diamond geezer

 Saturday, October 31, 2015

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of punning tube maps, food-based tube maps, spooky tube maps, coffee shop tube maps, property hotspot tube maps, famous footballer tube maps, every kind of bloody tube map where all somebody's done is replace the names with something else and everyone gets wildly excited like it's the most brilliant thing ever.

So allow me to stop this frivolity forever with the ultimate viral tube map.

And let us never speak of this again.

 Friday, October 30, 2015

Yesterday was London Poppy Day, when the Royal British Legion strikes out across the capital in attempt to raise £1m for its annual appeal. Thousands of uniformed personnel collected at stations, and some well known voices appeared over the tannoy urging passengers to dig deep. TfL takes Remembrance season very seriously, increasingly so each year, with poppies proudly emblazoned across buses, trains and stations.

Even the logo on TfL's Twitter feed has adopted a halo of poppies. That feed functioned pretty much as normal yesterday morning, with the first mention of London Poppy Day not appearing until 2.09pm.
Today is London Poppy Day and some famous people are making some special announcements on the Tube & Trams today http://ow.ly/TZMt7
And then six minutes later this happened.

All that money in buckets had seemingly encouraged TfL to organise a prize raffle for their followers. An unusual idea, but also a carefully planned campaign, as subsequent tweets made clear.
Win with our Poppy Day raffle. Send a pic of anything poppy-related on our network using #TfLPoppy more info here http://ow.ly/TZMVA
Yes, this was a Twitter-based raffle, inviting Londoners to take photographs of poppies and poppy branding on TfL property and share it on social media using the hashtag #TfLPoppy. The link at the end of the tweet was to the terms and conditions, a document 17 paragraphs long, and a necessity when organising a prize competition. But what would the prize be? At 2.30pm we found out.
Win an @AspinalofLondon bag via our Poppy Day raffle by posting a pic of anything poppy-related on TfL’s network until 7pm, adding #TfLpoppy
I bet nobody was expecting that. The prize for snapping a symbol of remembrance was a luxury leather handbag. I'm struggling to think of any logical reason why.
We’re supporting @PoppyLegion’s appeal in honour of the 4,500 transport workers who died in WWI & WWII
At 4.45pm, with the evening rush about to begin, TfL reminded everyone about their competition.
Win with our Poppy Day raffle. Send a pic of anything poppy-related on our network using #TfLPoppy more info here http://ow.ly/TXCeW
They're interesting terms and conditions.
In order to enter you must: a) use the following hashtag on Twitter: #TfLPoppy; and b) reply to a Competition Tweet with an image of one of the following:
i. a TfL poppy wrapped vehicle, for example, a London Underground train, a DLR Train or a London Overground or
a bus;
ii. a poppy branded London Underground or DLR station; or
iii. a London Underground, DLR or London Overground train with a poppy.
I dare say the people who entered photos of Waterloo station concourse, last year's Tower of London moat or a bus in Reading hadn't read that one.
The Competition period runs from 29 October 2015 (“the Opening Date”) and ends on 13 November 2015 (“the Closing Date”) (inclusive). There will be two separate free prize draws each working day (not including the weekend) during this period. The first prize draw will run from 07:00 GMT to 13:00 GMT, and the second prize draw will run from 13:00 to 19:00 GMT.
This isn't a one-off, oh no. TfL plan to repeat their prize draw twice each weekday from now until mid-November, that's twelve days in total, presumably with a different prize each time. Intriguingly Remembrance Sunday this year is on 8th November, so the promotion is scheduled to run one full week after our national commemoration, and two days beyond the two minute silence.
The winner of each prize draw will be selected at random each day by the Promoter and the decision is final.
I hope you saw that coming. This isn't a competition, it's a raffle, so the winner won't be selected on creative merit. It's just as likely to be Maggie's opportunistic DLR poppy grab as Sophia's clever combination of old and new buses.
Tweet a pic of a poppy branded Tube train, Overground train, bus or poppy branded station using #TfLPoppy to win an @AspinalofLondon bag
By my calculations, once you weed out all yesterday's participants who posted the wrong thing or missed the deadline, each had a one in six chance of walking off with a top quality leather handbag. Because this apparently is what the Poppy Appeal is all about.
Win an @AspinalofLondon bag via our Poppy Day raffle by posting a pic of anything poppy-related on our network until 7pm, adding #TfLPoppy
A digital tombola to win luxury branded goods by sharing a photo of a symbol that commemorates our nation's fallen. It's either a inspired campaign to boost awareness of remembrance, or exploiting our war dead to flog handbags.

TfL Poppy raffle prizes
 morning prizeafternoon prize
Thu 29 (no prize)an @AspinalofLondon bag
Fri 30a @TimeOutLondon Cardtickets to @WinterWonderLDN
Sat 31an afternoon tea @hotelcaferoyaltickets to @WarHorseOnStage
Sun 1tickets to @TheLondonEyetickets for @ThamesRIBExp
Mon 2tickets to Sea Life @london_aquariuman experience on the flight simulator & a ride on @EmiratesAirLDN
Tue 3a meal-for-two @HardRockLondona chocolate-making class @paxtonchocolate
Wed 4tickets to Bond in Motion@ldnfilmmuseumone of @PenhaligonsLtd fragrances for ladies or gents
Thu 5go climbing with @archclimbingtickets to Vogue 100: A Century of Style @NPGLondon
Fri 6a dinner cruise @citycruises – a brilliant river experiencea Sushi-making class @YOSushi
Sat 7(no prize draw)
Sun 8
Mon 9a night’s stay & breakfast for 2 at the InterContinental @ICParkLane a chance to race for free with @RevolutionKarti
Tue 10an amazing prize from @goodlifeeaterya Street Art Tour with @AlternativeLdn
Wed 11tickets for @rooftopfilmclub Underground Film Clubdinner or lunch for two worth £100 @Galvin_brothers
Thu 12a snowboard/ski beginner’s lesson for two thanks to @SnozoneMKa mixology class with @ZebranoBars
Thu 12it’s all fun and games @clueQuestLondona star quality bowling experience with a £150 voucher from @allstarlanes 

 Thursday, October 29, 2015

plaque at Lewisham stationIn case you've been wondering what's been happening at my local bus stop in Bow Road, the answer is nothing new. Four weeks on from the big switchover, here's an update.

1a) On the TfL website, and various apps, the list of routes serving Bus Stop M fails to include route 25 [NOT FIXED]
1b) On the TfL website, most of the time, the list of departures at Bus Stop M fails to include route 25 [NOT FIXED]

2a) On the TfL website, and various apps, Bus Stop E still appears even though it's been erased in real life [NOT FIXED] [PARTLY ERASED - Friday 13th November]
2b) On the TfL website, and various apps, Bus Stop G still appears even though it's been erased in real life [NOT FIXED]

3a) Mismatch between name displayed at stop (Bow Church) and digital name (Bow Flyover) [NOT FIXED] [PROBABLY FIXED - Friday 13th November]
3b) Buses approaching Bus Stop M display an incorrect next stop (Bow Flyover) [NOT FIXED] [FIXED - Friday 13th November]

4a) Timetables displayed at stop don't match times at new location (and route diagrams incorrectly shaded) [NOT REPLACED]
4b) New bus shelter has no bus maps, even after being open for four weeks [NOT POSTED UP YET] [MINOR SUCCESS - an East London Night Bus map has appeared, Friday 30th October]

5) Bus Stop M displays a tile for route 205, which has never stopped here [STILL A MYSTERY] [TILE REMOVED Tuesday 3rd November - not a mystery, just another mistake]

6) Bus Stop M has no road markings (nor the words 'BUS STOP' written in the road) [NOT COMPLETE] [SUCCESS - road markings (and the words BUS STOP) were painted between 11pm and midnight, Thursday 29th October]

7a) Bus stop bypass remains blocked by the stumpy base of a former lamppost [STILL NOT REMOVED] [SUCCESS - removed Wednesday 4th November]
7b) Bus stop bypass has yet to open [SEE ABOVE]

8a) Repacement lamppost not functional, so it's unexpectedly dark here in the evening [AWAITING ELECTRICIAN]
8b) New bus shelter not plugged into electricity supply, so this provides no light either [AWAITING ELECTRICIAN]

9) Most passengers continue to use Bus Stop M without showing any signs of distress [KEEP A SENSE OF PROPORTION HERE]

10) Five other sets of bus stops along Bow Road have yet to be temporarily closed for Cycle Superhighway upgrade works [PRAY FOR US]

Meanwhile TfL's consultation on diverting route 25 permanently over the Bow Flyover closes tomorrow after a two week extension. If you'd like to tell them not to do it because a) it'll create a half mile gap in bus stops served b) lots of people live in the gap c) thousands more people are due to live in the gap within the next few years, that'd be great. [THANKS]

Why bother responding to a consultation?
In July 2015 Transport for London consulted on the plans to change the frequency of the part of bus route 15 that is operated with traditional Routemaster vehicles, in order to improve reliability.

We received 85 responses to the consultation. Having considered the responses, TfL intends to proceed with the frequency change as shown in the consultation documentation. The change to the frequency will come into effect on 14 November 2015.
When Routemasters were phased out in 2005, TfL chose to keep a few running during daytime hours on parts of route 9 and 15. Last year they decided to scrap heritage route 9, so they held a consultation. 84% of respondents disagreed, but they scrapped it anyway. This left only heritage route 15 with proper Routemasters. Now they want to trim back this service by losing one of the five buses an hour, so they've held another consultation. And this time 61% of respondents disagreed, so they're cutting the frequency anyway.

"We're opposed to a reduced frequency," said the public. "Ah," said TfL, "the regular fully-accessible service on route 15 provides sufficient capacity. The reduction in frequency of the heritage service will increase its reliability without the need for additional financial support, by allowing buses more time to complete their journeys. When buses keep more closely to the advertised timetable this can reduce waiting times for intending passengers."

"You need to run more Heritage Routemasters," said the public. "Ah," said TfL, "we make every effort to maximise value for money and public benefit from every pound which we spend providing services. The proposed service is considered sufficient for the purpose of allowing our customers to experience travel by traditional Routemaster. A high frequency service of modern fully accessible buses operates on the parallel route 15."

"It's the beginning of the end," said the public. "Ah," said TfL, "the Heritage Routemasters will still be available for customers to experience and see in operation in London. A new contract has been let to secure the continued operation of the service."

"You should advertise the service better," said the public, "because your publicity's nigh invisible, indeed you've just published a 20 page free leaflet for tourists called Visiting London and you don't mention the Heritage Routemasters once, even though the bloody cablecar gets at least three plugs." "Ah," said TfL, "the 15 Heritage Routemaster will continue to be publicised through the wide variety of media used to publicise the London Bus Network."

And that's the end of the matter. It might even be the right decision, in these days of austerity, cutbacks and Garden Bridges. But what's very clear from TfL's four-pronged response is that they had every intention of cutting back the service no matter what the public said, indeed they could easily have written their rebuttal beforehand. Which begs the question, why bother responding to a consultation, or indeed holding one, when the outcome is never in doubt?

 Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Another year, another Crossrail 2 consultation.

The first, in 2013, asked whether we preferred a shorter DLR-style service or a larger network stretching out into the suburbs. The second, in 2014, confirmed that the larger network should go forward, and wondered what our preferred route options were. And the third, launched yesterday, confirms the majority of the route and asks if we're OK about all the buildings they'll need to knock down.

This latest consultation reveals a phenomenal amount of information, by no means the whole deal but enough to gauge the impact on your part of town. Where the trains will run, proposed levels of service, precisely where the stations will go, where ventilation shafts will need to be inserted, that sort of thing. There's no need to get excited just yet, construction's not due to begin until 2020 and won't be complete before 2030, but the intervening decade looks rather messy in certain now-well-defined places.

In overview, two branches of Crossrail 2 will sweep in from the north, one from New Southgate and the other from Broxbourne (down the existing Lea Valley line). Both will enter tunnels and combine to the north of Dalston, a station selected in preference to Hackney Central (which might be part of an eastern extension later). Crossrail 2's central section passes through Euston St Pancras, Tottenham Court Road and Victoria, as planned, with one train scheduled every two minutes. Chelsea gets its own station, then either Balham or Tooting, before this wiggly tunnelled section ends at Wimbledon. Crossrail 2 then splits to take over four suburban spurs - to Epsom, Chessington South, Hampton Court and Shepperton. One day, that is, when all of us are 15 years older.

Here's the consultation website, with numerous supporting documents, here's a route diagram, and here's an interactive geographical map. Meanwhile below I've attempted to summarise some of the moot points, with links to further local detail, to save you having to plough through the lot.

New Southgate: New Southgate will be the end of the northwest branch, and the location of a tunnel portal, and also the site of a large train depot. As a result a particularly lengthy strip of land is going to be swallowed up by Crossrail, including the current alignment of Station Road (which will be used for new platforms).
New Southgate to Seven Sisters: Previously it was assumed that the line would have stations at Alexandra Palace and Turnpike Lane, and this might still happen. But Haringey council would very much prefer the route to miss both of these in favour of the centre of Wood Green, because that's where all the shops are. This consultation will help to decide which route wins out. Both would relieve pressure on the Piccadilly line, but only the Ally Pally option fully interchanges with all local National Rail services. A Turnpike Lane station would swallow the bus station and BHS, while in Wood Green the Vue cinema would have to go. Could go either way.
Seven Sisters: This station'll be a double-ender, with one entrance at the existing Seven Sisters station and the other at South Tottenham (for the Overground). Some residential properties on Birstall Road would have to be demolished, as would the Jehovah's Witnesses' Kingdom Hall.

Broxbourne to Angel Road: This northern branch can expect a Crossrail train every five or six minutes. That's a lot of trains so the line would also need to be widened from two tracks to four, allowing fast services to Harlow and Stansted to speed through the middle. That's a long-long-awaited improvement! Meanwhile all the existing level crossings would need to be removed, and possibly replaced by bridges or underpasses (or in some places not replaced at all).
Angel Road to Tottenham Hale: This section is already scheduled to be doubled up from two tracks to four, in readiness for so-called STAR services running between Angel Road and Stratford. Consultation documents confirm that these services are scheduled to begin in 2017/18.
Tottenham Hale: This station is destined to become a major interchange, with a train every couple of minutes above ground and the Victoria line below. Crossrail trains will descend into tunnel to the south of the station, requiring the acquisition of a long strip of land alongside the existing railway all the way down to Markfield Park.

Tottenham Hale/Seven Sisters to Dalston: In the previous consultation, the idea was floated of adding intermediate stations at Stoke Newington and/or Clapton. Neither of these will happen, for reasons of cost, as the two Crossrail branches join together and whizz down to Dalston without stopping. For a proposed railway which started out in the 1970s as the 'Chelsea/Hackney line', Hackney isn't going to do very well out of Crossrail 2 fifty years later.
Dalston: Crossrail platforms are two football pitches long, so the stations are very long too. This one'll have one exit at Dalston Kingsland station and the other at Dalston Junction, creating a new station simply called Dalston. Planned worksites will require the demolition of shops along two 50m sections of Kingsland Road.
Angel: Crossrail 2 will bring a new railway line to busy Upper Street with a direct connection to the West End. Demolition of the Royal Bank of Scotland (beside the existing Angel station) is required, while Iceland (and other properties on White Lion Street) will bite the bullet for construction of a ventilation shaft.

Euston St Pancras: This key portmanteau station will serve HS1 and HS2, with one entrance near the taxi rank round the back of St Pancras, and the other in place of the Travelodge opposite Euston. An "underground passenger link" will be created to link Crossrail 2 to Euston station (but there's no news of any similar link from Euston to St Pancras direct, because that's an HS2 issue).
Tottenham Court Road: If you thought ten years of construction works here for Crossrail 1 were bad enough, expect another ten for Crossrail 2. The current TCR station isn't sufficiently future-proof, it seems, plus the two lines will actually cross beneath Soho Square (where a worksite will remain, for ground stabilisation reasons). One new station entrance will be built facing Oxford Street along the eastern side of Rathbone Place, while the other will be on Shaftesbury Avenue and requires the demolition of the Curzon cinema. You've not heard the last of this one.
Victoria: After swerving beneath Pall Mall and St James's Park, Crossrail 2's next stop is a game-changing interchange at Victoria, reducing congestion on several existing lines. The price is 5-8 years of construction work, including the removal of everything opposite the existing mainline station on Buckingham Palace Road, and yet another redevelopment of Terminus Place. A shaft is proposed on the site of Victoria Coach Station, regarding which "proposals about the future of the Victoria Coach Station are being considered" and will be "subject to further consultation by TfL".

King's Road Chelsea: The previous consultation raised the possibility of an alternative station at 'Chelsea West', nearer to new residential development, but this idea's now dead in the water. Plans to devour Dovehouse Gardens and Chelsea fire station have also been amended, with the proposed station entrance now facing onto Sydney Street opposite Heal's. Further land opposite M&S would also be required, a relatively small landgrab compared to most other stations, but expect the population of the King's Road to be vocally unhappy all the same.
Clapham Junction: One of the busiest stations in the country will be gaining a direct link to the West End and beyond, so expect a lot of southern commuters to alight here for interchange into central London. Much of the construction work will take place on existing sidings, but the bus station (and church) to the north on Grant Road are scheduled to disappear.
Tooting/Balham: Now the intriguing detour. Tooting was always the intended destination in south Wandsworth, but geological surveys have found awkward ground conditions, prompting a major rethink. Relocating the station to Balham would apparently be "faster, easier, less disruptive and cheaper", so I suspect we can assume the switch is a dead cert, and that Balham's Waitrose is consequently doomed. Swift interchanges to the Northern line are guaranteed either way.
Wimbledon: As the point where Crossrail 2 trains emerge from deep tunnel and then split in two directions along existing suburban lines, the centre of Wimbledon totally gets it. There'll be worksites across either end of the existing platforms, and on the site of Centre Court Shopping Centre, and along the other side of Wimbledon Bridge. This is majorly significant disruptive stuff, all for the long-term good, but a lot of properties look like becoming 'unavailable'. The Odeon will be safe, but as for anything north of that, check the map. As a bonus, however, expect the tram terminus to be raised to street level and integrated into the town centre... and the big prize is of course 30 Crossrail trains an hour.

Wimbledon to New Malden/Motspur Park: Here's the big southwestern split, with some additional tracks required on the way to New Malden. More frequent trains will also require "a small number" of existing level crossings to be closed, and Network Rail "will work closely with local communities and the local authority to find an appropriate resolution for each". The big payback here is that diverting suburban trains into a brand new tunnel creates considerable additional capacity on the existing mainline into Waterloo, where services can (eventually) be enhanced.
Motspur Park to Epsom: This branch would retain some existing Waterloo services as well as four Crossrail trains an hour.
Motspur Park to Chessington South: This branch would become Crossrail only, with four trains an hour (rather than the existing two).
New Malden to Hampton Court: This branch would become Crossrail only, with four trains an hour (rather than the existing two).
New Malden to Shepperton: This branch would retain some existing Waterloo services as well as four Crossrail trains an hour. The number of trains from Kingston into central London would double. Previous plans to send Crossrail trains to Twickenham have been withdrawn, leaving these services unchanged.

There's a heck of a lot to be discussed, so two months of roadshow events are planned in the run-up to Christmas, starting next week in Broxbourne, Waltham Cross, Wood Green, Euston, Chelsea and Epsom. And this matters, because Crossrail 2 will change the face of London in the same way that its sister project almost has. You'll be aware from Crossrail 1 how large a construction site is required at every new station, and for how many years, so best we get Crossrail 2 right. The consultation period ends on 8th January, so if this might affect you, best have your say. If nothing else it'll give you something to do during the 15 years before you can finally take a ride.

 Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Seven ways to solve London's housing crisis

1) Sporting foundations
Why does London have so many golf courses, and what useful function do they serve? Every day a small number of relatively well-off souls walk around acres of green space occasionally tapping a ball with a stick. In a capital city of limited extent, this is a luxury we cannot afford. Let's take back our golf courses, perhaps not all in one go, but nine holes out of every eighteen. This would leave perfectly sufficient space to play... and if we ever chose to go the whole hog, players could easily drive to an unsullied course in the Home Counties instead. And what of football pitches? These are left utterly empty during most of the week, when they could be covered by cul-de-sacs, shops and schools. We need tarmac over only half of them - the ratio of home matches to away matches confirms this. But let's not falter in reclaiming these sporting wastelands, for the greater good.

2) Rebuild Pinner
It doesn't have to be Pinner, it could be Carshalton or Sidcup or Woodford, or anywhere else that's essentially suburban. In such a place we find innumerable avenues lined by semi-detached houses, the very essence of desirable Metroland living. But what a waste! All those gardens, front and back, where nobody lives but a host of wildlife and the occasional gnome. And all those properties, each occupied by a single household when its residential footprint could support so much more. We should bulldoze the entire suburb and start anew, reallocating the land to a series of multi-storey blocks and stacked apartments, increasing the population density to its full potential. And sure, we'd give those displaced by demolition first choice in the new development, nobody need ultimately miss out. But imagine the boost to housing stock that the wholesale rebuilding of Pinner could achieve.

3) Limit skyscraper growth
Let's be frank, any new residential building over 20 storeys high is essentially lifestyle posturing. Flats in such developments sell for exorbitant amounts as portfolio investments, not as somewhere to live, as luxury marketing campaigns make clear. Why should we pander to foreign speculators by building inexorably upwards, as what should be essential capacity in the sky ultimately goes to waste? Let's slap a ban on any property above a certain height, whilst simultaneously insisting that every new development reaches at least the eighth floor. By adopting the building policy of our European neighbours and creating a medium-height default for all residential structures, our capital could be transformed into an apartment-friendly meritocracy in which all are equal.

4) Extend London
At present Greater London covers 33 boroughs across six hundred square miles. But why stop there? The economic influence of our capital extends far beyond its 1965 boundary, so let's embrace peripheral districts and swallow them whole. Watford belongs in London, and Dartford, and Epsom too. Hell let's take Slough and Brentwood, and the Gatwick conurbation, even Hatfield and Harlow, and make Greater London greater still. At a stroke we could double its size and vastly increase its housing stock, and all this without a single extra penny being spent. Better still, those priced out of Outer London could then easily find an affordable home in New London, leaving room for those in Inner London to escape the property bubble at its heart. It makes sense to embrace the extended future our capital deserves, for the benefit of all.

5) Student accommodation
When you were at university you probably lived in a single room with shared facilities down the hall. These weren't the best living conditions of your life, but you coped, indeed you probably enjoyed communal living immensely. So let's make student accommodation the new default. Move our young people into tiny apartments - let's not call them cells - and stack them high. Provide a bed and a sink and a wardrobe, add wi-fi and a big screen on one wall, and most indebted youth will think they're in heaven. There'd be privacy, so the set-up's a big step up from flatshare, but also all the fun of standing around in the kitchen and bonding over pasta. And yes, it'd mean lowering the housing aspirations of a generation, but when they were never going to own their own home anyway, let's at least provide their very own box to rent.

6) Compulsory flatshare
Single people are one of the biggest drains on our housing stock. They swan around in properties that could easily hold two, as married couples repeatedly prove, and are solely responsible for the length of housing waiting lists in London. As the capital's population swells, we can no longer afford the luxury of bathrooms used only by one, and kitchens used solely to generate single servings. It's therefore essential that every Londoner living alone should be compelled to double up, if not with a soulmate then in a marriage of convenience, instantly releasing hundreds of thousands of properties to the market. Not only would the price of property stabilise as supply meets demand, but single people would find their rent or mortgage payments halved, and maybe even a new partner. It's win win win.

7) Blue sky thinking
We could perhaps build more affordable housing - that's properly affordable, not mortgaged beyond the reach of the average non-banker. We should stop listening to greedy developers who claim construction won't be profitable unless they can build what they want, rather than what the community needs. We ought to stop green-lighting developments whose sole purpose is the accumulation of cash for faceless investors, if only our leaders had the resolve. We should consider funding accommodation from the public purse, an admittedly radical departure, rather than insisting taxes must be cut because society's better off that way. We might even come to the conclusion that housing is a basic need and a human right, rather than a nest egg asset to be preserved at all costs. But you're right, this would be mere blue sky thinking, and the other six solutions are far more likely.

 Monday, October 26, 2015

Ever counted how many minutes it takes to get from the ticket hall to the platform at your local tube station? TfL have, obviously, and have compiled a big spreadsheet with all the figures. A Freedom of information request has liberated it from the archives, and I've had a dig within. It covers every station on the tube map, but it's not especially up-to-date, seemingly timestamped 2012. The times are how long it takes to get from the ticket gate to the farthest platform, which is not necessarily the same as how long it takes from the station entrance. Where a station has more than one ticket gate, the longest distance is used.

These are also the times used in TfL's Journey Planner, and they're very much on the conservative side. I can get to the Overground platforms at Highbury and Islington in well under four minutes, for example, but the data assumes I'm a slowcoach or less mobile (or it's extraordinarily busy). Most of the longest times are for are central stations with lifts or tortuous passageways and escalators. But the most common time in the database is two minutes, with well over half of stations requiring no more than two minutes to reach the platform. Here's a list of all the stations where it takes four or more.

Maximum time between ticket gate and platform

4 minutes: Baker Street (subsurface), Bond Street, Caledonian Road, Camden Town, Carpenders Park, Chalfont & Latimer, Chancery Lane, Covent Garden, Edgware Road (Bakerloo), Euston (Victoria), Forest Hill, Highbury & Islington (Overground), Holborn (Central), Holland Park, Homerton, Kennington, Lambeth North, Lancaster Gate, Liverpool Street (subsurface), Marble Arch, Marylebone, Moorgate (subsurface), Mornington Crescent, Oxford Circus, St Paul's, South Kensington (Piccadilly), Stratford (Overground), Tottenham Court Road, Upper Holloway, Upton Park, Wapping, Warren Street (Victoria), Watford Junction, Woodgrange Park, Woolwich Arsenal
4½ minutes: Bank (DLR)
5 minutes: Belsize Park, Earl's Court (Piccadilly), Elephant & Castle (Bakerloo), Embankment (Bakerloo, Northern), Euston (Northern), Gloucester Road (Piccadilly), Goodge Street, Green Park (Jubilee), Hampstead, Moorgate (Northern), Paddington (Bakerloo, H&C), Piccadilly Circus, Queensway, Southwark, Tottenham Hale
5½ minutes: Bank (Northern), Greenwich (DLR), King's Cross St Pancras (Northern)
6 minutes: Clapham Junction, Holborn (Piccadilly), Notting Hill Gate (Central), Russell Square, Warren Street (Northern), Waterloo, Westminster (Jubilee), Willesden Junction (Overground)
7 minutes: Baker Street (Jubilee, Bakerloo), Charing Cross, Elephant & Castle (Northern), London Bridge (Northern)

The spreadsheet also contains data on how long it takes to interchange between different lines. These are interchanges within one station, so for example Bow Road to Bow Church doesn't appear, and neither does crossing from one half of Hammersmith station to the other. Again the timings are quite pessimistic, in some cases wildly so, and could easily be bettered in real life. But most interchanges are scheduled for five minutes or less (even the nightmare passages at Green Park). This list shows all the interchanges that take six minutes or more.

Maximum interchange times between lines

6 minutes: Bank (W&CDLR), Blackhorse Road (VictoriaOverground), Highbury & Islington (VictoriaOverground), Holborn (CentralPiccadilly), Liverpool Street (Centralsubsurface), London Bridge (Jubilee → Northern), Stratford (DLROverground), Warren Street (Northern → Victoria), Waterloo (Jubilee → Bakerloo/Northern), Westminster (Circle/DistrictJubilee)
7 minutes: Bank (CentralCircle/District, W&C → Northern), Charing Cross (Bakerloo → Northern), Gloucester Road (Circle/DistrictPiccadilly), Moorgate (Northern → subsurface), Paddington (BakerlooCircle/District)
7½ minutes: King's Cross St Pancras (Northern → subsurface)
8 minutes: Baker Street (subsurfacetube), Shepherd's Bush (CentralOverground)
9 minutes: Euston (VictoriaOverground)
10 minutes: Bank (W&CCircle/District), Euston (Northern → Overground)
13 minutes: Paddington (H&CCircle/District)
15 minutes: Paddington (H&CBakerloo)

And finally, what if you're leaving the tube to catch a National Rail train at a major London terminus? The database also includes maximum interchange values for these timings, and what follows is the full list. Here Paddington comes out quite well, while King's Cross St Pancras is rightly a stinker. I disagree with several of these values - I managed Platform 19 at Waterloo to the Jubilee line in six minutes yesterday, not eleven. But this is the background data behind the Journey Planner and most of the apps you use, so better it overestimates than you arrive late and miss your train.

Maximum interchange times between Tube and National Rail at London Terminals

5 minutes: Paddington (H&C)
6 minutes: Liverpool Street (Central), Moorgate, Paddington (Circle/District)
7 minutes: Cannon Street, Charing Cross (Northern), London Bridge (Jubilee)
8 minutes: Liverpool Street (subsurface), Paddington (Bakerloo)
9 minutes: Euston (Victoria), Marylebone
10 minutes: Charing Cross (Bakerloo), Euston (Northern), King's Cross St Pancras (Northern, Piccadilly), London Bridge (Northern), Victoria, Waterloo (Bakerloo, Northern)
11 minutes: Waterloo (Jubilee)
12 minutes: King's Cross St Pancras (subsurface), King's Cross St Pancras (Victoria)

 Sunday, October 25, 2015

Week off (Friday): Hamble
On Friday I went on a day trip to Hamble - not the Play School character but a village overlooking Southampton Water. [Given that very few of you have ever been, or will ever visit, there will be more of a running commentary than usual.]

[I didn't have a special urge to go to Hamble, I just fancied a day out of London. And a cheap day out at that, so I thought I'd take advantage of South West Trains current special offer for a £15 go-anywhere off-peak return, which runs weekdays only until the end of the month.] [It's not quite go-anywhere, so I couldn't get to Exeter, and I've already been to Dorchester and Bournemouth this year, and the weather wasn't looking anything special, so I thought I'd blow my £15 on a travelling to a tiny station between Southampton and Fareham.] [Incidentally, if you want to keep tracks on the latest cheap rail ticket offers, keep an eye on this moneysavingexpert page.]

[I'd decided Hamble was worth visiting by looking at a map, a proper Ordnance Survey map rather than some empty Google Maps travesty. I noted several points of interest in the area, not least the rivers and the coast, and researched all of these before I arrived. An abbey, a castle, two country parks and a ferry sounded like they'd make a proper day out, plus a brickworks museum and a famous TV location - result! Always check somewhere properly before you arrive, I say, never rely on 3G in the field because you're bound to miss something interesting. I used my map to trace out an approximate route that linked together all the points of interest, checked it wasn't too long to walk in a day, and set out. It took two hours to reach the Hamble Valley, via Southampton. And I got off one stop early, at Netley, because that saved a mile's walk.]

Netley is a pleasant village on the edge of Southampton Water, most famous for its Abbey, which is one of the best preserved medieval Cistercian monasteries in southern England. [It was also closed. It only opens at weekends between October and March, so I could only look through the railings. And yes, I knew this before I came, because I'd done my research, but best not visit on a Friday in October.] Netley also has a castle, built by Henry VIII to guard the approach to Southampton. [It was converted to flats in 2000, and is surrounded by unfriendly notices, so is best seen from the other side of the estuary, not the footpath in front. Best not go out of your way to visit.] Downstream is the site of the Royal Victoria Hospital, built after the Crimean War, and in its day the longest building in the world. Alas it no longer stands, only the chapel and a YMCA hut remain, the former now a heritage centre and the latter a cafe. But its extensive grounds are now a much-loved country park, and contain a narrow gauge railway with its own 1 mile circuit. [The Heritage Centre was closed so I couldn't go up the tower and enjoy great views - that's Sundays only apparently. The cafe looked popular, but the railway alas only opens at weekends, so best not visit on a Friday in October.]

It takes a while for the footpath to break off and properly follow the edge of Southampton Water. [You need to follow the signs for the Strawberry Trail, which is a 15 mile waymarked walk hereabouts, and well signed. If I were more institutionalised I might have followed it throughout, but I wanted to see better stuff, so I only followed the good section.] The estuary is flat and wide, and more industrialised than most, with the deep water unusually ideal for container ships and tankers. Fawley oil refinery dominates the far side, a mass of chimneys, pipes and tanks, while Red Funnel ferries come steaming out of Cowes at regular intervals. [Trekking past interceptor outlets and seepex tanks isn't everyone's idea of a great walk, and the grey overcast day didn't help the ambience. But I loved being out on the edge, and the birds strutting across the tidal mud - look, a curlew! - and the opportunity to experience this key infrastructure hinterland.]

The River Hamble is a waterway of a more manageable size, and full of yachts. [No really, I've never seen so many yachts and motor cruisers all berthed together, at piers and pontoons along the entire lower length of the river. It being a dull Friday there weren't so many out on the water, but my word this inlet is perfect for the Solent and a nice sail out to Cowes, and probably a bit of a millionaires' playground into the bargain.] Near the mouth of the river is the charming village of Hamble-le-Rice, its steep curving high street lined with desirable food and drink options for yachtspeople. [I was hoping for fish and chips, but went hungry. The main square seems to be mostly bus turnaround and car park, but boasts its own gold postbox, so that's all good.] This is also the departure point for the Hamble Ferry, an exceptionally pink craft which runs on demand from the pier on The Hard. A continuation of a service known to have run in medieval times, a crossing costs little more than a guinea and seats twelve. There were two of us on my voyage, which I think counts as rush hour, as we weaved between masts and buoys to the exceptionally pink Ferry Shelter on the opposite bank.

Warsash is nothing special [other than as a D Day departure point, and the fact it has proper shops. I spotted two blokes eating fish and chips by the harbour, so got excited, but by the time I got up to the main crossroads the frier had closed for the afternoon. By this point I was far enough off my pre-planned route to skip the riverside path and continue up suburban streets to the far end of my next destination.] Holly Hill Woodland Park covers the estate of a former mansion, landscaped with trees and lakes and waterfalls, and tumbles gently down towards the river. It's popular with mums tiring out children, and retired couples with dogs, but quiet enough that I scrunched along some of its more remote paths meeting only squirrels. [A totally different landscape to the the rest of my walk, and all the better for it.]

Back at the River Hamble I turned and faced inland, and strode along the river wall past salt creeks and hundreds more moored yachts. [I bet it looks very different in sunshine and/or at high tide, but I appreciated the expanse of mud to either side, as did several wading birds, and yes another curlew.] At one point the path passed through a boatyard with huge cruisers raised up for repair, at another past the skeleton of a wooden boat wrecked in the shallows. [It also passed Hard Cottage, which made me smile, but I assumed 'Hard' was coastalspeak for quayside, rather than anything particularly dodgy.] My final destination was Bursledon, a major chandlery hub on a bend in the river, and home to a Brickworks Museum. You'll know Bursledon if you watched Howard's Way in the 80s, the main characters were based here, with much filming at the Jolly Sailor pub and Elephant Boatyard. [It still feels enterprisingly maritime, even if the days of big hair and Laura Ashley power-dressing are long gone. Oh and the brickworks museum only opens on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, so best not visit on a Friday in October.]

[It was two hours back to London, this time via Fareham. This meant I never actually got to see Hamble station, despite it being the destination on my ticket.] [I'd walked 12 miles altogether, without ever finding fish and chips.] [If you'd like to see what my walk looked like on a map I've drawn it here, in all its illogical deviant glory. I don't necessarily recommend you ever follow, but Jan Howard and thousands of boat people can't be wrong, just best not visit on a Friday in October.] [15 photos]

10 clocks-go-back facts (all facts relate to London today, unless otherwise specified)
☀ Today is the longest day of the year (there were two half past ones this morning)
☀ Today's London sunset varies from 16:47 in Upminster to 16:51 near Heathrow
☀ The sun sets later today in Edinburgh than in London (but earlier in York)
☀ There are only 50 days before sunsets start getting later again (hurrah!)
☀ Sunset won't be later than today until February (but that's February 1st, so not so bad)
☀ There are only 8 weeks until the shortest day (but 22 weeks until the clocks go forward)
☀ There are still more than 10 hours of daylight each day (until Tuesday, when there are 9h 59m)
☀ Between the start and end of October the sun sets 2h 3m earlier (but rises only 8 minutes later)
☀ The next time the sun sets at 16:47 (on January 31st), it'll rise one hour later than today (07:41)
☀ October 25th is currently the earliest possible date the clocks can go back (although in 1995 it was 22nd October, in 1960 it was 2nd October, and in 1923 it was 16th September)

 Saturday, October 24, 2015

Week off (Thursday): Carlyle's House
Off the Chelsea Embankment, up terraced Cheyne Row, is the home of Victorian wordsmith Thomas Carlyle. He lived here for almost half a century with his wife Jane, herself a lady of letters, and made his name in society as a historian and philosopher. His books were verbose and somewhat hard-going, but highly acclaimed, and introduced several words we now take for granted to the English language. Foreshadow, mainstream, craftsmanship, outcome, decadent, pretentious and elitist were all Tom's invention (as were fugle, mowl, anywhen, jugglery and squeaklet, which alas didn't catch on). The great and good came visiting, including Dickens, Tennyson and Ruskin, and after the great man died (in 1881) a trust was established to preserve his home as it had been during his lifetime. Carlyle's House is therefore a rare authentic throwback to Victorian middle class London, still with most of its original furniture and interior decor in situ, across five floors (four of which you're free to explore). Now one of the National Trust's handful of London properties, it's open five days a week from March until the end of October, so I got in quick.

To enter, ring the bell, after which a guide will hide your bags and lead you to the parlour. If it's gloomy that's because the house is pre-electric, and the Victorians preferred darker shades to modern magnolia, but this all adds to the atmosphere. Jane's choice of sofa is by the window, and the painting she was trying to buy the day before she died hangs on the back wall. Upstairs is the drawing room where guests were welcomed, and up top the spacious attic added so that Thomas would have somewhere quiet to write away from noises in the street. You can also step out into the back garden, where the fig tree still fruits, and contemplate how very different the houses to either side must now be inside. But what makes the visit are the A4 printed sheets (in large font) scattered everywhere across chairs, walls and tabletops, with information and anecdotes from the Carlyles' lives. These add historical depth in a way that most heritage properties never manage, plus Jane gets as much coverage as her husband providing intellectual and domestic balance. And there's reams to digest, so if you visit with someone else best ensure their reading speed is the same as yours. The house remains a fascinating throwback, and memorial, and Thomas would no doubt be proud to be so remembered. Call anywhen.

Cake quiz
Here are picture clues to the names of 23 types of cake.
How many can you name?
(All answers now in the comments box)

 Friday, October 23, 2015

Week off (Thursday): yellowbluepink (at the Wellcome Collection) (15 Oct -3 Jan)
Have you explored your own inner consciousness recently? Artist Ann Veronica Janssens invites you to do just that with her her latest installation at the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road. She's taken an unassuming upper gallery and filled it with white mist, billowing from a vent in the corner of the room. And then she's lit it brightly from above, in yellow and blue and pink, and invited you to step inside. There weren't queues on Thursday morning, but admission is only granted via a limited number of lanyards to ensure that the experience doesn't become overcrowded, so don't always expect to get straight in. Having read all the safety instructions you enter via a pair of double doors, and prepare to discover your inner being.

Initially there's nothing to see but colour, a swirling cloud tinted pink, and the effect is highly disorienting. This is of course the plan, with the artist limiting your senses to an unfamiliar few. Expect to stumble into someone, or to think you're going to, before your eyes and ears learn to make vague sense of what's going on. Beyond the pink is yellow, and if you get to the far end of the room blue - the colours don't appear in the same order as the work's title. Occasionally a misty shadow appears in front of you, probably wielding a mobile phone, because what use is a full-on sensory experience these days if it can't be photographically circulated? On my visit a father had brought his one year-old daughter into the melee to experience the art, and who's to say how her consciousness was affected? In my case I learned quite how many small things are floating in my eye, and to revel in this playground of perception.

Week off (Thursday): The Forever Loop (at the Barbican) (9 Oct - 10 Jan)
The Curve gallery at the Barbican has housed some fairly oddball art - rain control, pendulums, Chinese ephemera, loose finches - but its latest offering is something else. Eddie Peake's installation combines sculpture, video and live action to create an experience that's either uncomfortable or erotic, you decide. Visitors are warned to expect nudity and strong language, which isn't usually available for free in Central London, and the set-up bluntly delivers. I thought there'd be a queue, indeed I thought I'd joined it, but it turned out I was in the line for Hamlet returns (and, alas, didn't end up with a spare Cumberbatch). Instead you'll probably get straight in, past the warnings, to what looks initially like a bit of a maze. Inside the rooms to the right are various small works - Eddie appears to favour acrylic and scrim, and has a penchant for plastic bears. You've seen better, to be frank, but it's not every artist who can get away with combining jelly beans, Lemsip and (ahem) used tissues. There's also a video screen displaying the exhibition's central performance, on 30 minute loop, displayed elsewhere so you need not miss the denouement. It's all relatively normal as modern art goes... until the scantily clad roller skater turns up.

She's on a loop too, a choreographed circuit of the space, weaving in and out of the exhibits and spectators as required. But at least she's wearing something, which is more than can be said for the two other live performers who appear only in a pair of trainers. You might meet them along a corridor, or scampering across the upper scaffolding, but most likely they'll be in the big space down the far end. They strut and pulse, occasionally shouting out in sync with the video, and sometimes give you the eye to see how you'll react to full frontal attention. My experience was four-breasted, but I understand the gender mix isn't always the same and you might be faced by lower hanging fruit. Be warned that should your behaviour be deemed to be making the artistes "uncomfortable" you'll be asked to leave - security asked one old man to follow them out while I was there. Goodness knows what the group of Chinese students made of it all, led into Gomorrah still clutching their presidential flags, but they didn't stay long. I held out for the full half hour, to confirm that the whole audiovisual/theatre loop repeats, and will continue to do so daily until the new year, should you fancy an awkwardly in-your-face performance.

Week off (Thursday): Power Stations (at the Newport Street Gallery) (8 Oct -3 Apr)
If you cut enough dead sheep in half, you can afford to open your own art gallery. Damien Hirst opened his earlier this month in a row of converted scenery workshops in the shadow of a railway viaduct in Vauxhall. It takes some finding, indeed I wandered into completely the wrong gallery on Newport Street to begin with, where I was underwhelmed by a large ball of barbed wire in a mostly empty room. But Hurst's edifice is eminently recognisable once you spot it, a sawtooth repository taking up half the street, with a large exterior electronic billboard that may one day entertain passing commuters. A lot of money's clearly gone into this, but admission will always be free, because Damien has no ulterior motive other than to share his collection of other artists' work.

First up is abstract dauber John Hoyland, born Sheffield 1934, and apparently "one of the most important artists of his generation". His speciality is large geometric canvases, a bit Rothkoesque but with brighter colours and generally a few more shapes. They're not quite once-you've-seen-one-you've-seen-them-all, there is a subtle evolution as the years pass, but I barely lasted ten minutes wandering through. Instead I was much more taken by the building itself, with its lofty white walls and angled skylights, and particularly the stairs. Three spiral staircases link the levels and these are objects of twisted beauty, not least the creamy white brick walls and luscious indented timber handrails. I'd say when you prefer the stairs to the artworks there's something amiss, but the gallery has huge potential, and looks to be an alluring addition to our creative capital.

 Thursday, October 22, 2015

Week off (Wednesday): CS2 upgrade survey
Last year Cycle Superhighway 2 was little more than a blue stripe on the road, and deemed unsafe. By next summer it'll be a streamlined segregated lane all the way from Aldgate to Stratford, and hugely safer than before. But right now, in the middle of the construction phase, it's an even more dangerous place to ride. Four miles of intermittent roadworks means much of the old infrastructure is coned off, and relatively little of the upgraded infrastructure is yet open. Cyclists are regularly forced into the traffic, which often has fewer lanes than before, and are left to make their own way ahead. So I've been for a walk along the whole of CS2, from west to east, to see how awkward a bike ride might currently be.

Key: upgraded/not yet upgraded/obstructed

Aldgate → Commercial Street (200m): not yet upgraded
→ Commercial Road (100m): cycle lane, very brief blue stripe, eventually coned off
→ Osborn Street (100m): inside lane barriered off, much digging in road, traffic reduced to one lane (barely one bus wide)
→ Davenant Street (350m): CS2 fully upgraded with segregated lane, plus functioning bus stop bypass, hurrah
→ Jagonari Centre (150m): new segregated lane and bus stop bypass barriered to prevent access by cyclists
→ Vallance Road (50m): new left hand lane and bike path not yet ready, roadworks underway
→ Brady Street (350m): CS2 past Whitechapel Market seemingly unimproved - an intermittent blue strip and a bus lane
→ Cambridge Heath Road (100m): segregated lane to, and across, fully upgraded junction
→ Booth Memorial (150m): major roadworks, bus stop bypass looks ready but is barriered, sign asks cyclists to rejoin carriageway (which is coned down to a single lane)
→ Cleveland Way (200m): short section of upgraded separate lane
→ Genesis cinema (100m): new bus stop bypass looks ready but has not been painted blue and is barriered off
→ Stepney Green station (350m): long section of major roadworks with holes and pipes, workmen busy, road barriered down to one lane
→ Regent's Canal (700m): long upgraded section with wand/kerb-segregated lane
→ Whitman Road (50m): new bus stop bypass looks ready but has been barriered off
→ Green Bridge (100m): new segregated lane barriered off, then pavement very narrow during major works
→ Aberavon Road (100m): fully upgraded junction at Grove Road (achieved by banning several useful right turns for drivers)
→ Coborn Street (350m): bus stop bypass open, then a fully segregated lane (one day the whole road should be like this)
→ Harley Grove (100m): original blue strip remains, bike hire docking station removed
→ Bow Road station (150m): major roadworks, several workmen busy, inside lane coned off, all traffic down to one lane
→ Texaco garage (200m): lampposts barriered off ready for removal, road narrowed to one lane under railway bridge
→ Fairfield Road (200m): no bus stop improvements, left hand filter lane not yet begun
→ Bow Church (150m): original blue stripe, intermittently blocked
→ Payne Road (150m): bus stop bypass still blocked by lamppost, so barriered off, as is the new segregated lane beyond
→ Bow Roundabout (100m): bus stop removed, narrow segregated lane (circa 2012) on approach to roundabout
→ Marshgate Lane (350m): separate lane, upgraded 2013
→ Abbey Lane (300m): major roadworks adding new junction at Sugarhouse Lane, segregated lane barriered off, sign asks cyclists to ride on the pavement
→ Greenway (100m): construction of new apartment block has closed segregated cycle lane, continued diversion along pavement
→ Stratford Broadway (750m): separate lane, upgraded 2013
→ Stratford town centre (500m): shared bus lane until CS2 peters out

Totting all the red bits up, approximately one third of Cycle Superhighway 2 is currently more dangerous than it was before the upgrade started. Obviously things will improve - that's the point of all the roadworks! - as further sections turn from red to green. But the price of long-term safety is short-term inconvenience and increased risk, even for the cyclists the upgrade is supposed to protect.

While I was walking CS2 I checked one more thing - the number of cyclists passing me riding west to east. I did this over lunchtime and it was raining at the time, but I was amazed how few cyclists passed me over the course of my one and a half hour walk.

Aldgate → Whitechapel (1km): 1 cyclist
Whitechapel → Stepney (1km): 8 cyclists
Stepney → Mile End (1km): 4 cyclists
Mile End → Bow (1½km): 5 cyclists
Bow → Stratford (1½km): 0 cyclists
Stratford town centre (½km): 1 cyclist
TOTAL (6½km): 19 cyclists

Fewer than 20 cyclists passed me during my 90 minute stroll, that's an average of one cyclist every five minutes. Only the section through Whitechapel could be described as 'busy', and even that was relatively lightly loaded. As for my 20 minute hike up Stratford High Street not one single cyclist rode by, whereas the road was busy with cars and buses and lorries shoehorned into fewer lanes than before the Cycle Superhighway upgrade. I know I'd have got very different results during the evening peak when the whole road is thronging with two-wheelers heading home. But outside these few hours each week, the expense and effort of donating road space to cyclists looks like it might be going to waste.

Week off (Wednesday): The Orbit
The Orbit was supposed to be Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park's must-see, a lofty platform from which to oversee post-Games legacy and East London beyond. It hasn't quite worked out like that. Only 124,000 people visited during its first year (against a forecast of 350,000), and only 76,000 people have visited over the subsequent six months (suggesting this year's total will be even lower). The Orbit is losing the equivalent of £10,000 a week, and an ever-increasing series of special events isn't making much of a difference. When the weather's like this, it's not hard to see why. The windows stay splotched with rain, the upper storeys of Canary Wharf are shrouded in cloud, and you'll be lucky to see the City, let alone Wembley's arch. And yes, I know this because I've been up again. [7 photos]

A walk-up ticket now costs £12 (reduced from fifteen last year), but there's a much better price if you happen to live in a 2012 Host Borough. Just ten quid gets you an annual pass, and then you can come back as many times as you like. I'm on my third. The staff are always unfailingly polite, and pleased to see a visitor, especially out of season mid-week. They're also young and keen, and on-message, and up for a good chat (especially if there's nobody else around). I can confirm that it's impossible to see the field of play inside the Olympic Stadium, now that it's got a roof, but you will one day be able to watch the spectators during a West Ham home game. The Rugby World Cup Fanzone has packed up early, not because the Home Nations have been ejected, but because it was rubbish. The gardeners who planted out the Olympic Park chose their trees well to create a varied canvas of autumn shades. If a slide is ever added to the Orbit it'll start from the big square hole at the centre of the lower platform. And if you want to see some fireworks from above, they're opening late on Saturday 7th November. It's easy to be cynical about this white elephant, indeed its value as a tourist asset is increasingly under question. But, given that it's here, paying a few quid for half a dozen panoramic ascents across every season of the year still sounds like a bargain.

 Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Week off (Tuesday): Banham Zoo
On Tuesday I went to the zoo with my Dad and we saw the animals. First we saw the penguins they have a new pool but they did not go in it they stood on the sand and waddled. They were very cute. Then we saw the meerkats they looked just like in the adverts but they were stood under a lamp to keep warm. Then we walked through the lemurs they were sunbathing and one did a big wee from the roof. Then we saw the owls I like owls. Then we saw the tigers there are actually tigers! One was pacing up and down and the other was asleep. Later the lady came to feed them meat and they stood at the fence right next to us they ate a lot of meat. Then we saw the snow leopard which was hard because it was the same colour as the pebbles. Then we went to Amazing Animals it is an indoors show we saw performing rats and a macaw and a bird who bashed a plastic snake to death. Then we got our hands stamped and went to a pub for a birthday lunch because the food was better.

Then we went back and saw the Birds of Prey display a vulture flew low over my head and I was very startled I'm glad my Dad didn't have his camera ready. Then we saw the zebras and the camels and the wolf. Then we went to see the kangaroos and there was a little kangaroo in mummy's pouch eating the grass. Then we saw the leopards but they were in separate cages because they are new in the zoo for breeding reasons. Then we saw the cheetah it could not run very far. Then we smelt the horses and we walked on quickly. Then we went to see the giraffes and they were in their house walking about and biting leaves not outside on the huge patch of grass. And we saw the marmosets and the endangered monkeys and the red pandas and the scarlet ibis and the deer and the flamingoes and the Mongolian sheep but we did not see the otters they were hiding. Then at the end of the day we went back to see the penguins because penguins are great and we had Penguin Cove to ourselves before they chucked everybody out. I liked Banham Zoo it is in Norfolk it is expensive but zoos are.

Week off (Tuesday): Rail ticket redesign
Yesterday, it being my Dad's birthday, I whizzed up to Norfolk for the day. A bit of judicious fare-fiddling allowed me to buy some ridiculously cheap rail tickets online, and I turned up at the station ready to retrieve. The first sign that something was different came when the ticket took a lot longer to print than usual. Normally the machine at Stratford station almost spits them out, but this time it was noticeably slower, with something automatic churning away inside. The rush hour queue behind me was also wondering what was going on, as I stood waiting for what seemed like a multiplicity of bits of card to appear, but was in reality only three. And when they finally dispensed, I finally twigged.

This is the new style National Rail ticket, revamped for the first time since the 1980s to show more detail. The main aim is to be 'simpler, easier and clearer', whilst simultaneously doing away with the need for an Advance ticket to be printed on two pieces of card. Well that was the plan. All the examples released during the consultation period looked swish and modern, whereas the reality requires the new design to be produced on ancient dot matrix technology, and it struggles to cope. With more dots to print each ticket takes longer to emerge. Multiply that by however many tickets are due to be produced, and some people are going to miss trains they'd previously have caught.

But my real concern is font size. Previously all the important information on the ticket would have been in large capitals, the same size as £9.00 on the ticket above. But now only the ticket type, endpoints and price are large, and everything else is half the size. My eyesight has yet to cross the middle age horizon, but even I found this harder to read, especially in the artificial glare of a gloomy platform. The date's small, the train details are small and the time's small, all of which are important when you're trying to convince yourself you're on the correct service. But what I had the most trouble with was the seat number - the final bit of data to doublecheck as I wobbled down the aisle towards wherever. Simpler and easier maybe, but smaller and less accessible too.

 Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Week off (Monday): Strawberry Hill House
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that Strawberry Hill House is amazing. More good news, it's in London, near Twickenham. Further good news, it's only a short walk from Strawberry Hill station and thus very accessible. The bad news is that the house closes for the winter at the end of next week. Further bad news, it doesn't open on Thursdays and Fridays, and is also closed this weekend and next Saturday for fear of rugby crowds. Worse news, there isn't a hill, and there never were any strawberries. But if you pick your time and get here soon, this architectural treasure is yours to explore. [6 photos]

Horace Walpole (1717-1797) was the youngest son of Britain's first Prime Minister. Shorn of the need to support himself financially, Horace threw himself into the creation of an ostentatious country seat and filling it with treasures. He began with a cottage in meadows by the Thames, extending outwards and upwards to create a turreted fairytale castle, deliberately rallying against the fashionable building styles of the day. Instead he brought together influences from medieval Europe and Norman England, independently kicking off the architectural trend that would become Gothic revival. Never intended as a main residence, Horace used the ornate interior as a flamboyant summerhouse, and in particular for the exhibition of his collection of artworks. Visitors came from far and wide to be shown round, but only from the 1st of May to the 1st of October, and strictly no children allowed.

Horace never married (cue all the usual rumours), and after his death the house eventually fell into the hands of an owner with a gambling addiction, who sold off the entire collection in what became known as The Grand Sale. In the 1920s ownership transferred to St Mary's University, based nextdoor, and most of the meadows between the house and the river were taken over by housing. Dereliction beckoned, but a charitable trust saved the property in conjunction with a multi-million pound lottery grant, and it reopened to the public (for the first time in a couple of centuries) in 2010. They've done a fantastic job, including this year the restoration of several upper rooms to extend the visitor experience even further. Restoring the collection is proving a rather tougher challenge, with most of Horace's artefacts now in the hands of private collectors, but it's hoped to reverse the Grand Sale in part, temporarily, in time for the 300th anniversary of his birth.

The building looks amazing set amongst riverside suburbia, with chimneys and crenellations, and an exterior painted the colour of wedding cake icing. Entrance is via the gardens, up one side, where admittance is carefully regulated to avoid overwhelming the house. But on a dull October weekday there's no danger of that, so I was whisked round to the front door for an opening chat from two of the guides and to start my self-guided tour. Blimey. Once inside, every twist and turn brings a new room that makes you gasp, as the full extent of Horace's structural exhibitionism becomes clear. The entrance hall, for example, is hung with wallpaper based on a prince's tomb, lit by a single candle in a gaudy lantern, and features antelopes at every corner of the rising balustrade, because why not.

Rooms lead off the main staircase in an asymmetric manner, with doorways leading perhaps to a bedchamber, parlour or study. Amongst the detail to look out for are numerous stained glass windows (with panes imported from the Low Countries), properly reconstructed period wallpaper (don't touch, it moults) and floorboards that grow narrower from one side of a room to another (to maintain an illusion of distance). And in the top bedroom Horace had a dream which led to him writing The Castle of Otranto, generally regarded as the first gothic novel, precisely 250 years ago. None of the rooms is labelled, neither is there any signage, all the better to maintain the period fabric of the house, Instead you get a guidebook to help you round, half reproduction from the 18th century, and a publication of great beauty. But there seemed no time to read it, so I found the correct route extremely hard to follow, and hence lived in perpetual fear of accidentally missing some key room out.

The library is a room of beauty, with a large painted ceiling designed to overemphasise Walpole ancestry, whilst in the Breakfast Room a group of local ladies were hard at work sewing a quilt for the four poster across the landing. My prize for the most amazing ceiling went to the fan vaulting in The Gallery, for the most striking skylight to the yellow petalled glass illuminating Horace's inner sanctum, and for the most impressive fireplace to the inlaid marble in the Round Drawing Room. I was also taken by Laura Ford's sculptures liberally scattered throughout the building, for this season only, adding a layer of quirk to what might otherwise have been mostly empty rooms. But in the end I decided it was the army of volunteer guides who really made the place, all of them warm, welcoming and well-read, and more than willing to share their enthusiasm for the building and its heritage.

Some housekeeping. Admission is £10.80, although that's halved if you can wave a valid National Trust membership card. Don't forget to look round the garden, or you'll miss the shell bench and the chapel. Yes there's a cafe, and rather a swish one, on the ground floor overlooking the terrace. Don't come in the morning, or before 1.40pm on a weekday. Allow at least ninety minutes, or more probably more. It's probably best to visit on a sunny day, rather than under overcast skies providing minimal illumination. Bring a camera. If you miss visiting in the next couple of weeks you'll have to wait until March (or one of the first two weekends in December). Or else, as my guides kept hinting, come back for the tercentenary in 2017 when there might be a lot more of 'the collection' to see. But do come, because basically wow.

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