Further adventures of a TfL nerd

There are various quirks that emerge in my regular day-to-day London behaviour – I like to walk (stupidly long distances) to places for no good reason sometimes; when boarding the top deck of the bus I will always aim for the seat on the far-right of the front row; I get irrationally annoyed when people take up too much space on the pavement for me to over-take them; I like to be able to walk down escalators…I could go on.

Many would lay claim to some of the above quirks, but lately I’ve noticed a few, rather more nerdy ones appearing. Do many people deliberately manoeuvre themselves to the front of a DLR train so they can pretend to be driving it? [DLR trains are automatic.] Anyone else love the thrill of being able to see exactly where they’re going and feel every jolt and shudder? Has anybody else felt that they missed a trick in not including some rollercoaster-esque moments – like the steady ascent into Canary Wharf that ought to end in a dramatic drop?

Yesterday, I got absurdly excited at the prospect of using the Waterloo & City line, which I rarely travel on. It’s something of an oddity, what with only containing two stations, and simply exists to provide an under the river shuttle between Waterloo and the City. [Gosh, it was clearly a genius that came up with its name!] Plus, it’s the tube featured in Sliding Doors and I once got to observe new rolling stock being delivered to its tracks – a definite TfL nerd highlight.

You see, there’s no open air access to the line – unlike all other lines which connect emerge above ground somewhere or somehow – so moving the new trains in when the line and trains were refurbished four (ish) years ago was tricky. It just so happened that one Saturday morning on the way to my old, skanky gym in Waterloo, I spotted a train carriage in mid-air and paused to see what was going on. Turns out that the only way to get the trains down there was to cut a massive hole in Baylis/Waterloo Road (at the junction by the Old Vic) and use a crane to lower the carriages in, one by one. Fascinating. I wish I’d taken a photo, but luckily a quick Google has brought one to light:

Photo courtesy of the very useful SE1 website.


The other quirk is the continuing quest for disused stations. Ever since my nerd’s day out back in September, an increasingly grubby list of locations has sat in my jacket pocket. It’s not often that I’m the vicinity of a known station, but very occasionally I stumble upon them by chance – like last Sunday, while on a secret mission in Primrose Hill.

Emerging from Chalk Farm station and heading up towards the hill, I looked up a road to my left and spotted a bridge and a building that looked suspicious. Closer inspection revealed a set of buildings that had to be a former station, especially given their proximity to a railway bridge. I wasn’t entirely sure which station it was (it wasn’t on my list), so had to wait until  I got home to check out. [Those wondering at my sanity may be relieved to hear that it was well over 24 hours before I actually looked it up. I didn’t even use my iPhone there and then.]

The former Primrose Hill station buildings.

Turns out that the reason it wasn’t on my list is because it wasn’t a tube station, but a mainline one. Originally known as Hampstead Road, then Chalk Farm before becoming Primrose Hill in 1950, it closed in 1992 – a relatively recent abandonment. Disappointingly, perusal of this website revealed that the platform and its canopy was visible until just over two years ago. I’m glad – in an extremely nerdy way – that I thought to look up the road just at that moment.

Now that spring has sprung I’m feeling an urge to go on another purposeful disused station hunt, so those that wish to join me do get in touch and we can formulate some kind of plan, no doubt involving flasks of tea (or whisky – I’m not fussy), anoraks and possibly binoculars…


I’ve just caught up on a tweet my sister sent me yesterday sharing a couple of videos she described as ‘geektastic’ (couldn’t watch them at the time, as I was trekking round London looking for churches), but having now watched them, I can confirm that they are indeed geektastic and incredibly informative.

Ever wondered what the point was of Mill Hill East station on the Northern Line? The random branch line that seemingly goes nowhere. Turns out it was meant to go somewhere – Edgware in fact – which would have created an incredibly convenient Northern Line loop. This, and other fascinating factoids about North London’s public transport system, are included in this video:

Part two is a similarly intriguing film about the 1960’s Ringways project that would have seen London surrounded by motorways – kind of glad that one didn’t get off the ground.

Oscar winners, fathers and a train to Eastbourne

Congratulations Colin Firth! Finally an Oscar winner.

[I wrote this post on Sunday and typed that line in complete faith but with a slight fear that it would jinx him.]
I’ve just spend the weekend away with church people in Eastbourne – aka retired people central – and my primary purpose of being there was to help lead the student group. This role meant that on Friday evening, me and another leader had the job of ensuring that four students safely made it from London to the coast. He sorted out the things like where we’d meet (helpfully deciding on ‘under a departure board’, when there are two at Victoria…) and what time train we’d get, but once on the move, he stuck his headphones in and I was left to the endless banter of excited youth. (One of whom was super hyper thanks to having consumed three coffees. Hmph.) 
To be honest, I’d be just the same with a group of my friends, but in the midst of a dreary Friday evening commuter train, it was quite hilarious. I’m pretty sure that the man wearing a purple crotched tie heard someone’s stage whispers of “Look! That man’s wearing a crotched purple tie!”, but luckily he didn’t show any sign of it. What did attract the attention of our fellow passengers was a conversation on the topic of the newly crowned Best Actor… 
I was telling how a guy had asked me earlier in the week if I found Colin Firth hot – I’d replied saying that I didn’t think he was the hottest actor in The King’s Speech (Guy Pearce, playing the abdicating monarch, would have to take that credit), nor did I generally find him that attractive, but I did love him in Bridget Jones. [Also, and this may shock readers, but I’ve never got the Pride & Prejudice thing, probably because I’ve never actually watched the series. I know, I know. Yell at me when you see me.] In my defence, I have what has been referred to as ‘unconventional’ taste in men…
The student girls disagreed vigorously with my views, and one went on to say “I used to really like Colin Firth, but then he started to remind me of my Dad, so that was weird.”  At which point the total stranger sat next to me piped up with “Can I meet your Dad? Sorry to interrupt, but I love Colin Firth and I couldn’t help hearing what you were talking about!” [For those interested, the father in question isn’t single and apparently doesn’t actually look much like Firth, it’s more of a subtle similarity.] We went on to bond with this lady to the extent that she was even included in our Percy Pig sharing circle.

To all other passengers in carriage 11 on the 18.06 train from Victoria on Friday night, I apologise profusely for the noise, raucous laughter and general inappropriateness that disturbed your journey home. 

As an aside, Eastbourne was lovely when the sun shone – less lovely when being battered by torrential rain. Plus, the beach was closed for maintenance (they needed to re-arrange the pebbles) – what’s that about? 

The weird things that happen on trains

Having an iPhone is revolutionising my life. I’ll probably (ok, inevitably) blog about that at some later date, but the fact that I even have one of these little beauties is crucial for the telling of this tale…

Yesterday, I had to travel from Bristol to Nottingham via Birmingham. I wasn’t overly enamoured with this fact, having had a rather intense day at a place of theological education and being en route to a work appointment for the research project that required the sacrifice of Saturday night and most of Sunday. To make me feel a little better about this journey, I stocked up on reading material – the weekend Guardian and a copy of Marie Claire (which I only ever buy when travelling with work – not that they pay for it, it’s just become a tradition) aware that I was unlikely to have a table seat, thus making DVD watching tricky.

As is my way, once on board, I multi-tasked by playing with my phone in between newspaper sections. Having not been on Twitter all day, there was a fair bit to catch up on. Plus, it’s uber addictive and tempting to refresh every few minutes. Checking my email somewhere around Cheltenham, I discovered that eight people had started following me since I’d boarded the train. Initially I thought they were robots (all too common), but then realised that they all knew each other too. Very bizarre.

Hours later I checked my @ mentions and discovered the following tweet:
@LizaClutterbuck i was sat behind you on the train from bristot temple meads to cheltenham spa. weird, eh.

‘Weird’ would possibly be an understatement! I couldn’t remember spotting the people behind me as I got on at Bristol. I do remember that the journey was rather lovely until we reached the ‘nam, owing to the quietness of the carriage, a lovely sunset and the wealth of literature I had to peruse. But I was slightly freaked out – how did he know who I was? Why was he now following me? I looked up the author – @earthtoryaan – and spotted something he’d retweeted earlier:

this woman in front of us on the train was tweeting so i got her username and now me and @earthtoryaan are now following her;)

Yes, I am ‘this woman’ – thanks @becsaysrawr. I’m amused by two things. Firstly,  that I’m a ‘woman’ – of course I realise I’m female, it’s more the fact that the youngsters clearly recognised my age and didn’t simply describe me as a girl. Secondly, that they’d come up with the idea of finding me on Twitter. To be honest, it’s not that weird and it’s not like it isn’t a public forum – I would be a lot more freaked out if it was a random guy using it to stalk me (though perhaps this means I should shield my phone better while on trains). 
It had clearly provided a humorous distraction for them for the rest of the evening. I ended up having brief tweet conversations with both of them and discovered that they had no idea how their friends had started following me too – it was just the two of them on the train. Given how randomly small this world is, it will probably turn out that they go to the school my sister teaches at, seeing as they apparently live in Cheltenham. 
I have to ask, how come I seem to be a magnet for such randomness? 

Maternal concern

On Saturday evening, a text from my mother began: “I worry about you…”

Was she concerned for my health?
Was she suffering sleepless nights at the thought of me gallivanting through London dark streets? [I learnt years ago that she doesn’t appreciate tales of bar fights I’ve witnessed or night bus journeys at 3am.]
Did she think I might be on the verge of a nervous breakdown thanks to the pressures of work?

Nope. She was simply expressing slight dismay at the news that I’d spent the previous hour amusing myself by listening to two weeks’ worth of the Desert Island Discs podcast. For some reason, she didn’t think that was a suitable activity for 8.30pm on a Saturday night. Actually, I’d agree with her. I should have been on my sofa watching X Factor, but instead was on a slow train from Aylesbury to London after a wonderful day out marred by that most British of frustrations – weekend engineering work and replacement bus services.

The only way I managed to keep my sanity (and my temper) on the journey home – which was delayed even further by some idiot tourists not buying tickets and the replacement bus driver waiting for them, thus meaning we missed our train connection – was by listening to a stock of podcasts. And to be honest, I don’t know why my taste in these things should dismay my mother, as it’s largely derived from the upbringing she gave me!

Lately I’ve gone on a subscription spree, in the hope that I will never again be stuck on a broken down train with nothing to calm me. Many of them are Radio 4 related, thanks to its omnipresence in the family home while growing up. Favourites include…

The aforementioned Desert Island Discs. Admittedly, the music is cut down to a brief snippet thanks to copyright laws, but the interviews make it a worthwhile listen despite that. Plus, it’s either because I’m old and boring or because Radio 4’s dumbed itself down considerably, but I’ve actually heard of (and quite like) all the episodes in recent weeks (Tom Jones was particularly soothing on Saturday).

Excess Baggage – another Radio 4 gem. If you adore stories about the minutiae of British life, with a slight travelling edge to it, this would be right up your street. A recent favourite was an episode based on the results of a contest in which listeners could suggest their favourite bus routes and saw Sandi Toksvig travelling from Swindon to Devizes. Honestly, it’s truly fascinating stuff!

At this point I feel I should also point out that both The Archers and Women’s Hour are available in podcast form, but I haven’t actually stooped so low as to subscribe to them. Having been subjected to enforced silence for 15 minutes every evening at 7pm throughout my life (and whenever I return to the parentals) it would probably take extreme homesickness while living in the antipodes before I became an Archers fan!

Elsewhere on the BBC is a gem hidden on a radio station I never listen to unless there is an emergency tennis situation (i.e. it’s Wimbledon fortnight and I have no TV or internet) – 5 Live. Every Friday afternoon film critic Dr Mark Kermode joins Simon Mayo for several hours of ‘Wittertainment’. The result is a podcast that’s usually around 90 minutes long, but utterly captivating.

You don’t even have to be that interested in films to find it entertaining – they could (and do) rant about anything that passes the radar and, to my joy, are particularly into grammatical pedantry. I was introduced to it via a particularly scathing review of Eat, Pray, Love which you can hear for yourself in September 24th’s edition. The fact that I’ve listened to approximately 270 minutes of Mayo & Kermode in the last three days should be a pretty good indicator of its excellence.

Finally, just in case you’ve missed past podcast recommendations, other weekly essentials are Friday Night Comedy from Radio 4 and the Best of Chris Moyles. (Don’t judge me on the latter, the breakfast show amuses me every morning on my walk to the tube and he often talks about disused stations…)

I realise these are entirely BBC produced podcasts. I believe other entertaining podcasts are available, its just that with the amount the license-fee costs, I may as well try and get my money’s worth!

A nerd’s idea of a fun day out

Last weekend, while enjoying a perfect autumnal day and realising that I had the coming Friday off work, I started to formulate a plan for the nerdiest day out…

For a long time, as I’ve mentioned (seemingly numerous times) before, I’ve harboured a desire to seek out the disused train stations that are scattered across London. In order to have a relatively stress-free expedition, it would need to take place on a weekday (avoiding weekend line closures and tourist crowds), so Friday seemed perfect.

It didn’t quite go to plan. Firstly, it was a solo adventure (I’m not entirely sure if this is a negative, but it would have been fun to share it) thanks to a couple of similarly nerdy friends having other plans [though fear not, I have other such expeditions up my sleeve which you may join me on]. Secondly, the weather was abysmal. So abysmal that I wore my wellies and got soaked to the skin thanks to issues with holding an umbrella and taking photos simultaneously – this photo (taken during my 15min wait for a train after just missing one) illustrates the conditions:

Anyway, back to the nerdiness. I planned my route with the help of the Abandoned Tube Stations site, choosing to concentrate on those with buildings still visible above ground and, on this occasion, those accessed via the Northern Line. The plan was to work my way up from London Bridge, hitting abandoned buildings at City Road, Angel, South Kentish Town and Highgate. I set off with a backpack containing a couple of nerdy books (London’s Disused Tube Stations and What’s in a Name? Origins of Station Names on the London Underground), my camera and wearing my nerdiest glasses…

1. City Road (closed 1922)
Between Old Street and Angel sat City Road station, though lack of use marked it out for closure early on. All that’s left is a ventilation shaft, which made it quite a challenge to spot given as I had only a sketchy idea of where it was located. It turned out to be closer to Angel than Old Street (thus making even more sense of its early closure) and quite an unremarkable building.

2. Angel (Re-built 1992)
Just a few minutes up the road is the old entrance to Angel tube station – a station that hasn’t closed, simply re-built with its new entrance around the corner from the old one. Over the years the old building has had a variety of purposes – I’m pretty sure that when I lived in the area as a student it was a pizza restaurant. There’s some interesting classic tube architecture, though most of its blocked by hideous metal walls. On the plus-side, there was a weird horse sticking out of the side of one wall…

3. South Kentish Town (closed 1924)Re-joining the Northern Line at Angel, I headed up to Kentish Town in pursuit of a station that I have travelled past at least 500, if not nearer 1000 times (on my way to and from school for 3 years, then later while at university). You’d have thought I’d know exactly what I was looking for, but no – it was on the opposite side of the road than I’d expected and further away from Kentish Town station than I’d thought.

The station’s between Camden and Kentish Town, and again was a case of too short a gap between other significant stations. It’s also responsible for an event that’s gone down in London Transport folklore – when an absent minded passenger alighted from a train at the closed station while a train was stopped by a signal. He had to stay on the platform until another train picked him up, but the story spawned a number of fictional accounts – each detailing increasingly ridiculous ways in which the passenger made their way  to safety. (Though, for anyone who’s watched the terrifying Creep, getting stuck in a deserted tube station is truly the stuff of nightmares.) Anyway, it’s now a truly unremarkable branch of Cash Converters, though much of its classic exterior is still visible:

4. Highgate high-level station
Nostalgia got the better of me in Kentish Town. I was approaching home territory (the wilds of proper north London) and seemed unable to stop myself from re-tracing past journeys. As there was no 134 bus (which goes straight to Highgate) forthcoming, I jumped on a 214 to Highgate Village instead – fancying the opportunity to see Parliament Hill fields and the village. Sadly it terminated early, at the fields and only half-way up the hill to the village. I’d forgotten just how steep Highgate West Hill is (we used to walk it as teenagers after afternoons spent snake-boarding on the heath, but I realised en route that my friends’ house was only part-way up the hill!) and my calves are paying for it today. By this point the weather had also got a lot worse – I could barely see a thing through my rain spattered glasses.

After a little bit of getting lost (I always get lost in the village) and some further nostalgia in my favourite children’s second hand bookshop, I was at Highgate tube station and made a shocking discovery…

I’ve walked past the high-level platforms on countless occasions (this was the station I commuted from for years and years) and never fully realised that they were there! Walking down the path from Muswell Hill Road, I wondered where the best view of the platforms would be – then I looked to my right and realised I could see them! It’s rather eerie, above the tube station is an almost perfect set of station platforms and buildings, just totally deserted since the railway closed in the 1950s.

The station could be a blog post in its own right, but here are a few glimpses:

An old station building now in someone’s garden and a glimpse of the platform from the hill.
The view from the car park – though you can’t actually see this, thanks to a high wall & some barbed wire. My camera got round it though. 

By this point I was soaked and exhausted (and it was only 1.30pm!) so I abandoned plans to discover other stations for another day – yes, there will be further instalments of this super-exciting adventure. There are quite a few photos on Flickr, if it’s your thing. If it’s so much of your thing that you’d like to join me on a future expedition, let me know – I’m sure it’ll be a case of the more the merrier!

A couple of things I’ve realised in engaging in this activity:
(i) People aren’t as judgemental about this kind of thing as you might think. Yes, it’s nerdy, but in reality, most Londoners are so dependent upon the tube that anything to do with it can become fascinating. Having said that, I’m not quite so keen on the fact that one friend thought this was a great fact with which to introduce me at a gathering where I knew no one. (He will be quick to point out that everyone he/I told loved the idea, so no one thought I was a loser, but the risk was there…)
(ii) We can be so blind as we go about our day to day life that we can miss these places. The fact that that two of the buildings were ones that I’d passed frequently yet never fully noticed says a lot. Keeping your eyes open and looking out for something out of the ordinary is a great skill to have.