but not so good for the rest of us.

Option 2: Full segregation outside carriageway (think CS2X) requires 2.1km reduced pavements and felling of mature trees. Timescale: Early 2015 #CS2Summit

Here's a photo of the only decent section of Cycle Superhighway 2, a brief 100 metre stretch westbound near Bow Church. For reasons unknown, but very welcome, here TfL decided to route CS2 up onto the pavement, perfectly segregated from all road traffic. I told you the pavement was wide, and see, I wasn't joking. Indeed so wide that since I took this photo in 2011 TfL have come back and installed a Cycle Hire docking station alongside and there's still plenty of room for pedestrians. Much, indeed most of the pavement between here and Aldgate offers similar opportunities to slice off a couple of metres and create a splendidly safe cycle lane. Option 2 is an excellent solution, potentially, preserving the main road two lanes wide and leaving sufficient space alongside for those of us on foot. But, three problems. Firstly the pavement isn't always this wide, there are bits where stations and churches and shops and markets and front gardens intrude, which would mean the on-pavement cycle lane would have to end. Secondly there are a lot of bus stops down the A11, and a lot of people waiting, which would demand the creation of several spacious bus stop bypasses, which could get awkward. And thirdly, as the initial tweet suggests, there's a lot of stuff in the way. Trees for a start, dozens of which would need to be chopped down to make way for cyclists - surely an eco-unfriendly own goal. And litter bins too, and bike hire stations, and bollards, and phone boxes, and car parking spaces... but most especially lampposts. Relocating lampposts requires digging up the pavement and relaying the cables two metres back, which I watched contractors doing when TfL created this on-pavement lane in 2011 and it took ages. I bet it cost a lot too, and it'd be a phenomenal task to complete lamppost relocation along both sides of two miles of CS2. Option 2 may be the most logical solution to providing shared space along Bow Road, but at what price?

Option 3: Two-way segregated track in the centre of road, eliminates Bow roundabout by using centre of flyover. Timescale: Unknown #CS2Summit

Blimey, I didn't see this one coming. It's the 100 year-old tram solution, running a separate stream of two-wheeled traffic down the middle of the road while leaving room for everything else to run on either side. That's clever, especially in that it would feed cyclists safely over the Bow Flyover, completely avoiding the Bow roundabout. But is this option also impractical? How safe would a segregated cycle channel along the middle of the road be to enter, or to leave? Not everyone joins a cycle lane at the beginning, nor leaves at traffic lights - our journeys are rarely so conveniently uniform. And surely exiting a central cycle lane would require turning across the flow of traffic, which is precisely the kind of manoeuvre that keeps getting cyclists killed. If option 3 were ever implemented I suspect the number of exits from the central lane would have to be seriously limited, a nannying solution to 'keep cyclists safe'. Meanwhile I have a different issue with cyclists being allocated the centre of the road, which is how much harder it would become for us pedestrians to cross the street. Currently we have many crossing points, all of them with a central island refuge allowing us to split our crossing into two stages. Take those islands away and we'd have to cross in one go, full width, at remodelled "all stop" pedestrian crossings. And I can tell you now, people aren't going to do that. They're going to nip across halfway when they see a gap, as they do now, before then having to dash through the added hazard of a two-way cycle lane halfway.

It is excellent that TfL are finally looking into upgrading CS2 from a blue strip of paint to something half decent. How big that improvement will be depends very much on which upgrade option is eventually selected, and how many mitigating tweaks have to be made to ensure the whole thing works. Some very difficult decisions need to be made, balancing the needs of various road users along a potentially lethal two mile street. So I hope the team trying to come up with a solution for cyclists also remember that some of us have to live, walk, breathe and travel alongside. And I remain concerned.

 Thursday, November 28, 2013

London 2012  post-Olympic update
  Still ticking over

Where are we now? A year and ten weeks after London 2012. Four months after the northern half of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park opened, and five months before the south follows suit. The week that the first permanent resident moved in to the Athletes Village. Sometime, and no time. Here's my latest legacy report.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park: London's newest megapark isn't megabusy. That's not entirely surprising, it being dull and cold and dark a lot in November. But even on weekend days when the sky's crisp and blue, punters aren't flocking to QEOP, which is a shame because this is still a pleasant greenspace. Those lawns the world flocked to sit on two summers ago remain (mostly) pristine, the walkways are readily accessible, and the views across the reed beds unexpectedly pleasant. According to recent figures the park has averaged 15000 visitors a week since it opened, which by my calculations is only just under half what the cablecar's managed. It'll surely be busier when the whole park's open, and when somebody actually lives nextdoor (and when someone pulls down the barriers between the neighbouring flats and the main body of the park). But for now it's just enough of a trek from Westfield, or the residential end of Hackney Wick, that to get here requires a special effort. [photo]

Opening a cafe-stroke-community-centre has been a masterstroke, as has prioritising the adventure playground, which seems much loved by those who've sought to find it. Most of those I've seen in the park have been heading to or from Timber Lodge, often parents of very small children on a big pushchair adventure. A small number of cyclists have so far worked out that QEOP is a good place for a spin. There are just enough paths for an interesting split level circuit, although as yet not quite enough of them join up, making a lengthier ride impractical. Indeed the lower lawns on the east banks of the Lea are invariably empty, courtesy of dead ends along the bank, plus two places where someone really should have installed steps or a ramp but access is blocked. Visitors are still cutting desire line paths across the grass, especially down from the top of the high mounds where the Olympic rings are being re-erected. Meanwhile the western half of the park is even quieter, because there's no attractive cafe here, so visitors simply nip straight over the footbridge to the eastern side instead. [photo]

Much is happening at the northern end of the park where construction of the Lee Valley VeloPark is underway. As well as the Velodrome - much loved during the Games - there'll be outdoor tracks for BMX and road bikes plus (apparently) 8km of mountain bike trails (though I can't quite work out where). The 1km road circuit is still being carved into the bankside, and in parts is now approaching the landscaping stage (looks fun). But the March 2014 opening date is still some way off, with an elite cycling event kicking things off a couple of weeks before the entire park is open properly. There aren't so many events taking place at QEOP during the winter. Expect a bit of basketball, a bit of boxing and, the weekend after next, a free vintage Christmas market, roller disco and real ale festival! One for the diary? In the meantime if the rest of you want to give QEOP a miss that's fine by me, and I'll enjoy the post-Olympic solitude even more. [photo]

Olympic Stadium: Having been mothballed for the best part of a year, something major's finally happening at the Olympic Stadium - the floodlights are coming down. The dismantling started last week, with a huge crane erected to gently lower the giant triangular structures one by one. Three years ago the floodlights hadn't even been switched on, but they're already coming down so that West Ham can build a proper roof. The stadium's crownlike rim has become a feature of the skyline round here, but by the end of January it'll have been entirely removed. For a close-up view take the wheelchair path between the Copper Box and Hackney Wick. This follows the Olympic Park's central bridge, where the BBC Studios were located during the Games, before turning back down a long ramp close to Stadium Island. The middle of QEOP looks fairly bleak, to be frank, and I'm not convinced the building work currently going on will make enough of a difference before this tarmac expanse fully reopens. [photo] [photo]

Aquatic Centre: The wings are long gone, and the true form of Stratford's new swimming pool has been revealed. That's involved inserting a high glass wall down either side, while leaving the grassy beaky bit on the front - it looks very swish. Meanwhile a brand new feeder road is being built to allow public vehicular access to the Aquatic Centre. Workmen are busy adding a junction to Montfichet Road, with a contraflow that's currently snarling up access from Stratford High Street to Westfield at peak times. The Orbit stands alongside tall and empty, with no visitors paying no money to go up to the top and look down over nothing much. [photo] [photo]

John Lewis: Sorry to disappoint you, but the London 2012 shop on the top floor has now closed. They ran down supplies to a few rucksacks, books and fish and chip forks, before finally pulling the plug a few months ago and presumably pulping all the remaining merchandise. Now the childrenswear department has moved in, as they always threatened, leaving the observation deck empty (bar a plastic Wenlock in the corner). This remains one of the best places to look down over the southern half of the Park, although it won't be in a couple of years time. The vast concrete expanse where the army ran security checks during the Games is destined to become The International Quarter, a cluster of high office blocks and expensive apartments, and received final planning permission earlier this week. [photo]

The Greenway: Meanwhile, tumbleweed. Before the Games this was the number one viewpoint, busy with tour groups and curious visitors come to stare at the Stadium. No more. Now the tours and the curious visitors go to the park proper, and this sewertop has reverted to a local cut-through. A few people walk out of their way to visit the View Tube, which ticks over, but only for the cafe and rarely for the upstairs view. They do a decent hot chocolate here, less tepid than I was served at Timber Lodge, if drinks are your thing. But until QEOP properly links up, next Easter, the southern end of the park has yet to spring back to life.

 Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Last week there was the Night Tube Map.

Now there's the How Many Staff Will There Be At My Tube Station in 2015? map.

TfL have divided up all their Underground stations into four categories - Gateway, Destination, Metro and Local.

  • Gateway stations (blue on the map) are those where the most tourists are expected to arrive. There are only 6 of them (for example, Euston, Victoria) They won't have a ticket office, but they will have a Visitor Information Centre which can deal with ticketing queries. From the end of next year, if these proposals go ahead, these stations will have more visible staff than they do now (maybe five extra at the busiest times).
  • Destination stations (pink on the map) are busy stations in Central London with high volumes of passengers. There are 29 of them (for example, Baker Street, North Greenwich). They won't have a ticket office. From the end of next year they too will have more visible staff than they do now (maybe three extra at the busiest times).
  • Metro stations (orange on the map) are predominantly in inner London and serve communities with many regular users. There are 102 of them (for example, St James's Park, Bow Road). They won't have a ticket office. From the end of next year expect one additional visible member of staff at the busiest times (but expect a reduction in the number of station staff overall).
  • Local stations are all the others, that's 125 in total, and are generally in outer London. None of them are underground. They won't have a ticket office. They're split into two groups, A and B.
    - Local A stations (green on the map) have "some operational complexity", like a lift or escalators, or points, or occasional congestion. There are 64 of them (for example Bromley-by-Bow, Hendon Central). From the end of next year expect no change in the visible number of staff - still one. But there'll be no Station Supervisor any more, only a roving manager responsible for half a dozen stations.
    - Local B stations (purple on the map) have "no operational complexity", so aren't especially tough to run. There are 61 of them (for example Kew Gardens, Chorleywood). From the end of next year expect no change in the visible number of staff - still one. But that member of staff will only be a Customer Service Agent (one rung lower than the Customer Service Supervisor at a Local A station). Again there'll no longer be a Station Supervisor, only a roving manager responsible for half a dozen stations.
  • Meanwhile the seven Underground stations run by National Rail (yellow on the map) won't be affected at all, and most will continue to have a ticket office.

    Overall that's more staff at a few central busy stations, but fewer staff overall elsewhere, with a general downskilling of employment competencies required. Expect 228 existing Station Manager roles to be slashed to 97, 1771 existing Station Supervisor roles to be cut back to 971 and 3748 Station Assistant roles to be trimmed to 3294. TfL are very deliberately utilising technology to create "a less expensive staffing model".

    If you want the full list of which station is in which category, and what it all means, head over to London Reconnections. They have one of their usual in-depth broad and balanced posts on the subject (and another on the Night Tube), along with a busy thread underneath that's already approaching 100 comments.

    Or you could see what TfL have to say. They've put together a website to explain their proposed raft of changes to staff, entitled fitforthefuture.tfl.gov.uk. Some of the content requires logging in, but the rest is public facing, so we can read all the details there. We learn that there'll be "an additional 450 employees in busy ticket halls helping to provide world-class customer service where it’s needed." We learn that TfL plan to "install an additional 120 ticket machines." And we're reassured that "every Tube station will be visibly staffed and controlled by our people during operating hours."

    Anyone can download the 24 page booklet which attempts to explain everything to staff. Anyone can read a 50-page Powerpoint-style presentation which explains a lot of the rationale. Meanwhile on the website there's a list of FAQs containing over 100 frequently asked questions, which helps shed light on some of the finer detail of the forthcoming proposals. Here are five of those questions and their answers (and feel free to dig for more).

    What are the proposals for ticket offices and ticket halls?
    It is proposed that ticket offices would close in line with changing customer behaviour and a decision to bring customer service into the ticket hall, rather than kept behind barriers. Staff would be trained in customer service and would proactively help customers in the ticket hall and at ticket machines to ensure they have all the information they need for their journey.

    When do you propose to make the changes?
    Subject to consultation we expect staff to have their role and location confirmed by Autumn 2014, we would start implementing the changes across the network from Winter 2014 and no one would leave the organisation (under Voluntary Severance) until February 2015 at the earliest.

    What improvements are being made to ticket machines?
    Ticket machines will be upgraded to have more intuitive screens to help customers purchase their tickets more easily. All ticket machines on the network will be upgraded to have the same screens. They will be able to offer low value pay as you go refunds on Oyster cards.

    1 in 5 people (21%) still buy their ticket from the ticket office – what are you going to do for these people? (blimey, 21%!)
    We believe these sales can be absorbed in other channels, such as ticket machines. Customer research shows that the use of ticket machines is increasing and that customers want to be self-sufficient where possible when buying tickets. The proposals include an upgrade to existing ticket machines to make the screens more intuitive and easier for the customer to use. In addition, every station would have Customer Service Agents in the ticket halls to assist customers in buying the right ticket for their journey.

    Who will be offered Voluntary Severance?
    If you are currently a Station Control Room Assistant, Station Assistant Multi-Functional, Supervisor or Duty Station Manager, it is proposed that you will have the opportunity to apply for Voluntary Severance from mid December 2013. Subject to consultation, applications will be considered and the outcomes communicated in Spring 2014.

    (and here are five Night Tube FAQs)

    How many trains per hour can we expect to see delivered by the all night running?
    The current plan is for four trains per hour. On the Northern line Charing Cross branch, this will be eight, with four serving each of the High Barnet and Edgware branches.

    What does Night tube mean for track maintenance?
    Track inspections will continue as required, but as we renew our track in modern form it doesn’t generally need to be inspected as frequently as our older legacy track. We are planning to develop improved critical components for our older track, designed to reduce failures and the volume of inspection and maintenance required. Those maintenance tasks that cannot be fitted into engineering hours will be carried out in longer track closures, possibly created by specially extending engineering hours.

    Will this mean less Night Buses?
    It is likely that the night bus network will change, with some frequency changes and possibly some new routes to complement the overnight Tube network. No routes are expected to be removed. London Buses will develop their plans over the coming months.

    You are calling this Phase 1 – when is Phase 2?
    Phase 2 is intended to introduce overnight service on some of the sub-surface lines after the Sub-Surface Upgrade is complete, possibly in 2019.

    Why aren’t we running Trams and the Emirates Airline at night?
    There is no or limited demand for travel on the Tramlink or Emirates Airline routes overnight. However we will continue to review the changes in travel patterns after we start running the Tube overnight.

  •  Tuesday, November 26, 2013

    "I want all our public servants to take Fridays off," the prime minister will say.

    "We can do without them one day a week," the prime minister will insist.

    "A longer weekend can save our society," Mr Cameron will pledge.

    In a speech later David Cameron will announce exciting plans to drive forward our economy, end the pension gap, revive the private sector and cut the deficit, all in one great big soundbite gobbet. And he's very kindly sent his speech to us in advance, just to soften you all up for the big announcement, and to make sure everyone has all the proper words, even if he fluffs reading from the autocue, and to hog the news media for longer, and because pre-circulation is the done thing in political PR these days. And we're reporting it, word for word, because journalists are lazy these days and will allow anyone to set the agenda, no questions asked.

    (Check against delivery)

    "I have a dream of a brighter Britain," David Cameron will say. "A stronger Britain. A fairer Britain. A Britain winning in the global race."

    "But too often our public servants drag us down. Well I want to change that," he is expected to say.

    "So we had this idea at the thinktank," he will admit, "where we brainstormed the workload these public servants actually do, and surely they could do that in less time, and then we could pay them less. And we had this genius idea, and it solves virtually every political problem facing our country today, and we it called Downtime Friday."

    "We want all public servants to get all their work done by Thursday, even if that means they have to work a bit later. Then they'll get Fridays off, which is obviously excellent, and will be a major boost to our retail economy by extending the weekend. But of course we'll pay them 20% less, because they're no longer working on Fridays, so they deserve less of our money. And that'll cut the government's wage bill by a fifth, allowing us to increase tax breaks for hardworking higher rate taxpayers, which is only fair given they won't be having Fridays off," he will say with a twinkle.

    "This also means we'll be cutting public sector pensions by 20%, which is payback for the gold-plated handouts of the past, and will cut our national debt overnight, so it must be right. And we'll be closing public buildings on Fridays, like libraries, and courts, and town halls, and museums, and driving test centres, plus most of Whitehall," he will say, before adding "which will save millions of pounds on heating, and lighting, and cleaners, who'll get to work less too."

    "Obviously there are some (he will emphasise "some") public servants who do important jobs. Doctors and nurses, for example, and our police and ambulance workers, and immigration officials, and teachers in free schools and academies. As recognition of their key role they will not be expected to skip Fridays, and we will only cut their pay by 10%. Naturally our marvellous armed forces will continue full-time on full pay, as will MPs," except he won't say the last bit out loud, it'll be in the small print of the white paper for journalists to find later.

    "Unless we make big changes, we are heading for a future as a high-tax, uncompetitive backwater with soaring social costs and a falling quality of life," he will say. "Plus you might get Fridays off," he will conclude, before asking "And how good is that?"


    In a speech later David Cameron will say all of this, or at least we hope he will because we just cut and pasted most of the text from an email and made a news story about it. That's even though it hasn't been officially announced yet, because this is a press release with a negative embargo, to be launched beforehand rather than after. All the parties do it, not just the government, they're all as bad as each other. And we print it as gospel, politely and obligingly, without ever wondering if they really are intending to say this, or just throwing out some half-baked idea for publicity. But it's reached the stage now where most policy is announced without a word having been uttered, and that's not news, that's news management. Whatever, I really wish they'd stop doing it, he will say.

     Monday, November 25, 2013

    As the four regular commuters on the cablecar know, no part of London is quite so exciting as the post-industrial Thames riverside. Whether soaring high above in your own exclusive pod, or pottering around the entertainment opportunities at ground level, you'll enjoy a memorable day out on the Dangleway and no mistake. Or so they say. Here are ten exciting things you can do after your trip...

    Five exciting attractions at Dangleway North

    1) Visit ExCel: This international exhibition and convention centre plays host to many an important event. And if you don't have a ticket for an event, you can always buy a cup of coffee or a baguette or something. I hope that yesterday's post conveyed some of the excitement of visiting ExCel when you don't have a ticket.

    2) Visit The Crystal: German engineering company Siemens have built a spiky glass building called The Crystal in the heart of the Royal Docks in the hope of attracting tourists to a free interactive urban sustainability exhibition. At present, alas, visitors are more interested in sitting in the cafe nextdoor, assuming they even get this far. The exhibition is a bit worthy, a bit over-educational, and a bit empty. Nothing much has changed since it opened a year ago either, except there's now a £7.99 guidebook. Closed Mondays. [previous report]

    3) Visit Going Underground - Our journey to the future: This temporary exhibition at The Crystal anticipates the future of tube travel in London. It lurks not inside the main building but in a separate shed round the back (accessible via a door that says it's alarmed, but isn't). Cross the pointless zebra crossing and step inside. Various interactive screens around the walls detail how the Underground might change in the future, although on closer inspection a large number of these turn out to be heating units pumping out warm air to keep this prefab warm.

    Woo, it's a tube train! Actually it's only a mock-up of a tube train, about one carriage's worth, with a mirrored wall down one end of the interior so it appears longer. This is a Siemens Inspiro metro, which might be what TfL buys next for its deep tube lines or it might not, there being no actual plans at present. The most striking feature is the slanting front, with its big circular window surrounded by a red rim - I'd say rather more phallic than existing stock. And then you can actually step inside. The interior's a bit grey, but with purple poles and plush seating I can't see surviving a month's vomit on the Night Tube. There's also plenty of space, now that rush hour transference requires maximised standing room, plus a wheelchair zone I can imagine tripping over more often than I can imagine seeing someone using it. And oh, blimey, the carriage has electronic adverts. I suppose this had to come, but it's still a bit of a shock to see screens capable of attention-grabbing video instead of cheap strips of cardboard that occasionally fall out. Admittedly these screens don't animate, this being a simulation, but you'll get the idea. The exhibition is part-sponsored by CBS Outdoor UK, who provide all the adverts on the tube, and elsewhere in the exhibition they boast how interactive, smartphone-friendly, "value-added" advertising is on its way. One of the stations on the mock-up tube map has even been called Ad-land (just up the line from Sustainability Park and Cool Corner) because that's what a privately funded transport exhibition gets you. You have until 8th January to visit, although you're not really missing out if you don't.

    4) Visit WakeUp Docklands: It's London's first and only "Cable Wake Park and Stand Up Paddleboard venue", a distinction which perhaps doesn't come as too much of a surprise. The facilities aren't especially usable in the winter, so hardcore watersporters hang out at the floating pub at the end of the dock, The Oiler. I would tell you more, except there wasn't anything more to see, and the website seems to be very very down.

    5) Visit the shops: The dockside piazza by the cablecar is the ideal location for all your shopping needs. A Tesco Express provides tasty comestibles, and soft drinks, and toilet rolls. There used to be a Londis opposite but competition closed that down, and now the space has been reworked as an espresso bar and deli. There's up and coming for you. Or why not exchange your currency at the new Bureau de Change nextdoor, before returning to Tesco, because that's about it for shops really.

    Five exciting attractions at Dangleway South

    6) Visit the O2: You might have a ticket for an exciting event here, in which case arriving by cablecar is considerably cheaper than parking in the official car park. If you don't have a ticket then there are lots and lots of restaurants and a cinema - facilities which can't be found anywhere else in the capital. Fill a few minutes between dining by sampling Sky and Nissan's promotional walk-in exhibits. Or splash out £13 to enter the British Music Experience, Britain's only interactive museum of popular music, which is so under-frequented that you can generally guarantee a queue-free visit.

    7) Visit Peninsula Square: When the O2 opened in 2007, this curving piazza was described as "the centrepiece of Greenwich Peninsula" and "a leisure destination for Londoners and tourists". Alas Peninsula Square's not lived up to expectations. The splurty fountain attracts the occasional small child, the living wall attracts nobody, while the video screen displays nothing of any genuine interest. Indeed there's bugger all here, not even a sausage stall or coffee cart, presumably all the better to funnel you inside some more expensive dining experience. In 2013 the square's become a bleak plaza to stride through, and an entirely wasted opportunity.

    8) Visit The Emirates Aviation Experience: Still ticking over in a small room by the cablecar is this interactive domestic airline exhibit. A £3 ticket gets you some Lego, some screens and not much else, while the more exciting cockpit simulator clocks in at £45 per half-hour session. And it's only here for a period of 10 years, according to the website, so best hurry. [previous report]

    9) Visit The InterContinental Hotel: If you ever came here when this was the Millennium Dome, you might have stepped out the back to enjoy Meridian Quarter. This riverside landscape rubbed up against the zero line of longitude, and was planned as a wetland environment that would gradually develop over time. Alas it's been sealed off and left to decay since New Year's Eve 2000, used as storage space for the O2's backroom operations. The meridian line survives for now, still with 14 national poems embedded into the tarmac. But diggers have moved in alongside and are busy ripping up the reedbeds and boardwalks to build a hotel. I reported on the developer's quest for planning permission back in 2010, but only now is the InterContinental starting to rise. All that's present thus far is an expanse of churned earth and several pillars rising irregularly from the ground like a concrete Giant's Causeway. But by 2015 there'll be a 19-storey, 452-room five-star hotel on this site, complete with Sky Bar and Europe's largest pillar-free ballroom. If you're a rich international investor never fear, a 23 storey development offering 100 serviced apartments is due to be built alongside. And if you live locally already, your view of the Dome is about to be tarnished by a run of disruptive towers, as the Vauxhallisation of North Greenwich begins in earnest. [previous report]

    10) Visit proper Greenwich: Let's be fair, the prime tourist location hereabouts isn't North Greenwich, it's a mile or two further south. That's Maritime Greenwich with its Old Royal Naval College, plus the National Maritime Museum and Cutty Sark, then Greenwich Park and the world famous Royal Observatory. If you want a proper day out with heritage and stuff that's actually worth seeing, come here. Don't waste your time at a Teflon tent full of restaurants, or poking round a sustainability exhibition near a Tesco Express. Stuff the cablecar, and visit proper Greenwich instead.

     Sunday, November 24, 2013

    Yesterday (and Friday, and today), fifty quid got you in here.

    It's the Doctor Who official 50th celebration at the ExCel exhibition centre in East London. Sold out it was. Packed with behind-the-scenes demonstrations and workshops, stunts, explosions, monsters, props & costumes, official merchandise and memorabilia, plus the opportunity to meet the actors, get your photo taken and grab an autograph. So I went down. Target audience I was, bullseye target audience. I didn't actually buy a ticket, I mean fifty quid to walk around a warehouse packed with opportunities and actual people, no thanks. But I wandered by, like you do, because anniversary Saturdays in east London are that exciting. I saw absolutely nobody of any importance, obviously.

    Three very different events shared ExCel on Saturday, and it was easy to tell who was there for what. At the west end was Skills London 2013, a vocational event for 15-24 year olds seeking advice about future careers and opportunities. None of your over-hip teens here, just the sensible ones, many with parents in tow hoping to help nudge their offspring into work. They wandered around with carrier bags emblazoned with the names of major corporations, and slightly worried looks on their faces because youth employment is now such a precarious thing. Further up ExCel the demographic changed entirely. Here the event was the Global Peace & Unity Festival, a multicultural gathering attracting many an Islamic family. One huge hall had seats laid out for inspirational speeches, another featured wedding planners and fashion. Ladies with impressively fashionable headscarves milled around, while a phenomenal number of bucket shakers sought donations for an orphans charity. Apart from the impressive diversity, nothing here screamed Doctor Who.

    At the far end, plenty did. A temporary wall blocked passage to the eastern exhibition halls, emblazoned with a montage of all eleven doctors. Some of them were even inside. Anyone with any sense, and a ticket, was already inside attending panels and browsing stuff. Only a few were out in the real world, grabbing a coffee or noshing a tray of noodles. I was expecting more costumes, but I guess the serious fans were busy inside with no intention of wasting a minute. Round the back a few had slipped out for a cigarette, including three in fezzes (because fezzes are cool, and extremely cheap way of dressing in character). Others wore Tardis knitwear, or excessively long scarves, or more usually entirely normal clothes. A lot of middle-aged blokes were in evidence, and dads with wide-eyed kids, and obsessive-looking younger males in pairs, and even the occasional female. But there really was nothing to see if you hadn't paid, so I wandered back through the charity buckets and the jobseekers, following a man with a lifesize cardboard cutout of Tom Baker under his arm.

    Sorry, you may have been expecting an interesting post about Who memorabilia or bumping into a Time Lord. But yesterday (and Friday, and today), not paying fifty quid got you nothing much. At least the TV special was special, and accessible to all, and a fitting tribute.

     Saturday, November 23, 2013

    Look Who's here to celebrate a Time Lord's 50th.

    These four Daleks were lurking in the scenery block at the back of Television Centre when I went on a tour back in February just before the place closed. They were filming An Adventure in Space and Time, the anniversary drama you might have seen on BBC2 on Thursday, recounting the awkward birth of the world's longest running science fiction serial. Our tour wasn't allowed round the central court because they were busy with cameras, but we did share reception with a dozen extras dressed in everyday Sixties garb, waiting patiently for their cue. Partway round, climbing a cantilevered staircase, we passed author Mark Gatiss deep in discussion on some point of production. Just after I took this photo two sceneshifters arrived to wheel the Dalek quartet outside, which rather ruined the illusion somewhat, but it was still a special moment for someone who's been watching the series for almost all of his life.

    I well remember the first time I watched Doctor Who. It was just another ordinary children's drama episode until some shop dummies came to life, smashed through some windows and caused a massacre on Ealing Broadway. I've watched most of the episodes ever since, which was difficult in those days of single transmission and no video recorders. Indeed I was unnaturally annoyed that my 18th birthday coincided with the final episode of a Peter Davison story, because I realised I'd probably never ever see it. Did eventually, as it turned out, on UK Gold during the long dark interregnum when we all thought the show was dead. I watched the rebirth with some under 10s sitting beside me on the sofa, and wondered whether the next generation would enjoy it as much. Seems they do, indeed this is perfect family fare, and the future of the franchise looks safe enough for regenerations to come.

    I thought it would be good to celebrate today's 50th anniversary with an A-Z of Doctor Who, except it turns out I did that for the show's 40th back in 2003.
    Q is for Quarry: Filming to a strict budget can be difficult so, when faced with yet another script demanding an alien location, the BBC would usually decamp to a desolate quarry in Dorset and pretend that they were in fact light years away. Where would science fiction filming be without quarries? I guess pretending that all alien planets look like deciduous forests or bleak moorland instead, those being the other two favourite stock locations. The genius of Doctor Who scriptwriters led them to set one particular story (Sarah-Jane Smith's last) in a real quarry, thereby confusing all the viewers who naturally assumed that the Tardis had landed on yet another featureless alien world again.
    You can read all of that A-Z back here (although be warned, most of the links no longer work). Then I thought it might be good to visit some of Doctor Who's key London locations, except it turns out I did that when the series returned in 2005.
    The very first Doctor Who episode was set in London, supposedly somewhere around Shoreditch, which just goes to show how before-its-time the show was even then. The show opened with an atmospheric shot of a dimly-lit junkyard. What was that mysterious looking police box doing there in Totters Lane, and why was it humming? The scene then switched to a nearby secondary school where we were introduced to the Doctor's granddaughter, Susan, and to her teachers Ian and Barbara. Two key Doctor Who locations... or they would have been if only the first episode hadn't been filmed entirely in the studio. There is no such London street as Totters Lane, let alone a Foreman's junkyard at number 76, neither is there a Coal Hill School anywhere in the Ofsted database. But I still managed to find them both, within a mile of each other in west London, thanks to two stories that revisited these locations more than 20 years later.
    And you can read that run of posts here. So instead I'll just throw you a few Doctor Who links below. You might want to check them out today, or you might be so sick of the anniversary palaver that you'd prefer to come back later once all the excessive fuss has died down. Maybe Monday. Or maybe next April, when there won't have been a new episode for months, nor any on the immediate horizon. Or maybe 2028, when the whole thing's been cancelled again. Enjoy this weekend while you can.

    A map of Britain's remaining police boxes, courtesy of the Ordnance Survey (most of them are in central Scotland)
    TV Cream have been counting down the 50 Greatest Doctor Who Moments in a series of five lovingly-made podcasts. They're endearingly eclectic, spliced with numerous oblique media clips, and you're as likely to hear Winifred Attwell and James Bond as Colin Baker. Hoursworth, there is.
    The Who Shop in East Ham (you have been, haven't you?) is hosting a visit by Nicola Bryant tomorrow.
    Ian Visits has done a run down of the Doctor's interactions with the London Underground
    Will and Matt have a simple quest - to watch one story from every season of Doctor Who, selected in a random order, and then talk about each in a series of podcasts. It's called Season to Taste. It's taking them a while, and they're only just over halfway through, but if you enjoy high level geekstuff and have several hours to spare then you should catch up soon.
    Ivan writes a blog about what was on TV 50 years ago. That makes today's post rather special, with the first episode of Doctor Who as well as The Larkins (with Peggy Mount) and Diana Rigg in The Avengers.

     Friday, November 22, 2013

    To bury bad news, wrap it up in sparkle.


    Woo, that was unexpected. After years of people demanding a 24 hour tube service, and being repeatedly told it couldn't be done, suddenly it's actually going to happen. That's a 24 hour tube service with caveats, obviously. It'll only be on Friday and Saturday nights (technically Saturday and Sunday mornings). The Night Tube will only run on five lines (Central, Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria). It won't be running the full length of these lines (only Ealing to Hainault on the Central, only the Charing Cross branch on the Northern line, and only the Heathrow branch on the Piccadilly line). Only select parts of London will benefit (yay to Clapham, Neasden and Canning Town, but alas for Richmond, Uxbridge and Upminster). The trains won't run as regularly as during the day (but every 15 minutes is still damned good in the middle of the night). And this won't start until autumn 2015 (that's two years hence). Still, it's pretty darned exciting.

    TfL's excuse has always been the need for overnight maintenance. We can't run the tube overnight, they said, because there's important stuff needs to be done. Now it seems they've learned from abroad and thought again, and they can in fact leave trains running for two nights out of seven. Perhaps we should watch out for running hours being trimmed back at other times, like early weekday mornings. And be aware that when tube lines are closed for weekend engineering there won't be any Night Tube, only replacement buses, which is much like we have today.

    It's excellent news for Londoners who have need to travel in the early hours. Those who currently leave pubs before closing time will be able to hang out later until they're paralytic. Those who currently take expensive taxis home from clubs will get to enjoy a hugely cheaper option. Those with an early flight out of Heathrow will be able to take the tube, not book a £40 minicab. Those who currently have to leave the theatre early to dash to Waterloo for their last train will find this doesn't make a blind bit of difference, because the tube runs perfectly late enough already. But it's good news for cleaners and those in the night economy who currently have to take the bus, they can enjoy a lie-in (though only at weekends, and only if they live in the right place).

    You could say this is a peculiar way to spend money. We live in times of austerity and cutbacks, with fares under increasing pressure and cutbacks on the way. And yet here's TfL splashing out on running extra trains and recruiting extra drivers and keeping stations open at a time when most of us are fast asleep. This plan will provide a service at one of the 10 least busy stations on the Underground (that's Fairlop) at the least busy time in the entire week (that's around dawn on a Sunday morning). For every packed carriage at 1am rumbling through the West End, there'll be an empty train at 4am trundling up the Hainault Loop.

    For most Londoners, yesterday's announcement is an irrelevance. It's good news, and it'll be comforting to know that the service is there when we need it, but at any given time only a tiny proportion of us will actually benefit.


    Woo, that was unexpected. After years of running ticket office opening hours down, and promising they'd never close them all, suddenly it's actually going to happen. That's all the Underground's remaining ticket offices closing. That's every single one (even at busy central stations like Waterloo and Oxford Circus). That's everyone who currently works in one removed (either redeployed or retired, assuming no compulsory redundancies). That's additional station staff wandering around ticket halls with tablets and friendly smiles (although not every ticket hall, many of you will have to make do by yourselves). That's just seven Visitor Information Centres providing advice to baffled tourists as they attempt to enter the system (at Euston, Heathrow, King's Cross, Liverpool Street, Paddington, Victoria and, er, Piccadilly Circus). Because this is the do-it-yourself future, coming to a journey near you whether you like it or not (strikes permitting).

    This is all part of TfL's continued crusade to stop faffing around with money. They introduced Oyster to speed us into stations without some employee having to check. They've slimmed ticket office opening hours, and opened new stations without a ticket office included. They've consulted on banning cash from buses, and will undoubtedly roll that plan out next year. And now they want us all to move over to contactless bank cards, because that absolves them of running the financial bit altogether so all they need to do is set and collect the fares.

    It's bad news for Londoners who seek to talk to somebody behind the counter. The comforting option of talking to someone who knows what they're doing, and has a computer terminal to help them, will disappear. Especially disadvantaged will be those who need a service those blessed machines can't provide. I had to go to my local ticket office last month to get my Gold Card discount applied, because none of TfL's automated systems can manage that. Now I'll have to travel further to one of the seven tourist hubs and join the lengthy queue, or hope there's a member of staff floating in my local station with an appropriate gizmo. Sure, it'll be great to see increased staff presence across the network, offering assistance rather than hiding behind glass. But if they're busy, occupied or elsewhere, what then?

    You could say this is a peculiar step for TfL to take. Three percent of Underground journeys still involve a trip to the ticket office, that's 150,000 people a day. But for the other 97% of us, swishing by with our Travelcards or poking another £10 note into the machine, the absence of a staffed ticket office won't make a blind bit of difference. Indeed it's how the DLR's run for years, and everybody copes on that. Those ever decreasing hours at your local ticket office are a direct response to you not using it so much any more, so when the occupants finally lose their jobs, it's partly your fault.

    For most Londoners, yesterday's announcement is an irrelevance. It's bad news, and it'll be no comfort to know that the service isn't there when we need it, but at any given time only a tiny proportion of us will actually suffer.

    Two of the most important operational decisions TfL have announced in years, both on the same day, the one to help smother the other. Bad news and sparkle, the sneaky blighters.

     Thursday, November 21, 2013

    JUBILEE: Waterloo → Southwark

    I don't think there's another pair of Underground stations like it - two neighbouring stations on the same line where you can walk from one to the other without ever leaving a station. Such a pair would have to be very close to one another, which these are, and there'd have to be something fairly unusual inbetween, which there is. The two stations are Waterloo and Southwark on the Jubilee line. And what's inbetween is a mighty trek above ground and down again, via a completely different station.

    WATERLOO: This is the second station on the Jubilee line extension, not quite so impressive as Westminster, but striking all the same. It has those glass doors that seal off the tracks from the platform, while the walls are covered in little grey tiles like a mosaic. There are two exits from the platform, roughly at each end, so take your pick.
    escalator ↑11m: Join the throng to battle your way aboard the first escalator, where there's usually a lot more space for those willing to walk. And it doesn't matter which set of escalators you choose, because each deposits you in the same place on the landing above.
    landing: This would feel quite big, except there's a mysterious glass chamber in the middle surrounding a single set of steps down. Where does it go? Whatever, it's a secret staircase for staff only, not for us. Neither are we heading for the travelator, that speedy moving walkway leading to Waterloo's other tube lines.
    escalator ↑17m: This is a long one, rising up a thin tube lined by grey indented panels. They all have their own style of grey indented panel, the stations on this section of the Jubilee line extension, with Waterloo's being an indented circle with a smaller indented circle in the centre. Look over your shoulder as you ascend into the ticket hall to see an elephant's head above you. This sculpture is by Kendra Haste, and is made from galvanised painted wire. First time travellers tend to look twice.

    Waterloo Road ticket hall: This is a busy ticket hall, and probably one of the last TfL will close should they ever announce a major raft of closures. You can exit to Waterloo Road (the road, not the badly acted school), but instead most pass through, avoiding the pasty and burger outlets, to rise again.
    escalator ↑: Here's our third escalator, climbing from beside the flashy cashpoints to emerge in the mainline station.
    Waterloo station: Viewed one way, it's a romantic departure point for the West Country, meet me under the clock. Viewed another way, it's commuter hell, queueing to board the 1753 to Chessington South. But we're not hanging around, we're heading for Waterloo East. It used to be fairly easy to spot the Waterloo East exit on the eastern wall, but not any more. I wandered along and back for a bit before I finally spotted the sign hanging from the ceiling - they hid it well.
    escalator ↑: Our fourth and final upward escalator glides towards the roof, providing a fine vantage point across the station below, and an upper balcony.
    The Balcony: You might not have realised that Waterloo station has a mezzanine floor. It's relatively new, and is of course an elevated shopping experience for bored passengers. Liverpool Street's had one for years, King's Cross got one last year - it's the de rigeur option for transport retail. Waterloo's will be of more use when they find tenants for all the shops, but you can already dine, or do Fat Face, if you insist.

    Waterloo East entrance: Aha, the station entrance is on level one. If you reach the barrier without buying a ticket a sign directs you back down the escalator to try again in the main station. Until fairly recently it used to be possible to walk straight through, and onwards, without touching in. Alas it's possible no longer.
    passageway: It's a bit of a walk from Waterloo to Waterloo East, and all slightly downhill. Follow the semi-cylindrical tube, making sure to keep to the left beneath the green arrows. Look, we're passing over Waterloo Road, and you can easily see out towards the river. This walk may have begun two dozen metres below ground, but now we're high above. It's quite a workout, both vertically and horizontally, this hike. If you pass through before 11.15pm, there's an extra exit half way along for the Imperial War Museum and the Union Jack Club. But we're not going that way.
    Waterloo East: Eventually, after a couple of twists, we reach the station entrance proper. It's an architectural letdown after the Jubilee line, more suburban overbridge than central mainline station. Watch the information boards to work out which way to go, and there's an added peculiarity here... all the platforms are lettered. None of this normal numbered stuff, will it be A or B or C or D?
    ramp ↓: Here begins the descent proper, a long sloping ramp, dropping a little more sharply than the previous passageway.
    Platform A: Any platform will do, but I've selected the main platform for those heading to the suburbs. Check out Sweet Express while you wait for trains to Woolwich or Gillingham, or grab a coffee from Aromas cafe, which is more likely to be open. What you can't do, if you walk right down to the far end of the platform, is frequent the Cappucino & Espresso Bar, because that's exceptionally closed and has been for some time. There are some fine views here - the Shard ahead, the Eye behind.
    staircase ↓: Look, it's old-fashioned stairs! There's none of this Jubilee step-free stuff on the suburban railway.
    passageway: This is a bit dull, and a bit grey, and more than a bit quiet. The stairs from platforms A, B and C deposit you here.
    ticket gates: This is a bit odd. Ahead is a row of ticket barriers, those to exit Waterloo East station...

    ticket gates: ...and immediately in front is another row of ticket barriers, those to enter Southwark station. You might find one set open, or you might not, touching in twice to leave one system and enter another. It's really quiet here in this big ticket hall, or it is outside the weekday rush hour, and yet there's always some poor member of staff sitting here bored out of their skull waiting to assist anyone who gets stuck, if anyone ever does.
    escalator ↓ 13m: At last, a stylish descent. This escalator starts off at street level - you'll see people walking past outside the window. And then we're off back beneath the ground, for the first time since fourteen paragraphs ago.
    passageway: At last we're back inside the modern Jubilee line again. It's a very quiet link, this, which you can tell from how incredibly empty the litter bags are. Further along, where those descending from the street merge, they're full of wrappers and empty coffee cups. Here on the link to Waterloo East they contain virtually nothing.
    landing: And this is fantastic, possibly the best bit of architecture on the entire Jubilee line extension. A blue glass wall, made from equilateral triangles, rises in a sweeping curve supported by parallel concrete struts. Reflected light streaks the wall with white and grey stripes, giving the appearance of some exotic mineral ore, like we're in a cave or something. The effect's been ruined slightly by one of those busking semicircles daubed on the floor, but I love it here. It is perhaps no coincidence that one of TfL's main office blocks is immediately outside this station.
    escalator ↓ 9m: Completely out of scale with the surrounding chamber is a pair of escalators, each burrowing down separately into the surrounding earth. Ride the narrow tube downward, it's an unusual experience, in futuristic silver.
    staircase ↓: And woo,a wide open space again. A long high chamber runs between the two Jubilee line tunnels, with one final staircase leading down to platform level. Each has an illuminated top, curving to a point like an Art Deco ocean liner, as an added decorative flourish. Marvellous stuff.
    SOUTHWARK: And here we are, at last, at the station nextdoor to Waterloo. The platform is entirely understated in comparison with everything else, but has a simple elegance with its grey walls and indented squares. At which point the obvious thing to do is to catch the next train out. It's less than a minute back to Waterloo, which is less than 500 metres away via the Jubilee line. But how much more interesting it was to walk the station-to-station journey; up, and above ground, and along, and back down again.

     Wednesday, November 20, 2013

    I hate November.

    It's cold, very cold, suddenly properly cold, like we haven't had since last winter, well April actually, so cold, definitely time to have the heating on, all that cash going to British Gas, have you seen how much they put their prices up, it's daylight robbery, or stick another two jumpers on, and it's never warm even with the heating on, and you still have to dress up warm to go out otherwise you shiver, have you seen what people are wearing all of a sudden, lots of pixie hats, lots of knitted floppy things, lots of completely over the top scarves, do people know what they look like, I mean really, and we didn't even get a proper autumn did we, all the leaves stayed sort of green for ages, then it got cold and the wind took them and they fell off, so where were the glorious reds and golds and browns, not this November I guess, and now it won't be warm again for months, properly months, definitely not next month or the month after, not a chance, we only have cold and ice to look forward to, all slippery and dangerous underfoot, and probably snow, and none of the nice stuff, oh no, I mean the slushy grey snow that hangs around for days, even weeks, because it's cold.

    It's dark, like really dark, the sun just goes down so early and it's so dark, admittedly no darker than we get at night at other times of the year but this is supposed to be daytime, I mean at four o'clock at other times of the year you can still enjoy six more hours outside, but not November, oh no, the evening just rolls in, one minute it's teatime the next it's pitch black, you go to leave the office and it's just dark, and it was dark when you got up too, that's November for you, and still the idiots in the office insist on having the blinds down, sun's low apparently, shining on their computer screens poor dears, so even when the sun does come out we can't see it, the bastards, and the nights won't be getting noticeably longer again for ages, at least two months, although this does mean more opportunities to do some astronomy, see the stars, except it's usually cloudy, and when it isn't cloudy it's bloody cold so you stand outside and you freeze, it's grim, and so black, all those poor cyclists recently, getting knocked over and killed, it can't be a coincidence the clocks have just gone back, it just stops you wanting to go out really, stops you wanting to do anything, because it's dark.

    It's miserable, proper miserable, a combination of cold and dark, and not just that, it's just a rubbish month, not proper Christmas, but all the shops are pretending it is, I swear if I see that John Lewis advert one more time, and does anyone really buy Iceland party food, in November I mean, and how I hate I'm A Celebrity, every November, bunch of jumped-up has-beens munching on kangaroo testicles, and Ant and Dec looking smug, as if Pudsey wasn't smug enough, every bloody November, and now there's that Movember thing too, sheesh, all that embarrassing facial hair like it's 1973 again, on people far too young to remember, and who is it still letting off fireworks, that was weeks ago you morons, not forgetting the inescapable X Factor, I mean who actually cares, and November's when you get your first winter cold, that light sniffle that turns into a phlegmy torrent for a fortnight, and you know who gave it to you, that idiot who sneezed in your tube carriage on Monday, did she not have a handkerchief, a cold's the last thing you want, just makes you feel worse, more depressed, because November's just 30 days of prolonged suffering, and oh so miserable.

    Still, at least it's not January.

     Tuesday, November 19, 2013

    Taking a guided tour of London can be expensive. Wandering the streets with a Blue Badge Guide doesn't come cheap. Those sightseeing buses in the centre of town charge £25 a day. Sure you can ride a normal bus much more cheaply, but as a tourist you can't beat the informed commentary of an expert who knows their stuff.

    So you might be interested in taking a special guided tour of the Docklands Light Railway. It costs no more than your normal ticket. It's available on every route, in both directions. It's available on every train, from pre-dawn to post-midnight. And OK, so you don't get your own personalised guide sat beside you all the way. But you do get a running commentary from start to finish, so long as you've plugged in your headphones and downloaded the right files.

    These are the DLR Audio Guides (or podcasts, if you're hip).
    The Docklands Light Railway spans an area full of rich heritage and state-of-the-art venues, which can all be viewed whilst travelling on the DLR. Now you can make the most of your journey with a guided tour of this fascinating area. Simply select the route you would like to travel and download the free podcast, telling you historical details and intriguing facts, and what to look out for. Even if you think you know London, we’re sure you’re in for a surprise or two.
    There are special instructions regarding where to sit.
    All viewing instructions assume that you’re facing forward in the direction of travel. The front seats are the best for viewing. You won’t always be able to get the very front seat, but make sure you’re in the front carriage of the train. If you’re further back, you won’t be able to see everything.
    Everyone loves sitting at the very front of a DLR train, not just for the view but for the chance to pretend to steer. A top tip not presented here is always to sit on the right, because the train operator might kick you out if you sit on the left. Meanwhile I'm not convinced that everywhere in the front carriage allows you to see everything, so make sure you sit as far forward as possible.
    Because the DLR is fully automated, journey times between different stations are remarkably consistent. These guides are designed to provide interesting information for every part of the journey, including when trains are at stations. If your train is delayed between stations, press ‘pause’ on your device and restart the guide when your train is under way again. Similarly, to ensure your guide remains fully synchronised, while at stations you’ll hear a beep on the commentary track that should coincide with the train doors closing and the train leaving the station. If departure is delayed, press ‘pause’ on your device and restart the guide when your train is again under way.
    Now that's clever. Normally the problem with an audio guide is keeping it synchronised, but the DLR's a predictable automated railway, so the commentary's bang on time. Even the full length track, once you've downloaded it, is the same length as an end to end journey.

    Because there are many different possible DLR routes, so there are many different podcasts to choose from. For example from Beckton you can choose to go to either Tower Gateway or Stratford International. From Bank you can choose to go to either Woolwich Arsenal or Lewisham. There's even an off-peak option on the latter, according to whether the train stops at West India Quay or not. Someone's thought about this.

    And what of the commentary itself? It's mostly very good, very pertinent. Inner East London has a lot of heritage, even in the unlikeliest locations along the way. Canning Town has its lighthouse, Devons Road has Spratts dog biscuit factory and Deptford Bridge has Henry VIII's royal dockyard. I was particularly impressed by the detail along the run from Stratford to Canary Wharf, though I'm afraid rather less so by the dullsville Stratford International branch. Indeed the most glaring omission is at Abbey Road, where the narrator revels in Beatles puns rather than ever mentioning the 12th century Cistercian abbey once present on the station site, and marked by a plaque at the end of the platform.
    “In amongst the small streets of Wapping is Wilton's Music Hall, which opened in 1828, after a previous life as an alehouse reputedly popular with local merchants."
    “London City Airport on the right is the smallest London airport. It caters for nearly 3 million people a year and is a vital link for the London business community.”
    “For football fans, the Arsenal football club takes its name from the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. It was founded here in 1886 by the ordnance workers – the ‘Gunners’.”
    By listening to just four podcasts - I'll let you decide which - you can cover every stretch of the network. And if you do, you'll notice that certain landmarks get mentioned repeatedly. Foremost amongst these is the O2, which is strange because the DLR doesn't actually go there. But it is easily seen from several stretches of line, even way back near Westferry (where Lewisham-bound travellers get to hear all about it). And how does the audio guide suggest you get to the O2? Via the cablecar, of course, or "the exciting Emirates Airline cablecar" as the commentary has it. The guide's travel advice reaches the heights of perversity at Canning Town, where riders are advised to change for the DLR to Royal Victoria, then fly via "a five minute flight" over the Thames, when they could just have taken the Jubilee line one stop instead. Could it be that these podcasts are a deliberate, if obscure, plug for the ailing Dangleway?

    If you're interested in taking a free DLR tour guide you'll find everything here. Download just the one podcast for your particular journey or, if you have quarter of a gigabyte to spare, why not all 13 in one go? Those of you reading this on your phone or tablet might prefer the mobile version, where each individual station has its own clickable mp3 file, although these don't all seem to be chopped up properly. You should listen on the train for full effect, obviously, but nothing's stopping you from enjoying a virtual ride at home. Indeed no matter where you are in the world, now anyone can imagine sitting up the front of a DLR train on a free London tour. Enjoy the ride.

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