Wednesday, 30 November 2011

No Indian Boycott Over Dow Wrap

Photo by D1v1d
The Indian Olympics Association has backed down from a proposed boycott of the 2012 Games over chemical company Dow’s sponsorship of the stadium’s wrap.

The sponsorship deal, announced earlier this year, caused some consternation over whether it tallied with the environmental and ethical message the Olympics was striving to maintain.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Olympics Could Get Own Spooks

Photo by mikekingphoto
The 2012 Olympics are shaping up to be the best defended ever, with former MI5 agents apparently being drafted in to beef up security.

Not content with missiles, US security agents and a secret SAS base, the retired spooks will be keeping an eye out for any potential terror threat at the Games.

Read my full post on Londonist.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Aldwych Station Tour

All photos by me from my Flickr pool
Every now and again, TfL dust off the disused Aldwych tube station and throw open the doors for guided tours and I was lucky enough to find out about it in time to grab some tickets. It's a not-to-be-missed and rare opportunity to see a bit of London that you would never normally get to visit so needless to say, the tickets sold out pretty quickly.

It wasn't the first time I'd been to Aldwych - last year the station was opened up as part of a series of events across London commemorating the Blitz and we got a chance to experience a taste of what it must have been like for people who used tube stations and tunnels as shelters during air raids.

First opened to passengers in 1907, Aldwych never received the volume of traffic expected to use it. As a branch station, trains were infrequent and the proximity of busier Holborn station  meant people shunned poor old Aldwych. Services changed to peak hours only, then the station finally closed its doors in 1994. During its 87-year history, it saw service as an air raid shelter (as mentioned above) and safe storage for treasures from the British Museum. There are tons of websites going into way more detail than I'm prepared to so I won't bore readers with it all. Aldwych does remain a popular filming location - scenes from Atonement, Die Another Day and Neil Gaiman's fantastic Neverwhere were filmed here, as was Prodigy's Firestarter video.

Other bloggers have complained that the tour, which is operated by the London Transport Museum, is excessively concerned with imparting H&S rules and bans on digital SLR cameras. I went armed with a compact camera rather than my SLR and the lighting conditions are obviously not ideal so my photos were a bit disappointing but hopefully enough to give readers an idea of what the station is like.

After having our bags searched, we were shepherded into the ticket hall where we were welcomed by a staff member from the museum. The talk was primarily about health and safety, the reasons why visitors aren't allowed to wear open-toed shoes or high heels (in case an evacuation requires us to walk down the tracks to Holborn) and pointing out the fact that there are 160 steps down to the platforms and 160 steps back up. On the eastern platform we were chivvied rather annoyingly along to listen to a talk about the station's history before being given three minutes to take pictures - yes, we were told three minutes. A staff member then walked up the lovely, empty platform, thus ruining any shots we might have liked to take of it curving away into the distance. In fact, throughout the tour, staff managed to position themselves in the most obstructive and inconvenient places possible between bouts of pushing us along like recalcitrant schoolchidren, also ensuring we didn't get nearly enough time to take decent pictures or fiddle with camera settings.

Given that the majority of people who would visit a disused tube station are going to be tube geeks, London bloggers like me, transport bloggers and history buffs, it should be fairly obvious that we'd want to take as many photos as we could. The ban on SLRs is irritating but understandable as it's for commercial reasons, but then making it awkward to even use a compact is ridiculous. A prime example of this was on the western platform where an old Northern line train was sitting (unfortunately closed so we couldn't fling ourselves onto the seats). They had put up a barrier just a few feet from the front of the train, presumably to prevent us launching ourselves onto the tracks enthusiastically and with wanton disregard for the gods of H&S. Not only was there a barrier but a man guarding the barrier which meant we couldn't take pictures of the front of the train. This is just infuriatingly niggardly. We asked if we could go through the barrier just to take one picture and the staff member refused, though did take a picture for us with our camera.

The whole thing felt rushed and for £20 per ticket I expected it to be better. Even allowing an extra 15-30 minutes per tour would have made it better. Although it was great to see both platforms, the Blitz tour was fascinating, colourful and informative whereas this tour was lifeless and hurried. 

If you missed out this time, keep an eye on the London Transport Museum's website for future tours. Londonist also have a video from when Aldwych was a working station, complete with LU staff blithely ignoring H&S rules to jump onto the track.

See all my Aldwych photos on Flickr. I've also included some from the Blitz tour.

Click here to see the PDF of the booklet about the tour.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Met Cracks Down On Crime While Boris Looks On

Photo by TerryWillard
A series of raids across London took place this morning in a one-day crackdown on crime – accompanied by a special guest.

Boris Johnson was in attendance at one raid in Peckham, although police apparently refused to allow him into the property thus denying its occupants a unique opportunity to be rudely awoken by the mayor of London.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Top 10 Things To Do In The City Of London

Photo by Jason Webber
Our tour of the London boroughs reaches the borough that’s not really a borough: the City of London. Finding things to do in an area which is largely closed for the two leisure days of the week proved to be something of a challenge. Fortunately, we love a challenge, especially when it involves sampling pubs. Here’s our top ten things to do in the City of London, which incidentally also contains some of the most amusing street names.

As well as a decent selection of real ales, the Hoop also has some history; it’s the oldest continuously licenced drinking establishment in the City. It also shares the distinction of being one of only three remaining timber-framed buildings which survived the Great Fire of London. The H&G is not really on the tourist trail, nor is it conveniently situated for the traders who turn so many of the pubs and bars in the Bishopsgate vicinity into seething hell holes. The Spitalfields Life blog goes into more detail about the history. Nearest tube: Aldgate.

Want to see the other nine? Read my full post on Londonist. And don't forget to check out the Top 10 Things To Do In The Borough Of Redbridge and the Top 10 Square Mile Alleyways.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Fare Deal Rally: Ken Campaigns For Cuts

Photo by mikekingphoto
Ken Livingstone announced on Monday ahead of today’s Fare Deal Rally his intention to bring back the zone 2-6 travelcard abolished by Boris Johnson.

The former mayor has been stepping up his campaign to be re-elected as mayor of London and transport is high on everyone’s agenda, especially with fare rises predicted for 2012 and the Olympics putting the squeeze on commuters.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Londonist Out Loud

The Londonist Out Loud podcast produced by N Quentin Woolf went weekly earlier this year and he very kindly invited me back for another interview.

The venue was the Mad Bishop and Bear pub in Paddington station so instead of our musings being punctuated by jumping cats and road drills like last time, we had the dulcet tones of the station announcer. My fellow interviewee was Ruairidh Anderson, East End troubadour, compiler of the Folk Olympics and composer of Londonist Out Loud’s closing theme music.

We talked about lots of London news, including cycling, blue plaques for strippers (or burlesque performers depending on your point of view), London transport projects that never were and Olympic missiles amongst other things.

Off you go and subscribe to Londonist Out Loud via iTunes or RSS. It's got me on it!

Oh yeah, and sorry for that thing I said on it. I didn't mean it really.

Saturday, 19 November 2011


Hope you like

Mark Duggan Investigation Raises New Questions Over Shooting

Photo by HoosierSands
An investigation into the shooting of Mark Duggan by police has raised new questions. His death was the catalyst for the riots in August which started in London and spread across the country.

Initial reports, which originated from the Met but were amended by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), suggested that Duggan was shot after firing on a police officer who had stopped the minicab in which he was a passenger, a statement that they had to correct.

Read my full post on Londonist 

Update: This article has been edited in light of recent developments. Previous reports from  mainstream news sites suggested Mr Duggan was ‘unarmed’ when shot by police. It now appears that there is no evidence for this assertion.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Financial Tax Threatens London, Says Cable

Photo by Jon Game
Business secretary Vince Cable has rejected calls for a financial transactions tax in the EU, claiming it would be damaging for London.

The Tobin tax, named after the late US economist James Tobin, originally proposed a tax on currency market transactions. The idea was to curb potentially damaging exchange rate speculation by increasing the cost of those transactions to decrease the volume.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

OccupyLSX: Eviction Back On

Photo by Spencer Wilton
The Occupy camp at St Paul’s is again facing eviction after talks between the protesters and the City of London Corporation broke down.

The Corporation’s initial offer to allow the camp to remain until the new year, with the provisos that part of the camp was scaled back to improve fire access and that tents would be cleared from Corporation land by 2012, were rejected by OccupyLSX who turned out to have some demands of their own...

Take Public Transport, Olympic VIPs Told

Photo by firstnameunknown
Sponsors and other VIPs attending the Olympics next year have been told to avoid using the Games Lanes and take the train instead.

The controversial traffic lanes intended to whisk athletes, officials, sponsors and various visiting VIPs to the stadium in super-quick time have caused furore amongst Londoners. Especially those who cycle, drive taxis, use taxis, walk, drive private cars, live in Wapping or er… break down.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Ghost Bikes: Memorial, Raising Awareness Or Cycling Deterrent?

Photo by mikekingphoto
The recent spate of tragic cyclist deaths in central London have brought ghost bikes to the attention of many road users, but what effect they do they have on would-be cyclists?

For the uninitiated, ghost bikes are white-painted bicycles fixed near the scene of a road accident where a cyclist has been killed or injured. Recently, the death of Min Joo Lee was marked by a ghost bike in Kings Cross and led to an accusation of corporate manslaughter against TfL.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

May Bans Muslim Anti-Armistice Protest Group

Photo by Ruby Tuesday
Home secretary Theresa May has banned Islamist group Muslims Against Crusades (MAC) who planned a repeat of last year’s pretty much universally-condemned poppy-burning stunt.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

London Anti-Cuts Demonstration

Photo by BethPH
Thanks to working in the City and a spot of convenient managerial absenteeism, I made it down to the anti-cuts protests before dark.

I had planned to walk directly up London Wall and meet the protest march head on but given the fact there were 4000 police in attendance, I wasn't sure this was a great strategy. So after a couple of hours of following Twitter (great), the Metropolitan police website (rubbish) and the Guardian live blog (pretty good) to find out where the protesters were and what was going on, I headed down to the Museum of London roundabout on King Edward Street, St Martin Le Grand, Aldersgate Street and London Wall and waited.

The City was a weird mixture of excitement, anticipation and vague fear. The police had decided to stop the protesters branching off towards Bank and the City proper, presumably because Twitter claimed that some protesters were threatening 'direct action' (read: vandalism) and they wanted to avoid a repeat of last year's debacle. 

Waiting at the Museum roundabout, surrounded by riot police and with helicopters hovering overhead, there was a sudden burst of music and the protesters started pouring around the roundabout. I walked up to the junction of London Wall and Moorgate with a large group of protesters. Everyone seemed purposeful yet relaxed, their objective seemed to be to get to London Wall where the march was intended to finish. No-one minded having their photograph taken, even the police. 

After about half an hour of people walking up to London Wall, the police set up a kettle between London Wall and Moorgate. I asked why and was told very courteously that they wanted to allow the main body of the protest at London Wall to filter up to Moorgate in a controlled fashion. During this time I heard via Twitter and other protesters that there were disturbances at New Fetter Lane and Trafalgar Square where protesters had earlier tried to pitch tents a la Occupy. 

Seeing Moorgate filled with pedestrians was odd - I normally avoid it because the Crossrail works have rended the road awkward and dangerous for pedestrians and the traffic and noise is off-putting. I walked up the middle of a traffic-free Moorgate, exchanged pleasantries with mounted police and watched the young and old protesting against government austerity measures. 

After a few walks up and down Moorgate and around the Occupy camp at Finsbury Square, the light was going and I'm a rubbish enough photographer as it is without adding dark into the equation so I decided to call it quits. As I got on the train I saw on Twitter that kettles were in place at Moorgate and the protest had turned violent in places.

Anyway, here's my Flickr photos. Sorry if any photographers amongst you think they're a bit crap. I really need some lessons on using my camera.

Two-Thirds Support Social Media Shutdown

Photo by BethPH
First comes the news that the Met have bought technology to allow it to track data from mobile phones within a specified area, now it seems that blocking social media during civil unrest is surprisingly popular.  The polled group isn’t huge so one does hope that it’s not too representative of the population as a whole, but seriously, really?
‘A poll of 973 adults carried out for the online security firm Unisys found 70% of adults supported the shutdown of Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), while only 27% disagreed.

Three-quarters agreed that governments should have open access to data on social network users in order to prevent co-ordinated crime.’
This is no less than an astonishing and wholly unwelcome return to the climate of fear and paranoia encouraged by the previous Labour government in the wake of 9/11 and 7/7. Remember that tired old adage, ‘If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear’, mainly uttered by people who thought handing up our civil liberties on plate was going to offer them some kind of protection against all kinds of evil. But not only did 70% of people in the Unisys survey support a social media shutdown, 75% believed that government should have open access to data on users in the name of crime prevention.

The problem with this kind of belief is that people apply it only to what they define as criminal acts, in this case the riots in London over the summer, without seeming to understand that ‘civil unrest’ could also be used to define other things. Like protests. In fact, very much like protests. Social media has become a vital part of legitimate protests, not just in terms of logistics, but expressing opinions, sharing information, broadcasting events as they happen and helping people get home. Imagine a country where social media is automatically shut down ahead of protests such as today’s tuition fees demonstration, where mobile phones in the protest area are scanned and users’ private data is picked over by police as they decide whether or not a crime may be committed. Countries such as China, North Korea and Iran are heavily criticised by the UK for doing exactly this (and more) and it’s called oppression and censorship yet somehow when we do it, it’s repackaged as ‘crime prevention’.

Censorship of the internet – because that what it is, let’s not pretend otherwise – is nothing short of insanely draconian. In 2009, David Cameron used his Conservative Party Conference speech to state that he would sweep away the ‘whole rotten edifice of Labour's surveillance state’. After the riots, he told parliament that the government were considering plans to stop the use of social media for criminal activity. Quite how he expected to achieve this wasn’t explained. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, eh Dave?

The worst thing about all this is that so many people seem to have lost the ability to think for themselves, they blindly believe that if they give up their civil liberties and their privacy for some vague promise of reduced crime statistics, that a) it’s a worthwhile exchange, b) it will only apply to other people and c) that if they want the government to change it back again at a later date then they will. Get a grip, people. Knee-jerk reactions do not good policy make.

Bloomsbury To Barbican: Tuition Fees Protest

Photo by bobaliciouslondon
Thousands of people are set to march through central London today in protest against tuition fee increases.

The demonstration, organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), is supported by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU), along with a number of trade unions. The route will start on Malet Street near Russell Square at 12 noon and end around 6pm on London Wall in the City, taking in the OccupyLSX protesters at St Paul’s along the way – the Occupy Finsbury Square camp is still in place near the finish point. Some businesses in the Moorgate area have advised staff to finish early due to possible tube station closures.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Sweeping Generalisations To Continue

Positive discrimination is Not A Good Thing, the Guardian’s  Women in Finance article published today as part of their ongoing banking blog reveals. This is kind of non-news in a way because really, who wants to be employed on the basis of their gender rather than their abilities?

It’s a point which seems to be lost on David Cameron as he calls for more women in boardrooms in an attempt to drive down executive pay. This is doubly insulting – firstly that presumably because women are generally paid less than men, directors’ pay would automatically adjust downwards and secondly that women, regardless of any skills or experience they may have, should be employed in order to achieve this. Oh yeah, and apparently, if women had been in charge then we wouldn't have had a financial crisis because due to massive generalisations, women are risk-averse and more careful and just not at all like men.

Unsurprisingly, investors are less concerned about the gender of their board than its ability to see off financial crises but that hasn’t stopped former trade minister Lord Davies from rolling out a ‘target’ of 40% female board members by 2015 – or else. The ‘or else’ is, of course, mandatory quotas. It’s hard to see exactly how these quotas would be enforced; you don’t need a tinfoil hat to be aware that discrimination is rife in recruiting whether it’s tacit or not despite employment legislation designed to prevent it.

Earlier this year, Lord Alan Sugar in his usual sugarless-pill fashion, said that employers should be allowed to ask women during job interviews if they plan to have children. While on one level this makes me cross – would they consider asking the same question of a man? I can also see some sense in it. At the moment, employers simply assume that women will have children then discriminate accordingly and having assumptions made about one is always pretty annoying especially when it’s your career that’s at stake. But where does that end? What if a woman says no, she isn’t planning to procreate but then later changes her mind? Could we see the start of women being sued by their employers for breach of contract? Or lie-detector tests in interviews? That would obviously be insane, but then interviews are beset by people with a fragile grasp of reality.

I remember attending an interview for a Formula One team around 1992, at the time I worked for one team and was looking for a job with a better team. I’d just got married and the interviewer asked me if I was going to be having children. Motor racing is (or was then anyway) very male-dominated and hardly the most progressive of environments to work in but as I’d already been working in it since I left school, I was kind of blasé about blatant sexism, open sexual harassment in the workplace and smutty schoolboy innuendo. When I told people about this interview in later years they were pretty shocked. They were even more shocked when I told them about other interviews as recently as 1999 where an interviewer alternated between staring at my legs and my chest as though he couldn’t decide which was more employable, or another interviewer who told me he wanted a PA with ‘tits and arse to flirt with clients’ (amongst other less-printable things). Or the meeting I had with a male colleague at a well-known consulting firm where the guy we were meeting told me that I was ‘fit as a butcher’s dog’. Er...thanks.You twat.

Anyway, positive discrimination. Introduce mandatory quotas for anything (gender, colour, nationality, chickens, whatever) and all it does is undermine the person involved and leave them open to accusations that they’re not there on merit, it’s because they’re a woman, an Indian, a chicken, whatever (unless the recruiting is for KFC, in which case it would make sense to recruit chickens above, say, fruit bats). Discrimination is discrimination no matter what spin is put on it. Quite why it’s so hard for people to recruit the best person for the job without second-guessing whether or not something might or might not happen in the future remains a mystery, at least to me. I’ve worked pretty hard to get where I am and anyone who wants to tell me I only got there because I’m a woman can fuck right off, frankly.

Now I've said all that, I’m just off to do some washing up.

Mayor Attacks Parking Plans

Photo by R4vi
Boris Johnson has criticised plans to introduce evening and weekend parking charges in Westminster. 

The council plans to abolish free parking on single yellow lines and parking bays from 9 January 2012 between 6.30pm and midnight Monday to Saturday and 1pm to 6pm on Sundays.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

OccupyLSX Wins New Year Reprieve

Photo by Julie Ramsden
The Corporation of London have offered to allow the Occupy protest camp to remain at St Paul’s until the New Year.

Just days after threatening legal action to clear the camp, the church and the Corporation appear to have reversed their previous positions following a meeting on Wednesday between the opposing sides. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Church And Protesters Once Again On Same Side

Photo by BethPH
The church appears to have finally chosen a side in the people vs capitalism debate and called off their impending legal action to remove the protesters from St Paul’s Cathedral as well as calling for a tax (as opposed to a pox) on the banking industry. As increasingly senior members of the clergy started resigning over fears that an eviction of the protesters would lead to a Dale Farm-type scenario with anti-capitalists being tasered on the steps of an iconic religious building, the Corporation of London decided to abandon its court case in favour of actually talking to the protesters.

Now the Archbishop of Canterbury has nailed his colours firmly to the mast in support of what’s being called a ‘Robin Hood’ tax on banks. It’s actually called the Tobin tax after US economist James Tobin but presumably that was too difficult to understand. The idea behind the Tobin tax was to impose a levy on transactions while raising money for developing countries. It’s been proposed before but has never received enough support. So the upshot of all this is that the church and the protesters are once again on the same side against the evil corporates.

Without wanting to go into a boring apologia, the financial industry is a huge and massively complex beast and thanks to a certain amount of dumbing-down and wild reporting over the last three years, an entire industry appears to have been distilled down to one thing: banks. Banks are bad. Banks are stuffed full of people being paid outrageous salaries and six-figure bonuses while taking insane risks with taxpayers’ money and still having time to quaff a magnum of champagne at lunch. Though in light of broker MF Global’s recent demise, it would appear that with all the attention focused on banks, a broking firm can discover an unexplained £700m-shaped hole in their client accounts and get away without Lehman-esque levels of media hysteria.

David Cameron and George Osborne say they support the idea of the Tobin tax, but only if it’s implemented globally, which given the previous lack of commitment from the US and Asian markets could be a long way off. Instead they have the unenviable balancing act of being seen to be tough on any whiff of irresponsibility in the markets while trying to retain London as a major financial capital.

60 Seconds Saved On M4

Photo by thechilliking
Scrapping the controversial M4 bus lane has saved 60 seconds on a journey into London according to interim figures from the Highways Agency.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Preview: Regent Street Motor Show

Photo from Veteran Car Run Gallery
On Saturday 5 November, central London will play host to over 300 iconic cars spanning the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries for the Regent Street Motor Show. Regent Street will be closed to other traffic, and you can watch for free.

The inaugural event, in conjunction with The Royal Automobile Club, will feature 50 Jaguar E-Types and 50 Mini Coopers, both of whom are celebrating their 50th anniversaries, 100 pre-1905 vehicles participating in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run on Sunday 6 November and 80 cars from that day’s Brighton to London RAC Future Car Challenge. A variety of other presentations, displays and competitions will round out the show into a must for any vintage-loving petrolhead. Ben Cussons, Chairman of the Royal Automobile Club Motoring Committee said:

‘We are delighted to extend our relationship with the Regent Street Association to present the Regent Street Motor Show, which promises to deliver a truly remarkable spectacle of pioneering motoring through the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.’

Regent Street will be closed to traffic between Piccadilly Circus and Conduit Street for the event. The Regent Street Motor Show is free to enter and opens from 10.30am to 4pm with a formal opening at 11am. Visit the website for further information.

Squatting Protest Ends In Arrests

Photo from OffMarket

A Parliament Square demonstration over plans to criminalise squatting ended in clashes with police and at least 12 arrests early this morning.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill will be debated in the House of Commons later today with plans to make squatting a criminal offence in a bid to help homeowners defend their property. The Parliament Square scuffles broke out around midnight last night when police attempted to move on 150 protesters, who in common with their protesting objective, declined to leave.

The plans have been criticised as unjust and a harbinger of a wider move to ‘retrofit’ the bill to criminalise occupation-based protests such as UK Uncut’s occupation of Fortnum & Mason during the summer’s wide-spread protests against government austerity measures. The car-crash epic of the Occupy London protest with its resulting impact on the church, not to mention their likely upcoming eviction by police under the eyes of the world’s media, will only add ammunition to the government’s desire to prevent occupation-based protests in one way or another.

Justice secretary Ken Clarke’s home was targeted in September by a group of protesters campaigning against the criminalisation of squatting, while film director Guy Ritchie and the son of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi both found their home squatted. But as the Evening Standard has recently highlighted, for every community-serving squatting group, there can be a darker side.

With apparently thousands of empty properties being hoarded by councils across London set against rising homelessness in the wake of welfare cuts, is criminalising the dispossessed really the answer?