Friday, December 06, 2013
If you're in touch with London, you'll know dining out is where it's at. Fine food and good company, optimally priced, are the cornerstone of many a good evening. So I'm pleased to be able to follow the trend and bring you news and reviews of top cuisine, and restaurants to die for.
Uncle Jim's Fish Bar ✮✮✮
27 Balaam Street
Plaistow, E13 8EB
You'll find Uncle Jim's on Balaam Street, Plaistow's premier gourmet boulevard. A welcoming blue gateway awaits your attention, just down the parade from Fancy Fried Chicken and the Good Friends Chinese Takeaway, UJ's has been embedded at the heart of the E13 community for many years, and is fast becoming Mecca for the East End's fried fish fanciers.
The restaurant's window proudly promotes the current à la carte menu, with signature Doner Kebabs in pride of place. A wide variety of these delicacies are available within, along with a variety of alternative dishes depicted with french fries, salad and light garnish. As the sign says, 'tasty'!
It's all in the name. Uncle Jim's has been a family concern from the beginning, although the eponymous proprietor was absent on the day of my review. Instead two jolly Turkish gentlemen, later joined by a third, stood behind the bespoke glass counter to prepare the high class meal of my choice.
My eyes alighted on the specials menu displayed to the rear. The burger selection was appealingly priced, including quarter pounder with cheese topped with sesame-sprinkled bap for less than three pounds. Meanwhile an octet of chicken nuggets vied for attention with moist barbecue wings amongst the chicken collection.
I considered briefly the selection of wrapped Peter's pies upturned upon the hotplate. That or the pair of twisted saveloys sweating softly in the compartment alongside, or maybe a composite kebab meal from the numbered four-choice set menu. But when at UJ's always dine like a local, hence fresh fish was destined to be my catch of the day.
By now the queue of patrons was growing longer, indeed some might argue a reservation to be advisable. Mums and couples and single gentlemen had arrived in their evening finery, mostly market-stall outerwear, and chatted loudly but politely whilst waiting their turn.
"I don't do cooking, I do fish and chips," muttered one Irish workman to his companion, neatly echoing the culinary aspirations of a generation. Instead he opted for the trademark twisting stick, and watched as thin slices of spitting meat were carved elegantly into a plastic tray.
When my turn came the waiter reached for a prime fillet of cod, battered and golden beneath the artificial glare. But chips large, or chips small? ...it's tough decisions like these that make dining at Uncle Jim's such a joy. Why large, of course, and soon three scoops of chipped potatoes dropped lovingly into a paper cone.
Naturally I added salt and vinegar, the latter issued from a tray of condiments including a bijou bottle of Daddies ketchup. And then my catch was expertly parcelled in paper before being swapped for the better half of a ten pound note. No need to tip, you'll be pleased to hear - impeccable service is included.
It was with great expectations that I unwrapped my prize onto an oven-warmed plate, ripped open a can of soft drink and tucked in. No complaints. The cod was succulent and light, its white flakes breaking away cleanly within a coating of batter. And all of this laid across a warm carpet of fried potato, surely cuisine at its finest.
Forget your Michelin cordon bleu, your exclusive Mayfair brasserie and your pop-up Mexican cantina. London's media are obsessed by reviewing poncey expensive dining options, the sort of thing most of us try once in a blue moon or never at all. No, to experience what the majority of the capital eats just head to Plaistow, or a high street near you, and see what's frying up.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, December 05, 2013CIRCLE: Exclusively Circle
The Circle line shares most of its track with other lines. From Hammersmith to Liverpool Street it's no different to the Hammersmith & City line. From Tower Hill to Gloucester Road it's essentially the District line. And from High Street Kensington to Edgware Road it's basically the District line again. But there are three points where the Circle line breaks out and enjoys a solo identity, three places with platforms for the Circle line and no other service. So that's where I've been.
ALDGATE: (platforms 1 and 4)
Aldgate is the Circle line's proper special station, the only place the Hammersmith & City and District lines fail to touch... although they scrape close by. From the southern end of Aldgate's platforms you can watch District trains go by, rather close, and from the northern end of platform 1 the occasional H&C, rather close. Platform 1 is one of Aldgate's pair of Circle line platforms, the other being 4 on the far side, with two Metropolitan line platforms tucked up inbetween. I like it down here, at the bottom of the forking central staircase beneath the station's vast vaulted roof. A couple of heritage platform signs remain, with proper old font and feathered arrows, and they're lovely. Bulging pillars support the ceiling, and proper Victorian brickwork rises on either side. It could almost be the 1880s down here, apart from the gleaming Chesham-bound carriages humming alongside.
But sorry, did you want to know when the next Circle line train is due? There is a Next Train Indicator on platform 1 but it doesn't change, it just says "Southbound trains; Circle line" all the time, even when one is pulling into the platform. Either the signalling systems here are dire or TfL have insufficient money, or probably both. Expect an improvement with the sub-surface signalling upgrade due in 2018, perhaps, or perhaps maybe later. If you want to anticipate the next Circle line train, whicht could be up to 10 minutes away, you have to stand in precisely the right place at the bottom of the steps and raise your eyes. That's because the only functioning Next Train Indicator at Aldgate station is on the landing halfway up (even the modern square NTIs in the ticket hall are permanently blank). This old and dotty display reveals the next destination from each platform and an actual time until departure, or perhaps even "READY" if you need to dash down really fast. At least you'll have seen this board on your way in, as you descend the grand staircase and enter this Escher drawing of a station. The Circle's realm awaits.
GLOUCESTER ROAD: (platform 2)
Here at Gloucester Road, in one direction only, the Circle line branches out on its own. Head anti-clockwise and you'll roll in on platform 3, which is shared with the District so is almost ordinary. But head clockwise and you'll filter off before entering the station and arrive on exclusive platform 2. Two and three form an island together, should you ever want to change between them, which is probably unlikely. Meanwhile switching between one and two (the westbound shuffle) involves an up and over, which is more fun at the far end where the footbridge is more properly an emergency exit. I'd say passenger clientèle at Gloucester Road is more upmarket than might be found at Aldgate or Edgware Road - better dressed, more finely groomed - because this end of Kensington is a top part of town. It's even properly indoors here, actually underground, near enough.
You might expect the Next Train Indicators here to be quite good, but you'd be wrong. They're better than at today's other two stations because they do actually work, although you only get a minute's advance warning, so for roughly 90% of the time they're 'blank'. Either the signalling systems here are dire or TfL have insufficient money, or probably both. Expect an improvement with the sub-surface signalling upgrade due in 2018, perhaps, or perhaps maybe later. But it's no pain waiting here thanks to one of the finest outposts of Art On The Underground. The arches on what was once platform 4 are regularly filled in with graphic wonders, in a long sequence stretching the length of the station. Sometimes that's a single artist's oeuvre, but currently it's a multiplicity of works celebrating the Underground's 150th anniversary. So long as there isn't an annoying train heading east, you'll get a great view.
EDGWARE ROAD: (platform 2)
It's now been four years since the Circle line was rejigged to terminate at Edgware Road. A lot of regular users cursed when that happened, especially those who used to make continuous journeys through the station. Since 2009 they have to get out and change, which isn't always straightforward, and usually slows everything down. On the brighter side, de-looping the Circle has helped to make the service more resilient, with fewer annoying long gaps between trains. And it's created a platform at Edgware Road that's (essentially) used only by Circle line trains. Platform 2 used to be for terminating Districts and various through services, but now it's where the Circles stop, and has its own yellow sign to celebrate. If you arrive clockwise into Platform 2 you're one of the lucky ones, because it's easy to continue your eastbound journey by stepping across to platform 1, where you might catch another Circle line train going somewhere useful. It's the folk who arrive via the District line who suffer, requiring an up and over hike from platform 3 at this extremely non-step-free station.
Edgware Road's not the loveliest place to wait, especially if you're trying to work out when it's time to leave. The Next Train indicators are rubbish, seriously rubbish, and also ancient, which is probably why. Weak red LEDs display the lines served but never the time to departure, with finer detail provided by closed circuit TV screens relaying a picture of the platform indicator in the ticket hall. Either the signalling systems here are dire or TfL have insufficient money, or probably both. Expect an improvement with the sub-surface signalling upgrade due in 2018, perhaps, or perhaps maybe later. In the meantime watch out for the Circle line drivers swapping over in their cabs because Edgware Road is a key duty changeover point. And platform 2 is rarely busy, as the next yellow train sits waiting (and waiting) for the time to depart. Hammersmith is over an hour away, or barely quarter of an hour if you head over to platform 4.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, December 04, 2013At last the Mayor has made the annual announcement on tube/bus fare rises. He may not know how much a tube fare costs, nor understand the fare tables he signed off, but let's not hold his low IQ against him.
This year's average price rise is 3.1%, which isn't the "freeze" some have claimed, but is definitely less than last year's 4.2%, which was itself much lower than the 7% increase the year before. Here are a few of 2014's fares in historical perspective, with Ken's years in red and Boris's in blue.
Cost of a single central London tube journey 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Oyster £1.60 £1.70 £1.50 £1.50 £1.50 £1.60 £1.80 £1.90 £2.00 £2.10 £2.20 Cash £2.00 £2.00 £3.00 £4.00 £4.00 £4.00 £4.00 £4.00 £4.30 £4.50 £4.70
The Zone 1 Oyster tube fare rises 4.8% in January to a new high of £2.20. Pessimists will note that this is 47% higher than when Boris came to power. Optimists, however, should note that it's still only 38% higher than a decade ago. Meanwhile anyone paying by cash continues to be screwed, as TfL try ever harder to persuade people not to pay by cash.
Cost of a single central London bus journey 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Oyster 70p 80p 80p £1 90p £1 £1.20 £1.30 £1.35 £1.40 £1.45 Cash £1 £1.20 £1.50 £2 £2 £2 £2 £2.20 £2.30 £2.40 £2.40
The pay-as-you-go bus fare rises by 3.6% in January. It's more than doubled over the last ten years, with the great majority of that increase occurring on Boris's watch. Meanwhile the cash fare doesn't rise at all, but that's probably because TfL will be scrapping cash fares on the buses next summer, probably.
Cost of a tube journey from Green Park to Heathrow 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Oyster (peak) £3.50 £3.80 £4.20 £4.50 £4.80 £5.00 £5.00 Oyster (off-peak) £2.00 £2.20 £2.40 £2.70 £2.90 £3.00 £3.00 Cash £4.00 £4.00 £4.50 £5.00 £5.30 £5.50 £5.70
It's a better picture if you travel further out. Oyster fares for tube journeys outside Zone 1 won't be rising, which is excellent news if that's the journey you make every day. But that's only on Pay As You Go. It's bad news if you plan to buy a weekly, monthly or annual travelcard because these prices will be increasing in line with National Rail fares (which is +4.1%), not TfL fares (which is +3.1%).
Next year's fare announcement includes yet another nail in the coffin of the paper Travelcard. There used to be six of these (Z1-2, Z1-3, Z1-4, Z1-5, Z1-6 and Z2-6), until three years ago when the Z1-3, Z1-5 and Z2-6 were discontinued. Now the Z1-2 and Z1-4 are disappearing, off-peak, which means that weekend visitors to London will only have the option of the most expensive Z1-6. Expect further retirements in years to come as TfL try to shift everyone over to Oyster and its "one day caps", because that's much cheaper for them to collect.
How do these fare changes affect TfL's revenue in 2014? Bus Tube Rail Total Cash single - +£4m +£0.3m +£4m PAYG fares +£23m +£23m +£2m +£48m PAYG cap freeze -£10m -£5m -£1m -£16m Travelcards +£1m +£13m +£1m +£15m Season tickets +£24m +£33m +£5m +£63m Total +£39m +£68m +£8m +£115m
If London's to have a better transport network then fares do have to rise, and the table above shows how this will be achieved. Increasing bus cash fares will add £4m to TfL's coffers next year, while increases to Pay As You Go add a much more significant £48m. Freezing PAYG caps will actually benefit passengers to the tune of £16m, whereas Travelcard users will end up forking out an extra £15m. Throw in a massive £63m boost from season ticket holders and the total increase in TfL's revenue is £115m, which is precisely 3.1%.
Cost of a single cablecar journey 2012 2013 2014 Cash £4.20 £4.20 £4.40 Oyster £3.20 £3.20 £3.30 Regular user £1.60 £1.60 £1.60
And what do you do with a cablecar that doesn't have many users? You put the fares up, obviously... the first fare rise since the thing opened back in summer 2012. But on the bright side, hurrah, the fare for the cablecar's four regular commuters remains unchanged. I'm sure Rory, Peter, June and the other one will be very pleased.
posted 00:00 :
Tuesday, December 03, 2013I have a lot of stuff.
I'm not one of these people who could squeeze their life into a suitcase and move on. I have lots of bits, and things, and stuff. It accumulates, it hangs around, it hides away.
You'd notice if you came round. Most people have a bit of stuff, like ornaments or bookcases or racks of DVDs. I have that and then some, mostly paper-based, piled up tidily and stored away. You might even call it clutter, although it's no obsession that'd ever be the subject of a Channel 4 documentary. But my amount of stuff generally increases, rather than ebbs away, which over five decades rather adds up.
I have an album of greetings cards announcing my birth, and a 1970 tube map, and exercise books from infant school, and a completed Brooke Bond Race Into Space tea card album (price 5p, 1/-), and the cuddly rabbit I used to take to bed, and a dozen awful photos I took on the Channel Islands when I was ten, and those free gift Dr Who cards they gave out with Weetabix in 1975, and some board games I was given back when I had people to play against, and a set of part-filled-in I-Spy books, and five sets of Top Trumps cards, and every Christmas Radio Times since 1979, and two (correctly orientated) Rubik's cubes, and the letter they sent me saying yes you can come to university, and a checked shirt I really loved in 1984 but doesn't fit any more, and a national newspaper from the day after The Great Storm, and a train ticket from the time I went to Penzance, and an old cable that probably once connected something important to something important, and my first mortgage statement, and an ammonite I found on a Dorset beach, and a shelf-full of cassingles, and the Bedfordshire episode of Treasure Hunt on VHS, and a mug from Disneyland, and a 21st century-incompatible computer, and the magazine that came free with the Brit Awards in 1997, and my Cornwall solar eclipse glasses, and the box my second mobile phone came in, and a tin of butterscotch drops I cleared out of my car when I sold it but have never eaten, and the 2001 TfL fares leaflet, and a stack of writeable CD-ROMS, and three juggling balls, and a Woolworths carrier bag, and some loose change from Iceland, and a London 2012 teacosy, and that isn't even scratching the surface.
Don't worry, I do go back and revisit this stuff sometimes because it's quite interesting to look through. Sometimes it's even useful as research material, although more often than not I just like knowing that it's there. That's my life stacked up in the spare room, a hoard of irreplaceable keepsakes and memories, almost the very definition of what I'm about.
It is therefore just as well that I'm a very bad shopper. I don't rush out and buy myself a new outfit every month, or keep up with all the latest gadgets, or replace my soft furnishings regularly, or trawl Amazon for yet more stuff to own. When I buy something it's invariably because I really want it, not because it's impulsive and disposable, so my purchases tend to hang around. Indeed when I visit shopping malls I invariably walk away empty-handed, unlike the hordes I see there dangling several bags apiece. Do these people have even more stuff than me, or are they just much better at getting rid of it more quickly?
As a non-shopper, my amount of stuff shouldn't be excessive. My DVD collection fits a half metre shelf, my shirts fill up one rail, and I probably only buy a couple of books a month. Except yes, that makes 100 books every 4 years, which is a lot of books over several decades, and I can rarely bring myself to dispose of one. It's the same for music, which I own in a variety of physical formats collected over the years. I have hundreds of cassettes and CDs, but I'd never dare upload them all and bin the lot for fear of electronic data loss. And I have a particular weakness for paper-based stuff - books, important newspapers, leaflets, special copies of magazines, maps, that sort of thing. Paper's bulky and heavy if aggregated, but it's also the 20th century's storage medium of choice, and absolutely not the same if stashed away as a stored image.
So, yes, I know that I don't need all this stuff. I know that I could bin a fair amount without adversely affecting my life, apart from leaving a hole, which is probably why I don't. I do bin some of it sometimes, but barely enough to make a difference. And I do try to be a bit ruthless in not keeping this stuff in the first place, but inexorable accumulation eventually takes hold. I'm sure if I ever had to move house I'd manage a thinning out, but I wouldn't enjoy it, it'd be like chucking my past away.
Whatever, I do worry that one day I might walk in front of a bus or have a heart attack or something, and then someone'll have to come round and try to find the 5% of stuff worth keeping in amongst the 95% that meant something only to me. That someone is probably reading this post today... and if it's you, sorry, my apologies in advance. But I'd hate you to miss my grandmother's teenage autograph book, or the announcement of my father's christening in the local church magazine, or my tiny maternity ward wristband, or the Coronation edition Radio Times, or my complete set of Red Nose Day red noses, lurking somewhere in the spare room amongst several other hidden treasures. Do please have a thorough rummage before you bin the lot, won't you?
posted 07:00 :
Monday, December 02, 2013Over the last three years I've lost count of the number of times TfL have tweaked the Bow Roundabout. They painted a blue stripe across the roundabout and added a segregated lane around the outside as part of the introduction of Cycle Superhighway 2. Then they came back and relaid the kerb alongside the segregated lane around the roundabout because vehicles were clipping it. Then Brian died. Then Svitlana died. Then they came back and erected big yellow signs saying "Drivers Look Out For Cyclists Ahead" and "Cyclists Beware Vehicles Turning Left". Then they came back and added a set of cycle early start lights on the eastbound, plus a newly segregated lane on the approach. Then they came back and relaid the kerb alongside the segregated lane approaching the roundabout because vehicles were clipping it. Then they came back and added small yellow signs saying "Cyclists Stop On Red" because the lights were over-complex. Then they came back (in the lead up to the Olympics) and repaved the centre of the roundabout to make it look more attractive, adding two metal sculptures, two planters and some night-time illuminations. Then they left the roundabout alone for a year. Then they came back and added a set of cycle early start lights on the westbound, plus a newly segregated lane on the approach, as part of the Cycle Superhighway 2 extension. Then Venera died. And now they've come back again.
Last week contractors working for TfL have removed the blue paint across the western half of the Bow roundabout. There never was any across the eastern half, but the western stripes have been scraped away revealing black tarmac underneath. It looks a bit of a mess, to be honest, especially with a rectangular blue CS2 stencil stamped on top. But at least the paint has gone, the "un-bordered blue strips" described by a coroner recently as "confusing". She said that "motorists and cyclists are confused about who has right of way and the lane lulls riders into a false sense of security." And now TfL have responded by getting rid of them, with a minimum of fuss.
There never was any blue paint daubed across the eastern half of the Bow Roundabout, because TfL left a short gap here when they extended CS2 to Stratford. But all the other blue paint remains - along the segregated lanes to Stratford and back along the length of Cycle Superhighway 2. There are still blue stripes egging cyclists to cross Burdett Road, Cambridge Heath Road, Commercial Street and many more, whilst in fact offering no protection whatsoever. Will these be scraped off too? Cyclists need to know where CS2 goes, but they don't need to be enticed forwards into danger, tempted ahead by blue paint. That's the lesson learned, at long last, at Bow. Will it be learned elsewhere?
posted 07:00 :
Fares on transport in London are due to rise on 2nd January 2014. That's one month from today and yet, unusually, nobody's yet announced how large that rise will be.
Quick check: Over the last 10 years, when was the fare rise announcement made?
21 Sep 2004, 4 Oct 2005, 12 Sep 2006, 30 Sep 2007, 4 Sep 2008, 15 Oct 2009, 20 Oct 2010, 14 Sep 2011, 7 Nov 2012
That's five Septembers, three Octobers and an early November. Admittedly two years ago Boris announced rejigged figures on 2nd December after obtaining an extra government grant, so maybe something similar is holding things back, but the 2014 announcement is getting rather late. As a benchmark, I thought I'd throw together a table to show how 2013's fares stack up. I've picked a four-mile journey from London Bridge to Greenwich, because that's possible via several different transport modes, and tried to calculate how much each costs.
* Travelcard including zones 1 and 2
Cost of travelling from London Bridge to Greenwich Mode of
Bus £2.40 £1.40 £0.00 Rail £3.00 £2.40 £1.90 £0.00 Tube & DLR £4.50 £2.80 £2.10 £0.00 River £6.50 £5.85 £4.30 Taxi £15 £15 £15
The table's arranged in increasing order of cost, with travelling by bus not surprisingly the cheapest. But there isn't a direct bus from London Bridge to Greenwich, so I've assumed you don't mind a short walk at each end, because otherwise all the fares on this row double and suddenly going by bus isn't good value at all. The next cheapest option is to travel by rail - much quicker than the bus and not much more expensive. Taking the tube and DLR via Canary Wharf costs a little more than the train with Oyster, but 50% extra for cash. It's not distance that adds the extra, it's that rail sometimes (but not always) costs less (or sometimes more) than the tube, which just goes to show how inconsistent, complex and counter-intuitive fares in London are. The real shocker is travelling by river, which costs an astonishing £6.50, with only 10% deducted for using Oyster. Only Travelcard users get a decent discount, that's one third off the usual fare, although their card would have allowed them to travel for free by bus or train. And bringing up the rear are taxis, by far the most expensive mode of all, but then you knew that.
I wonder how different these fares will look in 2014. Perhaps Boris will tell us soon.
posted 01:00 :
Sunday, December 01, 2013If you live in a brick house in London, there's a good chance those bricks came from Bedfordshire. The fields south of Bedford were rich with clay, so Victorian entrepreneurs moved in and started digging. One of the largest sites was at Wootton Pillinge, a village you'll not find on the map today, where hundreds of acres were turned over to the production of stock Fletton bricks. Here the London Brick Company ran the largest brickworks in the world, which by the 1930s was churning out 500 million bricks a year. At its height the kilns fed 23 separate chimneys belching sulphurous smoke high into the sky. The brickworks survived several economic downturns, and a takeover by the Hanson Trust, but was finally halted by environmental legislation whose clean air standards became too expensive to meet. The whole place closed down five years ago, leaving four tall chimneys adrift on the mid Beds skyline and a vast site in need of redevelopment. [full history]
To house the brickworks' employees, a 'model' village was constructed alongside. It was named Stewartby in honour of LBC boss Halley Stewart, who sought to provide optimal accommodation for his 2000 workers. Its handful of streets wound round crescents and triangular greens, in an attractive suburban manner. The houses were built from brick, naturally, in large semi-detached pairs with spacious gardens. They're still there, still part of a rather special community, although with residents now sorely lacking in employment options. At the heart of Stewartby village is a community hall in a colonial style, complete with clocktower and cupola. In its day the hall would have hosted dances and concerts, whereas yesterday the highlight was a Christmas Fayre and the switching on of a few icicle lights. The building is set on a central axis, aligned via two mini-roundabouts to the main entrance to the brickworks. One long brick wall remains, with a central doorway leading nowhere much, and three forlorn flagpoles out front flying nothing. Beyond is an expanse of empty space and empty buildings, leading eventually to low arched brick kilns spreading out from the base of the surviving chimneys. Bedfordshire Council have plans for an industrial/residential renaissance, as yet unfulfilled, and somewhat at odds with the garden village alongside.
The surrounding area, between Bedford and the M1, is home to the Forest of Marston Vale. This is a major environmental feature, created in partnership with the Countryside Agency and the Forestry Commission, which aims to develop several dozen square miles of woodland over the next couple of decades. And at the heart of the developing forest is the Millennium Country Park, a wetland zone based around a number of flooded clay pits. The largest of these is Stewartby Lake, home to an impressive-looking sailing club, and with a three mile path around its perimeter. The other half of the park is greener, and marshier, with a sealed off central nature reserve. It's rather quiet over here, as soon as you step away from the car park, because all the action takes place within the central Visitor Centre. This is a spacious two-storey wood-framed building, complete with gift shop and a rather impressive cafe. Any remote facility that can attract several dozen visitors in late November is doing well, and I suspect the food offering (toasted sandwiches, yum) is responsible. But it would be a shame to get this far and not head out for a stroll, or a circuit, or a 20-step climb up to the central viewpoint.
And you can get here, if you want to visit, via the Marston Vale rail line. This backwater branch runs between Bedford and Bletchley, with one- or two-carriage trains rattling back and forth roughly hourly. The service isn't what commuters in the southeast are used to, but provides a lifeline for a string of communities nonetheless, and seemed relatively busy yesterday. Stewartby station is three stops from the northern end, and Millbrook one stop further down, with the Millennium Country Park linking the two. The latter sits at a bleak crossroads close to the Millbrook Vehicle Testing Centre, a large site with a swirl of circuits where all kinds of road transport is taken for a spin. But you won't see much, it's a private site, so a wetland walk to the brickworks makes a much more tempting proposition.
posted 01:00 :
Saturday, November 30, 2013JUBILEE: Ten line facts
• Although the Jubilee line was only created in 1979, the line we have now was built in five stages. An 1880-ish bit from Finchley Road to Wembley Park, an early 1930s northward extension to Stanmore, a late 1930s parallel overspill tunnel between Baker Street and Finchley Road, a 1970s extension to Charing Cross, and the millennial extension to Stratford.
• Originally, everything north of Finchley Road was the Metropolitan railway, then from 1939 to 1979 everything north of Baker Street was the Bakerloo line.
• The Jubilee line was originally going to be called the River line, then later the Fleet line. It was rebranded the Jubilee line to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee, just two years before opening.
• The Jubilee line has only one disused station, at Charing Cross, served by trains for only 20 years.
• The closest stations on the Jubilee line are Waterloo and Southwark. The farthest apart are Kingsbury and Wembley Park (followed by Canada Water and Canary Wharf)
• On a typical weekday Jubilee line trains run a total of 29208km (about 27000 on a Saturday, and 21000 on a Sunday)
• Jubilee line trains used to have six carriages but now have seven, allowing 6000 more passengers per day to use the line.
• Each train is 126m long and contains 234 seats. They're stabled at Stratford Market depot.
• The 1970s tunnels have a diameter of 3.85m, whereas the millennial tunnels have a diameter of 4.35m.
• The Jubilee line's official colour is Pantone 430.
» This months' nine Jubilee line posts on one page
» Silver Jubilee: one post per station, from May 2004
posted 07:00 :
JUBILEE: Alternative routes
The Jubilee Line nearly didn't go to Stratford. Previous plans, and there have been many, envisaged the extension weaving along the Thames instead. Some of those early schemes became the DLR, while the dogleg up to Stratford was prompted by the East London Rail Study in the late 1980s. If you want to read all about the history of the extension (and I mean all), try this comprehensive 118-page pdf report from UCL. In the meantime here's a brief sketchy summary of the Jubilee extension's evolution.
[Stanmore → Wembley Park → Baker Street → Green Park →
1965 → Charing Cross → Fenchurch Street → New Cross → Lewisham → Addiscombe]
1973 → Aldwych → Fenchurch Street → (DLR style minitram) → Barking] & Thamesmead]
1976 → Aldwych → Fenchurch Street → Millwall → North Greenwich → Custom House → Woolwich Arsenal → Thamesmead]
1984 → Aldwych → London Bridge → Greenwich → Abbey Wood → Thamesmead]
1988 → Waterloo → London Bridge or Bricklayers Arms → Isle of Dogs → Beckton] or Stratford → Tottenham Hale]
1988 → Aldwych → Ludgate Circus → London Bridge] or Stratford → Ilford] or Hainault]
1989 → Aldwych or Waterloo → London Bridge → Canary Wharf → Stratford]
1990 → Aldwych or Waterloo → London Bridge → Canary Wharf → North Greenwich → Stratford and/or Thamesmead]
1992 → Waterloo → London Bridge → Canary Wharf → North Greenwich → Stratford]
And while we're at it, here are some of the options the extension's planners considered when trying to link Green Park to Waterloo...
Green Park → Charing Cross → Temple → Waterloo
Green Park → Embankment → Waterloo
Green Park → Westminster → Waterloo
Green Park → almost St James's Park → Waterloo
Green Park → St James's Park → Millbank → Waterloo
posted 01:00 :
Friday, November 29, 2013I'm concerned about Cycle Superhighway 2.
I'm concerned not as a cyclist, but as someone who has to live beside it, walk beside it, breathe alongside it and occasionally ride buses along it.
I'm concerned because TfL plan to improve Cycle Superhighway 2 but aren't yet sure how. In particular I'm concerned they'll improve it for cyclists by making the road worse for the rest of us. This may not be a popular view, sorry, but then you probably don't live here.
Cycle Superhighway 2 runs from Aldgate to Bow along a major trunk road, the A11. It's a very busy road, because no parallel alternative exists along most of its length. It's a very wide road, wide enough that trams used to run down the middle between the traffic. It has two lanes for traffic in both directions, pretty much all the way along. And it has massive pavements, most of the time, easily wide enough to chop a bike lane out of. There's so much width to play with that it ought to be easy to carve out sufficient space for cyclists, vehicular traffic and pedestrians. But I fear that's not quite going to happen.
Last night a Cycling Superhighway 2 Safety Summit was held at City Hall. The Mayor's cycling supremo Andrew Gilligan met with Assembly Members and concerned cyclists to discuss how CS2 could be upgraded from a blue stripe of paint into something decent. You can check out all the tweets from the summit at #cs2summit.
It appears that TfL are currently working on three potential plans for improving CS2, three plans with very different rationales, costs and timelines. Further details will be announced before Christmas, we're told, and eventually one of the three (or something else) will be selected for implementation. Here are those three options, as announced last night, courtesy of tweets from the Tower Hamlets Wheelers.
Option 1: Semi segregation using bus lanes and some full segregation. Timescale: 6-7months #CS2Summit
Here's a photo of CS2's notorious "blue stripe of paint", daubed down half a lane of traffic in an entirely substandard way. But look again. See how wide Bow Road is? You could easily carve a segregated cycle lane out of this, on both sides, because there's plenty of room. Build a low kerb two metres from the edge of the pavement, paint the intermediate section blue, and hey presto, a fully segregated cycle lane. It could be as good as the CS2 extension to Stratford, in places, but the rest of the road would suddenly be a lot narrower. Stratford High Street used to be three lanes wide and now it's two, which is fine because that still leaves plenty of room for traffic. But Bow Road would go from two lanes to one, and that's not so good. Off-peak the road would probably cope, probably, but at rush hours the traffic would back up twice as far as it does now, and that's often bad enough. Imagine a two lane trunk road reduced to one, from Bow to Aldgate, simply to make way for an intermittent stream of narrow bikes. This is a road potentially five cars wide, but CS2 option 1 would leave room for only two. By the sound of it buses might get to share the left hand lane with cyclists for much of the way (good for buses, bad for bikes). But everything else heading to the A12 would be squeezed, which'd mean more traffic jams, slower journeys and an increase in the amount of pollutants I get to breathe in. Great for cyclists, in as many sections as TfL think they can segregate, but not so good for the rest of us.
Option 2: Full segregation outside carriageway (think CS2X) requires 2.1km reduced pavements and felling of mature trees. Timescale: Early 2015 #CS2Summit
Here's a photo of the only decent section of Cycle Superhighway 2, a brief 100 metre stretch westbound near Bow Church. For reasons unknown, but very welcome, here TfL decided to route CS2 up onto the pavement, perfectly segregated from all road traffic. I told you the pavement was wide, and see, I wasn't joking. Indeed so wide that since I took this photo in 2011 TfL have come back and installed a Cycle Hire docking station alongside and there's still plenty of room for pedestrians. Much, indeed most of the pavement between here and Aldgate offers similar opportunities to slice off a couple of metres and create a splendidly safe cycle lane. Option 2 is an excellent solution, potentially, preserving the main road two lanes wide and leaving sufficient space alongside for those of us on foot. But, three problems. Firstly the pavement isn't always this wide, there are bits where stations and churches and shops and markets and front gardens intrude, which would mean the on-pavement cycle lane would have to end. Secondly there are a lot of bus stops down the A11, and a lot of people waiting, which would demand the creation of several spacious bus stop bypasses, which could get awkward. And thirdly, as the initial tweet suggests, there's a lot of stuff in the way. Trees for a start, dozens of which would need to be chopped down to make way for cyclists - surely an eco-unfriendly own goal. And litter bins too, and bike hire stations, and bollards, and phone boxes, and car parking spaces... but most especially lampposts. Relocating lampposts requires digging up the pavement and relaying the cables two metres back, which I watched contractors doing when TfL created this on-pavement lane in 2011 and it took ages. I bet it cost a lot too, and it'd be a phenomenal task to complete lamppost relocation along both sides of two miles of CS2. Option 2 may be the most logical solution to providing shared space along Bow Road, but at what price?
Option 3: Two-way segregated track in the centre of road, eliminates Bow roundabout by using centre of flyover. Timescale: Unknown #CS2Summit
Blimey, I didn't see this one coming. It's the 100 year-old tram solution, running a separate stream of two-wheeled traffic down the middle of the road while leaving room for everything else to run on either side. That's clever, especially in that it would feed cyclists safely over the Bow Flyover, completely avoiding the Bow roundabout. But is this option also impractical? How safe would a segregated cycle channel along the middle of the road be to enter, or to leave? Not everyone joins a cycle lane at the beginning, nor leaves at traffic lights - our journeys are rarely so conveniently uniform. And surely exiting a central cycle lane would require turning across the flow of traffic, which is precisely the kind of manoeuvre that keeps getting cyclists killed. If option 3 were ever implemented I suspect the number of exits from the central lane would have to be seriously limited, a nannying solution to 'keep cyclists safe'. Meanwhile I have a different issue with cyclists being allocated the centre of the road, which is how much harder it would become for us pedestrians to cross the street. Currently we have many crossing points, all of them with a central island refuge allowing us to split our crossing into two stages. Take those islands away and we'd have to cross in one go, full width, at remodelled "all stop" pedestrian crossings. And I can tell you now, people aren't going to do that. They're going to nip across halfway when they see a gap, as they do now, before then having to dash through the added hazard of a two-way cycle lane halfway.
It is excellent that TfL are finally looking into upgrading CS2 from a blue strip of paint to something half decent. How big that improvement will be depends very much on which upgrade option is eventually selected, and how many mitigating tweaks have to be made to ensure the whole thing works. Some very difficult decisions need to be made, balancing the needs of various road users along a potentially lethal two mile street. So I hope the team trying to come up with a solution for cyclists also remember that some of us have to live, walk, breathe and travel alongside. And I remain concerned.
posted 01:00 :
Thursday, November 28, 2013post-Olympic update
Still ticking over
Where are we now? A year and ten weeks after London 2012. Four months after the northern half of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park opened, and five months before the south follows suit. The week that the first permanent resident moved in to the Athletes Village. Sometime, and no time. Here's my latest legacy report.
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park: London's newest megapark isn't megabusy. That's not entirely surprising, it being dull and cold and dark a lot in November. But even on weekend days when the sky's crisp and blue, punters aren't flocking to QEOP, which is a shame because this is still a pleasant greenspace. Those lawns the world flocked to sit on two summers ago remain (mostly) pristine, the walkways are readily accessible, and the views across the reed beds unexpectedly pleasant. According to recent figures the park has averaged 15000 visitors a week since it opened, which by my calculations is only just under half what the cablecar's managed. It'll surely be busier when the whole park's open, and when somebody actually lives nextdoor (and when someone pulls down the barriers between the neighbouring flats and the main body of the park). But for now it's just enough of a trek from Westfield, or the residential end of Hackney Wick, that to get here requires a special effort. [photo]
Opening a cafe-stroke-community-centre has been a masterstroke, as has prioritising the adventure playground, which seems much loved by those who've sought to find it. Most of those I've seen in the park have been heading to or from Timber Lodge, often parents of very small children on a big pushchair adventure. A small number of cyclists have so far worked out that QEOP is a good place for a spin. There are just enough paths for an interesting split level circuit, although as yet not quite enough of them join up, making a lengthier ride impractical. Indeed the lower lawns on the east banks of the Lea are invariably empty, courtesy of dead ends along the bank, plus two places where someone really should have installed steps or a ramp but access is blocked. Visitors are still cutting desire line paths across the grass, especially down from the top of the high mounds where the Olympic rings are being re-erected. Meanwhile the western half of the park is even quieter, because there's no attractive cafe here, so visitors simply nip straight over the footbridge to the eastern side instead. [photo]
Much is happening at the northern end of the park where construction of the Lee Valley VeloPark is underway. As well as the Velodrome - much loved during the Games - there'll be outdoor tracks for BMX and road bikes plus (apparently) 8km of mountain bike trails (though I can't quite work out where). The 1km road circuit is still being carved into the bankside, and in parts is now approaching the landscaping stage (looks fun). But the March 2014 opening date is still some way off, with an elite cycling event kicking things off a couple of weeks before the entire park is open properly. There aren't so many events taking place at QEOP during the winter. Expect a bit of basketball, a bit of boxing and, the weekend after next, a free vintage Christmas market, roller disco and real ale festival! One for the diary? In the meantime if the rest of you want to give QEOP a miss that's fine by me, and I'll enjoy the post-Olympic solitude even more. [photo]
Olympic Stadium: Having been mothballed for the best part of a year, something major's finally happening at the Olympic Stadium - the floodlights are coming down. The dismantling started last week, with a huge crane erected to gently lower the giant triangular structures one by one. Three years ago the floodlights hadn't even been switched on, but they're already coming down so that West Ham can build a proper roof. The stadium's crownlike rim has become a feature of the skyline round here, but by the end of January it'll have been entirely removed. For a close-up view take the wheelchair path between the Copper Box and Hackney Wick. This follows the Olympic Park's central bridge, where the BBC Studios were located during the Games, before turning back down a long ramp close to Stadium Island. The middle of QEOP looks fairly bleak, to be frank, and I'm not convinced the building work currently going on will make enough of a difference before this tarmac expanse fully reopens. [photo] [photo]
Aquatic Centre: The wings are long gone, and the true form of Stratford's new swimming pool has been revealed. That's involved inserting a high glass wall down either side, while leaving the grassy beaky bit on the front - it looks very swish. Meanwhile a brand new feeder road is being built to allow public vehicular access to the Aquatic Centre. Workmen are busy adding a junction to Montfichet Road, with a contraflow that's currently snarling up access from Stratford High Street to Westfield at peak times. The Orbit stands alongside tall and empty, with no visitors paying no money to go up to the top and look down over nothing much. [photo] [photo]
John Lewis: Sorry to disappoint you, but the London 2012 shop on the top floor has now closed. They ran down supplies to a few rucksacks, books and fish and chip forks, before finally pulling the plug a few months ago and presumably pulping all the remaining merchandise. Now the childrenswear department has moved in, as they always threatened, leaving the observation deck empty (bar a plastic Wenlock in the corner). This remains one of the best places to look down over the southern half of the Park, although it won't be in a couple of years time. The vast concrete expanse where the army ran security checks during the Games is destined to become The International Quarter, a cluster of high office blocks and expensive apartments, and received final planning permission earlier this week. [photo]
The Greenway: Meanwhile, tumbleweed. Before the Games this was the number one viewpoint, busy with tour groups and curious visitors come to stare at the Stadium. No more. Now the tours and the curious visitors go to the park proper, and this sewertop has reverted to a local cut-through. A few people walk out of their way to visit the View Tube, which ticks over, but only for the cafe and rarely for the upstairs view. They do a decent hot chocolate here, less tepid than I was served at Timber Lodge, if drinks are your thing. But until QEOP properly links up, next Easter, the southern end of the park has yet to spring back to life.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, November 27, 2013Last week there was the Night Tube Map.
Now there's the How Many Staff Will There Be At My Tube Station in 2015? map.
TfL have divided up all their Underground stations into four categories - Gateway, Destination, Metro and Local.
Gateway stations (blue on the map) are those where the most tourists are expected to arrive. There are only 6 of them (for example, Euston, Victoria) They won't have a ticket office, but they will have a Visitor Information Centre which can deal with ticketing queries. From the end of next year, if these proposals go ahead, these stations will have more visible staff than they do now (maybe five extra at the busiest times).
Destination stations (pink on the map) are busy stations in Central London with high volumes of passengers. There are 29 of them (for example, Baker Street, North Greenwich). They won't have a ticket office. From the end of next year they too will have more visible staff than they do now (maybe three extra at the busiest times).
Metro stations (orange on the map) are predominantly in inner London and serve communities with many regular users. There are 102 of them (for example, St James's Park, Bow Road). They won't have a ticket office. From the end of next year expect one additional visible member of staff at the busiest times (but expect a reduction in the number of station staff overall).
Local stations are all the others, that's 125 in total, and are generally in outer London. None of them are underground. They won't have a ticket office. They're split into two groups, A and B.
- Local A stations (green on the map) have "some operational complexity", like a lift or escalators, or points, or occasional congestion. There are 64 of them (for example Bromley-by-Bow, Hendon Central). From the end of next year expect no change in the visible number of staff - still one. But there'll be no Station Supervisor any more, only a roving manager responsible for half a dozen stations.
- Local B stations (purple on the map) have "no operational complexity", so aren't especially tough to run. There are 61 of them (for example Kew Gardens, Chorleywood). From the end of next year expect no change in the visible number of staff - still one. But that member of staff will only be a Customer Service Agent (one rung lower than the Customer Service Supervisor at a Local A station). Again there'll no longer be a Station Supervisor, only a roving manager responsible for half a dozen stations.
Meanwhile the seven Underground stations run by National Rail (yellow on the map) won't be affected at all, and most will continue to have a ticket office.
Overall that's more staff at a few central busy stations, but fewer staff overall elsewhere, with a general downskilling of employment competencies required. Expect 228 existing Station Manager roles to be slashed to 97, 1771 existing Station Supervisor roles to be cut back to 971 and 3748 Station Assistant roles to be trimmed to 3294. TfL are very deliberately utilising technology to create "a less expensive staffing model".
If you want the full list of which station is in which category, and what it all means, head over to London Reconnections. They have one of their usual in-depth broad and balanced posts on the subject (and another on the Night Tube), along with a busy thread underneath that's already approaching 100 comments.
Or you could see what TfL have to say. They've put together a website to explain their proposed raft of changes to staff, entitled fitforthefuture.tfl.gov.uk. Some of the content requires logging in, but the rest is public facing, so we can read all the details there. We learn that there'll be "an additional 450 employees in busy ticket halls helping to provide world-class customer service where it’s needed." We learn that TfL plan to "install an additional 120 ticket machines." And we're reassured that "every Tube station will be visibly staffed and controlled by our people during operating hours."
Anyone can download the 24 page booklet which attempts to explain everything to staff. Anyone can read a 50-page Powerpoint-style presentation which explains a lot of the rationale. Meanwhile on the website there's a list of FAQs containing over 100 frequently asked questions, which helps shed light on some of the finer detail of the forthcoming proposals. Here are five of those questions and their answers (and feel free to dig for more).
What are the proposals for ticket offices and ticket halls?
It is proposed that ticket offices would close in line with changing customer behaviour and a decision to bring customer service into the ticket hall, rather than kept behind barriers. Staff would be trained in customer service and would proactively help customers in the ticket hall and at ticket machines to ensure they have all the information they need for their journey.
When do you propose to make the changes?
Subject to consultation we expect staff to have their role and location confirmed by Autumn 2014, we would start implementing the changes across the network from Winter 2014 and no one would leave the organisation (under Voluntary Severance) until February 2015 at the earliest.
What improvements are being made to ticket machines?
Ticket machines will be upgraded to have more intuitive screens to help customers purchase their tickets more easily. All ticket machines on the network will be upgraded to have the same screens. They will be able to offer low value pay as you go refunds on Oyster cards.
1 in 5 people (21%) still buy their ticket from the ticket office – what are you going to do for these people? (blimey, 21%!)
We believe these sales can be absorbed in other channels, such as ticket machines. Customer research shows that the use of ticket machines is increasing and that customers want to be self-sufficient where possible when buying tickets. The proposals include an upgrade to existing ticket machines to make the screens more intuitive and easier for the customer to use. In addition, every station would have Customer Service Agents in the ticket halls to assist customers in buying the right ticket for their journey.
Who will be offered Voluntary Severance?
If you are currently a Station Control Room Assistant, Station Assistant Multi-Functional, Supervisor or Duty Station Manager, it is proposed that you will have the opportunity to apply for Voluntary Severance from mid December 2013. Subject to consultation, applications will be considered and the outcomes communicated in Spring 2014.
(and here are five Night Tube FAQs)
How many trains per hour can we expect to see delivered by the all night running?
The current plan is for four trains per hour. On the Northern line Charing Cross branch, this will be eight, with four serving each of the High Barnet and Edgware branches.
What does Night tube mean for track maintenance?
Track inspections will continue as required, but as we renew our track in modern form it doesn’t generally need to be inspected as frequently as our older legacy track. We are planning to develop improved critical components for our older track, designed to reduce failures and the volume of inspection and maintenance required. Those maintenance tasks that cannot be fitted into engineering hours will be carried out in longer track closures, possibly created by specially extending engineering hours.
Will this mean less Night Buses?
It is likely that the night bus network will change, with some frequency changes and possibly some new routes to complement the overnight Tube network. No routes are expected to be removed. London Buses will develop their plans over the coming months.
You are calling this Phase 1 – when is Phase 2?
Phase 2 is intended to introduce overnight service on some of the sub-surface lines after the Sub-Surface Upgrade is complete, possibly in 2019.
Why aren’t we running Trams and the Emirates Airline at night?
There is no or limited demand for travel on the Tramlink or Emirates Airline routes overnight. However we will continue to review the changes in travel patterns after we start running the Tube overnight.
posted 00:30 :
Tuesday, November 26, 2013"I want all our public servants to take Fridays off," the prime minister will say.
"We can do without them one day a week," the prime minister will insist.
"A longer weekend can save our society," Mr Cameron will pledge.
In a speech later David Cameron will announce exciting plans to drive forward our economy, end the pension gap, revive the private sector and cut the deficit, all in one great big soundbite gobbet. And he's very kindly sent his speech to us in advance, just to soften you all up for the big announcement, and to make sure everyone has all the proper words, even if he fluffs reading from the autocue, and to hog the news media for longer, and because pre-circulation is the done thing in political PR these days. And we're reporting it, word for word, because journalists are lazy these days and will allow anyone to set the agenda, no questions asked.
(Check against delivery)
"I have a dream of a brighter Britain," David Cameron will say. "A stronger Britain. A fairer Britain. A Britain winning in the global race."
"But too often our public servants drag us down. Well I want to change that," he is expected to say.
"So we had this idea at the thinktank," he will admit, "where we brainstormed the workload these public servants actually do, and surely they could do that in less time, and then we could pay them less. And we had this genius idea, and it solves virtually every political problem facing our country today, and we it called Downtime Friday."
"We want all public servants to get all their work done by Thursday, even if that means they have to work a bit later. Then they'll get Fridays off, which is obviously excellent, and will be a major boost to our retail economy by extending the weekend. But of course we'll pay them 20% less, because they're no longer working on Fridays, so they deserve less of our money. And that'll cut the government's wage bill by a fifth, allowing us to increase tax breaks for hardworking higher rate taxpayers, which is only fair given they won't be having Fridays off," he will say with a twinkle.
"This also means we'll be cutting public sector pensions by 20%, which is payback for the gold-plated handouts of the past, and will cut our national debt overnight, so it must be right. And we'll be closing public buildings on Fridays, like libraries, and courts, and town halls, and museums, and driving test centres, plus most of Whitehall," he will say, before adding "which will save millions of pounds on heating, and lighting, and cleaners, who'll get to work less too."
"Obviously there are some (he will emphasise "some") public servants who do important jobs. Doctors and nurses, for example, and our police and ambulance workers, and immigration officials, and teachers in free schools and academies. As recognition of their key role they will not be expected to skip Fridays, and we will only cut their pay by 10%. Naturally our marvellous armed forces will continue full-time on full pay, as will MPs," except he won't say the last bit out loud, it'll be in the small print of the white paper for journalists to find later.
"Unless we make big changes, we are heading for a future as a high-tax, uncompetitive backwater with soaring social costs and a falling quality of life," he will say. "Plus you might get Fridays off," he will conclude, before asking "And how good is that?"
In a speech later David Cameron will say all of this, or at least we hope he will because we just cut and pasted most of the text from an email and made a news story about it. That's even though it hasn't been officially announced yet, because this is a press release with a negative embargo, to be launched beforehand rather than after. All the parties do it, not just the government, they're all as bad as each other. And we print it as gospel, politely and obligingly, without ever wondering if they really are intending to say this, or just throwing out some half-baked idea for publicity. But it's reached the stage now where most policy is announced without a word having been uttered, and that's not news, that's news management. Whatever, I really wish they'd stop doing it, he will say.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, November 25, 2013As the four regular commuters on the cablecar know, no part of London is quite so exciting as the post-industrial Thames riverside. Whether soaring high above in your own exclusive pod, or pottering around the entertainment opportunities at ground level, you'll enjoy a memorable day out on the Dangleway and no mistake. Or so they say. Here are ten exciting things you can do after your trip...
Five exciting attractions at Dangleway North
1) Visit ExCel: This international exhibition and convention centre plays host to many an important event. And if you don't have a ticket for an event, you can always buy a cup of coffee or a baguette or something. I hope that yesterday's post conveyed some of the excitement of visiting ExCel when you don't have a ticket.
2) Visit The Crystal: German engineering company Siemens have built a spiky glass building called The Crystal in the heart of the Royal Docks in the hope of attracting tourists to a free interactive urban sustainability exhibition. At present, alas, visitors are more interested in sitting in the cafe nextdoor, assuming they even get this far. The exhibition is a bit worthy, a bit over-educational, and a bit empty. Nothing much has changed since it opened a year ago either, except there's now a £7.99 guidebook. Closed Mondays. [previous report]
3) Visit Going Underground - Our journey to the future: This temporary exhibition at The Crystal anticipates the future of tube travel in London. It lurks not inside the main building but in a separate shed round the back (accessible via a door that says it's alarmed, but isn't). Cross the pointless zebra crossing and step inside. Various interactive screens around the walls detail how the Underground might change in the future, although on closer inspection a large number of these turn out to be heating units pumping out warm air to keep this prefab warm.
Woo, it's a tube train! Actually it's only a mock-up of a tube train, about one carriage's worth, with a mirrored wall down one end of the interior so it appears longer. This is a Siemens Inspiro metro, which might be what TfL buys next for its deep tube lines or it might not, there being no actual plans at present. The most striking feature is the slanting front, with its big circular window surrounded by a red rim - I'd say rather more phallic than existing stock. And then you can actually step inside. The interior's a bit grey, but with purple poles and plush seating I can't see surviving a month's vomit on the Night Tube. There's also plenty of space, now that rush hour transference requires maximised standing room, plus a wheelchair zone I can imagine tripping over more often than I can imagine seeing someone using it. And oh, blimey, the carriage has electronic adverts. I suppose this had to come, but it's still a bit of a shock to see screens capable of attention-grabbing video instead of cheap strips of cardboard that occasionally fall out. Admittedly these screens don't animate, this being a simulation, but you'll get the idea. The exhibition is part-sponsored by CBS Outdoor UK, who provide all the adverts on the tube, and elsewhere in the exhibition they boast how interactive, smartphone-friendly, "value-added" advertising is on its way. One of the stations on the mock-up tube map has even been called Ad-land (just up the line from Sustainability Park and Cool Corner) because that's what a privately funded transport exhibition gets you. You have until 8th January to visit, although you're not really missing out if you don't.
4) Visit WakeUp Docklands: It's London's first and only "Cable Wake Park and Stand Up Paddleboard venue", a distinction which perhaps doesn't come as too much of a surprise. The facilities aren't especially usable in the winter, so hardcore watersporters hang out at the floating pub at the end of the dock, The Oiler. I would tell you more, except there wasn't anything more to see, and the website seems to be very very down.
5) Visit the shops: The dockside piazza by the cablecar is the ideal location for all your shopping needs. A Tesco Express provides tasty comestibles, and soft drinks, and toilet rolls. There used to be a Londis opposite but competition closed that down, and now the space has been reworked as an espresso bar and deli. There's up and coming for you. Or why not exchange your currency at the new Bureau de Change nextdoor, before returning to Tesco, because that's about it for shops really.
Five exciting attractions at Dangleway South
6) Visit the O2: You might have a ticket for an exciting event here, in which case arriving by cablecar is considerably cheaper than parking in the official car park. If you don't have a ticket then there are lots and lots of restaurants and a cinema - facilities which can't be found anywhere else in the capital. Fill a few minutes between dining by sampling Sky and Nissan's promotional walk-in exhibits. Or splash out £13 to enter the British Music Experience, Britain's only interactive museum of popular music, which is so under-frequented that you can generally guarantee a queue-free visit.
7) Visit Peninsula Square: When the O2 opened in 2007, this curving piazza was described as "the centrepiece of Greenwich Peninsula" and "a leisure destination for Londoners and tourists". Alas Peninsula Square's not lived up to expectations. The splurty fountain attracts the occasional small child, the living wall attracts nobody, while the video screen displays nothing of any genuine interest. Indeed there's bugger all here, not even a sausage stall or coffee cart, presumably all the better to funnel you inside some more expensive dining experience. In 2013 the square's become a bleak plaza to stride through, and an entirely wasted opportunity.
8) Visit The Emirates Aviation Experience: Still ticking over in a small room by the cablecar is this interactive domestic airline exhibit. A £3 ticket gets you some Lego, some screens and not much else, while the more exciting cockpit simulator clocks in at £45 per half-hour session. And it's only here for a period of 10 years, according to the website, so best hurry. [previous report]
9) Visit The InterContinental Hotel: If you ever came here when this was the Millennium Dome, you might have stepped out the back to enjoy Meridian Quarter. This riverside landscape rubbed up against the zero line of longitude, and was planned as a wetland environment that would gradually develop over time. Alas it's been sealed off and left to decay since New Year's Eve 2000, used as storage space for the O2's backroom operations. The meridian line survives for now, still with 14 national poems embedded into the tarmac. But diggers have moved in alongside and are busy ripping up the reedbeds and boardwalks to build a hotel. I reported on the developer's quest for planning permission back in 2010, but only now is the InterContinental starting to rise. All that's present thus far is an expanse of churned earth and several pillars rising irregularly from the ground like a concrete Giant's Causeway. But by 2015 there'll be a 19-storey, 452-room five-star hotel on this site, complete with Sky Bar and Europe's largest pillar-free ballroom. If you're a rich international investor never fear, a 23 storey development offering 100 serviced apartments is due to be built alongside. And if you live locally already, your view of the Dome is about to be tarnished by a run of disruptive towers, as the Vauxhallisation of North Greenwich begins in earnest. [previous report]
10) Visit proper Greenwich: Let's be fair, the prime tourist location hereabouts isn't North Greenwich, it's a mile or two further south. That's Maritime Greenwich with its Old Royal Naval College, plus the National Maritime Museum and Cutty Sark, then Greenwich Park and the world famous Royal Observatory. If you want a proper day out with heritage and stuff that's actually worth seeing, come here. Don't waste your time at a Teflon tent full of restaurants, or poking round a sustainability exhibition near a Tesco Express. Stuff the cablecar, and visit proper Greenwich instead.
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