The UK’s (first) Country Station

Why isn’t country music bigger in the UK? Chris Country is automated in a way that gives the station a personality that shines through.

I just wrote a thing on Facebook (and copied here) about the launch of Atlantic 252 on 1 September 1989. People of a certain age remember it fondly because, at the time, there was nothing quite like it. Each year, somebody posts a memory somewhere online. I first did in it in 2004.

Nobody, however, seems to commemorate the launch of Country 1035 on 1 September 1994. I tweeted a link to my copy of the launch audio earlier. You’ll notice it doesn’t really launch with a big bang.

I may have a copy of the opening words but I don’t remember a great deal about the radio station. I do recall John Scragg was the breakfast show presenter at one time and Capital Gold’s Randall Lee Rose was on air in the early days.

I never quite understood why there wasn’t a big country music station in the UK. The format has a large following, most of the early local stations carried a country music programme at some point. I recall Steve Penk was the presenter of Country Cousins on Piccadilly in the early 1980s. Until recently, nobody has been able to make a big country music franchise work.

Chris Country Chris Country, “the UK’s country station”, might be the format that changes that. I find myself increasingly listening to it which, given my general dislike of automated stations, is quite interesting. I think mainstream country music today has a clear rock/pop crossover which might be part of the appeal but the stories of heartbreak and hard drinking don’t seem to be any different from the music of years ago. Perhaps I just love a good story told through song.

Chris Stevens, who runs Chris Country, produces audio imaging as a day job. Perhaps that’s why the branding and sound of Chris Country is so good. There are no live presenters, a couple of recorded shows at weekends and everything else is automated. But it is automated in a way that gives the station a personality that shines through. I can’t really explain it but I wish they teach it to other predominately automated radio stations: Hearst 80s are you listening? If you don’t think you like country music, give Christ Country an try (on DAB in some areas and across you mobile everywhere).

Oh, and while I am on the subject of country music find out “why country music makes you cry, and rock and roll doesn’t” in this brilliant episode of Revisionist History. Even if you don’t like country music, and if you don’t want to try listening to the tunes, you should give this podcast a listen

Battle of Waterloo

In just a few days, from 5th August 2017, I expect a modern day battle of Waterloo as passengers at Britain’s busiest railway station fight for carriage during a period of “significantly fewer trains” when platforms 1-9 will be closed so work can start to extend those platforms for longer trains.

202 years ago, somewhere around where Belgium is on the map today, the Emperor of the French, a man who is immediately known by the use of the word Napoleon, was defeated by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle Waterloo. Those not around in 1815 may refer to the 1974 Abba song, although I think ‘surrender’ has a somewhat different meaning on the battle field than it does in the song “Waterloo – knowing my fate is to be with you”.

There’s a bridge over the Thames named after Waterloo (the battle, not the song) and, in turn, when the London and South Western Railway opened a station in the area in July 1848 it was named after the bridge, in fact Wikipedia says it was originally called as ‘Waterloo Bridge Station‘.

In just a few days, from 5th August 2017, I expect a modern day battle of Waterloo as passengers at Britain’s busiest railway station, now referenced in your station guide as London Waterloo, fight for carriage during a period of “significantly fewer trains” when platforms 1-9 will be closed so work can start to extend those platforms for longer trains. Appropriate emoji’s at the point are a happy face for the prospect of longer trains and the scream for the next 23 days commuting experience.

That’s basically half the platforms closed at a station where 100 million journeys start or end every year. Even though work has been planned in the summer when — hopefully — there are marginally fewer commuters that’s still a big hole to fill. If you’re already standing with your nose in somebody’s armpit on a morning peak service, the promise of “Services and stations will be busier than usual, especially in the morning and evening peaks on weekdays” is probably pretty depressing.

For some months, Adecco (“the largest staffing firm in the world”) have been advertising for Crowd Control officers to support the “blockade project which will positively transform the journeys of millions of people”. A nice spin on, what I imagine, will be a fairly thankless task to keep commuters calm: trains and stations have been plastered with signs warning of reduced (or even, no) service for most of the year but I can already see the Twitter outrage from those who did not get a personal visit for a member of engineering team. If you use expensive noise-cancelling headphones on your morning commute you may be forgiven for having missed the non-stop announcements warning of the works. The rest of us don’t have an excuse.

There will be the usual frustrations of people failing to get somewhere important — or standing around somewhere else for a long period of time, waiting — but I don’t see how any of this is avoidable. Maybe I should make the month off.

Of course, after all this work is complete we are promised capacity for 30% more passengers during the busiest parts of the day when 100,000 people pass through the station. The trouble is, in the 24 years I have been in London passenger numbers on these lines have more than doubled, making Waterloo the busiest transport hub in Europe. That’s a more-than 100% increase over that time. If that growth carries on at a similar rate then the extra space, which we’ll probably already fill, will be also be bursting in 6 or 7 years. These works are making a better use of existing infrastructure but what options do we have beyond that? Where will new trains go in 24 years from now?

All in all seems like a sensible time to have applied to run the trains into a half-closed station, don’t you think?

“Waterloo – Finally facing my Waterloo”

Hidden London: Clapham South Deep Level Shelter

Each morning as I walk across the Thames, I look to my left and see the sights of St Paul’s Cathedral, the gherkin and Canary Wharf. It’s an amazing – almost iconic – skyline.  Although radically changed with the modern skyscrapers, can you imagine what it must have been like just over 70 years ago when a hundred or more doodlebugs, or the V-1 flying bombs as they were more officially known, could be filling the sky and you didn’t know what their target was.1

Early in the second world war, London had been bombed by the German Luftwaffe – a period known as The Blitz. In spite of early attempts by the government to lock them, Londoners took shelter in many of the city’s Underground stations. In addition, parts of the Underground were used to store national treasures.  Today it’s on an unused branch line, but in the 1940s Aldwych tube station, that I visited once before, protected artefacts from the British Museum from the damage aerial bombing could inflict.

At the height of the bombing, there were demands from the public for the government to provide more shelters. The government turned to the London transport authorities – who had the technical experience building below ground – to build new shelters. And, even though the bombing raids over London had subsided, a total of 8 deep-level shelters we’re built (although 10 had been commissioned). All the new deep shelters were built near existing tube stations: the unrealised dream being to bring them into service as railways post-war.

The shelters were eventually used for their intended purpose in the latter years of the war when, in June 1944, the flying bombs were sent to attack the city.

Last Sunday, as part of London Transport Museum’s Hidden London series,2 I visited the deep-level shelter at Clapham South. The above-ground pillar box can still be seen just around the corner from the existing tube entrance. The shelter is connected to the station but the walls have long-since been sealed forcing visitors to descend (and return later) via a 180-step spiral staircase. The lift, it appears, either not in working order or no longer fit for public use. It’s not easy on the knees but, somehow, not quite as many steps as it sounds.

Clapham South Deep Level ShelterBelow ground is a fascinating place. Wartime pictures of the shelter show the kind of Blitz-spirited Londoners that only seem to appear on old newsreel films.3 In reality, the space built for almost 8,000 people, must have been cramped, crowded, smelly and – probably – very loud. Even with the welcome addition of the canteen-served jam tarts that were not subject to the ration book, I can’t imagine it was the nicest of places. Admittedly, the feeling of 120 feet of earth above you probably went a long way to making it a sanctuary from the horrors above the ground.

DSCN0755-7The tunnels through which you are escorted on the tour are astonishingly clean & tidy – having been most recently used as a secure archive storage facility – but it’s clear from the remaining bunk beds that life would have been cramped. Row, upon row, of the stacked bunk beds could have given almost 8,000 people safety in the Clapham South shelter; your particular bunk marked on the ticket required to access the shelter. Most people would have to bring their belongings down in to the shelter each time they went; exceptions were made for people whose houses had been destroyed by the war. That’s 180 steps with mattresses and other personal items that you wanted to keep with you.

Post-war, the shelters have been used as a hostel for visitors to the great exhibitions of the Festival of Britain in 1951, places for incoming migrants to stay until they found permanent accommodation or as army barracks. In later years, the Clapham South shelters were the aforementioned storage facility while a nearby tunnel, that you don’t visit, is today used to grow salads under LED lighting.4

Walking across the Thames bridges in the August sunshine is a world away from the realities of wartime in the city: the Hidden London deep-level shelter tour a small, but important, reminder of what people went through and a fascinating insight into the ingenuity of the city to protect citizens in more difficult times.

Hidden London

If you’re interested in the Hidden London series of tours, visit the London Transport Museum site to see when the next series is scheduled.

About BEWA 2016

BEWA (Blog Every Wednesday in August) is a project aimed to get me writing in a blog style again. I wrote an introduction to kick the series off while the first proper entry championed an Olympic legacy.  The third discussed my fascination with location data while what should have been the fourth entry was more of an Oops. There is a page with the #bewa collection (including those from last year).  Fingers crossed I am back next week. I’m sure @curns will mention it.

Footnotes

1 V-1 flying bomb, Wikipedia
2 Hidden London, London Transport Museum
3 Clapham South Deep Level Air-Raid Shelter, Subterranea Britannica
4 Growing Underground: A Visit To Clapham’s Deep Level Farm, Londonist

Handed Down from 2012

In December each year I post a set of photographs that sum-up the year for me. It started many years ago, before cameras on phones were commonplace, because it struck me how differently pictures taken on a phone represented the year in comparison to those on a traditional camera (which only ever gets taken when you think you’ll need one). If you look back at the pictures from the end of 2012 you’ll see a collection that features the Games of the XXX Olympiad, or London 2012 as I knew it.

Tower Bridge Olympic RingsOn Friday night, I imagine quite late London time, the opening ceremony of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad (Rio 2016) will take place at the Maracanã Stadium and Rio de Janeiro will have the honour of hosting the most recent games. As memories of London fade, perhaps only appearing in words like mine – when I summed up the feeling of being there for the opening ceremony rehearsals – the beaches of Copacabana or Ipanema will be the newest images of the Olympics, replacing in the mind, perhaps, images of the Olympic rings on Tower Bridge. Time, then, to wonder what we are left with in London.

Back in the bid phase for the London games, Tessa Jowell, then Secretary of State for Culture, and Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London at the time, argued for the games because they believed in the legacy. As Tony Blair notes,

They argued strongly that the Games would have a twofold legacy: the regeneration of the East End of London and helping build sport into the lives of a generation of children.1

I’d argue that the games were worth it for the atmosphere, enthusiasm, national pride and the spectacle at the time, but did we get a legacy? The Guradian recently suggested that we did not, particularly of the sporting kind,

For all the golden memories of July and August 2012, already tinged in sepia, and the continuing debate about the success or otherwise of the other legacy aims it is hard not to conclude that a prize Jowell once called “the greatest in a generation – faster progress towards a healthier nation” is not already close to being squandered.2

But, recognise anybody in the photograph? Perhaps you can’t because the picture is too small and they were moving too fast for me. They are the elite men cyclists in the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic passing through Parliament Square on their way to the finish line. It’s part of an annual two-day cycling festival that sees almost 100,000 people cycle around the city on roads cleared of traffic for the day and hundreds more leave the Olympic Park for the Surrey Hills on a route not dissimilar to the one taken during the 2012 games. An event started as a direct result of the popularity of the cycling events in 2012.

All those cyclists in London in the year that Bradley Wiggins, who was an Olympic gold medalist on 2012, won this year’s Tour de France.

I think there’s a legacy right there. Perhaps cycling is the sport to take events at Box Hill & the velodrome forward to inspire a future generation of athletes.

But what about this single example? Thousands of young people who have a new gymnastics club as part of the legacy? Without it, “possibly 5,000 kids wouldn’t have a venue,” said a recent report on ITV News.3 And I could call out the reported 50,000 season tickets West Ham have sold for their new ground in the former Olympic Stadium (apparently the second highest season ticket sale in the Premier League).4

You can see regeneration in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as both a public & event space. This summer there are sporting activities for kids with ‘Fit For Sport’ as well as the ArcelorMittal Orbit slide and the whole aquatics centre for swimming and diving. And if Olympicopolis comes to fruition, London will have a new cultural hub in in the heart of an area regenerated by the London games.5

And don’t forget Adam Hills, Alex Brooker and Josh Widdicombe are on our televisions every week thanks to the legacy of the Paralympic television coverage.

We may not all have taken up more sport as a result of The Games but I think there’s plenty of things we can be proud of that are part of the legacy of London 2012.

Last Sunday, watching both the ammeter and professional riders pass buildings representing our great institutions – Parliament, Westminster Abbey & the Supreme Court – there was also something else happening. A little of the spirit of the games came back with the cheering crowds and even those with limited interest in the sport of cycling searching for somebody who knew who was in the lead. That positive, optimistic and friendly feeling that 2012 brought us returned, even for just a moment in our post-Brexit malaise.

Perhaps, it’s not just the infrastructure or the number of people taking part in sport we should be looking to as the legacy of the games. The games brought out a spirit in almost everybody. We should hold on to that. I believe that would be the greatest legacy of all.

About BEWA 2016

This is the first entry for 2016’s BEWA (Blog Every Wednesday in August). The introductory post was written in July but you might want to read it anyway. All the BEWA posts will be tagged and you can follow @curns on Twitter to see the hashtag every Wednesday.

Footnotes
1 The Office of Tony Blair: Tony Blair on the legacy of London 2012
2 The Guardian: Olympic legacy failure: inspiring London 2012 message has become a millstone
3 ITV News: 2012 Olympic legacy means gymnastics club is used by thousands of young people every week
4 The Guardian: West Ham sell more than 50,000 season tickets for Olympic Stadium
5 The Guardian: London Olympicopolis culture hub plan gets £141m funding

 

Networks & Connections

I don’t know what it is about the railways that fascinates so many people but it does. As I type, there’s a mysterious world of trainspotters taking pictures of Diesel Multiple Units from the far end of station platforms somewhere in the UK. Certainly, it’s an important/large enough passtime for the BBC to have devoted three hours of evening TV hours to Transporting Live a few weeks ago week.

I’ve often wondered if this is only a British phenomenon? I am not sure I understand that although I will admit that, as a child, I crossed out bus registration plates in a book that listed all the vehicles operated by the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive. Bus Spotting: it was Pokémon Go for a 70s childhood.

Perhaps it’s not that hard to explain after all.

However, I do have my own fascination with the networks of the railways. There’s something about the running of an infrastructure that moves thousands of people daily that really interests me. Previously, I’ve highlighted the complexities of the Oyster smart-card system and written about the Hidden London visitor series which can take you to disused parts of the Underground network.

Fellow London commuters frustrated by the levels of service provided by the Southern franchise right now will rightly not be interested in the history of the network or Oyster permutations: after all, what good is a fare if the trains have been removed? But they may be interested in this from the London Reconnection site: “Meltdown Monday: How Southern’s Problems Run Deeper Than Disputes” which provides interesting background on why the current problems are not as simple as an argument about who closes the doors.

People have warned for years that London’s transport system will start to collapse due to the sheer number of people using it. That is unlikely and gentle degradation is a more likely outcome. What consistently seems to get overlooked, however, is the possibility that two or three problems, relatively small and insignificant in themselves, can come together to produce a situation that is hard to unravel and even more difficult to solve.1

How many of us travelling on the railways understand things such as Dwell time or Sunday Rest Day working?

Basically on large parts of the railway, still, Sunday is not a rostered working day for train crew, and management is reliant on people working rest days to provide a service.2

It’s worth a read if you have the time while staring at the platform display hoping a train will appear.

Footnotes

1 Meltdown Monday: How Southern’s Problems Run Deeper Than Disputes: London Reconnections
2 ibid

Coming Up

I guess I could have tried to make this the first in the 2016 Blog Every Wednesday in August series. However, last Wednesday I said that the quote and link format, although a blog staple, is not the BEWA way. I felt this post would be cheating. I may regret that next week when I have to find something to write about.

Hidden London: Aldwych Underground Station

I took another tour of a hidden London Underground station last weekend. This time it was of Aldwych (formerly, Strand) station which has a fascinating history. Originally planned as the terminus of the Great Northern and Strand Railway, even by the time it opened in 1907 it was a little used spur of – what is today – the Piccadilly Line.  Closed in 1994, Aldwych can still be seen in films and TV programmes and, very occasionally, as part of a Hidden London tour.

Fearing that the station would be little used, economy was sought during construction. Only one set of stairs & passages to the platforms were completed. The eastern platform was not used for trains from 1914 onwards.
The eastern platform, shown here, was not used for trains from 1914 onwards, although they were used to store national art treasures during the world wars.

Fearing that the station would be little used, economy was sought during construction. Only one set of stairs & passages to the platforms were completed, and only about half the platform area (at the south end where the short trains would stop) were tiled. The remaining passages were left incomplete and never opened, all passengers using what would have been the exit passages to access platforms and lifts …

The Aldwych branch was never well patronised. Before the time of its closure only 450 people were using the branch each day. From June 1958 the line began operating only in rush hours as off peak traffic was almost non-existent. The line was considered for extension to Waterloo on many occasions throughout its history but due to financial limitations and lack of demand, this extension never came to anything.

There’s a few more pictures in a Flickr album: https://flic.kr/s/aHsksZdTtV

The station was originally called Strand but was renamed Aldwych in 1915 when the nearest Northern Line station became Strand (now, that's Charing Cross)
The station was originally called Strand but was renamed Aldwych in 1915 when the nearest Northern Line station became Strand (now, that’s Charing Cross)

Footnotes

Source: Hidden London: Aldwych Closed Station, © London Transport Museum, p3/p18

Who Will Be Mayor

I wonder what would happen if Jeremy Clarkson were to become Mayor of London.

Yesterday, I spoke about my liking of the BBC’s Top Gear programme. It’s odd because I would not have pegged myself as the kind of person who would watch it. Regardless, I find the three presenters funny, infuriating and very watchable. Now, I wonder what would happen if Jeremy Clarkson were to become Mayor of London. It is rumoured, you see, that his name has been suggested as a prospective Conservative candidate.

Give that the current Mayor blamed Jeremy for global warming and the possible destruction of life on earth, [The Times Online] I think it would make an interesting election indeed. Now I have a lot of time for Ken Livingstone but I can help thinking that I would like to see him as the ‘star in a reasonably priced car’. Especially as he, apparently, has no licence and can’t drive.

Reduced Commercial Clutter

Reduced commercial airtime also makes those ads that are aired stand out more. Won’t advertisers end up paying a premium for this? Maybe not in the short term but I would have thought that in the long run it could work. But then again, what do I know?

On Monday I mentioned Capital Radio’s decline in the London market but completely missed the comment piece by Paul Robinson on The Guardian’s site. He notes that slashing commercial hours could ‘knock about £7m off Capital’s top-line revenue in 2006’. This I find interesting. Reducing commercial clutter (as it’s called) will hopefully drive bigger audiences. Reduced commercial airtime also makes those ads that are aired stand out more. Won’t advertisers end up paying a premium for this? Maybe not in the short term but I would have thought that in the long run it could work. But then again, what do I know?

All Change At Capital

When I first came to London, everybody listened to Capital Radio. Everybody talked about whatever Chris Tarrant did in the morning. That was a very different radio world with much less competition in the London market. Right now, I don’t know anybody who listens

When I first came to London, everybody listened to Capital Radio. Everybody talked about whatever Chris Tarrant did in the morning. That was a very different radio world with much less competition in the London market. Right now, I don’t know anybody who listens. Last week, GCap Media – which own Capital FM (as it’s now known)- announced a slump in profits and has promised a radical overhaul of the station. The new management are blaming the old management for the slump. Well, I guess they would, wouldn’t they?

In other news, Pete and Geoff announced they are going to split their award winning partnership and only one of them is to stay on at Virgin. I only listen to part of their show each day but have always found them quite good listening.

Talk Radio

Saturday morning talk radio.

Saturday morning and, for some reason, I was up early so I decided to do a little bit of work. In the background I’ve had the radio on. Listening to Vanessa Feltz on BBC London and then Wendy Lloyd on LBC. I guess the topics must have been interesting (why do we seek to impress our parents and why don’t kids do enough around the home – to name but two) but, regardless, I thought both programmes were presented in an intelligent and thoughtful way. And that’s not what you always expect from talk radio. I read earlier in the week that David Prever had left LBC to be the new breakfast host on Smooth FM. That might make the London breakfast market interesting.

Trafalgar Square Vigil

It was a united city saying ‘we will not back down in the face of your bombs. You will not break us’.

Journalists at Trafalgar SquareYesterday I observed the two minutes of silence to remember those killed in last week’s bombings. After work I walked to Trafalgar Square to take part in the vigil. I arrived just after it had started but heard a lot of the speakers. There were moving speeches, prayers and poems from across the political and religious spectrum. There were leaders from the major churches and religions showing a united front. There were London celebrities with sincere words calling for a united city. Sebastian Coe spoke of the Olympic bid and how we’ll build a fitting tribute to the people who lost their lives last Thursday. There were union leaders and politicians who uttered words of support.

But the biggest applause went to members of the transport companies whose buses and trains were attacked and for the emergency services who attended the sites to rescue victims. For once were were not a celebrity-obsessed nation but were there to support the people who keep London moving and safe.

The vigil seemed to go on forever. Perhaps it was too long but when everybody’s words were sincere how could you stop it? It was a united city saying ‘we will not back down in the face of your bombs. You will not break us’.

Sadly, for the media, it was just another news story. There were camera crews from across the globe at one end of the square and various reporters were applying their make-up or dabbing the sweat from their brows as technicians plugged in things and waved cues. Behind all the the tributes coming from the front of the square were a selection of “Londoners are gathered …” and “back to you in the studio”. Reports were being filed in a number of languages via a fleet of satellite trucks being powered by noisy generators in the corner of Trafalgar Square. Maybe it’s because I was right beside the media as I couldn’t get further into the square but the chatter (and the smiles and laughing of some of the production staff) seemed inappropriate somehow. I hope they got their story.

Two Minutes Silence

At 12 noon the bus turning the corner in front us stopped and the driver turned the engine off, right across the junction.

Just before 12 noon today my colleagues and I walked onto the London street outside the Holborn office where we work. It was a bright, hot sunny day in Central London. The kind of day that has you sweating within moments of being on the street. When we reached street level we walked into a crowd of people that had come from the buildings all around. These were office workers whose desks are probably just metres from mine but I don’t see them. I probably walk past them most days as I approach the door to the office but I just don’t see them. Today, we stood crowded onto the street together.

At 12 noon the bus turning the corner in front us stopped and the driver turned the engine off, right across the junction. The taxi at the traffic lights opposite didn’t move when the light turned green and the cyclist near him didn’t try and jump the red light. Most of the pedestrians who were walking stopped.

A silence descended upon London. Not the silence usually associated with a city. A city’s silence is usually punctuated by horns and alarms, by mobile ‘phones ringing or engines passing. No, this silence was eerily silent but it was silent.

And we bowed our heads to remember.

It was a moment when this huge, diverse city that I call home, was united in thought. It’s a moment I don’t think anybody who was there will forget.

London, Monday

I feel incredibly lucky not to have been anywhere near but I wasn’t.

I am back from my Silverstone trip – of which more later – and in to work today. As I was not in town on Thursday I can’t really talk about what it was like in the aftermath of the bomb blasts. It was strange hearing the news emerge on the radio as I was sat in my house answering work-related emails. Of course, there were moments where I connected with the people I know in a bid to check they were all OK. I have, however, felt odd all weekend answering the text messages (and today the emails) from people asking if I am OK. I am very grateful that people thought to contact me – and so I hope I’ve replied to everybody – and happy to report I am safe.

Central London has an estimated population of 7 million people – with many more commuting to work here – so the real chances of being involved are minimal. I almost feel guilty that I don’t have anything to add for the people who contacted me. I was well away from anything and, if I had been in the office on Thursday, I would also have been well away. I am most definitely with Anna on this topic. I wasn’t there. It is unlikely I would have been there. I feel incredibly lucky not to have been anywhere near but I wasn’t.

There has been some excellent coverage across all media but one thing has really intrigued me. If you had been on an underground train and there was an explosion would you have got out your mobile ‘phone and taken pictures or video? I can say with certainty that I would not have done so because I forget to take mobile pictures at good times never mind in times of chaos. I’m not critical – I understand the police are appealing for people’s pictures – but I am amazed that people thought to do it.

The Mood Of London Changes

Of course the day has now changed totally.

Of course the day has now changed totally. For those friends of mine who have contacted me, thanks for your thoughts. We are both fine right now but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get me on the mobile as the services are deluged with people trying to contact people. BBC News has the latest.

For The Love Of London

London is a wonderful city as I keep discovering years after arriving here.

sity hall london january 2005I really should start a category on London’s South Bank because I mention it a great deal and it really is one of the most wonderful areas of London. If you’re a visitor to this great city you really must spend an afternoon walking the South Bank: start at Waterloo and the London Eye and head towards Tower Bridge (and beyond). when I first arrived here it was an area that had little to offer; it was dead and quiet but now it’s vibrant and alive.

Over the past few weeks PY and I have explored a little more of London on foot and I really do enjoy the place. On the Monday after New Year we wandered around High Holborn and Farringdon areas, near The Guardian’s central London base. It was a quiet Bank Holiday and yet it was – strangely – alive. We also crossed the bridge to the Tate Gallery which is probably the only gallery space I can truly say I enjoy. The Turbine Hall, which housed The Weather Project, is currently home to Bruce Nauman’s Raw Materials – which is a soundscape of 22 spoken texts. Some are clearly audible and some not so clear but as you walk through the hall you get this most amazing sense of sound. It works better if you keep moving (rather than stopping to listen) but you’d be wise to adjust to the sound first. It wasn’t as much of a communal event as The Weather Project but it was totally unexpected, thrilling and energizing. You can get a taste online at the Tate’s site.

insode london's city hall january 2005Last weekend we went to City Hall (which I have mentioned before) but this time we were able to get inside and head to the top. It’s a building of unexpected contrasts: the building looks wonderful and they have revitalised the whole area but the office space inside looks cramped and uncomfortable. Given the climbing spirals of the building I would have expected the view from the top to be better. Unfortunately, the main viewing area looks the wrong way: great views over the south but you want to see London’s landmarks. It was late in the day when we arrived which meant there were no crowds and we were able to find our house on the satellite pictures on the floor of the basement. Sadly, however, I don’t think the lighting scheme is brilliant at all – they could do so much more with it.

While we were there I rode the snow slide at The Tate (basically a silly slide that you descend almost buried in an inflatable tyre-like object). Silly but cheap and amusing. Then we crossed Tower Bridge (always a stunning experience) to go and have a look at the stunning Swiss Re tower and walk around The City – which is, of course, almost dead on a Saturday afternoon. It’s a rather unnerving contrast to London’s West End which is full of people on a Saturday.

Yesterday, we went to Marble Arch and had a go on the ice rink that has been placed there for the winter. I haven’t been on skates for years and I really liked it – although there’s no chance I could go round the rink without holding onto the side at some point. PY was not quite so in love with the experience which is a great shame and I am going to have to find ways to convince him to come again. I’ll work on it.

Once again I can honestly say I love London.