Walk the Lines: The London Underground, Overground

Walk the Lines coverWalk the Lines: The London Underground, Overground by Mark Mason

Full of great London trivia as you might expect, but also surprisingly deep philosophical insights into what makes the city (or indeed any city). I suppose walking over 400 miles gives you a lot of time to think about these things, and it shows. Also Bill Drummond makes a surprise appearance, which is never a bad thing.

★★★★★ 5/5 stars


Having just visited Brussels for the first time, I’m mystified as to how the Belgians aren’t the fattest people in the world. Their national cuisine apparently consists of:

  • Fries
  • Various exciting sauces for the fries, often based on mayonnaise
  • Chocolate
  • Waffles
  • Waffles covered in chocolate
  • Beer

All of which are delicious, but hardly healthy.

The Sound of Stations

One of the best things about working remotely is that I can get work done anywhere there’s a seat and wi-fi. In fact even the latter isn’t vital thanks to mobile tethering. It’s a great excuse to explore London a bit, and usually I’ll find a nice coffee shop, or a library.

Now forgive me for sounding old and grumpy here, but libraries are so often full of children and teenagers making an absolute racket. My local Leyton Library being a particularly bad offender, they seem to have stocked it with noisy children’s toys! It’s not all libraries by any means, but too many of them. At least I’m getting my money’s worth from my recently purchased noise cancelling headphones.

Anyway, the other day I did sit down to do some work in a rather pretty spot at St. Pancras station’s AMT Coffee (a chain that I do still retain a certain affection for):

St Pancras

Not a bad view, huh? The thing is, despite the fact that it’s a major railway station, it was surprisingly quiet. Not in terms of the number of people of course (see my earlier post) but the noise level. The only exception was when a Eurostar arrived, which they seem to have made as noisy and ostentatious as possible as if the train was announcing “HEY I CAME FROM FRANCE ARE YOU IMPRESSED?!”. But the rest of the time, surprisingly quiet.

I wandered into Cannon Street station during rush hour once and it was an almost creepy experience: huge throngs of people were standing around gazing at the screens for their platform, all in complete silence. Yes it’s a well-worn cliché that commuters never talk to each other on the tube, but to a large extent it’s true, and it seems to extend to the stations.

Admittedly the stations with more tourists and leisure travellers, rather than just City commuters, tend to be a bit more lively. Still, I find it interesting that the code of silence seems so much stronger in London’s stations than in its libraries.

London Bridge station timelapse

Here’s a hypnotic timelapse of London Bridge station during the morning peak (although it probably looks quite different at the moment due to the ongoing works).

To put it in perspective, this isn’t even London or the UK’s busiest station. Waterloo, Victoria and Liverpool Street all handle more passengers.

Living up North, I used to think of Manchester Piccadilly as a huge and busy station. It comes 15th on that list, and all but three of the stations above it are yet more London stations. Even what I now think of as my ‘local’ station, Stratford, is significantly busier than Piccadilly. And that’s just counting National Rail services, not including the Underground and DLR.

My other current favourite statistic: a single London bus route (25) carries 50% more passengers every day than Sheffield’s entire tram system.

This city really does rely on public transport to a staggering extent.

Memories of Millom

Although to be pedantic I think it’s Haverigg in the photo. I really like the colours in this. Taken on my old Samsung Galaxy Portal, the first smartphone I had and certainly my first phone with a camera that was anything more than a novelty item.

Was reminded of Millom when I went to a bar in Stratford last week and they had “Duality” by Hardknott brewery on tap. I recognised the name: they used to be based on the same tiny industrial estate as Helpful Books where I worked! Pleased to discover their beer has made it all the way down to London, and still tastes great.

Yep, that pretty much covers all eventualities

2014-06-19 18.26.11


Edit: Someone on Facebook pointed out there would be no items priced at exactly £1, which had occurred to me too. It got me thinking about an interesting quirk of English on display here.

If you were to say “Some of the fish are blue” then that implies nothing about the colours of any other fish. Similarly for “Some of the fish are yellow”. But just conjoin the sentences into “Some of the fish are blue and some of the fish are yellow” and suddenly it’s heavily implied that there are no red fish present. Not explicitly stated, but I would almost certainly read it that way and I guess others would too.