Local News

The internet is a fabulous source of news. And it’s now becoming so ubiquitous that you can find out local things that you might never find out otherwise. Here’s a slightly sad example.

Harry is a local celebrity. He’s never far from the bar of our local pub. He lives on our road and you only ever see him either in the pub or walking between the pub and his house. He’s very old though. And very ill. Whenever you don’t see him around for a few days you always wonder if he’s died. But he always pops up again.

Except, now he won’t. Harry died yesterday. I saw an ambulance going down the road, but I didn’t think of Harry (who I vaguely assumed to be indestructible) until I read this LiveJournal entry. And I found that through Planet Balham, which aggregates various new sources about Balham, including a Technorati search.

Without these, it would have been weeks before we realised what had happened. I can’t imagine Harry’s death being mentioned in any mainstream news medium.

The internet means you get your news quicker. Even if it’s bad news.

Balham Restaurants

Over the last year, Balham has gone into a frenzy of restaurant opening. I thought that some of you might be interested in hearing my opinions of some of these restaurants.

Hop & Spice
New Sri Lankan restaurant on Bedford Hill. We accidently went there on their opening night. In fact I think we were their first paying customers. On that night the food was pretty good although the staff were a bit over-attentive (due to first night nerves). We went back a few weeks later and the food wasn’t anywhere near as nice. It’ll be a while before we go back again.

This isn’t that new, but it’s currently the restaurant that we normally pop into when we want a quick meal and can’t be bothered to cook. It’s southern Indian food and we love it. We eat there most weeks. Try their roasted cashew nuts and treat yourself to a passion fruit lassi.

The Indian Room
The only downside of this place is that it has taken over the premises of our favourite pizza delivery restaurant and we haven’t yet found a decent replacement. It’s a worthwhile sacrifice though as the Indian Room is a fabulous little Indian. It’s only been open a couple of months but we’re going there almost as often as we go to Sadya. They do home deliveries too.

LY Bar
We tried this for the first time last night. It was a slightly weird experience to be honest. The food was great – well cooked and very well presented. It was a little more expensive than most other restaurants in Balham but well worth it. However the experience was rather spoilt by the staff and the decor. There were a lot of staff, but they weren’t very well trained and they seemed to spend most of their time standing around trying to avoid work. I’m sure they’ll get better with practice. But the decor needs some serious work. The walls are all black and the lighting is rather dim. Together will the music, which was slightly too loud, it was all a bit like having a nice meal in the middle of a nightclub. Oh, and they don’t have a licence yet, so you have to bring your own drinks.

The Paddyfield certainly isn’t new, but for some reason we didn’t discover it until a few months ago. It’s a great cheap Thai restaurant tucked away at the unfashionable end of Bedford Hill. In fact, thinking about it, forget that I mentioned it. It’s far too small and always busy. It doesn’t need any more customers taking up tables when I’m trying to get in.

Time Travelling From London

This’ll annoy the people who don’t live in London.

Giles Coren articulates something that has been nagging at me for years.

My old mate and former Times colleague, Guy Walters […] has a theory: “For every ten miles you drive away from London”, says Guy, “you travel back one year in time.” He’s talking about fashion, mostly. About shops and clothes and cars and food and conversation topics. And if you look around, you will find that it’s absolutely true. In Oxford, for example, 60 miles from London, they’re all showing designer knicker elastic above the waistband of low-crotched jeans, gelling their hair into fins, eating overrated Japanese fusion and thinking that the biggest threat to world security is the Millennium bug.

In Portsmouth, 80 miles from London, the kids are just getting into vintage trainers, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” is a book for children, grown-ups still can’t believe Diana is gone, and foodies dream of a trip to Aubergine, where Gordon something or other is said to be a frightfully good cook who, if you’re very, very lucky, might come out of the kitchen and swear at you.

London Transport Advice

Some advice for passengers on London Underground.

When the tube breaks down and the announcements are telling you to use alternative routes, in the vast majority of cases you are better off staying where you are and waiting for the problem to be fixed.

It seems to be standard operating procedure in these cases that tube staff try to get as many people off the tube as possible. And they’ll keep giving that advice right up to the moment before the tube moves on.

Here’s an example. Last night I got to Moorgate at about 17:15. There was a tube in the station. A few people were getting off. I got on. As I got on there was an announcement that there was no service on the line due to a person being taken ill a couple of stops down. More people got off. I got a seat (another good side effect of these situations). We sat there for about five minutes with announcements every thirty seconds that strongly implied that the tube wasn’t going anywhere for some time and that we’d be better off walking home. A few more people got off, but most of us (the ones who knew how this usually works) stayed put.

And then suddenly one of these announcements was followed by a different voice announcing that the train was about to leave. And off we went.

Had I followed their advice, I would have added thirty minutes to my journey home. By ignoring them I ended up getting home five minutes later than expected.

Ignore the advice. Stay on the tube.

London Orbital Rail Network

I haven’t fully digested it yet, but there was an interesting-looking debate in Westminister Hall yesterday about plans for a London Orbital Rail Network. I only noticed it because the debate was called for by my MP, Martin Linton (whose constituency includes Clapham Junction).

From I’ve read so far, a lot of the discussion revolves around whether or not various MPs know where Hoxton and Haggerston are.

New Job New Location

I’ve been a bit quiet over the last week. That’s because I’m working for a new client and I’m just finding my feet.

A new job, of course, means a new location. I’m working on Golden Lane which is just to the north of the Barbican. In this case it’s not exactly a new location to me as when I first moved to London (is it really twenty-five years ago?) I lived in a Hall of Residence on Bastwick Street which is just north of the new office.

So it’s been interesting walking around the old stamping group, seeing how it’s all changed. In a lot of cases the change hasn’t been for the best. The area between the Barbican and Old Street has always been pretty run-down, but it looks like there’s been no money invested in the area at all over the last twenty-five years. Even places that looked new and shiny when I first saw them are now looking a bit grim after a quarter century of neglect.

In the other direction the story is completely different. Between the Barbican and Moorgate has been a hive of activity over the last few years. A number of of buildings have been knocked down or refurbished. The old Britannia House is now City Point and there’s great looking new building at Moorhouse.

Another big change is the demolition of Northampton Hall. “Notty Hall” was another City University Hall of Residence and I had a number of good times there. Apparently it was demolished in 1998.

I was very pleased in the middle of the week when I discovered that the steps just to the right of the main office to my new office lead up to gate 11 of the Barbican. That mean that my walk from Moorgate tube station to the office can all be done via the Barbican highwalks (gate 3 to gate 11). There are lots of interesting views en route so I foresee lots of Barbican photography in my Flickr stream in the next few weeks.

“Good Service”

In the entrance hall to all tube stations you’ll find a notice board telling you how each line is currently running. It’s worth noting that when the sign says a line has “good service”, what they actually mean is that it has “the expected level of service”.

It’s a subtle, but important, distinction.

Tube Books

My Amazon wish list took quite a battering (but in a good way) over christmas so I needed to find some new things to put on it. Luckily a shopping trip to buy presents for other people gave me plenty of inspiration.

A new (ish – well I can’t remember seeing it before) Books etc shop opposite John Lewis on Oxford St had a larger than usual section of books on London and that contained a number of interesting looking books about the London Underground.

Anyone interested in the tube will already have a copy of Mr. Beck’s Underground Map which traces the history of Harry Beck’s version of the London Underground map. What I hadn’t seen was a sequel to that book called Underground Maps after Beck which brings the history of the map up to date. And there’s also No Need to Ask! Early Maps of London’s Underground Railways which completes the story by looking at maps before Beck.

Another interesting book was Spread of London’s Underground which shows how the tube has expanded (and, sometimes, contracted) over the years. It does this by showing what today’s tube map would look like if it only contained the parts of the system which where open at various dates throughout the system’s history. Combine that with London’s Lost Tube Schemes and London’s Disused Underground Stations for a pretty complete understanding of the tube’s history.

And looking a bit wider, there’s always Metro Maps of the World which contains maps of metro systems from almost two hundred world cities.

Did you know I was also a tube geek?

Empty Tube Carriages

Every Londoner has done it at some point. A packed tube pulls into the station, but the carriage that stops in front of you is surprisingly empty. But it’s early in the morning and you’re only half awake so instead of being suspicious you just get on.

And just as the doors close, your nose alerts you to the problem. An extremely unpleasant smell is coming from the rather dirty person slouched motionless across three of the seats in the carriage. There’s nothing you can do until the train stops at the next carriage. You just stand there as far away from the source as possible. But you can’t help looking back as morbid curiosity makes you wonder if he has died.

That was me on the Central Line this morning[1]. The end of a particularly nasty journey to work.

[1] By which I don’t mean I was the smelly dead person. I hope that’s obvious.