diamond geezer

 Thursday, April 24, 2014

In 1936, London Transport brought out the first in a series of three books of Country Walks. The idea was very simple, to encourage Londoners out to the extremities of the network to take a stroll in the countryside. People from inner streets and suburban avenues got to enjoy the tracks and byways, fields and riverbanks, and London Transport got to sell more off-peak tickets on otherwise empty tubes and buses, so everyone was a winner.

Three books of Country Walks were produced over the next couple of years. Each came with a specially commissioned Eric Ravilious woodcut on the cover. Each cost threepence, which for over 100 pages was damned good value. Each contained from a dozen to two dozen walks, most of which were approximately around the ten mile mark. Each came with a full page route map, something proper to follow rather than an artistic sketch. And most came with a black and white photo showing some of the delights you might see if you were to venture along the way. Sandwich the lot between a month by month list of flowers in bloom and a copy of the Country Code, and you had a fine book to grace any shelf or knapsack.

During the 1950s London Transport brought out the entire series again, suitably revised and updated, this time with a cover price of two shillings and sixpence. By the start of the 1970s another set of three was on sale, a little more modern in their outlook, but still blessed by those same Ravilious woodcuts on the front. I remember them being on sale in my local tube station, and I also remember that I never bought a copy, which may have had a lot to do with being only six at the time. As a car-less family we were very much the book's target audience, but day-long hikes weren't really suitable for children of infant school age, and 30p was a lot of money in those days.

Thirty years later I'm much more target audience, so I wondered if I could get my hands on a copy. I wanted the 1970s book rather than the originals, because that was the version I could have had but didn't. And a quick search of the internet revealed that yes, people did indeed have copies for sale. Prices varied somewhat, sometimes in relation to condition but also according to website, with some Amazon sellers demanding peanuts and some bespoke sellers charging rather more. I broke the habit of a lifetime and engaged in the digital transaction thing, and hey presto within a week my small blue book arrived.

Blimey it was in good condition - almost new, indeed almost as if I'd owned it myself. I treat books with enormous reverence, never ever breaking the spine, folding a page or even scuffing the cover. So I dipped inside very carefully and soaked in the typeface, the vintage photos and the edge-to-edge Ordnance Survey maps. According to the introduction maps of the Underground are available by writing to the Public Relations Officer at 55 Broadway SW1, while full details of London Country Bus services can be obtained by dialling Reigate 42411. I should, perhaps, never complain about the inadequacies of the updated TfL website again.

Book One contains thirteen walks in total, so obviously I flicked through (carefully) to see where they went. Here's a list, transcribed for posterity (or alternatively someone on Etsy has taken photos of the contents and you can see for yourself).
Walk 1 (10 miles) BLACK PARK: Langley, Black Park, Denham, Uxbridge
Walk 2 (6 miles) FOLLOWING THE PINN: Ickenham, Ruislip, Ruislip Woods, Pinner
Walk 3 (10 miles) THE LEE CHURCHES: Chesham, Pednor The Lee, Chesham
Walk 4 (10½ miles) DOWN ON THE FARM: Chesham, Ashley Green, Hockeridge Bottom, Ley Hill, Chesham
Walk 5 (11 miles) ST ALBANS TOUR: St Albans, St Michael's, Bedmond, St Albans
Walk 6 (11 miles) ESSEX SPIRES: Ongar, Greenstead, Stanford Rivers, Navestock, Kelvedon Hatch, Ongar
Walk 7 (8 miles) THE FRINGE OF THE FOREST: Chingford, High Beach, Upshire, Bell Common, Epping
Walk 8 (6 or 14½ miles) DOWNE AND AROUND: Farnborough, Downe, Cudham, Knockholt, Chevening, Knockholt Pound, Farnborough
Walk 9 (13½ miles) THE NORTH DOWNS: Caterham, Woldingham, South Hawke, Oxted, Tandridge, Tilburstow Hill, Godstone, Caterham
Walk 10 (9 or 11 miles) HEATH AND HILL: Tattenham Corner, Headley, Headley Heath, Mogador, Walton-on-the-Hill
Walk 11 (9½ miles) THE SURREY COMMONS: Leatherhead, Stoke D'Abernon, Oxshott, Esher Common, Claygate, Chessington

INNER LONDON SECTION
Walk 12 (9 miles) RODING TO THE CHING: Wanstead, Leytonstone, Highams Park, Chingford
Walk 13 (11 miles) CAESAR'S CAMP: Wimbledon Common, Richmond Park, Ham Common, Petersham, Richmond Park, Wimbledon Common, Putney Heath
There are some enticing walks on that list, as well as some less well known places you might never think to go. The selection's much closer to the capital than most of the rambles to be found in Country Walks' modern equivalent, the Time Out Book of Country Walks. But that's because back then every walk had to be accessible by underground or red or green bus, and the London Country network only went so far. Things have changed a tad since then. The Metropolitan still stretches to Chesham (walks 2 and 3) but the Central was withdrawn from Ongar (walk 6) twenty years ago. As for buses, your Oyster card will still get you to Farnborough (8) and Leatherhead (11), but St Albans (5) is alas now off limits.

It'd be nice if TfL did something similar today, a publication to encourage us to visit the outer reaches of their empire. A Chiltern ramble from Chalfont and Latimer (on the Met), perhaps, or a North Downs climb at Box Hill (by 465), or a Kentish hike from Chartwell (by 246). But TfL don't produce publications like this any more, because books of country walks aren't on-message and fail to match with key performance indicators. There is the excellent Walk London campaign, of course, but that's increasingly underfunded and in danger of becoming little more than a series of Facebook updates.

There was a time when TfL promoted out of town destinations with vigour. You've probably seen those gorgeous posters at the London Transport Museum promoting Bluebell Time at Kew Gardens, Dorking By Motor Bus, or To Twickenham By Tram. Alas, no more. Instead we have campaigns for select types of transport, generally those commercially sponsored, prioritising the mode of travel rather than the destination. The official TfL Twitter feed has mentioned the River Bus, @BarclaysCycle and @EmiratesAirLDN several times over the last week, for example, but never once suggested somewhere they might take you.

I stepped out on one of the Book One country walks over the Easter weekend, and I'll tell you tomorrow how that went. I also bought Book Two, because I can see me walking a fair few more of these, so eclectic is the selection of places visited. Both copies of course remain pristine, even after a ten mile hike, so please don't ask to borrow either of them, you can jolly well source your own. And if anyone at TfL's ever interested in putting together a collection of 21st century Country Walks accessible by London bus or tube, or in creating a pdf or app on their behalf, I think that would be a mighty fine thing.

 Wednesday, April 23, 2014

For St George's Day, to St George's Fields SE1.

The south side of the Thames built up much more slowly than the north, being mostly marshland, and the largest part of this was St George's Fields. Originally Southwark Field, this medieval expanse lay inland from the Thames between what's now Waterloo station and Elephant and Castle. The land originally gained its saintly name from St George's Church on Borough High Street, in whose parish it sat, although no parishioners lived this far out. Only tracks and causeways crossed the fields, one of these leading eastward from the Horseferry at Lambeth in the general direction of Kent. Londoners used the common land to grow crops and to graze animals, until the development of two new river crossings in the mid 18th century brought greater importance to the area. One of these was Westminster Bridge, the other Blackfriars Bridge, and it was the latter that made the greatest mark.

The architect of Blackfriars Bridge, a certain Robert Mylne, built a grand Parisian-style boulevard due south into St George's Fields. This ran for almost a mile down to the junction with Borough Road, and here Mylne created a circus with a stone obelisk at its centre. New roads were built radiating out in all directions, with the intention of creating a well-to-do neighbourhood of Georgian terraces where previously there'd been only marshland and a pub. The Dog and Duck tavern was replaced by the relocated Bethlem Hospital, otherwise known as Bedlam, and now the home of the Imperial War Museum. The area built up swiftly after that, not always to Mylne's high standards, but the road pattern and especially the obelisk survive.



It's not been here all the time since 1771, having been relocated to nearby Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park in 1905 to make way for a Diamond Jubilee clocktower. Indeed it wasn't until 1998 that the now-listed obelisk was returned to its rightful place at the hub of St George's Circus. You'll most likely see it from the bus, because several routes pass this way, standing tall and lonely in the centre of a large paved piazza. This isn't the most pedestrian friendly of spaces, neither is the surrounding road a complete loop thanks to a one-way street on London Road. But you can get right up close to the inscription - in part tribute, in part grandiose milepost.
North: ERECTED IN XI YEAR OF THE REIGN OF KING GEORGE THE THIRD MDCCLXXI
East: ONE MILE FROM PALACE YARD, WESTMINSTER HALL
South: ONE MILE, CCCL FEET FROM FLEET STREET
West: ONE MILE, XXXX FEET FROM LONDON BRIDGE
Around the edge of St George's Circus the buildings aren't quite so impressive - a tandoori restaurant, a Subway, a wall of 90s student flats and a stack of very 60s offices. The latter, and a considerable length of Blackfriars Road beyond, are under immediate threat of redevelopment from a joint project between Barratt Homes and Southwark Council. To be fair much of what's planned to disappear is ugly postwar commercial architecture, but after the urban cleansing debacle at the nearby Heygate Estate it's hard to view such schemes objectively. Barratt's plans are for a "residential-led, mixed-use scheme" and include what they describe as a "landmark" concave building facing the circus, although their artist's impression suggests mundane and bland to me. Instead the most interesting building hereabouts is concealed behind the brown façade beside Subway - that's the subsurface depot for the Bakerloo Line.

And beyond that, never quite joining up with the circus, lies St George's Road. This broad street runs along the same alignment as that medieval track from Lambeth Palace, skirting the edge of long-vanished fields. It's now part of the one-way system hereabouts, and rather busy, leading up from Elephant and Castle towards Westminster Bridge Road. It's not a retail sort of road, more a mix of residential, religious and educational use. The E&C end's the bleakest, although with some fine turn-of-the-19th tenements at St George's Buildings. Various denominations of faith and non-denominational school get a look-in, plus a few surviving terraces of aspirational Georgian townhouses.

The IWM looks out towards St George's Road across Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, the latter given to the LCC by Lord Rothermere in 1934 and named after his mother. The park's relatively quiet at the moment, what with the museum being closed for redevelopment, but arguably this creates a better setting for the Dalai Lama's Tibetan Peace Garden. I particularly like the Ice Age Tree Trail, a collection of 34 species that colonised these isles following glacial retreat, including all your well-known trees like oaks and willows but also a wild service tree and a wych elm.

And across the street is St George's Cathedral, which in 1848 became the first Roman Catholic cathedral to be built in England since the Reformation. Its architect was Augustus Pugin, more famous for the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster, although this is a far less gothic creation. Step inside to stand in the lofty arched nave, which alas isn't original but a postwar rebuild following heavy bombing. Look out for the restored remains of Pugin's high altar frontal in one of the chapels, and a more modern shrine dedicated to the Patron Saint of Migrants alongside the confessional booths. And where better to pay one's respects on St George's Day, than in the cathedral named after the fields named after the parish church named after the patron saint brought home from the Crusades?

» For a truly in-depth history of St George's Fields, Patrick tells all

 Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I had been, thus far, unimpressed by the Year Of The Bus.

The YOTB was announced very quietly, you may remember, at the end of last year. It was to be the follow-up to 2013's highly successful 150th anniversary of the Underground, this time hanging on the 60th anniversary of the Routemaster and the 75th of the RT. But as 2014 began nothing much bus-related actually happened. Tube 150 had the huge advantage of kicking off with a bang with the actual anniversary in the second week of January, whereas the YOTB began with a campaign resembling tumbleweed. Some fashion photos went on top of some bus shelters along Piccadilly, and a New Bus For London got painted silver, but other than that things were rather quiet.

And then these stickers appeared.


Someone had finally come up with a logo for the YOTB, better late than never, and started slapping it on bus stops around the capital. I think it's only ever appeared inside Zone 1, there being too many bus stops throughout the rest of London to justify the expense. It's not exactly a top quality sticker either, more some vinyl that'll peel off easily later, and too small to cover the entire board, and not always stuck on very accurately either. That St George's Circus example above is a bit of a mess, for example.

And then the YOTB logo started appearing on the side of buses.


This doesn't appear on all buses, indeed I'd say a minority, but watch out next time you're boarding in case yours has this emblem stuck on the side. It's a peculiar graphic, in that only half is given over to the YOTB logo, and the other half is devoted to promoting an advertising company. Exterion Media is TfL's outdoor advertising partner, formerly known as CBS Outdoor International (having being rebranded following a private equity takeover in January). It's telling that TfL weren't able to add a logo to the exterior of their own buses without including an advert alongside... or else it's a sign that nobody at TfL would have wasted the company's money on YOTB branding had not a commercial concern stepped in to pay.
Year of the Bus is supported by and delivered in partnership with Exterion Media, Abellio, Arriva London, Clear Channel, Go-Ahead London, Metroline, RATP Dev UK Limited, Stagecoach, Wrightbus, Optare and telent Technology Services.
Things stepped up a notch when the TfL Twitter account started tweeting bus-related facts and sticking #YOTB at the end.
» BUS FACTS: The 25 is the busiest bus route carrying over 23 million people a year, more than the population of Australia #YOTB
» BUS FACT: The first red London buses were introduced in 1907 - all buses in the fleet are painted in Pantone 485c #YearoftheBus #YOTB
» We have improved our on-board iBus system by introducing a digital clock for our passengers’ convenience #YOTB
» Bus Fact – Jill Viner was the first female bus driver in 1974 #YOTB
» Smell like teen spirit at your bus stop? Kurt Cobain is one of the celebs featured in Juergen Teller’s bus stop tops photo exhibition #YOTB
I didn't make that last one up, by the way. But it is the only genuinely YOTB-related tweet. The digital clock that's appeared on the iBus display in the last fortnight isn't really a YOTB initiative, for example, it would have happened anyway. Indeed up to this point I'd say there's been something of a feeling of desperation in the Year Of The Bus's promotional narrative.

Hurrah, then, for the announcement of actual proper Year Of The Bus events. A couple of weeks ago the London Bus Museum stepped in and organised a mass heritage run along route 22, which was of course excellent. The London Transport Museum are running several bus-related talks, including one on Routemasters (not yet sold out) next Tuesday. Rather more excitingly, for people who like buses, a number of bus garages are throwing open their doors for a series of Open Days over the summer. Those confirmed so far are as follows.
Saturday 10 May: Catford Bus Garage
Saturday 7 June: Alperton Bus Garage
Saturday 21 June: Stockwell Bus Garage
Saturday 28 June: Fulwell Bus Garage
Saturday 5 July: Potters Bar Bus Garage
Saturday 19 July: Walworth Bus Garage
For people who like modernist architecture, the really exciting one on that list is Stockwell Bus Garage whose concrete roof is a post-war classic. And for everyone else, the highest profile event takes place the following day in the heart of the West End.
Sunday 22 June - Bus Cavalcade in Regent Street
Around 30 buses, spanning the last century, from Horse Buses through to the very latest New Routemaster will be on display. Visitors will be able to explore the buses and take part in family activities.
It takes a lot of clout to close Regent Street for the day, not least because it buggers up the buses, so this is clearly The Big One in terms of PR mileage and public consciousness. You might well want to mark the third weekend in June in your diary now. You might also note the full-on 60th birthday party for the Routemaster scheduled a few weeks later.
Finsbury Park, London – 12th & 13th July 2014
In 2014, the very first of London's famous Routemaster buses, RM1, will be sixty years old. The Routemaster Association will be commemorating this significant anniversary by staging a birthday party for RM1 at Finsbury Park – and everyone is welcome to join in.
A number of smaller events are planned later in the year, notably the restoration of a 100 year-old Battle Bus to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. But all the best stuff appears to be happening in June and July. Calling it The Year Of The Bus may be overstretching things somewhat, but the Two Months Of The Bus promise to be rather special.

 Monday, April 21, 2014

I've been suffering from reservations recently. That's because I've been travelling on a lot of trains outside London, and you only get reservations on trains outside London. They started out as means to ration seats on busy services, but have metamorphosed into apparatus to allow people to book early and pay less for their tickets. I'm not a big fan of reservations, and here are a dozen reasons why.

1) Reservations take forever to come out of the ticket machine. Remember when tickets were single small pieces of card? Now they're issued as multiple coupons, sometimes 5 or 6 at a time, so there's a real risk that you accidentally leave one in the machine and then your ticket is useless. Also I always end up wasting time at the barrier trying to work out which of the identical orange rectangles is the one I currently need.

2) It's not always obvious where your lettered coach is going to stop before the train comes in. Some train companies make this obvious and stick letters on the platform. Others not so, and you can end up having to walk the length of the train very quickly ("Where's coach C? Where's coach C?) if you guess incorrectly.

3) Sometimes staff don't manage to put the paper reservations in the backs of the seat in time. If the train's delayed at its start point and there's no time for the guard to nip through with the cards, suddenly the entire reservation system collapses and the train degenerates into chaos.

4) Those electronic reservation indicators aren't especially helpful. They're hard to read, and unlike old fashioned paper reservations they never say which stations the seat is reserved between, just "Reserved". The more information the better, but these give far less.

5) You don't always get you what you asked for. On one journey last week I specifically ordered a window seat, but Virgin trains gave me one of their special glassless window seats with no view whatsoever, the bastards. There's no way I'd have chosen to sit there given free choice, but the reservation selection software dumped me in the dark seat anyway.

6) You don't always get the chance to ask for what you do want. I usually prefer a double seat, not a table seat, because that way I can avoid being suddenly surrounded by three loud people I didn't ask to endure a journey beside. But train companies don't offer the option of "not a table seat", they only offer "table seat?".

7) Reservations are inconsistently policed. You go to all that effort to sit in precisely the right seat, and then the ticket inspector doesn't even bother looking at your reservation. Or he gets all heavy-handed ("Can I see your railcard and reservation please?") and makes you feel like a guilty cheapskate.

8) Reservations are rarely policed. Even when someone official actually looks at a reservation, they're usually only interested whether you're on the right train and very rarely check to see if you're in the right seat. Which is annoying if somebody else isn't sitting in their proper seat.

9) Reservations generally have to be policed by passengers, not staff. It's always embarrassing to have to say "Excuse me, I think you're sitting in my seat." I walked onto one long distance train recently to my find my reserved seat occupied by one of a group of foreign students, and decided against saying anything because I didn't want to end up surrounded by the other seven.

10) It's not always obvious which seat number is by the window and which is by the aisle. These people who design graphics think they've made it oh so obvious which is which, but they're wrong. So if you turn up and one of the two seats is occupied, it's hard to argue that they're in the wrong one.

11) A heck of a lot of reserved seats never seem to get used. A byproduct of the insistence on printing a reservation with your ticket is that a lot of people never turn up, or sit somewhere else, or take another train. And that can leave a forest of seats annoyingly unavailable, when really nobody ever had any intention of sitting in them.

12) You end up crammed in the cheap carriage. The most crowded carriage on a long-distance train is usually the one full of people with reservations. The booking software tends to dump everyone together, creating a mostly-reservations carriage, and leaving the rest of the train (where I'd much prefer to sit) rather emptier. Would it really hurt to space us out a bit more? Or indeed simply to reserve us onto the train, not into a specific seat?

There's nothing worse than an automated inconsistent bureaucratic suboptimal incompetent nannying system, and that's what rail ticket reservations appear to have evolved into.

 Sunday, April 20, 2014

50years@BBC2
1964 Play School, Horizon, Match Of The Day, The Likely Lads; 1965 Call My Bluff, Man Alive, Not Only But Also; 1966 The Money Programme, Chronicle; 1967 The Forsyte Saga, colour television; 1968 Gardeners' World; 1969 Pot Black, Civilisation, Q; 1970 The Goodies; 1971 Open University; Face The Music; The Old Grey Whistle Test; Play Away; 1972; 1973 The Ascent Of Man; 1974; 1975 Fawlty Towers, Arena; 1976 I Claudius, One Man And His Dog; 1977 Abigail's Party, Top Gear; 1978 The Great Egg Race; 1979 Life On Earth, Not The Nine O'Clock News, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; 1980 Great Railway Journeys of the World, Newsnight, The Adventure Game, Yes Minister, Training Dogs The Woodhouse Way; 1981 See Hear, The HitchHiker's Guide To The Galaxy; 1982 The Young Ones; 1983 Boys From The Blackstuff; 1984 Floyd On Fish, Threads; 1985 Live Aid, Edge of Darkness, Acorn Antiques; 1986 A Very Peculiar Practice, A Bit Of Fry And Laurie, The Life And Loves Of A She Devil; 1987 French And Saunders, Tutti Frutti; 1988 Red Dwarf, Def II; 1989 The Late Show; 1990 Have I Got News For You, The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit; 1991 Probably The Best Logos In The History Of The World Ever; 1992 Absolutely Fabulous, Later... with Jools Holland; 1993 Shooting Stars, The Wrong Trousers; 1994 Ready Steady Cook, The Day Today, The Fast Show; 1995 Room 101; 1996 Never Mind The Buzzcocks, This Life, Sister Wendy's Story of Painting, Our Friends In The North; 1997 Ground Force, I'm Alan Partridge, Robot Wars, Holding On, Teletubbies; 1998 Goodness Gracious Me, The Royle Family; 1999 The League Of Gentlemen, The Naked Chef; 2000 The Weakest Link; 2001 The Office; What Not To Wear; 2002 Look Around You, Balamory; 2003 Little Britain, Restoration, QI; 2004 The Catherine Tate Show, Who Do You Think You Are?; 2005 The Apprentice, Mock The Week, Dragons' Den, Springwatch; 2006 The Choir; 2007 The Restaurant, In The Night Garden, The Tudors; 2008 Maestro; 2009 Miranda, Pointless; 2010 The Great British Bake Off, Great British Railway Journeys, Wonders of the Solar System; 2011 Stargazing Live; 2012 Line of Duty; 2013 The Great British Sewing Bee, The Wrong Mans, An Adventure in Space and Time; 2014 Inside No. 9, House of Fools

Leith Hill Place
Location: nr Coldharbour, Surrey RH5 6LY [map]
Open: Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday (11am-5pm) (Apr-Oct)
(welcome leaflet)

One of the National Trust's newest,or at least most recently-opened, properties sits on the slopes below Leith Hill. It's called Leith Hill Place, perhaps not surprisingly, and is of note not because of its architecture but because of the astonishingly talented dynasty that lived there. In particular that's three families instantly recognisable from their surnames; Wedgwood. Darwin. Vaughan Williams. That's quite some dynasty.

The house is a fairly standard country affair, by which I mean it's big and gabled and surrounded by a considerable chunk of land. The shell dates back to 1600, but was done up in Palladian style in the 18th century by Richard Hull, the bloke who built the observation tower on the nearby hill. It's just the sort of house a high-flying businessman might own, and so it was in 1847 that Staffordshire pottery magnate Josiah Wedgwood III snapped it up. That III should be a clue that he's not the Josiah Wedgwood, merely his grandson, who escaped the business early to move to Surrey. He married his cousin Caroline Darwin, sister of the famous Charles, who in turn married Josiah's sister Emma. I hope you're following this.

Joe and Caroline had four children, one of whom - Margaret - married a Gloucestershire vicar called Arthur Vaughan Williams. And their youngest child was called Ralph, who moved to Leith Hall Place in 1875 when his father died prematurely, and who later grew up to become a famous composer. When the house eventually passed back to him in 1944, Ralph met with the National Trust the following day to begin the transfer of the property. The house finally opened, fullish-time, to the public last summer. It's still not really ready, currently being described as "a house in transition", but the NT wanted people in before they'd completely finished restoration. A floor and a bit are open, but you're assured of a warm welcome if you visit.

The house is easily missed, indeed if you follow the orange waymarkers of Leith Hill's woodland walk it's not even signposted, despite being a few yards away. But if you walk up the lane, or park in the Rhododendron Wood car park, you should find the (not especially well signposted) front door. This brings you to the entrance hall, and the official National Trust Greeter, where you can pay your four pounds or flash your card. Ralph learned to play the piano in this hallway, so they've installed one here that wasn't his so visitors can have a go. A much nicer antique piano has been positioned by the window in the Wedgwood Room, also playable, but don't touch the special instrument in the Terrace Room because that's for recitals only.

Rest assured the tea is excellent. Volunteers bake their own cakes in the kitchen, from which the most gorgeous smell of flapjack was emanating on my visit. Refreshments aren't actually priced, you're asked to leave a donation, and then there's the chance to eat and drink your purchases in the Wedgwoods' actual dining room. And the view's good, isn't it? The lawn drops away beyond the rear terrace to reveal the golden farmland of the Weald stretching off as far as the South Downs. You can stand and stare while the music of RVW plays from a recording, or you can step out through the courtyard and enjoy the garden down to the ha-ha at the end. For a completely different aspect, head down to the cellar to see some Egyptian-type murals, more recently graffitied over by pupils at the boarding school Leith Hill Place became.

It won't take you long to look around, afternoon tea excepted. But there is one additional treat upstairs, a 40 minute Ralph Vaughan Williams "soundscape". This covers the length of the second floor and is accessible only by timed ticket, not that there seems much danger of these running out. If the NT volunteer can press the controls correctly, a four-part recording traces Ralph's life story from his Leith Hill Place childhood to a second wife and international acclaim. The first half's narrated by Virginia McKenna, and the last part is really quite moving as the Pastoral Symphony gently fades away.

It's much more a four quid visit than a tenner, but none the worse for that. You could hang on a couple years until they've done the place up properly, but thus far there's music and cake, and an evocative homage to a prodigious talent.

 Saturday, April 19, 2014

Southeast England's not renowned for its mountains. The best we have are hills, and even they aren't much compared to what the rest of the country boasts. But there are some significant peaks in the Chilterns and along the Downs, even if you don't need your climbing boots to reach the summit. And the highest of the lot - at 294 metres the highest point in southeast England - is Leith Hill.

Leith Hill's in Surrey, a few miles south of Dorking on the Greensand Ridge. Box Hill's not far away on the parallel North Downs, but a full 70 metres shorter. It's also much easier to get to, whereas Leith Hill provides more of a challenge. It's a drive-to sort of place, which suits Surrey down to the ground, with five separate car parks spaced out a reasonable distance from its base. A rambler-friendly minibus runs from Dorking on summer Sundays, which saves a five mile hike. Or you can get the train from Victoria down to Holmwood station, any day of the week except Sunday, and from there it's a couple of miles cross-country. Yesterday I did the latter, a most pleasant stroll, and made my assault on the hill from the east.

Much of the surrounding area is owned by the National Trust, and a lot of it's undulating and wooded. Not for nothing did the Olympic cycling road race head for the lanes of Surrey, and I passed a lot of men in lycra yesterday enjoying the contours hereabouts. I also passed a heck of a lot of pheasants, ambling across the fields and skulking into copses, so presumably a lot of the local residents enjoy a good shoot. Plus there were bluebells, oh boy were there bluebells, probably more and more widely spread than I've ever seen anywhere else. Several slopes were a veritable carpet of blue, like some sort of Countryfile porn, ideal for lustful admiration and the taking of copious photos.

After the relative peace of the surrounding slopes the summit of Leith Hill can be rather busy. All those families who've trooped up from the car park slump here and stare out across the view, which it has to be said is damned good. Cyclists rest and drop their bikes awhile, and dogs enjoying longer walkies than usual pause to frolic on the grass. Yesterday there was a lengthy queue at the servery hatch waiting for hot and cold drinks, home-cooked flapjacks and freshly-prepared sandwiches. The previous proprietor moved on last year when the NT demanded a 7-days-a-week franchise, and the new lot are more expensive but one suspects more likely to impress.

At the very summit, beside the trig point, stands a mock gothic tower. This was built by local resident Richard Hull in 1765, partly to act as an observation point, but mostly because the hill fell fractionally short of the magic height of one thousand feet. Richard's 20m Prospect Tower made all the difference, rising above the trees to afford a broader panorama, and he was duly buried underneath when he died. Today the tower's accessible on payment of £1.50, or a flash of one's National Trust Card, including a brief historical display in the tiny room halfway up the spiral staircase.

On a clear day they say you can see 13 counties from the top, so swiftly does the land fall away in each direction. To the south it's easy to watch planes coming into land at Gatwick Airport, considerably lower than you, while if visibility's good the Shoreham Gap may permit sight of the English Channel. To the north you should see London, and maybe Dunstable Downs, although it was a little grey in the distance to catch that yesterday. There is a free telescope, but I'd brought binoculars, and I definitely spotted the Wembley Arch, London Eye, Shard and Docklands cluster. Indeed standing on the top of Leith Hill Tower I was rather higher than Canary Wharf, even slightly higher than the Shard, and absolutely grinning at the prospect.

When you've finally tired of the view, or if you'd like to enjoy it from a different angle, the National Trust have laid on several well-signed walking routes around the estate. The green route's perhaps the least thrilling, but passes the highest cricket ground in southeast England above the village of Coldharbour. The pink route tours the bluebells in Frank's Wood so is magnificent at present, although the mile-long circuit is perhaps less of a must for the rest of the year. The 2½ mile orange route is more definitely the way to go, touring various chunks of woodland and also the Rhododendron Wood, whose flowers are coming into their own at the moment and putting on quite a display.

I thought Leith Hill made a damned excellent day out, if quite a tiring one, and made all the better by the spring sunshine. Plus it had one more treasure to impart, of which more tomorrow (unless you visit today).

 Friday, April 18, 2014

London's least used stations
No 7:
Emerson Park


You have to wonder how Emerson Park station survives. The only stop on an out-of-the-way branch line between Romford and Upminster, served by one ageing train shuttling back and forth. A lowly halt with a single platform used by barely 350 passengers a day. A station with no services after 8pm and nothing on Sundays. It's definitely not somewhere you'll find on the tube map, or at least not at the moment. But all that will change next spring when TfL takes over the line, and suddenly Emerson Park will find itself thrust into the spotlight. Best get a heads-up on the place now, I thought.

So yes, there's this three and a half mile branch line linking the Great Eastern Railway to the District line, and it's been there since 1893. Emerson Park's a little younger, opened in 1909 at roughly the halfway point, four minutes from Romford and four minutes from Upminster. A peculiarity of the line is that there are no signals along its length - there's no need because the single track is served only by a single train. And the whole thing's in Zone 6, within the London borough of Havering, which is probably why you've never been. Here's Emerson Park's timetable so you can see what you're missing.

Westbound to RomfordEastbound to Upminster
0615 0645
and every 30 minutes to
1915 1945
0628 0658
and every 30 minutes to
1928 1958
(no trains on Sunday)

For the full Emerson Park experience, join me on a journey out of platform 1 at Romford. This is a less than lovely spot, located far from platforms 2-5 where all the through trains stop. Platform 1 is accessed from the end of platform 2 via a footbridge over South Street, doglegging round to a lonely elevation above a pub's back garden. There are only seats for six on the platform, which is a bit feeble when the trains run every half hour, or if it's raining there's a not very enticing shelter. I ended up abandoning my seat for a loud Essex mum and her objectionable offspring, and stood instead beneath the crackly loudspeaker listening to announcements about trains that wouldn't be stopping here. When finally the inbound service arrived approximately two dozen folk poured off, most of these from Upminster rather than Emerson Park, and then the driver emerged and trooped up to the other end of the train.



Were this "the North", the line would probably be served by a Pacer or some other ancient one-carriage shuttle. Instead Abellio run a four coach train, the front half of which is essentially unnecessary because it never stops adjacent to a station exit. Indeed only an introvert would walk all the way up to the front carriage, and then all the way back at their destination... so obviously that's exactly what I chose to do. I was surprised to discover a first class section, complete with cheap antimacassars over the headrests, as if anyone on this line ever needs to pay extra for more space. I was less surprised to see an empty McDonalds takeaway bag on one of the first class seats, because I doubt that ticket inspectors pop by regularly to patrol patronage. All this and a vague smell of furniture polish, or was it petrol - this is a truly special experience.

The train follows the mainline for the first minute or two, before the single track branches off just beyond the first footbridge. It enters a cutting between the backs of houses, past garages and gardens, where the undergrowth closest to the track has been lopped to leave regenerative stumps. I spotted bluebells in amongst the long grass, as well as plastic bags, a couple of footballs and a bucket. At one point the railway spans the minor river Ravensbourne, and at another an ungated footpath crosses the tracks - a rarity within the London boundary, but safe enough when only a handful of 30mph trains ever pass.



Emerson Park station has a platform 1 but no platform 2, and a high wooden canopy above one end. A handful of artificial-looking hanging baskets dangle within, which saves money on gardeners and watering, while the next train indicator screen is dribbled with pigeon guano. According to the station sign this is still "Emerson Park Halt", the original name given by the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway. A series of Network Southeast logos embedded along the edge of the platform create another nice heritage touch, although only through lack of investment, and those at the far end have been lost through recent tarmacking. And if you stand looking down the long straight line under Butts Green Road bridge, you might just see a local fox patrolling the tracks. For most of the day this is her domain, and only occasionally does she have to patter off the rails and hide back into the undergrowth.

Exit up the long ramp to discover Emerson Park, a northern suburb of Hornchurch. It's pretty pleasant suburbia, with a parade of shops along the main road and some quite tasteful interwar housing in the streets beyond. The closest retail outlet is the bright orange Oh My Cod! fish and chip (and kebab) restaurant, opposite the Emerson Park Drycleaners and a place selling fireplaces and stoves. Head across the railway to discover a proper pub on what's essentially a traffic island, that's the The Chequers. And continue south past the 500-seat Queen's Theatre, Havering's main (and rather modern) arts hub, to eventually reach the delights of Hornchurch High Street. The District line station of the same name may get 20 times more passenger traffic, but Emerson Park is actually slightly less far away from the town centre.



Returning to catch the half-hourly service to Upminster, look out for an unexpected geological treat a minute or two east of the station. When the railway was being dug circa 1892, an unexpected layer of boulder clay was uncovered in Hornchurch Cutting to the north of St Andrew's Park. What this discovery marks is the southern limit of glaciation in Britain, the furthest point reached by the Anglian ice sheets during the entire Pleistocene era. Indeed it's thanks to Hornchurch Cutting that we know the Thames was diverted to its present course less than half a million years ago, because here its layer of gravels lies above and not below the clay. Think on that as your train rumbles through past greenhouses and sheds, over a rich Jurassic fossil bed, through this site of prime stratigraphic importance.

Shortly afterwards the railway rises up to a leafy embankment and filters in to join the District and c2c lines. Actually there's no connection, the tracks are kept entirely separate (hence the lack of need for signals I mentioned earlier). And very shortly the train terminates at platform 6 of Upminster station, a quiet outpost accessed via a single footbridge. Six bright pink seats lurk in an alcove for those who wait, while the next train indicator states that "This service is operated by one", which is at least a franchise and a bit ago. Almost everybody else using the station is using the mainline or the tube, and giving not a second thought to this mere sideline to Romford. But when Emerson Park finally comes under TfL's wing next year, embraced by the tangerine arms of the Overground, expect passengers numbers to rise rapidly out of the bottom ten.

London's least used stations (2012/13)
No 1:
Sudbury & Harrow Road (18,050)
No 2: South Greenford (38,360)
No 3: Sudbury Hill Harrow (51,376)
No 4: Angel Road (63,040)
No 5: Birkbeck (86,360)
No 6: Morden South (87,638)
No 7: Emerson Park (113,904)
No 8: Drayton Green (123,038)
No 9: South Ruislip (142,830)
No 10: Castle Bar Park (144,182)

 Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hurrah, bus spider maps have (finally) returned to the TfL website.
And the full 10 year press release archive.
But not yet timetables.

Late Easters
April 18th: last in 1976, next in 2049
April 19th: last in 1992, next in 2071
April 20th: last in 2003, then this year, next in 2025
April 21st: last in 1957, next in 2019
April 22nd: last in 1984, next in 2057
April 23rd: last in 2000, next in 2079
April 24th: last in 2011, next in 2095
April 25th: last in 1943, next in 2038

It's coming on...


This year's Tridentscan Annual General Meeting took place at the BBC Radio Theatre.
If you enjoyed Susan Calman is Convicted on Radio 4 last night, that was Kirk and me laughing in the background.

Even on its last day, Pudding Mill Lane station is being dutifully mopped.


Maundy ceremonies of the Elizabethan era: 1952 Westminster; 1953 St Paul's; 1954 Westminster; 1955 Southwark; 1956 Westminster; 1957 St Albans (outside London at last!); 1958 Westminster; 1959 Windsor; 1960 Westminster; 1961 Rochester; 1962 Westminster; 1963 Chelmsford; 1964 Westminster; 1965 Canterbury; 1966 Westminster; 1967 Durham (outside SE England at last!); 1968 Westminster; 1969 Selby; 1970 Westminster; 1971 Tewkesbury; 1972 York; 1973 Westminster; 1974 Salisbury; 1975 Peterborough; 1976 Hereford; 1977 Westminster; 1978 Carlisle; 1979 Winchester; 1980 Worcester; 1981 Westminster; 1982 St David's (outside England at last!); 1983 Exeter; 1984 Southwell; 1985 Ripon; 1986 Chichester; 1987 Ely; 1988 Lichfield; 1989 Birmingham; 1990 Newcastle; 1991 Westminster (now every ten years, not every two); 1992 Chester; 1993 Wells; 1994 Truro; 1995 Coventry; 1996 Norwich; 1997 Bradford; 1998 Portsmouth; 1999 Bristol; 2000 Lincoln; 2001 Westminster; 2002 Canterbury (the first repeat outside London); 2003 Gloucester; 2004 Liverpool; 2005 Wakefield; 2006 Guildford; 2007 Manchester; 2008 Armagh (outside England and Wales at last!); 2009 Bury St Edmunds; 2010 Derby; 2011 Westminster; 2012 York; 2013 Oxford; 2014 Blackburn.



Pearly artwork (by Pang) appearing on the side of The Bow Bells pub, Bow Road.
This is Tuesday evening's view, after one day of painting.
By the end of Wednesday it'd grown further.
Keep an eye on developments at instagram.com/pang_london.
(or just walk past and enjoy)

I really should have published my Pudding Mill Lane post today.
But instead I went out drinking last night.
So there you go.

 Wednesday, April 16, 2014

At the end of service tomorrow, Pudding Mill Lane DLR station will cease to be. This poor stunted halt has suffered more spectacular ups and downs in its short life than any station has reason to expect, due to being in precisely the right place for Olympics but also precisely the wrong place for longevity. In this case the cause for closure is Crossrail, whose tracks will be emerging from the ground close by before climbing through the spot where the platforms now stand. A replacement station is almost complete, a few metres to the south, and is scheduled to open on Monday week. But tomorrow's your last chance to visit the original station, and to stand in the middle of nowhere looking out over everything.

The location's unusual in that, until very recently, the surrounding area has never been even vaguely residential. The River Lea runs through on either side, along a series of braided channels tamed from the extensive Stratford Marshes, through a landscape once used only for grazing and industry. During the 18th century the famous Bow Porcelain Works were sited a little to the south, while in the 19th century the site where the station now stands was occupied by a Lampblack Manufactory. A cluster of windmills existed close by from medieval times until 1934, the most prominent of which was called St Thomas's Mill. Its shape apparently apparently resembled an upturned pudding, hence it earned the nickname Pudding Mill, and the tiny stream alongside was known as the Pudding Mill River. If you want a fuller history, head back to this post from 2010, or just rest assured that the name Pudding Mill Lane is soundly grounded in fact.

When the DLR was first built, its budget was pared to a shoestring by the government of the day. This meant costs were cut beyond what might have been wise, and one of the casualties was the stretch between Bow Church and Stratford. For starters this was single-tracked, creating a bottleneck that still stunts the service over 25 years later. And secondly the planned station at Pudding Mill Lane, then codenamed Stratford South, was never built. The site was safeguarded in readiness for future development, and cash was finally stumped up in the mid 1990s for the creation of a bare bones halt. This finally opened on 15th January 1996, serving little more than an industrial estate and a few businesses along the quieter end of Stratford High Street. Nobody could have foreseen at the time that the station was utterly perfectly located for two fortnights in 2012, and that it was utterly incapable of coping.

It is a runty little station, Pudding Mill Lane, and always has been. The platforms are narrow, and asymmetrical, and too short for the three-carriage trains that now stop there. Management decided there was little point in extending them while the station was doomed, so passengers still need to "move towards the centre of the train" to disembark. The timetable's organised so that trains pull into both platforms simultaneously, the station acting as a passing place, bringing brief regular moments of activity. To the north, across the Greater Anglia mainline, the view through the wires and gantries is of the View Tube, Greenway and Olympic Stadium. That's probably what I'll miss most, because the replacement station has glass walls - ideal for shelter but much less a part of its surroundings.

Exit from the station is via a steep single staircase, pretty much wide enough for two abreast, or via the lift. I realised this week I'd never taken the lift before so I gave it a try, and it reeked of cigarette smoke, so perhaps I'm glad I'll never do that again. Stairs and lift both disgorge into a ticket hall, if that isn't too grand a name for a tiled concrete corner under strip lights. Along one gloomy wall are the doors to a switchroom and a cleaner's cupboard, and opposite is the one place you can guarantee to find a copy of Friday morning's Metro on a Sunday afternoon. Although, sorry, that's suddenly an obsolete piece of advice, because this particular station has no more Fridays or Sundays left.

What used to be outside was a triangular piazza and one really (really) tall lamppost, but Crossrail's encroachment put paid to those. Instead there's one of the most unlikely coffee shops in town, the London Diner, which opened up when someone realised a regular clientèle of Olympic site workers needed refreshment. But no longer... the shutters have been down for a couple of years, and the View Tube has sole trading rights on caffeinated beverages hereabouts. Escaping from the station is a bit of a switchback, first a narrow path down the edge of the viaduct and then following whatever route Crossrail's contractors have laid on through their building site. It's very much a zigzag at the moment, occasionally closing temporarily to allow a digger or truck to rumble from one half of the site to the other.

The new station's nearly finished, or at least there's nothing ten days of intensive work can't fix. It utterly dwarfs its predecessor, and will indeed be the largest station on the entire DLR network once it opens. That capacity looks fairly pointless at present, at a location surrounded by nobody and nothing much. But once Crossrail have departed the entire area's becoming flats, which'll boost passenger numbers no end. Plus the new station's been built to withstand the impact of crowds attending events in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and sporting events at the stadium, including a claret and blue army descending the broad staircases pre-kick-off. Just like the 1996 station, 2014's Pudding Mill Lane is being built too big for now but with the future in mind.

So if you want to ride the original tracks before they're bypassed by the new, you have less than 48 hours. If you want to be able to picture what all this used to look like when your Crossrail train comes speeding through in 2019, visit soon. There are no medals for leaving on the 0047 departure to Stratford on Friday morning, the very last scheduled service the old Pudding Mill Lane will see. But if you want to visit a disused station before that's what it becomes, you have today and tomorrow. PML, RIP.

» Ian has also visited
» TfL PML upgrade press release
» Pudding Mill Lane DLR information
» DLR line closure leaflet (18th-27th April)
» Olympo-history of the disappearing Pudding Mill River

My Pudding Mill Lane DLR gallery
There are 30 photographs altogether (for posterity)

 Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I never got coffee. I've always done tea.

I can survive mornings without the assistance of a milky caffeinated buzz, so I do. I can get through the working day without a cup of browny white froth on my desk, so I do. I can walk past a coffee shop without ever feeling the need to go in, so I don't.

But over the last three days I've been bought three teas from coffee shops, teas I'd never normally have had. And, my apologies to the kind people who bought them, but they weren't very good.

On Saturday I was bought a cup of tea from a coffee shop on Chatsworth Road. It was exactly what I asked for, which was an Earl Grey without milk, and it turned up hot. If anything it turned up too hot, which ought to have been a good sign because the water in tea is supposed to be boiling. But I was forced to sip with caution, indeed was barely able to sip at all, as I held the cup of essentially scalding water in my hand. A tastefully expensive teabag floated somewhere within, which normally I'd seek to eject after the requisite time except it hadn't done its stuff yet, and I was about to climb aboard a bus. This was a beautifully preserved heritage bus which didn't have a litter bin on board, and so I found myself on the top deck clutching a full cup of water too hot to drink, and no way of removing the bag of leaves without disfiguring the floor. Off jolted the bus round the first corner on its route, and my tea promptly spilled out over the brim through the little hole in the lid. I tried to sip a little, and thought I'd succeeded in lowering the level, but the next corner brought further overflow and an increasing puddle on the floor. Speed bumps, turns and narrow streets caused repeated additional mess, which thankfully nobody else noticed, but there was by now considerably more liquid on the floor than in my stomach. By the time I disembarked my tea had become drinkable, but was still surprisingly weak, and therefore no longer as attractive as it had once promised. My cup went in the nearest bin still half full, which for a bespoke premium Earl Grey seemed less than ideal. And if you had to mop up my bergamot-scented spillage, or ended up sitting in it, my apologies.

On Sunday I was bought a cup of tea from a coffee shop at a station. It was a pretty generic brew all told, the sort that's doled out matter-of-factly to thousands of commuters daily. I hadn't actually asked for it, but my travelling companion was in need of a caffeine fix so had bought me a drink thinking I'd be the same. I said thank you, obviously, then set my drink down on the table in the carriage and waited for it to become drinkable. Alas the resulting brew was oddly tasteless, which surprised me because it contained all the key elements of a decent tea. The teabag hadn't infused like teabags in my kitchen, possibly because the shop and I use different types, or possibly because I take mine out after a different length of time. I have a pretty good idea how long my usual bags should bathe, whereas the random bag from this particular chain outlet was more of a temporal mystery. I also use a mug that's smaller than a typical coffee shop cup, because good tea isn't helped by excess water. My station-bought tea tasted over-diluted, because the barista had taken control of how much liquid was poured in and had plumped for volume, as if somehow this was better value for money. Again half my tea ended up in the litter bin on the way out of the carriage, not that anyone noticed because the cup was sealed and I dropped it so as to avoid a telltale splosh. If that was you who bought me that 'tea', my apologies.

Yesterday I was bought a cup of tea from a coffee shop at work. I say coffee shop, it was more a coffee franchise, where some lowly paid employee puts on a specially coloured hat and apron and pretends to be from the same company as the proper shop down the street. This particular coffee franchise was at a distant set of offices where I'd gone for a meeting. Tea and coffee used to be provided in the meeting rooms, make-it-yourself-style, but management then sacked all the tea ladies to save money and installed a central go-to outlet instead. People who like coffee are well pleased, because they can now have their favourite frothy number with special syrup instead of the dark brown liquid in a thermos previously served. But we tea drinkers are far less well served because we're now forced to endure a bag dropped into the wrong amount of water with the wrong amount of milk. My tea arrived from the central point of manufacture just as the meeting was starting, but I was scheduled to be talking a lot which meant I didn't have much time to drink it. Occasionally I snatched a sip, only to discover that it wasn't very nice, and was getting increasingly less nice as time passed. I couldn't pause to lift out the teabag because the eyes of the meeting were on me, and there was nowhere to dangle and dump it anyway because saucers had been cancelled when the trolley staff were sacked. I really wanted a drink after my long journey, but the tea in my cup was becoming increasingly stewed in the same way that coffee doesn't. I left the offending cup on the table at the end of the meeting, although I don't know who collects the empties any more, my apologies.

But on another occasion over the weekend I went to a proper tea room and ordered proper tea. A proper teapot turned up, filled with boiling water and proper leaf tea of the gnarled and fragrant variety. I waited, and waited a little more, and poured the tea into the china cup with eager anticipation. What emerged was the weakest brew I'd seen in ages, barely the shade of milky water, and a most unsatisfying cuppa. Never mind I thought, the second pour will be better after the leaves have had longer to infuse. Not so, the second cup was pretty much as weak as the first, which I subsequently determined was because the tea leaves were sitting undisturbed on the floor of the pot. I don't know how the lady behind the counter had managed to pour in boiling water without disturbing the leaves, that's quite abnormal, but manage it she had. A simple stir of the pot produced the correct colouration, but by then there was barely half a cup left and I'd wasted the majority of my allocation. I'm more used to mugs than teapots, hence my inexperience, and the disappointment of a proper tea experience wasted. And I paid for this one too, no apologies.

For a nation of tea drinkers, it strikes me that we're no longer very good at serving up tea in public. In particular we're not very good at serving up tea in coffee shops, which is where the majority of external beverages are created these days. People who like coffee are well served because they get an expert hand-crafted drink they probably can't get at home. But people who like tea are generally presented with a bag of leaves dumped into too much boiling water with an inappropriate amount of milk, and left to stew, to create a drink that's entirely substandard to what could be made at home. Which is why I don't bother going to coffee shops, as a rule, because for a tea drinker it's like throwing money down the drain. And if you see me out and about, thanks very much, but there's really no need to buy me one.

 Monday, April 14, 2014

The Centre for Computing History
Coldhams Road, Cambridge, CB1 3EW
Admission £7, Wednesday to Sunday from 10am


It's only right that a museum devoted to computing should exist in Cambridge. The university town in the Fens has played an important role in the development of the device you're reading now, be that the hardware, the software or the processor inside. The Centre for Computing History started out as one man's labour of love, and also started out in Haverhill, which is never somewhere you'd associate with tourists and museums. Then last summer it relocated to larger premises in Cambridge, on a trading estate on the eastern side of town, and that's made it much easier to visit.

(But not easy. The museum's by the railway, but not by the railway station, more a half hour's walk away. It's not near the town centre either, again half an hour's walk away, close to a large retail park called the Beehive Centre. Beyond the tracks a lane doglegs back past a couple of cut-price tiling outlets, then bends round to a level crossing where you turn right. That's the museum in the warehouse unit at the far end, the metal-roofed shed beyond the cherry blossom. It costs seven quid to get inside, upped last month from a fiver, which you might well think was value for money. So long as you like computers.)



There are three main rooms to explore. The first is the entrance hall, beyond the admission point, where a fairly sparse selection of ephemera holds sway. But look, that's an Apple II microcomputer of 1977 vintage, with a stack of floppy discs by its side, and it's switched on. You can sit down and start playing whatever's loaded, which yesterday was an adventure game in greenscreen featuring the adventures of Sir Ronald. The gameplay's mighty tame by today's standards - typing in text and negotiating a screen dotted with pixellated obstacles - but my weren't we captivated at the time? Nearby is a Commodore PET, this with cassette player memory storage so less likely to be working, and on the floor a racing car game circa 1985 on which you can display your abject lack of prowess. In an adjacent glass case are some old mobile phones... ooh that was my Motorola fliptop, and my workhorse Nokia, but never my Psion organiser. And there's a row of arcade machines too, some priced and some not, where you can relive your childhood if you can get the damned things to work. I so wanted a game of Mr Do, or Mr Ee as I remembered it, but no way could I work out the correct combination of buttons and joystick to make it start.

The second room is the 80s classroom, which as you might guess is full of BBC microcomputers. That's enough BBC microcomputers to seat an entire class (in pairs), and all switched on with the command prompt flashing. Those of us with an 80s pedigree might well be able to sit down and write a competent program, probably involving PRINT and GOTO, while a helpful instruction list awaits those less certain. The room is also kitted out with Raspberry Pis (or whatever their collective plural is), which are the modern era's programming equivalent. It's intriguing how the computing curriculum has recently swung back to how to code rather than how to use, hence a retro facility like this 80s classroom might actually be useful rather than some quaint nostalgic geekfest.



The third room at the museum is by far the largest, a huge shed that's (as yet) a long way from being full. In here is the main collection, approximately themed, with a bunch of office computers down one end and a selection of mainframes and business 'portables' elsewhere. A Sinclair C5 sits in one corner, a Sinclair Spectrum on a central table and a row of coloured iMacs on a top shelf. But it's the games consoles and 80s personal computers that'll probably appeal most. Take a seat and play Pacman (I was pleased to see I'd not forgotten), or Super Mario, or re-engage with a 70s Binatone version of Pong. What's most frustrating is not having a manual to hand to check how to start a game or which keys do up, down and fire, rather than determining this though trial and error (oh damn, I've crashed). Things were much easier back then because you probably only owned one computer gadget, and it only had five games, hence you knew all the moves inside out.

If you're of a certain bent and age, much of the assembled stuff will mean something. I used to have one of those electronic calculators, and my sixth form years were spent on an RM 380Z like that, and my Mum used one of those comptometers in her job, and I remember when programs had to be typed into punched tape and cards like those. If you're younger you may have more trouble relating, except on a historical basis, and may therefore lack the urge to dig in and get involved. Many of the exhibits at The Centre for Computing History have no accompanying information other than what's written on the shell, and a little more labelling would definitely help. I'd have to say that the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park is better and more comprehensive, and a little cheaper too, but this is a much more hands-on experience. And if your inner geek is rated at 92.3 or higher, you'll already be considering a visit. [photos]

 Sunday, April 13, 2014

Before the Routemaster came the RT, London's omnibus workhorse of the 1950s. The first prototype hit the streets in 1939, which makes this the 75th anniversary, which is as good an excuse to celebrate as any. The body celebrating were the London Bus Museum, who yesterday organised a special service on route 22 with dozens of heritage vehicles. That's the eastern half of old route 22, from Piccadilly Circus through the City, Shoreditch and Dalston to Homerton. A fine day was had by all, not least the volunteers who maintain and crew the buses, but also the massed ranks of The Men Who Bus. Here's what you missed.

Chatsworth Road, Homerton
It's coming up in the world, is Chatsworth Road. I remember the street at the turn of the century as a scrawny backwater, a laundrette and betting shop type place, most definitely off the beaten track. When I returned in 2011 it seemed much the same, but with the addition of a fledgling Sunday market to try to appeal to incomers. Today the laundrettes and betting shops remain, but infilled with creperies, delicatessens and coffee shops, as Hackney opens up to the thick-bearded and the stilettoed. Whatever, the residents and shoppers of Chatsworth Road weren't expecting the nostalgiafest that hit them on Saturday, indeed many failed to blink at all. When a 60 year old bus rounded the corner and rattled past the shops, most carried on as normal, despite the fact this was never likely to happen again. All the proper clues were at the foot of the hill, where The Men Who Bus were lurking with cameras. They're always on the lookout for the perfect vantage shot during these events, the opportunity to catch the lesser spotted red bus in what used to be its natural habitat. They perched on the corner by the park, watched by hipsters with lattes and Guardian-reading dads with prams, awaiting the oldest of the species, the venerable RT1.

Eventually her white-topped frame appeared and rumbled hesitantly over the speed bumps. Ads for Alka Seltzer and Brymay matches decorated her side, and the passengers inside looked down as if on some kind of regal tour. They'd be alighting at the bus stand by the park, where the London Bus Museum had parked another RT to act as a base for the afternoon. This particular vehicle had been around the world to promote the Festival of Britain, hence the plug for BOAC along the side and "Greetings from Britain to the USA" on the rollerblind. A museum volunteer patrolled the crowd, asking Would you like a leaflet, and Can I interest you in this book, and Had you thought of going to our Spring Gathering tomorrow? The Men Who Bus milled and chatted, and rushed across the road to take more shots of RT1 without any other annoying Men Who Bus standing in front. She wasn't full when she departed, this being the non-central extremity of her route, and there then followed a lengthy hiatus during which no other heritage service appeared. A stream of ordinary 242s passed through, opening their doors to waiting souls who had no interest in boarding, while in the adjacent park the Hackney Playbus held court to entertain the younger generation. Eventually an RT arrived and the polite scramble for the top deck began, game on.

Piccadilly Circus, Westminster
At the sharp end of the operation, there was a queue. Many folk had lined up on Shaftesbury Avenue, opposite the tourist hole where the caricaturists lurk and the food joints offering burger and chips. The pavement become more semi-blocked with every passing minute no RT came, although true to form three came along at once in the opposite direction. At last a Shoreditch-bound vehicle came round the Circus past Eros, and the waiting phalanx of amateur photographers leapt into action to capture the event. Umpteen passengers poured off, or rather dribbled off, many of them being older than the bus. As we waited, a woman strode up to the driver in his cab and asked, repeatedly, if the bus really was going to Dalston. She did this in a thick non-Dalston accent, which was nothing the poor guy understood even by the tenth attempt, and all he could do was shrug. She eventually nipped happily onto a number 38, having presumably been unable to deduce that this 22 wasn't in any way normal. And we boarded the special, grinning more broadly, for a jaunt to Shoreditch through the City.

The back seat on the top deck is highly prized, and had been grabbed by a young mum and her hyperactive offspring. He'd been pushing his luck in the queue, so Mum threatened him with all sorts of sanctions if he misbehaved, then failed to follow through when he sat there kicking the seat repeatedly. Normally small children gravitate to the front seat, but that was already occupied by The Men Who Bus, in large numbers, many with bulging camera bags on their laps. I made sure to sit two seats behind, but the unfortunate pair who sat in front of me got to endure a full outburst from the balding gentleman in front. He regaled them with his thoughts on the New Bus for London's double staircase, on the perils of buses going cashless and the merits or otherwise of Abellio Surrey's current franchise. When finally he shut up the pair in front rolled their eyes and stared out of the window, attempting to say nothing more that might cause the expert to turn round and put them right. And on we rolled, admired by many onlookers along the way, in our bubble of transport history.

Ash Grove Bus Garage, Hackney
As part of the day's celebrations, a cavalcade of old buses was on show in the yard outside the bus garage off Mare Street. They don't normally allow the public in, but yesterday you'd have been welcomed beneath the railway bridge and past the temporary bus stop. Which buses you saw depended on when you arrived. Early enough and they were all here, lined up in nostalgic perfection, whereas later there were gaps where vehicles were out on the road. Ah, the joy of seeing proper old buses, polished and scrubbed to within an inch of their lives, and with long gone route details on their blinds. The 10 no longer goes to Abridge, the 716 no longer ventures to Hatfield House, and (interesting interloper here) the 317 no longer runs to Knotty Ash. The old adverts too were marvellously evocative, be they for seven shilling Green Rovers, Battersea Fun Fair or Saturday's (Saturday's!) Evening Standard. Some owners allowed you aboard, others preferred it if you cooed and admired from outside.

A couple of stalls were selling stuff that The Men Who Bus really like, notably photos and books and mugs and things with logos you can stick on the fridge. And intermingled with the old were the new, namely the New Bus For London, stashed away waiting for the weekday run on route 38. Their curves contrasted well with the RTs, but few gave them a second glance with the older generation around. Over at the temporary bus stop a queue of people waited patiently for the next service into town. They'd been waiting for some time, as by this point in the day the planned timetable had been shot to pieces. Some vehicles had broken down, others had got lost in the backstreets of Hackney, and nothing seemed to be turning up at its scheduled time. When the relevant vehicle finally pulled forward it drove straight out of the garage without stopping, leaving those waiting bereft... and with a 45 minute gap before the next certain departure. Don't expect reliability on days such as these, that's not what the old school experience is about. Instead simply enjoy the rare opportunity to ride what was once commonplace, and remember to thank the organisers who made it happen.

» 10 photos by me
» lots of photos from others
» Report (with photos) from The Gentle Author


click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this weekend?
Sunday 27 April (10am-4.30pm)
Perivale Wood Open Day
Annual opening of a bluebell-
infested nature reserve.

twenty blogs
853
arseblog
ian visits
londonist
scaryduck
blue witch
the great wen
onionbagblog
edith's streets
spitalfields life
linkmachinego
tired of london
thelondonphile
in the aquarium
christopher fowler
thamesfacingeast
one bus at a time
london daily photo
london reconnections
150 great tube things

read the archive
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

diamond geezer 2013 index
diamond geezer 2012 index
diamond geezer 2011 index
diamond geezer 2010 index
diamond geezer 2009 index
diamond geezer 2008 index
diamond geezer 2007 index
diamond geezer 2006 index
diamond geezer 2005 index
diamond geezer 2004 index
diamond geezer 2003 index
diamond geezer 2002 index

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
cube routes
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
penelope
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
itv