diamond geezer

 Tuesday, July 31, 2018

I rode on TfL Rail at the weekend, out west, on the section that's destined to become Crossrail. I caught one of the brand new trains at West Ealing and took it all the way into Paddington. It wasn't busy, not like it will be when it connects up to somewhere properly useful. All seemed normal until we approached Paddington, at which point I had to do a doubletake when I heard this message.
"The middle doors may not open at the next station. Please use other doors."
That's odd, I thought. Normally it's the end doors that don't open, for example when the train's longer than the platform and it's not possible to alight. Why would the middle doors be a problem? Also I'm nowhere near the front or back of the train, I'm in carriage five (of seven), so that makes even less sense. I wonder what's going on.

At Paddington we pulled in at platform 14, which is the platform next to the Hammersmith & City line, and I watched the middle doors to see what happened. A small circular panel at the top of the door lit up with a red pictogram, which was meant to suggest that the doors wouldn't open, and the doors didn't open. Proof that they didn't open came when a group of girls wandered up to the door and pressed the release button, which now had a red outline around it, and nothing happened.

They pressed more urgently, then stood like lemons in the almost empty carriage. They'd been too busy chatting to have paid any attention to the earlier announcement, and had no idea what the red lights were trying to tell them. Also, these were the middle doors on the correct side of the train, and there was no conceivable reason why they shouldn't open. To break the impasse I walked back to the rear doors of the carriage and pressed the (green) button, and we all disembarked.

I lingered long enough to take a good look at the non-opening door from the outside, and could see no obstruction worthy of keeping it locked. But there was a clue on the platform, written in big yellow capital letters - MIND THE GAP.

The gap probably looks worse in my photo than it really was. This was a pitiful gap, not a Bank-sized chasm, barely wide enough to raise a stir. If gaps this size were genuine safety issues there'd be dozens of stations across the network where no doors in any carriage should ever open. And yet, looking up the platform, maybe there was a potential issue after all.

A little further back, where carriage five met carriage six, the curve had forced the train noticeably further away from the platform. Here was a gap which a risk-averse executive might have deemed worthy of a warning, indeed there were two, one at the back of carriage five and another at the front of carriage six. And yet I'd just exited the train at the back of carriage five, across this gap, but had been prevented from exiting at the middle door where no serious gap existed. This was madness.

There may be a perfectly understandable reason for this. Perhaps the driver had stopped at the wrong point on the platform. Perhaps platform 14 isn't where these trains normally terminate. Perhaps the horizontal alignment is different on adjacent platforms at Paddington with subtly different curvature. Or perhaps excessively safety-conscious criteria have been introduced and then inadequately pre-programmed. My money's on the latter.

I've heard more in the way of Mind The Gap messages lately, including on the DLR where pitiful three inch divides are now seemingly cautionary gulfs. With this corporate mindset in vogue, perhaps it's no surprise to hear Mind The Gap messages on Crossrail as well. Don't worry, when the full system's up and running the trains will be using straight platforms down below and the issue should disappear. But to lock the wrong door and leave a worse door open doesn't necessarily bode well for our purple future.

Thursday update
Answer, sourced from TfL internal comms:
Due to the curve of some Paddington high level platforms, the middle door ends up being a long way from the edge. The train's GPS isn't quite up to telling which platform the train is at (8ft makes a difference between the middle door being nearest the edge and furthest away) so all middle doors are locked out.

 Monday, July 30, 2018

Castle quiz

Here are crossword-style clues to the names of 26 British castles.
How many can you name?

A) £
B) precedes
C) wow, iron
D) Eyre's suitor
E) President 16
F) DJ Cox island
G) fighting candle
H) white bird right
I) Volvo = Shields
J) colour a mousse
K) 50 would switch
L) J♦ (if and only if)
M) lab backing ethical         
N) rehung bid rehung
O) breezes alternative
P) fix Brooks or Gibson?
Q) whips up inland fires
R) write to the Menace
S) crazy handgun burst
T) part of Newcastle West
U) France, or an adjustment
V) inexpensive without a load
W) Coulomb's constant has no value
X) are you Aunt Flo's cartoon friend?
Y) clear muddle between rugby posts
Z) what's the early 1970s rock craze?

All answers now in the comments box.

The 10 nearest castles*†‡ to Greater London
* more than just earthworks
† a proper castle, not a fortified house
‡ visitable, i.e. not entirely private

1) Eynsford (3 miles) The ruins of a Norman fortification, some of whose chunky flint walls have survived. Entrance to the main enclosure is via a wooden bridge above a deep ditch through a gap in the massive curtain walls. The hall and kitchen are still clearly delimited. A few sets of steps descend into lower level rooms. Best visited as part of a wider exploration of the picturesque Darent Valley, including a trip to Lullingstone Roman Villa and/or Lullingstone Castle (which is not a castle).
[English Heritage] [always open] [free] [blogged]

2) Windsor (4 miles) There are good reasons why Windsor Castle is so popular, not just because the Queen lives there and allows visitors inside but also because it's so very close to the capital. Expect to battle past tourist hordes, but everyone deserves the chance to peer round the State Apartments and inside St George's Chapel at least once in their lives.
[website] [open almost daily] [£21.20] [Ian Visited]

3) Hertford (7 miles) Pre-Norman motte and bailey beside the River Lea, whose sole surviving castellated building is actually the Tudor gatehouse, which is now owned by the council. Monthly guided tours have dried up in favour of becoming a wedding/events venue, but you can still sit outside on the motte. Queen Elizabeth I once brought parliament here. Locals now bring sandwiches.
[website] [always open/never open] [blogged]

4) Hever (7 miles) Cracking double-moated castle, essentially a walled bailey surrounding a Tudor house. Its big claim to fame is that it was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. Set amid gorgeous landscaped gardens, including a big lake and a hedge maze and occasional jousting, which is how they get away with charging so much for entry.
[website] [open almost daily] [£17.25]

5) Berkhamsted (10 miles) Substantial remains of an important motte and bailey castle dating back to the 11th century, including walls, ditches, earthworks and a lot of empty grass. Once controlled the northern approach to London and was owned by Thomas Becket. You've probably seen it out of a train window on a journey out of Euston, close to Berkhamsted station.
[English Heritage] [always open] [free]

6) Tonbridge (11 miles) Upgraded motte and bailey, whose twin-towered gatehouse was completed in 1260, and looks a bit like the one at Caerphilly. The great seal of England was temporarily kept here during one of Edward I's visits to France. Only the gatehouse survives, and you can take an interactive audio tour round its restored rooms any day of the week. Council-owned, as is the adjacent parkland.
[website] [open daily] [£9]

7) Hadleigh (12 miles) Evocative ruins on a rare hilly outcrop overlooking the Thames and Canvey Island. Two drum towers and a bit of barbican remain. Good for mild clambering, or tiring out Essex kids, or for the view. Adjacent to the site of the London 2012 mountain bike course.
[English Heritage] [always open] [free] [blogged]

8) Guildford (12 miles) The castle is "open to visitors and has a small gift shop", according to the council website. It started out as the usual motte and bailey, but later a stone keep was added, then a Great Hall courtesy of Henry III. That's long gone, but visitors can climb the restored Great Tower for panoramic views across the town (or wander round the municipal gardens at any time).
[website] [open daily in summer, closed in winter] [£3.20]

9) Rochester (14 miles) A sturdy guardian beside the Medway, the 12th century stone keep is one of the best preserved in England. Much besieged during the reign of King John. A series of spiral staircases and passages permits vertigo-inducing exploration, from the deep cavernous cesspit up the multi-storey levels to the rim of the castle ramparts.
[English Heritage] [open daily] [£6.40] [blogged]

10) Upnor (15 miles) There's no point me writing about Upnor, on the banks of the Medway, because someone will no doubt chip in with a closer castle they think I've missed, which means this castle'll drop out of the top ten and I'll have to delete all this text, so why bother? Also, I've never been, yet.
[English Heritage] [open daily Easter-October] [£6.40]

 Sunday, July 29, 2018

It's a peculiar fact that there are only two castles in Greater London. One is the Tower of London, obviously, William the Conqueror's great fortress by the Thames. But the other is rather further out, by no means as well preserved, and considerably less well known. Here it is. I don't know if the photo helps.

We're in Ruislip, at the top of the High Street, just beyond the parish church, Prezzo and Cafe Rouge. Specifically we're at Manor Farm, 22 acres of open space and old buildings under the care of Hillingdon council, and the borough's flagship heritage and culture site. The Manor House dates back to 1508, so the entire site got a makeover ten years ago in time for the quincentenary, and very good it all looks too. I suspect most visitors come for the library, tearoom, bowling green or theatre, or simply for a bit of a runaround. But I came for the motte and bailey castle.

You'll remember these from school, a wooden fortification on a grassy mound surrounded by a defensive enclosure, and very much at the basic end of the Norman castle-building scale. This grassy mound now forms the centrepiece of the site here at Ruislip, not especially lofty but clearly raised, and domed, and with an overgrown ditch running around most of the perimeter. Head round to the north and you can walk straight in, 365 days of the year, and sit down amid the scrappy daisies and convolvulus. You might even find a leather shoe or Caffè Nero bag discarded round the back of the shrubbery, indicating that others have enjoyed the castle before.

From up here, a couple of metres above the passing throng, there's a good view of the cluster of timber barns across towards Bury Street. The Great Barn is reputed to be the largest timber-framed 13th century building in the capital, at 36m long, and was used to store grain and other crops. These days it's a function space, hosting a rather good Sunday market twice a month, and numerous money-spinning events and weddings at other times. The smaller Tudor barn is now used as Ruislip's library, which probably beats yours, and the former stables are now the Cow Byre cafe for snacks, refreshments and cream teas.

A little to the left is the social hub of the grey-haired suburbs, the combined greensward of the Ruislip Bowls Club and Mill Bowling Club. Their lawns are lush and pristine, overseen by an elderly gent in a white jacket stood behind a trestle table with a bell on it. When he deems the time correct he picks it up and rings it, which is the signal for a genteel horde to stride slowly up the green to see where their balls have landed. Younger visitors are happier pointing at the ducks on the pond, or checking what's on at the Winston Churchill Theatre, or walking their dog down to the wildflowery meadow beside the River Pinn. It's nice here, even if the castle isn't much. [audio trail] [self-guided walks]

But what you'd probably enjoy most is a look in Manor Farm House, a very fine brick building, once the hub of communal life hereabouts. Its downstairs rooms are now a small museum, nicely pitched, 2008 being recent enough for polished informative displays, but not so recent that the whole thing is an interactive bore. One room focuses on the house, its history and its restoration. Where else in London will you find a display case containing Green Wallpaper c1790, the Skeleton of a Squirrel and a Caramac Wrapper c1959, each individually labelled? Ruislip Manor House also contains England's oldest surviving wallpaper in situ, a fashionable scrap of late 17th century design uncovered in the hallway during renovation.

The larger gallery ruminates on what life would have been like in a hierarchical agricultural set-up (not necessarily fun), and includes a map revealing how large the enclosure around the site used to be. It once stretched all the way out to the woods surrounding Ruislip Lido, and apparently you can still find earthworks there (not that I had any success). Room 3 is more the domain of the Ruislip, Northcote and Eastcote Local History Society, one of outer London's venerable heritage custodians, who boast a monthly programme of talks and visits and an admirable focus on original research. Their summer exhibition looks at local leisure - an impressive amount of pinned-up effort for what'll only be a six week run. Here are my five favourite facts.
Fun and Games
1) Events at Ruislip Sports Day in the Edwardian era included climbing a slippery pole and catching a greased pig.
2) When the Olympic Marathon came to Eastcote in July 1908, bringing unheard of traffic congestion, it was the first time a bus had ever passed through the village.
3) Ruislip's most famous tearooms - The Poplars - had seating for 1500 to accommodate East End hordes visiting by train. Adults' Tea cost ninepence a head, which included fancy biscuits, rock cakes and buttered scones.
4) In June 1935 the Bugatti Owners Club organised a Great Speed Hill Climb at Northwood Hills, featuring 'Many Crack Drivers From Brooklands'. Miss D. Evans took the cup for the fastest time by a lady driver.
5) Since 1990 the water level in Ruislip Lido has been kept artificially low to reduce the risk of a dam burst... which put an end to sailing and water skiing.
But what intrigued me most was the display about Ruislip Castle itself. It said the grassy mound was 'thought to be' the remains of a motte and bailey. It said there's 'no mention' of such a structure in the Domesday book, which is precisely the time it should have existed. It said that despite several archaeological explorations, 'no physical evidence' of a castle has ever been found. The site is protected as an ancient monument, so the turfed lump inside a thistly ditch must be the remains of something. But however worthwhile a trip to Manor Farm may be, perhaps the Tower of London is the only castle in the capital after all.

 Saturday, July 28, 2018

Last weekend I went to the Epping Ongar Railway, and rode some trains and buses, and walked to an old church, and came away with a real ale festival tankard for my trouble.

I've written about the Epping Ongar Railway before, so I won't do so again. But while I was there I did pay extra-special attention to this sign beside the buffers at Ongar station.

It marks the zero point on the Underground, from which all official distances are measured (even though the Underground hasn't actually served Ongar since 30th September 1994).

Distances are measured in kilometres from Ongar.
Epping is 9.85km away. Buckhurst Hill is 19.61km away. Stratford is 30.30km away. And so on.

Here's my "and so on" list for the Central line, pausing approximately every 10km from Ongar.
Central (measured from Ongar=0)
0 Ongar, 10 Epping, 20 Buckhurst Hill, 30 Stratford, 40 Holborn, 50 East Acton, 60 Northolt
On other lines, distances are measured from a known point on a line already measured. A station is picked where the tracks run parallel, and measurement then extends in either direction, forwards or backwards.

For example, the 'transfer' point for the District line is Mile End station (where the District runs in parallel to the Central line). Mile End is 33.07km from Ongar, so all distances on the District line are measured up and down from Mile End.
District (measured from Mile End=33)
20 Dagenham Heathway, 30 West Ham, [ME], 40 Embankment, 50 Stamford Brook/Putney Bridge
The transfer point for the Piccadilly line is Barons Court (where the Piccadilly runs in parallel to the District).
Piccadilly (measured from Barons Court=48)
30 Wood Green, 40 Holborn, [BC], 60 Hounslow East/Sudbury Town, 70 Heathrow T5/Ickenham
The transfer point for the Victoria line is Finsbury Park (where the Victoria runs in parallel to the Piccadilly).
Victoria (measured from Finsbury Park=34)
30 Tottenham Hale, [FP], 40 Warren Street, 50 Brixton
The transfer point for the Northern line is just outside King's Cross (on the so-called King's Cross Loop, a tunnel which connects to the Piccadilly).
Northern (measured from King's Cross=38)
30 Clapham Common/Battersea Power Station, [KX], 40 Mornington Crescent, 50 Hendon Central/Finchley Central
The transfer point for the Metropolitan line is Rayners Lane (where the Metropolitan meets the Piccadilly).
Metropolitan (measured from Rayners Lane=64)
40 Aldgate, 50 Finchley Road, 60 Northwick Park, [RL], 70 Ickenham/Northwood, 80 Chalfont & Latimer
The transfer point for the Circle line is Baker Street (where the Circle diverges from the Metropolitan).
Circle (measured from Baker Street=47)
40 Aldgate, [BS], 50 Ladbroke Grove/Notting Hill Gate
The transfer point for the Jubilee line is Finchley Road (where the Jubilee runs in parallel to the Metropolitan).
Jubilee (measured from Finchley Road=50)
30 Canning Town, 40 London Bridge, 50 Finchley Road [FR], 60 Kingsbury
And finally the transfer point for the Bakerloo line is Baker Street (where the Bakerloo runs in parallel to the Jubilee).
Bakerloo (measured from Baker Street=47)
40 Elephant & Castle, [BS], 50 Maida Vale, 60 North Wembley
To run that backwards, the official distance for North Wembley is 59.86km, measured back to the Jubilee line at Baker Street, measured back to the Metropolitan line at Finchley Road, measured back to the Piccadilly line at Rayners Lane, measured back to the District line at Barons Court, measured back to the Central line at Mile End, measured back to a set of buffers at Ongar that's no longer on the Underground.

It's mad, but it's brilliant... or at least it is if I've understood what's going on properly. I unravelled all this from the excellent Clive's UndergrounD Line Guides, which I've been quoting on this blog ever since it began. It has an utterly invaluable page of data for every Underground line, and an introductory page detailing how all the data is measured. Thanks Clive!

And if you'd like a map with all the distances on, because I suspect you probably would, here's one (courtesy of the website railwaycodes.org.uk, which I suspect is a timesink of infrastructure geekery on another level completely).

 Friday, July 27, 2018

Furnace Friday/Stormpocalypse/#bloodmoon Live Blog

Rolling coverage of the day’s most important developments as they happen

07:00 Welcome to our live coverage of the most apocalyptic Friday in the history of Fridays ever. Not only are temperatures due to hit record-breaking meltdown levels, but catastrophic storms are due to break out across the country ending our summer heatwave, and the face of the moon will drip with blood in the eclipse of the century. All that and Love Island too! Stay with us as the doom unfolds. We can't wait!
07:11 Ever used London's 9 most refreshing fountains?
07:15 Wow wasn't it baking last night? We hardly slept as we sweated through the early hours and the mozzers feasted on our exposed skin. Apparently it might have been London's warmest night ever, although overnight data suggests it actually wasn't.
07:28 The Met Office says it's already hotter this morning than it was this time yesterday, so it looks like that record-breaking meltdown is definitely happening, folks!
07:46 A line of torrential showers passed north up the country last night, but they only crossed Romford so totally missed all of us here in proper London.

08:00 Yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far, with Wisley in Surrey hitting 35.1ºC.
08:01 Previously Monday was the hottest day of the year so far, and before that 8th July, and before that 26th June, and before that 25th June, and before that 28th May, and before that 17th May, and before that 20th April, and before that 18th April, and before that 6th April (etc etc etc all the way back to 1st January).
08:23 Who doesn't want to see the penguins at London Zoo eating ice lollies?!
08:30 There are precisely 12 hours to go until the longest total lunar eclipse of the century begins!
08:31 Unfortunately in the UK the moon will be below the horizon when it begins, but ssssh, best not mention that.

09:00 If you thought your morning commute was sweaty, wait til you have to go home again!
09:05 Plan your commute home now using the Air Conditioned Tube Map.
09:27 It's currently pouring down in Kings Lynn, Sheffield and Scarborough, but what use is that to us here? Apparently a big thunderstorm will hit London at 2pm if you believe the BBC, but it'll be dry until 6pm if you believe the Met Office.
09:46 London's best secret rooftop tequila bars
09:54 An LBC journalist took a cheap plastic analogue thermometer on the tube yesterday and got some absolutely definitive temperatures for how hot it is down there. 36 degrees on the Central line? Wowsers! That's almost a whole degree warmer than it was above ground.

10:00 The UK's hottest ever July temperature was 36.7ºC on 1st July 2015. We're bound to beat that today, based on no scientific foundations whatsoever.
10:17 It's now 47 days since it last rained in East London. But will we get to 48?
10:21 This ice-cream sundae bar in Peckham is a must visit
10:39 Lunar eclipses used to be entirely overlooked except by nerdy geeks, but since being rebranded as a 'blood moon' they have become the most-shared social media phenomenon of all time.

11:00 It may be scorchio in London today, but tomorrow temperatures plummet to 23ºC, then to 20ºC on Sunday which will also be a wet day, like what a proper British summer used to be.
11:08 There are ghastly rumours that today's hottest temperature may not be in the capital at all, but somewhere in East Anglia. Tibenham Airfield in Norfolk has already hit 31.4ºC and it's not even noon yet. Lawks a mercy!
11:25 Chessington World of Adventures has had to close today because of a burst water pipe, because it turns out copying news items from other liveblogs is easy.
11:42 This climate change takedown is the best thing you will read today
11:57 The latest hydrological bulletin reveals that Eastern England has seen an average of just 2mm of rain so far this month, and only 11mm since the start of June.

12:00 You're reading our live coverage of what could be a slightly apocalyptic Friday, with temperatures maybe due to hit record-breaking meltdown levels and catastrophic storms possibly breaking out across the country etc etc. Stay with us as the potential crisis unfolds.
12:02 It is being reported that a corner shop in Perivale has run out of Calippos.
12:41 Tesco in Bromley-by-Bow has also seen a run on own-brand Cornetto-lookalikes.
12:45 Is it hot enough to cook an egg on the pavement yet?
12:53 That 2pm storm the BBC promised has vanished, to be replaced by a 7pm shower. Meanwhile the Met Office is now suggesting no rain at all until Sunday morning.

13:00 If you're at work this afternoon with nothing else to do, why not watch the London Olympic Opening Ceremony all the way through. It took place the last time 27th July was a Friday, six years ago, before Britain collapsed into a seething pit of bitterness and self-hatred.
13:10 Today's hot sweaty afternoon is your last opportunity to contribute to the April 2019 baby boom.
13:23 All eyes on Tibenham Airfield: 11am 31.4ºC, 12 noon 32.8ºC, 1pm 34.1ºC
13:35 London's best heatwave-related clickbait
13:49 Legend has it that when rain finally returns to east London, Wanstead Flats will immediately be covered by a carpet of small yellow magic daisies.

14:00 Imagine how awful it would be if clouds and rain this evening prevented you from Instagramming tonight's blood moon. The next one's not visible until January 2019, and you'll have to be up at 5am to see it.
14:01 That 2pm thunderstorm totally failed to materialise. Currently the nearest thundery downpours to the capital are in North Yorkshire, Belgium and off the French coast at Cherbourg.
14:29 Are these the world's coldest icebergs?
14:44 If you pop down to your local supermarket this evening, all the barbecue meat should be on special offer.

15:00 According to rainfall radar, heavy downpours have broken out in part of North Norfolk, while the storm in the Channel has come ashore near Selsey Bill and will absolutely definitely hit London later, unless it doesn't.
15:14 Where to avoid the heat on Furnace Friday
15:26 Rain is happening in Orpington, Bexley and Dagenham (but not further west).
15:31 Tibenham Airfield seems to have topped out at 35.3ºC which, if confirmed, would make it the hottest day of the year so far.
15:50 Dagenham downpour heading off into Essex. Proper cloudburst barrelling north towards Staines and Heathrow.

16:00 During a blood moon, the lunar disc magically becomes so big that people think their phone can take decent photos of it.
16:11 Actual rain in southwest London, and sort-of Croydon-ish, and a bit of the West End.
16:19 Wind's getting up in Bow, and it's clouded over, but currently all the precipitation is a bit further west.
16:34 Where to watch the Love Island final
16:52 General disappointment in west and central London that it didn't rain more. General disappointment in East London that it hasn't rained yet.
16:58 The Met Office has confirmed that today's top temperature is provisionally 34.7ºC at Tibenham Airfield... so not the hottest day of the year, nor any kind of record.

17:00 The next wave of storms, which has been rushing up from East Sussex, looks like finally dumping across southeast London.
17:08 Finally in Bow: rumbly skies, a torrential downpour of something we used to call rain, and my neighbour dashes indoors off the balcony clutching his laptop.
17:09 Bet you don't know what petrichor is
17:18 Nearly managed ten minutes there.
17:21 It rained in Wanstead! It rained in Wanstead! So ends a drought lasting 47 days, 20 hours and 6 minutes.
17:24 Rain's back, in a muted subtropical manner, with intermittent flashes.
17:47 Plenty more rain incoming.

18:00 Temperature's dropped more than ten degrees. Which is nice.
18:20 Blimey, there's that relentless deluge and thunderstorm they promised. Flash bang wallop.
18:37 Commuting to work in shorts this morning no longer looking like the best option.
18:41 What is the blood moon and when is it? All you need to know
18:49 Looks like tonight's blood moon will be clouded out, lads.
18:56 Console yourself that at least you weren't in northwest Norfolk this afternoon (unless you were, sorry).

19:00 So ends our live coverage of a non-catastrophic Friday when temperatures failed to hit record-breaking meltdown levels and the threatened thunderstorms took their time to materialise, but at least the summer heatwave ended and it did actually finally rain. Thanks for reading along.

 Thursday, July 26, 2018

Earlier in the week I got charged extra for spending too long on the tube. I was travelling from a station in zone 5 to a station in zone 3, and took a bit too long about it, and got slapped with an automatic penalty as a result. So I wondered, do you know what the time limit is for a single tube journey?
When you use contactless or Oyster to pay as you go, there is a maximum amount of time that you can spend making a single journey on Tube, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail and National Rail. If you spend longer than the maximum journey time for your journey, you could be charged 2 maximum fares.
And that's a sizeable penalty. They charge you once for touching in without touching out, and then again for touching out without touching in, and all because you left too big a gap between the two. A maximum fare is £8, assuming you stay within zones 1-9 on the tube map, and they charge you that twice. £16 is a bloody big slap on the wrist just for staying on the tube too long. Have I worried you yet that you don't actually know how long you're allowed?

Ninety minutes might sound right. Most journeys are done in ninety minutes, even Chesham isn't that far out, so might an hour and a half be fair? Well no, because not all journeys start or finish in central London. If you want to start on one side of London and end up on the other you're going to need rather longer. So it isn't that.

Two hours might be a sensible amount of time. Two hours is ages. You can get all the way from Amersham to Upminster in that time. But no, the time limit's not two hours, because if your Amersham to Upminster journey was delayed for some reason you could easily slip over a two hour limit, and that wouldn't be fair. So it isn't that.

How about three hours? Three hours would be long enough to make even the most awkward journey doable, even Chessington to Chingford with a delayed train along the way. But three hours would be far too long for the vast majority of journeys, and that would allow too many people to take advantage of the system, for example not touching out at the end of a journey and then pretending a second journey was a continuation of the first. So it isn't that.

In fact the maximum time you're allowed depends on the journey you're making, so a zone 1 flit has a shorter time limit than a cross-capital safari.
If your journey's only in Zone 1 you're allowed 90 minutes.
If your journey's only in Zone 2 you're allowed 90 minutes.
If your journey's in Zones 1 and 2 you're allowed 100 minutes.
If your journey's in Zones 2 and 3 you're allowed 90 minutes.
If your journey's in Zones 1, 2 and 3 you're allowed 110 minutes.
That seems OK. Even riding a full circuit of the Circle line, just for the hell of it, comes in well under the 90 minute limit. And 110 minutes is almost two hours, which ought to be plenty for a journey solely within zones 1, 2 and 3. The danger comes if you stop off somewhere on a platform without leaving the network, or if you're the sort of person who likes dicking about on trains and riding them for the sake of it. Hello target audience. The moral here is don't dick about too long.
If your journey's only in Zone 3 you're allowed 70 minutes.
Interesting. That's shorter than the time available for a single zone journey in Zones 1 or 2, whereas you might expect journeys further out to take longer. The reason the time limit's shorter is that it's quite difficult to make a long journey in zone 3 without nudging into another zone at some point, so even Hanger Lane to Kew Gardens via Ealing Broadway only deserves 70 minutes.

It gets more complicated once zone 4 comes on board.
If your journey's in zones 1-4 you're allowed 110 minutes... unless your journey involves going through central London from zone 4 on one side to zone 3 on the other, or from zone 3 on one side to zone 4 on the other, in which case you're allowed 120 minutes... or unless your journey involves going through central London from zone 4 on one side to zone 4 on the other, in which case you're allowed 130 minutes.
(at any point during this post you can just scream and click through to TfL's full list)

From this point on, the Maximum Journey Time depends on how many zones you cross. Importantly that's not the number of zones you travel in, but the number you consecutively pass through. So, for example, Heathrow to Walthamstow Central would be 6-5-4-3-2-1-2-3, which is EIGHT zones, Uxbridge to Upminster would be 6-5-4-3-2-1-2-3-4-5-6 which is ELEVEN zones, and Chesham to Cheshunt would be 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 which is SIXTEEN zones. TfL's table actually goes up to 20 zones, and each row has a different Maximum Journey Time associated with it.

This formula covers it (where z is the number of zones).
MJT = 60 + 10z
A 1 zone journey is allowed 70 minutes, 2 zones is allowed 80 minutes, 10 zones is allowed 160 minutes, and a full-blown 20 zone journey is allowed 260 minutes (or an amazing 4 hours 20 minutes). A reminder that this formula is only true for journeys which involve zone 4 or beyond - inner London journeys have their own bespoke times.

Also, this isn't about the journey you actually take, it's about the journey TfL's fares computer assumes you've taken. Every single possible London train journey has an assumed route, which computes to an assumed number of zones crossed, which equates to a specific Maximum Journey Time.

And in case you thought that was it, no, sorry, I've missed out the important fact that when you make your journey is also important.

All the Maximum Journey Times I've listed so far are for Mondays to Fridays before 7pm. In the evenings a completely new scale kicks in, because trains might not be quite so frequent, so TfL are a bit more generous. If you're allowed 90 minutes before 7pm, then you're allowed 100 minutes after 7pm. Meanwhile what was a maximum of 200 minutes before 7pm goes up to 220 minutes after, because TfL are nice like that.

If you're still with us, the underlying rule is that you're allowed 10% longer after 7pm than you are before 7pm. To keep things manageable, all times are rounded up to the next multiple of 5 (so for example 120 minutes increases to 135 minutes, not to 132). The same scale applies on Saturdays, i.e. 10% longer than weekday daytimes. But on Sundays the percentage increase is 20%, because trains are fewer and farther between, so you're allowed even longer to make your journey.
MJTSat = MJTM-F +10%
MJTSun = MJTM-F +20%
Let me show you some proper examples in a table (and I'm only going to do zones 1-3, rather than over-complicate you with the lot). This table shows the Maximum Journey Time at various times of the week.

Maximum Journey Time (minutes)
ZonesWeekdaysSaturdays Sundays 
Before 7pm After 7pm all dayall day

As a rough rule of thumb, so long as you keep your inner London journey below an hour and a half, you'll be fine, and keeping under two hours is generally OK for a journey in zones 1, 2 and 3. But it's not simple, is it?

The full tables are here. Scream now.

Checking the full tables, you have two hours on weekdays to complete a journey between zones 1 and 6, rising to almost two and a half on Sundays. An epic expedition from Orpington to Edgware, that's eleven zones, permits an approximately three hour trip. And as for the longest possible journey of 20 zones, e.g. Amersham to Shenfield, the numbers on that row of the table are 260 290 and 315, giving you around five hours to complete your journey at the weekend.

These Maximum Journey Times all sound so generous that they shouldn't ever be a problem. But as I discovered it is possible to dawdle or deviate too long, and then get stung by a pretty massive penalty. I took 92 minutes when I was only allowed 90, and those extra two minutes really hurt. What I should have done was touch in at some point along the way, to remind the system that I still exist, and to prevent my elapsed time from ticking up so high. I might then have been charged for two separate journeys rather than one, but it'd have been a heck of a lot cheaper than being charged two maximum fares.

TfL's advice is clear... "Keep within the maximum journey time when you're travelling and you'll be charged the right fare." I'm just gobsmacked how intractably complex their tables are - nothing a mere human could be expected to keep on top of. A table with 24 rows might be eminently computable, and demonstrably fair, but wouldn't it be nice to have a simpler time limit that most of us could actually understand?

 Wednesday, July 25, 2018

In the outer reaches of Metro-land, in a Buckinghamshire village overlooking the Chess Valley, sits an impressively historic Tudor house called Chenies Manor. King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I have been, and finally so have I, to see the lovely house and its lovely gardens overseen by some lovely volunteers. What stopped me visiting before was that it's only open for three hours on a Wednesday and a Thursday, and only in summer, so it's very much a destination for the retired brigade who like a bit of heritage and a nice garden and a sit down with some tea. But if you can actually get there, it's very much not just for them.

The original site's medieval, the current house having been started in the 1530s by John Russell, one of Henry VIII's rising courtiers. He needed a home grand enough to support a visit by the entire royal court, and being a day's horseride from London helped to attract them more than once. The royal apartments are long since demolished, but a later extension with twirly chimneys (knocked up by the same builders who did Hampton Court) survives. The Russells later became the Dukes of Bedford, and duly moved to Woburn, which led to the buildings entering a slow decline. But everything turned round in the mid 1950s when the MacLeod-Matthews family bought the place at auction and set about restoring the house and its grounds. They've done an utterly enviable job.

It's £5 to see just the gardens, and £8 all-inclusive to throw in a tour of the house as well. You'd be a fool not to go for the latter, but make sure you arrive early enough to get your name down. I swanned in ten minutes after opening and all the tour spaces for the next hour were fully taken, thanks to the arrival of a coach party of grey-haired culture-seekers from Surrey. The grounds aren't enormous, and I wondered if they'd sustain me for the next sixty minutes, but in the end there was more than enough to see without resorting to the default behaviour of pointing at the flower beds and saying "ooh that's nice, I wonder if we could get that for home".

The gardens are gorgeous, especially the beds along the bricked-up south wall, and the sunken garden to the west of the main house. Elizabeth MacLeod-Matthews spent over 60 years of her life making them bold, colourful, dense and vibrant, with a particular fondness for dahlias, although I was most taken by the alliums and silver thistles. Various modern sculptures are dotted here and there, some of them for sale to those with bottomless pockets. A separate kitchen garden is laid out with labelled blooms and vegetables, plus a large walkable labyrinth (more technically a maze, but with only three paths, two of which are dead ends, so no great challenge).

A far finer hedge maze appears on the main lawn - unlabelled, so I wasn't initially sure that's what it was. But when I slipped inside I discovered a highly original puzzler, based on equilateral triangles and with connections in the corners. The gaps in the hedge are narrow, and larger visitors should expect to do some squeezing, but the disorientation provided by the angular layout makes for a properly challenging quest round a fairly compact space. On my first attempt I was happy enough just to get out, but on my second I serendipitously found the centre where a raised platform affords a view out across the tops of the hedges and I was well chuffed. Don't look at this spoiler photo if you plan to venture inside yourself.

A small physic garden has been laid out beyond the far wall, with herbs and medicinal plants arranged by category, including a separate penned-off section for poisonous specimens. The strange building in the corner is the wellhouse, built over the manor's original source of water, a 170m deep well. That's deeper than Nelson's Column is tall, which is a bit of a coincidence because John Noakes has scaled them both, in this case with the local cave-diving club in the 1970s. A huge amount of 'rubbish' was removed from the well at that time, the most interesting finds being displayed in cases around the wellhead along with, somewhat randomly, a collection of vintage lawnmowers.

The house tour, when you're finally ready for it, is a strictly no-photos affair. That's because Chenies Manor remains a family home, indeed you might see the family out and about in the grounds when you visit. The Long Gallery is a lovely timbered room bedecked with drapes and paintings, although apparently it didn't look quite so grand until very recently, and has in the past been commandeered as a dining hall for the adjacent primary school. The other downstairs rooms look less historic, but chintzier and cosier, and have been used for many a Midsomer Murder (amongst a long list of the manor's other film and TV credits).

Watch out for the squint window and the brick handrail as you ascend to the first floor. Henry VIII was too portly to climb the staircase on his later visits, so never saw what fifth wife Katherine Howard was up to with Thomas Culpepper in the upstairs bedroom, and adultery at Chenies Manor was cited in the evidence that led to her later execution. Queen Elizabeth I signed the death warrant for her cousin Mary Queen of Scots up here too, allegedly without looking. Other treats on the first floor include an Elizabethan toilet, a priest hole, a room full of dolls, some splendid portraits, a model of the Golden Hinde and several examples of the handiwork of the local flower club. What an unexpectedly great hour that was.

Other bits to see at Chenies Manor include the cafe, naturally, where tea and cakes can be taken out onto the lawn. A gift shop sells choice gifts of a bohemian kind, rather than 50p souvenir pencil sharpeners. A well hidden annexe is used to display a local artists's paintings. And don't forget St Michael's church nextdoor, whose most striking feature is a huge mausoleum where the Dukes of Bedford used to be buried before the family left for Woburn - you can peer through, but not enter. From wondering how I'd fill an hour, I ended up spending almost the full three hour allocation in and around the house and gardens. Visit soon (or I suspect if you wait long enough, a pensioners' coach trip will bring you here eventually).

by car: This is how most people arrive, either parking out front or being shepherded through the main gates to a larger field out back. [WD3 6ER]

by tube: The two nearest stations are Chalfont & Latimer and Chorleywood on the Metropolitan line. Chorleywood used to be called Chorley Wood and Chenies, so you might think it was nearer, but I walked in slightly faster from the former - it's about half an hour from both.

by bus: Nah, not any more. Ever since I was very little, the 336 has shuttled from Watford out towards this corner of Bucks, but last month they changed its number to 103 and the route's been tweaked so it no longer runs through Chenies village. Car-less residents now need to walk down to the main road, which includes a stretch of lane with no pavement, to pick up the hourly service there. I suspect there aren't many car-less residents.

 Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Because it's the start of the school summer holidays, Big Chief I-SPY has a special update for all you children out there. If you've been criss-crossing the capital filling in the I-SPY Book of Tube Journeys, there are now exciting extra new things to see for extra points. Why not go out travelling and see if you can spy them all?

The I-SPY Book of Tube Journeys
SUMMER 2018 update
(North East edition)

STRATFORD - Platform 13
Do you remember how awful catching a Jubilee line train from Stratford used to be? The next train might be leaving from platform 13, 14 or 15, and to discover which you had to squint at a tiny display, and maybe run down the platform to cram into the first carriage, and then if you missed it you might have to trek across to a completely different non-adjacent platform. How terrible that was. But now they have solved it. Earlier this month they stopped trains terminating in platform 13. Now they only arrive or depart from 14 or 15, which is good because these two are next to each other. Now you always go to the same place, and it is much easier to tell which train is leaving next. Hurrah. They have done this by stepping back drivers so they are always at the right end to drive the next train out.

But there are still some times when platform 13 is used because it is not so busy. These are a) early mornings b) late evenings c) Night Tube d) Sundays after 7pm. Ask Mummy or Daddy to let you get up early, or stay up late, and see if you can can spot a train on Platform 13.
I-SPYed a train on Stratford platform 13 and scored 10 Points.

BUCKHURST HILL - Step-free entrance
Buckhurst Hill is a London Underground station which is not underground and also not in London. There are steps to get in and out via the footbridge, which is no fun with a pushchair and impossible with a wheelchair. But now the station is step-free and hurrah everyone can use it. There are two step-free entrances, one at the far end of each platform. These were actual entrances until 1982, with steps, but then they closed them off because fare dodging is an evil sin. Now there are ramps which connect to the subway which runs underneath the railway. One ramp leads to one side of the subway and the other ramp leads to the other side. Each entrance has an Oyster reader but no ticket gate, so anyone can now sneak in and out of the station without paying, but that is bad and you must not do it.

If you are in the main ticket hall there is no sign telling you where the step-free entrance is. Instead there is a sign telling you to ask a member of staff if you want to know where it is. But when Big Chief I-SPY visited the station all the gates were open and there was no member of staff to ask so you could not tell. So how do you get to the step-free entrance? You have to exit the station past the bus stop and then turn left onto Victoria Road and go all the way down as far as Waitrose and then turn left again down the dead end past The Railway pub and suddenly there is the entrance to the eastbound platform and that is the first sign you will have seen. But if you want the westbound platform you will have to go through the underpass... except you can't do that in a wheelchair because there are slalom barriers to stop cyclists whizzing down the slope, and what you should have done when you left the station was turn right and then right again and then right again as far as the shopping arcade and look for the unsigned alleyway between the laundrette and the cafe and there is the ramp you want. It is hard work.

Even if you do manage to get onto the platform you then need a boarding ramp to get up onto the train. And the only person with access to the boarding ramp is the member of staff, and remember there might not actually be a member of staff, so you are stuffed. It is a right farce to be honest, very much the cut-price solution. But technically it is a step-free station, so hurrah for the Mayor's crusade which now totals 74 step-free stations.
I-SPYed the step-free entrance to Buckhurst Hill station and scored 25 Points.
I successfully used the step-free entrance in a wheelchair and scored 125 Points.

BROMLEY-BY-BOW - Secret roundel

There is a secret roundel at Bromley-by-Bow. Have you seen it? No, you have not seen it, because it is secret. But if you look up above your head in the ticket hall you may see it. You will not see it from the outside because the new glass lantern roof is covered with sheeting. But from inside you can look up and there it is and it is not so secret any more. Of course when the sheeting comes down it will not be secret at all, just big and shiny, so you get more points for spying it now than you will get later.
I-SPYed the secret roundel at Bromley-by-Bow station and scored 15 Points.

While you are here you should also look out for the new ticket gates. There have been no ticket gates at Bromley-by-Bow for the last two years, because they got in the way of upgrade work, and people had to use separate card readers instead. Lots of people walked through without paying because walking through without paying was easy, especially when you could do it for two years. But now there are proper gates and they have finally been switched on. But when there is no member of staff in the ticket hall, which is most of the time, the big gates are still left open so you can just walk through like you used to because nothing changes.
I-SPYed a member of staff at Bromley-by-Bow station and scored 150 Points.
I fare-dodged at Bromley-by-Bow station and saved another £1.50.

GIDEA PARK - Crossrail bench

Crossrail is coming and there will be lots and lots more points to collect in our Winter update. But for now why not go and see a bench? Crossrail stations in the open air are getting special benches with purple bars. These are exactly the same as normal outdoor benches on tube platforms, except they have purple bars instead of yellow or whatever the normal colour is. Lovely lovely purple. You can see the new purple bars at Gidea Park and Goodmayes and Ilford, but they are not yet at all the stations on the Shenfield line so look carefully.
I-SPYed a purple Crossrail bench on a Crossrail platform and scored 20 Points.

ROMFORD - Trans roundel
It is Pride month and TfL is celebrating by making some roundels Pride roundels. These are like normal roundels, but in wibbly wobbly colours like a rainbow unicorn. When TfL were working out where to put their Pride roundels obviously they thought Tottenham Court Road, Vauxhall and Shoreditch High Street, because that's where all the rainbow unicorns hang out. But they also picked Romford, because why shouldn't the people of Romford be reminded that non-heteronormative sexualities exist?

Not many people use the London Overground platform at Romford. But if you do ever set off on a backwater safari to Emerson Park or Upminster you will find three roundels here. One is unchanged, one is rainbowy, and the third is trans-inspired. There has not been a trans-inspired roundel before. It is pink, blue and white like the trans flag and it reminds us that when you grow up you do not have to be the gender you were born, indeed what actually is gender anyway, you can just be yourself. Perhaps Mummy and/or Daddy and/or Mummy and/or Mummy and/or Daddy and/or Daddy will be able to explain more.
I-SPYed the trans roundel at Romford station and scored 30 Points.

While you are up the platform admiring the rainbow roundel you may also spot a purple Crossrail bench in front of it, which is ridiculous because this is an Overground platform not a Crossrail platform. TfL's branding team are usually a lot more careful about design issues like this, so have lots of points for spying this non-compliant seating colour, and that's probably your entire book finished.
I-SPYed a purple Crossrail bench on a London Overground platform and scored 300 Points.

 Monday, July 23, 2018

In just under two years time, Londoners will elect another Mayor. They'll probably re-elect Sadiq Khan for a second term... unless the Conservatives can pick a candidate with charisma and policies that appeal. They've started looking very early.

Nominations opened last month, attracting a dozen would-be Tory Mayors, but no big names. A number of high profile figures from the right of the political spectrum had been approached, but declined, leading to a longlist of ten lesser known councillors, entrepreneurs, peers and one MP. The selection process has moved fast, and we now have a shortlist of just three, one of whom will be attempting to topple Sadiq in 653 days time.

The three are Shaun Bailey and Andrew Boff, who are currently members of the London Assembly, and Joy Morrissey who's a councillor in Ealing. Between them they tick the ethnic minority box, the LGBT box and the women's box, which helps make the party look more progressive. And they've also each been interviewed by the website Conservative Home, who asked for their views on the Mayorship, crime, housing and transport. You can read their full interviews here - [Shaun] [Andrew] [Joy]

This blog being what it is, I thought I'd focus solely on their thoughts on transport, because that should be illuminating enough. Meanwhile John Bull from London Reconnections ran through the entire longlist on Twitter yesterday, in a long thread you'd no doubt enjoy reading.

Shaun Bailey (born 1971, Assembly member since 2016)
For many London commuters, the journey into work is often delayed or generally unpleasant. Much of this is down to a lack of investment in our transport network.
Nothing to see here. Moving on...
In the last mayoral election campaign, the current Mayor promised that Londoners “won’t pay a penny more” in transport fares. He broke this promise within his first year. Even though fares have been frozen for pay-as-you-go users, for the average commuter using a travelcard, fares have continued to rise. So not only has the Mayor broken a key election pledge, he has ensured that TfL now has a £640m blackhole in its balance sheet from lost fares revenue.
Technically Sadiq only pledged to freeze 'TfL fares', and he has, so his campaign promise was sound. But he was also disingenuous in never explaining clearly what this meant, hence a lot of people were pissed off when they discovered their travelcards and fare caps going up, and Shaun could easily capitalise on that anger. As for TfL's financial black hole, that's a very real consequence of Sadiq's four-year freeze, and whoever's Mayor in 2020 won't have the option of adopting populist policies on fares again.
Because of the poor state of TfL finances, Sadiq Khan has had to cancel an upgrade of three tube lines and has pushed back the renewal of the Tube network’s fleet of trains. If elected as Mayor, I would once again get a grip on TfL finances, as Boris Johnson once did, and increase transport investment in our network to ensure that journeys are on time and more pleasant for everyday commuters.
Project slippage is always an issue for tube projects, with squeezed finances only making several delays worse. But Shaun's assertion that Boris had a grip on TfL finances is astonishing, given his love of wasteful grand projects, and how easily he forgets the bonfire of cancelled transport projects when Boris first came to power.
The Mayor also promised that there would be “zero strikes” in office. So far, Sadiq Khan has, on average, had more strikes than any Mayor since the creation of the GLA. To break the stranglehold of the unions on London’s transport network, I would accelerate the purchasing of driverless trains.
I don't remember the last eighteen months being particularly strike-y, but Shaun will have picked his statistics carefully to ensure they're true. As for the idea that driverless trains might solve the problem, that pipedream plays well with the electorate, but even automated trains aren't staff-free, as strikes on the DLR repeatedly prove. Overall, there's not much meat here.

Andrew Boff (born 1958, Assembly member since 2008)
Khan has decimated the finances of TfL and it will require creative thinking to avoid bankruptcy.
Andrew's not mincing his words here. He's certainly the experienced pair of hands on this shortlist, having been deeply involved on the London Assembly for years, and he puts himself forward as a potential Mayoral candidate on a regular basis.
I will: Boost sponsorship on the tube;
You've lost my vote instantly there, Andrew, although I'm sure many passengers would be only too happy to prostitute the network to the highest bidder to bear down on fares.
I will: Break up TfL into its operational and investment businesses to bear down on costs;
Andrew hopes to make our public services more like private corporations. It's a common Conservative aspiration.
I will: Accelerate the introduction of driverless trains;
No. See earlier.
I will: Seek to ban Tube strikes and replace them with a compulsory mediation process involving an independent judge;
Every Mayoral candidate is always obsessed by cutting tube strikes. But banning them altogether usually proves to be one impractical step too far.
I will: Scrap free travel for partners, friends and lodgers of TfL staff;
It's generally agreed that scrapping this particular perk would save peanuts. But miserable curmudgeons are always happiest when they've stopped the 'undeserving' getting something for free.
I will: Expedite the move towards a 100% diesel-free bus fleet;
The current Mayor's already onto this one. Sounds like Andrew wants to do it rather quicker.
Khan’s battle against motorcycles will be reversed. Motorcyclists will be recognised as part of the solution to London’s congestion and air quality challenges.
The Mayor's latest Transport Strategy wants to see a move away from motorised transport, which Andrew sees as an attack on personal motorbike use, and so far Sadiq's failed to give him any reassurance this isn't the case.
Safety improvements for those who wish to cycle will continue but I believe that TfL will need to be a lot more sensitive to what residents are saying about the impact of the routes on public safety and the viability of town centres.
But Andrew doesn't appear to be siding so strongly with cyclists, the hint being that local concerns should trump cavalier projects, which'd be the death knell for many a segregated lane, quietway and traffic-calming measure.
And finally I want to be very, very clear about Heathrow. The GLA will not assist in any way the implementation of the Government’s second-rate, unambitious and environmentally destructive plans for a third runway. I will contribute however much is needed to to fight against it and present the alternatives.
That's identical to the current Mayor's position. Elsewhere in the interview, however, some significant divergence.

Joy Morrissey (born 1981, Ealing councillor since 2014)
I want to see us speed up electrification of our city both to keep us at the forefront of technological developments as well as cleaning up our terrible air quality. We should set an ambitious target to have the entire fleet of London buses electric or zero emission. We also need to work with councils and private companies to get more charging points installed across London. At the moment they’re often heavily concentrated in the more affluent areas of central London.
Joy's number one priority is electric vehicles, particularly those for Londoners who drive. Meanwhile the Mayor already has a target for an all-electric bus fleet, although Joy clearly thinks 2037 can and should be beaten.
We also need to ensure we have taxis people can trust which are accessible for people with disabilities. We need an open and competitive playing field, welcoming entrants like Uber but ensuring drivers are vetted and properly trained and supported before being licensed, to keep both passengers and drivers safe. It’s also vital that there are always enough accessible cabs on the road and that drivers of licenced cars realise they have a responsibility to transport everyone – able-bodied or not – as part of their obligation to TfL and Londoners.
There's a fascinating disconnect between Joy's responses and those of Shaun and Andrew. They were primarily focused on public transport, whereas Joy comes from a very different car-driving, taxi-riding, Uber-hailing demographic. Is this the kind of person we want in charge at TfL?
Finally, we need to be realistic and honest about the need to invest heavily in our infrastructure. Sadiq Khan’s reckless fares freeze blew a £640 million black hole in the TfL budget that’s seen investment in track maintenance and orders for new underground trains plummet.
I think that's code for "we should put the fares up", which is indeed absolutely what whoever's Mayor in 2020 needs to do. I wonder who'll be brave enough to say so... and whether it'll make a blind bit of difference in the battle between Sadiq and whichever also-ran gets picked to oppose him at the ballot box.

 Sunday, July 22, 2018

Postcards from the Lambeth Country Show

If I were to stick my neck out, I'd say the Lambeth Country Show is probably London's best annual event. It's fun. It's free. It's huge. It's diverse. It has sheep. It has comedy vegetables. It has queues for cider. It retains a focus on all things community-minded. It's held on the glorious slopes of Brockwell Park. And it's been brightening the summer since 1974.

But this year the magic threatened to go badly wrong. On police advice, Lambeth Council erected a giant wall around the showground, rather than allowing free flow onto the site. They insisted on security checks on the way in, and banned unsealed drinks and alcohol... which they were quite happy to flog inside. They specified terms and conditions of entry online, and instructed visitors to check the webpage regularly for any changes made. And they pissed off a lot of the surrounding community in the process, with many saying they'd never visit again. So how was it?

Outside Herne Hill station
To cross from the market by the station to the gates of Brockwell Park required crossing two, maybe three slices of road at a particularly busy junction. No attempt whatsoever had been made to halt the traffic, or even adapt the traffic light sequence in pedestrians' favour. Instead frazzled event staff stood beneath each set of lights with strips of red tape, which they furled or unfurled according to whether the public were allowed through or not. Green man... tape removed... crowd starts to pour across... count up to five... shout... replace tape... oi, wait there please. Worse, the traffic island in the centre had to empty before we could be allowed across, and that light changed less frequently, so we could only make progress every other time our lights turned green. Meanwhile barriers stopped people crossing elsewhere, not that this stopped the persistent, and by the time I finally made it into the park I was feeling somewhat subjugated. I've been in far far worse queuing slaloms, but equally I've never found getting into Brockwell Park more of a chore.

Blue Entrance
They must have been expecting Armageddon-level queueing. Here at the Herne Hill entrance thirty-two separate lanes corralled visitors towards the security line, which was located some considerable distance ahead. Nobody official had attempted to wave us in the most appropriate direction, so I plumped wrongly and ended up in lane 18, whereas 19 had barely a queue at all. A small bored child bawled in frustration as the sun beat down. Eventually we nudged forward under the awning where a yellowshirt checked our bags for contraband, like narcotics, gazebos or Ribena. Most visitors had bags, but I didn't, so it turned out I'd been waiting unnecessarily. Three lanes then funnelled towards a single blueshirt with a baton, which he waved around certain visitors whilst waving others through. I got a cursory groin check, after which the merry man mountain hummed a little fanfare, presumably because I was terrorism-free. Arriving at the very start of the afternoon had been no fun. But before very long the lines dissipated and fresh arrivals sailed up to the bag-check without delay, so the main sticking point remained the wall itself, not passing through it.

The showground
The acreage occupied by the Country Show is smaller than before, but still vast. The area which used to host the main stage is now outside the wall, so that's had to be relocated to where the funfair used to be, so there's no longer a funfair (for adults) on site. The Farm has been shunted a lot further downhill, the Flower Show feels penned in below the main house, and the Village Green is much too easily overlooked. But there's still a long way to wander, and many a loop to explore, and in the middle of the site you'd never realise anything had changed... except perhaps from the size of the crowds. I'm a regular visitor, and was expecting the park to be busier, and wondered at first if it was just too early in the afternoon. But crowd density never quite picked up later, not to usual strength, and I'm uncertain how much of that was due to the Wall Effect.

The stalls
Avenues of food stalls serve up fare from many a world cuisine, although in weather like this the drinks vendors are doing a more roaring trade. But it's the community stalls which make the event, arrayed all over the site with their messages of hope, heed and heritage. Anything local you might want to join is here, from the Socialist Workers Party to a Spanish-speaking Baptist church, even a selection of proper scientific societies. Volunteers try all sorts of things to make you visit their tent, be that dishing out free condoms, loud music, a large jar of sweets or haranguing you by the bowling green. And you might leave with a fresh interest in cycling, a stem cell donor appointment or a teasmade from the HIV charity tombola, or just sunburn and a heavy stomach.

While you can buy gassy beer and lager in cans on site, the unofficial king of drinks at the LCS is cider. Specifically it's Chucklehead, an apple brew from a farm near Tiverton, shipped up from Devon to Lambeth in copious quantities. The queues start short, but inexorably lengthen during the afternoon until they reach obscene proportions, such is the showgoers' need. Wiser souls buy in bulk, wandering round with a one litre bottle dangling from their hand or even the full earthenware jug for £21. Or perhaps wiser souls leave well alone, because Chucklehead is 7% proof and overquaffing can lead to insensibility. Nothing quite says Country Show like overdosing on scrumpy in an inner city park.

Brockwell Farm
And nothing quite says Country Show like pens of well-groomed animals primed for display. Vauxhall City Farm are amongst those who bring their livestock down, partly for mass petting purposes, but also for the serious business of judging best in breed. Other city farms like Mudchute turn up too, plus more far flung centres for rare breeds, to provide a broader cross section to exhibit and engender better competition. I stood at the ringside to watch the primitives on parade, the judge taking his time to eye up the trio on display, and stroke their coats, and press their haunches, and observe their gait, and step back and ruminate, and eventually advance towards the winning beast bearing a red rosette, while a colleague delivered a droll and informative commentary. Not everyone enjoyed the slow pace, but I'd far rather attend a ram lamb trial than fork out for some bespoke ticketed kebab experience.

The Flower Show tent
But for the quintessential Country Show experience you have to visit the Flower Show tent. Within its sultry confines, on trestle tables laid out with handwritten cards, the good people of Lambeth submit their exhibits in a variety of horticultural and craft classes. One dahlia. Five onions. Group of succulents. Victoria sponge sandwich. It's just like a flower show in any provincial village, apart from Class 68 - a vegetable character - where the local populace goes totally over the top. A queue had built up outside the tent by 2pm, when judging finally finished, so keen were people to discover the plant-based puns on the farthest table. Donald Trump variants proved popular, for example in gourd-haired pumpkin format, and two different contributors had gone about creating Carrot Southgate. But the general consensus, confirmed by the largest concentration of poised smartphones, seemed to be that a very green, very bushy Kale Marx had stolen the show.

They haven't wrecked the Show yet. But it's not quite what it was.

» The Brixton Buzz report from Day 1 (including 117 photos)
» The Brixton Buzz report from Day 2

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