A decade on 

The memories of a decade are still pretty fresh. In fact, I was genuinely surprised that it had been 10 years, so vivid are the images stored in my mind.

On July 7th 2005 I was living in Muswell Hill, commuting from the depths of zone 3 into Waterloo. I was nearly 2 months into my new job and my fresh-faced enthusiasm for the commute had worn off. Mornings involved a bus journey to Highgate, then a Northern Line journey of 12 stops. The bus journey, a 10 minute jaunt with no traffic, regularly took up to half an hour at 8am. Muswell Hill’s a great place to live, but it’s a pain to commute from.

On the morning of July 7th, I was running late. On board the bus I discovered that the Northern Line was down, so my brain sought an alternative route from its store of London bus routes. I can’t remember for certain, but I think it involved the 4 from Archway. It may have involved a different route & ultimately boarding the Piccadilly Line. What I’m very grateful for is that I didn’t know about the signal failure before I left the house, as otherwise I would have been on the Piccadilly Line in the direction of Russell Square…

That’s one of the reasons why 7/7 was such huge thing for the people of London. Every commuter has their back up journeys; their quirks and habits; and their routines. Most of the stories you read of those caught up in the attack involve sentences like “my usual line/station was closed, so I…” or “I stood at my usual place on the platform…” 

On that morning, whatever route I took, it was clear upon arriving at Waterloo that something was wrong. Talk was of electrical failure, but as the morning’s work got underway, it quickly became obvious that it was something more sinister. I worked for CMS at the time, in Partnership House on Waterloo Road (known by cabbies as the “Go Forth” building owing to the Bible verse on its frontage). Across the road was London Ambulance HQ and by 10am the road was shut to allow ambulances to have free reign. From the window by my desk, where the day before I’d seen evidence of the 2012 Olympic bid celebrations, I now watched London’s disaster protocol race into action.

Landlines & mobiles went down and the BBC website became excruciatingly slow. My regular work habit of emailing a school friend at her office in Bristol came in handy, as she was able to get hold of my sister to let her know I was fine. She’d heard nothing about it, but was able to put mum’s fears at rest. Talking about that day over lunch yesterday (I think the first time we’ve ever really talked about it as a family) my suspicions were confirmed – Mum had been very worried about me because, unlike the rest of the family, she knew that at least one of the bombs had exploded on a route that was a valid commuting option.

7/7 lives on in the memories of many Londoners simply because it could have been us.

***

Over the last ten years I’ve heard the stories of many friends, colleagues and acquaintances regarding their experiences that July day. The friend teaching in a school near Edgware Road who found herself having to explain something of what had happened to primary aged children; a friend who was on a field trip with a group of hijab-clad women in East London and wondered why they received strange looks on a bus, oblivious to the morning’s events; the one-time colleague who was in an adjacent train at Edgware Road, who received an honour for his First Aid efforts; and clergy friends who were called to the scene or to the aid of emergency responders.

When I moved to work at St George’s, I was very aware of the proximity of Russell Square station (obviously, it was my local station!) and Tavistock Square. In common with many Londoners, I still can’t pass the British Medical Association building without remembering the photo of the number 30 bus, blown apart, debris and blood scattered all around. The church was within 7 minutes walk of two of the bombs. This week, my former incumbent has been sharing his memories of the day he was called to a task that most clergy dread: being on the scene of a major disaster. It had a profound impact upon him personally – as it did with others who responded.

***

That July evening, after a suspect package on a bus outside resulted in the evacuation of my office, I walked through a shocked city. Transport was on lock-down and huge swathes of streets were closed. To return to north London, there was just one option: walking. [My Mum, having ascertained that I was safe, immediately turned her attention to my footwear – did I have anything practical with me? Thankfully, yes.] From Waterloo I crossed the river, toiled up through Tottenham Court Road, past Camden and along Kentish Town Road – at which point, a woman hit me. Not hard and not out of malice, but out of frustration. Her pace was erratic and I’d kept over-taking her, and her annoyance got the better of her. I climbed up the hill to Highgate Village, forgetting just how steep the incline was, and paused on a bench to have a bit of a cry at my extreme tiredness and desperation to be home. At Highgate, I emerged to find red buses travelling towards Muswell Hill and dejectedly boarded one.

Unlike 52 others that day, I got to complete my day’s commute.

Remember the date tomorrow. To honour the victims and remember their families. [Ensure you watch A Song for Jenny on iPlayer.] To recognise the extraordinary efforts of ordinary people caught up in the events. And, most of all, to pray and work towards the end of such senseless violence anywhere and everywhere in the world.

A flock of sheep across the capital

My friends and I have gained something of a reputation for a certain activity in recent years. (Actually, I think we have a number of them!) We are known for our passion for hunting inanimate objects…

Back in 2012 it was eggs; in 2013 Gromits; and in 2014 book benches. Elephants, gorillas, buses, Paddingtons and Olympic mascots have also been pursued individually. We take it seriously – dates are planned far in advance; hotels booked at bargain rates; themed goodies baked; and route maps studied carefully. This is not simply a fun day out, it is a mission to be completed!!

Hunting at St Paul's

This year, we’re hunting sheep. Shaun the sheep to be precise. After the success of Gromit in Bristol 2 years ago, 2015 sees a Shaun trail in London over the spring & a summer one in Bristol. Just to show how serious we are, the trail launched on Saturday and we began it on Monday! (More of a happy accident involving Easter holiday dates really.) So if you’re feeling inspired, you’ve got ages to catch them.

Pleasingly, the organisers have appreciated that adults enjoy these hunts just as much as (if not more than) children. Each model of Shaun, designed by a different artist and sponsored by a different company, has a name and theme. These often have a link with its location, and regularly feature some spectacular punning…

Shaun at the Globe? “To sheep, perchance to dream.”
St Paul’s cathedral? “Baa-roque”
Tate Modern? “Br-ewe-nel”
Canary Wharf? “Golden Fleece”

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The latter was a favourite thanks to its shiny ness and potential for reflective photography. Our efforts even prompted its artist to tweet:

(I can’t claim solo credit for this. We all had a go!)

Based on our experiences yesterday and today (and previous escapades), I’d offer the following tips:

  • Plan your route. The map’s available online (you can pick up hard copies too) or there’s an app. We did it over 2 days, but with an earlier start and better weather you could do it in one. Beginning at Paddington, we did the ‘strays’ first, tubing it to Canary Wharf from Edgware Rd then tubing back to London Bridge for the start of trail 4. Trail was done backwards, ending with the first 2 of trail 2. Day 2 began in Covent Garden, included a trek to the far end of St James’ Park for the final lost sheep & ultimately concluding with Shaun number 1 on Carnaby St!
  • Know your limits! Pressing on too long sucks the fun out of it. If you’re local, and/or have children, do the trails over a few days. Trail 4 is long but worth it for the views!
  • Chat to other hunters. You’ll probably see the same people at different locations, so make friends! (I got teased for doing this.) If you’re alone, all the more reason to chat!
  • Snacks are crucial for pepping up flagging hunters. I like themed ones – egg shaped biscuits were a fun treat for egg hunting and a surprise discovery in a pound shop meant that I could repeat the recipe for Shaun. (We also enjoyed Simnel muffins and mini hot cross buns.)
  • Use the toilets whenever there’s a Shaun in a location with free ones.

This is the first trail we’ve ever completed as a group, which is a big bonus for those of us who like to complete things! Bristol’s set to be a 70 Shaun trail, which is rather daunting – but at least we’ve already got our dinner destinations planned!

Shaun HuntingAll 50 London Shauns

On tiles and fake houses

Leinster Gardens text

This text conversation took place on a Friday night, just over a week ago. It caused great excitement, much to the consternation of my companion at the time. It took rather a lot of explaining to help her understand the cause of my glee, and to be honest, I don’t think she ever got it entirely.

You, my lovely readers, will have understood though, surely? Leinster Gardens is famous and has been previously featured on this blog at least twice. I first discovered its secret during the tube’s 150th anniversary celebrations, courtesy of the fabulous 150 Great Things About the Underground blog. Then, thanks to Sherlock, the rest of the world discovered it this time last year. [In case you don’t remember, the location was one of Sherlock’s bolt holes.]

Sunday dawned bright and chilly – perfect conditions for some geeky exploring. It got off to a great start before I’d even joined my fellow geeks for brunch. My destination was Baker Street, and as I emerged from the Jubilee Line platforms (something that until three and a half years ago I had done six days a week), things felt different. Cleaner. Lighter. I thought perhaps the walls had undergone a deep-clean. As I reached the top of the escalator I realised that it wasn’t a lack of dirt, it was entirely new tiles. Not a big deal, you might think, but this part of Baker Street station had previously featured tiles reminding passengers of its most famous (yet entirely fictional) resident. Surely they hadn’t got rid of the Sherlock Holmes tiles??

Well yes, and no…
The tiles had gone, and been replaced by some classy, antique style tiles very much in keeping with Baker Street’s status as one of the oldest stations on the underground. BUT, one patch had been preserved – so sense had prevailed!

Baker St Tiles

Brunch over, we set off towards Paddington in search of Leinster Gardens. Should you want to find them yourself, they’re only 10 minutes walk from Paddington, so it’s very easy to do. So easy, I’m bemused that it’s taken me this long to get there!

Still unaware of the terraces’ secret? Take a look for yourself. Spot anything?

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How about from this angle?

Leinster Gardens

Got it? There’s something fishy about number 23. Did you spot the different roof in the first photo? The peculiar ‘glass’ of the windows in the second?

If you walk to the end of the road, turn right and then right again, you soon discover what’s behind the windows:

Behind Leinster Gardens

That would be nothing. Well, not exactly nothing – the District & Circle lines run along here (although originally it was the Metropolitan Line). The line’s first trains were steam powered and needed space to let off steam (don’t we all??), but residents apparently didn’t want their lovely white terrace to have a massive hole in the middle of it. And thus, the facades were erected and the residents were happy. Until, presumably, lots of geeks turned up to take photos of it…

At the ballet…

This week marked four years since I made my first ever venture into the world of ballet watchingCinderella at Sadler’s Wells. It was an experience that had been on my list of ‘first’ things I wanted to achieve in 2010, and I managed it with 10 days to spare. However, it was subsequently pointed out to me that while the work of Matthew Bourne is certainly excellent, it falls more into the ‘modern dance’ category rather than ‘ballet’. (I’d never seen a Bourne production live either, so it was still a first!)

Days before the anniversary of this auspicious event, I finally realised my First properly. Surely no one could argue that the Royal Ballet performing at the Royal Opera House doesn’t count as ballet??

As with my Bourne experience, the initiator was my balletomane friend Jules. In the heady days of summer, shocked that I’d never entered the hallowed ROH, she bagged some bargain tickets for a Christmas performance of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. [Top ROH tip: our tickets were £10 and in the heights of the Upper Amphitheatre slips, where the seats are actually cushioned benches. Being row CC and numbers 15 & 16 meant that we actually got a pretty good view. Any higher a number or row DD and things would’ve been tricky. Only one small part of the stage was obscured, and for £10, I’m willing to make that sacrifice!!]

alice & White Rabbit

Premiered in 2011, Alice is the Royal Ballet’s first full length ballet for two decades, choreographed by the rather fabulous Christopher Wheeldon. My biggest fear with watching dance is that I won’t understand what’s going on without words, but this made Alice a safe choice, given my familiarity with the source material.

Actually, even without the book and film versions, I think I would have understood the plot in this production. The beginning deviated from the source in that it featured a Lewis Carroll-esque photographer; and a handsome gardener chased away by Alice’s mother after discovering the pair kissing – but I picked up on this without the aid of the programme notes. The characters in the prologue went on to ‘play’ the Wonderland characters, Alice’s mother being the Queen of Hearts chasing the gardener’s Knave.

Alice-30

The production was just as bonkers and colourful as any version of Alice deserves to be. The Mad Hatter, resplendent in green and pink, tap-danced through his scenes; the caterpillar was a reincarnation of an Indian maharajah, whose Bollywood style moves perfectly captured the larvae’s undulating movement; and the Queen coasted in a giant acrylic heart for all of act 1! The set was reminiscent of Tori Amos’ The Light Princess, with animated shadow puppet style backdrops at points where extra narration was needed. Once released from her heart on wheels, the queen was the campest and most demanding prima ballerina the ROH’s stage can ever have hosted!

Caterpillar Alice

The ballet was magical and I highly recommend catching it at some point. (I’m pretty sure the entire run is now sold out, but it’ll be back…) But, almost more impressive was the sheer act of watching something in the Opera House. Fortunately, the 3 act ballet provided us with two intervals in which t take it all in – one spent admiring the auditorium space, and the other the sparkle and charm of the bars and corridors. Man, I love a good chandelier!

Looking up at the amphitheatre barObserving the observers in the amphitheatre bar.

It was an epic night out, one that might only have been improved had I still been living at my previous address, a mere 20 minutes walk from the ROH’s steps. Emerging to discover freezing rain would have been much easier to deal with knowing I’d be warm and dry in half an hour, instead of at the end of a 1 hour bus journey! [Three years in WC1 has spoiled me.]

Thinking back to that visit to Sadler’s Wells four years ago [incidentally, gosh what a lot has happened in those four years!], I’m pretty confident that a trip to the Royal Ballet would have been too much for a ‘first’. I simply didn’t know enough about the ballet world to have appreciated it.

What’s changed? Well, inadvertently, I’ve been on a crash course in ballet history, courtesy of a couple of BBC documentaries and a YouTube black hole. I knew a certain amount already, thanks to assiduous re-reading of the Drina books (last re-read in August!) and a certain fondness for stage/ballet school tv shows. The discovery of Dance Academy on Netflix early this year would partly explain my descent into ballet exploration. Set in a fictional Australian ballet school adjacent to the Sydney Opera House, it’s three seasons were a brilliant mix of ballet and Neighbours! Then there was the not fictional at all First Position – an award winning documentary about the Prix de Lausanne ballet competition. Mesmerising!

The above would probably be what I’d call an introduction to the world of ballet – they’re easy watches and in the case of Dance Academy, positively addictive. If you want to take things a little further, here are some links to gems that offered me some solace while finishing off my degree earlier in the year:

Royal Ballet School documentary (From the 90’s, featuring some famous names when they were young, and epic 90’s hair.)
Strictly Bolshoi (Christopher Wheeldon choreographs at the Bolshoi)
Ballet in Birmingham (Welsh pupils at Elmhurst School)
‘Agony & Ecstasy – a year with the English National Ballet’

 

Next year, I may have to set my sights higher – a classic ballet. Swan Lake perhaps, or Giselle? At least my childhood love of dancing books means I have an idea of their plots too! Jules, what do you reckon? Same place next year?

Why I ♥ London Transport

Two weeks ago, I was in a job interview type scenario [incidentally, no news on that front – this particular exploration didn’t work out] where I was asked what I liked doing for fun. Via a mutual friend, the interviewer had discovered my love of all things London Transport and so when I mentioned TfL geekery in response to this question, he wanted to know why. Given the context, I was keen to make the point that I wasn’t an anorak wearing, notebook toting geek – but what could I say?

I’m not sure I’d ever had to answer the question before. Possibly because in London, most people share the enthusiasm – it’s to do with being so utterly reliant upon a service, even though it drives us all nuts at times – life in London without public transport would be impossible. And that’s definitely where my passion began…

Bus GinBus AND gin! [Incidentally, the LT Museum now has a limited edition gin!!]

I was 11, had just started secondary school and had acquired a commute that involved a bus journey from the wilds of North London all the way to my school in Marylebone. In case of detours, terrorist action, rain or simply the eccentricities of London Transport, my mother suggested I get to know a few bus routes that might be useful. By the time we left London three years later, this had turned into a somewhat encyclopaedic knowledge of North London bus routes.

Westminster Station at Twilight

While the practicalities might begin a fondness for London Transport, they’re not enough to fuel full-on geek-dom. For me, the number one factor is the aesthetic – the font, the artwork, the style. Paris might come close, but honestly (and semi-unbiasedly) London wins in a contest of global public transit systems. It’s the simple things, like the Johnston font that became universal across the tube when it unified in 1933, and is now found wherever TfL rules the roost. And the roundel, introduced in 1933, which isn’t just a logo or an indication of a station, but a design classic.

Bethnal Green Roundel ClockThis clock is just one example of London Transport’s commitment to its house-style.

Cities like Paris and New York might keep their stations almost entirely underground, but not London. Possibly thanks to the evolution of the network over time, combined with the aesthetic passions of those in charge, the underground has a network of stations that are nearly entirely architectural icons. The earliest stations, with their platform canopies and painted columns, remain classic a century and a half on. Line extensions and renovations enabled some of the country’s best architects to leave the city with a lasting legacy.

Temple Station platform

Take Charles Holden – architect of Senate House and 55 Broadway (still, but not for much longer, TfL HQ) – he’s responsible for the northern end of the Piccadilly Line’s style. Arnos Grove, Bounds Green, Cockfosters – all slightly different, suited to their context and location. Oh, and he did the southern end of the Northern Line too, and would have done the north too, had the war not interfered with getting his plans completed. What I love too, is that time hasn’t changed London Transport’s design values either. The architecture of the Jubilee Line extension is just as impressive, but in a completely different way. All of the stations on the network seem to reflect the age in which they were created.

Charles Holden Piccadilly LineFound here.

Then there’s the inside of the stations. Every single one is different. True, there might be a particular colour palette for a certain line, or a particular style – like the red tile accents along parts of the Central Line – but each one has its own motif. The Bakerloo at Baker Street has Sherlock Holmes tiles. Finsbury Park’s Piccadilly Line platforms has the ascending hot air balloon mosaics. Charing Cross on the Northern Line is the home of Chaucer-like characters. You could spend days exploring the art gallery that is the London Underground. (And that’s before visiting the regular art exhibits at Gloucester Road!)

To the trainsI’m pretty sure this is Russell Square – it’s certainly the colour & style of that part of the Piccadilly Line.

But, the fire that helps this passion burn is the history. Seriously, if I’d thought about it sooner I’m sure there are many PhDs to be had out of TfL geekery! The art, design and architecture all contributes to its history, but the very simple fact that it’s been around for over a century and a half gives it huge status for a history nerd!

It’s the contribution it makes to London’s social history – how transport has been used, by whom and where. The fact that changing populations and two world wars impacted the way the network worked, and where its stations were. It’s charted the progress of technology and engineering, from horses, to tramlines, to driverless trains and hydrogen buses. Within all of this, obviously, are the fascinating worlds of disused stations and maps…

Embankment 1980's MapEmbankment’s 1980’s map.

Ah, the psycho-geography of London Transport!

I love walking down a street and knowing that there’s an abandoned station along it. That once upon a time, this was a place deemed worthy of a station. But that once upon a time, a few years later, it wasn’t. [Or, in the case of Aldwych, was never really worthy of a station in the first place!] Perhaps the building’s still there; perhaps it’s been converted into something else, but still bears the tell-tale brickwork or signage; or perhaps it’s just a memory and a chapter in the nerdy book station of the London Transport museum.

Aldwych StationThe side entrance of the now unused Aldwych.

And that’s the final thing. I love London Transport because it loves itself! As we approach the end of the Year of the Bus (and the inevitable museum shop new year sale in which I think I will be very happy), a year that followed the tube’s 150th birthday, it’s clear that its history really is worth celebrating. I think knowing and understanding the history helps Londoners to appreciate what they have. We still use the same stations built 151 years ago. I regularly stand on a platform at the start of a tunnel that Brunel built in the 19th Century. The tube’s map still has a huge amount it owes to Beck, despite regular changes and updates.

Year of the BusYear of the Bus celebrated on Regent’s Street.

Honestly, where would we be without you London Transport??

1950s Map1950’s Map