“London was having a conversation with himself”

Said today in church, by the father of a baby who was about to be baptised. He stood up and talked about some the disruptions and difficulties his family were experiencing earlier this year – a flood forcing them out of their house for a while, having to travel abroad for work leaving wife and older kid to fend for themselves in temporary accomodation – and then said that the baby was born in that week when “London was having a conversation with himself”.

Its not the way a first-language English speaker would have put it but we all knew exactly what he meant. (I’m not sure what his first language is but I guess it might be Akan/Ashante as one of the boy’s names is Kofi) But its a striking phrase.

Meanwhile, from the other end of the way we speak now, Lucinda Lambton has just been on the radio. Despite originally being from Tyneside she has a very much RP accent, and I noticed that she said the word “violet” as I would expect most eastern or south-eastern or RP English speakers to say “varlet”. Those words are not homophones for me but I bet they are for her.

The Rules of Moving around London

Regular readers (all both of them) will notice that this is a repost of something I first posted over two years ago at: The 09:59 to Waterloo

This is partly because that was tagged-on to the end of a rantlet about something else and I feel like separating it out, but also is prompted by some fun blog posts by Brendan Nelson at The Geneva Convention of Public Transport and a couple of earlier posts linked to it. Read them as well as this!

How to Move Around in London

Let me tell you the truth about commuting. You have a DUTY to your fellow human beings when you are walking in a big commuter crowd in a place where acts of public transport are committed. It is to get out of the way of the people behind you as quickly as possible . And that usually involves getting to wherever you are going as quickly as possible. So the right thing to do is to move as fast as is compatible with health and safety. To move opportunistically, to fill gaps, to pass slower people, and to keep on going… this is not selfishness, that is being public spirited. It gets you out of the way. It gets you out of MY way for a start.

There are RULES about this. Let me share a few with you. And we don’t wan to hear any more of this “nobody told me the rules before I came to London…” Big Boy’s games – Big Boy’s Rules. (*) These are the rules. You HAVE been warned!

Universal rules

  • Buy your ticket or pass before you get on the bus or train. Don’t offer the driver money. That’s so twentieth century.
  • Don’t try to talk. Everyone will think you are mad.
  • It is always open season for hunters of luggage on a stick
  • Let passengers off the bus or train before you try to get on. If you don’t we probably won’t kill you – but I have seen a busdriver refuse to move until someone who pushed on got off the bus.
  • There are nice maps on every bus stop and at station that show you exactly how to get where you are going. Use them.
  • Yes, you do get up off your seat for someone who is pregnant, aged, carrying small children, or visibly more crippled than you are. Even in London. Even on a delayed Northern Line train creakingly approaching Bank from London Bridge at 0850 on a wet Monday in a recession. Yes, this means YOU!

The Rules of the Train

(and the Platform)
  • Drop not your paper cup on the seat when you get off the train. That IS littering.
  • Drop your newspaper on the seat when you get off the train. This is NOT littering.
  • If you ask people which train to get from Embankment to Charing Cross you deserve to get laughed at.
  • Mind the Gap!
  • Move to the back of the train
  • No eye-contact
  • Read your own book
  • Stand clear of the doors please!
  • When the machine at the barrier rejects your ticket or pass you do NOT stand there like a drunken Dover sole in a warm puddle wondering what to do. You do NOT try it again and again. You get out of the way as quickly as possible and sort it out with the nice person at the big gate where they let the luggage through.

The Rules of the Bus

(and the Bus Stop)
  • Be nice to bus drivers. It gets you where you are going quicker. And the driver DOES have a direct radio link to the police. And these days the police come armed. You have been warned.
  • Do not argue with the driver. Even if you are in the right. You really do not want the karmic burden that is being laid upon you by the eighty-seven angry commuters stuck behind you who want to get a move on.
  • Do not bang on the door of a bus trying to get in. The driver will think you are a looney.
  • Do not stand in the folding doorway of a bus pathetically groping around inside your clothing in the hope that you have mysteriously grown a season ticket. Get off, let the bus go. There will be another one. You might even find your ticket once you don’t have the stress of fending off delay-maddened passengers
  • Hold very tight please! And I mean the handrail, not the woman in front of you.
  • The back seats on the ground floor of a double-decker bus are too hot for human beings.
  • When you get off the bus look both ways as if you were stepping off a kerb into a road. Because that is what you are doing.
  • And yes, much as I love cyclists, and much as I know that most cyclists are far safer road-users than most car-drivers, I have seen one or two suicidal idiots try to ride between a bus and the kerb. Just. Don’t. Do. That.

The Rules of the Moving Staircase

(and the Corridor)
  • Stand on the Right, Walk on the Left
  • The sign that says “walk on the left” does NOT mean that you don’t walk on your right if it is quicker or safer to go on the right. Its a corridor, not the bloody motorway. You have a duty to get where you are going for the sake of the other two million people using the system, you have a duty to do so safely, and if walking on the right makes it quicker or safer, do it
  • The sign that says “walk on the left” does NOT mean that you religiously stick to the left if someone is running the other way on their right, playing a sort of commuter chicken. Get out of their way. Get out of their way on the double if they are riding a bike, whether legally or illegally.
  • On the other hand the sign telling you to stand on the right walk and on the left of the escalator DOES mean stand on the right. Like everyone else does. Not on the left. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the pie and if you stand on the left – or even sort of lean a little over to the left – or let your bag or your baby or your baby-buggy encroach on the left – then YOU ARE THAT BAD APPLE. There is a special place in the FOURTH CIRCLE OF HELL being prepared for those who stand on the left on the escalator and I can tell you that those escalators go a LONG WAY DOWN!!!!
  • The sign that says babies must be carried and not seated in their pushchair does NOT mean that you stop the buggy right at the top of the escalator and spend a minute and a half trying to persuade the little one to get out and walk (**)
  • When you get to the bottom of the escalator you carry on walking. You do not stop to look around. Especially you do not stop to look around if you have luggage on a stick ready to smash the ankles or knees of the fifteen people behind you. Age is no excuse.

(*) That works better in a Gene Hunt accent.

(**) And frankly, I think having a kid strapped in to a pushchair on the escalator is a damn sight safer than trying to go on it with child in one arm, folded buggy in another hand, and all your luggage in your third hand while holding on the rail with a fourth hand. That needs two more hands than most passengers have. I have yet to see Kali dragging her sprogs through the tube system. Of course there are some parts of the lower levels of Victoria that she would do best to avoid.

Sometimes pubs just work (4)

Saturday being the day of rest, I rested. And with nothing to do I rested till about 6pm. I’d hardly got out of bed. Then did restful web-browsing for a couple of hours and listened to Radio Three’s Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande (sorry, it is a bit twee and dull – what did Maeterlinck think he was doing? The plot as depressing as anything in Wagner or Puccini but the music much less thrilling, al a bit precious and wasted) and had a nice hot bath. And because I hadn’t talked to anyone all day, went to the pub just before closing time.

Sometimes pubs just work. Did I say that already? Not many people in there and G the DJ doing failed Karaoke to about ten customers who weren’t interested. But D & N – father and son – had won 900 quid on the horses (so I got bought a pint!) and heard all about how the son (who I have sort of known since he was at primary school) had broken up with his girlfriend and is crashing on his dad’s floor. And there was a lost couple from Essex who weren’t sure of the way home. And two blokes from Edinburgh who looked about the same age to me but one was the other’s father-in-law. OK, Leith – but I was the only other one who knew the words to “Sunshine on Leith”. And the Essex couple turned out to have been married and divorced and got together again. And their 18-year-old daughter has gone off somewhere so they are taking the opportuinity to do a sort of pub crawl and have no idea how they will get home to the Outer Darkness Beyond Romford, They just walked into the pub for a quick one on the way home and are still here three hours later, And the barmaid showed us pictures of her little daughter on her phone and other people shared their photos and there were silly arguments about being Scottish or English and the DJ played some soppy music and people danced – I mean like ballroom dancing. P & A who have been married for years danced to “Brealing up is hard to so” and we all clapped and cheered and someone danced with Dave and the odd Jewish used car dealers danced and when it was mostly all over at about midnight another dozen neighbours turned up, a family party, and they danced and it was soppy. Weird, and soppy.

And I left at about 2am. Without my hat. I guess I need to go back tomorrow to see if someone found it. They are still there playing pool and I have no idea how the no longer divorced couple are going to get back to Essex at this time of night and I guess they don’t either.

Maybe Debussy and Maeterlinck would have done better if they had had a few more beers and games of pool.

Sometimes pubs just work.

Butterflies in October!

And I forgot to put the book I am reading in my bag when I rushed out ten or fifteen minutes late to get a train to Croydon. Would have been a disaster before the days of mobile phones. Even if its only a 20 minute journey. So maybe a running commentary.

Its hot. I guess about 26 or 27 because I can think straight – I start to lose my marbles when it goes pver around 28.

The trees are mostly still in green leaf. Especially sycamores which are the common trackside feral round here. Poplars too. Some of the ashes are looking a bit sparse and the few oaks seem quite bronzed. Ditto horse chestnuts. Not that I’m exactly doing a statistical survey. Look out of the window for a few seconds than back to tapping out on my phone.

Hey! Its only 1546 and I am at Norwood Junction!. Mayve I will make it to church on time!

Alien megastructures

London almost always looks best in the rain. And there is something about huge buildings that appeals to the inner 9-year-old. Especially when they look like a vast alien spaceship being built in the London rain. Its like something out of a Mark S Geston novel.

Rainy train in London

(As usual select the picture for a link to Flickr and other versions)

There are paralel worlds in that photo – the inside of the train (which you can see if you look hard enough), the men working on the new railway, the old warehouse and commercial buildings, the piled-up houses and shops towards Borough High Street and the megastructures behind them. They don’t so much loom over the scene as stand behiund it as a kind of backdrop, a metal and concrete sky. They are in a different frame of reference.

This one I posted before – its almost dangerously

Shard from 21 bus


Sunny on the same day:


And again:


View from a distance when it was very small:


How it started:


Dozens more tagged here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nephrops/tags/shard/

Pictures of a pub garden

Surprisingly good photo from moving train of the back garden of our local pub. A few months ago but I lazily only just got roudn to looking at some old pictures.

When this was taken the other end of the train was even nearer to my own garden, which is sort of just out of the picture to the right – but there is no way I am showing you *that*, its too embarrasing!

Loampit Vale Bypass!

Blowing up a little we can even recognise the landlady watering the plants:

Pub garden

Riots in Lewisham?

I know its unlikely that anyone will look to this blog for news about recent events, but if you do the Brockley Central blog at http://brockleycentral.blogspot.com seems to have accurate and up to date rumours about the so-far not-quite riots

Banjos in the Bog – music and beer at Dent (1)

We were at Dent for the the very wonderful Dentdale Music and Beer Festival, and it was wet. (As usual click on any of the little pictures for links to larger ones)

So after our bracing morning stroll we went into the Sun at about 1.30 for a quick pint before going back to the muddy festival site. The pub was pretty packed, and there was a singing session in a side room that was too crowded for the seven of us to fit in to, to we hovered in the back room while a family ate their lunch and then grabbed their table. Narrowly beating a rather subdued set of young women out on a hen do to the chairs. Though their attention was later taken up by a much less subdued set of scousers out on an unrelated stag do which seemed to involve wearing silly clothes and often pyjamas.

It was fun, ands the cheap and wonderful chips were cheap and wonderful but we missed the music and felt vaguely guilty about not seeing the bands in the festival field. So Adam set off in the rain to explore the mud.

Meanwhile, sometime between 3 and 4pm this bloke called Dave came and started playing the fiddle…

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He missed his guitar player so Mark and Martin went back to our tents to get theirs.

Then a banjo player arrived, quickly followed by two more guitarists anyway, so our brave explorers work was unneeded. But when Martin and Mark got back and settled in and led the beer song (a Cunning Plan of Mark’s which worked) but – as you can see – the table was getting a bit crowded and the scouser stags a little loud

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so some musicians went out the back for a quick fag and some space


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And more musicians walked in from the back:


The fiddler is Mikey Kenny (Ottersgear) who played wonderfully that night & I think the very damp-looking woman might be Sally of the Kitchen Drinkers who sang on the stage the next day. And yes, that bloke from St. Helens smoking a fag by the wall really is wearing pyjamas.

Dent did what it said on the tin – we had music and we had beer. Lots and lots of both,

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And when it rained they sheltered in the toilets. Wonderful resonance! Shall they be called Banjos in the Bog? Or WC Fields and the Toilet Band?

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And there was another session in the back garden – by 9 or 10pm there was music in the side room of the pub, music in the back room, music in the smoking area by the bogs, and music in the car park. We never got to see the festival stage that evening.

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30 seconds over Accrington

So I went to Preston station and got on the first train going anywhere I hadn’t been before. And it turned out to be the slow train to Colne. Colne seemed a bit far for the three hours I had to spare. So I bought a day return to Accrington – having never been there before – and set off. It was a grotty train. Two cars, no bogs, bench seats with metal railings a bit like buses used to have. Too close together to sit straight. My knees didn’t

fit. (And I’m not tall)

The train set off south, over the river, and turned left past the field where dodgy teenagers play noisily with fake motorbikes. The first stop is Lostock

Hall. Not much is visible from the station. A few suburban rooves behind some small trees – Sorbus on one side, Salix on the other. As the train draws away

from the tiny halt I see rows of small new brick houses, a sort of retros-80s-council-estate-retro-30s-neo-Georgian-pseudo-vernacular with conservatories

style. Orange brick. Pantile rooves. Tiny plastic windows that look as if they can’t be opened.

After Lostock Hall and Bamber Bridge the train did a great slow left curve and entered some lovely rolling countryside. Green,well-wooded small fields, some almost spectacular narrow steep treed gullies, and loads of Rose-Bay Willowherb by the railway. Small fields, landforms almost like the ancient countryside of the Weald or some of the mildly hilly parts of County Durham. Ash trees, rowans, and willows. Golf courses even. After a roll through this unstereotypically not-quite-northern landscape stations start to come thick and fast and we get to Pleasington (aptly named) and Cherry Tree Station, and Mill Hill – which has a mill and a hill and so beats the better-known London suburb with the same name which doesn’t. This is a lovely place.

And we can’t be twenty miles from Preston, maybe not even ten.

Then some industry is visible and it all gets urban again and here is a giant green metal arch over the railway and there are churches and shopping centres everywhere. This must be Blackburn? It is. There is even a cathedral. This is a real town, a large one, and it looks quite substantial in the sunlight. Near Blackburn station there is a mill converted into a mosque and out the back there are loads of young men in white robes and skullcaps playbing basketball.

Almost everyone gets of the train and they are replaced by a huge load of other passengers. There are posh accents – I mean posh Lancashire accents – and an

unliley large number of teenage girls, some in school uniform (its after three by now so maybe they are on their way home ((but if so, where are the boys?))

Then they all get off again. After Blackbun the hills are briefly covered in houses, then bare, no longer like the ancient farmed landscapes of the east of

England but now open and spattered with sheep. Few trees and ther might even be some drystone walls creeping up them.

One more stop and the skyline is now all moorland. We halt at Rishton and then “Church and Oswaldthwistle”. Now the North looks like the North.

Accrington’s quite posh. Well, compared with Burnley it is. Photos later (upload bandwidth is dodgy here) I walked round the centre for half an hour – photos

later – then had two pints of Guiness and a pleasant chat in the Nags Head. Thank you Sharon (“don’t call me ‘dear’ – I’m expensive” not hat I did) and Pete and incomprehensible barman.

Th train back is for Blackpool South rather then Blackpool North and it is faster, more comfortable, provided with bogs, and full of beautiful women. Enugh

of whom get off at Blackburn for me to move to a seat by a table, oon the right, facing forwards. The hWe get back in less than half the time the outward

journey took. The houses between Bamber Bridge ande Lostock Hall look quite inviting now. Maybe that’s the Guinness. And all through that pretty Lancashire

countryside, I can see Preston in the distance. It is visibly more of a town than Blackburn. Even unto St Eggburger’s

The way we speak now, part n+23

Overheard on a train, young woman on mobile phone moaning about her housemates:

“Do you remember the like house thing last year?”

“…at the end of the day I’m like I don’t need to be there…”

“I thought you were going to say I’m like going to say Laney like…”

“Oh my God how happy was I when I passed!”

Accent sounded quite extreme RP to me, with some switching down on a different phone call. I don’t have the vocabulary to describe the vowels, but her “year” approached my “yeah” and her “yeah” was someway towards “yah”.

On the other hand final “t” is almost always glottal – which is pretty standard – also it was sometimes glottal between vowels, and so was the “d” in “he said that” at least once.

And she gets invited to Hunt Balls.

“Do you remember the like

Bits of London in the rain


The so-called “Millenium Village” looking like some strange cluster of painted adobe pueblo houses through the window of a 188 bus.

London often looks best in the rain. Especially when you can’t see Canary Wharf for the mist. Earlier in the week I went to the Greenwich Peninsula to fail to buy some things in a shop, so I went up to the Dome to take photos of in the rain and then took the bus to Rotherhithe taking pictures through the window and the tube to Wapping to get some photos looking back the other way.

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As usual, more and bigger pictures on Flickr if you click the links.


There is a street named after someone who used to teach at Birkbeck! But is it real Penrose tiling?

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Grey skies are so much more beautiful than boring blue ones. Dappled, diverse. They move and change. No two patches look alike. the light is kind on the eyes.

Rainy day seen from Wapping

Overheard on a bus

Someone mentioned “a job at Halfords” (the bike shop). Someone else misheard as “Harvard” (as in Boston). I suspect those words wouldn’t sound much like each other to most Americans.

(young men of vaguely Asian or mixed appearance, speaker with a new-style London accent, the other a bit closer to RP)