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

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.

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.


Popped into the new flagship Foyles* store on Charing Cross Road today. It’s very impressive, weighing in at a mighty eight floors (although only six are full of books; there’s also the now inevitable cafe, plus a “gallery” which I didn’t get chance to visit). Diamond Geezer has a much better post than I could write about the place, so suffice to say that I came away with a  couple of books that I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into. Could have spent much longer there, but that would probably also mean spending much more money!

I also enjoyed the many neatly arranged drawers of sheet music, and especially the blank manuscript paper section:

2014-06-22 15.10.59

2014-06-22 15.10.18

* Interestingly they don’t have an apostrophe, yet seem to have avoided all the fuss Waterstones had to put up with when they dropped theirs.

DLR audio guides

South Quay DLR station - not actually on the guide I tried.
South Quay DLR station – not actually on the guide I tried out.

For those not aware, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is just what the name suggests  a light railway in London’s Docklands area (and beyond) — and a great way to get around. It passes through a lot of interesting places, and being elevated for much of its length, with only a few underground segments, it’s a good way to see them.

So it’s a great idea that the DLR have produced some free audio guides to point out places and facts along the various routes. Actually I was kind of surprised these aren’t advertised better, I just happened to stumble on them through a mention on someone’s blog.

Since I was visiting Canary Wharf yesterday anyway, I thought I’d skip the Jubilee line for a change and try out the Stratford to Canary Wharf guide (and the one in the opposite direction). So I downloaded the mp3’s, stuck them on my phone and set off.

The outward journey was a bit of a mess. The DLR is fully automated and has remarkably consistent timings between and at stations, which is another reason why the guides should work so well (and there are occasional beeps to synchronise with leaving stations in case something gets out of whack). However having listened to the instruction track I was under the impression that I should start playing the guide only once the doors closed and the train was moving out of Stratford. It turns out there’s a short introduction at the start of each track too, which meant I ended up quite a way behind where I should have been making it hard to get synced up (and I had to skip quite a few bits). Still: after catching up again there were certainly some interesting facts (and one terrible pun).

Coming back I was more prepared, listening to the intro in advance and then pausing at the correct spot before we set off, so the timing was much better. I even managed to bag a seat right at the front for the best view. It was slightly disappointing how much was just repeated from the opposite direction, but there were some different bits thrown in too.

On the whole the guides themselves are informative, and the narration is very well done. There were certainly plenty of things that I wouldn’t have known, or even noticed, on the route. I did notice one minor mistake (something was described as being on the right, when it was clearly on the left) but that was no big deal.

It would have been nice to have clearer instructions, or perhaps even bundle the files as an app. I’m usually against making apps for everything, but in this case it could also have the major improvement of splitting the guides more granularly so that one could start and end at any station, rather than having to travel the entire route (or struggle to find the correct starting point).

I only found out today that there actually is a mobile site which allows one to stream the tracks starting from any station. But so far as I can tell it’s not even linked from the downloadable guides page, plus there are plenty of bits of the DLR where mobile coverage would be poor or non-existent. Not to mention the data charges it could rack up for those not on an unlimited package.

Barring those improvements though, if you ever use the DLR I would recommend downloading them onto your phone/iPod to make your next journey a bit more interesting.