Mail Rail Map

If you read yesterday’s post about my Mail Rail trip, you’ll remember that my slight quibble with the experience was that there weren’t any maps showing the route that the tour takes.

Well, I’ve found one. And I think it explains why they don’t shout about the route.

I was Googling for any maps of the whole Mail Rail system when I came across this blog post from 2013 where John Bull examined the documents that made up the planning request that the British Postal Museum and Archive had submitted to Islington Council. For real document buffs, the blog post included a link to the original planning request.

But, for me, the interesting part is the diagram I’ve included at the top of this post. It’s a map of the intended route. And it ties in well with the tour I took on Saturday, so I’m going to assume there were no changes in the four years between the planning request and the exhibit opening.

The Mail Rail exhibit is the coloured sections. The Postal Museum is on the other side of the road in the Calthorpe House. The bit in green is the entrance hall and gift shop and the blue bit is where you queue and board the train.

And the pink shows the route that the train takes. You can see it doesn’t go very far. In fact, it doesn’t make it out of the Mount Pleasant complex. It goes from the depot, takes a sharp turn to the right and pulls into the south-east Mount Pleasant platform. That’s where you see the first multi-media presentation. Once it pulls out of that station, the train comes off of the main tracks and takes a maintenance loop which brings it back into the same station but on the north-west platform where it stops for the second multi-media presentation. After that, it returns to the depot where the passengers alight.

So, all-in-all, you don’t get to see much of the system at all. I knew that you wouldn’t go far, but I’m a little surprised that you don’t get any further than Mount Pleasant station. And that, I expect, is why they don’t publicise the route.

To be clear, I still think it’s well worth a visit. And it’s great to see such an interesting part of London’s communication infrastructure open to the public.

But I really hope that in the future, more of the system can be opened up – even if it’s just for occasional trips for enthusiasts. I know I’d be first in line for a ticket.


Riding the Mail Rail

I rode the Mail Rail yesterday. It was very exciting. More about that in a minute. Before that, I went to the Postal Museum.

I’ve often thought that the UK needed a museum about the Post Office. And the new (well, newish – it’s been open a couple of months) Postal Museum is a really good start.

Most of the museum is a pretty standard chronological look at the postal service in the UK. There are exhibits telling the story of the service from its earliest incarnation five hundred years ago. It’s interesting and the displays are well-designed but I couldn’t help thinking it was all a bit simplified. There were many places where I would have welcomed a deeper investigation. Mind you, I find myself thinking that in many modern museums, so perhaps the problem is with me.

Towards the end of the museum is a small cinema area where they show various short films associated with the Post Office (yes, this includes Night Mail). I could have sat there watching all of them – but I didn’ t have the time. And I think they missed a trick by not selling a DVD of the films in the gift shop.

The Postal Museum is well worth a visit. It’s not as big as I thought it would be. We went round it all in about 45 minutes.

But the reason I left it a couple a months to visit the Postal Museum was because it was only this weekend that the other nearby attraction, the Mail Rail, finally opened to the public.

The Mail Rail is an underground railway system which, between 1927 and 2003 was used to transport post around London. I remember hearing about it soon after I first moved to London and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since.

And last week it opened as a visitor attraction. New carriages have been installed which are (only just) more comfortable for people to sit in and you can take a 20 minute guided tour of the line. Well, it’s 20 minutes if you include the time the train is sitting in the platform as you all board.

I enjoyed the ride. To be honest, I would have been happy just riding around the tunnels for 20 minutes, but there are a couple of points where you stop and are shown a multi-media presentation about the system and the postal service. A lot of time and money has been spent on them and they were really enjoyable (if not particularly informative).

As you leave the platform at the end of your ride, you pass though an interesting exhibition on the history of the system.

If I had one suggestion for improvement, I would like to have seen a map of the system with the bits that the tour covers marked. I suspect that you don’t actually get out of the bits of the system under Mount Pleasant sorting office. [Update: I found a map. See here for details.]

I recommend a visit. I’ll be returning at some point in the future to see it again.

Here’s a video I took of my tour.


Parking in Balham

You’ll often hear people saying that Mail writers live in a different world to the rest of us. Actually, I think that they live in the same world as us, they just like to think that they live in a different one. The fun and games start when they discover they are wrong and that the real world doesn’t appreciate their over-developed sense of entitlement.

Here’s a good case in point. Melissa Kite lives somewhere near me in Balham. Melissa is a serial parking offender. Of course, Melissa doesn’t see it quite like that. Melissa describes herself as being a victim of “bear traps” laid by councils to trick motorists who dare to park on their patch. When she parked up at Balham tube station “at 8pm for ten seconds in order to pick up a friend who was coming to stay with me and who was weighed down with luggage” she was appalled to be given an £80 fine.

And there’s that sense of entitlement. This is what really annoys me about people like Melissa. There are parking restrictions around Balham station. They have been there for as long as I can remember and they are clearly marked. But because they are inconvenient for her, she feels she is perfectly justified in ignoring them. Balham station is at junction where two busy roads cross. The parking restrictions are there for a good reason (and, no, not to make money for the council – to prevent congestion). They aren’t there to trick people like Melissa.

But we can find out more about Melissa’s parking problems with Wandsworth council. She wrote about a very similar incident in the Evening Standard a year ago. This gives more details of the offence. She was parking in a taxi rank. The taxi rank is a relatively new innovation. It’s been there three or four years. But, once again, it’s clearly marked. And, once again, Melissa chose to ignore that because it was inconvenient for her. She also mentions four other offences where she was picking someone up or dropping them off at the station and chose to park in a restricted area.

Amusingly, she even describes a telephone conversation she had with someone from Wandsworth council.

I rang Wandsworth council to tell them this but their spokesman sounded distinctly unimpressed. “Well, I don’t know what you were doing there,” he said.

“But I’ve just told you,” I said. “I was picking up a friend.”

He sighed: “People come up with all sorts of stories.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re asking me to assume that everything you’re saying is the truth.”

At which point I confess I raised my voice a little: “Yes I am!”

“Right,” he harrumphed, “you’re shouting, I’m ending the call.” And he slammed the phone down.

So I rang the parking department, where someone called Angelo explained that when running errands I should always stop on single yellow lines

There’s that sense of entitlement again. She honestly seems to believe that “I was picking up a friend” is a reasonable excuse for ignoring the parking restrictions. Balham Station Road would be in chaos for most of the day if everyone chose to ignore the rules because they were “just picking up a friend”.

Then there’s this lovely paragraph from the end of her article.

Very soon, Westminster council will abolish free parking on a single yellow line in the evenings. And when they do so, I will stop going up West on a Tuesday night as I have done for the past six years to meet a group of friends with whom I have dinner in a Lebanese restaurant.That restaurant will lose us as regular customers forever, and goodness knows how many others.

If only she lived in a city where there was a quick and efficient public transport system. Perhaps something that whisked passengers to their destination through underground tubes. I know travelling on the tube can be a bit of a nightmare in rush hour. But on a Tuesday night, it should be fine. Or perhaps people like Melissa are too self-important to mix with the rest of us in a confined space like that.

There may, of course, be a serious point to her objections. Perhaps the parking restrictions are too draconian. Never let it be said that I object to a nice bit of civil disobedience to protest against bad laws. But you need to be prepared to take the punishment. You can’t expect to have the fine waived just because it’s inconvenient to you.

Actually, this is all academic to me. Like the vast majority of sane Londoners we don’t have a car. Most weekends I walk to the supermarket and carry the shopping home. If it’s going to be a huge shop then we’ll order on the internet and get it delivered. And if friends arrive at Balham station overburdened with luggage then we’ll offer to meet them there and help them carry it home. If we’re feeling particularly lazy we might offer to pay for them to get a taxi. From the rank right outside the station. Assuming it’s not full of idiots with 4x4s and an over-developed sense of entitlement.


Livery Halls

Long time readers (and followers of my Flickr stream) might remember that a couple of years ago I developed an obsession with taking photos of the City of London Livery Halls. The obsession waned when I stop working in the City but over the last couple of weeks I’ve been wandering around the city a bit and have noticed some maps pointing to halls that aren’t in my collection yet. So at some point soon I’ll start trying to get photos of those (I think I’m missing half dozen or so).

But then I started thinking about maybe organising a walk round the City one weekend to see as many of the halls as possible. And, of course, in order to do that you need a map showing where they all are. And the easiest way to plot random points on a map is to use the “My Maps” feature in Google Maps.

So, after a couple of hours work – here is a map showing the London Livery Halls. Actually, currently it only shows the ones I’ve photographed. I’ll add the missing ones soon. I’ll also add more information to each pin – the address, a link to their web site and perhaps a photo. But I think it’s interesting and useful as it stands, so I thought it was working mentioning it even though it’s still a work in progress.


Ripper Victim #2

It’s only the second victim, but already I’m running late.

On September 8th, 1888, at about 5:50am, the body of Annie Chapman was found in Hanbury St, Spitalfields, London. This was just over a week after the murder of Polly Nichols. The next murder in the series wasn’t for another three weeks.


Death Anniversaries

The British press is, of course, busy getting all overexcited about one particular death that happened on this date. But there’s another, to my mind far more interesting, death anniversary today.

It was 119 years today that the body of Mary Ann Nichols (usually know as Polly Nichols) was found in Buck’s Row, London. Nichols is generally accepted as the first victim of Jack the Ripper. The deaths of the other four victims followed over the next ten weeks. I’ll note the anniversaries as they arrive.

Years ago I was planning to organise a walking tour of all of the sites associated with the Ripper murders. Currently I’m working within walking distance of most of them. I’ve really got no excuse for not getting on with that.

Maybe I’ll have something ready in time for the 120th anniversary next year.


BKB Closes Down

The Balham Kitchen and Bar has closed down. It has been sold to Sam Harrison (who owns a place called Sam’s Brasserie & Bar in Chiswick). It will reopen in September under the new name Harrison’s.

The BKB won’t be missed. I’ve only been there a couple of times in the four years that it’s been open, but that’s because every time I’ve gone the food has been average and the staff have been very unhelpful. Not what you expect from what is probably the most expensive restaurant in Balham.

I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again, but if you want a top-notch restaurant in Balham then you should really try Lamberts.

We’ll be trying Harrison’s when it opens though. I’ll let you know how it goes.


Flash Flood

I monitor an RSS feed of all photos uploaded to Flickr with the tag “balham”. Which is how I came across this set of photos of a flash flood in Balham today.

I’m trying to work out how close to my house this was. And vaguely dreading what I’ll find when I get home this evening.


Finding Myself

I’ve just worked out where I am. By which I mean I’ve just had one of those moments when I join up two previously unrelated parts of my mental map of London.

I’m working in Appold St, which is just to the north of Broadgate. I get here in the morning by taking the tube to Moorgate and walking from there. For the past week, when I’ve been going out at lunchtime I’ve been going back south to Broadgate and Liverpool St. Today I decided I’d go the other way – and head north.

Just north of my office, Appold St becomes Curtain Road. And that’s when I realised where I was – I’m in Shoreditch. Or Hoxton if you want to be trendy (and play a bit fast and loose with geography).

When I first moved to London, I lived in university halls of residence at the western end of Old St. Here I’m near the eastern end. The whole area was all a bit dodgy in those days (the early 80s). I remember friends of mine who were in bands using cheap nasty rehearsal studios on Gt Eastern St, but all in all it was an area best avoided unless you wanted to visit a pub where ladies danced around whilst taking their clothes off.

I moved away from the area in my second year at university and then didn’t have much need to visit it until I started working for a bank in Broadgate about ten years ago. By that time the first web boom was getting underway and the area was becoming known as a popular place for web start-up companies to have their cheap shared offices. This influx of money brought with it lots of bars and restaurants and I remember spending a few evenings in bars with strange names like Cantaloupe. When we started in 1998 a lot of members were working for the start-ups that congregated in the area so I got quite used to socialising around here.

I suppose the area must have gone out of fashion when the web bubble burst. Or maybe it get going on the money of the bankers who were working just to the south. I don’t think I’ve been in this area for five years or so. But the arrival of Web Bubble 2.0 has meant that a lot of the new start-ups are again heading for this area. My short walk at lunchtime showed me that there are still many of the same bars and restaurants going.

It was an interesting walk. I remembered many of the names of the roads I was walking along, but I never really got the hang of local geography so it was still a bit of an adventure. Still plenty more exploring to do though, so I don’t think I’ll get bored over the next ffew months.

Anyone else in the area? Fancy meeting for lunch?

life london

The Day The World Turned Day-Glo

2012 Logo
2012 Logo

The new London 2012 Olympics logo looks like a car-crash. Which is, I suppose, somewhat appropriate. I can only assume that this was done deliberately to make the 2012 Olympics a laughing stock.

Hopefully someone from the IOC will see the logo, realise that we’re not taking this at all seriously and let some other city host the games instead of London.

Update: The BBC have published some alternative logos that have been sent in by readers. Can I just say that Sean Stayte (logo number 5) is a very naughty man. And that the editor who published that picture is either very naive or else has a keen grasp of internet memes.

Update: The dubious logo has been removed from that page. But the direct link still works.