Getting back to the fun

I’ve been very lax on the fun front of late. I still note the fun, it’s just that these posts are probably the most finickety to compile and take forever – it says something about my respect for my time that it’s taken a back seat recently! But, I feel remiss, and there is fun to be had…

First off, obviously, would be a little bit of London fun. I had my own, real-life transport fun last weekend (more on that anon), but there is also fun of a virtual nature. Namely, maps. Bearing in mind that I’ve haven’t Friday-Funned since way before Christmas, there’s some catching up to do. I assume we’ve now all seen Londonist’s Medieval Tube Map? [No fewer than 10 people sent that gem to me! It’s utterly genius!] What about a tube map from the 1920’s? i.e. a pre-Beck map

1920 Tube Map

Away from the fun of city living, some music based data analysis. (What do you mean, this doesn’t sound fun??) The most popular lyrics/words of the Billboard chart have been visualised so we can explore the way in which lyrics have changed over the decades. My favourite discovery? ‘Christmas’ was a top 5 word in the 40’s and 50’s – to be replaced by ‘U’ in the 90’s and 2000’s, and profanity in the 2010’s… Fascinating stuff!

Billboard Lyrics Visualisation

On a totally different topic, we’re now firmly into awards season. Hurrah for pointless red carpets and meaningless recognition! [Seriously, HOW is The Lego Movie not nominated for Best Animated Picture at the Oscars??] But most of all, hurrah for excellent awards hosts. Next month, Neil Patrick Harris takes on the Oscars, which, if his Tony Award hosting is anything to go by, should be full of hilarity. Last weekend saw Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s final outing as the hosts of the Golden Globes and were fabulous – their opening monologue deserves watching, should you have been living in Outer Mongolia for the last week and unaware of their extremely witty brilliance. 

Finally, for some fun of an utterly ridiculous (yet strangely captivating) nature, how about a compilation of ‘Jessica Fletcher’s many epiphanies from Murder, She Wrote’? Yes, it’s nearly an hour long, but the first 10 minutes (before I realised how long it was) scored at least 6 chuckles. Who doesn’t love Angela Lansbury??

Friday Fun with maps, stats & improv

The rain’s pouring down outside and there are still 5 hours of the working week left to work. But fear not, there is fun!

For a start, we have a lot of London-related fun. Firstly, let’s celebrate the end of a commuting week with some photos of just how beautiful the tube can look when not full of commuters:

Beautiful TubeQuestion is, can you guess the station? In fact, make the slideshow more fun by turning it into a game! 

A favourite element of Friday Fun is the combining of maps and statistics. Helpfully, the Guardian recently compiled some of the best London infographics, which was then followed up this week by the BBC doing the same – but with different maps. [All come from the same source – London: The Information Capital.] In fact, the BBC article breaks the infographics down a bit, so is potentially a better read. Favourites of mine included:

Heathrow lost & foundLost property at Heathrow in 2013. 

British passport holders by countries of birth Passports 2

The BBC article actually explains this very badly. From the census question cited, this ought to be a representation of the countries Londoner’s hold passports for. The article captioned the graphic as being the countries in which London residents were born. If it’s the latter, I’m proud to be a member of a group of only 1.200 people! 

Returning to London transport, via maps, readers of Londonist (an incredibly helpful repository of London related information) have contributed to make a tube map where the station names actually relate to their location:

LondonistAlternativeNamesV5Currently, I’m deriving a lot of fun from my latest London Transport geek purchase: a skirt with London buses on it. Yes. Buses. Since the summer, Cath Kidston has had a range in a lovely bus print and I’ve been biding my time to make this purchase once some of it ended up in the sale. My mother has pointed out that I need to not go overboard with the print (less is more, apparently) – I have the book bag and the skirt and I reckon there’s still room for a couple of cushion covers and a pencil case or purse. Right?


Finally, what happens when hundreds of people in the same location listen to the same mp3 file & follow its instructions simultaneously? If you’re part of Improv Everywhere, this:

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!

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.


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.

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!