Robert Hampton

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26th March 2013

Capital Letters
Posted by at 11.48pm | Out and About, Trains | No responses

Giant London Underground roundelSo, London then.

I was there over the weekend of 16-18 March at the invitation of likeable Finchley-dweller Ian Jones, who zeroed in on an idle Tweet of mine like a ninja. On the first day of my week off work, I found myself on a Virgin train down to the Smoke.

Disaster struck early in the trip, as the Northern Line through Finchley was closed for engineering works. So, to actually get to Ian’s home, I faced the prospect of a rail replacement bus from Golders Green. First problem was actually finding where the bus stopped – Golders Green station has a row of bus stops right outside the station entrance, but of course the Tube replacement service didn’t stop there. No, you had to turn right out of the station, walk along a footpath, cross a road and board the bus at a temporary stop underneath a railway bridge. MAKES SENSE.

The line was, in fact, closed so London Underground could test the new Northern Line signalling system. Excitingly, for much of the weekend we could see a constant procession of test trains from Ian’s kitchen (which looks out onto the railway line). Less exciting was the fact that they went at about 5 mph and kept stopping and starting. Clearly all is not well with the new computers yet.

Undeterred by the lack of trains, we set out to explore some of the capital’s transport delights. Ian, in case you didn’t know, is the author of the excellent 150 great things about the Underground blog, and was keen to show me some of his favourite places. I will freely admit that a good proportion of the weekend was spent wallowing in our mutual transport geekiness.

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10th January 2013

Your Tube
Posted by at 8.46pm | Trains | No responses

On this day, a century and a half ago, a quiet revolution took place beneath the streets of London. A group of investors had spotted the potential for a link from Paddington station to the City of London, and on 10 January 1863 they saw the fruits of their endeavours, as the first paying passengers boarded the Metropolitan Railway.

There was nowhere in this crowded city for the railway to go, so the line and its stations were mostly underground. The choking atmosphere created by the steam trains did little to dissuade hordes of people from making the 4-mile journey to Farringdon, and the Metropolitan Railway Company was an instant success.

From those humble beginnings, the 250-mile London Underground network was born. It’s an idea that has been copied around the world; every city of note now has a metro system to call its own. Some rival London for size and speed. Many can claim to be more efficient and modern. But London can always proudly say that it was first. In any event, no city can match the sheer joy and excitement of traversing London’s system – its wonderful, quirky, occasionally infuriating network of criss-crossing railways burrowing beneath the capital, out of sight (but rarely out of mind).

Ingrained in the psyche of the city – and, to an extent, the country as a whole – the Underground simply is London. Look along its platforms and hallways to see people from every section of society, every walk of life, every race and religion, old and young, gay and straight – all human life is here, squashed together into a carriage.

Not surprising, then, that it has inspired generations of poets, artists, authors and even animators.

Happy birthday, London Underground.

Train in Euston Square Underground station

While you’re in an Underground frame of mind, check out my friend Ian’s blog: 150 Great Things About The Underground.

2nd October 2010

Capital Idea
Posted by at 11.35pm | Out and About | 1 response

Part two of a three (or four, depending on how this works out) part story.

On Saturday we were up and ready for breakfast around 9am. Hotel breakfasts are always disappointing to me and this unfortunately didn’t break the mould. It was buffet-style which is a nice idea in theory: it means you can help yourself to as much as you want. However in practice it means the food has usually been sitting out for half an hour on hotplates which fail to keep even a tiny amount of warmth in it, and the germs of the previous guests are all over it. And they ran out of bacon — how can you run out of bacon? It’s a breakfast staple!

Oh well, it was just about edible and set us up reasonably well for the day. Still, room for improvement here I think.

Did I show you my hotel room yet? I don’t think I did, so some pictures are reproduced below. I get ridiculously excited by mundane hotel room accoutrements: yes, there was a Corby trouser press and a little switch to turn on a “Do Not Disturb” light outside, which was immediately switched on. I guard my privacy with the zealousness of a Premier League footballer.

My hotel room 1 My hotel room 2 Your Sky box is about to go into standby

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1st October 2010

London? Aye
Posted by at 10.31pm | Out and About, Stage | No responses

Northern Line mapI spent last weekend in London with Mum and my delightful sister Jenny. My previous experiences of our nation’s capital have never been more than 24 hours long. They were digestible, bite-size chunks — enjoyable, but always leaving me wanting more. So when the opportunity came along to book a package trip to London (from that company that advertises in the Liverpool Echo every night) I jumped at the chance. Return train tickets, two nights in a hotel and tickets to a West End show. What more could a person ask for?

I was slightly concerned with the price of the package deal, which worked out at about 200 quid each. Booking train, hotel and show separately would have come to much more than that. Had we skimped on quality for the sake of price? As it turned out, we didn’t need to worry.

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17th September 2009

New Tube
Posted by at 8.06pm | Trains | 4 responses

Londoners are up in arms about the new Tube map which has been redrawn to make it “less cluttered”. On that count it succeeds completely, largely thanks to tidying up the East London Line and getting rid of the little red dagger symbols that were sprinkled everywhere. Here’s a sample of before and after for you:-

Old Tube map

New Tube Map

The big change that has upset everyone is that the River Thames has disappeared. If it were a geographically accurate map this would be important, but it isn’t. As BBC blogger Mark Easton points out, the Tube map is designed for people who already know which station they’re going to and just need a simple diagram to know which lines to use. You don’t need to know where the river is for that.

So I think the new map is a huge improvement. It’s certainly better than the now permanently broken Merseyrail map, which after recent revisions has achieved the near impossible and made a simple network appear complicated.

Enjoy the new Tube map while you can, because Boris, with his keen eye for a bandwagon, has ordered the changes reversed.

25th January 2009

London Calling
Posted by at 6.50pm | Stage, Trains | 2 responses

On Friday I boarded a Virgin Pendolino heading towards Euston, feeling incredibly smug, thanks to my forward planning which allowed me to book my ticket 10 weeks in advance, getting it for the ridiculously cheap price of £10.60 return. I felt less smug when I realised I had forgotten to take my camera with me, which means you’re going to have to rely on me painting a picture with words, and the one picture I took with my phone’s crappy camera that came out halfway decent:

Blurry London

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