Falling in the South

As of yesterday (or rather, the day before yesterday as it’s currently 5am UK time…) I’m in Texas for 2 weeks of work, rest and play. It’s a little bit different to my last trip two years ago – fewer dips in rivers and drinking frozen cocktails and a bit more actual work. Plus, it’s ‘fall’ and the locals aren’t frequenting the rivers so much.

It’s bizarre being somewhere so hot in October – but it shouldn’t be.

Obviously, Texas in October was still going to be on the warm side. Today’s temperature was 88F (31C), dropping to around 60F in the evening. Yet, in Gap and Target the rails were full of lovely winter coats, jumpers and cardigans. As three Brits rushed around Target, it was clear that we were the only ones exclaiming over chunky knitwear and woolly hats. I picked up three pairs of over the knee cosy socks – from a choice of about 12 – and pondered who on earth they thought would buy any of this stuff?

According to one Texan friend the answer is no one, except those going on holiday somewhere cold. Although that doesn’t mean that they don’t dream about buying such items. As another Texan friend commented a few weeks ago: “It’s 90 degrees out, so naturally I’m dreaming about a new coat from Anthropologie.”

Then there’s all the ‘Fall’ merchandise: the accessories, decorations and abundance of pumpkins. All in the reds, browns and oranges of turning leaves – except the leaves aren’t turning here. Who needs a Pumpkin Spice Latte in weather that’s the equivalent of a London heatwave? 

Of course, it’s all perspective. As we landed in Atlanta [incidentally, do all you can to avoid changing flights there, it's another circle of hell] the pilot informed us that “it’s a perfect fall day with a temperature of around 80 degrees”. A temperature of 27C in the UK would be a balmy, fabulous summers day to be spent in as little clothing as possible, probably drinking beer. While having my nails done this morning, a fellow customer commented on wanting a “fall colour” given that it was going to be “so cold” that evening.

A couple of weeks ago, while the UK was having a freakishly fabulous Indian Summer, it was easy to spot the tourists in London because they were the ones wearing hats and coats, while the locals kept their flip-flops in use for as long as possible. Temperature is all relative.

To be honest, I’m not complaining. I’ve got a bonus two weeks of summer and tomorrow morning I have the option of a Sunday morning outdoor swim.

Houston blue skiesBlue skies, palm trees & iced tea. Note: no one else is sitting outside. 

 

The joy of detective work

I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it again: it pays to be public about your tube geekery. Only weeks ago it resulted in the delights of the Embankment map, this week it’s gifted me an old map discovered while clearing out a father’s belongings. With no date on it, it was ripe for a bit of detective work…

As I mentioned with the Embankment map, there are plenty of clues to the age of a tube map – you just need to find them and start sorting through them in order to come with a date window. So, for this one (which is a corker) I’m going to give you the map first and let you play. If you want to try and work out the date yourself, go ahead! The process of deduction I went through will be shown below the photo, so feel free to maximise the photo and get busy with all your accumulated tube knowledge and the aid of Wikipedia. Honestly, it’s a lot of fun!

Here’s the map:

Antique MapOk, it’s not brilliant quality – I blame the unfortunate combination of iPhone & artificial light.

When I first opened this up, my first observation (mainly just because of how I unfolded it) was that we were looking at the network before the creation of the separate East London and Hammersmith & City Lines – both were still in the beautiful purple of the Metropolitan Line. But, as I looked, I saw plenty of other matters of interest that could help me with the date.

  • Missing lines are a MASSIVE indicator of age. What’s missing from this map? The Jubilee and the Victoria Lines – immediately (once you’ve checked the date of the Victoria’s opening) you’ve gone back decades.
  • Are any lines longer or shorter than they are now? The Piccadilly Line is pre-Heathrow; the Central carries on up to Ongar; the Metropolitan goes all the way to Aylesbury; and the Bakerloo includes Watford.
  • Is there anything else completely random that takes you by surprise? In this instance, I was taken aback by the inclusion of Finsbury Park as a branch on the Northern Line.
  • Are any lines different colours compared to modern maps? See above for the ELL and H&C, but on this map the Waterloo & City is white, not teal.

Once you’ve got your list, it’s time for the vortex that is the Wikipedia London Transport portal. Simply looking up the name of a line or a station will answer most questions about dates – its reliable thanks to the hoards of geeks who update the articles. And thus, I was able to establish these key facts:

  • The Victoria Line opened in 1968.
  • Hatton Cross (the precursor to the Heathrow stations) opened in 1975.
  • The Epping-Ongar extension closed in 1994.
  • The Metropolitan extension to Aylesbury closed in 1961.
  • Finsbury Park left the Northern Line in 1964 (ready for the Victoria Line).

Thus, I was able to arrive at an latest possible date of 1961. Could I get any more specific? Well, while Googling the colour of the W&C Line, I discovered a rather fabulous website that chronicles the changes of the tube map, complete with as many examples as possible. There wasn’t a map published in 1961, so it was a choice between the 19561958, 1959 and 1960 versions. My deductions continued…

  • 1958 and 1960 had ‘River Thames’ written on the river, mine did not.
  • 1956 was labelled ‘Railways’; 1960 ‘Underground’ – mine was the latter.

It therefore seemed clear that what I held in my hands dated back to 1959. A map that was over half a century old!

1959 Tube Map

It’s a special thing – not least because it’s one of the last to have actually been designed by Beck (1960 was his last – apparently London Underground disagreed with his proposal for how to insert the Victoria Line). It’s also special because it’s been annotated. My friend Sally’s Dad clearly used it well, noting down times and prices on its cover and obliterating Shoreditch station. (For good reason, apparently it was ‘often closed’ – Wikipedia doesn’t get more specific about why, unfortunately.) It’s a real map, used for actual travelling, and for that reason I utterly love it!

Lessons we’ve learned from GBBO 2014

Tonight it ends. We’ll be left with another 10 month gap in competitive baking scheduling. (Aside from that all too brief week in January when celebrities take up the challenge.)

But this year’s Bake Off will become legend in the history of TV baking – what with bingate, THE pencil and a prodigious 17 year old.

Bake Off 2014

Over the last two months we’ve learned a number of valuable lessons which are worth remembering as we prepare to bid the tent of baked goods a fond farewell…

1. Pesto is exotic and a lovely Scot called Norman was the perfect antidote to a fiercely fought Independence campaign. (See Buzzfeed for more reasons why Norman was brilliant.)

2. The BBC has discovered the loveliest teenager in all of the UK. Martha Collinson not only bakes with a skill way beyond her years, has an excellent sense of humour, did her AS levels during filming, and is a campaigner for Tearfund! All time favourite Martha moment? When she looked into the oven and uttered the words: “I could have practiced this”. Twice.

3. The Guardian could do with improving the quality of its Bake Off reporting. Now, I appreciate that there are bigger issues going on in the world right now, but the Guardian has set itself a high standard to meet with its consistently excellent live blog of every episode. [Hats off to you Heidi Stephens.] It’s just a shame that the side was let down by not one but two articles.

The first, an interview with the “russet Gandalf” (we’ll be returning to him, have no fear), included a piece of utterly bizarre logic regarding last week’s semi final. Apparently, star baker Richard had ‘come second’ and Luis had come first. I may have tweeted my quibble to the article’s author…


Several friends & family members have assured me that I was right, so I’m feeling ok about it. I just wish my first Twitter discussion with Zoe Williams had been about something a little more worthy!

The second article is a delightful run-down of all the Bake Off contestants ever. As with so many countdowns, the most recent series is too fresh in the memory to be objective about. Thus we have the tragedy of Jordan placing above my all-time favourite baker ever – fair isle devotee James Morton (12 to 13). A travesty!!

4. Always make your own fondant!

Mary Berry death stare

5. Howard (from series 4 and custardgate fame) needs his own baking show, stat! His two appearances on Extra Slice were a delight to behold – the world has a new talent and his name is Howard. [Incidentally, well done BBC for Extra Slice - that was a brilliant decision!]

6. No one’s worked out how to pronounce ‘baklava’.

7. Some people don’t understand that Bake Off isn’t Bake Off without the innuendo. Honestly, there’s a reason I don’t watch Masterchef (actually, there are several…) – what makes this show the genius it is is Mel & Sue’s endless punning and the way Mary & Paul knowingly join in. John Whaites (winner, GBBO 2012) wrote brilliantly for The Telegraph on the subject of essential innuendo“innuendo only enters the level of lewd when it is endorsed with a response”. The whole point of the baking double entendres is that they’re not deemed worthy of a retort!

8. Doughnuts can be turned into cocktails. (And this is when all Mary Berry’s baking dreams come true.)

9. A cake made up of several pancake layers with no icing or ganache in between really doesn’t look that attractive. Also, there’s no point making your own Princess Cake when Ikea serves it in their cafe.

10. Always label your creations when placing them within a communal freezer. Always check when moving tins around in a communal freezer that the owner of the tin you’ve removed knows that it’s no longer in the freezer. When a bake fails, don’t throw it into the bin. The British get VERY upset when they perceive that a baking injustice has taken place.

BBC Complaints AugustCredit. Honestly, when I saw this I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. 

Incredibly, this is the first time bingate’s been mentioned on this blog (it’s been a tough summer/autumn). I have very strong feelings about it, not least because Iain of the beard was one of my favourite contestants this year. (Beard + NI accent + baking skills = highly desirable man.) Yes, Diana’s actions may have been exaggerated thanks to the editing, but really, did he deserve to go? Especially given prior mistakes (John Whaites nearly cutting his finger off and custardgate) which resulted in fairer judging or no one leaving. I felt so, so sad for poor Iain – not least because throwing a failed bake into the bin is totally something I’d do. [I once threw a lemon drizzle that had got stuck to the tin onto the floor and stamped on it in a rage. True story.]

At this point in the series the winner almost becomes irrelevant. For the first time, this year I don’t have any terribly strong feelings about it. (Unlike the previous three series when I had definite ‘I don’t want them to win’ feelings.) I’ve liked Richard and his pencil from the start; Luis has real skills; and quite frankly, if Nancy can win after her microwave antics the other week, then excellent! (Although what ‘the male judge’ will think is another matter.)

Mary, Paul, Mel, Sue, the GBBO 2014 contestants and everyone on social media who has made this year a delight – THANK YOU! Let’s do it again next year.

A big risk in a big cottage

The ‘friends go away together for the weekend’ is a well-worn trope in the worlds of literature and film. There’s something about the setting of a group of close friends and their partners gathering in the same location that makes it ripe for drama – shocking revelations; fierce arguments; wife swapping; murder; and general merriment.

For years, my parents held up Peters’ Friends as the archetypal friends weekend away film – because so much does go wrong in it, despite how pleased they are to be all together again. [It's well-worth watching, I recently discovered the whole thing on YouTube, albeit in bits.] The bottom line appears to be that no matter how fun a weekend with friends sounds, it can be a risky business and you never quite know what might happen…

Big Cottage The Big Cottage – one side of it. We weren’t exaggerating. [Credit: Morven.]

…but, despite the risks, what became known as ‘Big Cottage’ [because we need a big cottage in order to fit everyone in, naturally] was eagerly anticipated from the time of its booking until the weekend arrived 10 months later. We’d gone away as friends before – for weddings, camping at Greenbelt, several Girls Weekends Away, and of course the residential activities that had brought us all together as friends in the first place. However, this was a first – the first time that every single one of us, husbands and boyfriends included, had all stayed together in the same place with the sole purpose of hanging out together. Some of the men hadn’t met before. Some of the men we’d known since before they’d got together with their partners. It’s a peculiar dynamic. My brother-in-law went as far as marking the dates in his calendar with “weird weekend”, which to be honest, he was perfectly justified in doing.

Big cottage big tableBig cottage, big dinner table.

The dynamic might have been risky, but there were two significant factors that balanced it out:

  • The facilities – specifically pool, sauna, hot tub, squash court, several lounges and extensive grounds.
  • The provisions – myriad cakes baked, port, wine, a keg of local ale, whisky and cheese. Lots of cheese.

In fact, one husband was heard to announce upon waking, the morning the weekend began, “tonight there’ll be port”. If that’s not a thought to get you through a Friday and a long car drive, I don’t know what is!

Port drinkingBonus of much port-drinking – finishing off the remnants on Sunday afternoon. As a trainee priest, this was clearly my job.

But, do you know what, there was no need to worry. (Although there was definitely need for the mammoth baking frenzy, booze provision and cheese purchasing. Because cake, cheese & booze makes a weekend.) There were no crises, no dramas, no wife-swapping (despite many, many jokes around the epically huge dining table), no one emerged from a closet, no one intentionally caused anyone else injury (squash injuries don’t count) and both children present emerged unscathed.

Big badmintonSports undertaken at Big Cottage included: squash; swimming; running; hill walking; water aerobics; water volleyball; boules and badminton. We did at least make some effort to burn off the cake, cheese & booze! [Credit: Morven]

Well, I say ‘unscathed’. One returned with a new addition to her vocabulary which may have been uttered for the very first time when she was in my arms, but I refuse to take responsibility for it!

The big cottage turned out to be significantly less of a cottage, and more a converted stables – complete with four lounges (yes, four – each with Sky, meaning that the golf could be on in a room in an unobtrusive fashion). One lounge came equipped with a grand piano and songbooks, meaning that there was scope for late night singing. [As an aside, one of my dreams is to exist in a world where I have a pianist on call to accompany me when singing. Sounds indulgent, but it's basically the best - and oldest - form of karaoke. Last Saturday, that dream came true, briefly, and was only hampered by a limited range of sheet music.] There were two large kitchens (one for cooking meals, the other for cake, cheese & booze – I kid you not), and others in random corners of the house. Bedrooms were huge, bathrooms were incredible and quite frankly, I wanted to move in and stay forever.

Big piano. Big screen. Grand piano & TV projected on the wall. Comedy Central were showing a marathon of the 20 best Friends episodes – could we *be* any luckier?? 

Singing around the pianoSinging around the piano. No idea what it was at this moment – but clearly something I didn’t know the words to, so it wasn’t Let It Go. Plus, my arms aren’t flailing around, which is usually an indication of an Idina classic. [Credits: Morven]

That feeling was universal. The weekend was such a roaring success that next year’s date is already being negotiated. The site has other cottages too, so there’s no concern should any of the four single ladies acquire a man, or if more children appear on the scene. Quite frankly, Big Cottage was a big risk, but it was so worth all the planning, money and several thousand Facebook messages between the female contingent. If all risks worked out so well, we should take more of them!

Big Cottage JumpingIn the end, the biggest risk was jumping simultaneously into a pool with a depth of only 1.4m!  

Big Cottage 2014Until next time, big cottage! [Credits: Kilvert Photography]

Incidentally, should you be wondering where this incredible accommodation is, it’s The Colloquy in Herefordshire. We highly, highly recommend it – but should you decide to book it, could you avoid next autumn as we haven’t quite decided when we’re going yet. (Also, mention Jenni Kilvert when you book, we may get a discount!!)

Friday Fun will not be abandoned…

The title of this week’s fun is less to do with the possibility of my abandoning the feature or – heaven forfend – the blog; more to do with the fun that can be had with abandoned things…

This week marks the fourth anniversary of my exceptionally nerdy day out, in which I explored the remains of various abandoned tube stations. Ever since, glimpses of disused stations have always brightened up a day (recently I’ve watched as the remains of the old Pudding Mill Lane DLR station have been swept away by Crossrail en route from Stratford), not least the evening spent in Aldwych. Information about such stations is devoured and savoured.

Thus, a tweet from a friend announcing that it was the 81st anniversary of the British Museum station closing was an excellent thing to wake up to yesterday, especially as it included delightful illustrations:

Hours later, I discovered that the Guardian had also decided to join the abandoned stations bandwagon, with a feature on disused stops around the world. Did you know that Cincinnati has an entire subway system that’s NEVER BEEN USED?? A whole city of abandoned stations! Incredible! Or that Moscow allegedly had a secret parallel system for high-ranking Communists?

NYC City Hall stationPossibly the most glorious of the world’s disused stations – City Hall in New York.

I trust most people have seen the video of the man who ran between Mansion House & Canon St and made it back onto the same Circle Line train? If not, WATCH IT! It’s a brilliant demonstration of just how close together certain parts of the network are. [For example, I was recently asked what the stupidest thing I'd ever done under the influence was - one of my contributions was catching the tube from Embankment to Charing Cross. It's by no means the stupidest thing I've done, but all Londoners know it's a pretty stupid escapade, especially if you're trying to make a last train, which you would have caught had you walked...]

It has pleased me no end that friends have been inspired to alight trains at Embankment purely to visit the antique map. If you’re in search of another tube goody, may I suggest a trip to see the delightful roundel clock at Bethnal Green?

Roundel ClockSomeone on Twitter has asked that I return at 9 so that it looks even better. We’ll see…

In a complete change of direction, the final bit of fun for today returns to a favourite Friday theme: periods. Two teenage girls from NYC, sick of the stigma attached to being seen with tampons, created a computer game called ‘Tampon Run’ in which tampons are weapons. I’ve spent a good ten minutes playing it and it’s quite the distraction. It’s not sophisticated, but it is hilarious and carries an important message.

o-TAMPON-RUN-facebook

And with that, I am off for what promises to be an exceedingly fun weekend with friends, an awful lot of cake, wine & cheese, and a very big cottage!

The treasure behind the chicken wire

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a friend entitled: “Embankment Station – Eastbound Platform” – an intriguing subject for an email, I think you’ll agree.* Upon opening it, I was greeted with the following:

‘Get yourself there. A panel has come off, revealing this awesome old map behind it. It features delights such as Aldwych and Holborn Viaduct Stations and describes the Heathrow Terminal 4 station as “under construction”.
It encourages you to “Get to know London”. I missed two trains looking at it and might spend my entire lunch break tomorrow revelling in it once more.’

This photo was attached:

Embankment map Thank you Ollie E for being a fellow TfL Geek.

My brain immediately got to work. Firstly, when was I going to manage a trip to Embankment to see this for myself?? Secondly, how old was the map?

The first question was difficult to answer, given that it’s not a station I often find myself at – but this was definitely worth a separate journey. The second one could be answered, but only with a bit of detective work and logical deduction. Ollie had provided me with some initial clues:
- Heathrow T4 was ‘under construction’.
- Aldwych station was still in use.
- Holborn Viaduct station existed.

Now, anyone who’s been on the Aldwych station tour can tell you that the station ceased to operate in 1994, so it certainly wasn’t older than that. A quick Google revealed that Holborn Viaduct shut in 1990, so we were probably looking at a map from the 1980′s. Wikipedia informed me that Heathrow T4 station opened in 1986, and thus we had a few years in the 1980′s to choose from…

It’s taken two weeks, but today I finally got chance to visit the map myself. The eastbound platform of Embankment station is theoretically on my way home from college, but I’d not taken that route on the first Mondays of term. However, after a meeting there this afternoon, I made a plan to make a brief stop at Embankment before continuing home. In the end, I missed four trains while I pondered the map and my goodness, it was worth it!

Now ‘protected’ by chicken wire (not glamorous!), it was utterly entrancing. No wonder Ollie had missed a couple of trains and been tempted by a return trip. Amongst the features that fascinated me were:

Monument escalator The escalator graphic between Monument & Bank. (Also, the East London Line used to be purple! Presumably that’s from the days when it and the H&C were part of the Met line?)

East LondonThe wonder of East London and Docklands (below) without the DLR. Plus, station names when the docks were still ‘docks’ and not ‘quays’. Oh, and Stepney East? That would now be Limehouse.

Docklands

HeathrowThe aforementioned Heathrow Terminal 4 and also, look how far out west the map goes!

Of course, while this is indeed very interesting, it still didn’t answer the question of the map’s date. [Although, now that I'm thinking about it, most TfL maps have a date on them somewhere. Why did I not choose to look for it??] Another clue lay not in the map, but in the last panel of the platform’s artwork:

Embankment Art

The panels which covered up the map are dated 1985. [Can I just take a moment and decry the artwork at Embankment? I mean honestly! It's reminiscent of a 1980's duvet cover! When you think of the amazing designs featured across the network, I feel this station has been let down rather badly. Incidentally, the tiles around the map suggest that the original platform had the classic District Line style, which has unfortunately been obliterated.] And thus, one may conclude that the map was current immediately prior to their installation – somewhere around 1984.

Of course, Ollie and I are not the only ones to have been fascinated by the map (indeed, someone joined me to peer through the wire – but perhaps they were just curious as to what was captivating my attention). This blogpost reveals that the map dates from the introduction of the ‘Capitalcard’ – the Travelcard’s forerunner – an event that took place in 1983. It would appear that my deductions were pretty much spot on.

Here’s hoping that the treasure behind the chicken wire remains visible for a good while longer!

*Non-Londoners may not be aware that currently (and until the end of the year) the only functioning eastbound platform is on the District/Circle Line. Neither the Bakerloo nor Northern stop at the station at the moment.

Let me count the ways…

Scotland, I don’t want you to go! I realise that I may not have expressed my love adequately in recent years (you have been unvisited since 2010 and for that I am sorry), but please, could we have a second chance?

How about if I listed all the reasons why I love you? Why I think, in the words of a political slogan writer, that we really are better together? Here goes…

  • We’ve officially been together for over three centuries, but go back even further than that. Three hundred years takes work! Are you really ready to throw that all away??
  • Without you, we’d never have reclaimed the Wimbledon men’s singles crown – and that day was one of the happiest in my entire life.
  • You make life so much more tasty! Where would we be without Tunnocks? [Incidentally, are there any plans to make teacakes as large as the ones featured in the Commonwealth Games? I may be interested...] Without potato cakes and oat biscuits; or porridge; or Dundee cake; or whisky; or, quite frankly, anything baked by the lovely Scottish James Morton.
  • You’re beautiful. Perhaps this isn’t mentioned enough. Ok, I was two when I made my only visit to the Highlands, but I totally intend to return one day and I’m proud to be a citizen of the same country as them. And the islands! And the lochs! And the mountains!
  • You produce great people! Not just the aforementioned wielder of a tennis racquet, but also people who have changed the world. For goodness sake, Scots enabled us to both recover from infection quickly and watch TV and chat to friends far away while doing so!
  • Where would Harry Potter be without you? Harry Potter who???
  • You make the rest of us better. Not just thanks to penicillin, but thanks to all those who have shaped what society and its infrastructure looks like today. What would Britain look like if all the Scots were removed from its history? What does our future hold if you’re absent?
  • You throw cracking New Years Eve parties – and that’s saying something, given my loathing for that particular festival!

There are plenty of other things I haven’t mentioned. Like tartan, because I know how you hate being stereotyped. And deep-fried Mars bars, because everyone makes mistakes at least once in their lives. We’ve had our issues in the past, but could we possibly agree to forgive and move on together?

Please Scotland, give us a second chance!

Highlands 1983Surveying the beauty of the Scottish Highlands, 1983

The quirks of regional programming

[Another brilliant example of my ability to completely forget to publish something, even though it's finished. Pretend this was published a week ago, it'll work much better...]

The UK comprises many parts – as we are increasingly aware as September 17th and the Scottish referendum approaches – but it can be the most mundane things that highlight that it is not simply one, monochrome whole. Travel into Wales and immediately road signs are twice the size and only half as comprehensible. Go north of the border or over the Irish Sea and the currency stays the same, but the notes change colour. Even within the entity that is ‘England’, things are different – try buying the humble bread roll in 5 different counties and you’ll probably need 5 different words in order to manage it. [Bap, barm, cobb, bun, muffin...]

As a child, one of the most obvious differences whenever away from home was on the TV. Regional news bulletins involved unfamiliar accents and places I’d never heard of. Holidays in Llandudno provided The Smurfs and Superted in Welsh, which was rather disconcerting to a 6 year old. When we moved to Gloucester, we discovered that our house (thanks to an aerial on a building over the road) was alone amongst our friends in that it picked up BBC South West and HTV as opposed to Midlands Today and Central. [It might not seem like much of difference, but it did mean that we got classic NZ hospital soap Shortland Street, which wasn't shown on Central - it's the little things!]

Fast forward to 2004 and my parents’ move to Belfast. Move to another province within the UK and things change considerably. Many Brits of my generation will remember with fondness the Broom Cupboard of CBBC which was the lynch-pin of weekday evening TV. A daily feature, before that day’s Neighbours was shown (an essential part of 1980′s/90′s TV viewing), was the presenter bidding Northern Irish viewers goodbye several minutes before Neighbours started. I didn’t give it much thought at the time (I was more concerned with what Brad had been up to in Erinsbrough), but once subjected to TV in Northern Ireland on a regular basis, I wondered what they were watching when we were indulging in Ozzie high jinks…

[I've just Googled it. According to this interview with Andi Peters, they had Neighbours an hour later than us. At 5.30pm they had local news instead. Who knows why!]

BBC1-2012-XMAS-ID-TREE-2-NI-1

There are a lot of differences in the scheduling of TV in Northern Ireland. It becomes a bit of an issue at Christmas, when the rest of the country is watching something significant – one year it was the Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special – and instead, viewers in NI are treated to a local comedy like The Folks on the Hill. (That’s not to say that this satirical cartoon isn’t quality entertainment – it is – it’s just that I’d rather have been watching a keenly awaited show that everyone else was enjoying!) Regularly, Mock the Week is shown over an hour later in the province, a fact that led my mother to inadvertently tweet a celebrity for the first time. [Chris Addison had tweeted something witty about the time of that night's episode, which I had retweeted. My mother (thinking that the 'Chris' in question was my friend Christopher, not an award-winning actor/comedian) tweeted back: "...except in Northern Ireland, when it's on at 10.40pm - it takes longer for the boat with the tape to get here".] 

I’ve been over in Belfast for most of the last week and spotted a trailer for some interesting looking drama on BBC1 (it’s got Olivia Colman in it, so it’s got to be good) but noticed that they were being shown at 10.40pm. Lauded new dramas are not broadcast at that time of night – they’re on at 9pm. What was Northern Ireland getting instead? On Monday night, I experienced the schedule shift for myself. While the rest of the country was (potentially) enjoying New Tricks (can’t see the point myself), we settled down to a BBC documentary commemorating the 20th anniversary of the IRA ceasefire.

I was rather surprised that such a programme wasn’t on the national schedule. [You can catch up with it on iPlayer - there's a dedicated Northern Ireland section there.] When I was growing up, and for decades before that, the Troubles were usually the top item on the news. Living in London, I experienced at first hand some of the effects of the IRA’s actions – feeling the tremors of a controlled explosion of a bomb in John Lewis Oxford St during my first term at secondary school; being prevented from taking my usual route to school because of overnight bombs; the secret service protection of a neighbour who worked in the NI Office; not to mention the shock and horror everyone felt at the atrocities carried out by both sides over the years. Without the ceasefires, the Good Friday Agreement and everything else that has paved the road to peace, I wouldn’t now be travelling to Belfast on a semi-regular basis.

The Troubles were not solely a Northern Ireland issue, they were a national issue – an international one in fact. This documentary was an important reminder of how far things have progressed in a comparatively short space of time and thoroughly deserved a national airing. But as I watched, I realised that it was far more detailed than most of the programmes I’ve ever previously seen on the conflict. It was made with those who had lived in and with it year after year after year in mind. For a population where everyone knows someone who has been directly affected by it. Maybe it wouldn’t have made much sense to the typical 9pm BBC1 audience?

As a result, I’ve been somewhat reconciled to the peculiarities of regional scheduling. Clearly, Northern Ireland deserves programmes that cater to their knowledge and experiences, that would probably go over the heads of many people in England, Scotland and Wales. They deserve to watch them at a sensible hour and on a ‘normal’ channel. But, we need to be careful not to exclude the rest of the nation. What happens in one province doesn’t leave the others unaffected. We are – for now – a United Kingdom.

Friday fun for the season of new starts

It’s the first Friday in September. Not the cheeriest of days, but a day for many to celebrate simply because it means that they’ve got through the first week of term. For others, it’s just another Friday to be got through. Either way, let’s find some fun…

To start, how about some DLR themed fun? The Secrets of the London Tube series has featured on previous Fridays, but as many of you will know, the DLR is considered to be a somewhat separate element of the network – nonetheless, the Secrets of the DLR is now available. For many Londoners it remains a line of mystery, never having cause to use it. However, for others, the joy of getting the driver’s seat on a DLR train never dies. [Further joys of living near Stratford: it's where DLR trains begin, therefore the driver's seat is highly attainable!]

If that gets your tube-geek juices going, let’s see how you fair on this (actually quite tricky) Buzzfeed quiz on the tube map. I will disclose that I got 24/25 – my knowledge of the outer rings of the Overground isn’t as good as it could be.

Talking of London, what about a bringing together of the world’s best city, excellent literature and maps? The result is utterly lovely and fascinating:

Exhib artwork.inddLiterary London Prints

And talking of maps, I’ve seen this map of an introvert’s heart a few times on Twitter recently, but wanted to find out where it was actually from (bad, bad Tweeters for not linking directly!). It’s by Gemma Correll and is quite frankly the truth about life as an introvert:

Map Introvert Heart

With the start of the university year fast approaching, now is not really a time for a ‘fun’ visit to Ikea – unless you thrive in a milieu of stressed parents and anxious offspring. [I say this, but Belfast Ikea was perfectly pleasant on Monday, despite a city-wide issue with chip and pin machines.] What is fun, if you’re a lover of Swedish furniture and meatballs, is this collection of every Ikea catalogue front cover since 1951, dutifully collated by Home Designing. I was pleased to discover that both the Poang chair and the Lack coffee table are older than I am…

IKEA-1951-CatalogIn 1951, Ikea seemed to be catering for the likes of Sherlock…

IKEA-1974-Catalog-600x521This would appear to epitomise the 70s’.

Thanks to a four-hour internet outage, this was published after 5pm, but no matter, hopefully it’s still fun!

From Bloomsbury to Newham

It’s been three weeks since I moved out of my flat on the award winning Lambs Conduit Street. [Genuinely, my former street won a 'Great Street' award last year.] I’m now starting to feel at home in Forest Gate – I’ve worked out various transport options; located a large Sainsbury’s; begun identifying walking routes to places of interest and my landlords have finally returned from holiday and made me feel extremely welcome.

Conduit House

Leaving the wonders of Bloomsbury and Zone 1 life was always going to be a wrench. I’m not sure I have ever lived anywhere that I’ve loved more, that suited me and my interests so well and that was a genuinely lovely community to be part of. (My parents and friends repeatedly tell me that I’ll never live anywhere like it again. That doesn’t help!)

From my flat I could walk in any direction and end up somewhere useful/interesting – Gloucester Road for college in 90 minutes; Wapping for Matryoshka Haus fun in 75; Liverpool Street in 35; Covent Garden in 15; and the South Bank in just under half an hour. Do you know how good it is to be able to walk home from an evening out? To not be frustrated by the eccentricities of public transport and other travellers? [Apparently my 'J-ness', in the MBTI sense, is particularly evident in my belief that walking is always better because the time it takes never varies!] Everyone should live in Zone 1 at least once in their life!

LCS 4 seasons Lambs Conduit Street through the seasons – spied from my bedroom window.

Despite its awards, LCS had its disadvantages. There was the noise – from the wine bar and restaurants late at night, chatter bounced off the high buildings lining a narrow-ish street; from the wine bottle collection every morning (which a year ago moved to 8.45am on weekdays, which was nice and 6.55am on Sundays, which was not); and the accordion player who had recently taken to playing on a regular basis below my window. There was the 6 flights of wonky stairs up to my front door and the insane detail of our rubbish and recycling collections. But honestly, it was a small price to pay for an almost idyllic location. (Idyllic for an urbanite, obviously.)

But, I do genuinely enjoy the experience of getting to know a new (to me) bit of the capital. When I first moved to King’s Cross, I described it as fitting together the patches of a quilt, colouring in sections as I got to know them, and over the last couple of weeks I’ve been busy colouring in a patch just beyond the Bow roundabout. Until a coach journey back from Stansted last month, I’d no idea that Stratford was just beyond that roundabout (I’d only ever visited by tube – yet again the benefits of travelling around London by bus are evident). Now I’m working out routes to the Olympic Park and beyond, establishing where I can get my long distance walking in and piecing together the far end of bus routes I’d used in the city.

Life in Zone 3 is different, but good different. There’s a garden, albeit currently a building site (but I like building sites), which produces amazing produce one would spend a fortune to acquire in one of the city’s many ‘Farmers’ markets. The other night I did battle with my 2 year old housemate over the small number of raspberries ripe for picking in the front garden. We’re currently, as a household, trying to think of a variety of uses for the glut of pears that’s imminent. (Ideas appreciated.)

Garden BountyThis particular bit of Zone 3 also does parks rather well. A long absence from running has been ended thanks to a large flat piece of grassland just 7 minutes walk away (the appropriately named Wanstead Flats) and that’s just the beginning of an epic stretch of park that goes on for miles. No pesky pedestrians will now hinder my runs! I could even try to find a route that takes me into the Olympic Park, which would be good because then I can claim to have run at the Olympics.

Wanstead Flats Finally, while life is generally calm and collected in the new abode, every so often I begin to feel like I’m living in a soap opera…

Albert Square